FORGOTTEN NO MORE The Korean War 1950 - 1953 by Carol M. HIGHSMITH and Ted LANDPHAR CHELSEA PUBLISHING , Inc. WASHINGTON D.C. Excerpts of "The Korean War Memorial Story" Excerpts and adaptation by Léon C. ROCHOTTE, Ex-National Council's Member (Navy) of ANAFF-ONU & RC BKVA - South London Branch full Member _________________________________
It was not called a war. But the "police action" on the Korean Peninsula certainly felt like a war - a filthy, fearsome, though just war - to the men and women who "policed" it. More than fifty-four thousand Americans died in the Korean conflict from 1950 through 1953, or of their injuries later. Half a million South Koreans and other United Nations troops fell and more than a million GIs and their allies brought home wounds and nightmares and other terrible souvenirs. It was the last foot soldiers war, with an howling, swaming enemy attacking in force, bayonet to bayonet. The last trenches. The final foxholes. The last black-and-white war. Look now at the gritty battlefield photographs and see the GIs eyes, blackened with grime, sunken from fatigue, glistening with tears. But steeled with resolve.
The years have fogged the memory of that time. We called it "The Forgotten War", and even when it raged it was out of mind in much of a nation weary of war and longing to get back to the good life. It was a far-off dispute, a vexing hot spot in a Cold War, waged with diplomats' words along with infantrymen's gun. Except for the widows and families, this was not the shared national crusade so recently won in The Big One. Antiwar vitriol had not yet found a voice, but neither had collective national gratitude. Yellow ribbons were one war away.
To the nation's school children, Mac Arthur and Ridgway and Clark are just old, dead guys, if their name are noted at all. The veterans of Inchon and the Pusan perimeter, of the Punch- bowl and Pork Chop Hill and Heartbreak Ridge, and a hundred other muddy, stinking, frozen places in Korea, are gray or gone. But this gallant patriots who carried freedom's standard there are forgotten no more. The haunting Korean War Veterans Memorial in WASHINGTON (D.C.) is a nation's belated tribute to their heroic deeds, and to the service of those whose support made heroism possible. Not a bust of a general or a roll call of the dead, it is a solemn salute to the gunner, mechanics, sailors cooks, nurses, airmen, and thousands of other men and women in uniform who repulsed communist agression on a remote peninsula at Japan's door -and, by inspiration-, chipped the first crack in communist totalitarianism in Europe and the rest of the world as well. Few words, and no names, encumber this place. Faces -thousands of faces- and nineteen figures in battle gear lead us all out of a sylvan wood into the reality of battle and its terrible sacrifices. But this is not a memorial that glorifies war, or even heroism. It proclaims a broader message about the willingness to serve in a citizens' army that lies at the heart of our nation's democracy.
Such assistance as may be necessary . . .
Viewed trough the looking glass of history two generation after the fighting and dying, the Korean War seems so compact, so manageable. So forgettable. Three short years. One limited thumb of land, with the combat never spilling beyond. There was Machiaviellian international intringue and political posturing all the while for sure, and fears of a nuclear midnigt. But all in all, it was a tidy, old-fashioned war to all but the men and women who fought it and those who love them.
The 38th Parallel of latitude in the Northern Hemisphere is not even a line of most maps, let alone a border, natural boundary, or militarily defensible line. But as World War II would down to certain Allied victory, the United States government, which had little contact with remote Korea but was nervous about Soviet expansion into the gut of the Pacific Rim, propose cutting the old japanese-held kingdom roughly in half at the 38th Parallel once the peace was won.
According to military historian Clay Blair, "a Pentagon Army colonel [had] look at a school map for 'thirty minutes' and with complete disdain for terrain, or established line of communications or trade or indigenous political institutions and juridictions or property ownership, propose slicing the Korean peninsula in half at the 38th Parallel.". The Soviet Union, America's cunning, Johnny-come-lately Pacific wartime partner, would occupy the northern half, the United States the South, with the intend of desarming the Japanese and paving the way for Korea's long- subjugated people to eventually hold free elections that would unify the country.
Following V-J Day, Soviet troops entered Korea in August 1945, advanced to the arbitrary demarcation line, and made imaginary no longer. They promptly cut all railroad and telephone lines and halted movement of population north to south. U.S. forces were planted in Seoul and elsewhere in South Korea, but the American nation, tired of war and disinterested in a strange land whose people they hardly knew, soon wanted the troops out, wanted them home. A way was found through the fledling United Nations which called for countrywide Korean elections. When the bellicose Soviets flatly refuse, the UN went ahead with elections in the South. Sygman Rhee, who from exile in Shangai had long struggled to oust the Japanese from his homeland, was choosed to lead the theorically united Republic of Korea. But the Soviets ignored the election and set up a puppet Communist dictatorship in the North at Pyongyang. They began to drill North Korean troops, many of whom was seasoned comrades of the Communist Chinese in their fight against the Nationalists in Manchuria. The Americans in the South, hellbent on leaving, did not want Rhee to provoke North Korea. So they kept offensive weapons out of the hands of Republic of Korea troops, who were little more than a national police force. By July 1, 1949, U.S. combat troops were gone, leaving Rhee his paper army, five hundred American military advisers, and U.S. defensive military hardware. Six months later, having drop all pretense that a divided Korea might be made whole, the United States rang down that it thought would be the final curtain of its brief Korean occupation when Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared the peninsula to be outside the American Far East defense perimeter.
North Korean leader Kim Il-sung knew a sitting duck when he saw one. Following consultations in Moscow, he placed his troop on ready alert along the 38th Parallel. At dawn of June 25, 1950, they swooped over the line, inundating the South's green, armorless army and quickly captured Seoul. Sniggering at a hasty United Nations resolution calling for a cessation of fighting, the North pressed its attack along both sides of the mountainous spine that bisects the peninsula, mincing all opposition.
That same UN resolution called on members to provide "such assistance as necessary" to the Republic of Korea in repelling the invaders, and, defense perimeter or not defense perimeter, the United States was the first to respond. The advance of Communist forces to within one hundred miles of the Strait of Korea, directly across from Japan, had prompted Acheson and President Truman to reassess Korea's strategic importance. Recalling the appeasement of Adolf Hitler as he methodically invaded his neighbors, they agreed that the Communists must be stop in their tracks, even in so remote a place. From his base in Tokyo, U.S. Far East Commander Douglas Mac Arthur ordered the understaffed and undertrained Twenty-fourth Infantry Division, which had been engaged in routine occupational duties in Japan, into combat in Korea. No sooner had the first battalion -"Task Force Smith"- taken up position near Osan than it was set upon by the North Koreans. After holding out for seven hours against incessant attack, and finding itself nearly surrounded, it broke out and fought his way south. The delay bought the Twenty-fourth's commander, flamboyant, bazooka toting Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, time enough to deploy near Taejon, and for two weeks held the North Korean at bay. General Dean, who was the last to leave Taejon, was captured. But his heroic stand gave the Twenty-fourth Division and the rest of the Eighth Army time to arrive and prepare a counterattack.
By early August had been sealed by a UN naval blockade, and the combined Far East air forces had flown more than ten thousand bombing missions in support of American and South Korean troops and their UN allies. These sorties became the first to North Korea's lengthening supply lines. By late August better-equipped reinforcements had arrived from the American mainland, Okinawa and Hawaii, and Lieut. Gen. Walton H. Walker was able to hold the Communist advance at bay at the Nakton river north and west of Pusan. UN troops would not be driven into the sea.
Rather than butt heads with the jubilant North Koreans at this Pusan perimeter, Mac Arthur ordered a risky amphibious landing into the belly of the Communist beats. At dawn September 15, U.S. Marines landed on Wolmi Island in Inchon Harbor, hard by the 38th Parallel. Eleven days later they recaptured Seoul, and on that very day a U.S. armored division that had broken through the Pusan perimeter linked up with the Seventh Division near Osan. The North Korean offensive had not just been broken, it had been shattered. Demoralized Communist units used the cover of Korea's rugged mountains to escape back to the North, leaving behind more than 100,000 prisoners of this undeclared war.
UN forces followed the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff's directive to "destroy the North Korean armed forces". They swept forward, pausing briefly at the 38th Parallel while General Mac Arthur got clearance to proceed into North Korean territory. On October 20, Pyongyang was captured by infantry and airborne units. The advance by Republic of Korea troops up North Korea's east coast was so infettered that the port of Wonsan fell before the U.S. X Corps could arrive to solidify the victory. The combined armie's onslaught, and the arrival ROK Forces at the Yalu River on the Mandchurian border at Cosan, placed the Chinese Communists on agitated alert. They could see without being told that it was Mac Arthur's plan to eliminate the North Korean Army -and communism in Korea- for all time.
The Chinese had already supported the ragged remnants of North Korea's forces, but the scope of their massive build-up in Manchuria had been obscure by camouflage, the darkness of night, and the unwillingness of UN political leaders to authorized reconnoitering flights over Chinese territory. UN forces that were pressing toward the Manchurian and Soviet borders faced the same danger of overextended supply lines and surprise attack that the North Koreans had encountered outside Pusan. But Mac Arthur told Washington the Chinese would not dare risk world war by intervening in strength in Korea. The night of November 25 - 26, 1950, they proved him wrong, slamming into UN positions West of the mountains and the X Corps to the East with unfathomable thousands of troops. Their lightly equipped soldiers, slipping in and out of the forrests, easily out flanked and then overwhelmed UN positions. In a flash, Mac Arthur's agenda turned from an advance to the Yalu to saving the entire UN command. He was prohibited from unleashing air assaults in Chinese bases in what he called their "privileged sanctuaries" in Manchuria. Truman did not want to risk widening the war, even though the Chinese had widened it for him. So Mac Arthur ordered a withdrawal. More than 100,000 UN forces on the east coast staggered south to the ports of Wonson and Hungnam, with horrific loss of life and materiel. Their rescue by the U.S. Navy ranks among the most massive, best-executed evacuations in military history.
General WALKER was killed in a Jeep accident two days before Christmas, and command of all groug forces fell to Lieut. Gen. Matthews B. RIDGWAY, who consolidated forces at the 38th Parallel while pulling the remnants of X Corps back to Pusan to form a strategic reserve. Revived by the turn in fortunes , the North Koreans quickly reconstituted an army and joined the Chinese in a second invasion of South Korea on New Year's Eve. Seoul fell again on January 4, 1951, spilling thousands of panic-stricken civilians (and Communist spies) into the laps of beleaguered UN soldiers, who themselves were a little spooked by the fanaticism of the Chinese legions. All the while, diplomatic chatter approached theatre of absurd, with war still undeclared and Peking insisting it had no forces in Korea at all -never mind the tens of thousands of "volunteers" of Chinese origin who might be in the peninsula.
UN forces preferred a strategy of "rolling with the punches", standing up to the Chinese throngs, then falling back when another outfit took its turn holding a position. But RIDGWAY wanted to test the true mettle of the Chinese. He ordered a regimental combat team east of Seoul to fight without retreating. Its losses were staggering, but the lines held. The Chinese had punched themselves out, never to seize the widespread initiative again. Ridgway quickly followed up with a counteroffensive, design not just to reclaim territory, but also to begin obliterating enemy personnel and equipment. "Operation Ripper" prove so effective that Seoul was back in UN hands by mid-March. And UN troops pushed on, crossing the 38th again at great cost.
American GIs were in shock at the time, however, over word that Mac Arthur had been relieved of command by President Truman. Flouting a directive that he make no public statements without obtaining clearance, the old warrior had kept up the drumbeat for attacks on the Mandchurian "sanctuary", had called for a blockade of Chinese ports, had popped open a diplomatic can of worms with his support for Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek on Formosa, and had asked for massive reinforcements from home. But Truman did not want to provoke the Soviet bear. Worried that all-out efforts in Korea would sap American strength in front of the Iron Curtain in Europe, he secretly commited to settling for a draw on the Korea Peninsula. When Mac Arthur brazenly demanded the Chinese surrender, Truman sacked him.
The Communists launched yet another spring offensive, but this time could not sustain it, and UN forces counterpunched into the North once again along the east coast mountain depression called the "Punchbowl". To the west, troops under Eighth Army commander James A. Van FLEET capteured Chorwon and Kumwah in the North, only to be stalled by the onset of monsoon rains. As trench warfare settled in, the Soviet's United Nation representative, Jakob MALIK, propose cease-fire negociations, and truce talks were undertaken at KAESONG. At the Communists harped over such matters as the size of the peace table -and the thornier issue of wether Communists soldiers and North Korean civilians who had fled south could be forced to repatriate- the talks sputtered, then starded again. But Van FLEET's troops were no waiting for a diplomatic settlement. They scored more small but significant victories and were poised for even more advances when RIDGWAY ordered him to cease offensive operations.
By summer 1952, Gen.Mark W. CLARK had replaced General RIDGWAY, who moved in Europe to command NATO forces, and the Korean War became a pivotal issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. When Gen. Dwight D. EISENHOWER, the hero of D-Day, promised to end the war quickly if elected, then visited the front shortly after his landslide victory in November, the road to a settlement was oiled. As he noted later in his memoirs, absent satisfactory progress toward peace "we intended to move decisively without inhibition in our use of weapons, and would no longer be responsible for confining hostilities to the Korean Peninsula". In plain talk, Ike was brandishing nuclear weapons at China. By early June 1953, agreement seemed at hand, only to founder again over the repatriation issue. RHEE refused to be a party to any agreement that left the bisection of his country intact or that forced prisoners who did not want to return to North Korea. General CLARK bluntly informed RHEE that the alternative to his agreeing to an armistice would be the withdrawal of UN Forces, throwing him to the Communist wolves, and the aging president finally assented to step back and keep quiet. On the July 27, 1953, the armistice was signed at PANMUNJOM, though not by the South Koreans. The conflict's final zig-zaging battle line became a lasting demilitarized zone, the de facto border between North and South, and the repatriation of prisoners began. At last, Americans could resume their push for prosperity under the comforting hand of their genial president.
An estimated two million North Korean and Chinese soldiers had died in battle or of disease.
U.N. losses are recounted for all time in inscriptions on the low ledge of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Pool of Remembrance:
Dead USA 54,246 UN 628,833 Missing USA 8,177 UN 470,267 Captured USA 7,140 UN 92,970 Wounded USA 103,284 UN 1,064,453
The terrible losses recall a thought from pioneer aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who wrote, "Courage is the price that life exacts to granting peace."
FREEDOM IS NOT FREE OUR NATION HONORS HER UNIFORMED SONS AND DAUGHTERS WHO ANSWERED THEIR COUNTRY'S CALL TO DEFEND A COUNTRY THEY DID NOT KNOW AND A PEOPLE THEY HAD NEVER MET
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