Südkorea/USA — Nation Marks Korean War’s 60th Anniversary

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2010 — Six­ty years ago this week, North Kore­an troops stormed across the 38th par­al­lel into South Korea, launch­ing a three-year con­flict that cul­mi­nat­ed in an armistice in 1953, but nev­er offi­cial­ly end­ed.

The North Kore­ans launched a mas­sive, coor­di­nat­ed air-land inva­sion in the ear­ly-morn­ing hours of June 25, 1950, with more than 230,000 troops, fight­er jets, attack bombers, recon­nais­sance air­craft, tanks and artillery.

The feroc­i­ty of the offen­sive caught the South Kore­an army by sur­prise. With few­er than 100,000 troops, no tanks and lim­it­ed air­craft, they were unpre­pared to halt the inva­sion force.

Seoul, the South Kore­an cap­i­tal, fell June 28. Then-Pres­i­dent Har­ry S. Tru­man, con­cerned after World War II about the spread of com­mu­nism, rec­og­nized the impor­tance of repelling mil­i­tary aggres­sion on the Kore­an penin­su­la.

“I felt cer­tain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, com­mu­nist lead­ers would be embold­ened to over­ride nations clos­er to our own shores,” Tru­man wrote in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy. “If the com­mu­nists were per­mit­ted to force their way into the Repub­lic of Korea with­out oppo­si­tion from the free world, no small nation would have the courage to resist threat and aggres­sion by stronger com­mu­nist neigh­bors.”

Tru­man ordered U.S. air and naval forces to defend South Korea, and com­mit­ted ground troops as part of a com­bined Unit­ed Nations effort. The 16-mem­ber coali­tion formed under the aus­pices of the U.S.-led Unit­ed Nations Com­mand, with Tru­man nam­ing Army Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur as its com­man­der.

The 24th Infantry Divi­sion, part of the U.S. occu­pa­tion forces in Japan under MacArthur’s com­mand fol­low­ing World War II, deployed the first U.S. troops to Korea. Advanced ele­ments of the 24th Infantry Divi­sion rushed to Korea on trans­port planes to block the ene­my advance.

As they await­ed fol­low-on deploy­ments, the 24th Infantry Divi­sion troops, known as Task Force Smith, suf­fered heavy loss­es and ulti­mate­ly, defeat dur­ing their first sig­nif­i­cant engage­ment of the war, the Bat­tle of Osan.

Out­gunned and over­pow­ered, the divi­sion ulti­mate­ly lost more than 3,600 dead and wound­ed and almost 3,000 cap­tured as the North Kore­an pro­gressed south.

By Sep­tem­ber, the U.N. Com­mand con­trolled only about 10 per­cent of Korea in a small south­east­ern cor­ner of the coun­try around Pusan.

The Bat­tle of Pusan Perime­ter raged from August to Sep­tem­ber 1950, with the U.S. Air Force and Navy air forces attack­ing North Kore­an logis­tics oper­a­tions and trans­porta­tion hubs.

Mean­while, troops from the 7th Infantry Divi­sion, 25th Infantry Divi­sion, 1st Cav­al­ry Divi­sion and oth­er 8th Army sup­port­ing units poured into South Korea.

The Inchon Land­ing, a mas­sive amphibi­ous land­ing in Sep­tem­ber 1950, ulti­mate­ly turned the tide in the fight­ing by break­ing the North Kore­an army’s sup­ply lines. This prompt­ed Chi­na to enter the war on North Korea’s behalf, end­ing hope, as MacArthur had pre­dict­ed, that the war would end soon and the troops would be home for Christ­mas.

The con­flict raged for three more Christ­mases, with nei­ther side achiev­ing a deci­sive mil­i­tary vic­to­ry.

Ulti­mate­ly, two years of nego­ti­a­tions led to an armistice agree­ment signed July 27, 1953. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the North Kore­an army, the Chi­nese vol­un­teers and the U.N. Com­mand signed the agree­ment, but South Korea refused to par­tic­i­pate.

The Unit­ed States lost more than 36,000 ser­vice­mem­bers dur­ing the Kore­an War, with more than 92,000 wound­ed, more than 8,000 miss­ing in action and more than 7,000 tak­en pris­on­er of war.

Since the sign­ing of the armistice, South Korea has emerged as an eco­nom­ic pow­er­house, with the world’s 11th-largest econ­o­my and a gross domes­tic prod­uct approach­ing $1 tril­lion.

North Korea, in con­trast, remains mil­i­tar­i­ly pow­er­ful, but eco­nom­i­cal­ly iso­lat­ed.

In its most recent act of provo­ca­tion, North Korea sank the frigate Cheo­nan March 26, killing 46 South Kore­an sailors.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)