On June 25, 1950 North Korea marched over the 38th parallel into South Korea, starting the three year war that, to this day, is still technically not over. It was officially the first military action of the cold war at that time. North Korea, heavily influenced by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union at the time, moved into South Korea hoping to unite the country under Kim Il-sung and the communist government based out of Pyongyang.
Within two days, Harry Truman sent American troops into South Korea on behalf of the South Korean government to repel the invaders. In the end, on July 27, 1953 an armistice was signed putting the border back to roughly the same location it was before the war had started.
Though it was a stalemate, there were many who believed that actually driving the communism north out of North Korea would have possibly started a full world war. The pressure put on by China could have brought them into the war, along with the Soviet Union into Europe. In July of 1951 President Harry Truman started peace talks with the North. It took two years, but the final border stood.
In those three years of conflict, the lives of approximately 40,000 American troops were lost due to battle related reasons. One in particular, by the name of Corporal Elmer Richard, was amongst the casualties.
In 1950, at the age of 20, Elmer Richard was sent to South Korea. When he did not return from his tour of duty later that year, he was ultimately declared dead. None of his family members knew what had happened to their beloved brother, son, cousin, uncle and friend. It was later determined that Richard was a prisoner of war for about a month and, after that, he died of severe bodily injuries.
On December of 2014, Richard’s three remaining siblings got shocking news. Their lost brother’s remains had been identified and were going to be brought back to their hometown of Exeter, New Hampshire. In a funeral procession that took place on what would have been Richard’s 85th birthday, the family finally got the closure they had been looking for.
“Sixty-five years since we got to play together and do things together,” said his brother Ed as he reminisced about being with his brother before he left for war.
Though the Korean War was brought to many of us through popular culture in the form of M*A*S*H during the 70’s, it is an enduring memory for so many people of Korean background and of the 5.7 million American troops that served at that time. To this day there are multiple American military bases still located in South Korea, as is Panmunjom where the armistice was signed. It is considered one of the last active vestiges of the Cold War era.
Take some time on this day, the 65th anniversary of the start of the Korean war, and remember those who have passed on afterwards, some who passed on while there, and the ones who we are lucky enough to have today to tell us about the conflict.