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Korean War


On June 25, 1950, the cold war turned hot. Soviet-supported North Korean leader Kim Il Sung launched an invasion of South Korea in an attempt to reunify the peninsula under Communism. President Harry Truman interpreted the invasion as an attempt by Moscow to expand its domain and test Western resolve. He committed American troops and rallied support in the United Nations (UN), establishing a coalition of sixteen nations to defend South Korea and contain Communist expansion.

Facts / Statistics

Dates: 1950-1953
Troops: 5,720,000
Deaths: 36,576

Shifting Battlefronts

When North Korean troops first crossed the 38th parallel—the two countries’ dividing line—South Korean troops scattered in disarray, and civilians streamed south. U.S. reinforcements initially failed to stem the tide, and the North Koreans pushed the coalition allies into the southeast corner of the peninsula, near Pusan.

Then UN forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur turned the tide. While UN forces prepared to push north from Pusan, U.S. troops made a daring amphibious landing at the port of Inchon in September 1950. Supported by naval gunfire and air bombardment, the troops poured onto the beach, then threatened the enemy from behind. The North Koreans retreated north rather than risk being trapped in a closing vise.

Allied forces pursued the North Koreans all the way to the Yalu River, the border with China. Then, their border threatened, the Communist Chinese joined the fight. They sent more than a million troops in a ferocious counteroffensive that drove UN armies south again.

Meanwhile, MacArthur and President Truman came to a standoff. At issue was the popular general’s repeated defiance of the civilian president. In 1951, when MacArthur lobbied to expand the war into China, even at the risk of world war, Truman fired him.

Soon the line between the armies stagnated. Three years of brutal fighting left Americans divided over the war. An uneasy truce split the Korean peninsula into a Communist north and democratic south.


Exhibition Graphics

South Korean civilians fleeing south

South Korean civilians fleeing south

LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) unloading on the beach at Inchon

LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) unloading on the beach at Inchon

President Harry Truman

President Harry Truman

General Douglas MacArthur, 1951

General Douglas MacArthur, 1951

F-86 Sabre, the air force’s first swept-wing (aerodynamically superior to a straight wing) jet fighter

F-86 Sabre, the air force’s first swept-wing (aerodynamically superior to a straight wing) jet fighter

Paratroopers from the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team jump from Fairchild C-119 “Flying Boxcars”

Paratroopers from the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team jump from Fairchild C-119 “Flying Boxcars”

U.S. troops in Korea served in the first integrated units

U.S. troops in Korea served in the first integrated units

U.S. Marines in South Korea during the summer, when temperatures often topped 110°F and humidity hovered at 90 percent or higher.

U.S. Marines in South Korea during the summer, when temperatures often topped 110°F and humidity hovered at 90 percent or higher.

'Soldier from the Nineteenth Infantry Regiment, January 1951; winters in Korea were brutal, with fierce winds, stinging sleet, drifting snow, and frozen ground.

"Soldier from the Nineteenth Infantry Regiment, January 1951; winters in Korea were brutal, with fierce winds, stinging sleet, drifting snow, and frozen ground.

U.S. soldiers listen to a radio broadcast announcing the signing of the truce

U.S. soldiers listen to a radio broadcast announcing the signing of the truce


Related Artifacts

Warm Weather Gear
Combat Boots
Cold Weather Gear


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