For years after the war ended in 1953, the Pentagon published a figure of 54,260. That combined the 33,643 "battle deaths" with 20,617 "other deaths."
But in 1989 the Pentagon began revising the totals because "other deaths" included U.S. military deaths worldwide during the three years of the war, rather than just those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who died in and around the Korean peninsula.
In the 1994 version of its annual publication, Service and Casualties in Major Wars and Conflicts, the Pentagon put Korean War battle deaths at 33,652 and "other deaths" meaning deaths in the war zone from illness, accidents and other non-battle causes at 3,262. That yields a total of 36,914.
Today's official Pentagon figures are virtually the same: 33,651 battle deaths and 3,262 other deaths.
Why, then, has the old figure of 54,000 deaths been used by the Department of Defense 50th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemorative Committee in a newsletter meant to highlight the war's history?
Maj. Bob White, the committee's historian, said Monday he had been using the old 54,000 figure until he recently discovered that the Pentagon's casualty statistics had been revised several years ago.
The higher figure also is engraved on the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington apparently because the memorial's organizers wanted to honor all military members who died during the period of the war, not just those lost in Korea.
It might not be surprising that there would be confusion over Korean War casualty figures. The Pentagon made its official revisions over a period of several years, with little or no public explanation.
For several years in the early 1990s the "other deaths" figures were simply listed as "not available," and so there was no official Defense Department total combining battle deaths and other deaths.