This week’s state visit by South Korean President Park Geun-hye presents an opportunity to assess the strength of the alliance between our two countries. At the same time, it presents an obligation to challenge our ally when its behavior does not fully align with American values.

The United States as a country has a strong legacy of embracing mistakes and atoning for them. President Park should embrace this uniquely American value and publicly apologize to the thousands of Vietnamese women who were forcibly raped by troops under her father’s command during the Vietnam War.

Forty years ago, Park Chung-hee – the current president’s father and a former general, led over 320,000 of his U.S.-allied troops into the War in Vietnam. Throughout the war, South Korean soldiers violently raped and sexually assaulted thousands of young women, some as young as 13 and 14 years of age. Many of these women bore children as a result of these assaults. Today, between 5,000 and 30,000 children of mixed Korean-Vietnamese ancestry, called the “Lai Dai Han,” live at the margins of Vietnamese society.

When my good friend Senator John McCain recounts the horrors he survived during his captivity in Vietnam, he often talks about the deep emotional and physical scars war leaves on the lives of those impacted by it. What happened to these women, so many of whom lost their innocence at the hands of South Korean soldiers, is one of the great untold tragedies of the Vietnam War.

It’s time to lift the veil of silence and allow those violated women – only 800 of whom are estimated to be alive today – to share their stories.

Since my time as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have always fought and stood up for those who have been victims of systemic violence around the world. These women, the mothers of the Lai Dai Han, deserve to have the world bear witness to their testimonies. After decades of raising their children and grandchildren in the face of tremendous adversity, they deserve to be heard.

As a father, I can only imagine the heartache and pain these poor young women and their families had to endure.  We cannot erase the memory of what happened -- but an acknowledgement by the South Korean government of their suffering and an apology for the sexual violence perpetrated by their troops, would be a welcome step in easing the pain.

President Park is one of the most powerful women in the world. Certainly, it is within her power to extend a full and public apology for the crimes committed by her father’s soldiers against so many innocent women. Failing to make such an unequivocal apology would only undermine President Park’s moral authority as she presses Japan to apologize for the sexual violence perpetrated against South Korean “comfort women” during World War II.

Earlier this week, I added my name to a petition started by Nguyen Thi Bach Tuyet on Change.org calling on President Park to apologize to the victims of South Korea’s systemic sexual violence in Vietnam.

Ms. Nguyen has led a tragic life. Both she and her mother were raped and impregnated by South Korean soldiers. After her mother passed away, Ms. Nguyen raised her mother’s son alongside her own family, fled an abusive husband, and started a new life in rural Vietnam. Her life has not been easy, but the decision to apologize to her should be.

On Thursday, I am honored to speak on behalf of Ms. Nguyen and the thousands of women like her during an event hosted by Voices of Vietnam at the National Press Club. This event is the best chance yet to bring the world’s attention to what happened to these women and their families.

It’s time to lift the veil of silence and allow those violated women – only 800 of whom are estimated to be alive today – to share their stories.

The United States has a great history of looking back in history, bearing witness to our mistakes, and atoning for what happened. It is precisely this that has made our country a beacon of hope and freedom around the world.

President Park should take advantage of the opportunity she has been presented to acknowledge the suffering of these innocent women, make a full apology for what happened, and to begin to work to make it right.