The victory we can never forget

“In my generation, this was not the first occasion when the strong had attacked the weak .... Communism was acting in Korea just as Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese had acted ten, fifteen, and twenty years earlier. I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, Communist leaders would be emboldened to override nations closer to our own shores.” – President Harry Truman Sixty years ago this month, the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea, challenging the resolve of a fledgling United Nations and prompting President Harry Truman to declare that the United States would fight its “unprovoked aggression.” By crossing the 38th parallel, the North’s forces started a three-year ground war that, today, is widely considered the first battle in a decades-long Cold War between communist powers and the West.

History tells us we prevailed, at great cost. Nearly 34,000 Americans, and hundreds of thousands of South Koreans, were killed in a horrific struggle to liberate the country and push the enemy back across the prewar border. Far more were wounded, and thousands on both sides remain unaccounted for. Two generations later, countless families mourn the loss of a husband, a brother or a son. I pray they understand why our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines fought half a world away, and know that their lives purchased the freedom of millions.

Because it ended with a cease-fire instead of a peace treaty or a democratic, unified peninsula, some say the United States lost the Korean War. Others say it ended in a stalemate. Those are two views. But the veterans who were there, those who fought the war, know differently. They defeated the North Korean military and held off a vastly larger Chinese army, costing them 10 times our number in casualties and forcing them to the negotiating table.

“They said a truce was signed because nobody won,” John Koontz Sr., 77, who served in Korea with the 24th Infantry Division, recently told the Hagerstown, Md., Herald-Mail. “That’s not true. There was a winner. We won.”

Had the United States and the 16 nations that fought with us under the U.N. banner not gone to war, the Republic of Korea would have fallen to communism, and other countries in the region most assuredly would have followed. Our world would be a vastly different place, and one considerably less free. It’s that simple.

For six decades, U.S. forces stationed in South Korea have stood ready to defend the country, should the North be unwise enough to resume shooting; technically, the two Koreas are still at war. North Korea’s withdrawal from the armistice in 2009, and the suspicious sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan on March 26, warn us that totalitarianism’s hunger is never sated. But neither is a people’s thirst for liberty.

South Koreans have turned a land for which so many Americans bled into one of the most prosperous nations on earth. For that sacrifice, they have never stopped thanking our veterans, and neither should we.