June 25, 1950, the North Koreans, at the instigation of Stalin, invaded South Korea. The US, under UN auspices, intervened under General Douglas MacArthur. In a brilliant campaign, MacArthur led the American and allied forces to victory, largely destroying the North Korean Army and conquering most of North Korea. Massive Chinese intervention led to a see-saw war up and down the Korean peninsula, with a stalemate ensuing from July 1951-July 1953. Eisenhower got the North Koreans and their Chinese and Soviet backers to finally agree to a truce by threatening to use nuclear weapons in Korea.
One reason that the war dragged on is because many North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war did not want to be repatriated. Harry Truman, to his everlasting credit, refused to send them back against their will: “We will not buy an armistice by turning over human beings for slaughter or slavery“. Eventually, in a stunning rebuke to Communism, some 46,000 North Korean and Chinese soldiers refused repatriation. Conversely, only 22 Americans and 1 Brit refused repatriation, with almost all of them eventually returning after the war.
The Korean War was one of the deadliest conflicts fought by the US: 33,746 dead and 103, 284 wounded, with the vast majority of the casualties sustained in the first year of the war. It was also a frustrating war, as the film clip from the movie Pork Chop Hill well illustrates. That film is perhaps the best depiction of the surreal quality of the war, as the US and its allies fought against the Orwellian regimes of North Korea and China, with the Soviet Union hovering in the background.
My uncle Ralph McClarey fought in that war as an Army infantryman. I have written about him here. Ralph has always had an excellent sense of humor, his Donald Duck imitation would make an ox roar with laughter, and his sense of humor and his rosary sustained him through some bitter fighting. Here’s to you uncle Ralph, and to the men you served with! In a tough, bitter and often thankless war, you stopped Communist aggression and saved tens of millions of human beings from living under one of the worst tyrannies ever devised by fallen Man. Some people call Korea the Forgotten War. It will never be forgotten by me.