First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez, USMC at Inchon – he was killed minutes later (photo by Naval History and Heritage Command)
Sixty years ago today the world was stunned to hear of a massive North Korean offensive into South Korea. A world still suffering the wounds of a world war would suffer again.
In the early morning hours of June 25, 1950 some 200,000 North Korean troops began an all-out offensive against the numerically inferior Republic of Korea (ROK) army. It was a route.
Within three days, the capital city of Seoul fell to the invaders. By the end of June, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) held the entire country except for a small defensive perimeter around Pusan at the extreme southern end of the peninsula.
But rapid deployment of reinforcements allowed the UN forces (including American and ROK) to hold. The North Koreans were within sight of the sea but could not punch through.
In September, General MacArthur executed a daring amphibious assault at Inchon, about halfway up the west coast, allowing the allies to sever the North Korean supply lines. A “break out” from Pusan began at the same time. The disruption to its western flank forced the DPRK to evacuate to the north.
Upon reaching the 38th parallel, MacArthur continued the fight to the north. He wanted to use every means available – including the use of nuclear weapons – to destroy the DPRK army.
The Chinese became increasingly concerned as the Americans approached its southern borders, and in November some 800,000 Chinese soldiers joined in the fight. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir was a direct result of the Chinese attack.
The UN forces were forced back again. By January of 1951 Seoul fell for the third time (recaptured for the last time by the allies in March).
Although the lines stayed fairly constant for the remainder of the war, the brutal fighting continued. Iconic battles such as Heartbreak Ridge and Punchbowl were fought during this time.
In July of 1953 an armistice was signed by the aggressors (North Korea and China) and the UN. The U.S. and South Korea never signed it, resulting in a continuing state of belligerency to this day.
“The war left indelible marks on the Korean Peninsula and the world surrounding it. The entire peninsula was reduced to rubble, and casualties on both sides were enormous [though as with most wars, subject to conflicting claims]. Combatant deaths alone included as many as 180,000 South Korean and United Nations troops. In June 2000 the US Department of Defense revised the the number of Americans killed in the conflict, from 54,246 to 36,940, to include 33,000 actual battlefield deaths. The higher figure — widely cited for nearly half a century — mistakenly included all 20,617 non-battlefield US military deaths that had occurred worldwide during the three-year conflict. Only to the more than dead in Korea. But only 3,275 nonbattlefield deaths, due to accident or disease, occurred in Korea. Estimates of the number of Communist soldiers killed range as high as 1,420,000 — 520,000 North Koreans and 900,000 Chinese — though these claims were surely inflated. Chinese sources report that only 110,000 Chinese soldiers were killed in action with another 35,000 dying of wounds and disease.” (Global Security)
It has been called the Forgotten War. But to those who witnessed the horrors of the Korean War, the memories will remain for the rest of their lives.
(While doing research, I stumbled upon a stirring series of articles written by the man responsible for the Korean Memorial. You can read it here.)