Public Papers

Remarks at a Fundraising Dinner for the Korean War Veterans Memorial Commission


Thank you, Ed. Thank you all. Thank you very, very much. May I thank our Secretary, Ed Derwinski, whom I knew very well when I served with him a thousand years ago in the Congress. But let me just say he's doing a superb job for the veterans of this country, and I'm very proud to have been introduced by him. I want to salute General Stilwell, an old friend, a strong friend, a man I've respected for years and with whom I worked about 15 years ago in the intelligence community, and salute all the members of the Commission, salute those honorees, those distinguished Members of Congress with us tonight, other veterans of the Korean war, other veterans. And thank all of you. And for me, it's great to be here tonight. I want to single out Chairman Lee of Samsung, whose generosity and commitment means so much to this very special evening, and thank him.

In the spring of 1951, almost 40 years ago, President Truman addressed the American people in the midst of the Korean war, saying, ``In the simplest terms, what we are doing in Korea is this: We are trying to prevent a third world war.'' The allied men and women who fought in Korea -- and who continue to guard the boundary of the Republic of Korea -- fulfilled that mission and helped ensure peace in the world. Korea, the first major struggle in the nuclear age, evolved into a war of battlefield stratagem and a war of international politics; but it was a war in which we turned the tide against communism for the first time in a victory regrettably sometimes ignored by history.

And a year before President Truman spoke, tensions in the Korean Peninsula had heightened, breaking out into a bitter conflict on June 25th, 1950, when the North Koreans launched a surprise attack on the fledgling Republic in the south. And President Truman quickly made the decision to commit American troops under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur to stop the Communist aggression. And the world watched as fighting continued throughout 1950, and then from late April through this month of May in '51, the Communists began their Spring Offensive to drive us from the peninsula. But it was our two leaders, General Jim Van Fleet, commanding the 8th Army, and General Matt Ridgway, commanding the U.N. forces, who repelled the offensive and drove Communist troops back to the north. Although they could not join us tonight, General Van Fleet and General Ridgway -- ages 98 and 95, respectively -- deserve our respect and our gratitude.

So, we are here tonight to remember our veterans' remote battles and their combined talents in what is often called the forgotten victory. Once this memorial, this fantastic memorial, is constructed, no American will ever forget the test of freedom our brave sons and daughters faced as they sought to stop aggression. You see, it is right that America remember that struggle in the Pusan perimeter to the landing at Inchon to the recapture and brave defense of Seoul. It is never too late for America to express her gratitude to all those who served under our flag in Korea -- those who made it home and those who didn't.

Looking back at the Korean conflict, our defense of freedom laid the foundation for the march of democracy we're seeing today around the world. And that march is reflected in this memorial -- in the memorial itself -- with 38 soldiers from all services moving down a path toward the United States flag -- the strongest symbol of freedom known throughout the world. It's those men and women honored by this memorial who joined the South Korean troops under the U.N. banner to help save a proud nation from communism, men like the Members of Congress you are saluting here tonight who served in the Armed Forces during the Korean war. Because of these brave soldiers and so many others, South Korea is now on its way to becoming one of the world's greatest economic powers with a freely elected democratic government and secure borders.

And so, to the veterans of the Korean war and to all attending, thank you for this opportunity to join you in saluting these Members of Congress, these old soldiers who have not just faded away but who have continued to serve their country in elected office. And in closing, let me share with you a line from Tennyson, in which Ulysses looks back with his soldiers on the battles they fought as young men and tells them, ``Though much has been taken, much abides.''

We honor tonight the heroic hearts and strong will of our Korean war veterans, who have given so much that others might have freedom. God bless you all, and thank you for letting me come over to pay my respects to your honorees tonight. Thank you and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:45 p.m. in the Regency Gallery at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Edward J. Derwinski; Gen. Richard G. Stilwell, USA, Ret.; and Lee Kun Hee, chairman of the Samsung Group.