On this date 59 years ago all was quiet throughout the Korean peninsula. Three years of fighting, called a war or conflict by some, a police action by others, had ended the day before by a truce, or armistice.
The Japanese had occupied Korea for many years, and due to international agreements by superpowers, the peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel, with U.S. troops remaining in what became South Korea south of the parallel and North Korea was created north of it. The north was under heavy Soviet and Chinese influence.
Without warning on June 25, 1950, soldiers of the 135,000-man North Korean army poured south across the 38th parallel and quickly overwhelmed the smaller 95,000 man South Korean force. Many North Korean soldiers were WW II veterans of the Chinese, Japanese, or Soviet armies, but few South Koreans had combat experience.
The South Korean capital of Seoul fell in only three days, and a bloodbath ensued. Thousands of South Korean civilians who had worked for the U.S. Army were rounded up and summarily executed. Nice guys, those communists.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. commander in occupied Japan, was given the responsibility of defending South Korea, but the U.S. Army was woefully unprepared to do much. The United Nations was called on to enter the military action and agreed to send troops from other nations.
The good guys were pushed back to what became known as the Pusan Perimeter, at the far southeast corner of the peninsula. MacArthur came up with a brilliant plan to invade the south at the port of Inchon, which has some of the most reactive tides anywhere. As a second lieutenant of cavalry 10 years after the war ended my unit loaded LSTs at Inchon and I experienced the tides firsthand. They were unbelievable.
The war went on for three long, bloody years, and when MacArthur sent U.N. troops to the Yalu River that divides North Korea from China, Chinese troops entered the conflict, bringing a whole other dimension to the fighting and international considerations.
U.N. troops countered the Chinese advances and a stalemate occurred across the peninsula. President Harry Truman fired MacArthur, who insisted on bombing and perhaps invading China, and finally when neither side could wrest an advantage, peace talks began at the tiny village of Panmumjom.
In November 1952 President Dwight Eisenhower was elected, with a campaign pledge to end the war in Korea. Truce talks continued, as did the fighting. Finally both sides agreed to provisions that would allow the fighting to end, and an armistice was signed at 10 a.m. on July 27, 1953.
One legacy of the war was one of the most popular TV shows ever, MASH, acronym for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, that still has re-runs almost every week today. It was an anti-war show, but wildly popular with almost all segments of the population.
Several episodes dealt with the armistice talks at Panmumjom, and the hour-long finale was among the most watched TV shows ever.
Korea was complicated. War was never declared, but to this day has not ended. Combat troops stationed there today are on the highest degree of readiness of any troops anywhere. To see Korean War artifacts and hear some good stories visit Lavery’s Jewelry in downtown Leavenworth and talk to Ret. Col. Hersh Chapman, a West Point graduate who was there. When he’s not busy he’s happy to share anecdotes of “The Forgotten War.”
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.