I have been collecting Korean Orders, Medals and Decorations since 1993, and it has been my experience that the majority of the information available on the subject is either incomplete or in some cases completely erroneous. The 6.25 Incident Participation medal issued by the Republic of Korea is no exception. Take for example the information on www.Wikipedia.com. On three separate occasions, I tried to correct the errors on their Korean War Service Medal page, but to no avail. Each time someone has returned it to the original misinformation.
An equally important reason for me to put this page together is my interest in helping veterans and collectors to recognize the authentic medals from the more spurious reproductions.
Please do not be put off with the way that some of the pictures are posted here. I do not mind people making copies of my pictures, but I am tired of those one or two individuals who republish the pictures on the internet and then distort the truth, modify the pictures and/or fail to give proper source credits.
On most of the documents that I present here, you can left click on the image and it will open a new window with the document in a larger scale. Use your browsers' back button to return to the original page. For the remaining pictures, you can right click on the image, then select "View Image" and it will present the picture in a separate window. At that point, you should be able to left click the image and get a larger picture.
If you would like to talk to me about this medal, or any Korean Order or Medal, I can be reached at

The real story behind
대한민국의 전쟁종군기장
The Republic of Korea's "War Service Medal"

or more precisely
대한민국의 6.25 사변종군기장
The Republic of Korea's "6.25 Incident Participation Medal"


The Korean Government's original offer for the KWSM

On Nov. 15, 1951, Yi Ki-poong 이기붕 (1896-1960), the Minister of Defense for the Republic of Korea, offered the ROKWSM to the Commander in Chief of the United Nations Command. Pictured below are the three pages of that letter as kept by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). (On some websites, you will find Yi Ki-poong's name in the Western style with slightly different spellings, such as Ki Poong Lee or Kee Pong Rhee.)

Yi Ki-poong

This letter is widely quoted on the internet, but I have yet to find a website which shows the letter. Even though there are several problems with this letter, I present it here because I want to show the full history of the medal and all of the recovered documents that have come to light so far. Both copies of this letter, that were discovered in NARA, did not contain renderings of the medal, ribbon or ribbon bar that are referenced on page one. It does however give dimensions for the ribbon and ribbon bar. Even without the drawings, on the third page, it gives a proposal for the Award document. This proposed document states in English, "The Korean War Service Medal is authorized in accordance with President Order No. 390, by Hon. Syngman Rhee President of Republic of Korea for Service in Connection with Military Operations in Korea." (Presidential Decree #390 is covered in the next section of this webpage.) Another problem with this letter is on the third page. In the Korean text it refers to Presidential Decree as #309. This is a typo. Presidential Decree #309 has nothing to do with medals, and in fact, it was promulgated on March 31, 1950, almost three months before the Korea War started.

Presidential Decree #390
Here to the left, is a photocopy of the original Presidential Order No. 390, as it is recorded in the Korean government's legal registry (Kwan Bo). This clearly shows the medal that Yi Ki-poong and the Korean government originally offered to all Korean War Veterans. The document is written in a mixture of Chinese and Korean characters. (I have a great deal of difficulty rendering Chinese Characters on web pages, consequently, I have rendered them here in Korean Characters. Most older Koreans will not have a problem in confirming that the translations are accurate.)

I have highlighted three lines from this document. Reading from right to left, they are:

  • 단기 4283.10.24. This is the old Korean Calendar date for October 24, 1950,
  • 대통령령제 390 호 Presidential Decree #390, and,
  • 6.25 사변종군기장 which translates as 6.25 Incident Participation Medal. (If you look at Yi Ki-poong's letter above, this is often translated as Korean War Service Medal, but technically it is the 6.25 Incident Participation Medal.)
Another thing that you might note, is the fact that the Taeguk symbol is on the ribbon bar and not on the ribbon/drape.

If you compare the dimensions given in Yi Ki-Poong's letter above, to the dimensions in this document and to the document in the next section, you will find that they are identical.

For a small fee, you can get a copy of this document by writing to the Korean government's National Assembly Library. Be sure to tell them that you want a copy of Presidential Decree #390 with the original drawings as recorded in the legal registry (Kwan Bo). Click here to contact the Korean National Assembly Library.

If you do not request a photocopy of the original with the drawings, they will refer you to one of several Korean websites where you can download the text from this document in Korean but without the drawings. Here is a link for one such source. Once you pull up this decree, you will find two boxes at the bottom of the page with + signs. The first one will expand out the document and give the dimensions for the medal's planchet, ribbon and ribbon bar, while the second box gives the format of the award document. They should look identical to the two pages shown here.
Some quick pointers, when looking at the size dimensions on this document. All of the dimensions are in metric. Section #3, Item #1 says 성(백색지), which translates as "Star (white colored wings/arms):". The character 성 is the old word for star, today Koreans generally use the word 별. If you have a Korean who denies that 성 means star, ask them what the name of Korean 7up (칠성) means. It is a reference to the seven stars of the Big Dipper and is an old Shamanistic group of dieties. Section #4 포수 deals with the ribbon dimensions. Below Section 4 you will find a set of paranthesis. The last two characters inside the paranthesis are 약장 which means "Ribbon Bar:". In this section under item #5 you will see 태극 pronounced Taeguk, this is the Korean term for what Westerners usually refer to as the Yin/Yang symbol. You will not find a Taeguk dimension in the ribbon section of the document.

For the skeptics amongst us, I ask that you make a copy of the Kwanbo document in the section above, and also make a copy of the Presidential Decree #390 from either the website that was just cited above, or the documents presented here to the left and right. Because parts of the Kwanbo document are in Chinese Characters, I ask the you take these items to any older Korean and he/she should be able to confirm that they are one and the same.


Korean War Service Medal - Type 1

Now for the really interesting part. I have seen several websites and more than a few books which show drawings of the medal originally authorized under Presidential Decree #390, but state that it was never issued. The truth is that the medal was issued to Korean War Veterans but in extremely limited quantities. Having scoured the world for the last 17 years, I have been able to acquire two examples. The one on the left is a reproduction. (The text on the reverse is incorrect and as you might notice, there is a Taeguk symbol in the middle of the ribbon.) Except for the fact that the medal pictured at right is parade mounted, it is authentic according to the information given in Presidential Decree #390.

Type 1 Reproduction
Type 1 Parade Mounted

1954 Korean Award Document
Presented here is an award document for the 6.25 Incident Participation Medal. The handwriting is extremely faded, however if you left click on the picture, you can see a full scale version, where it is possible to make out more of the handwritten Korean. I have highlighted three lines of text on this document. Reading from right to left:
  • The first two lines are identical, namely: 6.25 사변종군기장, which translates as "6.25 Incident Participation Medal,"
  • The third line is the date 단기 4287.10.29. This is the old Korean Calendar date for October 29, 1954
I want to show this document for several reasons:
  1. It clearly shows that the planchet's design has changed, but the title for the medal has not,
  2. There are a number of websites which state that the name of the Medal was changed in 1954. The only Korean Legislation issued for this medal was Presidential Decree #892 which was issued on April 14, 1954, over 6 months prior to the issuance of this document, and because,
  3. The term "Presidential Decree #390" is missing from the document.


Korean War Service Medal - Type 2

At some point in time, the Korean government must have realized that they could not afford to manufacture a million or more of the enameled Type 1 KWSM. They may also have been influenced by the fact that service medals are rarely done in enamels. The medal and box pictured on the left are original Korean War issues. On the right I have digitally enhanced/lightened a picture of the reverse. The line down the center says "6.25 Incident Participation Medal". The rocker across the bottom says: "Republic of Korea". Most of the Korean War Service medals issued by the Korean government, were manufactured by a company called Jung Il Sa. According to Mr. Chang Hui-kwan, the son of the original owner, they have produced this medal with both a dark and a light planchet. Since these are legitimate pieces, I refer to the darker pieces as Type 2 and the lighter planchets as Type 2A.
The address for Jung Il Sa is Kwan Su Dong 130-2, Jong Ro Gu, Seoul City, Seoul, Korea 110-420. If you decide to visit Jung Il Sa, you will need to bring an interpreter.

Type 2 Original
Original Issue Box
Type 2 Reverse (Digitally Lightened)

Korean War Service Medal - Type 3

Hundreds of thousands of medals with the "Crossed Bullets" design were issued during the Korean War. A check of the Korean Government Legal Registry shows that the design change was not authorized until April 14, 1954 when Presidential Decree #892 was issued. For those websites and individuals who think that the name of the 6.25 Incident Participation Medal was officially changed to the "Korean War Service Medal", one only needs to compare the titles on the: 1950, 1954 and the 1970 pieces of legislation. The title is the same on all three Presidential Decrees ( #390, #892 and #4930 ).
The change in terminology is due to a misunderstanding of the medals and boxes that were issued for the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War. The cover on the box clearly says 6.25 전쟁종군기장 which translates as "6.25 War Service Medal", and it agrees with the English text below it. But if you pull the medal out of the box and look at the reverse of the planchet, you will find it inscribed as: 6.25사변종군기장 (6.25 Incident Participation Medal). These medals were produced with the original dies by the company of Jung Il Sa. The same company that produced the Type 2 and 2As.


Korean War Service Medal - Types 4 & 5

There are a lot of different reproductions for the crossed bullets medal on the market. Some of which have some claring differences from the legitimate medals. Some of these differences include: a Taeguk symbol on the drape, the Taeguk symbol upside down (red is always superior to the blue), and/or a reverse printed in English. These I generally refer to as Type 4. Pictured here to the left is probably the worst example of a reproduction medal that I have seen. The planchet is mounted on the Korean Presidential Commendation Ribbon, with a Taeguk symbol pinned to the drape. These are so far out in left field, that I refer to them as Type 5.
Pictured at the right is a very poor reproduction of the original award document offered by Yi Ki-poong. Notice that all of the Korean text and much of the English text is missing. In addition, the document mentions Presidential Decree #390, but shows the crossed bullets version of the planchet. Reproduction documents like this, only help to confuse the true history of this medal.


Recent History

Les LeCompte, an Army military policeman who spent the winter of 1951 and 1952 in central Korea, said he first learned of the Korean War Service Medal from a brief mention of it in the 1993 book, "Honors, Medals and Awards of the Korean War;" by Kevin Ingraham. Mr. LeCompte and other Korean War veterans began digging for more information about the medal, but initially they had little success. Veterans who inquired at the Army awards branch were told that "a search of our historical files ... failed to show that this award was ever formally presented to the U.S. government by the Republic of Korea.;" Questionnaires sent to U.S. Veterans showed that "no one had heard of it;". At the dedication of the Korean War Memorial on July 27, 1995, U.S. veterans noticed their counterparts from other nations were wearing the medal or the miniature pin. Veterans started searching for the original documentation on the ROKWSM. In addition to searching Defense Department records, Mr. LeCompte searched State Department files. There he found "letters from wives and veterans wanting to know if they could get their medals.;" He turned up veterans' pleas to then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson of Texas and others in Congress for help retrieving impounded awards. Tucked among the letters and award citations, on folded, tissue-thin paper, Les LeCompte discovered the letter outlining Yi Ki-poong's 1951 proposal for awarding Korean War medals. Another copy was also discovered in a search of the records of the now-defunct Far East Command. Veteran groups started a series of letter writing campaigns, which eventually reached the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
On August 20, 1998, Francis M. Rush Jr., Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, approved the acceptance and wearing of the Korean War Service Medal (KWSM). Also in 1998, the Korean government reaffirmed that its original offer of the ROKWSM was still valid, and provided the award criteria and the period of eligibility, namely:
  • Served between the outbreak of hostilities, Jun. 25, 1950, and the date the armistice was signed, July 27,1953
  • Had been on permanent assignment or on temporary duty for 30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days
  • Performed his / her duty within the territorial limits of Korea, in the waters immediately adjacent thereto or in aerial flight over Korea participating in actual combat operations or in support of combat operations.
On Aug. 20, 1999, the Secretary of Defense approved the acceptance and wear of the medal. Because the order of precedence for non-U.S. service medals and ribbons is determined by date of approval, the ROKWSM should be worn after the Kuwait Liberation Medal (government of Kuwait). For the majority of Korean War veterans the medal will be worn after the United Nations Medal or the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal if they served during the Vietnam War. In commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War, the Korean Government decided to produce 800,000 Korean War Service Medals, for distribution to the war veterans. The Koreans distributed 260,000 medals in 2000, 243,000 in 2001, and 202,000 in 2002. The remaining 95,000 medals were still available in 2003. Of the 800,000 medals, the Korean government agreed to furnish 450,000 ROK War Service Medals for U.S. Veterans, free of charge, and to supply another 50,000 medals if necessary. It was decided that the U.S. Air Force would be in charge of distributing the medals in the U.S. for all branches of the military service. By December 2002, the U.S. Air Force had processed 155,709 requests and mailed 144,227 medals. By Sept. 21, 2004, the U.S. Air Force had processed 176,443 requests and had mailed 168,057 medals. The program is now finished and I have unfortunately not been able to get the final tally on the number of medals that were processed by the U.S. Air Force. The ROK-provided medal is the only medal approved by the U.S. government which meets the criteria for wear on the military uniform. The Korean company, Jung Il Sa, that originally manufactured the 6.25 Incident Participation Medal, also manufactured the 50th Anniversary Medals.


Acknowledgements

On a personal note, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Les LeCompte and his fellow veterans. If it hadn't been for all the hours that they poured into the research, much of this information would have remained hidden away in the U.S. National Archives and Record Administration. Sadly, Mr. LeCompte passed away on Jan. 23, 2017. I will never forget his kindness.
I also need to acknowledge the assistance of Ryu, Sun-hee and Kwon, Young-seup, both from the Orders and Medals Department of the Korean government and Suk Kyung-chang and the staff of the Circulating Division of the Korean National Assembly Library. If it had not been for their assistance, the Korean half of the story would have remained buried in Korea.
"Thank You" does not begin to express my gratitude.


Some food for thought

Long after the War ended, Korea was so deeply in debt, that it could not afford to manufacture and issue the medals that it had awarded to its own troops. The vast majority of Koreans only received their ribbon bars. If a Korean wanted his medals, he was forced to buy them directly from the manufacturers. In July 1956, the government published "Korean Report, Volume IV", and it states on page 3, that during the past year, 92% of all award recipients only received the ribbon bar. The majority of the people who did receive their medals were foreigners.


If you would like to talk to me about this medal, or any Korean Order or Medal, I can be reached at: