Honoring Korean War veterans

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sixty years ago this month, the fighting ended in a war that, today, many Americans know little about. Thousands of young Missourians who fought bravely on the Korean peninsula to halt unprovoked aggression and to defend freedom came home to farms, small towns and big cities across our diverse state. Yet, returning from halfway around the world, few were greeted with fanfare or hailed as heroes. It is unfortunate that it would take decades before the full significance of what they had accomplished was realized.

On Saturday -- the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended "America's Forgotten War" -- we should embrace the opportunity to recognize those brave Missourians who waged a valiant fight to protect the freedom of a distant nation, and make the world a safer place. It is also a tremendous chance to educate younger generations about the brave service of these Americans.

When North Korea launched its invasion in June 1950, President Truman vowed that we would not let South Korea fall to an unprovoked attack. More than 6,000 miles from home, serving alongside our allies from South Korea and 15 other nations, American servicemen faced some of the toughest combat conditions imaginable: sub-zero cold and searing heat, attacks that came in waves, and the knowledge that capture could mean summary execution or brutal physical and psychological conditions as a prisoner of war.

Our troops battled for more than three years against Communist forces from North Korea and China, which were backed by the Soviet Union. Those Americans fought courageously in battles whose names live on in our nation's history -- Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, Bloody Ridge -- and in many other battles without names.

More than 36,000 Americans were killed, and more than 100,000 were wounded. It was a high price, but the legacy of what that generation of veterans accomplished can be found today in the Republic of Korea: a peaceful and stable nation, a democracy where individual freedoms are cherished, and a trusted ally that has brought prosperity to its people -- a stark contrast to the suffering that continues under the brutal dictatorship to the north.

I share a bond with many Missourians who had a relative serve in Korea, as my father is a Korean War-era veteran. So it was a special honor to lay a wreath in the Missouri section of the Hall of Heroes at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul this past March. Listed on the memorial were the names of more than 900 Missourians who did not make it back -- a vivid reminder of the price of freedom.

Today, men and women from Missouri and across the U.S. still serve in the Republic of Korea, some at the world's most fortified border. They are linked to that first generation of Americans who went there more than 60 years ago by their commitment to service, their courage and the knowledge that freedom is not free.


Jay Nixon is the governor of Missouri.

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