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I have often been asked by students for additional information on the war, how it started, how it ended, etc. I hope the following meets that need.

by Sgt. Herbert Arthur Rideout USAF
Fallbrook CA

When I was ten years old the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and our country was totally unprepared for war. Our aircraft, guns, tanks, etc were hopelessly obsolete. At the time numerous officials said we had learned a lesson and we would never again be caught unprepared for war. Being young and naive I believed what they said. Then, ten years later I found myself on the side of a hill in Korea with the enemy advancing towards us. We had no hand grenades, artillery or machine guns and we were very short on ammunition. We were also not sure our rifles would fire because they had been in storage since WWII and never test fired. Here we were once again totally unprepared. Our commanding officer said if our rifles did not fire we were to pass our ammunition to the man next to us and we were to use our bayonets. Some 30% of the rifles did not fire.

Korea had been divided at the end of WWII, with Soviet forces occupying the territory north of the 38th parallel, and US forces to the south. A Communist government was established in the north and a pro-Western government in the south. The mutual disengagement of Soviet and American military power from a divided Germany proved to be an impossible goal, but the two superpowers had little difficulty in withdrawing from a divided Korea, the Russians by December 1948 and the Americans by June 1949. Henceforth, there were two separate Korean governments, the North armed by the Russians and the South armed by the US, and each claiming authority over the territory ruled by the other. Russia however was generous in supplying North Korea with armaments but President Truman was not fearing that a well armed South Korea might invade the North. The North was anxious to invade the South but they feared US forces in Japan might intervene. But then, all their concerns were put to rest when on Jan. 12, 1950, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson delivered his famous speech at the National Press Club in which he failed to include South Korea in America's defense perimeter in the Pacific. This along with Truman's record of backing away from any conflict (see below) the North thought it had a green light for invasion of the South. The Korean War is often referred to as Truman's war because of Dean Acheson‘s speech. With the assurance that the US would not intervene the North attacked the South on June 25th 1950.

Once the war was underway world opinion was not in favor of our standing on the sidelines so Truman immediately sent troops from Japan into Korea. The fighting was some of the fiercest this nation has ever seen. I had a friend leave from Japan with 60 other men, two weeks later only six were still alive. Our WWII bazookas would just bounce off their superior Russian T-34 tanks and there was no ground to air communications to call in air strikes. Truman was held in contempt for gutting military preparedness, which led to the initial military disasters in Korea. As a result of U.S. reverses Defense Secretary Louis Johnson, was forced to resign September 12, 1950. Although Johnson had followed faithfully President Truman's lead in imposing economy measures on the armed forces, Johnson received most of the blame for the initial setbacks in Korea. Ironically Truman had a sign on his desk that said, THE BUCK STOPS HERE. The sign should have been on the desk of Johnson.

"The truly pathetic thing is, never have the troops sent into battle been more under-strength, under-trained, under-equipped and under-mentally prepared than we were in Korea," said Sherman Pratt, who commanded a 2nd Infantry Division company through some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. [10]

A look back at President Truman;

Was President Truman a great decisive leader as some supporters like to portray? You decide!

1. The Russians developed and tested a nuclear bomb August 1949 and Truman did nothing to stop them. Compare his inaction with that of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who considered bombing China in the early 1960s because China was developing and testing nuclear weapons. [2]

2. In the late 1940s Russia denied the United States access to Berlin. Instead of facing up to the Russians as President Kennedy later did in the Cuban missile crisis Truman chose the weaker response of the Berlin Air Lift. (The Russians were installing nuclear missiles in Cuba, Kennedy told the Russians to remove them or he would).

3. Also in the late 1940s China was in the middle of a Civil War. Communists on one side Nationalists on the other. Russia was supplying arms to the Communist side but when the leader of the Nationalist side, Chiang Kai-shek requested just the surplus weapons of WWII which we had rotting on Pacific Islands Truman said no. He was afraid of a widening war which might engulf the United States. Because of his decision the Nationalists were driven from the mainland, something we would dearly regret when the Korean War got underway and the Chinese came to the aid of North Korea.

4. Again, Truman was very concerned that a war might get started in Asia. To insure our nonparticipation he authorized his Secretary of State Dean Acheson to give his famous speech stating we would not defend countries to the west of Japan, (Korea).

The North Koreans had to have considered all of the above actions before going to war. They would obviously conclude that Truman was weak, afraid of conflict and would do nothing if the North invaded the South, and they were right, he likely would have done nothing had he not been pushed to action by those more responsible in his administration. Truman refused to fight to win and the result was a small war that dragged on for years, almost as long as WWII.

Lets take a look at General MacArthur.

1. MacArthur was a general who could only think of winning wars, nothing less. During WWII he would wrap up a battle the size of Korea in weeks, not years. He was a winner in every sense of the word and never a looser.

2. He was quite pompous, very flamboyant and confident. This led many in the news media to dislike him and as a result he rarely received good press. One should always read with a bit of salt disparaging reports about his character or private life. The New York Times who hates MacArthur supports the History Channel and they often rewrite history to their liking.

3. He held Truman in great contempt. They were direct opposites. MacArthur repeatedly and blatantly violated the principle of the subordination of the military leadership to civilian authority. He undercut Truman at every opportunity.

As the war progressed and China became engaged it was General MacArthur’s view that the only way to end the war quickly and victoriously was to threaten the use of the A Bomb and to bring in Nationalist Chinese troops from Taiwan. Because of his views and statements to the press President Truman, on April 11 1951 fired General MacArthur. General Mark W. Clark, later the supreme commander of UN forces in Korea, and commander of all U.S. forces in the Far East also shared MacArthur’s view. [4] [8]

Here in part is Truman’s speech when he fired General MacArthur.


How ironic that he wished to save the precious lives of our fighting men when his actions did just the opposite.

You will rarely hear how the Korean War came to an end. This is because the news media was very much in support of Truman and very much biased against MacArthur. Here is how it came to an end..........

Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected U.S. president in November 1952. He had campaigned to end the war if elected. Under Truman the war had dragged on and on with no end in sight. After the election Eisenhower flew to Korea and made it clear that he was looking for an immediate armistice rather than a military victory. He let it be known to Moscow, Peking and Pyongyang that if the armistice talks were not reopened and did not proceed satisfactorily, U.N. forces would MOVE DECISIVELY WITHOUT INHIBITION IN OUR USE OF WEAPONS AND WOULD NO LONGER BE RESPONSIBLE FOR CONFINING HOSTILITIES TO THE KOREAN PENINSULA. In other words he proposed to implement the policies that MacArthur had advocated nearly two years earlier.

Some general information:

1. There were 54,246 killed 103,248 wounded and 5,178 missing in action (US). [7]

2. Never before had so many of our POWs died in captivity. The North Koreans were so brutal that the Chinese had to take over the POW camps. This was also the first war in which POWs were left behind when the war ended. This was only confirmed months after the war had ended and was related in speeches after the war by Generals Clark and Van Fleet. [5] [6]

3. President Truman called the Korean War a POLICE ACTION. This characterization shamelessly minimized the horrendous nature of that war and the brutality afforded our POWs.

4. For the first time in history US forces entered a war and failed to emerge victorious. After long negotiations the armistice was signed on 27 July 1953. Later in General Clark’s memoirs, he declared that the moment CAPPED MY CAREER, BUT IT WAS A CAP WITHOUT A FEATHER. He bitterly regretted becoming the first U.S. Army commander in history to sign an armistice without victory. [9]

5. U.S. government documents state that nearly one thousand known captive U.S. POWs and an undetermined number of some 8,000 U.S. MIAs were not repatriated at the end of the Korean War. The New York Times on August 8, 1953 reported that;

Gen. James A. Van Fleet, retired commander of the United States
Eighth Army in Korea, estimated tonight that a large percentage of
the 8,000 American soldiers listed as missing in Korea were alive. [3]

In early 1952 Van Fleet’s son was shot down while piloting a B-26 over North Korea and could have been one of those alive but never repatriated.

6. One-third of the West Point class of 1950 were killed during the Chinese offensive across the Yalu. [1]

7. The children of Korea were the worst off, thousands starving to death. Trucks in the early morning hours would drive the streets picking up the children that had died overnight. Our orders were that we would be Court Marshaled if we were caught feeding the children. I always took more food than I could eat, especially apples and oranges for the children. At every opportunity I would also steal C-Rations to give to the children.


[1] PBS. See PBS web site at

[2] January 2001 issue of International Security, a Harvard University publication.

[3] "8,000 Missing, Van Fleet Says," The New York Times, August 8, 1953.

[4] From The Danube To The Yalu by General Mark W. Clark page 3.

[5] From The Danube To The Yalu by General Mark W. Clark chapter 19.

[6] From The Danube To The Yalu by General Mark W. Clark pages 298, 309.

[7] The Korean War by Donald Knox page 506.

[8] The Forgotten War by Clay Blair page 969

[9] The Korean War by Max Hastings page 325.

[10] Washington Post, Monday, June 19, 2000; Page B01