WAEGWAN, Republic of Korea — The Nakdong River, located in the South-East corner of the Republic of Korea, is the longest river in the nation. It passes through major areas of commerce, to include the cities of Daegu and Busan. It has played an important role in the history of Korea.
Arguably one of its most important roles was as a natural barrier to movement during the early days of the Korean War. The river formed the bulk of what became known as the Pusan Perimeter. This is where U.S. and South Korean forces finally halted the advance of North Korean troops in July 1950. Some of the bloodiest battles of the war were fought near the banks of the waterway.
On July 29, 1950 Eighth Army Commander Lt. Gen. Walton Walker issued his famous “stand or die” order.
“There will be no more retreating, withdrawal or readjustment of the lines or any other term you choose. There is no line behind us to which we can retreat…There will be no Dunkirk, there will be no Bataan. A retreat to Pusan would be one of the greatest butcheries in history. We must fight until the end...We will fight as a team. If some of us must die, we will die fighting together…I want everybody to understand we are going to hold this line. We are going to win.”
They held the line. On Sept. 24, 1950, nine-days after the Incheon landing, Republic of Korea and UN forces attacked all along the Pusan Perimeter, routing demoralized North Korean forces as they tried to escape north.
The stalemate along the Pusan Perimeter lasted for nearly two months. U.S. casualties totaled 4,280 killed in action, 12,377 wounded, 2,107 missing and 401 captured. South Korean military casualties were higher.
In memory of the thousands killed during the battles of the Pusan Perimeter, the Republic of Korea government established the Nakdong River Battle Victory Event in 2009. The event is held along the eastern shore of the Nakdong River in the small city of Waegwan where one of the fiercest battles on the Pusan Perimeter took place. The event became part of the Nakdong River World Peace and Culture Festival in 2011.
The multi-day festival is designed to inspire patriotism in the people of South Korea, especially the young, who never experienced the horrors of the Korean War.
The festival is held annually in late Sep. or Oct. and historically features a military parade through Waegwan, speeches, appearances by Korean War veterans from both the ROK, U.S. and United Nations, military equipment displays and numerous patriotic performances.
A highlight of the festival is a “Hollywood quality” battle reenactment on the banks of the Nakdong.
Eighth Army participates in many of the events with the bulk of personnel coming from 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command units assigned to nearby Camp Carroll.
COVID-19 scaled down the 2020 and 2021 events significantly. The reenactment and most of the other elements are not occurring, and those that are happening are not open to the general public. They can however be viewed online.
An annual tradition since the start of the festival is a small ceremony held by Republic of Korea and U.S. military and community leaders at the nearby Korea-America Friendship Park, also called the Hill 303 Memorial.
On Aug. 17, 1950, during the height of the Pusan perimeter standoff, 41 U.S. Army prisoners of war assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, were executed by North Korean troops near Hill 303 which overlooks the Nakdong River.
"We must not forget the dangers faced by our Soldiers here on the Pusan Perimeter and the bravery and sacrifice needed to overcome the challenges of their time,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph D’costa, Eighth Army Deputy Commanding General-Sustainment.
At the conclusion of the Hill 303 ceremony participants moved to the nearby Chilgook Patriots and Peace Memorial to participate in the Victory Ceremony for the Battle of the Nakdong River.
The ceremony, hosted by the Republic of Korea Ministry of Defense, celebrates the anniversary of UN forces victory in the Battle of the Nakdong River (which consisted of a series of battles) and also serves as the opening event for the Nakdong River World Peace and Culture Festival which, as mentioned, is being held virtually from 15-17 Oct.
The Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. An armistice ending major hostilities was signed on July 27, 1953, but the war has never officially ended which is why U.S. forces maintain a presence in the Republic of Korea to this day.
“Just as they remained steadfast and strong in unforgiving circumstances to win, we must hold the line in defense of freedom to maintain what they worked so hard to attain. Our Alliance is strong today because of our shared sacrifice and it will remain strong in the future because of our shared belief that freedom is not free,” added D’costa.
It is estimated that 5 million Soldiers and civilians were killed during the Korean War. United Nations forces suffered 550,000 casualties with almost 40,000 Americans killed. This year marks the 71st anniversary of the war.