Remembering the soldiers of democracy By Guest Commentary A solitary soldier stands attention surveying the bleak landscape in front of him. He gazes out over the demilitarized zone, the buffer space that lies between North and South Korea, never making eye contact with his counterpart on the other side. He guards the North Korean Pavilion, directly opposite of the Freedom House of South Korea. Several smaller buildings cushion the stark, cold space between the two individuals and the atmosphere is austere in this 4000 meter wide strip that divides communism and democracy.
Some of you remember the Korean War well. Some of you were there, but unfortunately this important conflict is also referred to as the "Forgotten War." I'd like to refresh your memory. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, with some 135,000 troops initiating the Korean War. Two days later, President Truman deployed American servicemen and women to waters off Taiwan to prevent the conflict from expanding to other nations. The first U.S. infantry unit arrived in Korea on June 29, and charged the battlefield to protect democracy. While the offensives from the North continued into 1951, combat action gradually subsided, and stabilized battle lines near the 38th Parallel, the site where the fighting had begun. As both sides fortified their positions, prospects for a military decision became bleak. On July 27, 1953, an armistice was signed, concluding a war that had officially never been declared. A total of 33,561 American servicemen and women died halting the spread of Communism in East Asia.
Today presents an historic moment in history. This year not only marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the war, but recently the two Koreas have announced that they plan to engage in negotiations later this summer. The peace and stability that Americans worked so hard to preserve has flourished and the prospects of expanding these democratic ideals are more promising today than at any time in the past 50 years.
These events create an opportune time to honor and recognize the veterans who sacrificed so much for our country and the rest of the free world. The atmosphere is ripe for remembering the "Forgotten War" and taking steps to shed this designation. We must call upon the rest of the nation to recognize these individuals who fought to secure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. In order to help ensure that those who sacrificed to preserve democracy and freedom in that peninsula are never forgotten, I have been working with the Department of Defense and will be awarding lapel pins and certificates to veterans at a special ceremony in Rapid City on June 25. Other presentation ceremonies will take place in Sioux Falls and Aberdeen this year. As well, there are on-going efforts to make commemorative Korean War medals available free of charge for those veterans who served on the ground in Korea. The Department of Defense expects to know more about the details of that program in the near future. Please call my toll-free number at 1-800-755-5646 for more information on the pins and medals programs.
We face a future that provides hope that someday, the two guards on opposing sides of the demilitarized zone will be able to shake hands, smile, and appreciate their shared heritage. In looking forward, we must pay tribute to the individuals who kept democracy alive on the peninsula. Thanks to those American men and women who sacrificed so valiantly, democracy is alive and well in the South. And the prospects for freedom embracing the entire Korean Peninsula are bright.