The Korean conflict from 1950-53 is often called “America’s Forgotten War.” But this week’s 70th anniversary of the war’s end is anything but forgotten, at least in some circles.
Thursday marks 70 years since the signing of the armistice between the U.S., North Korea, and China that ended hostilities in the three-year conflict, which involved 24 nations and cost 2.2 million casualties.
The U.S., one of 22 United Nations Allies, lost 54,246 killed and 103,284 wounded. More than 7,000 Americans remain unaccounted for today.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Timothy Washington, who served as Deputy Director of the Defense Department’s 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee in 2013, notes the many effects of the conflict.
“The results have been years of freedom for the Republic of Korea [South Korea] and years of oppression for North Korea,” Washington said. “The Republic of Korea has been one of America’s most powerful allies ever since, and has assisted us in many of our efforts, including Vietnam, the post-9/11 era, and Afghanistan.”
The anniversary is being remembered by the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, the Korean War Legacy Foundation, and in scattered local ceremonies nationwide.
The war began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces attacked the South with an artillery barrage along the 38th parallel, the dividing line between the two sides since World War II. Seoul fell on June 28, and American ground troops entered the conflict three days later.
U.N. forces landed in southeast Korea at Pusan, practically the only area not in North Korean hands. A daring landing against high tides at Inchon on Sept. 15, 1950 helped launch a U.N. offensive on Seoul, and South Korea was liberated days later.
Red China entered the conflict that year, and a “grinding war” ensued in costly engagements like the Chosin Reservoir, considered by many observers as the most savage battle in modern warfare. Poor weather, including frigid temperatures, also defined the war.
Peace talks began in 1951 and were finalized with armistice on July 27, 1953, although no treaty ever was signed.
“The Korean War is the first time that America drew a line in the sand, literally, to stop Communist aggression,” Washington said. “It began a pivotal period in the Cold War, to stop the Communist threat and protect freedom.”
Tensions still flare frequently between North and South Korea. In 2014, there were more than 29,000 American troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula. “The war never really ended, even though the armistice was signed,” remarked Washington.
About 5.7 million American troops were on active duty during the war, with more than 1.8 million in Korea. Veterans Administration data shows that 37,444 surviving Korean War veterans are found in Illinois. A total of 131 Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor.
Many believe the Korean War was “forgotten” because it was overshadowed by World War II and Vietnam. Washington, though, stresses that the Korean War is never overlooked by the Americans who fought in it.
“Those who were there certainly never forgot it,” said Washington, “and the families of the 7,000 unaccounted for haven’t forgotten it, either. It’s never forgotten by anyone who served there, or whose family was affected by it, even after so many years.”
• Tom Emery may be reached at 217-710-8392 or firstname.lastname@example.org.