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.