WASHINGTON, July 27, 2013 --
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Navy Adm. James Winnefeld remembered the Korean War as the first time the world united under the banner of the United Nations to stand up to aggression and support the rule of law.
The men spoke today at the ceremony here marking the 60th anniversary of the armistice ending active combat on the Korean peninsula.
More than 1.7 million Americans served in Korea during the 1950-1953 war. A total of 36,574 Americans were killed.
"We stood with our fellow citizens of the world, even though they lived on the other side of it," Hagel said during the ceremony. "And we did not do it alone."
Today, one of America's closest allies is the Republic of Korea. All told, 22 countries fought aggression under the banner of the United Nations.
"The Korean War teaches us an important lesson – that alliances and international institutions are extensions of our influence, not constraints on our power," Hagel said. "And they are critical to our long-term vision of peace and stability, especially in the Asia-Pacific."
The American, Korean and allied sacrifices were not in vain. The war in Korea began an unprecedented era of growth, security and prosperity in Asia, and that was made possible by America's leadership, Hagel said.
"To sustain this security and prosperity in the 21st century, the United States is strengthening its economic, diplomatic, cultural, and security ties with countries throughout Asia," Hagel said.
But the bedrock alliance remains Korea. The United States still maintains 28,500 U.S. service members in South Korea. "Just as veterans of the Korean War held the line from Pusan to Panmunjom, so too do these current-day defenders stand ready to help guard freedom – and to promote peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and throughout East Asia," the secretary said.
Winnefeld said the anniversary honors the legacy of the millions of American service members who served in the Korean War.
"For many of us it's personal – a parent, a brother, a relative, a friend who served far from our shores," the admiral said. "And I'm no exception – my own father, as a young Navy ensign, served with honor alongside the more than 36,000 heroic Americans who gave the last full measure of devotion to this war."
The sacrifice of those Americans cemented the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance, and serves as an inspiration to the newest generation to defend the peninsula. All allied forces in South Korea know the motto Katchi Kapshida, or "We Go Together," Winnefeld said. "For them, for every warrior who served before them, and for those who are serving today in harm's way, we will always remember," he said.