AFMC Command News

A look back at...the War in Korea: A glimpse behind the scenes

  • Published
  • By Tony R. Landis
  • Air Force Materiel Command History Office

Barely five years had passed since the end of World War II, when war-weary America began sending troops and supplies to the Far East in order to defend the Korean peninsula from a Communist invasion.  On June 25, 1950, approximately 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the Western-backed First Republic of Korea in the south.  Just three days later, United States B-29’s attacked Communist-held positions; a huge test for the United States Air Force which had only become a separate service a mere three years earlier in September 1947.  By July, American ground troops had entered the conflict on South Korea’s behalf.  Like other U.S. military services, the U.S. Air Force, still in the midst of demobilizing and downsizing after WWII when the conflict began, immediately recalled troops and equipment into the action.

At the beginning of the conflict, the Russian-backed Communists from the north utilized equipment far superior to the surplus WWII gear used by the West.  The new Russian-built Mig-15 dominated the skies in the early months of the air war; but that changed when the new, and far superior, North American F-86 Sabre entered the air war.  In addition, veteran B-26 and B-29 bombers pounded Communist-held positions day and night.  As hostilities raged, America began to fear events may lead to a full scale involvement by the Russians and Chinese; leading to a possible WW III.  After three years of bloody conflict, where some five million troops and civilians had already lost their lives, America looked to end the hostilities.  On July 27, 1953, all parties concerned signed the armistice, entering into an uneasy truce.  Today, many in the U.S. refer to the Korean War, as “The Forgotten War.”  The Korean peninsula remains divided to this day.

There are numerous publications covering the battles and politics of the Korean War in great detail. Often overlooked are the contributions of the men and women working at remote locations under primitive conditions behind the scenes to keep the war machine running.  The images in this publication come directly from the journalists covering the war.  The captions for each image are transcribed directly from the information provided in real time from the front lines.  As you will see, the combat journalists who covered the Korean War went to great lengths not only to capture the feel of the action, but also to capture the names and hometowns of those they were documenting.  Having such detailed information available decades after the war’s end, is an invaluable resource to historians and researchers alike.  Many captions refer to the Communists as “Red” or “Red’s.”  The color red has been associated with revolution and socialism since the late 1800’s, and in the 20th century, red became the color of the Russian Bolsheviks.  After the success of the Russian Revolution of 1917, red became associated with communist parties around the world; it is believed red represents the blood of the workers and to honor the suffering and sacrifices of the proletariat.

The photos and captions in this historical "Look Back" provide the ability to understand the cultures and attitudes of the specific time period and allow historians to accurately cover the events of the day without altering their perceptions by comparison to contemporary culture and attitudes.  With the hopes of a unified Korea in the hearts and minds of those on both sides, the sacrifices of the men and women involved in this conflict must never be forgotten.