USA Today -- President Obama said Saturday that veterans of the Korean War "deserved better" than to be remembered for a "forgotten war," and all Americans should salute them for "shining deeds" that promoted freedom and democracy.
"Here in America, no war should ever be forgotten," Obama said at a ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended combat in Korea. "No veteran should ever be overlooked."
zUSA Today -- Citing the immense challenges faced by troops in Korea - brutally cold winters, muddy rivers, rocky mountains, the "choking dust" of hot summers, and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops - Obama praised the veterans for preventing a North Korean takeover of the southand setting the stage for South Korea's emergence as a thriving democracy.
While many historians say the Korean War ended in a stalemate along the 38th parallel separating north and south, Obama took issue with the bitter assertion that some soldiers made at the time - "die for a tie."
Contrasting a vital and prosperous South Korea with the political repression and poverty of North Korea, Obama said: "That war was no tie - Korea was a victory."
Korea was "the first battle" in the ultimately successful Cold War, the place "where freedom held its ground and free peoples refused to yield," Obama said.
Speaking at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on The Mall in Washington, D.C., Obama told those who fought six decades ago that "your lives hold lessons for us today."
Korea taught the nation to remain prepared militarily, to honor and care for its veterans and the families of the fallen, and to "stand as one," Obama said.
The nation's first African-American president pointed out that Korea was the first war the U.S. fought with integrated units, and he pledged to maintain "the strongest military the world has ever known, bar none, always."
As Obama noted, the Korean War - fought from 1950 to 1953, squeezed between the triumphalism of World War II and the traumas of Vietnam - too often fades from view in American history.
Said Obama: "Unlike the Second World War, Korea did not galvanize our country. These veterans did not return to parades. Unlike Vietnam, Korea did not tear at our country. These veterans did not return to protests. Among many Americans, tired of war, there was, it seemed, a desire to forget, to move on."
Keeping the focus on veterans, Obama avoided some of the political questions still raised by the six-decade-old conflict, including how to deal with North Korea's nuclear threat, U.S. relations with China, and the question of how long U.S. troops should stay in South Korea.
Historians also say the Korean War should not be forgotten because it is still with us - technically, the war is ongoing. The two sides signed a cease-fire on July 27, 1953 - 60 years ago Saturday - but never agreed on an actual peace treaty.
North Korea remains a communist state - one with nuclear weapons. U.S. troops remain in South Korea, policing the Demilitarized Zone between the two nations.
"We're still there," said Robert Dallek, a historian who has written on the Cold War era, "with concerns about North Korea and its nuclear ambitions and threats."
North Korea also marked the 60th anniversary of the armistice Saturday, staging a military parade featuring an array of tanks, missiles and fighter jets. Columns of goose-stepping soldiers marched through the main square in Pyongyang, as leader Kim Jong Un saluted them from the reviewing stand.
North Koreans marked the day as "Victory Day in the Fatherland Liberation War."
More than 36,000 Americans died during the Korean War, with more than 100,000 others wounded. The South Koreans lost some 415,000, and a similar number were wounded. Analysts have estimated the total death toll from the Korean War at up to 2.5 million, including Americans, North and South Koreans, and U.S. allies with the United Nations.
American veterans who fought in Korea and attended Saturday's ceremony said they want to be remembered for what they did: stopping the advance of communism in South Korea and setting the stage for its development as a thriving democracy.
"We planted the seed, and the Korean people made it grow," said Salvatore Scarlato, 80, of Long Island, N.Y. He served with the Marines in Korea in 1952 and 1953.
Scarlato said Obama's appearance will help veterans perform what he called "a job - our destiny is to make the America people know that the Korean War existed."
The soldiers said they appreciated Obama's presence at the memorial, adding that it will call attention to their service.
James LaForest, 81, of Vassalboro, Maine, noted Obama is one of the relatively few presidents who did not serve in the military, and that's another sign of how the world is changed. LaForest said that "it shows were going to have a transition from a military to civilian mind."
Gene Richards, 83, from North Richland Hills, Texas, said he enjoyed Obama's comments about the soldier in Korea who hung blue ribbons on his rifle as a sign that his wife had given birth to a baby boy back at home.
For Richards, the success of South Korea is legacy enough. "Probably our greatest ally right now is South Korea," he said. "I think you can go anywhere else in the world and won't find a people more appreciative. When I left there, the country was left in shambles and the people had nothing."
Col. David Clark, who helped organize the ceremony in Washington, said Korea is a "distant place," and the war wasn't too popular, coming just five years after the end of World War II.
Clark, director of the Defense Department's 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee, said he hopes ceremonies like the one Saturday will lead to greater recognition for veterans.
"While it may be forgotten to some, it certainly was a significant war," he said. "Not only did it stop communism, but it saved the Republic of Korea ... and allowed them to become a great nation on the planet and an ally of the U.S."