South Korea marks Armed Forces Day with massive military parade, warnings for the North
Stars and Stripes September 26, 2023
SEOUL, South Korea — Around 4,500 South Korean troops paraded in the rain through the streets of Seoul on Tuesday — a scale not seen in a decade — to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the military’s founding.
The marching troops marked Armed Forces Day alongside 170 pieces of heavy military equipment, including amphibious assault vehicles and K1A2 tanks, as thousands of bystanders lined either side of a road about 1 ¼ miles long.
Earlier in the day, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol used the occasion to say his government would double its support of the country’s defense industry and to warn North Korea it would face “an end by an overwhelming response” if its ruling regime unleashed nuclear weapons.
Yoon reminded listeners of apparent progress this summer toward friendlier ties with neighboring Japan and a strengthened alliance with the United States.
“Our government will further strengthen security cooperation between [South Korea], the U.S. and Japan,” he said at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam city. “Furthermore, we will establish a strong security posture by standing in close solidarity with our partner countries.”
The armed forces parade was the largest military display in Seoul since 2013; anniversaries on every fifth year are particularly emphasized in South Korea with larger displays.
Around 300 U.S. soldiers from Eighth Army at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek city also marched in parade.
“It is an honor to be part of this year’s Armed Forces Day parade because this year marks the 70th anniversary of the [South Korea]-U.S. alliance,” Eighth Army spokesman Capt. Gary Grantham said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “This alliance plays an indispensable role in promoting democracy, peace and economic prosperity while continuing to maintain a robust combined defense posture …”
A flyover by South Korean military aircraft was canceled due to the rain. An aerial demonstration by seven U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 7th Air Force was also called off, Maj. Rachel Buitrago, a command spokeswoman, said by email Tuesday.
Aris Bras, a Holland-based physician on vacation with his wife, said he stepped out of their nearby hotel to see what the commotion was about.
“By accident, we noticed that there was a parade today,” he told Stars and Stripes on the sidelines of the parade. “We’re not used to parades in Holland, not at all. I’m not very much an army type, so that’s why I’m standing over here to see all the people come together.”
Sung Kwon, a third-grade student living in Seoul, said the parade was his first time seeing thousands of troops in one place.
“This is the first time I’m seeing a military parade,” Kwon said. “But it was very interesting and shocking.”
Former CIA analyst Soo Kim, now the policy practice area lead for the Virginia-based LMI consulting firm, described the event as “well-timed given North Korea’s continued provocations.”
“The parade may also have a function of allaying any South Korean concerns about security — there’s a lot going on, from North Korea to uncertainties in the relationship with China, tensions between the US-[South Korea]-Japan trilateral and the North Korea-China-Russia trifecta,” he said in an email Monday.
The parade gave the U.S. and South Korea a means to show off their alliance, Kim said.
“It’s not just the South Korean military might that the Yoon administration wants to showcase,” he said. “The durability and synchronization of the alliance are also powerful assets that Seoul and Washington would want to display to both their South Korean and international audiences.
Former South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who attempted to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons through negotiations with leader Kim Jong Un, scaled down the 70th Armed Forces Day festivities in 2018 to ceremonial air demonstrations and live music performances.
Since then, North Korea has reinvigorated its missile development program, firing 21 ballistic missiles in 14 separate days of testing so far this year.