Friday, 19 June 2009 07:40
An inscription on the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. reads: “Our Nation honors her sons and daughters, who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto asks residents to take a few moments on June 25, which is Korean War Veterans Day in New York State, to reflect and to honor the veterans who served their country during that conflict and show them we are grateful to live in a country that is free because of their service, courage and sacrifice.
“Since 1990, June 25 has been designated as Korean War Veterans Day in New York State,” Venditto stated. “Many people don’t know about it because the occasion receives about as much notice as the war itself, which is frequently referred to by historians as ‘The Forgotten War.’ I hope you will take a few minutes to read the following brief account of the Korean War and to reflect on the sacrifices made by those brave Americans who fought and died on that foreign soil.
“At the end of World War II, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into South and North Korea, occupied, respectively, by the United States and the Soviet Union,” the supervisor said. “In 1948, rival governments were established, the Republic of Korea in the south and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea in the north. Relations between them became increasingly strained, culminating with North Korean forces invading South Korea on June 25, 1950, and sparking the Korean War.
“The United Nations quickly condemned the North Korean invasion as an act of aggression,” the supervisor continued. “The UN also demanded that North Korea withdraw its troops from the south and called upon its members to aid South Korea. On June 30, President Harry S. Truman authorized the use of American land, sea and air forces. One week later, the UN placed the forces of 15 other member nations under U.S. command. General Douglas MacArthur was appointed as Supreme Commander by President Truman.”
Venditto went on to say that in the first weeks of the United Nations Police Action…it never was officially declared a war, but for those who fought, it was a hard, brutal war in unforgiving terrain, weather that ran from 100 plus degrees in summer to more than 50 degrees below zero in winter and against an enemy that, for much of the war, outmanned and outgunned U.N. Forces…North Korean troops met little resistance and advanced rapidly. By September 10, they had driven the South Korean Army and a few American troops all the way to the southeastern tip of South Korea at Pusan. On September 15, UN forces launched a counteroffensive with a daring landing on Inchon on the west coast. North Korean forces fell back, and General MacArthur received orders to pursue them into North Korea. By October 19, the North Korean capital of Pyongyang was captured. By November 24, North Korean troops had their backs almost to the Yalu River, which marked the border of Communist China.
“As General MacArthur prepared for a final offensive, North Korean forces were joined by Chinese Communists, and the combined forces mounted a successful counterattack,” the Supervisor said. “UN forces were pushed back. In January 1951, the Communists, once more, entered South Korea, capturing the capital city of Seoul. After months of heavy back and forth battling, the major fighting was, again, centered on the 38th parallel, where it remained for the balance of the war. General MacArthur wanted to mount another invasion. When his letter urging a full-scale war against the Communists was read in Congress, President Truman, who had already decided that the UN command would seek a cease-fire once the line of defense was firmly established in the vicinity of the 38th parallel, relieved him and named General Matthew B. Ridgeway as Commander-in-Chief.”
With the failure of a spring counteroffensive, the Communists appeared ready to terminate the war. After some diplomatic posturing, both sides decided to begin truce negotiations on July 10, 1951, at Kaesong, just below the 38th parallel. In the opening weeks, no progress was made at the negotiating table. Talks were suspended on Aug. 22 when the Communists alleged that the conference site had been bombed by U.N. aircraft. Seven weeks later, in early October, talks resumed, this time at Panmunjom. Meanwhile, small, but bitter, indecisive and costly actions were still taking place. In October 1952, negotiations again broke down, this time over the repatriation of prisoners of war. They were not resumed until April 1953, while casualties were mounting on both sides. After much difficulty, an armistice agreement was finally signed on July 27, 1953, but not before more than 33,600 Americans had given their lives in combat and more than 103,000 had been wounded.
“The United States military involvement in Korea was deemed to be a ‘police action’ because it was never authorized by Congress and it was generally referred to as a ‘conflict,’” Venditto stated, “but to the men and women who were fighting and dying, it was the Korean War. Fifty-six years after it ended, historians still debate whether or not the Korean War was ‘worth it’. After all, the fighting began and ended at the 38th parallel. I believe the message that America and the rest of the U.N. Forces sent was that we would fight for freedom anywhere in the world. Had America and the U.N. Forces not taken up the cause of South Korea, we might very well have faced a World War III. Because we drew a line in the sand, so to speak, South Korea, today, is a free and prosperous nation.”