The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korea, under the communist dictator Kim Il Sung, invaded the Republic of South Korea by sending more than 200,000 troops across the 38thParallel which divided North from South. Supported by the communist dictators Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong of Red China, Kim Il Sung confidently predicted North Korea would overwhelm South Korea and impose a communist government on it within “three weeks.”
After three years of brutal war, on July 27, 1953, an armistice was signed – with the borders of North and South Korea still at the 38th Parallel, virtually unchanged.
Thus, the communist invasion of South Korea by Kim Il Sung — followed by the invasion of almost a million Chinese Red Army troops sent by Mao Zedong as so-called “volunteers” to rescue Kim Il Sung’s routed armies after Gen. Douglas’ MacArthur’s successful end-run amphibious landing at Inchon on October 15, 1950 behind North Korea’s lines — was a failure.
There can be no doubt that but for the sacrifices of American troops, fighting in what was called a United Nations “Police Action” but what was in fact a proxy “hot war” in the “cold war” between the U.S and the communist Soviet Union and Red China, that Kim Il Sung, Stalin, and Mao would have succeeded in militarily overwhelming South Korea and imposing communism on it like that which exists in North Korea today: a totalitarian horror.
On July 27,2011, the 58th anniversary of the armistice which ended official combat in the Korean War — which is often referred to as the “Forgotten War” — it is well to remember the Korean War, and the Americans who fought it.
In that regard, Oregon this year became what is believed to be the first state in the nation to legislatively establish June 25 – the day the Korean War began in 1950 – as annual “Korean War Veterans Honor Day.”
That legislation resulted from an effort spearheaded by the Korean War Veterans Association and led by Oregon KWVA Commander Neil McCain of Grants Pass. He credits Rep. Sherrie Springer (R-Scio) for sponsoring the bill the KWVA proposed. The first ceremonies observing Korean War Veterans Honor Day took place on June 25, 2011, at the Oregon Korean War Veterans Memorial in Wilsonville There are Korean War Memorials also in Portland, and Salem.
The sacrifices of Americans in the Korean War were great: In the three years of fighting, 33,739 Americans died in battle. Another 2,835 died of other causes in theater. Another 17,672 died in service during the war but not in theater. Some 103,284 suffered non-fatal wounds. Almost 8,000 troops were missing in action. More than 7,000 suffered torture and inhuman conditions as prisoners of war. Altogether, some 5,700,000 Americans served worldwide during the Korean War, and 1,789,000 Americans actually served in theater in Korea. Today, Americans are still deployed at the 38thParallel defending Southern Korea against re-invasion by communist North Korea, which cannot feed its own people but maintains a vast army and is now a bellicose nuclear power threatening use of atomic weapons.
Veterans of the Korean War themselves are the prime movers in attempting to make Americans, especially the younger generations, aware of these sacrifices and the importance of the Korean War through the “Tell America” project of the Korean War Veterans of America. (www.KWVA.org).
KWVA members veterans are making themselves available as speakers, and providing a professionally done CD video, to service clubs, community groups, and especially to schools, so that the Korean War, and those who fought it, do not remain forgotten. They can be contacted at www.KWVA.org,; or by contacting national KWVA “Tell America” project director Larry Kinard in Arlington, TX, by phone at 682-518-1040; or Oregon KWVA Commander Neil McCain at 541-660-6104, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
“We are ready, willing and able to discuss the reality of the Korean War with our fellow Americans through our KWVA ‘Tell America’ speakers and showing our video, “ said Oregon KWVA Commander Neil McCain, 79, a native of Colorado who grew up in Los Angeles County in California, and now resides in Grants Pass with his wife, Carmen, whom he married 57 years ago when he came home from the Korean War.
McCain, a retired electrical contractor and entrepreneur who still consults , presents seminars, and teaches on electrical contracting through his McCain Institutes, volunteered to serve and went off to war in Korea as soon as he turned 18 after graduating from Bell Gardens High School in California.
“As a kid, I saw WWII news and even movies at the shows. I wanted to serve my country. When I got to Korea, wow, the reality of war was far different than I imagined. Whoever said ‘war is hell’ got it right,” McCain said, soberly recalling, among other things the death of a buddy who took a bullet while standing next to him, and died.
“There were a lot of sacrifices, but when we got home, it seemed that people weren’t really interested. They didn’t want to discuss the war. Some even expressed surprise that we were in a war in Korea,” he said.
“The Korean War was forgotten even as we were fighting it,” he said. “It’s still forgotten.”
That’s why McCain and his comrades in the KWVA are working so hard in their “Tell America” project to help Americans know about the war, and those who fought it.
“The schools, they aren’t teaching the kids of this generation anything about the Korean War,” KWVA Commander McCain said. “I have contacted them to offer presentations by our vets and our video, but, so far there has been no interest.”
McCain, knowledgeable, amiable, and articulate, is himself, a fount of information. On his own, he is putting together profiles of those who died serving in the Korean War, based on their home towns, counties, states. It is a monumental, and moving, project. Among his first is a volume of profiles of those young men he went to school with at Bell Gardens High School; kids who went to war in Korea; and who never came home. It is but one of the volumes. He has other volumes, including from Oregon and Washington. He makes the material available on request, including to families who learn of it, so that those Korean War veterans who gave so much for the nation should not be forgotten, even by their descendants.
“I’m very proud that we have been able to have June 25 officially recognized as Korean War Veterans Honor Day in Oregon,” says the energetic McCain. “Now, I want to have I-5 named ‘Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway.”
There are an estimated 2,500,000 living Korean War Veterans. Many continue to serve America through the KWVA and other veterans service organizations. The American Legion, the nation’s largest, has some 467,040 Korean War veterans among its 2.4-million members. All who served deserve to be remembered, and their service in the Korean War never forgotten. As the saying goes, “all gave some; and some gave all.”
The National Korean War Memorial was established in Washington, DC., in 1995. The inscription on it is: “Freedom Is Not Free.”
The further engraved inscription is:
“Our Nation Honors Her Sons And Daughters Who Answered The Call To Defend A Country They Never Knew And A People They Never Met. 1950-Korea-1953.”
May it ever be so that the nation which the Korean War veterans served so well, honors and never forgets them, or their sacrifices for freedom. May God bless them all.
[Rees Lloyd is a longtime civil-workers-and veterans rights attorney, and a Vietnam-era veteran.]
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