Remarks by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to honor U.S.-ROK alliance 60th Anniversary at The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC
Thank you. Good evening. Secretary Clough, thank you and the Smithsonian for allowing us an opportunity to give up our bowling league night and come to have dinner with you. In particular our distinguished and very special guest tonight, President Park. President Park, ladies and gentleman; it is a privilege to be here with all of you as we welcome all of you and President Park and her delegation to Washington. As you all know today she and President Obama reaffirmed the enduring bonds of friendship that exist between our two nations.
Tonight we commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea, an alliance based on common values and mutual trust, and one which remains vital to the interests of both of our nations and a cornerstone of stability in Northeast Asia.
I want to also recognize those who served in the Korean War under the banner of the United Nations, including those who died for freedom during the three years of bitter conflict that swept the peninsula. Almost always outnumbered, they stood together and forged a legacy of accomplishment that we celebrate today. To those veterans here tonight: we thank you. And if you would be so kind to allow us to appropriately thank you by recognizing you. If you could stand those who served. Particularly our veterans from Korea. Thank you.
President Park told me a few minutes ago when we were talking about many different issues that when she comes to Washington the first place she goes is the Korean War Memorial. And I noted, that as you all in this room know, that you all visited that memorial many times. There is a spiritual dimension to it that we all recognize and once you see it and experience it you understand it.
I recently had the honor of participating in a Medal of Honor ceremony for one of America’s Korean War veterans, Army Chaplain Father Emile Kapaun. He performed acts of heroism on the battlefield and would later die as a prisoner of war. In adding Father Kapaun’s name to our nation’s roll of honor, we had the opportunity to reflect on the service and sacrifice of the entire generation of Americans who fought in Korea.
The United States and Republic of Korea’s militaries formed enduring and unbreakable bonds in the years that followed the Korean War, enhanced by thousands of military exchanges which continue today.
In my own time in the U.S. military, I saw that cooperation up close when I served alongside South Korean soldiers in Vietnam in 1968. They were some of the toughest, bravest fighting men I have ever encountered. And some of the most dependable.
In Afghanistan, the Republic of Korea once again stepped forward. They stepped forward to do its part for global security. The U.S. and Republic of Korea militaries have stood together in the past, we stand together today, and we will stand together in the future.
I also got to know the people of South Korea when I served as President of the World USO in the late 1980s. Their generous and continued support of American troops and their families was and is a wonderful welcome to men and women and their families serving so far from home.
I was also reminded of this special friendship during my visits to South Korea as a United States senator.
The umbrella of security and stability provided by this alliance has enabled the Republic of Korea to grow into a global economic power. A power practicing a free and open democratic form of government. The United States remains fully committed to the security of the Republic of Korea, and to provide the forces and military capabilities needed to maintain security on the Korean peninsula.
We are also committed to expanding our defense relationship into a more global alliance to promote regional and global security and stability. Our two countries are now working together across the globe, from counter piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, to peacekeeping operations in South Sudan, in support of our common interests and the interests of security.
Our sixty years of partnership and shared prosperity underscores the strength of a strong alliance that stems from the close relationship between our two peoples. I look forward to visiting South Korea later this year to deepen this partnership that for so long been a force for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.
I once again welcome President Park to Washington, her delegation, President Park’s leadership under a very challenging and trying time in the world and for that steady leadership we are grateful. And we and thank her for her friendship, her friendship to the American people.
Thank you very much.