President Obama hailed veterans of the Korean War Saturday, saying their sacrifices ensured that millions of Koreans could live safely in a democracy.
Speaking on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War's armistice, he noted that some had expressed their dissatisfaction with the war's resolution, which resulted in the establishment of a demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea and did not end with a definitive truce. He noted that many dismissed the conclusion with the phrase "die for a tie."
But he argued that, decades later, those efforts have proven fruitful.
"That war was no tie. Korea was a victory," he told those gathered in Washington at the Korean War Memorial. "When 50 million South Koreans live in freedom, a vibrant democracy…a stark contrast to the repression and poverty of the North, that is a victory and that is your legacy."
"Unlike World War II, Korea did not galvanize our country, these veterans did not return to parades," he said. "Unlike Vietnam, Korea did not tear at our country, these veterans did not return to protests.
"Among many Americans tired of war, there was, it seems, a desire to forget, to move on," he added. "Here in America, no war should ever be forgotten, no veteran should ever be overlooked."
The president also noted that the Korean War offers lessons for the U.S. even today. He said that war taught the U.S. to be ever-vigilant, noting that the rapid withdrawal of troops after World War II allowed the conditions for Communism to spread, sowing the seeds for the Korean conflict. And as the U.S. withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, the president vowed to maintain a fierce fighting force.
"Our allies and adversaries must know the United States of America will maintain the strongest military the world has ever none, bar none," he said.
Obama was joined at the event by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who hailed veterans of the war who "stepped forward at a defining time in our history."
"We acted out a belief that peace and security among nations must depend on the rule of law, not the rule of force," he said. "The Korean War teaches us an important lesson, that alliances and international institutions are extensions of our influence, not constraints on our power."
Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also attended and spoke, as well as envoys from South Korea.
Roughly five thousand people gathered for the event, according to a pool report.