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Today In History: North vs. South

On June 25, 1950, North Korea troops streamed across the border as they launched an invasion of South Korea that began the Korean War.

In 1950, tensions had been rising for months before the invasion, and North Korean President Kim Il Sung had offered to hold summit talks with his southern rival.

The Korean Peninsula was partitioned at the end of World War II to supervise the surrender of Japanese forces, with Soviet troops taking control of the northern half and American troops the south.

Soviet and U.S. soldiers began withdrawing in 1948, leaving behind only small groups of military advisers. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that Korea was of little strategic value to the United States.

Washington also feared that South Korean President Syngman Rhee might try to invade the North to unify Korea, and consequently had refused to provide his ill-trained army with tanks, aircraft, or large artillery.

As a result, the invading Communists, led by columns of Soviet-made T-34 tanks, were virtually unstoppable. Seoul, just 25 miles from the border, fell within four days.

The North quickly took all but a small corner of the country, but lost a gamble that the United States would not intervene.

Fifteen nations sent soldiers to fight for South Korea under the U.S. led United Nations Command. Other nations provided medical aid, food and weapons.

When the war ended with a cease-fire in August 1953, there were more than 4 million casualties, including soldiers and civilians. In just three years, 54,246 Americans were killed in Korea; 103,000 were wounded. To this day, some 8,000 men are still listed as missing in action - far more than in Vietnam.

The two Koreas have never signed a peace treaty and are still technically at war. The armistice has kept a tense peace, with 2 million troops deployed along both sides of a demilitarized buffer zone 2 miles wide. More than 34,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington was dedicated July 27, 1995, nearly 40 years after the end of the war.

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