Although the signing of the Korean Armistice on July 27, 1953 brought an end to more than three years of bloody combat, it did not officially end the conflict. In the absence of a formal peace treaty, North and South Korea are technically still at war—and the members of the United States Armed Forces stationed there are an integral component of the Republic of Korea’s defense forces.
But nearly fifty years elapsed between the signing of the Armistice and the establishment of a decoration recognizing the vital role that American Servicemembers have played and continue to play in the defense of the Republic of Korea. Included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2003 and codified as Public Law 107-314, the Korea Defense Service Medal (KDSM) can be rewarded retroactively for service dating back to 28 July 1954. All Servicemembers of the Armed Forces of the United States who serve on active duty in the area of eligibility (all land comprising the Republic of Korea, contiguous water extending 12 nautical miles from the coast, and all airspace above that specified land and water) and meet the service criteria are eligible for the award.
Eligible Servicemembers must meet either time-of-duty requirements or experience some type of action that leads those requirements to be necessarily waived. Personnel assigned, attached, or mobilized to units operating in the areas specified above for 30 consecutive or 60 cumulative days are eligible for the award; for air crewmembers flying in and out of eligible areas, every day in which at least one sortie is flown counts as one day toward those minimums.
Alternately, Servicemembers who engage in combat or who are wounded or injured in the line of duty and require medical evacuation from the area of eligibility automatically meet the service criteria regardless of the time spent there. Of course, any Servicemember who lost his or her life while meeting the other eligibility requirements for the KDSM is eligible to be awarded the medal posthumously.
While each eligible Servicemember may receive only one KDSM, they may qualify for other medals for the same period of active-duty service. Those who qualified for the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal because of service they rendered between 1 October 1966 and 30 June 1974 are eligible for both that decoration and the KDSM. Also, the Overseas Service Ribbon is authorized to be awarded along with the KDSM.