By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010; 9:50 PM
SEOUL - President Obama marked Veterans Day on Thursday at a U.S. military base outside this capital, where he warned North Korea that the United States "will never waver in our commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea."
"The alliance between our two nations has never been stronger, and along with the rest of the world, we have made it clear that North Korea's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons will only lead to more isolation and less security," Obama said. He went on to praise U.S. forces for helping ensure South Korea's evolution from a war-ravaged country into an economic power.
Obama also used the speech to assure the hundreds of U.S. troops who attended the event at the Yongsan Garrison, and thousands more serving in other overseas posts, that his administration would care for them when they return home.
"Your country will be there be for you," Obama said. "That is the commitment I make as your commander-in-chief. That is the sacred trust between the United States of America and all who defend its ideals."
The speech and wreath-laying ceremony at the Yongsan War Memorial was to be followed by a quick shift to the economic issues that have defined the agenda of his 10-day Asia trip.
But he used his time with troops to praise U.S. forces fighting America's current wars, and he celebrated the heroism of those who fought here more than half a century ago.
Some 37,000 U.S. soldiers died in the Korean War. The audience included South Korean veterans of the war, whom he thanked and then, in Korean, said, "We go together."
"This was no tie. This was a victory," Obama said. "It was a victory then, and it is a victory today. Sixty years later, a friendship that was forged in war has become an alliance that has led to greater security and untold progress - not only in the Republic of Korea, but throughout Asia."
North Korea's nuclear weapons program and its sinking in March of a South Korea ship - the Cheonan, on which more than 40 sailors died - served as a threatening backdrop to the speech.
Obama said South Korea's progress is "a reminder of what still lies on the other side of the 38th parallel."
"Today, the Korean peninsula provides the world's clearest contrast between a society that is open and one that is closed," he said. "Between a nation that is dynamic and growing, and a government that would rather starve its people than change. It's a contrast so stark you can see it from space, as the brilliant lights of Seoul give way to utter darkness in the north."
Obama concluded by citing an inscription on the Korean War Memorial in Washington, where a plaque next to a list of those killed in action reads, "Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met."
"A country they never knew and a people they never met," Obama repeated. "I know of no better words to capture the selflessness and generosity of every man or woman who has ever worn the uniform of the United States of America.
"At a time when it has never been more tempting or accepted to pursue narrow self-interest and personal ambition," he continued, "you remind us that there are few things more American than doing what we can to make a difference in the lives of others."