The Korean War: 6 Famous Moments

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ValorousTV remembers the Korean War with its "First to Fight" Video Series.
ValorousTV remembers the Korean War with its "First to Fight" Video Series.

In June 1950, President Truman ordered a naval blockade of the Korean coast and authorized General Douglas MacArthur to send U.S. ground troops into Korea. During the three year war, history would repeatedly be made. From the amphibious landing at Inchon to the first time jet aircraft engaged in battle, here are six historical moments of the Korean War.

1. Amphibious Landing at Inchon

U.S. forces land on Inchon in September 1950.
U.S. forces land on Inchon in September 1950.

With U.S. and U.N. forces locked in the struggle to break out from the Pusan Perimeter, General MacArthur put in place what was perhaps the most remembered aspect of the Korean War: The amphibious landing at Inchon. The operation's codename was Operation Chromite. The 5th Marine Regiment landed on Wolmi-do Island in Inchon Harbor on September 15, 1950 with the balance of the 1st Marine Division landing at Inchon. By late the next day, American forces had overwhelmed the North Koreans and secured the city, allowing MacArthur to land the balance of the invasion force and to move on to retake Seoul the following March.

2.  The Largest Naval Blockade in History

Naval forces created what was to become the largest naval blockade in history off the strategically vital Wonsan harbor on North Korea’s east coast. U.N. forces, including the 1st Marine Division, captured Pyongyang on October 19, 1950.

3. The Chosin Few

Sgt. 1st Class Elijah McLaughlin (left front) and Cpl. Luther Anderson (right front) lead their squad down a steep hill as they begin a 1,500-yard advance toward another hill northwest of the Ch’ongch’on River, North Korea, Nov. 20, 1950. (Army Heritage Center photo)
Sgt. 1st Class Elijah McLaughlin (left front) and Cpl. Luther Anderson (right front) lead their squad down a steep hill as they begin a 1,500-yard advance toward another hill northwest of the Ch’ongch’on River, North Korea, Nov. 20, 1950. (Army Heritage Center photo)

The Marines' breakout from the Chosin Reservoir started with the savage battle of East Hill, with the 5th and 7th Marines attempting to rescue the surrounded 7th Infantry Division’s Regimental Combat Team. The Marines eventually formed up into a single column and began the fight through the Chinese Army encircling their positions. The breakout battle was fought in some of the most difficult and roughest terrains in Korea, and some of the harshest winter weather conditions with temperatures reaching -35 F.

The tenacity and fortitude of the Marines during the running battle kept the Chinese from pushing forward and overrunning the U.N. Corps south of Chosin. The embattled column reached the U.N. forces main perimeter on December 11th bringing the Chosin Reservoir breakout to a close. The 1st Marines Division received the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions, as did the 41st Royal Marine Commando and the Army’s RCT-31. Fourteen Marines (along with two U.S. Army service members and a Navy pilot) were given the Medal of Honor, and all who served in the campaign became known as ‘The Chosin Few.’

4. The First Time Jet Aircraft Engaged in Battle

F-86 Sabres from the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing fly in formation during the Korean War in 1954.  (Courtesy photo)
F-86 Sabres from the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing fly in formation during the Korean War in 1954. (Courtesy photo)

When the Korean War broke out many of the aircraft initially used by the U.S. military were World War II prop-driven planes, including the B-29 Superfortress bomber and the Mustang fighter with the Navy and Marines flying the vaunted Corsair fighter. The attacking North Korean forces had Soviet-built jet fighter MiG 15. The U.S. rapidly deployed the F-86 Sabre Jet marking the first time U.S. jet aircraft engaged in battle. In fact, Korea was the first time the United States Air Force entered into combat, as it was created as a separate and independent force in September 1947.

The Air Force F-86, the Navy Panther Jets, and the Marines in the Corsair supported the heavy bombing campaigns against North Korea. This led to many dogfights in the northwest part of North Korea dubbed ‘MiG Alley.’ By the end of hostilities in 1953, the F-86 had shot down 792 MiGs with a loss of 76 Sabre jets, a for victory ratio of 10-to-1.

5.  Greatest Evacuation in U.S. Military History

USS Begor (APD-127) stands offshore, ready to embark the last U.N. landing craft, as demolition charges wreck Hungnam's port facilities, 24 December 1950.
USS Begor (APD-127) stands offshore, ready to embark the last U.N. landing craft, as demolition charges wreck Hungnam's port facilities, 24 December 1950.

Historians call the evacuation from Hungnam in North Korea in December 1950 “the greatest evacuation movement by sea in U.S. military history.” A 193-ship armada assembled at the port and safely evacuated the bulk of the forces in eastern North Korea. In two weeks over a hundred thousand military personnel, 17,500 vehicles 350,000 tons of cargo were pulled out to safety. 91,000 refugees were also evacuated to safety. The military units evacuated included the 1st Marine Division which arrived at Hungnam after its successful fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir area.

6. General MacArthur Fired

General Douglas MacArthur during the Inchon landing of 1950.
General Douglas MacArthur during the Inchon landing of 1950. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

The South Korean capital of Seoul was a major battleground during the Korean War, with the North taking it twice and the U.S and U.N. forces retaking the city each time. The fourth battle of Seoul, planned by U.S. 8th Army Commander Matthew Ridgeway, was intended to destroy as much of the North’s military forces around Seoul and also to move the U.N. troops back to the 38th parallel. The operation began in March 1951, and by mid-month, the North’s forces had been forced to withdraw from Seoul, and the U.S. Military retook the city. This would be the last time the capital would change hands.

Meanwhile, the controversy over policy issues regarding the conduct and scope of the war was building between General MacArthur, the Supreme Commander in Korea, and President Truman.  On April 11, 1951, Truman relieved MacArthur, with General Matthew Ridgeway elevated to the supreme commander’s post in Korea.

In July 1953, the Korean War came to an end. In all, some five million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the war. Because no permanent peace treaty has ever been signed, ‘The unfinished’ or ‘forgotten’ war still divides Korea today.

Watch First To Fight on ValorousTV.com, an in-depth 12-episode journey through the Korean War.

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Korean War Military History