DoD, Postal Service Honor Korean War Armistice, Veterans
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 28, 2003 "The Korean War will not really end until every American is brought home or accounted for."
So stated Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz July 27 to several thousand veterans and family members about the "forgotten war" during the Defense Department's recognition of the 50th anniversary of armistice that brought about a cease-fire to the Korean War.
"We owe them that; we owe it to their families, and we'll keep our promise," Wolfowitz said. "Until things change in Pyongyang (the North Korean capital), we'll have to guard against renewed aggression. Meanwhile, we'll work with the North Koreans to bring home our missing."
The deputy defense secretary was speaking to thousands of people gathered on the National Mall for the DoD commemoration and the U.S. Postal Service's dedication and unveiling of a special stamp honoring the memorial. Robert F. Rider, a member of the postal service's board of governors, unveiled the stamp.
Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and actor and television personality Ed McMahon also took part in honoring the veterans. "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" McMahon, who became famous using that phrase on NBC's "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, is a World War II and Korean War veteran. He flew 85 combat missions in Korean and achieved the rank of colonel.
Wolfowitz mentioned the recently concluded U.S. negotiations with the North Koreans that will result in two joint recovery operations in 2003. Another meeting to discuss 2004 recovery operations is scheduled for November.
The deputy secretary said after three years, one month and two days of war, tens of thousands of American and allied casualties and incredible acts of heroism, courage and sacrifice, the guns fell silent.
The cease-fire took effect on July 27, 1953, with the signing of an armistice by United States, North Korea and China, which ends the war but failed to bring about a permanent peace. The combatants agreed to pull back to their respective sides of the 38th parallel and establish a demilitarized zone, which still exists.
To date, the Republic of Korea (South) and Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North) have not signed a peace treaty. A total of 33,651 service members died in battle during the Korean War: 27,709 soldiers; 4,269 Marines; 1,198 airmen; and 475 U.S. sailors. Some 7,140 service members became prisoners of war.
There were 103,284 wounded - 77,596 soldiers; 23,744 Marines; 1,576 sailors; and 368 airmen. There are still more than 8,000 missing Americans. "Last month, I visited the Demilitarized Zone, where U.S. soldiers and our allies from the Republic of Korea continue to stand watch, ensuring the peace for nearly 50 million people," said Wolfowitz, who also visited Seoul, the capital of South Korea during the trip. "When you visit those places, you can't help but appreciate the magnitude of what we accomplished in the Korean War. But as President Bush has observed, the most dramatic impression comes from the sky, especially at night."
He was referring to flying over the area, where one sees the lights of Seoul, which he called "a dazzling metropolis of freedom and prosperity and energy." Thirty miles to the north, there's no light - just darkness, "which seems appropriate for a land with no freedom and little hope, a place where tyrants spend the nation's meager resources on nuclear weapons, while people starve," Wolfowitz noted.
About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.
The Korean War marked the first time in history that the United Nations sent armed forces into combat to stop aggression. Armed forces and medical support units from 20 United Nations member states, along with the Republic of Korea and Italy, teamed together under the United Nations banner to halt the attempted communist takeover of the Republic of Korea.
Pace said he didn't know much about the Korea War when he joined the Marine Corps. But as the years moved on, he began to understand the incredible acts of bravery in places like Pusan and Inchon and the "Frozen Chosin," "Heartbreak Ridge" and "MiG Alley."
He noted that service members today owe a great debt of gratitude to Korean War veterans in the audience. "The lessons you learned on that battlefield were passed on to us," Pace said. "When I fought in Hue City in Vietnam, we learned from your lessons, and those who most recently fought in places like An Nasiriyah, An Najaf, Baghdad, learned the lessons."
Consequently, he said, "They were able to fight the way they fought thanks to the legacy that was passed on to us by the men and women who proceeded us.
"But there's a much greater legacy and a much greater debt that we owe to you," the vice chairman noted. "That is, you have given us a gift, and it's a gift that overcomes fear for us. It's not that we don't know fear in combat. If you show me someone in combat who doesn't know fear, I'll show you somebody I don't want to be anywhere near.
"But the gift you've given us is the legacy of taking care of each other in battle," Pace said, "and the legacy of the battles that you fought so well that are our heritage. When we get scared in combat, what gets us moving is looking to the left and right and knowing that those on the left and right depend on us - but also remembering and fearing that somehow our own personal actions would let you down, and that your magnificent performance might some way be tarnished by the way we perform. And we'll never, never let that happen."
Rider said some Korean War veterans felt forgotten, adding that, "To the men and women who served, the Korean War could never be a forgotten war. And with this new stamp, we'll help ensure that their efforts on behalf of freedom are remembered for generations to come.
"This stamp will serve as a special reminder that we must not forget the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice," Rider continued. "Nor should we forget those who returned home without fanfare."
A photograph taken by Marine Corps Reserve Lt. Col. John W. Alli graces the stamp. Alli took the photo as a retirement gift to his father, Bill Alli, a Korean War veteran. The picture shows the sculptures at the Korean War Memorial shrouded in heavy snow.
"As a Korean War veteran myself, I can tell you that it perfectly captures those bleak and frigid battlefields we so often endured," Rider said.
He said as far as the postal service is concerned, the Korean War has never been forgotten. "We have issued several stamps over the years to recognize the bravery of Korean War veterans and the significance of the Korean War in U.S. and world history," Rider noted. "In 1985, we issued the 22-cent Veterans of Korea stamp. And in 1999, we issued a Korean War stamp as part of the 'Celebrate the Century' series."
The commemoration period commenced June 25, 2000, marking the 50th anniversary of the invasion of South Korea, and will continue until this year's Veterans Day on Nov. 11.