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In Korea, it’s known as the “6-2-5 (yug ee oh) War,” a reference to June 25, 1950, when the North Korean People’s Army invaded the South. Among North Koreans, it’s “the Fatherland Liberation War.” In America, however, the Korean War is often called “The Forgotten War” — a jarringly dismissive, imperfectly accurate phrase to describe a conflict that killed millions of combatants and civilians on both sides, including close to 40,000 Americans.
The brutal conflict lasted for roughly three years, from June 1950, until 1953, when the United Nations Command, the North Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers signed an armistice agreement. South Korean president Syngman Rhee refused to sign the document, however — meaning that, technically, North and South Korea have been at war (or, at the very least, have not been at peace) for the past six decades.
Here, LIFE.com remembers the Forgotten War with a selection of pictures — none of which originally ran in LIFE magazine — from Korea by three of the era’s finest photographers: Margaret Bourke-White, Carl Mydans and Michael Rougier.
Throughout the war, as it had during World War II and as it would, again, in Vietnam, LIFE published articles, essays and editorials — as well as matchless photographs — in an effort to provide its readers with as complete a picture of the horrors, triumphs and plain, grinding realities faced by troops on the ground and by the civilians caught between the conflict’s implacable forces. Below, as a glimpse into the various ways the war was reported and “positioned” in the magazine’s pages in the early Fifties, are excerpts from first-hand reports from the battler zones as well as editors’ commentaries that appeared in LIFE while the Korean War raged half a world away: