WASHINGTON -- Six decades after the Korean War ended, President Barack Obama said yesterday that American veterans deserved a better homecoming from a war-weary nation and that their legacy is the 50 million people who live freely in a democratic South Korea.
"Here in America, no war should ever be forgotten, and no veteran should ever be overlooked," he said in a speech at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall, where ceremonies marked the 60th anniversary of the end of hostilities on the peninsula.
Obama said the conflict didn't unite or divide the United States the same way World War II or the Vietnam War did, respectively, and that U.S. veterans came home to neither parades nor protests because "there was, it seemed, a desire to forget, to move on" by Americans who were tired of battle.
But they "deserved better," he said, adding that, to mark the anniversary, "perhaps the highest tribute we can offer our veterans of Korea is to do what should have been done the day you came home." He appealed for people to pause and let these veterans "carry us back to the days of their youth and let us be awed by their shining deeds." In the audience of several thousand on a sunny and humid morning were dozens of American and Korean veterans of the war. Obama asked them to stand and be recognized.
The 1950-1953 war had North Korean and Chinese troops fighting U.S.-led United Nations and South Korean forces. It ended on July 27, 1953, with the signing of an armistice.
A formal peace treaty was never signed, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war and divided at the 38th parallel between its communist north and democratic south. More than 36,000 Americans were killed in the conflict. The United States still has 28,500 troops in the south.
Yet the war's cost continues to mount.
Hostility remains between the two Koreas and between the North and the United States, which still has no formal diplomatic relations with the communist nation. That antagonism is rooted in the U.S. commitment to take a lead role in defending the South should war again break out on the peninsula.
Another legacy is the challenge of accounting for the roughly 7,900 U.S. servicemen still listed as missing in action.