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Protests, commemorations mark 50th anniversary of Korean invasion

CNN.com, 25 June 2000, Web posted at: 12:45 p.m. EDT (1645 GMT)

(CNN) -- While protesters in South Korea called for removal of lingering U.S. troops, U.S. leaders joined Sunday with Korean War veterans in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the conflict.

In the Washington area, U.S. Vice President Al Gore placed a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns. Later, across the Potomac River, representatives of 21 nations that helped the United States fight the war were expected to lay wreaths at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

President Clinton was scheduled to speak at a ceremony at the memorial later Sunday attended by South Korea's ambassador to the United States and former Senator John Glenn, an Ohio Republican and Korean War veteran.

One U.S. veteran who spent the anniversary at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on Sunday was actor James McEachin, who told CNN that his life was saved during combat by a mysterious Scandinavian-looking guy who apparently had deserted his unit.

The man, who never identified himself, helped McEachin, who had suffered a life-threatening chest wound. After recovery in a military hospital, McEachin returned to the battlefront to try to find his unidentified rescuer, without success. 'Forgotten War' remembered

Some historians have referred to the Korean War as the Forgotten War because, sandwiched between World War II and the Vietnam War, the conflict somehow never entered the U.S. national consciousness as other wars have.

But it is not forgotten, Clinton said in a proclamation released on Sunday. We pay honor to the courage of our veterans who fought in Korea and to the thousands who died there or whose fate is still unknown.

Clinton proclaimed that Congress has designated June 27, 2000, as National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, and ordered all American flags to be flown at half staff. June 27 was the date in 1950 when U.S. President Harry Truman committed the first U.S. forces to the Korean conflict.

We remember that, in the Korean War, Clinton's statement said, our soldiers' brave stand against communism laid the foundations of peace and freedom that so many nations enjoy today.

North Korea launched an invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950. U.S.-led United Nations forces battled Chinese- and Soviet-backed North Korea to a stalemate in the war, in which 3 million soldiers and civilians were killed and 5 million became refugees.

Nearly 37,000 U.S. soldiers died in the Korean War, 92,000 were wounded and 8,000 have not been accounted for. Nearly 1 million South Korean troops were killed or injured.

The fighting ended in 1953 with an armed truce and the two Koreas remaining in a technical state of war with no peace treaty.

The United States still has 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea, seen as a deterrent to the Stalinist North and a key element in America's Asia-Pacific security umbrella. But despite the easing tensions, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on Friday during a visit to Seoul that U.S. troops should remain on the peninsula for the foreseeable future.

But this year, anniversary ceremonies were set against a very different backdrop of easing relations between North and South Korea, in the wake of the historic first-ever summit June 13-15, where both nations' leaders pledged to work toward reunification. U.S.-North Korea talks expected this week

On June 19, Washington eased trade sanctions against North Korea, moving one step closer to opening formal diplomatic relations. But before relations are normalized, the United States has made it clear that North Korea must halt its missile development program and export of missiles, which American officials have said pose a security threat to U.S. shores.

A senior State Department official told CNN on Thursday the United States expected to discuss the missile issue sometime this week during talks with North Korean officials in New York.

We are going to address our concerns, the official said. We hope to work to reduce the dangers that are caused by these missiles.