WASHINGTON – The Korean War, often called America’s forgotten war, was commemorated Saturday with a solemn ceremony in Washington and a more elaborate event in Pyongyang, North Korea, marking the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended combat.
President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in D.C. and told a crowd of about 5,000 on the National Mall, “Here in America, no war should ever be forgotten, and no veteran should ever be overlooked.’’
Veterans of the war, including some in their old uniforms, were among those in attendance, along with South Korean officials.
“That war was no tie. Korea was a victory,’’ Obama said, noting South Koreans live in freedom and enjoy a dynamic economy, “in stark contrast to the repression and poverty’’ of North Korea.
Speaking before a “Heroes Remembered” banner, Obama said the U.S. commitment to South Korea will “never waver.’’
While an armistice was penned July 27, 1953, no formal peace treaty was ever signed, and tensions remain high on the Korean peninsula.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial features 19 7-foot-tall stainless steel soldiers in windblown ponchos on patrol.
An effort is under way in Congress to erect a wall at the memorial – similar to the famous wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – to call greater attention to the Korean War.
In North Korea, the anniversary was marked with a lavish and painstakingly choreographed military parade through Pyongyang’s main square, a solemn gathering led by leader Kim Jong Un at a newly opened war museum that features prominently the USS Pueblo spy ship captured in 1968 and a fireworks display that filled the night sky and drew huge crowds who watched from along the Pothong river.
This year’s parade, which also included floats and thousands of civilians waving colorful fake flowers, appeared to offer more flash and pageant than new revelations of the secretive North’s military capabilities, though one unit prominently carried kits marked with the bright yellow nuclear symbol, a reminder of the North’s claims that it is preparing itself against a nuclear attack by the United States and is developing a nuclear arsenal of its own.
The extravagant assembly of weapons and goose-stepping troops on Saturday was reminiscent of the marches held by the Soviet Union and China at the height of the Cold War. It is one of the few chances the world gets to see North Korea’s military up close. Although Pyongyang frequently uses the occasion to reveal new, though not always operational, hardware, there didn’t appear to be any major new weapons in Saturday’s parade.
Overlooking a sea of spectators mobilized in Kim Il Sung Square to cheer and wave flags, leader Kim Jong Un saluted his troops from a review stand. He was flanked by senior military officials, the chests of their olive green and white uniforms laden with medals. As fighter jets screamed overhead, a relaxed looking Kim smiled and talked with China’s vice president. China fought with North Korea during the war and is Pyongyang’s only major ally and a crucial source of economic aid. Kim did not make a speech.
Saturday’s parade marked a holiday the North Koreans call “Victory Day in the Fatherland Liberation War,” although the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce and the Korean Peninsula remains technically at war.