Source: Government of the Republic of Korea
Fellow Koreans, distinguished American citizens, Korean War veterans and families of the fallen,
Finally today, heroes of the United States and the Republic of Korea will be sent back to their hometowns and the relatives who have waited for them over 70 long years. It is my great privilege to become the first Korean President to honor the repatriation of those heroes in person.
I pay tribute to 68 Korean and five American military heroes who sacrificed themselves for the Republic of Korea’s freedom and peace. My deepest sympathy goes to their bereaved families.
The U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the Korean Ministry of National Defense Agency for KIA Recovery and Identification have played a decisive role in the return of these heroes. Commander John Aquilino of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and relevant officials have provided unstinting support for the joint repatriation of remains. I extend appreciation to all of them.
On June 25, 1950, when artillery fire rang out on the Korean Peninsula, the United Nations Security Council invoked the U.N. collective security system for the first time in history. To protect the peace of a little-known distant country, 1.95 million young people from 22 countries rushed to the Korean Peninsula.
In particular, the United States participated in the Korean War as if defending its own country. For the peace and freedom of a people they never met, 36,595 American and 7,174 Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) soldiers gave their lives.
Among the heroes who have been identified to be brought back to their homeland today are private first class Kim Seok-joo and private first class Jung Hwan-jo. They fought in the Battle of Jangjin Reservoir in 1950 as KATUSAs assigned to the 32nd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division. Thanks to the sacrifices of these heroes, approximately 100,000 refugees, including my parents, gained liberty, and I, too, could stand here as President.
In June 2017, shortly after taking office, I paid my respects at the Jangjin (Chosin) Reservoir Battle Monument in Washington, D.C. And today, I am deeply moved to be with our warriors from the Jangjin Reservoir Battle on their last mission – Return to the Homeland.
Second Lieutenant Kim Hye-soo, a Republic of Korea Army nurse who is the great-granddaughter of Pfc. Kim Seok-joo, is with us to personally accompany his remains. The late Pfc. Kim Seok-joo would also be very proud of Second Lieutenant Kim, who has become an imposing elite nursing officer.
The phrase – If you want peace, remember war – is engraved on the grounds of the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. The Republic of Korea has ceaselessly marched forward toward peace and prosperity while remembering the noble courage and sacrifices of Korean War veterans.
Seventy years have passed, and Korea has achieved both economic growth and democratization. In June this year, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development unanimously raised Korea’s status to that of an advanced country.
Now, Korea is striving to fulfill its responsibilities as a member of the international community. While working in solidarity and cooperation with the international community against COVID-19, we are also joining global efforts to respond to the climate crisis.
Building upon the sacrifices and dedication of U.N. Korean War veterans, the Republic of Korea has grown to the extent that it can jointly shoulder the tasks of the international community. Now, the Republic of Korea has become a proud contributor to world peace and common prosperity. Today, I feel immeasurable pride and self-esteem to be able to inform these heroes about the Republic of Korea’s growth.
People of Korea and the United States, Korean War veterans and bereaved families,
What these heroes want most is complete peace on the Korean Peninsula. In my address to the U.N. General Assembly, I proposed that the parties to the Korean War gather together to usher in a new era of reconciliation and cooperation by declaring an end to the War. Sustainable peace is a vision contained in the establishment of the United Nations, and the declaration of an end to the War will become a source of new hope and courage to all of those beyond the Korean Peninsula who aspire to peace.
The ROK-U.S. alliance – forged in blood and dedication of the war veterans – has developed into a comprehensive alliance that shares political, economic, social and cultural values, including freedom and peace, democracy and human rights, and the rule of law. The efforts of Korea and the United States for complete denuclearization and the establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula will also continue unwaveringly.
There are many heroes who have not yet returned. The Korean Government will continue to make efforts to locate soldiers who have yet to return to the arms of their families, including those within the Demilitarized Zone. I believe that this humanitarian cooperation among the two Koreas and the United States for the excavation of remains will serve as an opportunity to heal the wounds of war and move forward on the path of reconciliation and cooperation.
Now, we will return home with our heroes. These heroes who have instilled us with courage and hope for peace are finally returning to the land where they were born and raised.
May the heroes of our two countries rest in peace. We will remember them forever and reciprocate their sacrifices.