Everything You Need to Know About Korean War Veterans Armistice Day

Major General Blackshear M. Bryan, U.S. Army (2nd from left), Senior Member of the Military Armistice Commission, United Nations’ Command, exchanges credentials with Major General Lee Sang Cho, North Korean Army (3rd from right), Senior Communist delegate, at the Conference Building at Panmunjom, Korea, 28 July 1953. This was the day after the Korean War Armistice went into effect. (Army Signal Corps Collection/U.S. National Archives)

It's often called "The Forgotten War," but one day a year is set aside to remind Americans of those who served and died in the conflict -- Korean War Veterans Armistice Day on July 27.

The Korean War started on June 25, 1950, when North Korea suddenly started rolling tanks across the 38th parallel. The communist assault was initially successful. For the first two months of the war, the North Koreans easily pushed the South Korean and American forces back toward Pusan, nearly into the Sea of Japan.

After it recovered from the surprise, the United States set up a perimeter around Pusan to hold the communists at bay. It began to mass men, vehicles and aircraft to push back. U.S. troops under Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed at Inchon, far behind the North Korean line, sending the communist force into disarray.

Eventually, 21 countries formed a United Nations force that pushed the North Koreans back past the 38th parallel; captured the enemy capital at Pyongyang; and nearly fought them to the Yalu River -- the North's border with China.

    John Hanson, a Korean war veteran, sits down to tell his story about his time during the Korean War. Hanson visited the Korean peninsula on a tour sponsored by the Republic of Korea government with other war veterans who served overseas. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Jack LeGrand)

    Then, the Chinese entered the war.

    A massive Chinese Army crossed the river and surprised the U.S. and South Korean forces, overwhelming them and pushing them back to the 38th parallel at great human cost.

    That was just the first four months of the war.

    The next two years saw the fighting devolve into a bloody stalemate along the 38th parallel. It ground on in a war of attrition along the front while U.N. airpower mercilessly bombed North Korea's cities and infrastructure in an attempt to force the communists to a position of weakness during long-running peace talks.

    When did the Korean War end?

    It was at 10 a.m. on July 27, 1953, that two years and 17 days of negotiations finally ended three years of brutal fighting on the Korean Peninsula.

    The Cleveland Plain Dealer's front page announcing the end of fighting in Korea. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

    More than 23,600 U.S. service members had died during the fighting. Between 300,000 and 900,000 communist troops were killed, along with an estimated 2.5 million Korean civilians. South Korea's defense ministry estimates more than 137,000 South Korean troops died in the war. Relatively little territory changed hands, given the volume of the destruction the war caused.

    Today, historians and even veterans of the conflict may call the war in Korea "The Forgotten War," but tucked on the National Mall, across from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, is a ghostly memorial designed to ensure that the conflict, those who served in it and the almost 25,000 American troops who died as a result are remembered. The memorial was dedicated in 1995 by then-President Bill Clinton and South Korea's then-President Kim Young Sam.

    The Korean War Veterans Memorial was confirmed on April 20, 1986. On Flag Day in 1992, then-President George H.W. Bush presided over the groundbreaking on the National Mall, where the memorial now stands.

    What is Korean War Veterans Armistice Day?

    Three years after the memorial was finished, U.S. Code Title 36 was amended to recognize Korean War Veterans Armistice Day in the United States every July 27. While not a federal holiday, the law asks Americans to recognize the day with appropriate activities and ceremonies.

    It also orders all U.S. government agencies and installations to fly the flag at half staff to honor those who died to keep South Korea free from communism. American officials visit Arlington National Cemetery, and speeches are made to commemorate the day.

    The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation)

    Every year, the president issues a proclamation to remember Korean War Veterans Armistice Day. In 2020, President Donald Trump issued his proclamation:

    "Sometimes called 'The Forgotten War,' we will always remember the immeasurable cost incurred by those who fought on the Korean Peninsula. The bravery, tenacity and selflessness of our veterans liberated the oppressed, brought peace and prosperity to a freedom-loving people, and helped forge our unshakable bonds with the Republic of Korea."

    -- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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