By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 15, 2014) -- U.S. Army generals and representatives of the Republic of Korea and its Army, laid wreaths at the Korean War Memorial here, today, to commemorate those who fought in the three-year-long conflict in that country.
The small commemoration at the memorial took place at the same time as the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, just a few miles away. Lt. Gen. Bernard S. Champoux, 8th Army commander, placed a wreath at the memorial along with Maj. Gen. Shin Kyoung Soo, Republic of Korea defense attaché to the United States.
"It's critically important to recognize the service and sacrifice of so many," said Champoux, of the many Service members who fought in Korea. The general was in the United States to attend the AUSA event, which ran Monday through today. "Oftentimes you hear the Korean War is the forgotten war. It isn't. Today is witness to that. The service and sacrifices of those both from the United States and the Republic of Korea are not forgotten."
The Korean War began June 25, 1950, and ended with an armistice on July 27, 1953. The war took the lives of more 33,000 American Soldiers and wounded nearly 100,000 of them. In all, on both sides of the conflict, more than 4.4 million military personnel and civilians were wounded, killed or went missing in action.
That an American Soldier and South Korean Soldier together placed a wreath at the memorial was also a testament to the strong alliance that continues between the United States and the Republic of Korea, Champoux said.
"We've stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them for over 64 years," the general said. "To do the ceremony together demonstrates how very strong the alliance is. It's an honor to be part of it."
A prime example of the strength of the U.S. and Republic of Korea alliance is the ongoing Korean Augmentee to the U.S. Army program, called 'KATUSA for short. At the ceremony was 8th Army Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Devens, who said the program is a lynchpin of the U.S. Army mission in Korea.
"These are Korean citizens that are put into U.S. Army formations," Devens said. "They are Korean citizens that are now Korean Soldiers, but they are not part of the Republic of Korea Army -- they wear the U.S. Army uniform."
Devens said KATUSA Soldiers serve as medics, cooks, infantrymen, tankers, and in nearly any military occupational specialty that American Soldiers serve in.
"They have responsibilities like any Soldier. So here you have a Republic of Korea citizen that comes into the U.S. Army -- and that's why the alliance is so strong. No other country does that. We don't do it with any other country in the world. That's why we say it is the strongest alliance in the world."
Devens said there are about 3,000 KATUSA Soldiers.
Before Champoux and Shin placed their wreath, which bore a banner that read "Remembrance of Sacrifice and Goodwill -- Eighth Army," another wreath was placed first by Maj. Gen. Thomas Vandal, commanding general of the 2nd Infantry Division; and Rocky Park, president of the Korea Corporate Members of AUSA organization.
Park said he comes each year to the memorial when he makes his way to the United States to participate in the annual AUSA conference here in the nation's capital.
"I come to pay my respect for the priceless devotion and sacrifices" of American Soldiers who fought in the Korean War," Park said.
At the start of the Korean War, Park was young, just 15. He said some of his classmates served as "student soldiers." Later, however, he said he served in Vietnam as a Soldier in the Korean Army. He had graduated from the Korean Military Academy in 1958, and served in Vietnam from 1968-1969.
The relationship between the United States Army and the South Korean Army, Park said, is strong. And it is important that it stays strong, he said, to serve as a deterrent and warning to enemies of South Korea. "We show them power -- a strong attitude," he said, pumping his fist for emphasis.
The ceremony at the memorial was short. But being in a public area on the National Mall meant anybody who passed by could attend. Dozens of youth from touring school groups, veterans and dozens of Korean-American citizens from the local area stood nearby during the ceremony to witness the small gesture that is symbolic of one of the strongest military alliances in the world.