On June 25, 1950, barely five years after the end of World War II, the army of the People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) crossed the 38th parallel, invading the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and instigating a military conflict that involved several nations, including the United States. When Gary Poser brought his father’s Korean War uniform to the Morrison County Historical Society to donate on behalf of his mother, Zita, I found myself wondering why I knew so little about this particular period in history. Most of my knowledge came from the popular 1970s television show, M.A.S.H. The artifact collections at the museum also revealed a scant amount of information. With well over seven hundred men and women from the county serving in the armed forces during the Korean War, this seemed surprising. Long overshadowed by World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War, the Korean War has only recently begun to receive recognition as one of the major military conflicts of the twentieth century.
Korea is located on a peninsula in East Asia. At the end of World War II, after thirty years of occupation by Japan, Korea found itself abruptly on its own and needing help. The United States and the Soviet Union, who were allies at the time, agreed to divide the country in half, each occupying and aiding one portion. When the Soviet Union withdrew from North Korea in 1948, it left a communist country with a well-trained, well-equipped military. One year later, when the United States withdrew from South Korea, it left a democratic country with a weak military.
Viewed as a challenge to democracy and freedom and a threat to world peace, the invasion of South Korea outraged the United States. When the United Nations requested that members come to the aid of South Korea, President Truman committed U.S. air and naval forces. A few days later, on June 30, 1950, he ordered U.S. ground forces, led by General Douglas MacArthur, into action. Though weak militarily, many believed that the presence of a small force of U.S. troops would be enough to scare the North Koreans and halt their advance. The combined U.S. and United Nations forces, however, were at first barely able to hold out against the determined North Koreans, whom many viewed as a small “third-rate” power.
Shortly after committing its military, the U.S. defense department announced that it would immediately begin recalling a limited number of reservists to active duty. Having served with the U.S. Army at the end of World War II, Urban Lawrence Poser was one of many who were called back. The son of Herman and Theresia (Zierer) Poser of Pierz, Minnesota, Urban held the rank of corporal and worked in radio communications while in Korea. As the draft went into full swing and thousands of draftees and new recruits entered the armed forces, veterans like Urban were a source of strength and stability, providing sorely needed experience and advice.
The early days of the war were hard for the under-strength, inadequately-trained and poorly supplied U.S. forces. By mid-September 1950, North Korea had taken control of all but the southeastern corner of South Korea. Two months later, however, United Nations forces under General MacArthur staged a successful counter attack that pushed the North Koreans back behind the 38th parallel, almost as far as the Chinese border. Fearing invasion, China issued a warning that it would fight if United Nations forces moved any closer. Unfortunately, buoyed by success and egged on by MacArthur himself, the U.S. public demanded total victory. By late November 1951, China had entered the war, giving rise to fears of World War III if Russia should also feel compelled to become officially involved.
Though many were already in uniform when the war began, the largest portion of those in military service during the Korean War came from the draft. At the start of the war, there were only twenty draft offices in the state of Minnesota. By the beginning of July 1950, plans were in place to open an office in each of the eighty-seven counties in the state. The draft office in Little Falls opened the week of July 18, 1950. It was located on the second floor of the Y Block building on Broadway and East Second Street. Unlike the Army, the Navy and the Air Force planned on building their numbers largely through volunteers and reserves. The recruiting office for the Navy was located in the Little Falls Chamber of Commerce building and was staffed by Bob Chinberg. A graduate of Little Falls High School, Chinberg had served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Many National Guard members also saw duty in Korea. On July 12, 1950, Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas called for immediately activating all National Guard units as well as organized paid military reserves. By September 1950, more than thirty Morrison County National Guardsmen from the 109th Transportation Truck Battalion had been activated and had entered federal service.
More than one member of Urban Poser’s family saw active duty in the armed forces during the Korean War. Three of Urban’s seven brothers were also called to serve. Urban’s younger brother, Benedict, was drafted in February 1951. A sergeant with the X Corps in Korea, Benedict served from March 1952 through February 1953, a period sometimes referred to as the “Talking War”. After President Truman fired MacArthur in April 1951, the war became a series of short thrusts to obtain limited objectives. United Nations and U.S. troops were to focus on strengthening the line at the 38th parallel. Each side was determined to have the greater advantage whenever a final peace agreement would be reached.
Leonard Mathias Poser was drafted in November 1951, shortly after some of the bloodiest fighting in the war took place. Known as the Punchbowl for the extremely high hills in the area of the fighting, this famous Korean engagement lasted from August through October 1951. The losses on both sides were staggering. Between July and November 1951 there were almost 60,000 United Nations casualties, of which over 22,000 were American. The North Koreans and the Chinese had nearly 234,000 casualties. The war was quickly becoming wearing psychologically as well as physically. Soldiers on both sides knew that the maddening see-saw military actions they were fighting were intended only as bargaining chips for the seemingly endless peace talks.
Drafted in July 1953, Arnold Frank Poser was the last of Urban’s brothers to be called to serve in the Korean War. At the end of that month a compromise truce was finally signed. According to a United Press article published in the Little Falls Daily Transcript on July 27, 1953, “…The two generals signed in 10 minutes a document that was 2 years and 17 days in the writing.” (UN, Red Generals Sign Compromise Korean Truce). Included in the truce was the establishment of a 2½ -mile wide buffer zone that would run the entire length of the 155-mile front. Basically the 38th parallel, this was the same line that was used to divide the two countries prior to the onset of the war. Though attempts were made to establish a permanent plan in 1954, the war technically continues today as no final peace agreement was ever reached.
The addition of Urban Poser’s Korean War uniform to the artifact collections at MCHS has filled in a major gap and will help to tell the story of the history of Morrison County. With more than 22,000 Americans killed in action and about two million total casualties on both sides, the Korean War deserves credit as being one of the major military conflicts of the twentieth century.
By Ann Marie Johnson
Copyright 2006, Morrison County Historical Society
Sources: Little Falls Daily Transcript, June 1950 – September 1953
U.S. Army Uniforms of the Korean War, by Shelby Stanton