62 Interesting Facts about the Korean War

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published January 24, 2017
  • The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when 75,000 North Korean soldiers poured over the 38th parallel into South Korea to impose communism on its neighbor.[10]
  • The Korean War began at 4:30 a.m. on June 25, 1950, and ended on July 27, 1953. There are still more than 7,000 U.S. soldiers missing in action from the war.[1]
  • The North Korean film Unsung Heroes (1978) glorifies members of the North Korean military while depicting war crimes by South Korea and the U.S. In its cast were several U.S. soldiers who had defected to North Korea.[8]
  • The Korean War took a heavy toll—up to a total of 5 million dead, wounded, or missing, and half of them civilians.[1]
  • Although actual hostilities during the Korean War ended on July 27, 1953, Congress lengthened the war period to January 31, 1955, to extend benefit eligibility for soldiers because peace was so uncertain after the 1953 peace negotiations.[2]
  • The Korean War was the first Cold War conflict
  • The Korean War was the first military action of the Cold War.[4]
  • Compared to WW II, there are few movies about the Korean War. Some of the most well known include The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Pork Chop Hill (1959), and Birthday Boy (2004).[1]
  • North Koreans who were born after the Korean War in the late 1950s are on average about 2 inches shorter than South Koreans.[6]
  • In March 2013, North Korea declared the 1953 armistice that rendered the Korean War invalid.[9]
  • There were 6.8 million American men and women who served during the Korean War period, from June 27, 1950, to January 31, 1955. There were 54,200 American deaths during the period of hostilities (June 27, 1950-July 27, 1953). Of these, 33,700 were actual battle deaths.[2]
  • The U.S. dropped more bombs in Korea (635,000 tons, as well as 32,557 tons of napalm) than in the entire Pacific theater during WW II.[3]
  • One of the most embarrassing incidents during the Korean War was when U.S. Army Brigadier General Francis Townsend Dodd was held hostage by North Korean POWs during a camp uprising. The incident led to a North Korean propaganda victory, and Dodd suffered career-ending embarrassment.[8]
  • Although millions of people died during the Korean War, no one side can claim it won the war. At best, South Korea can claim that it stopped North Korea from taking over and turning it into a communist nation. Both countries still remain divided, and North Korea is still a communist nation.[10]
  • Months before the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel, the CIA noted that North Korean troops were moving south. The CIA, however, did not take any action and viewed the movement as a “defensive measure.”[1]
  • Officially, the Korean War was never more than a “police action” because President Truman never asked Congress for a formal declaration of war.[5]
  • I was drafted during the Korean War. None of us wanted to go . . . It was only a couple of years after World War II had ended. We said, 'Wait a second? Didn't we just get through with that?'

    - Clint Eastwood

  • During the war, North Korea was supported by the Soviet Union (Russia) and the People’s Republic of China, both communist countries.[4]
  • During the Korean War, South Korea was supported by the United States, Great Britain, and the United Nations, which all supported democracy and opposed communism.[10]
  • Even though 16 countries participated in the Korean War, it is still not considered a “world war.” Fifteen United Nations countries sent combat troops to Korea: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Holland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey. Four countries sent medical assistance: India, Italy, Norway, and Sweden.[1]
  • During the Korean War, like in other wars, prostitutes were available and became more available the farther back from the front line a soldier was. Venereal diseases were a constant fear of the military, and many men contracted them.[7]
  • During the Korean War, the South Korean government provided women for its troops. According to one account, the government standard of performance for such women was to service at least 29 men a day. Intercourse should not last longer than 30 minutes so the prostitute could move on to other men and make the maximum daily profit. There is heated and ongoing debate about how much the U.S. military was involved in providing prostitutes for its men.[7]
  • Sgt. Reckless held official rank in the United States military
  • A little-known hero of the Korean War has been immortalized by a statue. The mare known as “Sgt. Reckless” brought ammunition to soldiers during the war and carried wounded men off the battlefield. The heroic horse is on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps.[5]
  • The U.S. Army used approximately 1,500 dogs during the Korean War and 4,000 in the Vietnam War.[11]
  • During 1953, the soldiers of the U.S. Army I Corps donated $385,000 to Korean relief charities. The 45th Infantry Division contributed $300,000 to Korean relief organizations.[1]
  • After the Korean War, 21 American soldiers chose to stay with their Chinese captors. Hailed in China as “Peace Fighters,” in America they were denounced as turncoats and traitors. The U.S. media claimed the soldiers were brainwashed by their captors. Most of them later recanted their statements and returned to America.[10]
  • There were 7,245 American POWs during the Korean War. Of these, 2,806 died while in captivity and 4,418 were eventually returned to military control. Twenty-one refused repatriation.[1]
  • An estimated 86,300 Korean War veterans are women, making up 7% of the estimated number of all female veterans.[2]
  • Approximately 848,000 Korean War veterans also served in other war periods: 171,000 in both WW II and Vietnam; 404,000 in WW II only; and 273,000 in Vietnam only.[2]
  • The top five states with the most Korean War veterans are 1) California (430,800); 2) Florida (294,000); 3) Texas (243,300); 4) New York (220,100); and 5) Pennsylvania (201,400).[2]
  • Frostbite injuries later led to infections, skin cancer, and joint deterioration
  • Many soldiers died of frostbite during the Korean War before ever reaching the battlefields. The temperature in some areas fell below zero for long periods of time.[1]
  • According to the 1990 Census, of the 4.9 million Korean War veterans in the U.S., 4.5 million (92%) were white; 339,400 (7%) were African American; 30,400 (less than 1%) were American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut; 39,300 (less than 1%) were Pacific Islander; and 35,000 were of other races. There were an estimated 133,500 Hispanic (who may be of any race) Korean War veterans.[2]
  • It was during the Korean War that the intravenous use of amphetamines was first reported. Some soldiers had developed the habit of mixing heroin with amphetamines and injecting the combination. A significant number of servicemen returning from the Korean War brought back the habit with them.[1]
  • The highest-ranking U.S. officer captured by North Korean troops was Major General William F. Dean in the Battle of Taejon on July 22, 1950.[1]
  • The highest-ranking U.S. Military officer to die in the Korean War died in an accident. Lt. General Walton H. Walker died when a truck hit his jeep on December 23, 1950.[1]
  • Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command, U.S. Army General Mark Clark signed the armistice for the United States that ended the Korean War on July 27, 1953.[5]
  • The world’s first all-jet dogfight occurred ruing the Korean War on September 8, 1950.[5]
  • During the Korean War, the United States Army and the United Nation forces were led by General Douglas MacArthur and, later, General Matthew Ridgway. The North Korean forces were led by Choi-Yong-kun.[5]
  • The United States still keeps troops in South Korea in case North Korea ever attempts to invade again.[1]
  • Pablo Picasso’s 1951 Massacre in Korea depicts acts of mass killing carried out by North Koreans, South Koreans, and American forces in the town of Sinchon (in North Korea) during the war. It is considered one of Picasso’s communist works and echoes Francisco Goya’s The Third of May.[5]
  • Picasso's expressionistic painting criticizes American intervention in the War
  • The capital of South Korea, Seoul, changed hands four times during the Korean War. It was first captured by the North Koreans on June 28, 1950, and then retaken by UN forces that September. The Chinese seized the city in January 1951, but gave it up two months later.[10]
  • MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units were first used in the Korean War. Their aim was to be closer to the combat zones to save more soldiers’ lives.[4]
  • The Korean War did not receive as much media attention as WW II and the Vietnam War. Consequently, it has been called the “The Forgotten War” or the “Unknown War.”[1]
  • In South Korea, the war is called “625” or the “6-2-5 Upheaval,” which refers to the day North Korea invaded South Korea, June 25.[10]
  • In North Korea, the war is called the “Fatherland Liberation War” or the “Korean War.”[10]
  • One of the most brutal battles of the Korean War was the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, fought from November 27 to December 13, 1950. What made it different from other fierce fighting was the intensely cold and bitter weather. Temperatures dropped to -54° F. One survivor of the battle designed a bumper sticker that read: “Once Upon a Time Hell Froze Over. We Were There.”[5]
  • In China, the Korean War is called “The War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.”[1]
  • The most famous representation of the Korean War is the television series “M*A*S*H"
  • The most famous representation of the Korean War is the television series “M*A*S*H,” which ran from 1972 to 1983. Its final episode was the most watched in TV history.[1]
  • The United States entered the Korean War for two main reasons: 1) to protect South Korea and prevent communists from taking over other countries and 2) to protect Japan, which the U.S. thought would be next on the list of countries that the communists wanted to invade.[4]
  • Initially, the U.S. wanted to defend South Korea, but later in the war, Truman convinced the UN that it was time to liberate North Korea as well. Under Gen. MacArthur’s leadership, U.S. and UN troops gained control of most of North Korea. When China entered the war, MacArthur wanted to keep fighting despite China’s overwhelming numbers. Truman fired MacArthur and replaced him with Gen. Matthew Ridgway, who had a much more conservative plan that included just defending South Korea.[4]
  • Even after the Korean War, North Korea remains the most hardline communist state in the world.[1]
  • There were 131 Medals of Honor awarded during the Korean War.[2]
  • Up until WW II, Korea had been one nation, known as the Korean Peninsula, and was part of Japan. After WW II, the winners of the war divided it into two countries. The Soviet Union took the northern half, and the U.S. took control of the southern half. It was divided at the 38th parallel.[10]
  • During the first few weeks of the Korean War, the U.S. rushed a new weapon into service to provide an effective counter to North Korean armor: M-20 bazooka. It was nicknamed “super-bazooka” and could fire a larger, 3.5-inch rocket capable of penetrating North Korean armor.[1]
  • At the end of the conflict, the combatants signed a cease-fire at 10:00 a.m. on July 27, 1953. There was not a treatise or an official end to the Korean War.[4]
  • Delegates signed the Korean Armistice Agreement in P’anmunjŏmon July 27, 1953
  • Ethiopia, Belgium, and Columbia all supplied battalion-sized detachments that fought along U.S. and other UN forces in the Korean War.[2]
  • The most powerful tank to see action in the Korean War was the 67-ton British Centurion with a 105 mm main gun.[1]
  • The top-scoring American flying ace of the Korean War was Air Force Captain Joseph McConnell. Flying F-86 Sabres, he shot down 16 enemy planes, including three MIG-15s in a single day. He died tragically in a test flight accident in August 1954.[1]
  • Roughly a quarter of all Americans killed in action during the Korean War died between August and December 1950, mostly during the battles of the Pusan perimeter, Chosin Reservoir, and Kunu-ri Pass.[10]
  • Tensions created by the Korean War led both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower to consider dropping a nuclear war on Korea. With strategic missiles and thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs still in testing, the bombs that would have been dropped were atomic bombs delivered by B-47s, similar in yield to the 1945 bombs. Both presidents ultimately decided not to drop the bombs because they were afraid of starting WW III.[5]
  • In occupied areas of North Korea, the North Korean Army executed every educated person (such as those who held education, government, and religious positions) who could lead a resistance against North Korea.[1]
  • The 38th parallel was first suggested as a dividing line in 1896
  • After what seemed to be a stalemate, on July 17, 1953, both sides signed a treaty to end the Korean War. Little had changed due to the war. Both countries remained separate and the border remain at the 38th parallel, with a 2-mile wide demilitarized zone between the two countries to act as a buffer to prevent further wars.[4]
  • On June 28, 1950, just days after the start of the Korean War, South Korean President Syngman Rhee ordered the Bodo League Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 suspected communist sympathizers and their families in South Korea.[1]
  • Because North Koreans would fight UN forces by disguising its soldiers as refugees who would ask UN forces for food and help and then open fire and attack, U.S. soldiers adopted a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy against anyone looking like a civilian refugee approaching U.S. battlefields.[1]
  • Korean War Casualties
    CountryDeadWoundedMIACapturedTotal
    S. Korea227,800717,10043,500Unkown984,400
    USA54,246
    (33,652 KIA)
    103,2848,1963,746169,365
    UK7102,2781,2637665,017
    Turkey7172,2461672173,349
    Australia2971,24043231,591
    Canada3091,0553021,396
    France28881818111,135
    Thailand11479450913
    Greece16954321715
    Holland11158940704
    Colombia1404526529686
    Ethiopia12053600656
    Philippines922995740488
    Belgium/Luxe9735051453
    New Zealand348001115
    South Africa20016642
    Chinese Communist Forces (Chinese Estimate)145,000260,000Unkown25,600430,600
    Chinese Communist Forces & NKPR (U. S. Estimate)

    Total enemy casualties exceeded 1,500,000, of which 900,000 were Chinese

References

1Cumings, Bruce. The Korean War: A History (Modern Library Chronicles). New York, NY: Random House LLC, 2011.

2Data on Veterans of the Korean War.” Department of Veterans Affairs. June 2000. Accessed: August 8, 2013.

3Garner, Dwight. “Carpet-Bombing Falsehoods about a War That’s Little Understood.” New York Times. July 21, 2010. Accessed: August 8, 2013.

4Grant, R. G. The Korean War (Atlas of Conflicts). Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac Library, 2005.

5Immell, Myra. The Korean War (Perspectives on Modern World History). New York, NY: Greenhaven Press, 2011.

6Lackey, Katharine. “20 Facts about North Korea.” USA Today. April 13, 2013. Accessed: September 17, 2013.

7Latstetter, Jennifer. “American Military-Base Prostitution.” Accessed: September 17, 2013.

8Neff, Robert. “Overcrowding, Disease, Violence, Took Toll on Korean War POWs.” OhmyNews. May 9, 2009. Accessed: August 8, 2013.

9Park, Madison. “North Korea Declares 1953 Armistice Invalid.” CNN. March 13, 2013. Accessed: September 17, 2013.

10Santella, Andrew. The Korean War (We the People: Modern America). Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books, 2007.

11The Military Working Dog: History.” Military Working Dog Foundation, Inc. 2006. Accessed: August 8, 2013.

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