Earlier this month, Honor Flight South Carolina and the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of The Korean War Committee honored Korean War veterans in South Carolina at a special event where certificates of appreciation were presented to those who served during the Korean War between June 25, 1950, and July 23, 1953.
It was an overdue and insufficient gesture of gratitude toward these men whose contribution to our nation and our world has been underappreciated for far too long.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea launched a surprise attack on South Korea. By June 28, the South Korean capital of Seoul had fallen. South Korea appealed to the United Nations for help. Twenty-one U.N. member states agreed to contribute arms, money and/or troops to rid South Korea of its North Korean aggressor. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was placed in command of the U.N. forces. Fierce fighting took place until July 27,1953.
On July 27, 1953 — 60 years ago this Saturday — an armistice agreement was signed, and there was a cease fire. Yet even though there is a truce, a peace agreement has never been signed.
More than 1.8 million Americans fought to defend freedom and democracy on the Korean peninsula. The United States joined with allies to ensure the people of South Korea would not be ruled by the tyranny and oppression of communism. More than 5 million U.S. troops were engaged during the Korean War. American battle deaths exceeded 34,000.
The Korean War represented an epic struggle of two political ideologies: the democratic values of peace, freedom and self-determination against a communist system based on tyranny and violence.
No less than the fate of the world was at stake on the hills and plains of the Korean peninsula. Americans and the people of the Republic of Korea are deeply indebted to the veterans of the Korean War.
It’s chilling to imagine what a different world we would live in today if the United Nations’ forces had failed and communism had prevailed. Instead, the Berlin Wall has fallen, the old Soviet Union is no more, communism in Europe is virtually a thing of the past, and the specter of the Cold War no longer hangs over mankind.
And yet, despite the significance of their achievement, these Korean veterans never were treated with the public respect befitting their heroism. A nation that, after World War ll, was weary of war never fully grasped the enormity of the military’s mission in Korea. Few returning troops were greeted with the parades and celebrations that were common after World War ll. The Korean War became the Forgotten War.
As our country honors the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, let us all say to the American veterans of this war: You are forgotten no more. Your legacy is our nation’s prosperity, our continuing commitment to liberty and democracy. Your legacy is a thriving nation of more than 48 million people who live in a free and democratic society — the Republic of Korea.
On behalf of a grateful nation and community, thank you for your lasting contribution to our nation’s greatness. You, the veterans of the Korean War, are true American heroes, and we salute you. God Bless our veterans of today and our veterans of tomorrow — the men and women in uniform who stand watch on the Korean peninsula and around the globe.
Mr. Dukes is chairman of Honor Flight of South Carolina; this column is adapted from his comments at the recognition ceremony; contact him at BillDukes42@Gmail.com.