By Jim Buchanan
Seventy years ago on June 25, the Korean war began when well over 70,000 North Korean People’s Army soldiers stormed across the 38th parallel into South Korea, quickly overrunning the nation as the South Korean forces essentially disintegrated.
On June 27, President Harry Truman committed U.S. forces to the defense of the south. Truman’s gambit was to build an international coalition through the United Nations.
He pulled that off because the Soviet Union, which held veto power on the UN Security Council, was boycotting Council business in protest of the UN’s refusal to admit communist China to the body.
It was the start of three bloody years now known as “The Forgotten War,” a seesaw affair that started with UN forces – mostly American – bottled up in a small pocket called the Pusan Perimeter before breaking out following a seaborne landing and driving North Korean forces back across the 38th parallel all the way to the Chinese border.
Chinese forces intervened, throwing back the Americans before the lines stagnated back around the 38th parallel.
The nature of the fighting was savage and primitive.
The Sylva Herald broke down the situation in an editorial on Aug. 24, 1950:
A Grim Kind Of War
The tragedy in Korea has demonstrated a fact that many of us, including highly-placed military men, had tended to forget – that there can be two kinds of war. Up to the time that North Korea sent her troops pouring across the 38th parallel, we had been thinking in terms of the “big” intercontinental war. This, if it came, was to be war on an unprecedented scale and of an unprecedented type. It was to be a war of amazing machines which would wreck death and destruction on a huge scale and at vast distances. A button would be pushed, and an atom bomb or a guided missile would be on its way toward the target. It would be a war of science and technology. Some thought it might be a war in which a decision would be reached without any ground action at all, and without opposing troops coming face to face. No one can say that these concepts are wrong. They might hold true in that “big” war the world now fears. But it is clear that they do not apply in Korea. In Korea we have a war in which the traditional, relatively simple weapons are all-important. The man with a gun in his hand must do the fighting. It is the most difficult and dismal sort of war imaginable. Great troop movements of the sort that took place in Europe in the last war are impossible. Everything is based upon the small unit – the battalion, the company, the platoon, even the squad. The importance of the individual soldier is supreme. If one man fails, disaster to many may follow. In this, the war is comparable to the jungle operations against the Japanese during the island-hopping period that preceded the Empire’s surrender. We are fighting an enemy whose habits and thoughts are incomprehensible to the Western mind. The cruel fanaticism of the Orient finds its perfect reflection in the Korean soldier. Human life is worthless, death but an incident. No matter how many are killed, more come on. North Korean casualties have been infinitely greater than ours. But the offensives have been pushed in spite of them. The Koreans have proven themselves extraordinarily adept at infiltration and at guerrilla activity. This, in the first weeks, was one of the worst problems faced by the Americans. The enemy seemed to be everywhere, and foe and friend looked alike. The Korean soldier accepts the greatest of hardships with apparent equanimity. He has known little but privation all his life. He can sleep anywhere. A handful of the coarsest food sustains him. Supply, as we know it in the American army, is unknown to him. Worst of all, it is clear, we had not planned for this war. Our eyes were elsewhere – on Formosa, Iran, Europe – even as our minds were considering the other kind of war. And so, in every way, we were completely surprised. The lesson we have learned is a grim one. We must be prepared for any kind of war and for war almost anywhere. We have never faced a harder task.
By the end of hostilities on July 27, 1953, 36,574 American service personnel lost their lives. More than 8,000 are listed as missing in action. North Carolina saw 788 of her sons perish. From Jackson County, Sgt. Richard Drew, PFCs John Sutton and Altie Seagle and Marine Charles Crisp gave their lives, as did Eastern Band member Charles George, who received the Medal of Honor. The VA facility in Asheville bears his name.
Technically, the war has never ended.
The Korean peninsula remains divided.