INDEPENDENCE — Although there was no victory parade and no formal peace agreement, the service and sacrifice of Korean War veterans should not be minimized, Gen. David Petraeus said Monday.
Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, was the keynote speaker at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. He praised the 1.8 million Americans who served for stepping into a conflict in a land few knew existed or how important it would be for decades to come.
"The tranquility of the Land of the Morning Calm was anything but, and the Cold War turned hot for the first time," Petraeus said.
Petraeus spoke at the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence, hometown of President Harry S. Truman.
Truman was at his home near the auditorium in Independence when Secretary of State Dean Acheson called on June 25, 1950, to tell him that North Korea had invaded the South.
The war ended in a stalemate without a formal peace agreement.
Petraeus said the response by the United Nations and led by the United States served in the "three-year struggle to make clear the resolve of the Western world against the threat of advancing communism."
"Your actions continue to echo in the minds and lives of so many," he said. "Indeed, despite the Korean War's distinction as 'the forgotten war,' your service and your sacrifice are far from forgotten."
Petraeus, whose command oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, drew comparisons between the war then and now. He said in both instances it was important for the United States to step in, first against communism and now against terrorists who look to bring harm to the United States and its allies.
He said in an interview after his remarks that preventing another 9/11-style attack and defeating al-Qaida was a "hugely important reason" for being in Afghanistan.
"I think we are making progress," Petraeus said, cautioning that it won't be over in one "planting of the flag" moment signaling the end. "Predictably, the enemy fights back."
Petraeus said like Korea, the United States missed all of the signs of conflict in Afghanistan before it was too late. But he said changes have been made that have led to increased awareness in the region, such as terrorist links to Yemen years before they surfaced.
Clifton Truman Daniel, the president's oldest grandson, said if Truman were still alive he would set his remarks aside to shake the hands of veterans and thank them for service.
"He would say thank you. I know the suffering of a soldier," Daniel said. "He would say 'I thought of you every day for the rest of my life.'"
Daniel said his grandfather found a letter in a desk drawer at his presidential library containing a purple heart from a father who lost his son in Korea. The father wrote to Truman "I wish it had been your daughter."
Daniel said Truman put the letter in a prominent place in the library where "it could not be easily overlooked, where it would not be forgotten."
South Korean Ambassador Chul Huh, who presented a video thank you card from his nation, said the message and helping pay for the Independence event was a token of his government's gratitude.
"You are our heroes. Without your sacrifice, Korea would not be what it is today. The world would not be what it is today," he said.