Korean War Accounting

Korean War Accounting

Since 1982, the remains of over 450 Americans killed in the Korean War have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors. This number is in addition to the roughly 2,000 Americans whose remains were identified in the years following the end of hostilities, when the North Korean government returned over 3,000 sets of remains to U.S. custody.

Over 7,600 Americans are still unaccounted-for from the Korean War, hundreds of whom are believed to be in a “non-recoverable” category, meaning that after rigorous investigation DPAA has determined that the individual perished but does not believe it is possible to recover the remains. On rare occasions, new leads can bring a case back to active status.

DPAA and our partners continue to build on over sixty years of investigative efforts on the Korean peninsula. Each year, DPAA plans multiple investigations of loss sites in South Korea to collect evidence, investigate leads, and conduct excavations.

Korean War POW Camps

Korean War POW Camps

Throughout the war in Korea, U.S. and United Nations (UN) troops were taken as Prisoners of War (POW) by the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) or Chinese Communist Forces (CCF). There were many camp and holding points littered across North Korea; different camps became more populated at different times of the conflict.

The Korean War began with the sudden advance of the NKPA through the unprepared South in July of 1950. U.S. forces sent to South Korea during this period were organized into the “Pusan Perimeter,” a defensive formation around the critical harbor at Pusan, South Korea. Men captured during this period were marched north by stages through Seoul and Pyongyang to the Manpo Camp on the South bank of the Yalu River in North Korea.

Following the Inchon Landings and breakout from the Pusan Perimeter in September of 1950, U.S. and UN forces turned the tide of the conflict and began themselves pushing into North Korea. As the NKPA retreated farther north, they were forced to evacuate their prisoners with them. In late October of 1950, over 800 POWs left Manpo for village camps closer to the Chinese border near Chungung, known as the Apex Camps. This movements became known as the “Tiger Death March,” so called for the brutal treatment that the prisoners suffered at the hands of the North Korean colonel who was in charge, himself nicknamed “The Tiger.” Many prisoners died during this 100-mile march through difficult terrain. The “Tiger Group” stayed at the Apex camps until October of 1951, when they were moved to more permanent camps further south on the banks of the Yalu River. At that point, less than half of the prisoners who had left Manpo a year earlier were still alive.

By November of 1950, U.S. and UN forces had advanced precipitously close to the North Korean border with China. It was then that the CCF launched a large-scale surprise attack against UN troops near Unsan, Kunu-ri, and the Chosin Reservoir. Overwhelmed, U.S. forces in North Korea were forced on a withdrawal southward. POWs taken by the CCF during this period were marched to holding villages in the Pukchin-Tarigol Valley and Kanggye. The winter season made life for prisoners even more desperate. These men were gradually marched to newly completed permanent camps on the banks of the Yalu River. The first of these camps, known as Camp 5, began taking on POWs in January of 1951. Camp 1 opened in April of that year, and Camp 3 that summer. Specialized camps were eventually erected in this area, Camp 4 for sergeants and Camp 2 for officers and aviators.

Following the CCF’s intervention, the communists used their renewed momentum to push back into South Korea, capturing Seoul for a second time in Spring of 1951. Men were captured at Hoengsoong, Chorwon, Kumhwa, and in the mountains east of Chunchon. These POWs were marched to large holding camps near Suan, North Korea, known as the “Bean Camp” and the “Mining Camp.” Some of the men held here were sent to specialized interrogation camps at “Pak’s Palace” and “Pike’s Peak.” Most who were deemed fit enough to travel were forced to march north to Camp 1 and Camp 5.

In July of 1951, UN had dissolved the communist offensive and brought the conflict to a tense stalemate in the center of the peninsula, roughly along the modern-day Demilitarized Zone. Fewer men were captured at this time, as the two sides battled for incremental gains in territory to improve their position in ongoing negotiations to end the war. UN troops who were taken POW at this time were taken through Suan to Camp 1 or Camp 5.

Though held in many different places, American POWs in North Korea suffered through similarly harsh treatment. They received little to no food or water and were often forced to trek long distances through severe weather. Those who collapsed or could not continue on these marches were killed by guards. Those who died along march routes were often given isolated burials at unrecorded locations, if buried at all. Disease ran rampant at the camps, with many prisoners succumbing to malaria and beriberi due to the inadequate medical treatment they received. Those who died at camps were buried at nearby camp or hospital cemeteries. Many of the remains returned to U.S. custody during the post-war exchange of dead, Operation Glory, were recovered from these burial sites near POW camps. U.S. investigators have been given very limited access to prospective burial sites in North Korea.

Content sourced from: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

Operation Glory

operation glory

Over the course of the Korean War, American casualties were buried in a variety of settings, including centralized United Nations (UN) cemeteries, local battlefield cemeteries, and prisoner of war (POW) camp cemeteries across North Korea. In addition to these, service members’ remains were known or suspected to be in isolated locations across the country near battlefields, POW march routes, and aircraft crash sites.

When the armistice was negotiated in 1953, it was initially agreed that each side should recover their own dead from the others’ territory. As a result of a number of factors, however, it was eventually decided that that remains would be recovered by the opposing side and exchanged at a neutral location near the DMZ. This exchange, which occurred during a few short months in the fall of 1954, became known as Operation Glory.

Due to time and logistical considerations, it was initially agreed that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.) and the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) would only recover and return remains from known cemeteries in North Korea. Remains were returned from sites such as Hungnam #1, Koto-Ri, Kaesong, Sukchong, Pukchong, and Pyongyang (no remains were returned from Hungnam #2). In addition, the D.P.R.K. and CCF also returned believed-to-be American remains from a number of known POW camps and isolated burial locations. These included POW Camps #1 and #3 and Camp #5, and isolated burials relating to battlefield losses, air losses, and POW march routes. While some sets of American remains were returned with name associations and related material evidence, other sets were returned as unknowns, unaccompanied by any identifying information

In total, UN forces recovered and returned approximately 14,000 sets of D.P.R.K. and CCF remains and received around 4,200 sets of remains believed to belong to American service members

Following the exchange, the remains were sent to a U.S. Army mortuary facility in Kokura, Japan, to be examined by mortuary technicians and anthropologists. As the staff at Kokura processed the Operation Glory remains, they began to note a number of discrepancies between the names and recovery locations provided by the D.P.R.K. and the CCF. Although the staff at Kokura used advanced forensic techniques and a revolutionary computer punch card system to assist them in their work, these discrepancies dramatically complicated the identification efforts. Although the vast majority of remains were identified, it was difficult work, and, for a variety of reasons, the Kokura staff were unable to identify a number of sets of remains

Remains that were believed to be American but could not be identified were buried as unknowns with full military honors at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP—also known as the Punchbowl), in Honolulu, Hawaii

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and its predecessor organizations have been working to identify these Operation Glory unknowns since the late 1990s. Multidisciplinary teams within DPAA and its predecessor organizations have worked collaboratively to identify and resolve the discrepancies reflected in the Operation Glory returns. As a result of the more than 15 years of research on the parts of numerous historians, anthropologists, dentists, and other analysts, in 2018, DPAA was granted permission to undertake a large-scale project to disinter and identify the more than 300 remaining Operation Glory Unknowns still buried in the NMCP. The planned disinterment project employs a phased approach, beginning with reported UN cemetery burials, progressing to POW camp burials, and ending with isolated burials. The first phase of this project began in the fall of 2018, and Phase Two was initiated in the spring of 2019.

Disinterring Korean War Unknowns

disinterring korean war unknowns

In 2019, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began disinterring 652 sets of unknown remains associated with the Korean War that had been buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), better known as the Punchbowl. The unknown remains in question were recovered from the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) and Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) in the 1950s and 1960s, and were buried as unknowns after they could not be identified by the traditional forensic processes available at the time

Given the large number of remains, the plan is to disinter the remains in seven phases over the next five to seven years. The phases are based on the geographic region where the remains were recovered and other criteria that provides sequential logic to this complex identification process. Conducting the disinterments in this manner is more efficient and effective as it allows researchers and scientists to focus on sets of individuals with similar history and circumstances of loss. As the remains are identified in this method, it will reduce the potential candidates for subsequent phases, and thereby provide quicker identifications

Each of the seven phases will include unknowns recovered from North and South Korea. The phases are also balanced between sets of remains that are more complete, those that are made up of fewer remains, remains that are not well preserved, or those that have been commingled with other unknowns. The latter group will require more time and resources to identify. DPAA will work with the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System–Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFMES-AFDIL) to identify the remains, and NMCP will further refine the exhumation schedule within each phase to balance cases that need additional resources or scheduling due to capacity or logistical considerations

As a result of this effort, the Department will no longer divert resources to trying to work and address individual requests on a by-case basis, a process that had proven both inefficient and frustrating for families, because the remains more often than not turned out to be someone other than their loved one. However, as each unknown is analyzed for identification, all Family Reference Sample (FRS) data on file will be compared against the unknown DNA sample, therefore providing identification of individuals who may have been thought to be in later phases.

U.S. service members assigned to the DPAA participate in a disinterment ceremony held at the NMCP, Honolulu, Hawaii, Dec. 17, 2018. The ceremony was part of DPAA’s efforts to disinter the remains of unknown service members lost during the Korean war. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Seth Coulter)
Jim Horton, Director, Punchbowl NMCP, speaks to personnel assigned to the DPAA and distinguished visitors prior to a disinterment ceremony held at the NMCP, Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan. 8th, 2019. The ceremony was part of DPAA’s efforts to disinter the remains of unknown service members lost during the Korean war. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Seth Coulter)
U.S. service members assigned to the DPAA participate in a disinterment ceremony held at the NMCP, Honolulu, Hawaii, Dec. 17, 2018. The ceremony was part of DPAA’s efforts to disinter the remains of unknown service members lost during the Korean war. DPAA’s mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting of missing personnel to their families and the nation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Seth Coulter)
U.S. service members assigned to the DPAA participate in a disinterment ceremony held at the NMCP, Honolulu, Nov. 5, 2018. The ceremony was part of DPAA’s efforts to disinter the remains of unknown service members lost during the Korean War. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Lloyd Villanueva)
Emily Wilson, a forensic anthropologist with the DPAA, accessions disinterred remains of a service member lost during the Korean War at DPAA's laboratory facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Jan. 7, 2019. Disinterred remains are often still wrapped in wool blanket bundles when removed from the caskets. Remains are prepared, cleaned, and dried before laboratory analysis begins. (DoD photo by Paul Emanovsky)
Star Lavin, a laboratory technician with the DPAA, calibrates a Computerized Tomography (CT) machine at DPPA's laboratory facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, on October 15, 2018. DPAA scientists use radiographic comparison techniques to overcome challenges posed by damaged DNA from Korean War remains. (DoD photo by Dean Karamehmedovic)

The DMZ Campaigns

the dmz campaigns

In June 1951, the Korean War shifted. The frantic war of movement that led the United Nations Command and North Korean and Chinese forces up and down the peninsula was over. A bloody and difficult United Nations Command defense near the 38th parallel, led by the United States, took its place. Eighth Army Commander James Van Fleet observed that “continued pursuit of the enemy was neither practical nor expedient.” United Nations Command forces would no longer seek to unify the peninsula. Instead, they aimed to raise the pressure on the North Koreans and Chinese to accelerate peace negotiations.

Fighting alongside the 38th parallel from the summer of 1951 to July 1953 was exceptionally costly in lives and treasure. Over 40 percentof U.S. Marine casualties in the entire war took place during this period of fighting. U.S., Chinese, and North Korean forces fought over places with names like Bloody Ridge, Heartbreak Ridge, and Pork Chop Hill. All the while the peace talks moved at a glacial pace as negotiators fought over prisoner of war repatriation and other issues.

Armistice negotiations, started in July, came to a pause in August 1951 after Chinese and North Korean leaders recessed them. In that breach, Van Fleet sent the X Corps and Allied forces to capture key positions near the Punchbowl, Bloody Ridge, and Heartbreak Ridge. While North Korean forces fought hard to keep their positions, they could not stem the U.S. onslaught. Truce talks resumed at the end of the campaign in October 1951.

Concessions by Chinese and North Korean leaders at the peace table over the division of Korea encouraged the hope that a peace was at hand in the last days of 1951. U.S. forces sought an active defense that involved patrolling, small-scale fighting, and air strikes into the spring months of 1952. Significant casualties would be endured in these smaller engagements.

By the summer of 1952, the pace of fighting increased. In June 1952, the 45th Infantry Division launched OPERATION COUNTER in an effort to take positions at a higher elevation. Successful execution of COUNTER led to the capture of Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill, among others. These outposts became contested areas, as Old Baldy allowed wide surveillance of the area and Pork Chop was a part of Old Baldy’s security. U.S. forces endured many casualties taking and then holding these hills over 1952.

Toward the end of the summer 1952, U.S. Marines waged a bitter defense of an outpost that would be named Bunker Hill. On August 8, 1952, a Chinese company pushed a squad of Marines from the 1st Marine Division off a nearby hill, Outpost Siberia. Marines on the ground knew they could not allow Siberia to be lost forever as it enabled the Chinese to more precisely fire artillery and mortars at the Marine position. Back-and-forth fighting over Siberia led Marine leaders to look to Bunker Hill as they believed it would help put pressure on Siberia and would grant Marines the ability to watch movement behind Chinese outposts. The Marines captured Bunker Hill at approximately midnight August 11, 1952.

Initial success for the Marines was followed by rigorous Chinese challenges. A reinforced Marine Company turned back a Chinese battalion-sized attack. By late October, Chinese forces focused on the “Hook,” a part of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) that could give the Chinese direct access to Seoul. On October 26, 1952, the Hook and a number of outposts near it fell to Chinese forces. Two days later, Marine forces broke the Chinese hold on the Hook.

Chinese attacks over the summer of 1952 motivated a new American offensive near Kumhwa. Known as OPERATION SHOWDOWN, the 7th Infantry Division and allied units attacked the Triangle Hill Complex on October 16, 1952. Ferocious Chinese attacks over the rest of the month and into early November denied U.S. and Allied forces a permanent position. Official estimates put U.S. and Allied losses at 9,000 casualties and Chinese losses at 19,000. As 1952 came to a close, both U.S. and Chinese forces showed their willingness to pay a high price to hold onto outposts at their frontlines.

Chinese assaults of Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill tested U.S. resolve. From November 1952 to March 1953, Chinese forces conducted raids against these hills and others nearby like T-Bone and Arsenal. By late March 1953, U.S. and Allied Forces lost Old Baldy to Chinese forces. This significant position put much of the Allied position nearby at risk. In April 1953, Chinese forces tried unsuccessfully to push U.S. forces off Pork Chop Hill.

As the Chinese attacked Old Baldy and Pork Chop, they advanced on the Marine controlled part of Korea. On March 26, 1953, Chinese forces overran Outpost Vegas and Outpost Reno, locations a few miles from the Hook. These hills, along with Outpost Carson and Elko, were known as the Nevada Complex. In response to the Chinese attack, the Marines concentrated on Outpost Vegas. On March 28, 1953, the Marines recaptured Outpost Vegas. A month later, the 25th Infantry Division replaced the 1st Marine Division in the area. On May 28, 1953, Chinese forces attacked Turkish allies that were defending the complex. After Carson fell, the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, of the 25th Infantry Division, was put into the fight. The bloody confrontation that followed caused Allied forces to abandon Vegas and Elko.

Progress at the peace table directly related to U.S. and Chinese choices during these campaigns. On the U.S. side, Maxwell Taylor, Commander Van Fleet’s replacement in the 8th Army, questioned costly showdowns when peace seemed so close at hand. For the Chinese, the attacks on U.S. positions could secure a better position at the front as the armistice agreement would solidify where the forces were. Holding hills like Old Baldy and those that made up the Nevada Complex denied U.S. forces valuable surveillance positions. To that end, Chinese forces launched one last large attack on Pork Chop Hill in early July 1953. After a bitter defense by the 7th Infantry Division, U.S. forces retreated from the Hill. On July 27, 1953, the armistice was signed, stopping the war but not ending it. The inconclusive nature of the armistice agreement would cast a shadow over efforts at remains recovery from 1953 to the present.

By the terms of armistice, a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was created between North and South Korea along the 38th parallel north. Within this area are the remnants of key hills and outposts. Despite the location of these confrontations, remains recovery operations have made some progress. North Korean and U.S. military authorities have conducted exchanges of remains and information. In 1954, North Korean representatives returned the remains of over 3,000 Americans under the auspices of Operation Glory. From 1990 to 1994, North Korean representatives repatriated 208 boxes of human remains that Department of Defense scientists estimate may hold over 400 individuals. North Korea provided U.S. researchers with documents and artifacts related to recovery of U.S. remains in 1997, 1998, and 1999. Similarly, the Chinese government has reported information on unaccounted-for remains from their archives. In 2018, the North Korean government turned over an additional 55 boxes reportedly containing remains of U.S. servicemen killed during the war

Research continues at a steady pace in the United States. Specific focus has been given to collecting testimonies from Korean War veterans who might have witnessed the loss of specific. For the Nevada Cities campaign, over 20 veterans have provided testimony to the DPAA. From 2017 to the present, a partner at the Ohio State University has collected testimony from 10 veterans who served on either Elko Hill or Pork Chop Hill. Historians and other researchers have shared their extensive research on the DMZ battles with the DPAA

Actual remains recovery within the DMZ has been modest. North Korea has never allowed any remains recovery missions on their side of the DMZ. The DPAA has recovered some remains from the Allied portion of the DMZ. Further, the DPAA works closely with the South Korean Ministry of National Defense Agency for Killed in Action Recovery and Identification on recovery missions close to the DMZ.

Content sourced from: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

Pusan Perimeter

Pusan Perimeter

After nearly a half decade of instability and violence on the peninsula, North Korea attacked South Korea on June 25, 1950. Three days later, the North Koreans captured South Korea’s capital, Seoul. As South Korean forces buckled, the United States decided to intervene, and the United Nations pledged assistance soon after. Ill-equipped and understrength U.S. units took high casualties in the first weeks of the intervention and were quickly forced on the defensive. The series of battles fought around the Pusan Perimeter from August-September 1950 temporarily reversed the course of the war in the U.S.-led United Nation Command’s favor.

On August 1, 1950, the U.S. 8th Army withdrew east of the Naktong River. Behind this river, U.S. and South Korean forces set up a defense perimeter around the port of Pusan, an important logistical hub on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula. As North Korean pressure built outside of the perimeter, 8th Army Commander Lieutenant General Walton Walker sought a way to divert some of the North Korean troops massing near Taegu where the 8th Army had its headquarters. On August 7, 1950, Task Force Kean launched a counterattack southwest of the Pusan Perimeter. Led by Major General William B. Kean, the Task Force was composed of units from the 25th Infantry Division, 5th Regimental Combat Team, and 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. From August 7 to 14, the Task Force fought a series of engagements against North Korean forces around Masan. Both sides took heavy casualties, including seventy-five American artillerymen that were captured and summarily executed on August 12 in what is known as the Bloody Gulch Massacre. The bodies of many fallen soldiers were unable to be evacuated when Task Force Kean withdrew to its original positions. The fighting around Masan continued until the 8th Army broke out of the perimeter in mid-September.

On the night of August 5-6, 1950, just north of where Task Force Kean was preparing to attack, the North Korean 4th Division crossed the Naktong River on the western edge of the Pusan Perimeter, beginning a two-week engagement known as the First Battle of the Naktong Bulge. A large bend in the river made this section of the perimeter particularly difficult to defend, North Korean forces successfully advanced following their initial surprise attack. U.S. forces counterattacked on August 7, halting the enemy’s advance. After ten days of heavy fighting the remainder of the North Korean 4th Division withdrew over the Naktong. U.S. forces took over fifteen-hundred casualties but had prevented the North Korean Army from penetrating the Perimeter.

Despite these setbacks to the west, the North Koreans kept up the attack. Three North Korean divisions struck north of Taegu but were held back by the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division, and when North Korean forces attacked near the Naktong Bulge to cut off Taegu from Pusan, counterattacks by the U.S. 2nd Division and the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade pushed the North Koreans back.

The successful U.N. landing at Inchon on September 15, 1950, forced North Korean forces to withdraw north and allowed the 8th Army to breakout of the Pusan Perimeter the next day. The U.S. defense of the Pusan Perimeter had stopped North Korea from capturing the entire peninsula and bought time for reinforcements to arrive. The divisions that held Pusan took heavy casualties however, and many men lost outside the perimeter were unable to be found when U.S. and U.N forces pushed north in September.

The search for remains in South Korea started before the armistice was signed in 1953. From 1951 to 1956, Army Graves Registration Service and divisional quartermaster units recovered remains for over 25,000 individuals. DPAA maintains a semi-permanent detachment in Seoul which looks for remains year-round. Since the end of the war, North Korean and U.S. military authorities have conducted exchanges of remains and information. In 1954, North Korean representatives returned over 3,000 remains in an exchange known as Operation Glory. From 1990 to 1994, North Korean representatives gave U.S. officials 208 boxes of human remains that Department of Defense scientists estimate may hold over 400 individuals. From 1996-2004 and in 2011, North Korea granted U.S. search teams access to crash sites, battlefields, and prison camp cemeteries. Excavations done in those areas have resulted in the repatriation of over 220 U.S. remains. Outside of disinterments, DPAA has conducted archival research. From 1997 to 1999, North Korea provided the U.S. with documents and artifacts for review. In the U.S., veterans from the 2nd Infantry Division and other units have been interviewed at reunions and other venues.

Efforts to account for service members who went missing during the action at Pusan Perimeter are ongoing.

Content sourced from: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

The Inchon Campaign

The Inchon campaign

The summer of 1950 went poorly for the United States and the rest of the United Nations Command. North Korea attacked South Korea, a vulnerable country the American military was advising. Loss after loss piled up as U.S. forces and other United Nations allies scrambled to come to South Korea’s aid. By August 1950, U.S. and South Korean forces established the Pusan Perimeter, a defensive line surrounding Pusan, South Korea, and its critical port. The Pusan Perimeter enabled the U.S. and South Korea to blunt North Korea’s attempts to unify Korea under a Communist, pro-Soviet Union government. Execution of a bold amphibious landing at Inchon reversed the war’s course entirely. This landing, and the U.S.-led offensive that followed, caused many to believe that the war would be over before the end of the year. Reviewing this moment captures the great instability that typified the Korean War in its first year.

The process of getting the Inchon plan to fruition was not easy. Military authorities at the highest level of the U.S. government doubted whether the plan could succeed. Navy planners feared the Yellow Sea’s tides, which varied by as much as 30 feet at times. Marine Corps strategists worried about the difficulty in having Marines scale the large sea walls that surrounded Inchon. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were concerned by what would happen if the operation failed. They knew the U.S. did not have ready reserves to replace the men who were lost. Douglas MacArthur, head of the Far Eastern Command, viewed the plan for the landing as a great opportunity to change the course of the war. His advocacy shepherded the bold Inchon landing plan over the Joint Chief’s objections.

MacArthur activated the X Corps to take part in the landings. Led by Edward Mallory “Ned” Almond, the X Corps was composed of the 7th Infantry Division, 1st Marine Division, and South Korean troops. On September 15, 1950, the soldiers, sailors, and Marines of X Corps landed at Inchon. Even though the Inchon plans had been leaked in U.S. media and throughout Japan, North Korea was unprepared for the landing. Key objectives were taken with far fewer casualties than past U.S. amphibious operations. MacArthur’s gamble was a smashing success.

After the fall of Inchon, U.S. forces focused on the former South Korean capital, Seoul, an objective twenty-five miles away. The Han River and over 20,000 North Korean soldiers occupying the city made capturing it more difficult. With the 7th Infantry Division on the 1st Marine Division’s southern flank, the Marines were able to fight toward Seoul. By September 22, 1950, the X Corps reached Seoul’s western edge. A hard fight for the city ensued. On September 29, 1950, the city fell to U.S. forces. A brief ceremony gave control of the city to South Korean president Syngman Rhee.

U.S. and South Korean forces made progress in southern Korea as the fight for Inchon and Seoul was waged. The Eighth Army broke out from the Pusan Perimeter. After some resistance, the North Korean forces were defeated at Waegwan, Chungam-ni, and the western port of Kunsan. While some North Korean forces broke into a chaotic scramble, others waged a fighting retreat that involved holding tight to certain positions in South Korea. These examples of North Korean resistance cost U.S. and Allied forces significant casualties. Despite this, North Korean soldiers soon found out that they could not defend the X Corps attacks near Seoul and Inchon and hold allied forces back in southern Korea.

Costly but thrilling victories after a painful summer caused United Nations leaders to debate going beyond the pre-war boundary set during the post-World War II U.S.-Soviet occupation of the peninsula. Military authorities believed that the North Korean Army had to be destroyed before real security could be achieved. A wounded North Korean Army would always lay in waiting to attack south. Others in the U.S. National Security Council cautioned against crossing the 38th parallel because they thought it might set off a Chinese and Soviet intervention. President Truman sided with his military advisers. On September 27, 1950, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed MacArthur to move across the 38th parallel and destroy North Korea’s military. By October 9, 1950, U.S. forces had crossed the border. Before the month was over, important cities like Pyongyang and Wonsan fell to U.S. and allied soldiers. The war’s end seemed like it was on the horizon.

Given the optimism of this moment, Chinese intervention at the end of November 1950 came as a great surprise. Intelligence sources across the U.S and allied countries had reported Chinese concerns about their security. However, the excitement of Inchon and the bold offensive that followed caused U.S. leaders to underestimate the danger of Chinese involvement. Chinese intervention brought the war into a new phase.

The search for unaccounted-for remains from the Inchon campaign to the Chinese intervention started before the end of the war. From 1951 to 1956, Army Graves Registration Service and different divisional quartermaster units sought remains in South Korea. Though the rapid movement of units during this phase of the war made locating remains more difficult, over 20,000 individuals were located in this period. The DPAA currently maintains a semi-permanent office in South Korea to search for remains year-round. South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense Agency for Killed in Action Recovery and Identification also assists U.S. teams.

Content sourced from: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

Korean Air Battles

korean air battles

While air power played a vital role in the Korean War, its function is often portrayed as less significant than that experienced in WWII. However, quick dismissal of the air war must be tempered by the understanding that vital historical resources remain inaccessible in foreign government archives and that the conduct of the air war has never been subject to detailed historical analysis. Furthermore, resources which are available bias towards their specific remit or are concealed within larger service/historical narratives.

The Korean War air campaign largely centered around three main roles: Air superiority/interdiction, strategic bombardment, and close air support. During this first conflict of the emergent Cold War, the nascent US Air Force (USAF) both would fly fewer sorties and would drop fewer munitions compared to the Second World War. The US Navy (USN) and US Marine Corps (USMC), focusing on close air support (CAS) compared to the USAF’s focus on interdiction and strategic bombardment, would fly nearly equivalent numbers of missions to those of WWII while dropping some 75% more bomb tonnage. Moreover, the number of overall sorties flown by both sides saw an unbalanced deployment of airpower. UN Command (UNC) flew some 700,000 sorties (US pilots accounting for 93% of these sorties) compared to the 90,000 sorties flown by Communist forces. The limited number of Communist sorties likely results from the USSR’s intention to limit overt, full military assistance to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) / Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) in an attempt to contain the conflict to the Korean peninsula.

Air Superiority and Interdiction

Caught by the surprise and force of the DPRK’s 25 June 1950 invasion, Republic of Korea (ROK) forces and their US advisors initially operated a confused withdrawal toward the southeast of the peninsula. However, the initial shock of invasion soon turned into a concerted defense around Pusan. Critical to the stabilization were aerial assets both within the ROK and those based in Japan. Air superiority over the DPRK air force was gained within a month. The establishment of air superiority re-opened debate on the application of air power. USAF leadership promoted establishment and maintenance of air supremacy, interdiction to slow or halt Communist movements, and strategic bombing to blunt Communist war-making ability. US Army, Navy and Marine Corps leadership desired continued close cooperation of air and ground forces. The debate on which aerial strategy to prioritize largely reflected the present status of the war. More broadly, the debate was deferred by moving forward with all options at varying intensities.

The UNC air superiority gained through the warring powers’ numerical and technological imbalance did not go uncontested. General McArthur’s failure to heed his command’s intelligence, Washington’s directives, and PRC warnings saw him commit UNC forces up to the Yalu River in October 1950. The perceived danger of US forces on the border of Manchuria saw Beijing make good on its thinly veiled threats and commit PRC ground and air assets to the on-going conflagration. CCF intervention brought vast resources to support North Korea’s continued survival. First UN contact with CCF forces came in the vicinity of Unsan on October 25, 1950. Soon Communist presence was manifest in the skies with the introduction of Soviet-piloted jet aircraft. The new Soviet-developed MiG-15 swept wing, jet-powered aircraft eliminated established UNC air supremacy. The older, piston engine aircraft deployed by the US were soon replaced with the more advanced jet-powered aircraft including the F-86 Sabre, a swept wing fighter comparable with the Soviet MiG-15. While the early imbalance of piston versus jet combat was keenly felt, the limitation on range provided some stabilization.

Most contests for air supremacy, both piston-versus-jet and jet-versus-jet, were concentrated near the northwest DPRK-PRC border (i.e., the Yalu River). This region—generally bounded by the Yellow Sea, the Ch’ongch’on River and the Sui-ho Reservoir—came to be known as MiG Alley. Communist forces benefitted from nearby bases, concentrated air defenses, and increased flying times due to closer proximity to the active combat area. Conversely, UNC forces had limited loitering time due to more distant air bases. The limited patrol time of approximately 20 minutes meant that much of UNC efforts dedicated to re-establishing and maintaining air supremacy were defensive, patrolling airspace or reacting to Communist incursion flights. Efforts by the Communist forces to expand their movement in concert with the Chinese-directed offensives of late-1950 and 1951 were aggressively crushed by UNC air attacks.

Component to re-establishment of UNC aerial supremacy were incursion flights into PRC airspace. Officially, the UNC prohibited “hot pursuit” of Communist aircraft operating north of the Yalu River. However, in theater this limitation was often ignored with UNC airmen quietly pursuing Soviet/DPRK/CCF aircraft inside Manchuria, patrolling Manchurian airspace for targets of opportunity, and engaging CCF bases and air defenses. Few MiGs were observed outside the northern border regions—MiG Alley in particular—following the 1951 UNC spoiling missions. UNC air superiority, initially won through a numerical and training imbalance, was re-established and maintained through a combination of better training, better experience, and more aggressive pilots.

Close Air Support

More critical to the daily prosecution of UNC operations was effective application of tactical air support. While the USAF advocated for airspace interdiction and strategic bombardment as the primary role of airpower on the ground, it was CAS that more often saw aircraft engage with ground targets. The quantity of historical research into CAS is more limited than that discussing the role of air-to-air combat or strategic bombardment. However, available scholarship on the subject (Edwards 2010: 85, 87) reinforces the central role of CAS in the air war (accounting for approximately 15% of all UN sorties) and provides CAS as assisting in stabilizing UNC lines during critical points. The steady withdrawal to the Pusan Perimeter in July/August 1950 and the maintenance of the same was greatly assisted by CAS aircraft. During the Pusan fight, CAS is credited with inflicting equal enemy casualties as ground assets while destroying nearly three-quarters of DPRK mobile equipment and artillery. Likewise, during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, CAS is credited for 50% of CCF casualties. While CAS aircraft provided critical tactical support to ground forces, proximity to enemy infantry and air defenses negatively affected loss statistics.


Information on the air war in Korea lacks the fullness of preceding and following aerial campaigns. Nonetheless, specific trends emerge. The air war over Korea reflects the maturation of piston aircraft technology during the Second World War, the strategic contest of emergent jet and rocket technologies during the early Cold War, and the political restrictions of a limited geographic conflict. Concern over the entrance of the USSR and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) into the conflict—and the possible expansion of the conflict from the same—dictated UN strategic focus for much of the Korean War. The eventual entry of the PRC into the conflict modified the UN/US air campaigns from predominantly close air support, interdiction, and strategic bombing to also include establishment and maintenance of air supremacy. The skies over Korea provide a critical linkage between established Second World War and developing US Cold War air doctrines.


DPAA Research

During the Korean War air campaign, the US suffered 2,714 aircraft destroyed and 4,055 service personnel killed. The circumstances of air losses in the Korean War drive much of the on-going research focus. While much of the early war was fought within the ROK, the majority of the conflict—especially the air war—was fought within the DPRK. Therefore, the geographic location of air losses presents accessibility challenges. Archaeologically, air losses are often single site, high velocity impacts of diminutive size. Fragmentation and burning of aircraft, as well as post-war site clean-up, presents additional challenges to site location and recovery. Moreover, losses related to undocumented “hot pursuit” both on the DPRK-PRC border and within the PRC present substantial historical and archaeological research challenges. The DPAA has completed 57 Joint Field Activities (JFAs) in the ROK to date including collaborative historical and archival research and site identification, survey, and excavation programs. The DPAA completed 33 JFAs in the DPRK before temporarily suspending in-country research in 2005.

Content sourced from: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

Battle of Unsan

Battle of unsan

Unsan is located in the eastern section of North P’yŏngan province, roughly 60 km northeast of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Between October 25 and November 4, 1950, Unsan was the site of one of the most devastating battles for U.S. forces in the Korean War. Unsan marked the surprise entry of the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) of China, also known as the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF), and the beginning of their First Phase Campaign to support the fleeing North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) forces that were retreating toward the Yalu River. On October 25, the Republic of Korea (ROK) 1st Infantry Division attacked what they thought were remnants of the NKPA at Unsan. Very soon after, captured Chinese soldiers alerted the ROK soldiers to a 10,000 strong Chinese force waiting north of Unsan to join the fight. ROK forces fought for positions in the hills around Unsan, but by the following morning, found themselves surrounded by enemy forces to the north and the west, on the road between Unsan and Yongsan-dong.

The U.S. 6th Medium Tank Battalion and the U.S. 10th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group were ordered to provide support to ROK troops trying to break through Chinese lines to little avail. General Walton Walker of the U.S. Eighth Army ordered the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division to fight with the ROK 15th Regiment in a northward attack. The 8th Cavalry Regiment had taken up positions around the town, with its 1st Battalion defending the north of Unsan by the Samtan River, while its 2nd and 3rd Battalions defended the areas west of the Unsan by the Nammyon River. Lack of UN manpower, however, created a 1-mile gap between the 1st and 2nd Battalions, which Chinese forces exploited on November 1. By later that night, the ROK 15th Infantry Regiment had been decimated and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 8th Cavalry were severely low on ammunition. UN forces were ordered to withdraw by Major General Frank W. Milburn, commander of the U.S. I Corps.

The UN withdrawal from Unsan proved extremely difficult, as Chinese forces continued to pour into the gap between the 8th Cavalry’s 1st and 2nd Battalions. Surrounded by the 347th and 348th Regiments of the PVA 116th Division, these units had to mount an escape by infiltrating the Chinese lines and abandoning most of their vehicles and heavy weapons along the way. They managed to reach UN lines the following day. Their brethren in the 3rd Battalion, however, were not so fortunate. They were initially left alone during the night while Chinese forces were attacking the 1st and 2nd Battalions, but a company of Chinese commandos from the 116th Division, disguised as ROK soldiers, infiltrated the 3rd Battalion command post and caught them in a surprise attack that killed many while they slept. After being pinned down, the U.S. 5th Cavalry Regiment was ordered to mount a rescue attempt. The 5th Cavalry lost 350 soldiers in attacks against the PVA 343rd Regiment in their attempts to help and were eventually ordered to retreat. Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion (8th Cavalry) continued to endure attacks from Chinese forces until less than 200 were able to make it to UN lines on November 4.

More than 1,000 men from the 8th Cavalry Regiment were initially listed as missing in action from the Battle of Unsan. As the days passed, about 400 men managed to return to friendly lines. Enemy sources later indicated the Chinese captured between 200 and 300 men at Unsan. From 1990 to 1994, the DPRK returned 208 containers of remains to U.S. control, sixteen of them reportedly from Unsan. They returned six more caskets of remains in 2007. In addition, DoD teams from Central Identification Lab-Hawaii (CILHI) and later the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) conducted operations in the Unsan area in 1996 and 1997 and from 2000 to 2005. Identification of remains from those recovery initiatives has resolved over 55 of the unaccounted-for service members from this battle.

Content sourced from: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

The Battle of Chosin Reservoir

chosin reservoir

The Chosin Reservoir is a man-made lake located in the northeast of the Korean peninsula. From the end of November to mid-December 1950, it was the site of one of the most brutal battles between UN and Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) during the Korean War. For approximately seventeen days, roughly 30,000 U.N. soldiers and marines faced an enemy force estimated at around 120,000 over rugged terrain in lethally cold weather.

General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief, Far East, superseded his orders and advanced his forces north toward the Yalu River to push North Korean forces into China. In late November 1950, the U.S. Eighth Army advanced in northwest Korea and the X Corps advanced along the east side of the Korean peninsula to sever enemy supply lines near the Chosin Reservoir. The U.S. 1st Marine Division, commanded by Major General Oliver P. Smith, advanced up the west side of the Chosin Reservoir while elements of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division, led by Regimental Combat Team 31 (RCT-31), advanced along the east side. The 3rd Infantry Division guarded the Marines’ flanks and a major supply base and airfield was constructed south of the reservoir at Hagaru-ri.

On November 25, the CCF engaged the U.S. Eighth Army forces, catching them by surprise and forcing them to retreat, but X Corps continued to advance, believing that the Chinese forces north of them were weak. On November 27, the 5th and 7th Marine Regiments attacked from Yudam-ni along the west side of the reservoir. Two CCF divisions stopped the Marines’ advance while a third division cut the road south between Yudam-ni and Hagaru-ri. On the east side of the reservoir, RCT-31 advanced north and was surrounded by a far superior Chinese force. By November 28, UN forces at Hagaru-ri and on both sides of the reservoir were isolated. On November 30, X Corps began to retreat from the Chosin reservoir.

The hastily organized Task Force Drysdale was ordered to attack north from Koto-ri to open the road south from Hagaru-ri, where a withdrawal could be organized. After a bitter fight, the airfield was opened on December 1, allowing UN forces to bring in reinforcements and evacuate the casualties. Air support provided by the 1st Marine Air Wing and the U.S. Navy’s Task Force 77 covered the withdrawal of UN forces to Hagaru-ri. After a short rest, the 7th Marine Regiment lead a breakout from Hagu-ri and fought south through Hell Fire Valley, Koto-ri, the Funchilin Pass, and Sudong – where Task Force Dog of the 3rd Infantry Division repelled the pursuing Chinese forces. UN forces reached the port of Hungnam on December 11 where they were evacuated farther south to bolster the 8th Army, then in full retreat toward the 38th Parallel.

Over a thousand U.S. marines and soldiers were killed during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign and thousands more were wounded in battle or incapacitated by cold weather. Many men were buried where they fell, and due to the cold weather and the retreat of UN Forces from the area, hundreds of fallen marines and soldiers were unable to be immediately recovered. During Operation Glory in 1953 and 1954, the North Korean government returned the remains of thousands of war dead from UN cemeteries in northeastern North Korea, including over 500 isolated burials from the Chosin battlefield. The Central Identification Unit at Kokura, Japan, was able to identify all but 126 of the remains, which were buried as unknowns in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. From 1990 to 1994, the North Korean government returned 47 additional containers of remains which they attributed to the Chosin campaign. DoD teams from Central Identification Lab-Hawaii (CILHI) and later the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) conducted investigative and recovery operations in the Chosin Reservoir’s eastern sector from 2001 to 2005. From these recovery efforts and the continued forensic analysis of unknown remains, DPAA and its predecessor organizations have identified over 130 of the unaccounted-for service members lost in the Chosin Reservoir Campaign.

Content sourced from: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

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