SEOUL, 11, SOUTH KOREA
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - The colorful flags of all allied nations line a temporary outdoor gallery at the Eighth Army War Memorial on U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan. The collection of photographs, provided by Benedict An, depict scenes from the Korean War era, illustrating the tragic struggle of the nation and the soldiers who fought for the freedom of the people here.
The scene helped set the tone for a Veterans Day ceremony at the memorial honoring U.S. military veterans here, Nov. 11. The annual event is coordinated by the Department of Pacific Area, Veterans of Foreign Wars. Approximately 250 people attended the gathering, including young service members, senior officers, retired veterans, civilians and school children.
"At the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month, in the year 1918, the guns were silenced and the armistice ending the Great War [World War I] was signed," said Stephen Tharp, USFK public affairs, as he began the ceremony. "Less than 20 years later the axis forces of Germany, Italy and Japan were on the move in Europe, Asia and Africa seeking domination over their neighbors through the force of arms."
He summarized the events during the next decade which led communist forces to attack their southern brothers in Korea, creating a "devastating fratricidal war."
"Thirty seven months later, an armistice was signed at Panmunjom. And 56 years later, forces from the United States and our other United Nations stand side by side with our Republic of Korea allies, maintaining that truce," Tharp said.
In addition to Korean War veterans, Tharp asked the group to join him in honoring another distinguished group of Americans: military personnel missing in action and prisoners of war.
"They and their ongoing sacrifices must be remembered," Tharp said. "Remembering and caring for them, we must not let others forget.
"America's professional and citizen soldiers have been called upon time and time again to defend liberty," Tharp said. "Currently, a new chapter is being written as we honor those comrades who defended and are still defending our great nation and our way of life in the war on terrorism."
Lt. Gen. Bernard S. Champoux, commander of Eighth Army, echoed Tharp's remarks about the caliber of those who have served in uniform.
"On the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, I would like to recognize our Vietnam veterans here today," Champoux said. "Thank you for your service … and for continuing to serve your country here in Korea."
The general spoke about the symbolism of the location of the ceremony, and the continuing mission modern veterans in Korea are engaged in.
"It is appropriate that we gather at the Eighth Army Memorial today. Every day of the year, this memorial stands in silent tribute to the young warriors who stopped Communist aggression in Korea," Champoux said. "It also serves as a stark reminder of the important mission that U.S. Forces Korea continues to accomplish to this day."
He asked attendees to honor veterans by telling their story … the story of young men and women who answered their nation's call, and made the ultimate sacrifice, so Americans could live in peace and freedom.
"We owe them a debt of gratitude that we can never repay," Champoux said. "But we can honor them by fully embracing the freedom that they gave their lives for. And we can honor them with our own service … because the best way to honor our veterans is to finish what they started."
During the ceremony, baskets of flowers were placed on the steps of the memorial, by members of 17 individual organizations, in tribute of the sacrifices made by service members over the past century: U.S. Embassy Seoul, U.S. Forces Korea, Combined Forces Command, Korea Veterans Association, VFW Department of Pacific Areas, Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts 8180, 10033, 10216, 10223 and 12109, Noncommissioned Officers Association, Sergeant Majors Association, United Service Organization, Defense Commissary Agency in honor of Vietnam Veterans, Military Order of the Cooties, Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of America.
The piercing sound of a rifle salute, the bugle playing of taps and the retiring of the colors signified the closure of the ceremony - a solemn reminder of the true meaning of Veterans Day.
"Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines continue to defend freedom on the Korean Peninsula and around the globe today," Champoux said. "And they proudly uphold the legacy of those who served before them."
In his final comments, Tharp recognized the accomplishments of all U.S. forces.
"By their services on land, on sea and in the air, we are forever in their debt," Tharp said. "For the flag of our nations still flies over a land of free people."
Following the ceremony, attendees slowly walked through the outdoor gallery of Korean War photographs, soaking up the black and white images captured sixty years ago.
"There is such a contrast between what is shown here (in the pictures) and how Korea is now," said Col. John Greenmyer of Eighth Army information operations. "The first time I was in Korea was in 1979, as a sergeant and radio operator. I remember there were no trees here taller than I was, and now the country has changed and grown so much."
Greenmyer said being a veteran and currently serving in a nation with a deep history of military purpose has special meaning for him.
"I'm glad we have been able to continue deterring significant aggression from the north, and someday I hope to see the reunification of the peninsula," Greenmyer said. "That [milestone] will be a great honor to the Korean War veterans."
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This work, Yongsan community honors veterans, by Nikki Maxwell, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.