Obama Vows Unending Support for Veterans

WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2010 — Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma marked Vet­er­ans Day in the Repub­lic of Korea where he told U.S. troops they have his unend­ing sup­port.
Speak­ing at U.S. Army Yongsan Gar­ri­son on the 92nd anniver­sary of Vet­er­ans Day, the pres­i­dent addressed an audi­ence of about 1,400 base per­son­nel and fam­i­lies, as well as sev­er­al hun­dred Kore­an War vet­er­ans, both Amer­i­can and Kore­an.

“It is an enor­mous hon­or to be here at Yongsan Gar­ri­son,” Oba­ma said. “As pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, I have no greater priv­i­lege than serv­ing as com­man­der-in-chief of the finest mil­i­tary that the world has ever known. And on this Vet­er­ans Day, there’s no place I’d rather be than right here with U.S. Forces Korea.” 

The crowd com­prised sol­diers, sailors, Marines, air­men, and Defense Depart­ment civil­ians. Oba­ma also not­ed the pres­ence of U.S. Ambas­sador Kath­leen Stephens, Army Gen. Wal­ter L. “Skip” Sharp,commander of U.S. Force Korea, and Con­gres­sion­al Medal of Hon­or recip­i­ent Hec­tor Caf­fer­a­ta, Jr., among others. 

Oba­ma said it was good to see mil­i­tary fam­i­ly mem­bers in the audi­ence. “You bear the bur­den of your loved one’s ser­vice in ways that are often immea­sur­able — an emp­ty chair at the din­ner table, or anoth­er hol­i­day where Mom and Dad are some­place far away,” he told the fam­i­lies at Yongsan. “So I want you to know that this nation rec­og­nizes the sac­ri­fices of fam­i­lies, as well. And we are grate­ful for your service. 

“Now, on this day we hon­or every man and woman who has ever worn the uni­form of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. We salute fall­en heroes, and keep in our prayers those who are still in harm’s way -– like the men and women serv­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said to a round of applause. 

But vet­er­ans should not be rec­og­nized just one day a year, Oba­ma said. “We recall acts of uncom­mon brav­ery and self­less­ness. But we also remem­ber that hon­or­ing those who’ve served is about more than the words we say on Vet­er­ans Day or Memo­r­i­al Day,” he said. “It’s about how we treat our vet­er­ans every sin­gle day of the year. It’s about mak­ing sure they have the care they need and the ben­e­fits that they’ve earned when they come home. It’s about serv­ing all of you as well as you’ve served the Unit­ed States of America.” 

Oba­ma called the well-being of vet­er­ans one of his high­est pri­or­i­ties. “[That is] why I asked for one of the largest increas­es in the [Vet­er­ans Affairs] bud­get in the past 30 years,” he said. “It’s why we’ve dra­mat­i­cal­ly increased fund­ing for vet­er­ans’ health care. It’s why we’re improv­ing care for wound­ed war­riors, espe­cial­ly those with post-trau­mat­ic stress and trau­mat­ic brain injury. It’s why we’re work­ing to elim­i­nate the back­log at the VA and reform­ing the entire process with elec­tron­ic claims and med­ical records. It’s why there are few­er home­less vet­er­ans on the streets than there were two years ago.” 

And with near­ly 400,000 vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies who are going to col­lege because of the Post‑9/11 G.I. Bill, Oba­ma said, he wants ser­vice­mem­bers to know when they come home, their coun­try is going to be there for them. 

His com­mit­ment as com­mand-in-chief, he said, is “a trust that’s been forged in places far from our shores: from the beach­es of Europe to the jun­gles of Viet­nam, from the deserts of Iraq and the moun­tains of Afghanistan, to the penin­su­la where we stand today, ” he said. 

“Six­ty years have come and gone since the com­mu­nist armies first crossed the 38th Par­al­lel,” Oba­ma said of the Kore­an War. “With­in three days, they’d cap­tured Seoul. By the end of the next month, they had dri­ven the Kore­an army all the way south, to Pusan. And from where things stood in the sum­mer of 1950, it did­n’t appear that the Repub­lic of Korea would sur­vive much longer. 

“At the time, many Amer­i­cans had prob­a­bly nev­er heard of Korea. It had only been five years since we had fin­ished fight­ing the last war,” he said of World War II. “But we knew that if we allowed the unpro­voked inva­sion of a free nation, then all free nations would be threat­ened. And so, for the first time since its cre­ation, the Unit­ed Nations vot­ed to use armed forces to repel the attack from North Korea.” 

On Sept. 15, 1950, Amer­i­can forces land­ed at Inchon in some of the worst con­di­tions U.S. troops had expe­ri­enced, Oba­ma said. Tem­per­a­tures in Korea fell below 30 degrees Fahren­heit in win­ter, and over 100 degrees Fahren­heit in sum­mer. In many places, Amer­i­cans and their Kore­an allies were out­gunned and out­manned, some­times by as much as 20 to 1. At one point, they were hit with 24,000 artillery shells a day. By the end, the fight­ing had some­times devolved into trench war­fare, he said, waged on hands and knees in the mid­dle of the night. “And yet, our sol­diers fought on,” Oba­ma said. Near­ly 37,000 Amer­i­cans were killed in Korea. But after three years of fight­ing, U.S. forces final­ly suc­ceed­ed in dri­ving the invad­ing armies back over the 38th Parallel. 

Many of those mil­i­tary men were only teenagers, Oba­ma told the audi­ence. And many oth­ers had just returned home from fight­ing in World War II

“Gen­tle­men, we are hon­ored by your pres­ence,” he said. “We are grate­ful for your ser­vice. The world is bet­ter off because of what you did here. And for those who can, I would ask that, again, you receive the thanks of a grate­ful nation,” he said, also thank­ing the Kore­an sol­diers “who bat­tled side by side with our own. 

“The vet­er­ans who have trav­eled here today saw bat­tle at the Inchon land­ing and the Pusan Perime­ter,” he said. “They sur­vived the blood­shed at Heart­break Ridge and the ambush at Chosin Reservoir.” 

At one point in that bat­tle, Oba­ma said, the ene­my tossed a grenade into a trench where mul­ti­ple Marines lay wound­ed. And that is where Pvt. Hec­tor Caf­fer­a­ta ran into the trench, picked up that grenade and threw it back. It det­o­nat­ed in his hand and severe­ly injured his arm. “Because of what he did,” the pres­i­dent said, “Pri­vate Caf­fer­a­ta saved the lives of his fel­low Marines. He received the Medal of Hon­or for his hero­ism. He is here today.” 

“Each of these men served their nation with incred­i­ble courage and com­mit­ment,” Oba­ma said. “They left their homes and their fam­i­lies and risked their lives in what’s often been called The For­got­ten War. 

“So today, we all want you to know this: We remem­ber. We remem­ber your courage. We remem­ber your sac­ri­fice. And the lega­cy of your ser­vice lives on in a free and pros­per­ous Repub­lic of Korea.” 

Whether a vet­er­an who land­ed in Korea in 1950 or serv­ing the armed forces today, Oba­ma told them, “the secu­ri­ty you’ve pro­vid­ed has made pos­si­ble one of the great suc­cess sto­ries of our time. ” 

He praised the peo­ple of the Repub­lic of Korea for being one of the most pros­per­ous, fastest-grow­ing democ­ra­cies in the world just two gen­er­a­tions lat­er, progress that trans­formed the lives of mil­lions of people. 

“Because the Kore­an War end­ed where it began geo­graph­i­cal­ly, some end­ed up using the phrase ‘Die for a Tie’ to describe the sac­ri­fices of those who fought here,” Oba­ma said. “But as we look around in this thriv­ing democ­ra­cy and its grate­ful, hope­ful cit­i­zens, one thing is clear: This was no tie. This was victory.” 

That vic­to­ry remains alive today, he said. 

“And 60 years lat­er, a friend­ship that was forged in a war has become an alliance that has led to greater secu­ri­ty and untold progress — not only in the Repub­lic of Korea, but through­out Asia. That is some­thing that every­one here can be extra­or­di­nar­i­ly proud of,” he said. 

“The alliance between our two nations has nev­er been stronger, and along with the rest of the world, we’ve made it clear that North Korea’s pur­suit of nuclear weapons will only lead to more iso­la­tion and less secu­ri­ty for them.” 

Address­ing North Korea, Oba­ma said that coun­try has anoth­er path avail­able: “If they choose to ful­fill their inter­na­tion­al oblig­a­tions and com­mit­ments to the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, they will have the chance to offer their peo­ple lives of grow­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty instead of crush­ing pover­ty — a future of greater secu­ri­ty and greater respect; a future that includes the pros­per­i­ty and oppor­tu­ni­ty avail­able to cit­i­zens on this end of the Kore­an Peninsula. ” 

But until that day comes, he said, “The world can take com­fort in know­ing that the men and women of the Unit­ed States armed forces are stand­ing watch on freedom’s fron­tier. In doing so, you car­ry on the lega­cy of ser­vice and sac­ri­fice that we saw from those who land­ed here all those years ago. It’s a lega­cy we hon­or and cher­ish on this Vet­er­ans Day.” 

In clos­ing, the pres­i­dent addressed the poignan­cy of the plaque inscrip­tion on the Kore­an War Memo­r­i­al in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. It reads, “Our nation hon­ors her sons and daugh­ters who answered the call to defend a coun­try they nev­er knew and a peo­ple they nev­er met.” 

The inscrip­tion cap­tures per­fect­ly “the self­less­ness and gen­eros­i­ty of every man or woman who has ever worn the uni­form of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca,” he said. “At a time when it has nev­er been more tempt­ing or accept­ed to pur­sue nar­row self-inter­est and per­son­al ambi­tion, all of you here remind us that there are few things that are more fun­da­men­tal­ly Amer­i­can than doing what we can to make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of others. 

“And that’s why you’ll always be the best that Amer­i­ca has to offer the world,” he added. “And that is why peo­ple who nev­er met you, who nev­er knew you, will always be grate­ful to the friend and ally they found in the Unit­ed States of America.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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