America Remembers Korea

Fifty years ago on Sunday, the opening shots were fired in a war that still has not officially ended.

It was June 25th 1950 that North Korea launched a surprise attack against the south. More than 33,000 American soldiers lost their lives, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowen.

President Clinton, amid the pomp of a solemn anniversary, offered tribute to the veterans of the Korean War and to, as he said, "draw the line of history straight."

The president said: "The Americans who fought in Korea set a standard of courage not to be surpassed. Korea was not a police action or a conflict or a clash. It was a war. A hard brutal war, and the men and women who fought were heroes."

The day began with a tribute at the Tomb of the Unknowns, where Vice President Al Gore said the war was "lost in memory between the glory that was Wold War II and the trauma that was Vietnam; and as it began, it did not end."

The United States did not fight alone. Twenty other countries joined in the conflict, and on Sunday, joined in the tribute of a three-year fight that ended in a stalemate.

Gore proclaimed at Arlington National Cemetery that an end to the technically unresolved conflict was in sight.

"The end has not yet come, but it will," he said.

Gore spoke after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, commemorating a conflict that is emerging from a relative historical obscurity in the United States that led many veterans and others to regard it as "the forgotten war."

The United States still has 37,000 troops in South Korea.

The vice president said the summit earlier this month between North Korea and South Korean leaders brought a final resolution of the conflict closer.

"With the meeting that took place at Pyongyang it is possible for us to imagine that within three years, when the 50th anniversary of the armistice is commemorated, we will be able to say, 'mission accomplished,'" Gore said.

U.S. veterans of the Korean war are finally getting a recognition they deserved, Gore said. "The veterans of the war...returned quietly, your sacrifices unheralded, your bravery all too often ignored....Your country greets you today, and says 'welcome home,'" he said.

"As a nation, we can do more than honor their sacrifice. We can recognize the Korean War's enduring contribution to America's security and to that of the world," he said.

South Korea, however, has toned down its own commemorations of the war following the Pyongyang summit, canceling a military parade and battlefield reenactment.

Gore was accompanied at the Arlington cemetery event by Korea veteran Vincent Krepps, who spent 48 years seeking to learn the fate of his twin brother, Richard, who was captured in the war. Krepps learned two years ago from another former prisoner of war that his brother had died in captivity.

Other veterans interviewed at the ceremony said they were grateful awarness of their service was growing.

"At last we've gotten some recognition, because when we all got back after it, it was right back to our jobs. Nothing was said," said Peter Sartori, of Orchard Park, New York. He wore a Korean veterans T-shirt with a slogan "The Forgotten War. It's Time to Remember."

Recent reports about U.S. attacks on civilians at the outset of the war have stirred painful memories and ignited discussions among fellow veterans, he said.

"Nobody tried to shoot civilians on purpose. When you're threatened and somebody's around you or behind you, you react," said Sartori, who said he entered the war later but that he has discussed the issue with fellow veterans from the early period. "Mistakes were made," he said.

Sartori said he found a reconciliation between the Koreas hard to envision. "To have a Communist country and a democratic country come together...would be pretty difficult, I think."

But Donald Burns, an army veteran from Buffalo, said, "It's about time."

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