On June 25, 1950, the Korean War erupted. Before it ended in 1953, the United Nations forces suffered 995,601 casualties, killed, wounded and missing. U.S. forces lost 29,550 killed and 106,978 missing and wounded. No one knows the number of Korean civilian men women and children that were killed and wounded, or the Chinese and North Korean troops that were killed or missing, but it was probably in the several hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions.
It almost seemed that no one knew a war was on unless you knew someone who had been there, or you were there yourself. Remember this was before the daily 5 o’clock TV news and instant CNN communication. News traveled slower and the most that could be hoped for was a couple of news items and a wire photo or two in your local newspaper. Like now, our politicians wouldn’t even admit we were at war. President Truman called it a ‘Police Action’ and Congress never officially declared war.
I might be wrong, but I would suspect that most history books in our school systems today, only gives this forgotten war, very little reference (if any). Yet, in my opinion, it had a more important impact on our country than the Vietnam War. Remember, before the Korean War, our leaders believed that nuclear superiority was all we needed to protect us. When it started, our army was the smallest it had been in 50 years and in the first months of combat our untrained and inexperienced troops paid for this neglect with high casualties. The defense build-up that followed this war gave our economy a boost that did not end until 40 years later with the break-up of the Soviet Union.
A lot of things were forgotten about this war. Until the publicity that Vietnam MIA’s received, it seemed that no one was too concerned for the thousands of our troops that are still listed as missing after all these years. It also seemed like the Korean War Memorial in Washington DC, was built as an afterthought because of the popular Vietnam Memorial.
Those Korean War missing in action troops are not forgotten by my family. I had a cousin who was listed as missing when the Chinese came in the war during that first cold winter. My aunt, until the day she died, believed that he was alive and would come home some day.
After our service we were simply discharged and mustered out with something like $300 and a bus ticket home. That was not bad when you consider I was only getting $120 per month as a PFC. Of course, the best thing for most of us was that we were eligible for $125 a month, plus tuition for schooling under the GI Bill.
We were too young for WWII and too old for Vietnam. Going to Canada or enrolling in college was not an option; the draft took care of that. It was the only war my generation had, and we were called up and we served. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a veteran of the Civil War, put it best when he wrote that “In our youth, our hearts were touched with fire, and we were changed forever.”