Korean War continues with U.S. involvement

November 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Every day there is a tense stare down at the border separating North and South Korea. Since no peace treaty was ever signed, legally the two have been at war for 56 years. With the U.S. bound by treaty to fight with the South Koreans, it means American troops will again fight and die there if war should break out.

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The date June 25, 1950 is burned into the consciousness of every Korean.

At 4 a.m., communist North Korean troops and tanks poured across the border and routed an ill-prepared South Korean army.

United Nations forces, mostly American, entered the fight. For the next three years, troops from 8th Army scored tremendous victories and suffered devastating losses, before reaching a stalemate.

Its leaders are still studied in military history books -- legendary Army generals Walton Walker, Matthew Ridgeway and James Van Fleet.

A half century later, a Bay Area native is filling those very big shoes.

"Certainly there's no active war right now and yet we are still at war with North Korea," 8th U.S. Army Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Fil Jr. said.

Fil grew up in Portola Valley, and attended San Jose State University. He has been in the Army 33 years and he has seen war up close. In Iraq, he commanded the Army's 1st Cavalry Division during the surge. It was a "hot war" with his troops battling insurgents daily.

In South Korea, it is a cold war of military build-ups, threats and readiness.

"They are different...There was an armistice signed, but there was never a truce or treaty," Fil said.

The state of war is most visible from above. A place less than 40 miles from the skyscrapers of Seoul is one of the most dangerous places on earth.

The joint security area is part of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South. It is ringed by land mines and armed soldiers ready to fight at a moment's notice.

It is supposed to be neutral territory. In fact, some of the buildings are actually built to straddle the border between North and South.

In a conference room, visitors can actually walk across the border into what is technically North Korea. Inside the building it is OK, but the same thing outside could provoke a violent response.

"We've got 28,500 troops from all the services; of course the Army if the major component of that, with about 20,000 troops here, should conflict arise we have very detailed plans to quickly reinforce with well over a corps that comes here on very short notice," Fil said.

That would bring another 30,000-50,000 Americans to the peninsula to fight alongside hundreds of thousands of South Korean soldiers.

Fil says that is more than enough to defeat any conventional North Korean attack. But, now there is a complication.

"They are working very hard to develop not only nuclear weapons, but the capability to deliver them with these ballistic missiles," Fil said.

North Korea has conducted tests of both nuclear weapons and missiles over the past couple of years. Fil says in a war, they would not change the final outcome, but they could certainly cause more casualties, especially among dedicated young American soldiers.

BLOG: Read Eric Thomas' blog from his trip to South Korea

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