In this version, the background of and overviews of the War are given by one of the presenters. The
following approach has been used successfully in several high school presentations, and can be edited and
adapted for the user's own needs and experiences.
Very long ago, in a very far-away country called Korea, a terrible and vicious war broke out one sunny
June day while the rest of the world was on a summer picnic.
It was the culmination of continually worsening relations between our country and its friends, on one
side, and the Soviet Union and its friends on the other.
The war lasted 37 months and 2 days. America lost over 54000 service personnel, the South Koreans lost
over 2 million, including civilians. The North Koreans and Chinese suffered at least 4 million casualties.
It was the bloodiest war in which Americans were engaged in the 20th Century—more American young men died
there—more often and faster—than in any but the Civil War. The Korean War is long forgotten now, along
with the many thousands of young Americans who died during it. But it did happen, and it altered my life,
your life, and lives of generations to come—beyond all recall—forever.
The Korean War is important because it was the first actual United Nations action against an aggressor,
and the first UN army ever fielded. It was the bloodiest war fought by Americans in the 20th Century, with
more casualties per day, a higher MIA percentage, longer continuous combat against twice as many enemy
soldiers as any other American army had ever faced in any 20th Century war.
And it stopped Soviet aggression cold in its tracks, beginning the decline and eventual collapse of the
All of us have friends who will sleep forever beneath the turgid soil of Korea and many that we know
now still limp through life from wounds they suffered there or from the vicious frostbite they had to
endure in Korea.
In 1943, in the depth of World War II, representatives of 21 nations met in San Francisco to pledge
their countries to re-establish and maintain world-wide peace. From that point on, although they
were called "The Allies", those nations were United.
When World War II ended in 1945, those nations officially established the United Nations—again pledged
to maintain peace throughout the world—even if it meant committing their armies to defeat an aggressor.
Prominent among those nations were the United States and the Soviet Union. Soon after, it became apparent
that the Soviet Union was bent on aggressive expansion, as they took over nation after nation in Eastern
Europe. Meanwhile, they established allies in China, Yugoslavia and North Korea.
After World War II, Korea, a remote, primitive peninsula just west of Japan, was split at a centerline
into The People's Democratic Republic of North Korea (theirs) and the Republic of Korea (South) (ours).
Korea had been a captive of the Empire of Japan for over 40 years when World War II ended. The division,
established by the United Nations, was along an imaginary line girdling the globe, the 38th Parallel in
longitude. (Special notation: Because it sounds so remote, ask if any in the audience if they know where
the 38th parallel is. Answer: it runs through Missouri about 30 miles south of St. Louis, about Old Mines,
MO). The idea of dividing Korea was that for about a year the United States would occupy the south and the
Soviets the north, until there were stable governments in place, then there would be free elections and
the country would be reunited. But, the North Korean (PDRK) government, under a despot named Kim IL Sung,
was as totalitarian and vicious as the Japanese and Nazis had been a decade before. They balked at any
attempts to unite the peninsula unless they were the dominant rulers. So the status quo continued, month
after month. In 1948, the foreign troops were withdrawn, and the two separate governments were
legitimized—the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south, and the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (PDRK)
in the north.
Then in a policy speech in 1950, the US Secretary of State, Dean Atchison, inadvertently indicated that
the United States considered its sphere of protection ended at Japan and Taiwan. Hearing this, the Soviets
and Kim IL Sung thought the Americans had opened the door for the aggressive reunification of Korea.
At dawn, on Sunday, June 25, 1950, North Korea unleashed one of the most vicious attacks in modern
history. Without warning, six armies and 100 tanks smashed across the border, killing everything in front
of it, soldier and civilian, and burning the cities to the ground. Caught off guard, and without a really
effective army, South Korea was almost overrun in a few days.
At that time, the United Nations was still a proud organization committed to maintaining peace in the
world. Shocked by this dastardly attack, the UN member nations pledged to help South Korea defend
itself—all but the Soviet Union—which boycotted the discussions, and consequently was unable to employ its
veto to stop the UN response.
As the Soviets were supporting PDRK, President Harry Truman, fearing the communists would next attack
Japan, ordered our Army and Marines into battle to stop the North Koreans—under the banner of the United
Nations—to man the trenches to help the ROK. They were ably assisted by some brave troops from Canada,
Britain, Australia, Turkey, Austria and a few others. This was the first time an army had fought under
the United Nations flag to maintain peace.
The initial group sent in to "save" Korea was an ill-assorted mixture of poorly trained occupation
troops from Japan—named "Task Force Smith" (for the commanding officer). For a few weeks, it was a
terrible bloodbath. The American troops were trained only for occupation duty in Japan, and were not ready
for combat, and we lost many young men in the flower of their youth. UN Forces were steadily driven back
to a 40 mile ring around the southern coastal city of Pusan. At that point, it was a question of "stand
and defend," or be driven out of Korea into the sea! We held, while we continued to build up our forces
with fresh, trained troops and equipment from the US.
Finally, the UN Forces, in a series of maneuvers under General Douglas MacArthur encircled the PDRK
army and threw it back across the 38th parallel, inflicting over 50% casualties on it in revenge for the
atrocious acts the PDRK army had executed during its attack. (Here you might note how the troops of Task
Force Smith were bound by wire and forced to kneel before being shot in the back of the head by North
Then China entered the fray against the UN. At the same time a numbing freezing winter descended on the
land. In summer the temperature in Korea can reach 115 Degrees F. and in the winter 35-40 degrees below
zero with winds that drive it down to almost 90 degrees below chill factor. Thousands of humans on both
sides military and civilian died that winter. In a memorable battle, the Army and Marines were driven back
from the Chosin Reservoir, high in North Korea, fighting continuously for two weeks—until they withdrew in
good order from the port of Hamhung, taking their wounded and dead with them—a proud heritage.
Two months later, the UN regrouped and counterattacked, driving the Chinese-PDRK forces back. Then the
enemy counterattacked and drove the UN back. again, the UN Forces stopped the aggressors and threw them
back above the 38th parallel. The ROK Capitol, Seoul, changed hands four times during the war.
Finally, after a series of savage battles in the ice and snow, the entire conflict settled into a
stalemate along a line of primitive trenches and dugouts very near the same 38th parallel that had divided
And so it went. Finally, in 1951 peace negotiations were begun. But again, the North Koreans refused to
bargain in good faith, insisting they - though defeated - be the dominant power in Korea. As an example,
the North Koreans insisted that they be seated on a platform 12 inches higher than the UN negotiators so
they would be "superior" to the UN. Naturally, the UN refused and the argument continued for four months
while both sides lost more manpower. Talks ground slowly on and the stalemate continued into 1952 and
Meanwhile, Universal Military Training—the Draft—was in full swing in the United States. Every young
man had to serve in the military, unless he was excused—deferred—for some reason. Very few were unless
they had the right kinds of "connections".
So, we trained new young soldiers and sent them to Korea to replace those killed or wounded or those
who had been there more than two years (at the end of 24 months in Korea, or when their time in the Army
was up soldiers were "rotated" home. Month after month this rotation ground on—through 1951, 1952 and
1953. Nothing seemed to change; no one seemed to care; with exception of those whose boys were
serving in the trenches.
Americans at home began to put the Korean Conflict out to their minds and to get on with living. After,
all the really important war "World War II" had ended only eight years earlier and people were sick of war
and its terrible price.
It was a stalemate that both sides were afraid to break lest the United States use its Atomic weapons
and Russia its hordes of soldiers, signaling the beginning of World War III.
Finally in 1953 two important things happened: Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator died and the
Communists, knowing they couldn't win lost heart. Second, a new U. S. President, General Dwight D.
Eisenhower, toured Korea immediately upon his election. Returning home, Eisenhower caused the Soviets,
Chinese and North Koreans to understand that unless they came to the table and bargained in good Faith,
the United States would us nuclear weapons to end the war. Although many deny the nuclear threat, it is
a know fact that "Atomic Cannons" and the 155 mm "Atomic Mortars" were shipped to Korea early in 1953
ready to use when the word was given. The weapons could throw a shell 26 miles and 11 miles
respectively. Under this threat, the North Koreans suddenly "saw the light" and bargaining rapidly
advanced. An armistice was initiated at 10 am, July 27, 1953. This was three years one month and two
days after the PDRK attack.
However, it was only an armistice, which means the combatants would stop at each other openly. No peace
treaty has ever been arranged, so technically, the two sides are still at war—making the Korean War the
longest war in which the United States was ever engaged.
Every thing we just covered is dry, dusty facts. I think you will get a better idea of the Korean War
and its effect on an entire generation of Americans through the experiences of my partners here today.