Dr. Bill Atwood

Korean War started 68 years ago. Now’s the time to look back at history, ahead to hope

In this July 5, 1950, file photo, American foot soldiers leave the railroad station at Taejon, South Korea, en route to the battle front against North Korea.
In this July 5, 1950, file photo, American foot soldiers leave the railroad station at Taejon, South Korea, en route to the battle front against North Korea. Associated Press

Monday, June 25, will mark the 68th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War. The North Korean Army invaded South Korea. The South Koreans had the United Nations and, more importantly, the United States as allies while the North Koreans had China and Russia as allies. It was a messy situation.

We need to remember that while we had been allies of the Soviet Union whilst fighting the Nazis and Fascists during World War II, relations between our two countries had chilled and we were at the beginning of what became known as “The Cold War.”

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A byproduct of the Cold War was that the Russians and the United States had divided Korea into two parts and with the split there existed two governments. The problem was that neither the North nor South Korean governments accepted the other as legitimate; ergo a conflict was close at hand.

After a few border skirmishes the North invaded the South on June 25, 1950 and the war began. Twenty-one countries joined the United Nations forces to repel the Northern army with the United States sending 90 percent of the troops and supplies.

At the beginning the North Koreans were almost set to defeat the South Korean troops and it looked very bad for our friends in the South. In September an attack at Inchon helped cut off North Korean troops. As the U.S. pushed the Northern troops back toward the Yalu River, the Communist Chinese Army swarmed into the South and pushed back the UN troops. From late November to Dec. 13, 1950, U.S. Marines were completely surrounded by the Red Chinese at the Chosin Reservoir. The Marines fought a great fight and having determined that the enemy was “to the north of us, to the south of us, to the east of us, and to the west of us” the enemy was right where they wanted them so, “open fire.” The Marines who fought there and died there became known as the “Frozen Chosen” because of their gallant and successful efforts. They turned back the Red Army in a battle waged at several degrees below zero.

Multiple military campaigns and changes in the government in South Korea led to much fighting that simply seemed to go back and forth around the 38th parallel. The fighting came to an end with the signing of the Armistice on July 27, 1953, which created a demilitarized zone between the countries at the 38th parallel. This was simply an end to hostilities but not a peace treaty. In factm nobody wanted to call it a war so the term “Police Action” entered our collective vocabularies. It sure seemed like a war to the guys doing the fighting and the dying.

So now we have the Korean War being recalled by people. The Korean War veterans who are pushing 90 may just live long enough to see the two countries sign a peace treaty ending the war. Our president and the dictator of North Korea have met and that was the first time in history that the two leaders of both nations ever shook hands. The South Korean leaders met Kim Jong Un at the 38th parallel and Un crossed into the DMZ.

Time will tell what happens with the peace efforts. Reagan taught us with the Soviets, “Trust but verify.” Hopefully as the process works through and diplomacy takes its very slow and sweet time the nations of that region will be able to breathe easier without the threat of nuclear war. Pray that a deal (a good deal) can be made. Pray for peace.