“Korean War Stories” (PBS)


“Korean War Stories,” hosted by Walter Cronkite, uses interviews with Korean War veterans and real war footage to paint a vivid picture of an often overlooked war.  I have shown segments of this video to juniors in a US II course.  Forced to cover the Cold War relatively quickly, I used some brief homework reading and this DVD in class to cover the entire war.

Positives: It is broken up into thematic segments, so it’s easy to pick and choose what topics you want.  Students seemed to remember the video vividly and used material from it on their test essays.

Negatives: It can be a little slow at times, and many of the segments focus heavily on military strategies.  For some people this could be a positive, but for my students, we just didn’t have the time.

Description of the Chapters:

Introduction (00:00-07:16): Cronkite sets the scene, establishes it as “the forgotten war.”  Then PBS runs through its major sponsors– (feel free to fast forward after 00:40 seconds to 1:24) resume at opening credits with voice-over of vets describing the war and its significance, soldier describe why they served and why the war was fought.

Ready or Not (07:16 -14:03): How US & UN were unprepared, footage & vets’ descriptions of combat, US misconceptions about N. Korean forces, US retreat to Pusan & MacArthur’s strategy to invade Inchon, recapture of Seoul

Sneak Attack (14:04-21:28): Chinese entry in the Korean War, the weather’s impact on US troops, description of combat against the Chinese, moving description of combat by veterans

Air Power (21:29 -25:45): US & UN dominance in the air, interview with Sen. John Glenn about being a pilot in Korea, descriptions of air combat

All Out War (25:46 – 31:10): Major Chinese offensive, fear of world war & considering using the A Bomb, battle for Seoul, US determination, description of combat & tactics, MacArthur’s defiance of Truman

M*A*S*H (31:11 – 36:38): Interviews with personnel at mobile army surgical hospitals; compares the reality with the TV show, M*A*S*H.

No Way Out (36:39 – 41:38): Peace talks, low morale, public opinion about the war, moving toward the end  (*note: a vet does say “son of a bitch” at 37:23. Depending on your class, you may want to skip this*)

Pawns of War (41:38 – 47:06): American P.O.W. policy, conditions at Chinese & N. Korean P.O.W. camps, interviews with survivors, stories of those who did not make it.  Also covers when the truce was signed, and soldiers still MIA after the war.

Price of Freedom (47:06 – end ): How Korean vets felt when they came home, public support or lack thereof, poignant personal stories of how vets felt ignored, how the war is remembered in the long-run: victory, stalemate or failure?

These are the questions I asked my students.  I printed them out on a worksheet with space to write the answers.  Feel free to use and/or modify these for your own use, but please give this blog credit.

Korean War Stories Questions

1. What do many people call the Korean War?

2. According to the people in the film, for what reasons did Americans participate in the Korean War?

3. Why did U.S. troops become involved in a conflict in Korea?

Ready or Not

1. What initial problems did the U.S. military face in Korea?

2. What were the fighting conditions like in Seoul?

Sneak Attack

1. Were American troops in Korea prepared for winter combat situations?  Why not?

2. What happened to U.S. troops on the Thanksgiving of 1950?  What did those veterans regret most about that incident?

3. Was the Chinese army well-armed and well-supplied in Korea?


1. What was the chance of getting killed or wounded in the Korean War?

2. What was a M*A*S*H?  What was its purpose?

3. What conditions did doctors and nurses face there?

No Way Out

1. When did peace talks start?

2. How did many soldiers feel about the war by this point?

3. What message did North Korean and Chinese troops send to African American troops?

4. What changed public opinion about the Korean War?

Pawns of War

1. What was the U.S. policy toward communist prisoners of war?

2. What were conditions in Chinese prison camps like?

3. What changes took place in 1953?

4. When was the truce signed?

5. How many Americans are still listed as missing-in-action?

Price of Freedom

1.How were veterans from Korea treated when they returned home?

2. How do these veterans see the legacy of the Korean War?  (Was it a victory?  A loss?  Was there resolution?)

3. When was the Korean War Memorial opened?


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5 Responses to ““Korean War Stories” (PBS)”

  1. Mrs. Sebastianelli Says:

    This post was incredibly helpful, so I wanted to say thank you! I look forward to more posts– perhaps we can collaborate on a historoy project with our classes in the future!

  2. Whitney Nielsen Says:

    That would be excellent. I got a new teaching job for this fall so I’ve been too busy to post much, but I look forward to adding more. Are they any topics in particular that you’re interested in or that you’d like to contribute to?

  3. Angelena Tartar Says:

    Wow! What Great posts, I kind of agree but I am still interested in this.

  4. James Timmer Says:

    Thanks for this post. I am showing a bit of this video in my history class and would like to add that if you have Netflix, the film is now on Netflix instant viewing!

    Thanks for the questions, they will be helpful in offering students some guidance.

  5. Whitney Nielsen Says:

    Excellent tip, James, thank you!

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