By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (July 23, 2012) -- The Department of Defense and the Army will recognize veterans of the Korean War Friday and will also commemorate the anniversary of the July 27, 1953, signing of the armistice that ended fighting on the peninsula.
A wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery, on the 59th anniversary of the armistice, will honor those who served and those who gave their lives in Korea.
Since the beginning of the three-year Korean War commemoration, the DOD and the Army have been participating in and conducting events across the country, "with the principal goal of honoring the service of our Korean War veterans," said Col. David J. Clark, executive director, DOD 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration committee. Clark also serves as the Army's director, foreign intelligence, with Army G-2.
Clark said the committee has participated in more than 100 events involving Korean War veterans groups in the United States since the commemoration began June 24, 2010.
Koreans and Korean War veterans have commemorated July 27 yearly since the armistice ended hostilities there.
There are about 600-700,000 Korean War veterans still alive, Clark said, and veterans groups around the United States, such as the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the Korean War Veterans Association, regularly hold events to recognize those veterans.
Clark said that the committee makes it a point to attend those events. They bring with them films to do historical presentations, participate in wreath-laying events, and give speeches. Veterans get a signed certificate by the Secretary of Defense commemorating their service.
"If there is a veterans group that is hosting an event and we can fit it into our schedule, we try to go anywhere," Clark said. "We don't want to disappoint anybody."
The committee also brings to these events something more that those veterans might not otherwise feel they receive, recognition by America's Department of Defense.
"I think the most important thing is the legitimacy of the government," Clark said. "To know that the Department of Defense cares about them and they are willing to send a representative to thank them for their service, and it is an official representative of the government, that means an awful lot to these veterans."
Clark said he is often called on to speak at various events around the United States, and veterans relay to him their gratitude.
"In the simplest terms, they say thank you," he said. "And many say it's about time. And they feel gratified their country hasn't forgotten them. With the time and money we've invested in this program, what it's brought back to the DOD and the Army is almost immeasurable. It's really resonated with these veterans that their country is thanking them."
The Korean War came less than five years after the end of World War II, Clark said. "A lot of Americans, after World War II, after that huge world-wide conflict, just wanted to turn the page and move on."
Many Americans didn't know where Korea was, the war only lasted three years, and most Americans, Clark said, didn't really care there was a conflict going on overseas. For many at home, the Korean War simply didn't show up on the radar, it was a "forgotten war."
"A lot of veterans returned home to just indifference," Clark said. "People didn't know they had served in Korea, and didn't really care."
But Clark said the Korean War was an important conflict, it strengthened Korea, it strengthened America's relationships and presence in Asia, it demonstrated for the first time the effectiveness of the newly formed United Nations, and it helped stop the spread of communism.
"I think the most important reason is what it changed in North-East Asia," Clark said. "When you look at the results of the Korean War, it was kind of ambiguous when it ended. Nobody knew what was going to come out of it, the Republic of Korea, South Korea, was a poor, ravaged country."
Today, however, the Republic of Korea has grown exponentially into a powerhouse in Asia, and is an ally to the United States.
"What has happened over time is South Korea has become a powerful country in its own right," Clark said. "It's developed democratic traditions, it's become an incredible ally to the United States. By preserving the Republic of Korea and its freedom, it's become an incredible partner for us in North-East Asia, and really stabilized the entire region."
Clark said he reminds veterans of that when he sees them at commemoration events around the country -- the success that is Korea, and their contribution to that success.
"If they ever had any doubt as to whether or not their service mattered, they can look at today's Republic of Korea and be proud of where it stands today," Clark said.
THE TIME TO RECOGNIZE IS TODAY
Clark said that every day the number of Korean War veterans goes down, and that the time to recognize veterans, the time to let them know their country is grateful for what they have done, is today.
"In this particular case, this is a situation where we have living American war veterans who are in their 80s for the most part, some in their 90s, who served in both World WarII and Korea, who won't be around in the next go-around," Clark said. "When we get to the 70th anniversary, that population will have dwindled. This is our last opportunity as a nation to say thank you to the veterans that are still alive."
Recognizing the contributions of those who served in the Korean War now, Clark said, is simply the right thing to do.
"It's very important for a great nation to not forget its veterans," he said. "That's what makes a great nation: a nation that remembers the sacrifices of its veterans. There's a younger generation observing how we take care of our veterans. That makes a big impact on their decision to serve their country. It's important that we set the right tone and continue to do so by honoring our veterans."
The Department of Defense began the commemoration of the Korean War, June 24, 2010, on the 60th anniversary of the conflict's first shots. The three-year commemoration of the conflict lasts as long as the war itself, and concludes July 27, 2013, with the 60th anniversary of the singing of the armistice.