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Public Papers - 1992

Remarks at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Korean War Veterans Memorial

1992-06-14

Thank you very much, very much. May I say that it is an honor for me to be introduced by General Davis and to have just met with so many men that wear with pride the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award our country can give. And may I salute the Members of Congress who are with us today. I haven't seen them all, but over my shoulder is Senator Rudman, who fought in Korea; Senator Dole, a hero of World War II; Senator Chafee, who was in the Korean fight; and many others. I'm going to miss a few over here, but I got the ones I see. And Congressman Montgomery, a friend of all the veterans, holding up his hand so I wouldn't miss him. I'm going to get in trouble now. So there they are. Of course, I want to single out, as did others, General Stilwell. I was privileged to serve with him in the intelligence community. I respect him. I know of his record. I'm pleased that his beloved Alice is with us; his son, Dick, Jr. His dream is now about to be fulfilled, his leadership rewarded.

Ambassador Hyun, may I ask you, sir, to pay our respects to President Roh Tae Woo. And you can tell him this: The United States is going to fulfill our obligations to peace on the Korean peninsula. The United States does not quit, and we will stay with the job. May I salute the members of the diplomatic corps.

We meet, you know, on a very special day. It is Flag Day. It is the 217th anniversary of the United States Army. It's a special occasion to break ground for a memorial to those veterans whose courage now lives as history, passed from one generation to another.

This is not a memorial to war, but a memorial to peace America has always fought for. I was Vice President when Ronald Reagan signed legislation authorizing the creation of a national Korean War Veterans Memorial. And today, as President, I'm proud to help honor America's peacemakers who served during the Korean war.

America's uniformed sons and daughters went to Korea not for themselves. Hating war, they sought only liberty. They fought so that the enslaved might be free. They fought in the Pusan Perimeter and at Inchon, on Heartbreak Ridge, and Pork Chop Hill, in the sea and the air and the gullies and the ridges. And to our 5.7 million Korean war veterans, a grateful Nation thanks you for what you did. For stopping totalitarianism, the entire free world still salutes you.

We remember first how America's finest took up arms and bore our burden for a cause larger than ourselves. Among them was Lieutenant Colonel John Page, then 46, at home in New Orleans with his wife and kids. He became one of the 54,246 Americans who gave their lives; the more than 103,000 that were wounded; the over 8,000 still missing or unaccounted for.

Let me put it plain: Though many MIA's have returned to America in the past years, no one can rest until all have been accounted for. I know our Secretary of Defense, our able Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, feels exactly that way and is doing everything he can to guarantee every single American is accounted for.

Men like John Page did the hard work of freedom. Seeking the enemy position, he asked to ride in a two-seat observer plane. Once in the air he told the pilot to fly low over their encampment. Speechless, the pilot watched as Page pulled pins from three grenades, leaned out of the cockpit, and dropped them on the enemy positions. Later he bombed foxholes with grenades, climbed aboard a tank and fired machine gun bursts which forced the enemy to flee, and then finally led a rush which destroyed an enemy roadblock and made three dozen of the enemy retreat.

John Page did all of this in his first 12 days in combat, which were his last 12 days on Earth. His last reported words were to a comrade, ``Get back, that's an order. I'll cover you.'' And the Marine Corps named this Army man a recipient of the Navy Cross. America gave him the Medal of Honor. He showed how greatness touched all those who went to this unknown land amid the shroud of darkness to illuminate the night.

Here in God's light amid the woods, we recall, as proved in Korea and again, as General Davis mentioned, in the Persian Gulf, that together allies could contain tyranny by combining strength. Fighting side by side under the flag of the United Nations, freedom-loving countries of the United States and the Republic of Korea and other allies strove to halt aggression.

And did we succeed? Did we ever. We built a stable peace that has lasted nearly 40 years, and together we held the line. And in the wake of North Korea's wanton aggression in June of 1950, America did not hesitate. The Eighth United States Army dispatched Task Force Smith as the lead element of what eventually -- [applause]. And I saluted some of the veterans of that task force, a task force which eventually became a mighty United Nations effort to hold the line. Who can forget the epic battle of the First Marine Division at Chosin Reservoir. They held the line against overwhelming odds. And so did men named MacArthur and Ridgeway and Chesty Puller, veterans who serve in the Halls of Congress, some of whom are with us today, veterans like James Garner and Neil Armstrong.

These Americans sought the highest cause and the community of God and man, a world where the force of law outlasted the use of force. And so did other parties I want to thank, for instance, sponsors like the American Battle Monuments Commission, chaired by the great General P.X. Kelly behind me here, we owe him a vote of thanks; and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board, with General Ray Davis as its chairman; and Chung Dul Ok, whose company donated over million to this memorial.

Let me note this: Every penny, every penny of its funding has been privately financed. And thanks to the designers of this memorial's unforgettable silhouette, we salute them as well.

Finally, let me salute the foot soldiers you see in this memorial, whose memory we take with us, whose nobility enriches us. I mean the men and women who braved the heat and cold, lack of sleep and food, and the human hell of fire. They were rich and poor, black and white and red and brown and yellow. The soldiers I speak of were young, I'm sure afraid, and far from home. Yet in the foxholes, in the foothills, across the rugged snow-covered ridges, they were selfless. Most of all they were Americans.

At this wonderful site, just take a look at Ash Woods, a quiet grove of trees right near the majestic Lincoln Memorial. Recall how it endures as testimony to the living and the dead. When tyranny threatened, you were quick to answer your country's call. Sadly, your country wasn't quite as quick to answer your call for recognition of that sacrifice. And today we say, the length of time it has taken for this day to arrive only adds to the depth of our gratitude.

I believe that the Korean war showed that ours would not be the land of the free if it were not the home of the brave. And in that spirit, with eternal love for what you did and what you are, it is now my privilege to break the ground on behalf of every American for the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

May God bless those who served. And may God bless ours, the greatest, freest country on the face of the Earth, the United States of America. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:45 p.m. on the Mall. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. Richard Stilwell, who led the effort for the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Hong-Choo Hyun, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea.

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