The Korean War
by Jack D. Walker
In 1987, military strategist Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., proclaimed that,
"The Korean War appears to be the model for America's future wars." The
truth of this statement became apparent in the Persian Gulf, where a coalition of nations
fought a limited war to stop aggression.
The booming of artillery awakened Captain Joseph R. Darrigo. Soon shell
fragments and small arms fire were striking his house on the northeast edge of
Kaesong. It was 5:00 a.m. June 25, 1950. As he headed south in a jeep to give
the alarm, he could see the railroad station a half a mile away where two or three
battalions of troops were off-loading. Previously, the track had been taken up by
North Koreans to seal off their border with South Korea at the 38th parallel.
Evidently it had been re-laid during the night, and an all-out invasion had been launched
by the North.
Captain Darrigo, a member of the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG, pronounced
Kay-Mag) assigned to the 1st Division of the Republic of Korea (ROK), was the only
American officer on the parallel that morning. The attack was not expected because
it was still the rainy season.
Jack James, a prize winning journalist with United Press in South Korea at the
time, says many expected an invasion but thought it would come only after the rainy
season. The North Korean build-up of forces on the border had been reported, but
U.S. officials had questioned the report. There had been hundreds of border clashes
in the past and the ROKs had a tendency to enlarge the number and severity of these
instances to justify more military aid.
The North Koreans fielded a highly capable, Russian-trained, Russian-equipped army
of 135,000 of whom almost one-third were veterans who had fought with the Chinese
Communists. These forces had defeated the Nationalist Chinese, who fled to Formosa
(Taiwan) in November the previous year and made China a Communist country.
Fearing the South would attempt to invade the North, the U.S. had only lightly
armed the ROK army of 65,000 and had supplied 500 American advisors (KMAG). The ROKs
also had 45,000 policemen, but they were neither armed nor trained for combat.
The North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA) was spearheaded by Russian-made T-34 tanks,
believed by many to be the best tank of World War II.
Without adequate anti-tank weapons, brave ROK soldiers attacked these steel
monsters with satchel charges. But after losing ninety men without much results,
this practice was stopped.
The ROK defenses crumbled under the heavy weight of the NKPA attack. About
one-third of the South Korean soldiers were on leave. Refugees fled the panic
stricken capital of Seoul. Unfortunately, the bridge over the Han River was blown
prematurely, which prevented ROK troops from withdrawing south with what little heavy
equipment they possessed. Many of their good officers and NCOs were lost north of
the Han. The NKPA occupied Seoul June 28th. Political opponents by the
thousands were rounded up and executed. Later, when in North Korea, the ROKs wanted
to reply in kind, but close supervision by U.N. officials kept these reprisals on a
Colonel Paik Sun Yup did manage to get two of three regiments of his 1st ROK
Division south of the river. Shocked and dismayed by this initially overwhelming
defeat, the staff officers repeatedly voiced the question, "Will the Americans help
us?" "Will the Americans help us?"
Some time later, American fighter-bombers came in low and mistakenly strafed these
ROK troops. Although saddened by this loss to "friendly fire," Colonel
Paik did turn to his staff and state, "See there, the Americans will help us."
Why had war erupted on the Korean Peninsula? Why was the United States
Copyright © 1998 Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library