Arlington Cemetery
June 25, 2000

Secretary Cohen. General Ivany. Vincent 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.

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. For too long, the Korean War was a “forgotten war” – a critical turning point taken for granted, 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 Afterwards, the veterans of that war – many of you in the audience today – returned quietly to civilian life, your sacrifice unheralded, your bravery too often ignored.

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 daring and brilliant landing at Inchon; the courageous running battle from Chosin to the sea; the climactic struggle at Heartbreak Ridge.

For you this was never a forgotten war, but rather 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 War – and to one life dear to him that it claimed.

Vincent Krepps and his twin brother Richard “Dickie” Krepps served together in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. On one day of particularly fierce fighting, Vince and his unit found themselves surrounded by the enemy and coming under attack.

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

Dickie Krepps was not so fortunate. He was captured at Kuna-ri later that same year. When the guns finally fell silent and POWs came home, Dickie was not among them.

Vince spent the next forty-eight years searching out the truth. 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.

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

The Korean War Veterans Memorial reminds us that “freedom is not free.” In Korea, we paid a terrible price to safeguard freedom.

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 ranks. That they held on at the Pusan Perimeter is a testament to brave hearts, strong wills, and courageous leadership.

Our 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.

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, under United Nations auspices, American forces joined South Korea and 20 other countries to turn the tide of aggression. We thank their representatives who are with us today.

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 skills were needed. This not only made our military stronger, it made the American spirit stronger.

Finally, the Korean War reaffirmed to the world a basic fact about the 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.”

Looking from our vantage point today, fifty years almost to the hour, we clearly see the value of your sacrifice. Your sacrifice 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 communism, 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.


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