5 facts about the Korean War, a war still technically being fought 71 years later

Korean War US Army
US soldiers during the Korean War.

June 25, 1950, saw troops from North Korea pouring across the 38th parallel into South Korea. This began a short, yet exceptionally bloody war.

There are those that refer to the Korean War as, “the forgotten war” as it did not receive the same kind of attention as did World War II or the Vietnam War. However, despite the lack of attention given to it, the Korean War was one of great loss for both sides involved – both civilian and military.

Even now, 70 years later, the Korean War is given less notice than other conflicts and wars in history. It is just as important and just as worthy of remembrance as anything else.

To honor those that fought, those that died, and those that were wounded in Korea between June 25, 1950, and July 27, 1953, here are five facts about the Korean War:

38th Parallel still divides the two countries

DMz DEMILITARIZED ZONE

The 38th Parallel was the boundary which divided the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the North and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the South.

Despite the original desires of the UN and the US to completely destroy communism and stop its spread, the Korean War ended in July 1953 with both sides signing an armistice which gave South Korea 1,500 extra square miles of territory, and also created a 2-mile wide demilitarized zone which still exists today.

It was the first military action of the Cold War

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US Army tanks fire on enemy positions near Masan, South Korea, in August 1950.

After World War II ended, the world entered a time period known as the Cold War. The Cold War lasted from 1945 until 1990.

It was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their allies. The Korean War was the first military action following the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War.

American leaders viewed it as more than just a war against North Korea

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North Korean troops invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. By July, US troops had joined the war on South Korea’s behalf.

This is partly due to the fact that President Harry Truman and the American military leaders believed that this was not simply a border dispute between two dictatorships, but could be the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world.

President Truman believed that, “If we let Korea down, the Soviets will keep right on going and swallow up one place after another.” They sent troops over to South Korea prepared for war against communism itself.

Gen. MacArthur was fired from his post

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Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

By the end of summer 1950, President Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Asian theater, had set a new goal for the war in Korea. They set out to liberate North Korea from the communists.

However, as China caught wind of this, they threatened full-scale war unless the United States kept its troops away from the Yalu boundary. The Yalu River was the border between North Korea and communist China.

Full-scale war with China was the last thing President Truman wanted, as he and his advisers feared it would lead to a larger scale push by the Soviets across Europe. As President Truman worked tirelessly to prevent war with China, Gen. MacArthur began to do all he could to provoke it.

In March 1951, Gen. MacArthur sent a letter to House Republican leader, Joseph Martin, stating that, “There is no substitute for victory,” against international communism.

For President Truman this was the last straw, and on April 11 he fired Gen. MacArthur from his post for insubordination.

Millions of lives were lost:

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A North Korean soldier lies dead among knocked-out tanks in Indong, South Korea, August 13, 1950.

Between June 1950 and July 1953, approximately 5 million lives were lost. Somewhere around half of those were civilian casualties.

American troops saw approximately 40,000 soldiers die in action in Korea, and more than 100,000 were wounded.

These numbers made the Korean War known as an exceptionally bloody war, despite the fact that it was relatively short.

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Biden awards first Medal of Honor as president to Korean War hero who led Army Rangers in brutal battle against hundreds of enemy troops

President Joe Biden arrives with retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett, who will be presented the Medal of Honor, in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 21, 2021, in Washington
President Joe Biden arrives with retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett, who will be presented the Medal of Honor, in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 21, 2021, in Washington

  • President Joe Biden presented the first Medal of Honor award of his presidency Friday afternoon.
  • The award went to 94-year-old retired Army Ranger Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. for his actions in 1950.
  • Puckett bravely led a Ranger company against a battalion-sized force of hundreds during the Korean War.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden awarded the first Medal of Honor of his presidency on Friday to a retired US Army Ranger and Korean War hero for “conspicuous gallantry.”

Retired Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., 94, received the military’s highest honor for valor for his outstanding actions on “Hill 205” near Unsan, an area about 60 miles from the Chinese border deep in what is now North Korea, on November 25, 1950 – heroism for which he was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett stands along side troops as they prepare to start a foot march during the 2021 David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition (BRC) on Fort Benning, Ga., April 16, 2021
Retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett stands along side troops as they prepare to start a foot march during the 2021 David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition (BRC) on Fort Benning, Ga., April 16, 2021

Then a first lieutenant, Puckett led the 8th Army Ranger Company, a new unit that only had five-and-a-half weeks of training before being sent into combat, into a fierce battle for a position overlooking the Chongchon River.

Puckett commanded his soldiers during a challenging daytime assault across 800 yards of open frozen ground as the enemy poured mortar, machine-gun, and small-arms fire on them, according to his Distinguished Service Cross citation.

During the assault, he purposefully and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, allowing his soldiers to find and eliminate enemy machine guns pinning down some of his troops.

Though they captured their objective, the fight for Hill 205 was far from over.

Throughout the night and into the next morning, Puckett’s Rangers faced wave after wave of counterattacks by a superior force of hundreds of Chinese troops. They were outnumbered almost ten to one.

Map showing the location of Hill 205
Map showing the location of Hill 205

Puckett was injured by a hand grenade during the first wave, but he refused evacuation and continued to lead, directing “danger close” artillery strikes against the assaulting enemy forces in the freezing cold.

Disregarding his own safety, he also moved from foxhole to foxhole, checking the perimeter and distributing ammunition so that he and his men could keep up the fight.

The White House said that “the Rangers were inspired and motivated by the extraordinary leadership and courageous example exhibited by First Lieutenant Puckett.”

1st Lt. Ralph Puckett Jr.
1st Lt. Ralph Puckett Jr.

The enemy launched a sixth and final assault on Hill 205 early on November 26. Puckett had temporarily lost access to artillery support, and it was clear that his forces could no longer hold their position.

Puckett was severely wounded by mortar rounds that landed in his foxhole and left him unable to move as their position was being overrun, with casualties mounting and the fighting breaking down into hand-to-hand combat.

He ordered his men to withdraw and to leave him behind, so as not to slow their retreat. His Rangers ignored the latter order. Two men fought to get to him and retrieved their commanding officer before retreating to the bottom of the hill, where Puckett called in tremendous and devastating artillery fire on Hill 205.

“They did not hold the hill, but they exacted a high price,” Biden said at the ceremony Friday.

Retired Col. Ralph Puckett Jr visits U.S. Army Rangers who are competing in the 2021 Best Ranger Competition on Fort Benning, Georgia, April 16, 2021
Retired Col. Ralph Puckett Jr visits U.S. Army Rangers who are competing in the 2021 Best Ranger Competition on Fort Benning, Georgia, April 16, 2021

The White House said this week that “Puckett’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service.”

Puckett was offered a medical discharge but chose to continue serving, according to the Army. Puckett later deployed to Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division.

During his 22 years in the Army, he earned two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Silver Stars for valor, two Bronze Stars, and five Purple Hearts, among other military honors and distinctions. With the addition of the Medal of Honor, Puckett is among the most decorated soldiers in US history.

Puckett joined the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps as a private in late 1943. He was discharged in 1945 so that he could attend the US Military Academy West Point, from which he graduated in 1949. He commissioned as an infantry officer, a second lieutenant, later that same year.

He retired from the US military as a colonel in 1971, and in 1992, he was inducted in the Ranger Hall of Fame.

“He feared no man, he feared no situation and he feared no enemy,” retired Gen. Jay Hendrix, who served with Puckett, said in an Army statement. “Clearly a unique, courageous soldier in combat and even more importantly, in my opinion, Col. Puckett was an ultimate infantry leader.”

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