An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | June 25, 2017

67th Korean War Memorial Ceremony

By ADM Harry Harris

Adm. Harry Harris

Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

67th Korean War Memorial Ceremony

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Honolulu, Hawaii

June 25, 2017

As Delivered

State and city leaders; members of the Consular and Diplomatic Corps; Colonel Horton, Gene Maestas and the team of this magnificent and sacred ground: thanks for the great work you do every day to honor our veterans. I want to extend a special welcome to our veterans of the Korean War here today. Thank you for coming, and thank you for your unselfish and heroic service more than six decades ago. Fellow Flag and General Officers, distinguished guests:

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s great to be here with all of you in this idyllic setting, to acknowledge the achievements and sacrifices of some true American heroes.

I’m deeply honored to speak to you at this beautiful place, this hallowed ground, this sepulchered field of illustrious men and women, these 112 acres of sacred soil of the National Military Cemetery of the Pacific -- our cherished Punchbowl. The thousands of patriots interred here around us and among us serve as a solemn reminder of whom, and what we must remember.

I come as you do to pay tribute to those who fought some 67 years ago in a faraway land. On this day, the anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, let us never forget the sacrifice of those brave men and women who answered the call of duty to serve and fight on the Korean Peninsula.

Korea reminds us that freedom is an idea worth fighting for – and, if need be, an idea worth dying for. Korea reminds us that alliances matter.

The Korean War is always with me. Thanks to my father, a Korean War veteran, I'm very familiar with this important chapter in global history. My dad was a Navy Chief Petty Officer stationed in Japan when the North invaded the South and caught the world by surprise. He saw plenty of time at sea as he sailed in support of operations ashore.

History was revealed to me as he spoke of the Pusan Perimeter, the Inchon Landing, the ‘Frozen Chosin,’ and mysterious places like Heartbreak Ridge and Pork Chop Hill. After the war, Dad served in Chinhae as a trainer for South Korean Navy Sailors.

The Korean War would be the opening struggle in the long and difficult campaign of the Cold War. A struggle that culminated in the victory of democracy over communism, of freedom over oppression, of thoroughfares and gateways over blockades and barricades.

Today, Seoul is an economic giant with endless opportunity and led by a democratically elected President. In contrast, Pyongyang is toxic, despotic, erratic: ruled with an iron fist, by a reckless dictator – a man who values his pursuit for power over the prosperity and welfare of his own people.

Today, South Korea is a free country with a vibrant culture and a powerful military – an ironclad ally and treaty partner, a close friend to the United States and a key anchor for peace and stability in the region. To all who fought in Korea, this is your lasting legacy.

The storied role that some of you in this audience played in Korea is the stuff of legend. Like the Victory Division and Tropic Lightning, the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions, who proudly displayed their ties to Hawaii with their shoulder patches, in the shape of a taro leaf.

Fighting alongside the 5th Regimental Combat Team, these units represented Hawaii, and our nation, as they bolstered the besieged 8th Army in the Pusan Perimeter. They were part of the breakout and counteroffensive that drove the enemy north, pushing them all the way to the Yalu River.

And there are the Thunderbirds, the 45th Infantry Division, who joined the front line forces in the second half of the war and remained on the front, fighting in the trenches, in engagements like Old Baldy Hill and Hill Eerie.

As I’ve learned about your achievements in the war, I’m thankful for the efforts of each of you who served, and who so proudly represented Hawaii.

When I was in high school, the father of one of my classmates had been a Navy helicopter pilot in Korea. I was inspired and influenced by the story of Captain John W. Thornton. He was shot down in Korea and captured by the North. He was held as a prisoner of war and was the last P.O.W. to be released from that war. He was one of the founders of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school, or SERE as we call it. He believed in fraternity, in accountability, in preparation, and in God. And I’m proud to consider him one of my earliest mentors.

I hold in greatest respect the sacrifices of those who were held in captivity as prisoners of war. And there are approximately 7,750 Americans still missing from the Korean War. They are not forgotten.

And with the recent, tragic story of Otto Warmbier after his unjust detention by North Korea – to die immediately after coming home, well, the cause and effect are undeniable. As Defense Secretary Mattis said a few days ago, this goes beyond any kind of understanding of law and order and of humanity itself. So let us also remember that there are still three Americans – Kim Dong-Chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-Song – still being detained by North Korea. They are not forgotten.

We also remember that more than 400 U.S. military service members from Hawaii were killed in the Korean War. They are part of more than 36,000 U.S. service members who gave their last full measure in Korea. They are not forgotten.

We remember our partners from the United Nations who fought and died during the Korean War – more than 3,000 were killed and 1,800 went missing in action – from nations in our region that included Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and to the surprise of some, Japan. According to Dr. Jim Auer, Professor Emeritus at Vanderbilt University, Japanese minesweepers were critical to the Wonsan landing -- one Japanese Sailor died and others were injured while the minesweepers flew under the United Nations flag. And the U.N. still stands guard today, as North Korea continues to threaten our lives and the lives of our friends, allies, and partners. These sacrifices are not forgotten.

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t remember the hundreds of thousands of South Korean service members who were killed or went missing during the war fought on their own homeland. They are not forgotten.

George Patton once said, ‘It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived.’

So today, I join you all, and all of America, in thanking God such men and women lived, as we honor the veterans, living and dead, of the Korean War.

For those of you who served, and for all the loved ones who supported them, thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I arrived today, and I looked upon the memorial behind me, I was reminded that since the beginning of time, stone has been the central metaphor for all things eternal – those things lasting and unconquerable. We believe that stone is impenetrable, that a foundation set on bedrock is assured, to inscribe on stone means that words are immortalized and remembered, forever.

Here at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, we stand at the base of the Honolulu Memorial, where the honor, the sacrifice, and the final achievements of our American Armed Forces during World War II and in the Korean War and later the Vietnam War and the ongoing wars of the 21st century, are chiseled into stone, a final statement to memorialize their achievements.

So as we gather beneath this impressive and humbling memorial, we lift our eyes to meet the gaze of Lady Columbia, who forever wears on her face the pain and anguish of our nation’s grieving mothers, who have lost their sons and their daughters in war, and who have laid such a costly sacrifice on the altar of freedom.

America’s daughters and sons answered the call 67 years ago to defend a country they likely had never known before, to defend a people they likely had never met before. And they did so courageously, with great honor, laying the foundation for the ironclad alliance we share with our friends is the Republic of Korea today. An alliance rooted in shared values, shared commitments, and shared expectations.

Today, our warriors from the United States and the Republic of Korea stand shoulder-to-shoulder, ready to answer freedom’s call. As Kim Jong-Un reminds us with increasing regularity, the ROK-U.S. alliance faces a serious threat. North Korea's continued defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, manifested by Pyongyang's multiple provocative missile launches and nuclear tests, threatens the entire region.

In the six decades of our alliance, it’s been the privilege of the American armed forces to serve side-by-side with our allies on the Korean peninsula.

This alliance was forged in blood during the Korean War by those veterans we honor today. Veterans who fought in places like Incheon, Wonsan, the Chosin Reservoir. They were hard fighting Americans and Koreans – they paid the ultimate price together for our freedom.

Today, we are vigilant together – day in and day out – against the tyranny and despair north of the 38th parallel. As we do so, we know that this is no longer just a military alliance. It’s much deeper than that.

Over the years, our alliance has grown beyond a traditional security relationship and now encompasses shared political, economic, and cultural values. Although our alliance was founded to combat the spread of communism, it’s now a symbol for peace, democracy, and freedom to the world.

So ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude my remarks with the following thought. While the thundering sound of the guns ended with the signing of the Armistice 64 years ago this July 27th, the United States and the Republic of Korea continue to draw strength from those who fought for freedom in the Korean War. And our nations continue to draw strength from those who are serving in our armed forces today, from those who will serve tomorrow, and from those who will serve far, far into the future – an unbroken chain, linking Americans and Koreans, generation to generation.

Our strength as free nations also comes from loyal citizens like each of you in the audience today. Koreans and Americans who are aware of the challenges, the opportunities, the dangers we face.

Those of us who serve are grateful for patriots like you, who help make us what we are today: the world’s strongest force for good on the face of the Earth.

May God bless those who served in the Korean War, to defend freedom and liberty. May God bless all of our Service women and men across the globe who go boldly into harm's way. May God bless our strong alliance... and may God continue to bless the Republic of Korea and the United States of America. Katchi kapshida – thank you.



Like Us