"Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met." These words are on the Korean War Memorial commemorating the U.S. involvement in the war between North Korea and South Korea, which lasted from 1950 to 1953. The conflict was a major event in the Cold War period. The USSR backed a communist regime in North Korea led by Kim Il Sung against an American backed-administration in the South led by Syngmann Rhee.
North Korea Crosses the 38th Parallel
War broke out on June 25, 1950. North Korea crossed the 38th parallel -- a circle of latitude that was, and still is, the boundary separating North and South Korea -- with the support of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Two days later, the U.N. decided to send in forces to help South Korea repel the invasion. The majority of these forces came from the U.S., led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The North Koreans quickly occupied Seoul, the capital of South Korea. By September, U.N. forces landed at Inchon and returned it to the South Koreans. The war moved from a local conflict to the international stage.
Inchon was largely undefended as troops were gathered around Pusan. Under the command of MacArthur, U.N. and South Korean forces invaded on Sept. 15, 1950. The small number of inferior North Korean troops were defeated in days. MacArthur then led a march to reclaim Seoul.
In November 1951, China sent troops to help North Korea. This bold move from the Soviet ally turned the tide against U.S.-backed South Korea, and by January 1951, U.N. forces were defending a line south of Seoul. U.N. forces pushed the North Koreans back over the 38th parallel, but neither side could defeat the other and a stalemate arose.
MacArthur tried to break the stalemate and called for a nuclear bomb to be used against North Korea. He also wanted to destroy the bridges over the Yalu River to block Chinese supplies, and he pushed for an invasion of China. U.S. President Harry Truman had decided that Cold War efforts should focus on Europe instead of Asia, and MacArthur was sacked for his demands. The U.S. was anxious for peace talks, but mutual distrust made peace negotiations drag on for two years. With the election of President Dwight Eisenhower and the death of Soviet leader Stalin, an armistice agreement was finally signed on July 27, 1953.