I feel humbled and honored to work as a genealogist on MIA cases from past wars, including Korea. Working on those cases made me want to learn more about the war. If everything you remember about the Korean War came from the TV show M*A*S*H, it might be time for a refresher.
The Korean War
As World War II drew to a close, Japan no longer controlled Korea. The country was divided in two, and the 38th parallel was set as the dividing line. The Soviets occupied the north, where a communist government was formed in 1948.1 United States forces occupied the south. The stage was set for future trouble in Korea.
North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950, hoping to take control of the Republic of Korea.2 The United Nations ordered North Korea to withdraw. They did not comply. The U. S. promised military support, and with fifteen other countries, they formed a fighting force under U. N. control.3
U. S. forces went to Korea after two major changes. The United States Air Force was formed in November 1947,4 and the U. S. military was integrated in 1948. American troops were segregated until 1948, when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, desegregating the armed forces. Troop desegregation took time to implement.5 Those serving in Korea eventually worked and fought side-by-side, regardless of race.6 Desegregation of the military changed the way America fought as a nation.
North Korean aggressors were repelled into their own territory by October 1950. U. N. troops moved north, hoping to remove the communist government. As they neared China, that country joined forces with North Korea. The north was strengthened, and U. N. gains were lost. The push reversed course. Much of the remaining fighting was near the 38th parallel.7
An armistice was signed on 27 July 1953. A boundary line was established near the 38th parallel, and a demilitarized zone was formed. No peace treaty was signed.8 The Republic of Korea remained free from communism. However, without a signed peace treaty, the war never officially ended.
During the Korean War era 5.7 million U.S. troops served throughout the world. 1.7 million U. S. troops saw service in Korea.9 7,140 became prisoners of war,10 enduring harsh conditions. More than 7,500 of the over 8,000 listed as missing in action did not return home.11 Although 54,246 deaths were reported, only 36,516 died in Korea; over 17,000 died elsewhere.12 Over two million Koreans lost their lives.13
The People and the Records
To read more about one man’s military experience in World War II, Korea, and the Philippines, see my guest post, The Korean War, 1955—1953, on the Ancestry blog. The post contains information on databases and repositories with records and data from the Korean War era, and resources with background data on the war.
Halberstam, David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. Hyperion, 2008.
Ionia County Genealogical Society, comp. The Korean Conflict: Personal Stories from the Korean Conflict Veterans of Ionia County, Michigan. 2012. Available through the Ionia County Genealogical Society.
Lambert, Tutt. THE MEN OF K-2 IN THE FORGOTTEN WAR. Milford, OH: Little Miami Publishing Company, 2011.
O’Donnell, Patrick K. Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War’s Greatest Untold Story–The Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company. Da Capo Press, reprint 2011.
1. “Overview of the Korean War,” Korean War Project, (http://www.koreanwar.org/html/overview_of_the_war.html : accessed 6 November 2014).
3. “Korean War,” Ohio History Central (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Korean_War: accessed 6 November 2014).
4. “USAF Established,” National Museum of the US Air Force (http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=1845 : accessed 6 November 2014).
5. “Desegregation of the Armed Forces,” Harry S. Truman Library & Museum (http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/ : accessed 6 November 2014).
6. “Korea’s ‘Invisible Veterans’ Return to an Ambivalent America,” Korean War Educator (http://www.koreanwar-educator.org/topics/vfw/p_koreas_invisible_veterans.htm : accessed 6 November 2014).
7. “Korean War,” Ohio History Central.
8. “The Korean War,” U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian (https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/korean-war-2 : accessed 6 November 2014).
9. “America’s Wars Nov 2014,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Fact Sheet (http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf : accessed 6 November 2014).
10. “Korean War Statistics,” The Veterans Hour http://www.veteranshour.com/koreastats.htm : accessed 6 November 2014).
11. “Korean War Accounting,” Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office (http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/korea/ : accessed 6 November 2014). “Interview: Melinda Pash, Why is Korea the “Forgotten War”?,” Historynet.com (http://www.historynet.com/interview-melinda-pash-why-is-korea-the-forgotten-war.htm : accessed 6 November 2014).
12. “Korean War Death Stats Highlight Modern DoD Safety Record,” DoD News (http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=45275 : accessed 6 November 2014).
13. “Korean War,” Ohio History Central.