Sixty-Three Years Ago Today

| June 25, 2013

On 25 June 1950 – at dawn – forces of the Korean People’s Army attacked South Korea. There had been skirmishes along the 38th parallel previously. However, this time the North Korean forces pushed south in an attempt to conquer South Korea and forcibly unify the peninsula under communist rule.

Hostilities were to last 3 years, 1 month, and 3 days. The war would claim between 500,000 and 950,000 total KIA (both sides); in excess of 1,200,000 individuals would be WIA.

The war technically has never ended. The agreement to stop fighting in July 1953 was an armistice, not a permanent settlement. A peace treaty formally ending the war has never been signed.

Korea was the first “hot flare” of the Cold War – though not the last – and was also arguably the most intense. (Vietnam claimed more lives, but US combat operations there were spread over roughly 14 years vice 3.) It was the only Cold War conflict that saw large-scale direct combat between US and Soviet or Chinese forces. That experience was sobering for both sides, and was not repeated again during the Cold War.

Korea is often called “the forgotten war”, though recently it has received more recognition. However, those who fought there – or who have served there – know vividly the war’s impact. It’s still felt today with each inane act of ND:tBF and the rest of North Korea’s leadership.

The US was woefully unprepared when the Korean War began; we struggled mightily the first few weeks. It was very nearly a defeat for the US and the free world.

If nothing else, that’s a lesson from the Korean War we should remember.

Category: Historical, North Korea

Comments (31)

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  1. LebbenB says:

    I was assigned to UNCSB-JSA during my tour of Korea in 1999. Some of the protocols in place during talks were mind-boggling. The most bizarre process was transfer of remains between the two countries. After the monsoon, there will usually be two or three North Korean bodies that will wash up in the South. The remains will be verified as North Korean and then transferred to the JSA. The two casket parties will face each other between BLDGs T2 and T3 as close to the border (a line of concrete between buildings) as possible. The casket is passed so that neither parties’ hands cross the line.

  2. Hondo says:

    LebbenB: have to say I’m mildly envious. One of the regrets I have about my time in Korea is that I never managed to see the truce site at Panmunjum. When I arrived in-country, my unit put me to work pronto – so I missed the normal orientation tour of the DMZ that USFK/EUSA did for new arrivals. I never managed to find the time to go there on my own.

  3. Twist says:

    My brother-in-law’s uncle was an Infantryman during the Korean War. I had known that man for most of my life and didn’t even find out about that until this Easter. At every family get together he would corner me and thank me for my service and tell me how proud he was of today’s Military. Sadly he passed last week.

  4. LebbenB says:

    Hondo: It was a challenging tour, but I’m glad to have been a part of the organization. It really gave me a perspective on state-level gamesmanship. Plus I had a great group of Soldiers around me.

    Twist: My condolences for your loss. Pity you found out about his service so late. I’ll wager he had some interesting stories to tell.

  5. 68W58 says:

    VFW magazine had a story regarding how casualties for Korea and Vietnam are counted; it seems that casualties for Korea count all those that died both in Korea and in other areas (as they were considered in support of of the war there) whereas casualties for Vietnam only count those who died in theater and if they were calculated the same as for Korea would include an additional 20,000.

    Korea would still be more intense combat over a shorter term, but it just goes to show that stats can sometimes be misleading.

  6. 68W58 says:

    Link to the article-

  7. Ex-PH2 says:

    These protracted, expensive wars, with no real resolution, like Vietnama and the Middle East, may continue like this until 2080. Even the Korean War can be counted in that kind of war, as it is a truce, not a finale.

    Mark my words, we may some day be at war with North Korea again, with Russia as an ally.

  8. Hondo says:

    68W58: that is true – with a caveat. The figure 20,000 is correct, but misleading when considering intensity of combat in each war. The true difference in battlefield deaths is considerably smaller. The delta between the two wars only exceeds 20,000 if non-battle deaths in-theater are included. IMO that’s not exactly legit if you’re trying to compare intensity of combat. You need to consider number of personnel deployed and duration as well.

    DoD indeed reports 54,000+ “died during the Korean war”, and that figure is indeed worldwide. However, other available data sources for losses in Korea during the war show 33,686 battlefield deaths (total of KIA, DOW, and MIA/BNR – which includes POWs who were not repatriated). For Vietnam, the corresponding total is 47,424 – a difference of less than 14,000.

    Further: the often-quoted figure for Vietnam war dead of 58,209 includes 10,785 nonbattle deaths which occurred in-theater (or in direct support) during the Vietnam War. Korea had far fewer nonbattle deaths – 2,830.

    The US also averaged far fewer US troops deployed to Korea during wartime operations (a maximum of somewhere around 320,000 for a bit less than 3 years, as it took us a while to mobilize), than it did in Vietnam (the US averaged that many deployed ISO Vietnam for roughly 5 years, and far exceeded that for 3). The casualties in Korea were thus incurred from a substantially smaller population of deployed personnel than was the case in Vietnam.

    In Korea, roughly 11,000 US troops died in battle on average annually – somewhere around 3.6% of the total US strength in-country. In Vietnam, even assuming 100% of the casualties occurred in the period July 1965 to Nov 1971 peak (last ground combat units departed), that works out to a yearly average of around 7,500 – or about a 2% chance of getting killed.

    I don’t want to speak ill of VFW leadership, but remember: that’s by and large now composed of members of the Vietnam generation. IMO, the VFW just might have a bit of a vested interest or agenda here.

  9. Andy says:

    with all that Hagel and Obama are doing to the military today, I wonder who will have the misfortune of being part of the next Task Force Smith?

  10. Pat says:

    Highly recommend the tour of Panmunjom – witness the propaganda and false facade that is NPRK. Wonder if the anti-tank berms along MSR-3 in the Western Corridor (80-83) are still in place?

  11. My father was there.

    Two decades later, I was there.

    At the Ol’ Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C., the Korean Embassy went all out in honoring the elderly Korean War veterans.

    Korean veterans will enjoy seeing this:

    Here is a slide show consisting of photographs from North Korea:

    Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

    Republic of Korea

  12. Andy says:

    Pat, I did my year in Korea 94-95. When my company got all dressed up in our class A’s and went to the JSA for a tour guess who got stuck on CQ as runner? Tried to pay someone to do it for me, even going as high as $200 nobody would do it. About the only remnants of the war I got to see up close was driving through the Chinese tunnel once and driving across the shot up railway bridge on our way to a weapons range in the JSA.
    The tank walls and rock drops along all the MSRs are still there, during my tour a lot of the older ones that were just one lane wide were being widened to two lanes.
    Nothing scarier than rounding a blind curve into a rock drop and your about to shoot into it when a bus or terminator truck suddenly comes out of it and you jam on the breaks and swerve.

  13. @ #12 Andy:

    The way I was able to tour the DMZ was going to the USO Club in Seoul to sign up for a guided tour.

    That was in 1973.


    What a trip!

    I took lots of pictures.

    Does the USO Club in Seoul still offer guided tours of the DMZ?

  14. OldSoldier54 says:

    @9 Andy : That is the $64,000,000.00 question … alas.

  15. Andy says:

    @12, John I was on Camp Casey, I saw Seoul three times, when I arrived, a company Christmas day trip to Lotte World, and when I caught the USO bus down to the Airport at the end of my tour.

  16. ChipNASA says:

    I was stationed in Okinawa at Kadena and I was able to take leave to go to Osan and I took the USO tour to Panmunjom and the DMZ. I was in building T2(?) and the guide had us stand around the table and was explaining about the mics in the room and the flags on the table and such…and said, “Those of you on THIS side of the table are in South Korea and those of you on THAT side (me and my friend) of the table are in Communist North Korea. We quickly scrambled around to the other side as if they were going to come take us away. The guide just laughed and said that happened *every* time. No panicking. LOL

  17. martinjmpr says:

    I’ve been fortunate enough to tour the JSA formally twice, once when I was deployed to Korea from Fort Lewis for Team Spirit ’90 and again when I was stationed there (2ID HQ, G2) from 91-92. I had elected not to go home over Christmas and the ADC-M, BG Lloyd, put together a short-notice DMZ tour for HQ personnel who were spending their holidays at Camp Casey. I also spent some time at Radar Site 1 and 2 (since turned over to the ROKs) as a driver for the DMZ Surveillance Officer (whom I also worked for in the G2 DTAC.)

    It’s quite eerie to see it. There is an old railroad locomotive that you can see from the JSA that seems to be out in the middle of nowhere, just rusting away. We always stopped to see the memorial to CPT Bonifas and LT Barrett, who were murdered in a cowardly attack in 1976.

  18. martinjmpr says:

    Speaking of military history (a bit OT):

    It was 137 years ago today, June 25, 1876, that Lt.Col George A. Custer and 5 companies of the 7th US Cavalry were wiped out at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. It was the biggest single battle of the Indian wars that occurred throughout almost the entire 19th century, and probably one of the most controversial battles the US military has ever been involved in, even to this day.

  19. Pat says:

    @ 12, Andy – pretty sure my JSA tour was w/USO like ChipNASA describes in 16.

    We were just south of Freedom Bridge in loaded Vulcans in 83 when a MIG defected, no one knew the code for weapons hold (even though rounds weren’t cycled up to the cannon, arming connector engaged, etc). Fun times, but COLD.

  20. 68W58 says:

    Hondo-I agree that it is hard to make direct comparisons between the two wars, but if you are inclined to break it down further the years 1967-1969 have about 39,000 deaths in Vietnam (not broken down by combat vs. non-combat fatalities as near as I can tell) which might be a more direct comparison for the years of high intensity combat in Korea.

  21. Sparks says:

    God bless all those men who served. I hope someday we will bring all of them home. A big salute to all you Korean War veterans and their families.

  22. 68W58 says:

    BTW-since we are talking about casualties including Vietnam, what do the readers here make of this claim by USAF Chief of Staff GEN Mark Welsh-“Since April of 1953, the United States has deployed roughly seven million American service members to combat and contingency operations around the world, and thousands of them have died there — but not a single one has been killed by enemy aircraft.”

  23. Andy says:

    @22, so I guess the pilots that were shot down in dog fights over Korea and ‘Nam don’t count? or is he only talking about us ground pounders?

  24. 68W58 says:

    Andy-yeah, I’m not sure if he expressed himself correctly (and I’m wondering if there weren’t any air attacks by N. Vietnamese aircraft on U.S. ground units for the entire war-I honestly don’t know).

  25. Hondo says:

    There was only one DRVN air attack during the Vietnam war against US ground troops – at Lima Site 85. No KIAs resulted from it. But he’s conveniently leaving out air-to-air combat, methinks. We did lose a number of US aircraft to DRVN aircraft, and not all of their crews survived.

    Even looking at your data above, Korea IMO shows substantially more intensity of combat (as defined by battle death rate) than any time in Vietnam.

    Here’s the year-end US strength figures in Vietnam by year:

    Year/Yr End Str/Avg Str/Tot Deaths/Est KIA/KIA %


    I calculated the average strength as the average of previous and current year end-strength figures – e.g., for 1966, that was ((184,300 + 385,300) / 2) = 284,800.

    Data source:

    In Vietnam, approximately 81.5% of deaths (47,,424/58,209) were combat-related deaths. I assumed that percentage was constant year-to-year and used that to estimate the battle deaths by year in Vietnam. (I don’t have and don’t know where to go to find that breakout.)

    After doing all that and comparing the numbers, only 1 year – 1968, the year of TET – had anywhere close to as high a battle death rate as Korea’s 3-year average. And that year, as bad as it was, was nearly 1 full percent less (2.70%) than the 3-year average of roughly 3.67% for Korea.

    In short: your chances of getting killed in Vietnam in 1968 (the year of TET, which was the worst) were less than 3/4 as high, statistically speaking, as anyone who fought in Korea.

    I’m not making light of Vietnam in any way, or denigrating anyone’s service there; Vietnam was indeed bad. But people sometimes forget what a vicious, nasty war Korea truly was. IMO, Korea seems to have been significantly more intense than Vietnam – at least as measured in terms of your chances of coming home in a box.

  26. martinjmpr says:

    @22 & 23: I have also heard that the last time an American soldier on the ground was killed by an enemy in an aircraft was during the Korean war, and I believe that’s still accurate. Also explains why until the invention of the Patriot Missile, Air Defense Artillery was such a dead-end combat arms field, sort of the forgotten cousin of Field Artillery.

    Then again, there’s a bit of semantics involved in that, too. Ballistic missiles like the Scud used in the first Gulf War do sort of blur the lines between aircraft and artillery, since they’re sort of both.

    There have also been a number of American troops and sailors killed mistakenly by Allied (and maybe not so Allied) aircraft like the numerous Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq “friendly fire” incidents, the USS Liberty struck by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967 and of course the USS Stark, hit by an Iraqi Air-to-Surface missile in 1987, killing a number of sailors.

    Also if one wanted to be really pedantic, you could say that the 9/11 Pentagon casualties were killed by an “enemy” (hijacked) aircraft.

    But that aside, I believe the statement is true: The last time an American ground or naval forces were killed by a manned enemy combat aircraft was during the Korean war.

  27. LebbenB says:

    Inside joke within the JSA: All the big placards and posters with the JSA insignia were all marked at the bottom of the diamond with the number “123.” Back in the late 70’s/early 80’s the JSA decided to issue all it’s members numbered badges. When a couple of NCOs and Officers went to ajimah to have the badges made they explained that the badges were to be numbered in sequence. When ajimah asked what that meant, they responded, “You know, one-two-three.” Ajimah says she understands. When the first batches of badges arrived, they were all marked, “123.”

    Also, when you PCS’d from there and you crossed the Imjin for the last time, you were supposed throw your badge into the river or you would eventually come back to the JSA.

  28. Joe Williams says:

    Two major differences between the two wars. Advancement in all levels of medchine. Two Med-Evac by helios. Joe

  29. USMCBRIT1 says:

    @28-Joe, Very true. The level of commitment by America’s finest hasn’t changed!!

  30. Hondo says:

    Joe: even that doesn’t fully explain the difference, amigo.

    Korea had 128,650 total casualties (33,686 KIA/DOW/MIA-BNR plus 92,134 WIA). This yields a fraction killed in battle of 26.18%.
    Vietnam had 211,454 total casualties (47,424 KIA/DOW/MIA-BNR plus 153,303 WIA). That yields battlefield death percentage of casualties of 22.43%.

    Had Vietnam had the same fraction of battlefield deaths, this would have translated to the following by year:

    Year/Avg # Troops/Adj Battle Deaths/Battle Death %

    Even if Vietnam had had the same fraction of casualties who died as the result of battle, the worst year in Vietnam (1968, with TET) still would still have been substantially “better” in terms of the chances of coming home in a box than the Korean War – roughly 1 chance in 7 better (3.15 / 3.67).

    Again: not denigrating anyone’s service in Vietnam. Just making the point that we’ve forgotten just how nasty the Korean War really was.

  31. Ex-PH2 says:

    The Norks are never going to go down the ‘road of peace’ as long as the Kims are in charge.

    Yesterday, they had a big parade with some of their Korean War vets in a truck, medals, toothless grins and all.

    I would like to know – for posterity, of course – how those old guys managed to stay alive over there if no one gets much in the way of food.