Today I had the honor of attending a very solemn and moving repatriation ceremony for the remains of six soldiers returned from North Korea this week. General B.B. Bell, Commander, United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/United States Forces Korea, made the following remarks:
Fifty-seven years ago, in response to an unprovoked attack by North
Korea, twenty-one contributing nations sent tens of thousands of Servicemembers to the aid of the Republic of Korea.
In the three years of bitter fighting that followed, millions of civilians and military personnel lost their lives and the Republic of Korea was left with fractured families and destroyed infrastructure — but also with its freedom.
In the five decades since, this great nation has become a technologically advanced, world economic power with a modern democracy. The Republic of Korea is the envy of much of the world.
This is the reason we honor these heroes who lie before us today. It was their selfless service and ultimate sacrifice that saved this nation, giving the people of the Republic of Korea an opportunity to forge their destiny and achieve their dreams.
However forensics determines their nation of origin — the United States, Korea or other United Nations contributing nations — these Servicemembers were great patriots, rising to the call to defend liberty and justice in the face of aggression.
Today, we are honored and humbled to receive their remains. The word “repatriate” – to return to one’s own country – has a very special meaning for American Servicemembers, who today often spend many years overseas separated from their families. They have been promised that should they lose their lives in a foreign land, we will honor their sacrifice, keep faith with their fellow warriors and families, and bring them home. This morning for these warriors, we are keeping that promise.
It is also fitting that we give our deepest appreciation to our United Nations Command Servicemembers who continue to serve on the Korean peninsula in defense of the noble principles of liberty and democracy. Your presence is an enduring legacy to those who fought and those who lost their lives in securing this nation’s sovereignty. Your duty is testimony that freedom is not free and demonstrates your willingness to sacrifice to preserve our freedoms. Your selfless service is honorable and laudable and we all owe you a debt of gratitude.
Finally, to our gallant fallen warriors before us – we mourn your loss; we salute your sacrifice. Your heroic fight freed a nation and its people. It was just and proper. The Republic of Korea has honored your deaths by becoming a shining beacon of hope for all nations struggling for freedom and democracy. May your spirits now be comforted as you begin your final journey home. Our thoughts and prayers follow your journey.
Godspeed brave ones. May god continue to bless your souls. Thank you.
Also in attendance was Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico who was part of the delegation who retrieved the bodies.
Each of the countries who make up the United Nations Command was represented at the ceremony. It was interesting to see the dress uniforms of the Aussies, Canadians, French, Swedes and others all in one place. I didn’t realize before today that even Colombia had a contingent in Korea.
After General Bell’s remarks, the soldiers were honored with a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, and pall bearers from several nations carrying the caskets from the auditorium.
I have been to several Honor Guard ceremonies in my time here, but this was a very different experience. It really brought home the fact that so many made the ultimate sacrafice in defense of freedom. It is easy to forget as we make our way about this vibrant and fascinating country the price that was paid so that the people of the Republic of Korea might live in peace. This gift is the legacy of all who fought here and all that have followed to preserve what we all too frequently take for granted.
I was proud and honored to bear witness to these brave soldiers that their deaths were not in vain.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old…at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
Korean War Memorial, Washington, DC