June 25, 2012, is the 59th anniversary of the commencement of the Korean War, often characterized as the “Forgotten War.” It is important, however, to remember, rather than forget, the Korean War, and the Americans who fought it.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korea, under the communist dictator Kim Il Sung, invaded the Republic of South Korea by sending more than 200,000 troops across the 38th Parallel which divided North from South. Supported by the communist dictators Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong of Red China, Kim Il Sung confidently predicted North Korea would overwhelm South Korea and impose a communist government on it within “three weeks.”
After three years of brutal war, an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 – with the borders of North and South Korea still at the 38th Parallel, virtually unchanged.
Thus, the communist invasion of South Korea by Kim Il Sung, followed by the invasion of almost a million Chinese Red Army troops sent by Mao Zedong as so-called “volunteers” to rescue Kim Il Sung’s routed armies after Gen. Douglas’ MacArthur’s successful end-run amphibious landing at Inchon on October 15, 1950 behind North Korea’s lines, was a failure.
There can be no doubt that but for the sacrifices of American troops, fighting in what was called a United Nations “Police Action” but what was in fact a proxy “hot war” in the “cold war” between the U.S and the communist Soviet Union and Red China, that Kim Il Sung, Stalin, and Mao would have succeeded in militarily overwhelming South Korea and imposing communism on it like that which exists in North Korea today: a totalitarian horror.
The sacrifices of Americans in the Korean War were great: In the three years of fighting, 33,739 Americans died in battle. Another 2,835 died of other causes in theatre. Another 17,672 died in service during the war but not in theater. Some 103,284 suffered non-fatal wounds. Almost 8,000 troops were missing in action. More than 7,000 suffered torture and inhuman conditions as prisoners of war. Altogether, some 5,700,000 Americans served worldwide during the Korean War, and 1,789,000 Americans actually served in theater in Korea.
However, as the Korean War has become America’s “Forgotten War,” and those who fought it have become America’s forgotten warriors.
Veterans of the Korean War themselves are the prime movers in attempting to make Americans, especially the younger generations, aware of the importance of the Korean War, and the sacrifices of those who fought it, through the “Tell America” project of the Korean War Veterans of America. (www.KWVA.org).
|KWVA Photo by Oregon Military Department|
KWVA members veterans are making themselves available as speakers, and providing a professionally done CD video, to service clubs, community groups, and especially to schools, so that the Korean War, and those who fought it, do not remain forgotten. They can be contacted at www.KWVA.org,; or by contacting national KWVA “Tell America” project director Larry Kinard in Arlington, TX, by phone at 682-518-1040; or Oregon KWVA Commander Neil McCain at 541-660-6104, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
“We are ready, willing and able to discuss the reality of the Korean War with our fellow Americans through our KWVA ‘Tell America’ speakers and showing our video, “ said Oregon KWVA Commander Neil McCain, 80, a native of Colorado who grew up in Los Angeles County in California, and now resides in Grants Pass with his wife, Carmen, whom he married 59 years ago when he came home from the Korean War.
McCain, a retired electrical contractor and entrepreneur who still consults , presents seminars, and teaches on electrical contracting through his McCain Institutes, volunteered to serve and went off to war in Korea as soon as he turned 18 after graduating from Bell Gardens High School in California.
“As a kid, I saw WWII news and even movies at the shows. I wanted to serve my country. When I got to Korea, wow, the reality of war was far different than I imagined. Whoever said ‘war is hell’ got it right,” McCain said, soberly recalling, among other things the death of a buddy who took a bullet while standing next to him, and died.
“There were a lot of sacrifices, but when we got home, it seemed that people weren’t really interested. They didn’t want to discuss the war. Some even expressed surprise that we were in a war in Korea,” he said.
“The Korean War was forgotten even as we were fighting it,” he said. “It’s still forgotten.”
That’s why McCain and his comrades in the KWVA are working so hard in their “Tell America” project to help Americans know about the war, and those who fought it.
“The schools, they aren’t teaching the kids of this generation anything about the Korean War,” KWVA Commander McCain said. “I have contacted them to offer presentations by our vets and our video, but, so far there has been no interest.”
McCain, knowledgeable, amiable, and articulate, is himself, a fount of information. On his own, he is putting together profiles of those who died serving in the Korean War, based on their home towns, counties, states. It is a monumental, and moving, project. Among his first is a volume of profiles of those young men he went to school with at Bell Gardens High School; kids who went to war in Korea; and who never came home. It is but one of the volumes. He has other volumes, including from Oregon and Washington. He makes the material available on request, including to families who learn of it, so that those Korean War veterans who gave so much for the nation should not be forgotten, even by their descendants.
In that regard,
|Photo of Oregon Korean War Memorial: The Korean War Project|
In 2011, Oregon became what is believed to be the first state in the nation to legislatively establish June 25 – the day the Korean War began in 1950 – as annual “Korean War Veterans Honor Day.”
That legislation resulted from an effort spearheaded by McCain. He credits Rep. Sherrie Springer (R-Scio) for sponsoring the bill the KWVA proposed. The first ceremonies observing Korean War Veterans Honor Day took place on June 25, 2011, at the Oregon Korean War Veterans Memorial in Wilsonville. This year, McCain held ceremonies at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on Saturday, June 23, and smaller observances June 25. The official Oregon State Korean War Veterans Memorial is in Wilsonville, but there are Korean War Memorials also in Portland, and Salem.
“I’m very proud that we have been able to have June 25 officially recognized as Korean War Veterans Honor Day in Oregon,” says the energetic McCain. “Now, I want to have I-5 named ‘Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway.”
Few Americans are aware of how desperate were the circumstances and conditions in Korea, and how near success the communists came. When North Korea invaded, neither South Korea nor the U.S. was prepared for war. On the contrary, the U.S. had downgraded and demobilized the military severely after WWII, seeking to cut costs. The Americans who were sent to war in Korea were ill-equipped – there were shortages of workable weapons and of ammunition; they were ill-clothed—many fought in the bitterly cold Korean winter, sometimes at -40 degrees, in summer uniforms; they were ill-fed—many literally starved; they were ill-trained – many were rushed into battle with minimal weapons training; and they were ill-informed—they were fighting a disciplined enemy thoroughly indoctrinated with communist ideology about which American troops had but minimal understanding, making them ill-equipped to deal with the new phenomenon of communist “brain washing.”
They were vastly outnumbered. The Communists in the first weeks overran nine-tenths of the South, pinning the 8th Army in the Pusan area at the southern end of the peninsula in only 10 per cent of the country. Troops who were overwhelmingly outnumbered and short of ammunition were ordered to defend that Pusan perimeter “to the death.” They were informed in Pusan: “Your orders are to stand; and die.” Thousands did. But they held on until the success of the Inchon amphibious landing at Inchon on October 15, 1950. Had it failed, the Americans surrounded on three sides at Pusan would have been decimated. They were able to break out of the Pusan perimeter only after the Inchon Landing.
The intensity of the Korean War is reflected in the fact that more bombs were dropped in the Korean War in three years than had been dropped in the five years of WWII in the Pacific. The physical conditions in which the war was fought, particularly the cold in which the ill-equipped Americans served, were as deadly as the enemy.
David Halberstram, in “The Coldest Winter: America And The Korean War,” quotes military historian S.L.A. Marshall as calling Korea “[t]he century’s nastiest little war.” Then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote: “If the best minds in the world had set out to find us the worst possible location to fight this damnable war politically and militarily, the unanimous choice would have been Korea.”
Halberstram wrote that Korea was a war “about which most Americans, save the men who fought there and their immediate families, preferred to know as little as possible….’The Forgotten War’ was the apt tile of one of the best books on it. Korea was a war that sometimes seemed to have been orphaned by history.”
There are an estimated 2,500,000 living Korean War Veterans. Many continue to serve America through the KWVA and other veterans service organizations. The American Legion, the nation’s largest, has some 467,040 Korean War veterans among its 2.4-million members. All who served deserve to be remembered, and their service in the Korean War never forgotten. As the saying goes, “all gave some; and some gave all.”
The National Korean War Memorial was established in Washington, DC., in 1995. The inscription on it is: “Freedom Is Not Free.”
The further engraved inscription is:
“Our Nation Honors Her Sons And Daughters Who Answered The Call To Defend A Country They Never Knew And A People They Never Met. 1950-Korea-1953.”
May it ever be so that the nation which the Korean War veterans served so well, honors and never forgets them, or their sacrifices for freedom. May God bless them all.
[Rees Lloyd is a civil rights attorney, Vietnam-era veteran, and a member of the Victoria Taft Blogforce]