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The Korean War: A History

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The Korean War

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THE

KOREAN WAR
BY TOM STREISSGUTH

Published by The Child’s World®
1980 Lookout Drive • Mankato, MN 56003-1705
800-599-READ • www.childsworld.com
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The Child’s World®: Mary Berendes, Publishing Director
Red Line Editorial: Editorial direction
The Design Lab: Design
Amnet: Production
Content Consultant: George Kallander, Associate Professor of
History, Syracuse University
Photographs ©: TSgt John C. Slockbower, cover; The Design
Lab, 5; US Army, 7; Max Desfor/AP Images, 8; AP Images,
10, 20; Charles Gorry/AP Images, 11; Department of Defense,
15; Sgt Frank C. Kerr, USMC, 17, 18; Jim Pringle/AP Images,
13, 23; George Sweers/AP Images, 27
Design Element: Shutterstock Images
Copyright © 2015 by The Child’s World®
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means
without written permission from the publisher.
ISBN 9781631437106
LCCN 2014945399
Printed in the United States of America
Mankato, MN
January, 2015
PA02259

ABOUT THE
AUTHOR
Tom Streissguth was
born in Washington,
D.C., and grew up in
Minnesota. He has
worked as a teacher,
book editor, and
freelance author and
has written more
than 100 books of
nonfiction for young
readers. In 2014 he
founded The Archive,
a publishing company
that compiles the
nonfiction works
and journalism of
renowned
American authors.

TABLE OF
CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1
CHAPTER 2

THE WAR BEGINS . .

 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

4

	THE INVASION OF
SOUTH KOREA . .  .

 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

CHAPTER 3

ON THE MARCH . .

CHAPTER 4

STALEMATE . .

CHAPTER 5

TRUCE . .

10

 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

16

 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

22

 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

26

TIMELIN E. .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 30
GLOSSA RY .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 3 1
TO LE ARN MO RE.  .  .  .  . 32
IN D EX. .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 32

P

T E

E

C

N

H

O

A

R

THE WAR BEGINS

T

he Chosin Reservoir lies among the steep hills of northern
Korea. Ther; e are few roads or settlements in the area.
In the fall of 1950, U.S. Marine and Army units reached

the banks of the reservoir. They were close to the North
Korean border with China.
Narrow roads made it tough to move across the
countryside. Icy winds blew through the hills. The frozen
ground prevented troops from building barriers or foxholes.
But the armies of the United States, South Korea, and other
United Nations (UN) countries were on the move. The North

Korean troops were retreating. The war had lasted only a few
months. Now it seemed to be almost over.
The Korean War had begun in the summer of 1950.
The North Korean army had invaded South Korea.
The United States was now landing troops and pushing the
North Koreans back.
4

NORTH
KOREA

UNITED
STATES

SOUTH
KOREA

N
NW

NE

W

E

SW

SE

S

5

In October, the United States prepared to invade North Korea
and end the war. But on October 25, North Korea’s ally, China,
entered the war. At Chosin, the Chinese attacked in waves. Many
Chinese troops died from mortars and machine gun fire from
the U.S. troops. But thousands more

SIGNAL PANELS

Chinese soldiers came over the hills.

Wartime can cause confusion
between troops. Military
troops attach signal panels to
their trucks during wartime.
The colors change daily.
Planes can quickly identify
which trucks belong to the
enemy, or they can drop
supplies to their own troops.
During the Korean War, there
was confusion about the
color of the signal panels on
the trucks. One time, U.S. Air
Force Lt. Col. Bud Biteman
could not identify a group
of ten military vehicles.
Biteman’s plane was armed
with bombs, rockets, and
machine guns. He was
supposed to attack, but he
held his fire. Later he learned
there were no friendly troops
in the area. The trucks he
spotted belonged to the
North Korean army.

Their terrifying assaults overran the
U.S. Marine positions.
RETREAT TO THE 38TH
PARALLEL

After 17 days of battle, some
U.S. Marine units regrouped.
They moved away from Chosin
Reservoir by retreating 100 miles
(160 km). The U.S. Marines fought
the Chinese troops along narrow
dirt roads to the North Korean
coast. Ships rescued thousands
of troops and civilians from the
port of Hungnam. Other troops
reached the demilitarized zone
that divided Korea in half. This

6

U.S. troops near the 38th parallel wait for the signal to fire against the enemy.

line is called the 38th parallel because it lies near 38 degrees
latitude north. The soldiers built positions here during the
winter. They dug deep into the hard ground. Tents were
raised and they set up heavy guns. Night patrols watched for
enemy soldiers.

7

U.S. troops crouch in the bushes along the 38th parallel. They are on the lookout for North
Korean troops.

The Korean War turned into a stalemate. Neither side
could advance into enemy territory. There were many short
fights but few major battles. Over three years, more than
30,000 U.S. troops died. Many Korean civilians also died from
the fighting.

8

Both North Korea and the United States took thousands
of prisoners. Many prisoners died from hunger and from
harsh treatment. Some disappeared, but others returned
home. At the end of the war, Korea remained divided
between North and South.
H E R

V

I

O

T

W

A N

E

T

here were many different armies fighting in Korea.
The United States was part of a large coalition.
U.S. soldiers fought alongside troops from Great Britain,
South Korea, Canada, and Australia. Turkey, Thailand, and
the Philippines also sent troops to fight. All of these nations
agreed to fight under the flag of the United Nations. The
United States had the largest military force, but it worked
with foreign commanders and troops. Imagine you were a
U.S. military leader. You must work with other countries’
leaders and you may not always agree. Do you believe
fighting as part of a coalition makes it easier or harder to
win a war?

9

P

T E

T

A

R

H

W

C

O

THE INVASION OF
SOUTH KOREA

T

he empire of Japan absorbed Korea in 1910.
Japan surrendered to the United States at the
end of World War II (1939–1945). When the

Japanese left Korea, the U.S. and Soviet Union
armies arrived. The United States occupied
southern Korea, and troops of the Soviet Union
remained in the north. The 38th parallel divided
the two sides.
A DIVIDED COUNTRY

Kim Il Sung

The United States and the Soviet Union agreed Korea
should hold elections to choose new leaders. The Soviet

10

Syngman Rhee, right, and U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur sit together at a ceremony in Seoul.

Union supported Kim Il Sung as the ruler of North Korea.
The United States supported Syngman Rhee as president of
South Korea in 1948.

11

The new leaders wanted to reunite Korea, but they could
not agree on the best form of government. The Communist
party led North Korea. The government controlled all
property and industry. South Korea allowed its citizens to own
property. But in the late 1940s, many South Koreans saw their
democratic government as corrupt. There were protests and
violent rebellions. The police and the army harshly put down
these uprisings. Many South Koreans living in the countryside
died or fled their homes. Others lost their land and property.
With a weakened South Korean government, the United States
feared Communism would spread to South Korea. U.S. military
advisers helped the South Korean government keep tight control
over its people and territory.
Many civilians and soldiers suffered from illnesses during
the Korean War. Troops lived in dirty camps. Germs spread
through water and food. An epidemic of smallpox broke out in
North Korea. Thousands of civilians caught the deadly disease.
The Chinese accused the United States of using germ warfare, or
intentionally using bacteria to harm or kill the North Koreans.
ALONG THE 38TH PARALLEL

North and South Korea had troops stationed along the 38th
parallel. There were frequent battles across the line. There was

12

South Korean troops make their way to the 38th Parallel to fight the North Korean troops.

13

heavy gun fighting at times in the

GERM WARFARE
Chinese newspapers
ran stories about U.S.
planes dropping infected
insects over Korea during
the Korean War. They
claimed the United States
was making civilians and
soldiers sick on purpose.
The United States denied
this. Chinese newspapers
stopped running the stories
at the end of the war. Many
North Koreans still believe
they were the targets of
germ warfare during
the war.

border region. Troops on both sides
were killed in firefights.
The United States and the
Soviet Union withdrew their troops
from South Korea in 1949. The
North Korean government saw this
as a chance to defeat South Korea.
North Korea wanted to invade
in order to reunify the country.
The North Korean army was much
bigger than South Korea’s army.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea’s
army invaded the South. They

captured the South Korean capital city of Seoul. The Korean
War had begun.

14

H E R

V

I

O

T

W

A N

E

P

resident Harry Truman
ordered U.S. troops to
defend South Korea in
1950. Soon after, the United
States announced a war
against North Korea. The
Korean War was unpopular in
the United States. World War II
had ended just five years
earlier, and the public did not
support another big war effort.
The United States had lost
troops in Europe and Asia, and
thousands of soldiers returned
home wounded after World
War II. Many Americans did
not want the United States
involved in another distant
conflict. They believed it was
not the business of the United
States. When, if ever, do you
think it is okay for one country
to declare war on another?

15

E R

T

H

E

C H

R

A

P

T

E

ON THE MARCH

A

s North Korean troops stormed through South
Korea, the United States sent the army’s 24th
Infantry Division from Japan to South Korea. Their

instructions were to delay the North Korean advance. For
several weeks, this was the only U.S. military unit in Korea.
It had old equipment left over from World War II. The U.S.
troops had few machine guns or tanks. They were not

well prepared.
In August 1950, the North Koreans reached the borders of
Pusan. This harbor lay in the southern region of the Korean
Peninsula. The South Korean army controlled a small area
around Pusan. Scattered U.S. and UN forces also defended the
Pusan area.
U.S., South Korean, and British troops found themselves
surrounded by the enemy. They rushed to hold off attacking
U.S. troops board a train heading north as they prepare to battle the North Korean army. j

16

17

A U.S. soldier burns a North Korean army camp as U.S. troops capture Inchon.

North Korean units. More troops would be arriving soon at
the port of Pusan.
FIGHTING AT PUSAN

The North Koreans assaulted Pusan with large amounts of
troops, but they could not get through to the harbor city.
U.S. bombers took to the skies. They bombed North Korean
positions from morning until night. They also damaged supply
lines leading to Pusan from North Korea. Thousands of North
Korean soldiers were killed in the fight.

18

Gen. Douglas MacArthur took command of U.S. forces
in Korea. MacArthur sent a large force of marines to capture
Inchon. This port lay on the west coast of South Korea near
the capital city of Seoul. Inchon was
behind enemy lines, but close to the
38th parallel.
The landing at Inchon was
risky. U.S. troops could only
get new supplies by boat, not by
land. The sea currents in the port
were dangerous. If a storm came
up, high waves might swamp and
sink the landing craft. It was
the annual monsoon season in
Korea. At this time of year, heavy
storms often hit Inchon.
RETURN TO THE 38TH
PARALLEL

General MacArthur gave the order
to go forward. The plan was to
capture Inchon and then advance to

19

MOBILE ARMY
SURGICAL
HOSPITALS
Many battles in Korea took
place in areas far from cities
and people. The countryside
had few roads. It was hard to
reach by helicopter. Wounded
troops had to make a long
trip to the coast to reach
a hospital. Mobile Army
Surgical Hospitals (MASH)
set up bases in the mountains
of Korea. Doctors and
nurses worked close to the
battlefields. They were able to
quickly move when needed.
The MASH units boosted the
spirits of troops. They knew
medics were a few miles
away. This gave them a better
chance to survive a serious
combat injury.

The city of Inchon burned after U.S. planes dropped several bombs.

Seoul. This would cut off supply lines to North Korean troops.
They would be forced back to the 38th parallel.
For several days, U.S. planes bombed Inchon. U.S. spies
working in the city reported on North Korean defenses.
The United States made small supply drops elsewhere in
South Korea.
On September 15, U.S. Navy ships attacked Inchon from
the sea. The shelling destroyed guns and barriers. Hundreds
of civilians in the port died. Several hours later, U.S. forces
landed. Thousands of North Korean troops fled their
positions in Inchon.

20

U.S. and South Korean troops fought their way into
Seoul. Tanks blew up enemy positions in the streets.
Many North Korean soldiers surrendered. The North
Korean army left Seoul within three days. They quickly
retreated to the 38th parallel.
H E R

V

I

O

T

W

A N

E

K

orea remains divided today. The Communist regime in
North Korea has built nuclear weapons and has one
of the largest armies in the world. North Korea often
threatens to invade and conquer South Korea. An agreement
between South Korea and the United States allows the
United States to station troops, planes, guns, and other
military equipment in South Korea. But some South Koreans
oppose the presence of the U.S. military in their country.
They believe there will be less chance of another war with
North Korea if the United States leaves. Fights sometimes
break out between U.S. troops and South Koreans. South
Korean laws do not apply to the U.S. military. Many South
Koreans believe U.S. troops should follow South Korean
laws and courts. The United States still wants to prevent
another invasion by North Korea. Should U.S. forces remain
in South Korea?

21

T

E

R

F

O

A

P

R

C H

U

STALEMATE

T

he Inchon landing pushed the North Korean army back.
The army eventually retreated from the 38th parallel,
too. This allowed U.S. troops to advance into North

Korea. They captured the capital city of Pyongyang. U.S.
forces advanced close to the Yalu River. This waterway
separated North Korea from China. China worried about its
country’s national safety. China did not want North Korea

to be defeated. North Korea was an important ally. Chinese
forces crossed the border. The counterattack pushed back
U.S. troops.
U.S. President Harry Truman had to make a decision.
The United States could try to conquer North Korea and
reunite Korea, but if the war with China spread, the Soviet
Union might enter the conflict. That could mean a very
dangerous nuclear war in Asia.
U.S. troops and tanks make their way to the captured city of Pyongyang. j

22

23

TRUMAN AND

GOING NUCLEAR
The Korean War posed a
danger to all of East Asia.
Both the United States
and the Soviet Union had
nuclear weapons. U.S.
commanders planned to
drop atomic bombs on
China, but China was an
ally of the Soviet Union.
A nuclear attack by the
United States could bring
the Soviet Union into the
Korean War. The Soviets
could use nuclear weapons
of their own. President
Truman and later President
Eisenhower had the nuclear
option available. Many
U.S. commanders believed
nuclear weapons could win
the war. Both Truman and
Eisenhower decided against
this option.

MACARTHUR

General MacArthur wanted to
continue the attack and conquer
North Korea. But President
Truman decided against the attack.
The disagreement prompted Truman
to fire MacArthur.
The war remained at a standstill
for two years. U.S. troops fought many
short battles along the 38th parallel.
The conditions for the troops
on both sides were difficult. The
bombing and fighting destroyed many
Korean villages and farms. There
was little food available. Millions of
civilians died of illness, starvation,
and gunfire. Korea’s bitterly cold
winters took their toll on the troops
stationed in the mountains.

24

Both sides also took many thousands of prisoners.
The treatment of prisoners blocked a peace agreement.
The two sides could not agree on sending prisoners home.
But they agreed to Operation Little Switch in April 1953.
This allowed sick and injured prisoners from both sides to
return to their home countries.

H E R

V

I

O

T

W

A N

E

t

he North Korean army crushed U.S. forces defending
South Korea in July 1950. U.S. troops were not
prepared for battle. Many civilians were also caught
in the crossfire. U.S. troops often could not tell an enemy
soldier from a civilian. On July 25, at No Gun Ri the fighting
was intense. Near the battle, several hundred civilians were
fleeing the danger across a stone bridge. U.S. army troops
thought they were enemy troops. The Americans opened fire
with rifles and machine guns. Warplanes shot from the air.
Hundreds of Korean civilians died. How can an army prevent
civilian deaths in a battle zone?

25

P

T E

R

F
V

C H

I

A

E

TRUCE

U

.S. commanders believed dropping bombs from planes
might break the stalemate between North Korea and
South Korea. They began Operation Strangle in May 1951.

The bombing destroyed roads and bridges near the 38th parallel.
North Korea fought back with powerful anti-aircraft guns.
These weapons threw shells high into the air. Clouds of metal
pieces exploded in the path of the planes. This damaged many
planes. Many bombers crashed, and crewmembers died.
FIGHTING ON THE GROUND

On the ground, Chinese and North Korean troops were able
to quickly repair the damage to roads and bridges. They
worked at night and undercover. The United States hoped the
bombing would force China to ask for a truce. Instead, China
stepped up its efforts to win the war.
Troops from both sides used trenches throughout the war. j

26

27

U.S. officers ordered attacks and raids on North Korean
positions, but the Chinese and North Koreans were skilled
at building defenses. They raised barriers and dug trenches.
They also used artillery to protect their forward positions.
By the end of 1951, the Korean

GUARDING THE 38TH
PARALLEL
North and South Korea
are still separated close to
the original 38th parallel.
This demilitarized zone
is 2.5 miles (4 km) wide.
Anyone entering the zone
can be killed. The U.S. and
South Korean armies send
out constant patrols. North
Korea has stationed guns,
tanks, and thousands of
troops in the area. The
sides called a truce in 1953,
but the Korean War never
officially ended. North Korea
and South Korea never
signed a peace agreement.
The United States promised
to protect the South from
another invasion from the
North. It is possible that
fighting could break
out again.

War reached a stalemate. Neither
side was strong enough to try
another invasion, by land or by
sea. The strong defenses made
it difficult to move forward or
overrun enemy positions.
A NEW PRESIDENT

In November 1952, President
Dwight Eisenhower won the
U.S. presidential election. He
was determined to reach a peace
agreement in Korea. North Korea,
China, and the United States finally
called a truce in July 1953.
The United States pledged
to protect South Korea from
North Korea. It stationed thousands

28

of troops along the 38th parallel and throughout the country.
U.S. troops still patrol this zone and watch carefully for enemy
troop movements. South Korea’s capital, Seoul, is only 30 miles
(48 km) from the 38th parallel and the North Korean army.
H E R

V

I

O

T

W

A N

E

A

fter the Korean War, the United States sent military
advisers to Vietnam. The goal was to prevent a
Communist takeover of South Vietnam by North
Vietnam. American military involvement in the Vietnam
War lasted more than ten years, from 1961 to 1973. North
Vietnam won that war. Television news programs carried
video of fighting in the Vietnam War. Reporters in the
Korean War could not get near the fighting. The Korean
War was the last war to take place before television became
common. Many Americans were against the Korean War.
However, there were few public protests against that war.
During Vietnam, war protests were much larger and more
common. The Vietnam War became very unpopular in the
United States. It is widely believed that television news
coverage of the Vietnam War increased protests against it.
What role do you think television plays in conflicts around
the world today?

29

TIMELINE
1945	World War II ends with Japan surrendering,
and the Japanese army leaving Korea.
June 25, 1950	North Korea invades South Korea. The United
States sends troops to stop the invasion.
September 1950	Gen. Douglas MacArthur leads the Inchon
landings, pushing back North Korean troops.
1951	The Chinese army battles U.S.
troops in North Korea.
March 1951	Seoul falls to North Korea but is recaptured
by U.S. and South Korean armies.
July 1951	Peace talks begin.
1952	The Korean War reaches a stalemate
near the 38th parallel.
July 1953	The United Nations, United States,
China, and North Korea sign a
truce ending the Korean War.
2014	The demilitarized zone remains between
North Korea and South Korea.

30

GLOSSARY
coalition (koh-uh-LISH-uhn) A coalition is
a group of countries that join together for a
common goal. A large coalition helped fight
the Korean War.

mortars (MOR-turs) Mortars are small
weapons that hurl shells short distances.
Many Chinese troops died from mortars.
nuclear (NOO-klee-ur) Nuclear is a
weapon that involves a nuclear reaction.
The United States was afraid of nuclear
weapons being used during the
Korean War.

Communist (KOM-yuh-nist) A Communist
government owns land, oil, factories, and
ships, and there is no privately owned
property. A Communist government runs
North Korea.

smallpox (SMAWL-poks) Smallpox is a
disease that leaves permanent scars on
victims and is usually fatal. An epidemic of
smallpox broke out in North Korea.

demilitarized zone (de-MIL-uh-tur-ized
ZOHN) A demilitarized zone is an area
where military units are not supposed to
enter or cross. The demilitarized zone runs
close to the 38th parallel.

stalemate (STAYL-mayt) A stalemate
is a situation in which neither side can
gain a victory. The Korean War came to a
stalemate.

epidemic (ep-uh-DEM-ik) An epidemic is an
occurrence in which a disease spreads quickly
and affects many people. An epidemic of
smallpox broke out in North Korea.

United Nations (UN) (yoo-NITED NAYshuhns) The United Nations (UN) is a
political organization established in 1945.
Countries in the United Nations helped
fight the Korean War.

foxholes (FOKS-hohls) Foxholes are holes dug
for soldiers to sit or lie in for protection. The
ground in Korea was frozen so soldiers could
not dig foxholes.
monsoon (mon-SOON) A season of heavy
rain in Southeast Asia. Monsoon season
happened during the Korean War.

31

TO LEARN MORE
BOOKS
Edwards, Paul M. The A to Z of the Korean War. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005.
Wainstock, Dennis. Truman, MacArthur and
the Korean War. New York: Enigma Books, 2011.

WEB SITES
Visit our Web site for links about the Korean War: childsworld.com/links
Note to Parents, Teachers, and Librarians: We routinely verify our Web links to make sure
they are safe and active sites. So encourage your readers to check them out!

INDEX
38th parallel, 7, 12, 19, 21,
22, 24, 26, 28, 29
China, 4, 6, 22, 24, 26, 28
Chosin Reservoir, 4, 6
Communism, 12, 21, 29
Eisenhower, Dwight, 24, 28
germ warfare, 12, 14
Inchon, 19–20, 22

Japan, 10, 16

Rhee, Syngman, 11

MacArthur, Douglas, 19, 24

Seoul, 14, 19, 21, 29
South Korea, 4, 9, 11–12,
14, 15, 16, 19–21, 25, 26,
28–29
Soviet Union, 10–11, 14, 22, 24
Sung, Kim Il, 11

North Korea, 4, 6, 9, 11–12,
14, 15, 16, 18–21, 22, 24,
25, 26, 28–29
nuclear weapons, 21, 22, 24
prisoners of war, 9, 25
Pusan, 16, 18
Pyongyang, 22

32

Truman, Harry, 15, 22, 24