S. Korean, U.S. officials highlight robust alliance on Korean War anniversary

June 26, 2024

Senior South Korean and U.S. officials on Tuesday underscored the strength of their countries’ steadfast alliance amid shared concerns over a deepening military alignment between North Korea and Russia, as they marked the 74th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.

South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Cho Hyun-dong, Kelly McKeague, the director of the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, and Korean War veterans took stock of progress in the two countries’ joint efforts for peace on the Korean Peninsula that saw their alliance deepen and broaden. POW and MIA stand for prisoners of war and missing in action, respectively.

The anniversary came after Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed a “comprehensive strategic partnership” treaty in Pyongyang last week — a pledge that amounted to a revival of their Cold War-era military alliance.

“Last week’s announcement of a new security agreement between Russia and North Korea was eerily reminiscent of the calamity of 74 years ago,” Cho said during an event commemorating the outbreak of the 1950-53 war that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

“When North Korea invaded (the South) in 1950, they used Russian tanks, munitions, aircraft and supplies. Now, all these years later, they are uniting again. The communist coalition of seven decades ago has been revived and renewed as an axis of upheaval,” he added.

He went on to say that the “advancement of authoritarian forces threatens us all” as seen in Ukraine.

“However, in the face of this growing threat, our allies will defend our democracies, freedom and human rights because our alliance has never looked brighter than it does today,” he said.

“In recent years, the scope and brilliance of our cooperation has evolved and expanded into a comprehensive alliance of security, trade, investment and the other areas of economic cooperation, and it will reach more new heights in the future.”

The ambassador expressed appreciation to the Korean War veterans at the event.

“You are why my generation and future generations continue to enjoy the fruits of peace, prosperity and democracy,” he said.

Touching on fierce battles during the Korean War, McKeague highlighted the robustness of the alliance.

“Today’s ironclad alliance between the United States of America and the Republic of Korea … was courageously forged in the blood, in the waters of Incheon, in the battlefields of Chosin and in the skies of Suwon,” he said, referring to South Korea by its official name. “American and South Korean troops, along with those of the other sending states, steadfastly and validly fought together to overcome tyranny and defend liberty.”

McKeague said that his father, then a 21-year-old Army private, participated in the war in 1950.

“He always said fighting in the Korean War was worth it because of what South Korea became,” he said.

Touching on his work to search for and identify veterans missing from the war, he called it a “moral” imperative.

“The fact that the U.S. and the Republic of Korea vigorously pursue the missing is the right thing to do. We are fulfilling a promise made to them when we sent them off to combat,” he said. “It’s a promise as well to their families.”

McKeague stressed that the families of the missing fully understand the “legacy of their loved ones’ sacrifice was not in vain.”

“First, the U.S.-ROK alliance is stronger and contributes to security, stability regionally and globally,” he said. “Second, the ROK democracy serves as a vibrant exemplar not only in the Indo-Pacific region but throughout the world.”

At the event venue, there was a Missing Man Table representing Americans who did not return home from service. Those remembered included the unaccounted-for personnel of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard as well as civilians.

Before the event, Cho, Korean War veterans and others visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial for a wreath-laying ceremony to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the conflict.