Why is the Korean War called the Forgotten War?
In 1945 World War 2 ended and the military went home. By 1950 the economy was just starting to recover from the war years. Veterans were pretty much fully employed. In June 1950 the North Koreans invaded the South and President Truman ordered Gen. MacArthur to intervene.
In 1949 Secretary of State Dean Acheson stated Korea was outside our sphere of influence and we would not defend the South if the North invaded. No one was more shocked at our involvement, I guess, than North Korea and Soviet Russia.
As far as the American public was concerned, Korea was an unknown land of little importance. In the beginning of the war the only troops available were the regulars and active reserves. A draft didn't start until well into 1951. From its beginning in June of '50 to the armistice in July of 1953, troop rotations were on an individual basis rather than a unit basis, as had been the custom in WW2.
It is also important to note that the Korean War is the first war America did not win an ultimate victory, although we did prevent a communist takeover of South Korea. So a partial victory, but from America's standpoint, a humiliation by a peasant army, China and North Korea.
At the end of the war there was merely a sigh of relief in America. There were no parades, no show of national pride or support for the veterans. We just came home, and when discharged we went about building our lives.
America is a nation with absolutely no interest in history, our own or anyone else's. We live for today, think about tomorrow, and forget yesterday. The Korean War was "forgotten" by a war weary nation that wanted to get to work and earn a living. It was pretty much forgotten by its veterans also. You will find that within veterans organizations the Korean veteran will be in the minority. World War 2 vets are the majority closely followed by Vietnam vets.
World War 2 saved the world, literally. At times it looked pretty bad for the democracies. At its end there was a tremendous rejoicing and the military glowed in its well deserved acclaim. World War 2 lasted, for us, from Dec. 7, 1941 until August 1945, 3 years and 9 months. Korea lasted for 37 months. Vietnam lasted anywhere from 8 to 11 years, depending on who is doing the counting. If you look at the casualty figures and consider the number of combatants involved and the time period of the war, Korea was the bloodiest war we have fought since our Civil War.
Vietnam was such a long and tragic experience, massive incompetence at top levels of both the military and political establishment, generated so much divisiveness among the people, attacked returning veterans as "baby-killers," caused the fall from office of President Johnson, cast a smirch on the presidency of Richard Nixon, and eventually brought forth such guilt feelings over the treatment of the Vietnam vet, that has sustained its memory due to all the above.
The Korean vet was not harassed, was not greeted with parades, was given a 2d class G.I. Bill, far fewer benefits than his WW2 brother, and disappeared from the national consciousness, and very soon overshadowed by the troubles in Vietnam.
If you have any questions, would like references to book titles for further study of the war, or anything I can do to help your quest, just ask. I'm retired pretty much and have lots of time on my hands.
For your info I served as a BAR man (Browning Automatic Rifleman) in the Marine Corps. I landed in Korea in Aug. 1950, fought in the Pusan Perimeter, made the Inchon landing, helped recapture Seoul, and was wounded at a place called the Chosin Reservoir in Nov. 1950 in 40 below zero weather. That's when the Chinese attacked.
1609 Franklin Rd.
I just read your essay on the KWVA web site. It's very moving and I congratulate you on putting into words many of the thoughts shared by those who do remember the Korean War.
I am starting a research project about the forgotten war veterans of the Korean War era. It is startling to me that these veterans simply came home from the war and seemed to fade into society like so many shadows. At this time I do not know exactly where my research is headed, but I'm sure it will tell me as I move forward with this project.
If you have a bibliography of suggested writings about the Korean War veteran, I hope that you might share it with me, or perhaps point me in the right direction to research this cultural aboration of ignoring people who have sacrificed and served for the greater good.
732-562-0085 - Days
732-514-0468 - Evenings
Dear Ms. McAteer,
It is always flattering to think that one's views are appreciated by others. The subject matter that interests you has not been covered in any book I am aware of, much for the same reasons that the condition you note exists. There are a number of excellent books on what we did, i.e., the war experiences. Some focus on the military and political culture at the time, others focus on the individual experiences of those who fought the war. The two best of the latter are BREAKOUT by Martin Russ, just released, and to which I contributed - and COLDER THAN HELL by Joe Owen. Both of these books cover the personal experiences we lived through, and are the best of there kind that I've read.
The Korean War Museum has done a large number of extensive interviews with Korean War veterans, and these interviews lasted 3 to 5 hours and were taped. It is their intent to make them available to people like yourself.
At the moment, as I understand, the chore of getting them transcribed to written form is slow, given very limited funds. You might contact Lynitta Sommer at the KWM and see if there is a way to provide you access to these tapes for the purposes you suggest.
As to why it is The Forgotten War, and why Korean War veterans "faded into the shadows," is probably more a study of the social and political culture of the times. Coming on the heels of World War 2, it was an irritating interruption to the optimistic view the nation had at the time. We won a major war and saved democracy around the world; we now suddenly are brought up short with the realization that Communism might be a serious threat, both to our recent victory and to our optimistic outlook for a the postwar economy. Furthermore, where on the world is Korea? A small peninsula in Asia. Can't we just ignore it? It can't possibly be the threat that Japan and Germany were - and America is the mightiest military power on earth; surely it won't take but a few weeks to tame this small communist upstart.
We suddenly found out that the "mightiest military power" was totally unprepared to fight such a war; the nation was not spiritually prepared to fight such a war. And the results, after 37 months and 34,000 American deaths, were humiliating. It is over, forget about it and let's get onto living the good life. That was the mood of the times. It became a political football, giving rise to Sen. Joe McCarthy's rampage against the Constitutional liberties.
The returning veterans were just glad to be out of it. Some stayed in the military, a military dominated by World War 2 veterans. Most were discharged and proceeded to get married or return to wives and families, and they just got on with their lives. Society said little about the war, and we just ignored what we had done. After all, how could we measure what we had done against what the majority of World War 2 veterans had done. We were poor cousins by comparison.
It has taken many years for historians to recognize the importance of them Korean War. It was the beginning of the end of the communist empire. And now aging veterans, like aging folk everywhere, tend to reenter the past, looking for a justification for their lives and sacrifices. The young never live in the past, their concern is the future, as it should be. But Americans seem to have a very pragmatic view of life, and they are just not much interested in history, theirs or anyone else's. The National Enquirer and The Star each have a greater readership than any history magazine or book. Close examination of ideas is not in the American character. I don't know that I've been of much help to your enquiry, but I would be glad to answer specific questions, or deal with whatever ideas or views you wish to pursue. . My major interest is to see that whatever history is written on the Korean War is historically accurate, to the extent that my personal memories and knowledge of events makes possible.
Thanks for your enquiry.
I am a veteran of the Korean war. I served with the U.S.Navy Seabees in Korea in 1952 and 1953.
As for the homecoming, I know of no organized homecoming other than what was held for the returning prisoners of war. When we returned from the Korean war, we were not spat on or looked down on, we were respected but not made over nor did we expect to be held up as heroes, were eager to get on with our lives.
There is I believe a major difference between the Americans that served in the Korean war and the ones that served in the Vietnam war. In Vietnam narcotic use by Americans was out of control. In the Korean war there were some narcotics available but it was not a large problem.
The Korean war was called by politians a "United Nations police action" and not a war. President Truman played it down as a "conflict". Fact it was a bitter war with very heavy loses on both sides. The overwhelming majority of Koreans in South Korea did not want to be ruled by Communist North Korea, they were grateful that we were there defending their freedom. Did we win the war?
The answer to me is simple. Communist North Korea is now one of the poorest countries in the world with thousands of their people starving to death. South Korea is one of the most progressive and prosperous nations in Asia and continues to grow stronger.
This was the first war the U.S. did not win. It was dubbed a "Police Action" by Pres. Truman to avoid the necessity of asking Congress to declare war. As you know, this same pattern as been followed by the U.S. ever since.
College deferments were the order of the day, so the war had little interest to certain classes of the population. This war was fought by sons of blue collar workers.
It was not a popular war to say the least. To quote an oft quoted maxim of the day by young men, the two things to avoid were gonorrhea and Korea.
When veterans, like myself, came home, there were no parades or confetti. People acted like they were totally unconcerned about the progress of the war. The only ones who were concerned were your friends and loved ones. The general feeling of the G.I.s slogging it out in the fighting in Korea was to get this over with and, hopefully, get out alive and in one piece.
During the last months of the war, the fighting became even more fierce and the Chinese troops more fanatic than ever before. They did their damnedest to push us back as far as they could before the cease fire was officially declared at Panmunjom.
Consider the fact that the Korean War Monument was built until over 40 years after the fact kind of confirms the idea of it being a forgotten war. Most Korean War Vets are more than a little chagrined about this.
I was combat infantryman with the 32nd Infantry Regt., 7th Infantry Division. My unit saw action at places like Old Baldy, Iron Triangle, Jane Russel Hill, and last but not least the encore, the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Our battle casualties, wounded and killed, were actually higher than the war in Vietnam. Hope this helps you.
I served in the 5th Regimental Combat Team, company D and primarily in the machine gun platoon. The 5th was a "bastard" outfit, belonging to no one in particular, and was sent just wherever there was a need for it. I spent the winter of 52/53 in the "punchbowl" area. That spring and summer we moved around quite a bit. We saw extensive action on Outpost Harry in 6/53. Rotated back to the states 9/53. I still had one more year to go on my enlistment so I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Ft Brag, NC. Mostly due to this fact I believe my adjustment was made more easily.
I don't recall any particular treatment by civilians outside my own family. I was awarded the Silver Star while still stationed at Ft Bragg and outside my army buddies and my family, nobody knew since there was no publicity at all. As far as I know, nothing was sent to my hometown newspaper. I believe in general that the civilian population at that particular time was completely apathetic to the Korean war
Sorry about the composition, writing, etc. I a a little out of my element doing this sort of thing.
Anything more, just send me a note.
HAVE A GOOD DAY
Copyright © 1998 Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library
Copyright © 1998 Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library