The 50th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Korean War

Arlington Cemetery
June 26th, 2000

As Prepared for Delivery
DRAFT - 6/23/2000 9:25 AM

Secretary Cohen. General Ivany. Vincent Sergeant Krepps and all the honored veterans and their families here today. Members of the diplomatic corps. Distinguished guests.

Thank you, Secretary Cohen, for your fine words and your generous introduction. Thank you also for your service to your country, and for you devotion to the principle of non-partisanship in the conduct of America’s national security affairs.

We gather today at this sacred shrine to remember an occasion that changed the course of our nation’s history, and the history of the world.

Fifty years ago today, war broke out on the Korean Peninsula, as Communist forces from the North poured across the 38th parallel into the Republic of Korea in an act of unprovoked aggression. In the midst of a peaceful summer, only five years after the end of the Second World War, came another, unexpected call to arms as the Cold War suddenly burst into open conflict.

Fifty years ago today, when war broke out on the Korean Peninsula, America was in the midst of a peaceful summer. Then, suddenly, just five years after the end of the Second World War, came another aggression, and another call to arms -- as the Cold War embers flared in the heat of battle.

If December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy, then this day, for too long, has lived in obscurity. Today, on another peaceful summer morning, we recall the events of that fateful summer and the heroic struggle that ensued. And we pay our deepest respects to the veterans of the Korean War – many of you in the audience today – and your enduring contribution to the cause of peace and freedom around the world.

For too long, the Korean War was a "forgotten war", occupying a kind of No Man’s Land in America’s consciousness, – a critical turning point taken for granted, falling lost in memory between the glory that was World War II and the trauma that was Vietnam.

World War ended with joyous victory celebrations in Times Square. Vietnam ended with a helicopter lifting off from our embassy in Saigon. But Korea ended with a demilitarized zone.

Korea was a war without a clear victory – a conflict that ended in stalemate and a tense armistice, which technically, is on-going. Some thirty-seven thousand American servicemen and women continue to show their courage in Korea in celebration, ending instead in stalemate and tense armistice. Afterwards, tThe veterans of that war – many of you in the audience today – returned quietly to civilian life, your sacrifice unheralded, your bravery too often ignored.

and your heroism and sacrifices went largely unrecognized, except by your families and your comrades.

It was only five years ago that a proper monument was dedicated in your honor, after a long, hard effort by veterans and their friends to win support for its construction. The Korean War Veterans Memorial, which lies just across the Potomac from here, is a fitting - if belated - memorial to your service.

Of course, for the veterans here today, the Korean War was never forgotten. It is always with you.

You remember the monsoon mud, the searing heat, the biting cold, the swarming insects.

You remember the desperate defense of the Pusan Perimeter; the daringbrilliant and brilliant landing at Inchon; the bitter fighting south of the Yalu River; the courageous running battle from Chosin to the sea; the vicious trench warfare along the 38th parallel; the climactic struggle at Heartbreak Ridge.

For you this was never a forgotten war, but rather a proud if painful memory.You remember the monsoon mud, the searing heat, the bitter cold, the swarming insects. For you this was never a forgotten war, but a proud if painful memory.

I am honored to share the stage today with, former Sergeant First Class Vincent Krepps, who has dedicated his life to the memory of the Korean wWar – and to the memory of one life dear to him in particular that it claimed.

Vincent Krepps and his twin brother Richard "Dickie" Krepps served together in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division, which was among the units that bore the brunt of the enemy onslaught during the summer of 1950. On one day of particularly fierce fighting, Vince and his unitcompany found themselves surrounded by the enemy and coming under withering fireattack.

Risking his life, Vince dashed through the enemy lines throughin a hailstorm of crossfire to find relief for his besieged comrades. His extraordinary bravery earned him the Silver Star.

But Vince’s brother, Dickie, Krepps was not so fortunate. He was captured at Kuna-ri i later that same year. When the guns finally fell silent and POWs were releasedcame home, Dickie did not returnwas not among them.

Vince spent the next forty-eight48 years pursuingsearching out the truth. He combed the country for answers, seeking out all who may have known of his brother’s fate, even travelling to the DMZ looking for clues. Finally, in 1998, a fellow veteran confirmed that Dickie had died of disease while in captivity It was just two years ago that he finally found a fellow veteran that could confirm that Dickie had died in captivity.. Vince finally made peace with his past.

Vince, for your bravery during the war, and for your commitment in all the years since, the United States of America salutes you.

I say to you today: America also has a commitment to salute and honor all our veterans. We must account for every brave soldier missing in the Korean War, or any other war. And we must honor and provide for every veteran, from every conflict, who risked his or her life for our country.

But America can never fully make peace with its past until all those missing in the Korean War are accounted for. Nor can we fully make peace with our past until all those who served in that war and all wars are honored, and our commitment to provide for our veterans is fully met.

Sergeant Krepps, for your bravery during the war, and for your tenacity since, I salute you.

We cannot all be heroes like Vince and his brother. But we, as Americansa nation, we can do more to honor their sacrifice. We can do more to recognize the Korean War’s enduring contribution t, can honor their sacrifice by recognizing the importance of the Korean War and its lasting contribution to America’s security, and to that of the world.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial bears an inscription remindremindsing us that "freedom is not free." In Korea, we We and our South Korean and United Nations allies paid a terrible price to safegauard freedom. That price was made even higher because we were caught unprepared when the Cold War turned hot.

In the early, desperate days of fighting, units were rushed from occupation duty in Japan – without adequate equipment, without adequate training, and with too few infantrymen to fill out their rankss – to face a vastly larger North Korean force. That they held on at the Pusan Perimeter is a testament to toheir brave hearts, strong wills, and courageous leadership.ry and tactical skill.

But it was a near thing – just as was the ferocious winter fighting south of the Yalu and in the frozen valleys leading from the Chosin Reservoir.

OurThat experience as a nation in those early days taught us that we must never again send our soldiers into battle without the tools and training they need to succeed. America’s armed forces today are the world’s best-equipped, best-trained, and best-led – and they must remain that way. For as the veterans of those terrible early days in Korea can testify, peacetime duty can change to brutal combat at a moment’s notice.

The Korean War also taught us that in the fight against tyranny, we must stand with others who also love freedom. For the first time, Uunder United Nations auspicescommand, American forces joined South Korea and with South Koreans and soldiers from 220 other countries to turn the tide of aggression. that threatened to engulf all free peoples. We thank their Joining us today are representatives who are with us today.from many of those nations who stood with us in the heroic struggle.

We also learned the value of standing united as a people in defense of freedom. President Truman’s Executive Order integrating the U.S. military was implemented in the crucible of combat on the Korean Peninsula. And it transformed America. No longer were soldiers assigned to units because of their race. Instead, they were put where their military skills were needednecessity dictated. This not only made our military stronger, and the legacy makes oit made the American spiritur nation stronger.

Finally, the Korean War reaffirmed to the world a basic fact about the Americanthe American people. Americans are prepared to stand up against tyranny. We are ready to resist aggression. We are committed to defend freedom. We are an ally to be depended upon. We will sacrifice for what is dearest to us. And, if our interests and values dictate, Americans are prepared to, in the words etched on the Korean War Veterans Memorial, "defend a country they never knew for a people they had never met."

SeenLooking from our vantage point today, fifty years almost to the hour, your sacrifice was not in vainwe clearly see the value of your sacrifice. Your sacrificeIt is vindicated by the growth of South Korea into a thriving democracy and stalwart ally of the United States. It is vindicated by the new prospects for peace between the two Koreas in the wake of this month’s historic summit. And, in the larger sense, it is vindicated by the victory of democracy over Ccommunism after a decades-long struggle that erupted in violence for the first time fifty years ago this day, a victory taking place in the hearts of men and women all across the globe..

In Korea, America and its allies drew the line between tyranny and freedom – and the enemy did not pass. I have visited that line, as many of you have, to observe as America servicemen and women join our South Korean allies in safeguarding the 38th parallel.

In 1945, when General Eisenhower was considering what to write in a cable to Washington confirming the Allies’ victory in the Second World War, he chose the simple words "Mission Accomplished."

With the meeting that took place in Pyongyang, and the new feeling in the hearts of Koreans, I hope that we might repeat Eisenhower’s words to describe a new season of peace on the Korean Peninsula when we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the armistice three years from now.

The milestone of fifty years is a time to assess the meaning of the Korean War. Today, on this fiftieth anniversary, we owe it to you, the veterans of that conflict, to celebrate your sacrifice, to cherish your service, to remember what was too long forgotten. This is what it should have been from the beginning – a day that will live in honor.

Korea was a savage war, taking over 37,000 America lives. Today, on this 50th anniversary of the start of that war, let us remember those who laid down their lives in defense of freedom, as well as the veterans here today and throughout this nation. And let us never forget your bravery, your sacrifice, and the legacy that you have left to us and to all free people.

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