A series of Korean War commemorative medals
Maurice Bleicher Collection
On 25 June 1950, North Korean forces broke the status quo that had prevailed since Japan’s defeat and the installation of two antagonistic regimes on the peninsula, communist in the north, pro-West in the south. Well-equipped with Soviet hardware, the troops of Pyongyang crossed the 38th parallel and launched a rapid offensive, so that, by early September 1950, they had driven back the last of the South Korean forces to Busan, bringing practically the whole of the peninsula back under their control.
Taking advantage of the Soviet boycott of the UN Security Council and the fact that communist China, not recognised by the West, had its seat occupied by Taiwan at the time, the United Nations decided on military intervention to restore South Korea’s territorial integrity. The UN force under the command of General MacArthur was largely made up of US soldiers, though many international contingents also took part in the mission. Among them was a French battalion which, incorporated in the US 23rd Infantry Regiment, would go on to participate in all the key battles of the war, between January 1951 and July 1953.
The medals presented here are a testament to that engagement and to this shared Franco-Korean memory:
The French Commemorative Medal for United Nations Operations in Korea was established by decree of 8 January 1952.
It was awarded to service personnel of the French UN detachment in Korea and to French navy personnel who served in Korea for at least two months.
On the obverse, the Korean arms occupy the centre of a round, eight-lobed geometric figure, against a background of radial stripes, with a flaming torch in the middle. The whole is surrounded by the two olive branches of the United Nations emblem. The reverse bears the inscription “French commemorative medal for United Nations operations in Korea”, surrounded by the words “French Republic”. The flame of the torch and the roof of a pagoda form the motif of the medal suspension.
The ribbon combines the colours of the UN and French flags.
The United Nations Service Medal (Korea) was established in December 1950. Intended to be awarded to the various contingents that fought in Korea, it comes in 11 models that differ according to the language of the inscriptions (Amharic, Dutch, English, French, Greek, Italian, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai or Turkish).
The obverse bears the United Nations emblem and the reverse has the inscription “For service in defence of the principles of the charter of the United Nations”. The ribbon is in the UN colours and has a medal bar with the inscription “Korea”.
The French-language version was awarded to 16 900 servicemen of the French, Belgian, French-speaking Canadian and Luxembourg contingents.
The Korean War Service Medal was established by the Republic of Korea in April 1953.
On the obverse are two crossed bullets beneath a map of Korea laid over the United Nations emblem.
On the reverse is the inscription “Korean War Service Medal”, in Korean characters.
It is suspended from a yellow ribbon edged with a green stripe and red border.
Fifteen hundred such medals were awarded to the members of the French Battalion of the United Nations.
Find out more:
- The Korean War sixty years on: history and remembrance
- The UN French Battalion in Korea, 1950-1953
- Our special page on the UN Memorial Cemetery in Korea
- Watch the French President’s message to the Korean people on the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War