Clinton honors Korean War veterans on 50th anniversary

WASHINGTON - Fifty years after the North Korean invasion of South Korea began the conflict often called the ''Forgotten War,'' President Clinton said Sunday the United States is still coming to terms with its role and trying to account for its dead.

''Korea was not a police action or a crisis or a conflict or a clash,'' said Clinton, using some of the terminology applied to the three-year United States involvement in Korea, which ended as it started with the peninsula divided along the 38th Parallel.

''It was a war, a hard brutal war, and the men and women who fought it were heroes,'' Clinton said to sustained applause from the more than 7,000 veterans, their families, military officials and others gathered at a commemoration.

Clinton also announced the recent identification of two more of the 42 sets of American remains recovered in North Korea since the communist regime there began allowing searches by the U.S. military in 1996.

Families of the two dead men were in the audience at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

The presence of American and allied forces in Korea altered the course of the Cold War, by convincing the Soviet Union that ''America would fight for freedom'' against communist forces, Clinton said.

He called the recent North-South summit in North Korea a ''hopeful and historic step,'' but cautioned against any illusion that the armed standoff in place for 50 years would ease quickly.

Facts about the Korean War can be elusive - even one as basic as how many Americans died.

For years after the war ended in 1953, the Pentagon published a figure of 54,260. That combined the 33,643 ''battle deaths'' with 20,617 ''other deaths.'' But in 1989 the Pentagon began revising the totals because ''other deaths'' included U.S. military deaths worldwide during the three years of the war, rather than just those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who died in and around the Korean peninsula.

In 1994 the Pentagon put Korean War battle deaths at 33,652 and ''other deaths'' - meaning deaths in the war zone from illness, accidents and other nonbattle causes - at 3,262. That yields a total of 36,914.

Today's official Pentagon figures are virtually the same: 33,651 battle deaths and 3,262 other deaths.

''For all the talk about Korea being a forgotten war, for some, Korea is alive every single day,'' Clinton said as he announced the recent DNA identifications.

The remains belong to two Army sergeants who died in 1950; Hallie Clark Jr., of Hannibal, Mo., and James Higgins, of Bellam, Ky. The two are to buried at Arlington National Cemetery later this year.

''This nation continues to search for every warrior,'' Defense Secretary William Cohen said. ''They did not face the horror of battle for us to turn away in the hush of peace.''

As Cohen and Clinton spoke Sunday, a U.S. military team was heading to North Korea to begin a new search - the first of five joint excavations scheduled this year.

Remains searches had been halted last fall in a dispute over North Korea's demand for new humanitarian aid, but U.S. and North Korean negotiators agreed earlier this month to resume them. As part of the agreement, the United States agreed to pay North Korea $2 million.

For many years after the war ended in 1953, the United States had no means of recovering remains north of the Demilitarized Zone that was established to divide the capitalist South from the communist North. But in the early 1990s, North Korea began unilateral returns of a small number of remains, and later it negotiated terms of cooperation on joint recovery missions, the first of which was conducted in 1996.

Until now, only three sets of remains recovered in 12 searches had been identified by the Army's Central Identification Laboratory.

Before the ceremony, Korean War veterans walked the memorial grounds and stood to look at a large blue banner that read ''Freedom is not Free.''

William McCoy, 69, from Bowie, Md., said he earned a Purple Heart in Korea, where he was wounded in the stomach and arm and suffered a concussion. ''A lot of artillery was falling from the sky and I guess I didn't get out of the way in time,'' he said.

Jack W. Tydall, 70, from Phenix City, Ala., was wearing his now-fraying combat shirt from the war, similar to those depicted in the memorial's 19 stainless steel statues of marching American soldiers.

Tydall said he was there to honor his little brother Avery, who went missing in 1950 at the age of 17. ''Today, I'm thinking of the veterans who didn't come back,'' he said.


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