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[Pi Woo-jin] Freedom and peace: strengthening ROK-US alliance by honoring Korean War veterans

“I could see that their sacrifice was not in vain. Korea has become a country that I cherish” and “I can finally bring closure after losing my father,” said bereaved family members of US veterans killed or missing in action in the Korean War during a visit to Arrowhead Hill as part of the Revisit Korea Program that lasted six days.

During his speech on Memorial Day on June 6, President Moon Jae-in mentioned the construction of the Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington. He said, “We will honor the noble sacrifices of each and every fallen US Korean War veteran and help sublime the value of the alliance between Korea and the United States (so it can) become deeply etched on the hearts of both peoples.”

The United States suffered the heaviest casualties among 22 UN “sending states” during the Korean War 69 years ago. Thirty-three thousand US soldiers were killed in action, accounting for almost 90 percent of the total number of soldiers from UN sending states who made the ultimate sacrifice during the war.

The Wall of Remembrance at the War Memorial of Korea located in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, clearly shows this. Among the UN sending states on the Wall of Remembrance, the United States is the only country that has the names of soldiers killed in action grouped by each state because there were so many US soldiers killed in action during the Korean War.

The ROK-US alliance was forged with the blood of those injured or killed in action during the Korean War. South Korea was able to maintain a strong security posture even after the war and to promote economic development simultaneously thanks to the presence of the United States Forces Korea. This is how Korea and the United States have sustained and further advanced the blood alliance to date.

The coming year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. The Korean government aims to support the construction of the Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, to spread global awareness of the noble sacrifice of Korean War veterans who displayed gallantry during the war.

A round glass wall will be built around the Reflecting Pool, with a circumference of 50 meters and height of 2.2 meters. The names of US soldiers killed in action during the Korean War will be engraved on the wall in honor and remembrance of their sacrifice. The Korean government expects that the Wall of Remembrance will not only express the nation’s appreciation toward the UN sending states but also be a symbol of the ironclad alliance between Korea and the United States.

In addition, the Korean government plans to strengthen the ROK-US partnership by honoring the fallen heroes who fought in the Korean War through the Revisit Korea Program -- which invites the participation of US Korean War veterans, their family members and descendants -- as well as appreciation and tribute events held in the US.

At the moment, 82 people, including US and Korean-American veterans of the Korean War and their family members, are visiting Korea as part of the Revisit Korea Program hosted by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs. The participants include US veterans who helped approximately 100,000 refugees flee through the Hungnam Evacuation in the winter of 1950; the niece of late Col. Kim Young Oak, a US battalion commander who played a pivotal role in pushing the 38th parallel 60 kilometers up north during the Korean War; and her husband.

Sixty-six years have passed since the cease-fire on the Korean Peninsula, and now it is our duty to reach a historic milestone by establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. Countless numbers of young soldiers fought shoulder to shoulder for freedom and peace in Korea. It is high time that we usher in an era of peace and prosperity to bring closure to the painful period in our history. The ROK-US alliance that has safeguarded freedom and peace in Korea in the last 69 years has never been more important.

Pi Woo-jin
Pi Woo-jin is the minister of patriots and veterans affairs. -- Ed.