30 Heartbreaking Photos From The Korean War

Published August 10, 2017
Updated October 3, 2018

These haunting Korean War pictures lay bare this devastating conflict about which so many Americans know so little.

Vintage Korean War M 26 Tank
A Korean girl walks past an M-26 Tank.U.S. Navy

Vintage Korean War Infantryman
A soldier comforts his fellow infantryman. In the background a corpsman fills out casualty tags.Wikimedia Commons

Street Fighting
U.S. Marines engaged in street fighting during the liberation of Seoul, circa late September 1950.Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War Inchon
A girl sits alone on the streets of Inchon following an offensive attack against North Korean forces in the city.Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War M20 75 Mm
A soldier fires an M-20 75 mm recoilless rifle.Wikimedia Commons

Dead Civilians
Korean civilians fleeing from the North Korean forces, killed when caught in the line of fire during night attack by guerrilla forces near Yongsan. August 25, 1950.Wikimedia Commons

Tracks Smoke
U.S. Marines watch explosions of bombs dropped during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. December 1950.Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War Naktong River
Pfc. Thomas Conlon awaits medical treatment after crossing the Naktong River. U.S. Army

Dumped Shells
South Korean servicemen dump spent shell casings.Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War Lives Lost
Some estimates state that as many as 2.5 million civilians died during the war.Department of Defense

Vintage Korean War Little Girl
About ten percent of Korea’s pre-war population was killed during the war. Wikimedia Commons

Train Explosion
U.S. forces target rail cars south of Wonsan. 1950.Wikimedia Commons

Wounded Soldiers On Ground
Wounded North Koreans await medical attention. September 15, 1950.Wikimedia Commons

Ethiopian Soldiers
Ethiopian soldiers serving as part of the UN forces. 1953.Wikimedia Commons

Macarthur Ship
General Douglas MacArthur (seated) observes the shelling of Incheon from the USS Mount McKinley. September 15, 1950.Wikimedia Commons

Refugees Fleeing
Refugees flee south in mid-1950.Wikimedia Commons

Wrecked Plane
A wrecked plane sits in a railroad cart at Kimpo. 1953.Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War 38th Parallel
Small-scale skirmishes had taken place on the 38th parallel before, but North Korea's large-scale surprise attack truly set the war into motion. U.S. Army/Department of Defense

Vintage Korean War Communist
Korean communists are captured on a fishing boat off the coast. Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War Prayer
A young Marine prays for safety just moments before U.S. troops launch an offensive attack.Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War Un Operation
During a UN operation, men and equipment are parachuted down toward troops on the ground. Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War Fallen Soldiers
Marines honor their fallen comrades at the division’s cemetery in Hamhung. Department of Defense

Vintage Korean War Australian Soldier
An Australian soldier greets Korean children after their village is cleared of North Korean soldiers.Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War Chinese Soldiers
This Chinese soldier died during an attack on Hill 0151. Nearly 600,000 Chinese soldiers died during the war.Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War Marching Forward
Captured in August 1950, this image shows South Korean civilians retreating as the soldiers press onward. Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images

Vintage Korean War Bomb Strikes
Bombs explode in Wonsan.Wikimedia Commons

Vintage Korean War North Korean Soldiers
These two boys were serving in the North Korean army before they were captured by U.S. forces. U.S. Army

Vintage Korean War Soldiers
The United States provided 90 percent of the troops who were sent to aid South Korea. National Archives

Vintage Korean War Stalin Kim Il Sung
Portraits of Joseph Stalin and North Korean leader Kim II-sung can be seen near where UN troops are under fire. Department of Defense

Vintage Korean War Us Soldiers
U.S. soldiers in position near the Chongchon River.Department of Defense

On June 25, 1950, nearly 75,000 North Korean soldiers from the People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. The attack not only marked the start of the Korean War, but it was also the first full-blown military action of the Cold War — meaning that the United States had to get involved. In July 1950, U.S. troops entered the conflict in order to defend South Korea from North Korea and, in turn, from communism.

The first months of fighting took place during one of the country's hottest summers, making the land a brutal battlefield for both sides. At the direction of President Truman, what started as a defensive mission eventually turned into an offensive attack against the North.

Nevertheless, the fighting ended three years after it had started with a military stalemate with the North's invasion repelled and a demilitarized zone established between the newly sovereign states of North and South Korea.

Both sides agreed to an armistice after long negotiations. However, a peace treaty was never signed, so technically the nations are still at war.

The Korean War indeed had no victor. Some estimates state that as many as approximately 3.5 million lives were lost on all sides. North and South Korea remain bitter enemies. They have maintained a ceasefire, punctuated occasionally by border skirmishes and political threats. South Korea remains an ally of the United States to this day, and North Korea still stands in furious opposition to the U.S.

In the U.S., Unlike the Vietnam War, the Korean War received relatively little attention from the media at the time. But today, the moving photographs above help paint a picture of the atrocities faced by those involved in the conflict on all sides.


Next after seeing these Korean War photos, see our gallery of photos of life inside North Korea. Then, for more modern views of the conflict, see how modern North Korean propaganda portrays the United States.

All That's Interesting
All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out the stories to illuminate the past, present, and future.