Address - Commemoration of the 74th Anniversary of the Commencement of the Korean War

Tena koutou.
Ki nga kaumatua,
Ki nga whanau,
Ka maumahara tonu tatou ki a ratou.

To the elders,
To the families,
We will remember them.

Firstly, a special welcome to all the veterans here this morning and their families. 

I want to acknowledge the veterans who are marking this day but cannot be with us in person, and those who have sadly passed away since last year’s commemoration.

 I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge:

  • Representatives of Taranaki Whānui as tangata whenua
  • The Honourable Peeni Henare MP
  • His Excellency Changsik Kim, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea
  • His Excellency Alfredo Rogerio Perez Bravo, Ambassador of Mexico and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps
  • Brigadier Rose King, Acting Chief of Army 
  • Des Vinten, representing Korean War veterans
  • Major (Rtd) Fiona Cassidy, Chair of the National War Memorial Advisory Council
  • Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae, Secretary for Culture and Heritage
  • Tom Cormack, RNZRSA District President for the Wellington Region
  • And everyone attending the commemoration here in person and via the livestream.

Today, we gather to acknowledge the 74th anniversary of the commencement of the Korean War.

It is with pride that I note New Zealand was one of the first nations to respond to the United Nations call for support. 

Two navy frigates were despatched from Auckland on 3 July, eight days after war broke out. When a ground force was announced in late July, there was no shortage of volunteers.

Some 6,000 New Zealanders would serve in the Korean War between 1950 and 1957. They served in the army contingent, Kayforce, and on six Royal New Zealand Navy frigates.

After the fighting ceased, a smaller number continued in a garrison role. Of these New Zealanders, 45 servicemen, including five naval personnel, lost their lives and two more died serving with Australian forces.

Each of those fatalities represents the human tragedy of war and a terrible and enduring emptiness for loved ones. 

For those who returned, the experience would have been life-changing in a way that most of us could never comprehend.

I would like to share with you the words of Gunner Leslie Bielski, who served with Kayforce. His diary records his distressing observations of the effect of the war on the people of Korea: 

I feel very humble among these poor tortured people for all they want is a chance to wrest a meagre existence from the unwilling soil … never have I seen such utter degradation as there is here. Everybody bows and begs for food, scraping the tins that we throw away in an endeavour to live just a little longer – for what? … Words cannot express the utter hopelessness that one can feel in the air.

These words provide a vivid portrait of the conditions experienced during the conflict. It also shows the resilience of the Korean people in the face of unimaginable adversity.

Today we also acknowledge our veterans who risked so much in the fight for peace and stability.

These veterans hold a special place in the hearts and minds of New Zealanders. They were put in harm’s way to defend our values and meet our international obligations. They are rightly deserving of our respect and our gratitude.

New Zealand’s participation in this conflict reaffirmed our identity as an active and steadfast member of the international community, a commitment we have maintained to this day. 

There is another way, too, in which our involvement in the war has had lasting effects. When the New Zealand armed forces arrived at Pusan on 31 December 1950, they did not know that they were forming a bond between two countries once little known to each other.

New Zealand now shares a close relationship with the Republic of Korea, with important links in trade, education, film, science, and research. We are proud to host many Korean students, and we are enriched by our Korean community. 

I take this chance to acknowledge the New Zealand Defence Force’s continued contribution to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, through its deployments to the United Nations Command and its Military Armistice Commission.

It may be decades since the Korean War took place, but its impacts continue to be felt, globally and here in New Zealand. 

Today and every year, as we gather to commemorate, let us ensure that New Zealand will always remember those who served in Korea – their contribution to global events, their proud representation of our country, and their sacrifice.

Without their valiant sacrifice, I, a Korean-born New Zealander, may not be here today.

Thank you. Kamsahamnida.

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