The Korean War began on 25 June 1950 when North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel in an invasion of South Korea. Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945, and had been divided into Soviet and American occupation zones along the 38th parallel at the conclusion of World War II. When American and Soviet occupation forces were withdrawn from Korea in 1949, two rival regimes were left behind, both claiming the right to rule an undivided Korea. Implementing the Truman Doctrine--". . . to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures"--the United States quickly secured a United Nations Security Council resolution to assist South Korea to repel the armed attack while the Soviet delegate to the United Nations was boycotting meetings in protest of America's refusal to allow the seating of the Chinese Communist delegation. Although Korea was a United Nations action and fourteen other countries did send 50,000 men, the 350,000 American troops sent to the country made up nearly 90 percent of the United Nations' forces. Among these were 7,564 Utahns who served in Korea on active duty between June 1950 and the cease-fire which was negotiated in July 1953.
Utah had five battalions of the National Guard called up, which included approximately 2,070 officers and men, or 61.7 percent of the entire Utah Army National Guard, and all of the Utah Air National Guard. Units came from throughout the state: Beaver, Richfield, Fillmore, St. George, Cedar City, Logan, Smithfield, Garland, Brigham City, Salt Lake City, Provo, Pleasant Grove, Nephi, Mount Pleasant, and Spanish Fork. The units called up included the 204th Field Artillery Battalion, the 213th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the 145th Field Artillery Battalion, the 653rd Field Artillery Observation Battalion, the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, the 115th Engineer Combat Battalion, the 190th Fighter Squadron, the 191st Weather Station, the 130th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, and the 210th Tow Target Flight. Of these units, three--the 204th Field Artillery Battalion, the 213th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and the 145th Field Artillery Battalion--served in Korea. The first of these, the 204th, was inducted into federal service on 19 August 1950 and sailed for Korea on board the troop transport USS General A.E. Anderson on 16 January 1951.
When Utah officials protested the large percentage of Utahns called to active service while other western states like Oregon and Washington sent no National Guard troops, Sixth Army Commander Lieutenant General A.C. Wedemeyer responded that he was concerned about winning the war and that meant calling up the best troops into service. Still, the war was not popular with Utahns and was a major factor in turning Utahns back to the Republican party in the 1952 election after voting for the Democratic presidential candidate in the five previous elections.
Many of the National Guardsmen called up were veterans of World War II, and leaving behind wives and children presented particular hardships for them. Others had joined the National Guard in order to be exempted from the draft so that they could complete their college educations. Once on active duty, Utah guardsmen objected strongly to the practice of breaking up Utah units and scattering the men into other army units.
While the Utah National Guard units represented a significant number of Utahns who saw service in Korea, the majority of Utahns who served in Korea either were inducted or volunteered. Of the more than 33,000 American deaths during the conflict, 436 were Utahns. They accounted for about 1.3 percent of the American dead in the war, even though Utah had only 0.4 percent of the U.S. population at the time.
Utahns served with valor and most made a favorable impression on those with whom they came in contact. The author Chaim Potok, who was a chaplain in Korea, had as an assistant a Mormon boy from Utah, "a man whom I would have trusted with my life," he wrote. The lives of all who took part in the war were changed deeply, for better or worse--and so were the lives of many who did not actually go to war but were affected indirectly.
The majority of Utah's population being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a high percentage of Utahns who were drafted or volunteered for the war had been expected to go on missions for the church at the time when the conflict erupted. Because of the Korean War, the number of LDS missionaries dropped from 4,847 in 1951 to 2,189 in 1953. The LDS Church responded to this crisis in various ways. Many members, mostly from Utah, who were older than the usual missionary age were called on short-term missions. These were usually men who had already served missions and were now married, so a measure of sacrifice was required. A large number of young women between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-three were called to give stenographic assistance at mission offices. Negotiations were conducted between the LDS Church and the Selective Service Department to find ways to provide enough manpower for both the nation's armed forces and the church's missionary corps. But it was the latter that had to give way, as both were competing for young Utahns and other Americans in the same age group, and their numbers were limited. However, LDS servicemen often were missionaries as well. They converted and baptized many Korean people and fellow American servicemen, and built chapels in Korea and in other areas where they were stationed.
In Utah, the war had a significant impact on the economy. At the Ogden Air Materiel Command, civilian employment grew from 3,656 in June 1950 to 12,210 in August 1952, or to over 75 percent of the World War II high of 15,780 employees. Where only 150,000 million tons of material were received and shipped in 1949, about 2.15 million tons were handled each year in 1951, 1952, and 1953. Other Utah defense installations saw similar increases in personnel and work loads. Also, in the Utah coal fields, coal production, which had dropped from more than 7 million tons in 1944 to 4.8 million tons in 1949, rebounded to 6.1 million tons in 1951. Other industries also benefited economically, but most Utahns were overjoyed when the fighting stopped in 1953.