By Gregory Wallace
WASHINGTON (CNN) — No veteran should be forgotten, President Barack Obama said Saturday while commemorating the end 60 years ago of the Korean conflict, sometimes described as the “forgotten war.”
He laid a wreath at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall and spoke to veterans and family members with ties to both U.S. and Korean troops, an audience estimated by event organizers to number 5,000.
Active hostilities on the Korean conflict halted six decades ago with the signing of an armistice agreement, leaving the war between the North and South in suspension, and the peninsula divided by a demilitarized zone where tensions remain tense to this day.
More than 36,000 U.S. troops died and 103,000 were wounded in the three-year conflict.
The military says just over 7,900 U.S. troops remain missing, and Obama expressed a commitment to “give these families a full accounting of their loved ones.” For example, the family of Sgt. 1st Class William Robinson, who went missing at 26 in 1950, will bury his remains in Pennsylvania this week, he said.
He noted that returning veterans were not welcomed by parades or protests and said these veterans, as do all, “deserved better.”
“Here in America, no war should ever be forgotten, and no veteran should ever be overlooked,” Obama said, pronouncing the war a definitive win.
“Korea was a victory,” he said, because South Koreans live “in stark contrast to the repression and poverty of the North.”
North Korea, meanwhile, observed what they called “Victory Day” on Saturday in the capital city Pyongyang with a lengthy military parade that was reviewed by leader Kim Jong Un and the Chinese vice president, Li Yuanchao.
Obama’s remarks come as the U.S. military draws down from over a decade of war in Afghanistan. He said the nation should “make it our mission to give (veterans) the respect and the care and the opportunities that they have earned.” His wife, first lady Michelle Obama, has led an initiative for veterans and military families called Joining Forces.
The president was joined by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran who is the first former enlisted soldier to hold that position, as well as representatives from the South Korean government and military and the U.S. government.
Hagel said the nearly two dozen nations who aided South Korea “showed the world that different nations and different peoples and different nations can accomplish many, many good things in the world when we work together.”
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