Fellow Koreans, bereaved families and war veterans,
Today, we are gathered at the Republic of Korea Navy Second Fleet Command to honor fallen heroes who safeguarded the West Sea and to revisit their noble patriotism.
The Navy’s Second Fleet Command impenetrably defends vast waters in the West Sea, ranging from the Northern Limit Line to the maritime border of Jeollabuk-do Province. The Command is also home to a monument that commemorates the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong; Chamsuri-class patrol boat No. 357; a memorial to honor the 46 warriors of the sunken ROKS Cheonan as well as its salvaged hull; and the West Sea Protection Hall, all of which are steeped in the spirit of national defense that these West Sea heroes demonstrated.
The ROKS Cheonjabong and Nojeokbong, our Navy’s main landing ships, have paused their valiant voyages for a moment to join the people in honoring our fallen warriors and their spirit. These heroes set out to sea to defend their homeland even when dark clouds loomed over the horizon. They headed to battlefields where a barrage of shells fell. With indomitable grit, they gave their all for the country, becoming eternal stars above the sea that protect the nation.
We have never forgotten our heroes. We have renewed our determination to safeguard our homeland by remembering their sacrifices and devotion. The heroes of the 2nd Battle of Yeonpyeong – Yun Yeong-ha, Han Sang-guk, Jo Cheon-hyeong, Hwang Do-hyeon, Seo Hu-won and Park-Dong-hyeok – have been brought back to life through the names of PKG-class patrol vessels. They are carrying out their missions even now, defending the homeland along with their fellow sailors. The Cheonan will also be resurrected splendidly to reflect the spirit of fallen heroes and surviving soldiers. Yesterday, the Navy decided to name a new frigate that will patrol the West Sea from 2023 the ROKS Cheonan. Armed with such powerful locally made weapons as the Sea Bow, a ship-based surface-to-air missile; Red Shark and Blue Shark torpedoes; and the Sea Dragon, a ship-launched cruise missile, the Cheonan will become the Navy’s flagship frigate.
I extend my consolation and gratitude to the bereaved families, then-Commander Choi Won-il and surviving sailors of the Cheonan who have ardently wished for and supported the sunken corvette’s resurrection more than anyone else. I am also deeply grateful to the heroes of the artillery battle on Yeonpyeongdo, who proudly prevailed despite being attacked unexpectedly. I pay profound respect to those heroes who defended the West Sea and wrote chapters in the history of solemn patriotism. Together with all Koreans, I wish them eternal rest.
The freedom and peace we enjoy today are suffused with those heroes’ blood and sweat. Their patriotism is the legacy every one of us has been left with. The history of defending the West Sea is a source of self-esteem and pride for us all. We have to stand united as one in the spirit of safeguarding the West Sea. The power of national unity is the most formidable national defense and security. The genuine way to reciprocate the sacrifices of those heroes devoted to the West Sea is to protect the country and the peace of the people through strong defense capabilities and security.
The Government has never lost sight of this indisputable fact for even an instant. We have worked hard unceasingly to possess overwhelming power to build and protect peace. Through defense budget increases of record-high rates, strong defense capabilities have been cultivated so our soldiers never have to sacrifice themselves.
Over the past four years, not a single soldier has been killed or injured due to an armed conflict or military provocation in the West Sea. Our military has proved that strong force builds peace by maintaining a rock-solid readiness posture while defending the waters along the Northern Limit Line from Baengnyeongdo Island, the northernmost part of the country, to Yeonpyeongdo. I would like to commend and encourage the soldiers of the Second Fleet – the descendants of the West Sea heroes – who are thoroughly safeguarding our seas even at this moment.
The military’s sense of accomplishment comes not just from winning battles. In the West Sea – which has changed from a sea of confrontation to one of peace – our fishermen go about making their livings on larger fishing grounds and with longer time to fish and with guaranteed safety. The Government will build and safeguard a peaceful Korean Peninsula through the Navy’s power to win without fighting and win without fail if it must fight. A 30,000-ton-class light aircraft carrier, which will be unveiled around 2033, will be built with our country’s shipbuilding technology – the best in the world. The carrier will effectively confront threats to the Republic of Korea’s security from a variety of fronts and become a strong and vital naval force that encompasses the next Korean destroyers, frigates and submarines in joint operations.
By 2024, we will complete the 3,000-ton-class submarine project, which has been deploying the submarines since 2018. Through the project to build more advanced submarines, we will secure potent underwater combat strength that is second to none. The Marine Corps, already equipped with powerful landing capabilities through its utility helicopters, will be armed with attack helicopters to become the strongest landing force both in name and substance.
We will protect maritime shipping lanes, the lifeline of our economy, and strengthen international maritime security cooperation while responding to all comprehensive and potential security threats to the military, going beyond the conventional. The sea constitutes the Republic of Korea’s future. An “Advanced Ocean-going Navy” is the solid foundation of a maritime powerhouse toward which the Republic of Korea should move. There is a vast ocean in front of us. The Government will defend our territorial waters, safeguard our people and ships in the oceans and usher in the future of peace and prosperity.
The sea is not the only thing we have to protect. No one can covet our territory and sky, either. I am well aware that the people have serious concerns over the North’s test firing of missiles yesterday. Now is the time for the two Koreas and the United States to make efforts to resume dialogue. It is never desirable to undermine the atmosphere for dialogue. We have world-class missile capability that is sufficient to defend ourselves and complies with the principle of the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization. The KF-X, the cutting-edge next-generation fighter jet developed with our own technology, will soon be unveiled to the public. I can confidently say to the people that our country is equipped with a firm security readiness to repel any provocations with national defense capabilities and an ROK-U.S. alliance that remain stronger than ever before.
Fellow Koreans, bereaved families and war veterans,
The history of patriotism achieved by the heroes of the West Sea must become a legacy of unity for all. The spirit of respecting and honoring patriotic sacrifices
is the power that connects the people as one and the foundation of a powerful nation.
The Government has never forgotten, even for a moment, to repay those who gave their all to the country, including the heroes of the West Sea. I take pride in the fact that this Administration is the one that has done the most to honor patriots and veterans.
Since this Administration was launched, war veterans’ honor allowances have increased by 55 percent from 220,000 won to 340,000 won per month. The budget allocated for providing allowances for war wounds has also been greatly expanded to four times that of the previous year as promised at last year’s West Sea Defense Day.
As of this February, 12 surviving soldiers of the sunken ROKS Cheonan have been recognized as persons of national merit, including the nine suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Government will enhance the country’s responsibility to verify injuries and other sacrifices made for the nation in line with the people’s expectations. We will make sure that eligible veterans can receive benefits in a timely manner through swift reviews. Those who are qualified to be a person of national merit but have not registered or who have been omitted will also be actively identified, so they will be entitled to honorable treatment and support commensurate with their sacrifices and dedication.
The nation’s responsibility for war veterans in need of medical care has also been significantly expanded. They will now have up to 90 percent of their medical expenses covered. While medication is currently sold at reduced costs only at veterans hospitals, we will devise ways to allow veterans to also purchase it at discounted prices at entrusted hospitals as well. The foundation for medical care tailored to veterans will also be established. For those who find it difficult to visit a veterans hospital, more than 100 additional entrusted hospitals have been designated. By 2022, over 220 locations will be designated in total so that veterans can conveniently use a facility nearby.
Following the opening of the Wonju Veterans Nursing Home last December, another is scheduled to open in Jeollabuk-do Province this December. Starting with veterans hospital rehabilitation centers in Gwangju and Busan in June, the construction of similar facilities will be completed in Daejeon and Daegu by next year. This will allow veterans to receive medical services in connection with their treatment, nursing care and rehabilitation anywhere in the country. When veterans pass away, it becomes more difficult for their spouses to make ends meet. Efforts will be made to support surviving spouses.
Through compassionate and reliable veterans welfare, the Government will do all it can so that remembering, honoring and supporting patriotism in everyday life can become the proud culture of the Republic of Korea
Fellow Koreans, bereaved families and war veterans,
Now, the Cheonjabong and Nojeokbong landing ships will sail through the waves to protect a sea of peace with the unyielding grit and mettle of the heroes who guarded the West Sea.
Today, we have come to love our country and homeland even more while commemorating the heroes who protected the West Sea. We will remember forever the lives and deaths of the heroes and the stories of ordinary citizens giving their all to the country and people.