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This blog was updated on a daily basis for about two years, with those daily entries ceasing on December 31, 2013. The blog is still active, however, and we hope that people stopping in, who find something lacking, will add to the daily entries.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sidebar: Wyoming and the Korean War

The Korean War is something that most Wyomingites don't particularly associate with our state, but the war did have a noticeable impact on the state, and Korea has been in the news a lot recently, so now might be a good time to take a look at it.

 Official painting of the Wyoming Army National Guard depicting Wyoming's 300th AFA in action.

Part of the reason that we don't think much of the Korean War and Wyoming, is that we don't think much about the Korean War at all.  The Korean War is one of several wars that have been tagged "forgotten wars" and, in the case of Korea, it's really true.  Perhaps that was inevitable, coming between World War Two and the Vietnam War, as it did.

Wyoming's role in the Korean War is tied closely to the the decline in the Army's conventional war fighting abilities that followed World War Two.  The largest war ever fought, World War Two was the largest conventional conflict of all time but it ended with the use of two nuclear weapons.  Given that, the immediate assumption by the American military was that the age of conventional warfare had ended and that any future war, of any kind, would be a nuclear war.  The Army was allowed to atrophy as a result.  Between 1945, when World War Two ended, and 1950, when the Korean War started, the Army's training in conventional warfare dramatically declined.

An end to conventional warfare turned out to be a massively erroneous assumption, and the place we learned that was in Korea.

That the US would fight a war in Korea was something that, moreover, seemed an impossibility in 1945, when events took us there for the first time in the 20th Century.  The US had actually fought in Korea once before, but in the 19th Century, oddly enough, when the Marine Corps landed briefly in Korean in an obscure punitive expedition.  It was World War Two, however that brought the US back onto the Korean Peninsula, but only due to the end of the war.

Korea itself had been a Japanese possession since 1910, when the Japanese simply made a fact out of what had been the case following the Russo Japanese War.  Korea had been more or less independent prior to that, but heavily influenced by its much more powerful neighbors.  The Russo Japanese War effectively ended Korean independence in favor of the Japanese.  The Japanese dominance was not a happy thing for the Koreans.  Korea remained a Japanese possession up until after World War Two, when it was jointly occupied by the United States and the Soviet Union, splitting the country in half.  The US had no intention to remain there but the original concept of uniting the country in a democratic process fell apart, and the Soviets and the US left with the country divided.  The US had weakly armed the South and failed to provide it with heavy weapons. The North, on the other hand, was heavily armed and trained by the Soviets, who left the North with the means, and likely the plan, on how to unite the peninsula by force.  In 1950, North Korea invaded the South with a well equipped and well trained Army.  They faced a poorly trained South Korean Army.

Soon after that they, quite frankly, faced a poorly trained American Army.  The US hadn't really given much thought to South Korea after leaving it, but the fall of China, followed by the Berlin Blockade, followed by shocking early revelations about Soviet espionage inside the US, followed by the development of the Soviet bomb, suddenly refocused attention on a country that now seemed to be a dagger aimed at Japan.  President Truman made the immediate decision to send the U.S. Army into South Korea to turn the North Koreans back.

That Army, however, wasn't the same Army the US had in 1945 after the defeat of Germany and Japan.  After VJ Day the U.S. had rapidly demobilized.  Moreover, convinced that all future wars would be nuclear in nature, the U.S. had let the Army deteriorate markedly.  It was poorly trained and not all that well equipped in some ways.

The intervention in South Korea required the call up of numerous Army National Guard units, and Wyoming's 300th Armored Field Artillery was one of them. Deployed in February 1951, the unit made up of young recruits from northern Wyoming and World War Two veterans proved to be a very effective one.  It achieved a fairly unique status in May 1951 at Soyang with the unit directly engaged advancing enemy infantry, a very rare event in modern combat and a risky one at any time.  The unit came out of the Korean War with Presidential and Congressional Unit Citations in honor of its fine performance in the war.  The individual Guardsmen of the 300th AFA largely came home after completing a combat tour, at a little over a year, but the called up unit remained in service throughout the war.  Other Wyoming Army National Guard units were also called up in this time, but only the 300th AFA was sent to the Korean War.

The Air National Guard's 187th Fighter Bomber Squadron from Wyoming was called up. The new Air Guard saw combat service for the first time in the Korean War.  Nine Wyoming F51 pilots were lost serving in the unit during the war.

Of course, many Wyomingites served in the war by volunteering for military service, or by being conscripted during the war.  Like earlier wars, Wyomingites volunteered in high numbers.

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