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“Where the Hell is Korea?” – Warfare in the Land of Sorrow.

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The Korean War, often referred to as the “Forgotten War” is being remembered at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) with a new special exhibit.  On Armed Forces Day, May 18, 2019, and in anticipation of the 70th commemoration of the start of the Korean War in June 2020, the Center will open a new exhibit - “Where the Hell is Korea?” – Warfare in the land of Sorrow.

Jack Leighow, the Director of the Army Heritage Museum at USAHEC explains why this exhibit was needed.  “The Korean War is often overshadowed by the sheer magnitude of World War II and by the media coverage and social upheaval associated with the Vietnam War.  This exhibit seeks to illuminate this conflict and once again demonstrate the adaptability, toughness, and dedication of the Soldiers of the United States Army through the eyes of the Soldiers themselves".

This was and still is a difficult war for many Americans to understand.  Korea, far away and a minor theater during WWII, was unknown to many in the country.  However, when North Korean communist forces crossed the demarcation line between the two Koreas in June 1950, our Nation was pulled into a conflict that today still lacks a final signed peace treaty and remains an international concern.  More than 1.8 million U.S. Service Members served in the theater of war from 1950 to July 1953 and more than 36,000 died.  Another 103,000 were wounded.  United Nation participants from 15 other nations suffered more than 3,000 killed and almost 12,000 wounded.  Korean, North and South, and Chinese military casualties exceeded 1.2 million and civilian casualties exceeded 1.6 million. Seventy years later, the war still has lasting and dividing effects regionally and internationally.

Two years in planning, the exhibit attempts to promote a better understanding of the war through graphic presentation of the war’s phases and through the stories of the Soldiers who fought and those that supported Soldiers on the front lines.  In total, more than 12 Soldiers’ personal stories are highlighted in the exhibit.

They include Corporal Jack Zimmermann, a Holocaust survivor, who as a boy, served as a runner with the Polish Resistance.  Emigrating from Poland to the U.S. after World War II, Zimmermann enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1949.  His armor unit, the 6th Battalion, reached Pusan on July 30, 1950 and joined the 24th Infantry Division.  After the Inchon landing, his unit advances to the Yalu and subsequently retreats after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army intervened. 

Another is Captain Anna Mae McCabe Hays who served as a nurse in the 4th Field Hospital.  In the year after the September 1950 Inchon landing, she and the members of her unit cared for more than 25,000 patients in a small 400-bed hospital, with only thirty-one nurses, several doctors, and support personnel.  After the war, she would serve as the personal nurse of President Eisenhower when he was recovering from his heart attack, and in 1970, she became the first female to attain the rank of general officer in the Army.

The exhibit also highlights often overlooked aspects of the war and particular units – the Eighth Army’s partisan forces.  These forces and their mission in the Korean War remained unnoticed for almost 40 years and were only made public in 1990.  A forerunner to today’s Special Operations units, our partisan elements operated clandestinely in territory held by North Korean and Chinese Communist Forces.  Composite units of U.S. and Korean Soldiers, these partisan forces conducted both land and amphibious operations that sought to disrupt enemy operations, damage and destroy infrastructure, and report on troop movements and preparations.  

In addition to showcasing the stories of individual Soldiers, the exhibit highlights the war graphically and through photographic images.  Included are maps that highlight decisive phases of the war and a photo of Chaplain Burgess Riddle of the 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, as he is holding his unit’s Thanksgiving service along the Yalu River in 1950, while his assistant plays a field pump organ.   On the other end of the spectrum, several display panels showcase the transportation and distribution of beer to the troops from the United States to Soldiers in the field. 

The tools of the Soldiers, both allied and enemy, are also on display.  The U.S. Soldier’s clothing, accouterments, and weapons, - to include the M1 Garand, the 75 mm, and the M3 Grease Gun - are contained in the exhibit.  So too are those of the Chinese and North Korean Soldiers.  A North Korean Flag, a Soviet revolver, and a Japanese light machine gun are displayed.  Several unique items are also presented.  These include a portable pump organ used by chaplains in the field, the shoulder patch of the United Nations Partisan Forces Korea, and a bugle used by the Chinese Volunteers to coordinate troop movements during an attack.

The exhibit will continue to be on display, in the Soldier Experience Gallery beginning May 18, 2019.  The staff of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center hopes that you come to visit this often overlooked conflict. The Center also has other exhibits, including the Soldier Experience Gallery and the Army Heritage Trail, a mile long outdoor interactive trail with historical macro exhibits from the French and Indian War through Current Operations. Additional exhibits currently focus on World War I, World War II artwork, and Reserve Forces. The Center is open to the public Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and offers free admission and parking. To learn more about USAHEC and all that it has to offer, please go to


Author:  Mike Perry, Army Heritage Center Foundation

Tagged in: Korean War


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