From the Army Art Collection – The U.S Army in Korea

Written By: Matthew J. Seelinger

Barbed wire and observation posts are common features of the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, as shown in Chester Jezierski’s 1970 watercolor on paper, Bayonet Tower. (Army Art Collection)

Following the Japanese surrender to the Allies in September 1945, U.S. Army forces established a presence in Korea that has endured to the present. On 8 September 1945, the 7th Infantry Division landed in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Within weeks, two additional U.S. divisions, the 6th and 40th Infantry Divisions, arrived to occupy Korea below the 38th parallel, while Soviet forces occupied northern Korea and eventually set up a communist government led by Kim il Sung. On 15 August 1948, the Republic of Korea (ROK) was formed in the south, officially marking the end of U.S. occupation.

All U.S. combat forces were withdrawn to Japan, but a small group of advisors, known as the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) remained to help train the constabulary forces of the new Korean republic. Nearly two years after the last American occupation troops pulled out, North Korean People’s Army forces crossed the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950 in attempt to unify the Korean peninsula under communist rule.

Almost immediately, American forces in Japan, led by the 24th Infantry Division, rushed to Korea in an effort to stem the North Korean onslaught. Eventually, U.S., ROK, and UN forces halted the Communists around the South Korean port of Pusan. On 15 September, UN forces, led by GEN Douglas MacArthur, launched their first counterstroke, Operation Chromite, an amphibious landing at Inchon that threatened the NKPA lines of communication. The Eighth Army at Pusan broke out, and soon the Communists were on the run. UN forces eventually crossed the 38th parallel in pursuit of the NKPA, occupying the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and approaching the border with China. Communist China soon intervened with massive numbers of troops, halting UN forces and driving them south across the 38th parallel. After halting the Chinese and NKPA and recapturing Seoul, the war remained relatively static until an armistice halted the conflict on 27 July 1953. In all, the Army lost 29,856 soldiers killed and missing in the first major conflict of the Cold War.

Since the end of the Korean War, the Army has maintained a significant presence in Korea. Three divisions, the 7th Infantry, 1st Cavalry, and 2d Infantry, have all been stationed on the Korean peninsula at one time or another. Today, the 2d Division’s 1st Brigade Heavy Combat Team and other Army units remain in Korea, deployed south of Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). While open warfare that devastated Korea from 1950 to 1953 has been avoided, hundreds of incidents with NKPA forces along the DMZ have claimed the lives of dozens of American and ROK servicemen. Recent events, such as North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, make the presence of American forces even more important in this potential hot spot and guarantees that they will remain in Korea for the foreseeable future.

In Robert Baer’s 1951 oil on canvas, Roadblock Near Suwon, an Army convoy in the mountains of Korea comes under enemy fire as friendly aircraft provide close air support. (Army Art Collection)

CPL Hiroshi Miyamura, portrayed here in George Akimoto’s oil on canvas, CPL Hiroshi H. Miyamura, a soldier with Company H, 7th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division, earned the Medal of Honor for heroic actions on 24-25 April 1951 near Taejon-ni, Korea. Miyamura held off a large force of Chinese troops, killing fifty of the enemy and allowing many of his comrades to withdraw to safety. He was taken prisoner and held as a POW until repatriated in August 1953. (Army Art Collection)