WASHINGTON, July 27 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed Saturday that the Korean War was a victory for his country and its ally South Korea, saying the sacrifice of American veterans will never be forgotten.
"Here today, we can say with confidence that this war was no tie. Korea was a victory," Obama said in a speech at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
He said about 50 million South Koreans are living in freedom in a vibrant democracy with one of the world's most dynamic economies, while North Koreans suffer from repression and poverty under a communist rule.
"That's a victory, and that's your legacy," Obama told veterans in the crowd.
He was attending a ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement that ended the conflict.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on July 27 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 conflict.
More than 1.7 million Americans served in Korea during the 1950-53 war, fighting alongside South Korea against invading North Korea backed by China.
A total of 36,574 Americans were killed, with more than 100,000 wounded, according to U.S. government data.
The conflict, which broke out on June 25, 1950, came to a halt with a cease-fire on July 27, 1953.
Obama used much of his 20-minute speech to appreciate the service of war veterans and remind Americans of the importance of combat readiness.
Obama stressed the Korean War is no longer a "forgotten war" and veterans "deserve better."
"Unlike the Second World War, Korea did not galvanize our country. These veterans did not return to parades," he pointed out. "Unlike Vietnam, Korea did not tear at our country. These veterans did not return to protests. For many Americans tired of war, there was it seemed a desire to forget, to move on."
Obama said, "Here in America, no war should ever be forgotten. No veteran should ever be overlooked."
He said the U.S. can take some lessons from the Korean War, ending a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and reorienting its forces.
"Korea taught us the perils when we fail to prepare," he said, citing difficulties in the early months of the war due to a rapid drawdown of U.S. armed forces after the World War II.
"As we make hard choices at home, our allies and adversaries must know the United States of America will maintain the strongest military the world has ever known, bar none, always," the president said.
He became the first American president to join a formal Korean War Armistice Day event.
Delivering a speech at the event, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel also said the Korean War teaches the U.S. a key lesson that "alliances and international institutions are extensions of our influence, not constraints on our power.
"And they are critical to our long-term vision of peace and stability, especially in the Asia-Pacific," he said.
Other participants included U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki; Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell; Gen. Jung Seung-jo, the chairman of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS); and Adm. James A. Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
South Korea's military chief expressed thanks for the services and sacrifices by veterans as well as American servicemembers stationed in his country to deter North Korean aggression.
"I am confident that the Korean War veteran heroes here today and the citizens of the United States will be proud that their efforts have never been in vain when they see the thriving and prosperous nation the ROK (Republic of Korea) has become today," Jung said. "Moreover, even at this very hour, 28,500 members of the United States Forces in Korea are devoting themselves to peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, under the support of the citizens of both our nations."
"I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to the USFK service members and their families."
South Korean President Park Geun-hye sent a delegation of special envoys to the event led by Rep. Kim Jung-hoon of South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party, the head of the National Policy Committee at the National Assembly.
More than 5,000 people, including veterans, their families and other citizens, attended Saturday's ceremony, according to an estimate by organizers.