The Korean War was an armed conflict that began in 1950 and lasted three years. It was one of the major conflicts of the Cold War.

May, 1945
38th Parallel Crossing
Crossing the 38th parallel. United Nations forces withdraw from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. They recrossed the 38th parallel. (Photo Credit: National Archives) VIEW ORIGINAL

Following the end of WWII, Korea was split along the 38th parallel, a latitudinal line that would serve as the demarcation for the two new countries. The Soviets backed North Korea, while the U.N. supported South Korea.

In North Korea, Kim Il Sung organized a communist government known as the Democratic People's Republic. Syngman Rhee established a government in the south – the Republic of Korea. Each government hoped to reunify the country under its own rule

June 25, 1950
North Korean tanks during Korean War
Two enemy Model T-34 tanks, hidden in valley along the Inchon-Seoul Road, were knocked out by a 3.5 rocket team. Near Ascom City, Korea. (Photo Credit: United States Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

North Korean troops coordinate an attack at strategic points along the 38th parallel and head south toward Seoul. The United Nations Security Council votes 9-0 to adopt a resolution condemning the invasion as a "breach of the peace."

June 27, 1950
Paratroopers Flying to the Dropzone in Korea
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Paratroopers of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, seated in the cargo compartment of 314th Troop Carrier Group C-119 "Flying Boxcar," "sweat out" the flight to the dropzone at Munsan-ni, Korea, in March, 1951. This was the second combat airborne assault for the U.S. Air Force aircraft of the 314th Troop Carrier Group since their arrival in the Far East in August, 1950. The first assault was at Sukchon-Sunchon, Korea, in September, 1950, when the 187th was dropped shortly after the Allied landing on the beachhead at Inchon. Dropping paratroopers is only one of the many missions performed by the 314th since they joined the Far East Air Forces two years ago. (Photo Credit: Records of U.S. Air Force Commands, Activities, and Organizations) VIEW ORIGINAL
President Harry S. Truman Addressing the Nation Over the Radio
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – President Harry S. Truman during the broadcast in which he urged the proclamation of a national emergency because of the situation in Korea. (Photo Credit: Harris & Ewing - Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.) VIEW ORIGINAL

President Truman commits American forces to a combined U.N. military effort. Gen. Douglas MacArthur is named Commander of the U.N. forces, and the U.S. formally enters the conflict.

October 19, 1950
A convoy is ambushed by Chinese forces during the Korean War
A 3rd Infantry Division convoy is ambushed by Chinese forces during the Korean War. (Photo Credit: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum) VIEW ORIGINAL

After liberating the South Korean city of Seoul, seizing the North Korean Pyongyang, and mounting offensive maneuvers against North Korea, two groups of the Chinese People's Liberation Army attack and defeat outnumbered U.N. forces, inflicting heavy casualties.

The People's Republic of China, after warning the U.N., enters the war to defend the the North Korean regime and prevent the establishment of an American-allied Korea on its border.

February 1, 1951
Crew of M24 along Naktong River front
Crew of M24 along Naktong River front (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

While fighting hits a standstill, peace talks begin. Early efforts prove unsuccessful though and the war treads on for two more brutal years.

July 27, 1953
Signing the Korean Armistice
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – In this photograph, General W. K. Harrison, Jr., at the left table, signs the armistice ending the three-year Korean conflict. North Korean General Nam Il signs at the right table.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Harrison was the senior delegate for the United Nations Command Delegation. Gen. Nam was the senior delegate for the Delegation of the Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers. The two signed 18 official copies of the tri-language Korean Armistice Agreement in Panmunjom while scarcely acknowledging one other. (Photo Credit: General Records of the Department of the Navy)
Korean Armistice Agreement
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Front cover of the first volume of the Korean War Armistice Agreement (Photo Credit: Records of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff) VIEW ORIGINAL

By the time a diplomatic solution was in sight, losses were heavy on all sides.

South Korea

  • 217,000 killed or missing in action
  • 429,000 wounded in action

United States

  • 36, 568 killed or missing in action
  • 103, 284 wounded in action

United Nations

  • 3,063 killed or missing in action
  • 11,817 wounded in action

Combined forces of North Korea and China

  • 800,000 killed in action

North and South Korean civilians

  • 1.2 million killed

Seeking an end to these viscous hostilities, an armistice agreement is signed at Panmunjom, Korea to end combat.

The U.S., China and North Korea sign the armistice, with South Korea abstaining. South Korean President Syngman doesn't sign as he refuses to accept having failed to unite Korea.

After signing, the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, is established along the 38th parallel. North and South Korea remained separated to this day, halted in a frozen conflict.


Editor's Note: Some information within this article was provided by the National Archives.