WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama marked the 60th anniversary of the end to the Korean War, honoring veterans of the "Forgotten War" fought where tensions continue today over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
"Here today, we can say with confidence that war was no tie," Obama said in a speech at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, along with a wreath laying and tributes honoring U.S. and allied veterans. "That war was a victory."
"Your lives are an inspiration, your service will never be forgotten," he told the veterans gathered on the National Mall. "You have the thanks of a grateful nation and your shining deeds will live now and forever."
Obama said the Korean War "taught us the perils when we fail to prepare." As the U.S. wraps up a decade of war in Afghanistan, Obama said, "the United States of America will maintain the strongest military the world has ever seen, bar none. That is what we do."
Twenty-two countries around the world contributed military or humanitarian aid under the banner of the United Nations during the Korean War, said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Nations can accomplish "many, many good things for the world when we work together," he said.
"Alliances and international institutions are extensions of our influence not constraints on our power," Hagel said.
The Korean War "defined a generation and decided the fate of a nation," Obama said in a July 25 proclamation, and the anniversary "commemorates the beginning of a long and prosperous peace."
"In six decades, the Republic of Korea has become one of the world's largest economies and one of America's closest allies," the proclamation said. "Together, we have built a partnership that remains a bedrock of stability throughout the Pacific. That legacy belongs to the service members who fought for freedom 60 years ago, and the men and women who preserve it today."
South Korea is the seventh-largest U.S. trading partner. The two countries last year began a free-trade agreement aimed at cutting about 80 percent of tariffs.
The U.S. and South Korea since February have been in a standoff with North Korea, after the government in Pyongyang defied UN sanctions and tested a nuclear weapon.
More than 36,000 U.S. troops died in the Korean War, which lasted from 1950-1953 and pitted the south, backed by the U.S. and United Nations, against the Soviet-backed north.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un succeeded his late father in December 2011. On April 8, protesting UN sanctions and U.S.- South Korean military drills, North Korea withdrew workers from the Gaeseong factory park jointly operated with the south. Talks between negotiators for the north and south, aimed at reopening the factory park, broke down July 25 with reported pushing and shoving.