Between 1950 and 1953, the United States intervened in a military conflict between North and South Korea known as the Korean War. Though sometimes called “The Forgotten War” because of its overshadowing by the World Wars preceding it and Vietnam thereafter, the Korean War had a profound impact on American foreign policy, representing the first major fight between democracy and communism in the nuclear age.

In the decades leading up to World War II, the Korean peninsula had been forcefully occupied by the Japanese, who ran the country as an authoritarian military outpost. However, after the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union hastily agreed to divide the Korean peninsula along the 38th parallel, with the Soviets occupying the north and the Americans occupying the south.

As America’s military struggled to install self-government in Korea, it relied on corrupt Japanese officials—known enemies of the Koreans—to keep things running smoothly. The United States pinned its hopes for leadership on the charismatic Syngman Rhee, who was the son of a Korean scholar, spoke fluent English, and had earned a doctorate at Princeton. On July 20, 1948, Rhee was elected president of the Republic of Korea and began running the country as a dictator backed by the U.S. military. Rhee quickly enacted laws to suppress political dissent, ordering the arrest and murder of leftist activists.

While American forces backed Rhee’s nationalist, anti-communist government, the Soviet Union established a communist regime in North Korea led by Kim Il-sung. Both leaders hoped to unite the peninsula again under their particular government, with each making threats to invade their neighbor.

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea, occupying the capital city of Seoul with a few days. Shortly thereafter, the United Nations’ Security Council asked members to provide military assistance to South Korea, though in reality these support troops were almost entirely American. (Notably, the Korean War was the first to be fought with racially integrated American units.)

Since China had declared itself a communist country in 1949, American foreign policy reflected the fear that neighboring countries were endangered by a spreading tide of communism. Although the Soviet military wasn’t directly involved in the conflict, it did provide supplies and intelligence to North Korea.

Rhee had his government relocate to Busan (then known as “Pusan” in the West) on the southernmost tip of the Korean peninsula, where American troops first clashed with the North ...

MacArthur wanted to send a strong message of defeat to the communists, so he ordered troops to continue pushing into North Korea in an attempt to reunify the entire Korean peninsula. However, the People's Republic of China viewed this as hostile to its own interests, particularly in Manchuria, and sent its own military into the fray, forcing the United States army back into the South.

In April, 1951, President Truman relieved MacArthur of his role in the Korean War and replaced him with General Matthew Ridgway, a move that was highly controversial in the United States. Before his removal, MacArthur had hoped to bomb China in retaliation, but Ridgway was aligned with Truman in believing the U.S. should limit the size of this Korean conflict to prevent another World War.

While the American and South Korean militaries held off the communist forces just north of the 38th parallel, the various players engaged in peace talks for the next two years. Finally, on July 27, 1953, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed at Panmunjom, which formally reinstated the divided status of Korea. Rhee and Il-sung both remained in power after the war, though Rhee was later overthrown by an uprising in 1960.

More than 5 million citizens and soldiers had been killed by the time the war ended, including around 36,000 Americans. Though the violence was over, in many ways, the Korean War was a harbinger of the disastrous Vietnam conflict, which began less than a year later.

Much of the field gear employed by United States forces in the Korean War was similar to that used during World War II—from weapons and ammunition bags to uniforms and cooking supplies. Some of the most desirable militaria from the Korean conflict includes items like wartime letters, slides, and photographs, or decorated hats and helmets associated with particular squadrons.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Japanese Made Off Uniform United Nations Partisan Force Korea Shoulder InsigniaUsaf B-15d Flight Jacket ~ Named Size 38 W/veterans Medals, Photos & PaperworkLot Of 2 X Us M1 Helmet Liners (including A Paratrooper Liner!) - Korean WarRaf/british Korean War Era Air Force Survival Machete Knife/old/folding/militaryWw2 Era / Korean War Era Us Army Airborne Paratrooper Helmet Liner - FirestoneVintage Wwii Usaf B-9 Parka Mouton Fur Split Hood Conmar 40s/50s Korean War 48Marilyn Monroe Uso Tour Korean War 1954 Usaf Candid Original Official PhotographNm 1950 Zippo Lighter Engraved Naval Attache Association Washington, D.c. No ResIsraeli Model 1949 Mauser Bayo W/ Scabbard-nice Hebrew MarkingsUs Westing House Capac M1 Helmet Liner Ww2 Korean War Legion Of Merit Medal Inscribed To Recipient For You To ResearchUsed 1951 Zippo Lighter Old 2517191 Patent Pending Steel Case Korean War Era Vintage U.s. M5 Aerial U.s. Military Knife..bayonet W,usm8 Scabbard..sheath !!Vintage 2nd Infantry Division Tour Jacket Korean War Betty Boop 50s Warriors 44Original Usmc Vintage Korean War Cigarette Lighter - Lot Of 2 - Mint In Box UsUs Post Ww2 Korean War Model 1902 Greek Regiment Of R.i. Officer's SwordKorean War Era Usm5 Imperial Bayonet With Us M8a1 Vpco ScabbardUs Wwii Korean War M-1 Helmet Liner, Cd Civil DefenseUs Westing House Capac M1 Helmet Liner 84th DivisionOriginal Slide, Usaf 18th Fbg Naa F-51d Mustang, 1950 Korean WarOriginal Type 30 Japanese Bayonet Scabbard Modified By South Korea - Korean WarVictory Games The Korean WarUs Wwii & Korean War 93rd Bomb Squadron 19th Bomb Group Squadron Patch FramedOriginal Usaf P-4a Pilot Flight Helmet Suspension Sling Assembly & Lace Hgu, AphLot Of Five South Korea 100 Won From Korean War Era Block # 67Korean War Usmc Photos 1950 Official Marine Corps Lot Hamhung 1maw Pow WonsanUsaf P & Army Aph Series Flight Helmet Side Tophat Earphone Retention Studs HguKorean War Army Good Conduct Named Medal, Dog Tags Set, Photo I.d., Ribbon BarKorean War Era U.s. Army/air Force M-1951 Field Cap1/32 Master Details U.s. Air Force Korean War Jet Pilot Detail Resin & MetalLong Service Good Conduct Royal Canadian Air Force Medal Rcaf Falconbridge StatiWwii Korean War Dual Use Japanese Arisaka Type 30 Bayonet By Tokyo ArsenalM1945 Field Pack Suspenders, 1952 Shelter Half Unissued, Mess Kit, Pouches Lot39x Korean War, Vietnam, Modern Us Air Force Squadron & Command PatchesReturned From Hell 1951 Korea 1952 Skull & Cross Bones Jacket Patch Clean!Korean War Us Army... M-1950 Field Coat Jacket..xs1950 1951 Arizona T.p. 2 License Plate Tag Vintage Antique Ford Chevy Korean WarWw2/korea Era Usmc Camouflage Garment BagVintage Canvas M1937 B.a.r. Magazine Belt, Korean War-era (1951)Korean War Era Jet Drag Parachute In Original Box Box Dated 1951Vintage Military Air Force 1951 Overcoat Parka Korean War Issue Jacket M ArmyOriginal Slide, Marines Hmr-161 Sikorsky Hrs-2 Helicopter, 1950s Korean WarOriginal Korean War Era Us Army M1 HelmetNos Korean War M1 Helmet Sweat Band 1953Korean War Veterans Memorial Medal Of Gratitude Thanks & Honor Medallion MedalVtg 1951 Korean War U.s. Military Casualty Sleeping Bag1953 Hong Kong Harbour Rppc Airmail View Raf Kai Tak Korean War South Africa Vintage Truman~hitler~korean War~atomic Bomb~16 Mm Film Lot Of 5~learning Corp18x Korean War - Vietnam Us Army Shoulder Patches, Mountain Tabs, Stripes, Etc.9 Rare Vintage Us Army Usmc M-1950 M-50 Combat Field Jacket Small Reg S M43 Ww2Original Korean War 48th Fighter Interceptor Squadron Patch, Embroidered No-glow1951 First Marine Division Chosin Resevoir Korean War Sgt. Ralph H Schofield*rare Air Force Guidon Flag For 6000 Support Group Hq Sq Sec*18 Korean War Letters 8098th A.u. Military Eureka California Lot Vtg Papers OldBureau Of Aeronautics Usn Flight Jacket Intermediate G-1 Mil-j7823 (aer) Sz 46Vtg Korean War Us Navy Uss Wasp Cv18 Aircraft Carrier Task Group Bravo Patch SetExtremely Rare 1950's Uss Piedmont (ad-17) Dixie-class Destroyer Tender Patch!Korean War Usaf Ribbon Bar (clutchback)Vintage Wwii Korean War Us Army 30 Cal M1a1 Ammo Can Flaming Bomb By United Co.M-1950 Field Jacket Liner Mohair Pile Small Military Korean 51 Salem Products