Skip to comments.The Forgotten War
Posted on 07/31/2013 9:23:21 AM PDT by Kaslin
The Forgotten War, it's called. Which is why it was so good to have it remembered so ceremoniously and extensively this past weekend on the 60th anniversary of the tenuous armistice -- certainly not peace -- that has uneasily endured on the Korean peninsula ever since.
The Korean War is worth remembering and so are all those who fought in it, the living and the dead, the great and small, the worthless politicians who knew only how to continue it and the unsung heroes who died in the snow and ice.
And let there be no mistake: It was a war, not a Police Action, just as Iraq and Afghanistan in our time have been wars, not Overseas Contingency Operations. As always, euphemism is the first and clearest symptom of a lack of national resolve. Seldom since Korea, at least till now, has the disparity between this country's political leadership -- first unprepared and then vacillating -- and the heroism and endurance of its fighting men been so clear.
The war that seesawed across the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s should have left a permanent impress on the American memory, yet it was somehow distant even while it was going on, and the country grew to yearn only for it to stop. Any lessons to be drawn from that conflict could wait. Indefinitely. In important ways, they still do. To this day, the heroism of those who fought there, like the suffering of the Korean people, has never been accorded the attention both deserve.
In a masterpiece of strategic thinking still studied, MacArthur's landing at Inchon in September of 1950 represented a dramatic end run around the entire North Korean army, which was sent, shocked and shattered, fleeing back north, pursued all along its collapsing lines, ripe for unconditional surrender.
As daring and masterful -- as historic -- a stroke as Inchon was, MacArthur's letting himself be surprised by the massive Chinese entry into the war only a couple of months later would prove an historic debacle.
A veteran Marine general, Lewis Burwell Puller, found his 1st Marine Division posted to a remote part of North Korea, the Chosin Reservoir, early in November of that year -- just as the first great wave of fresh, well-equipped and well-prepared Chinese troops began to sweep into Korea from the north, the northwest, the west. ... The 1st Marines were just establishing their perimeter defense when the horde engulfed them on all sides.
Correspondents accompanying the American troops asked the general what his plan was now. Chesty Puller explained: "We've been looking for the enemy for several days now. We've finally found them. We're surrounded. That simplifies our problem of finding these people and killing them." The Marines did.
It wasn't just the press that was concerned about how Gen. Puller proposed to get out of that trap. A worried major made the mistake of asking the general what his line of retreat would be. Chesty Puller picked up a field telephone and told the commander of his artillery, all of it, to zero in on the Marines' own position and open up on any unit retreating without authorization. Then he turned to the major. "That answer your question? There will be no withdrawal." There wasn't.
Against all odds, the Marines held through November, then into December, until on December 6, 1950, the 1st Marines were ordered to break out and head for the port of Hungnam on Korea's east coast for evacuation. When someone referred to the retreat, Chesty Puller set him straight: "Retreat, hell! We're just advancing in a different direction."
By then the temperature had dropped to 25 degrees. That's 25 degrees below zero. Fighting every mile through a frozen Hell on roads that had to be carved out of the ice and snow, the marines advanced in a different direction. Make-do bridges had to be constructed in the harshest of Korean winters as a Siberian cold front moved south across the peninsula, but the 1st Marines drove on. They would take with them their wounded, their dead, and every jeep, half-track, tank, howitzer, gun and every other piece of equipment that could be salvaged. And they drove on.
By the time they reached Hungnam some 80 twisting miles away under constant attack, staving off every enemy ambush on the way, and prepared to embark, the Chosin Frozen had broken through seven Chinese divisions, leaving nothing behind. They had saved everything, honor above all.
As he was moving his men aboard ship, Chesty Puller was approached by another pack of reporters. All he had to say was: "Remember, whatever you write, this was no retreat. All that happened was we found more Chinese behind us than in front of us. So we about-faced and attacked."
The 1st Marines had marched across a frozen wasteland into American military history -- and Marine lore and legend. And so had Chesty Puller. At day's end on many a Marine base, the last announcement before Lights Out used to be: "Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are." Let's hope that's still the custom. General, you are not forgotten. And neither is your war and all the Americans who fought in it. Sic semper.
My father was a Korea vet. I know he went through a lot of hell, but not quite the hell endured by the First Marines, I don’t think.
My daddy is a three-war Marine, and meaintains that his time as a grunt in Korea was worse than his two weeks on Okinawa (where he was wounded) or his THREE Tours in Force Recon in Viet Nam. Korea was much more intense and unpleasant.
/He loves Korea and Koreans to this day
//Yes, my daddy is awesome...and still a little frightening
I’m amazed at how many people don’t know that we have fought a war against China. Why has Hollywood never expressed an interest in the Korean War? M*A*S*H doesn’t count, since it’s really about Vietnam.
There have been a ton of Korean War movies:
The Bridges at Toko-Ri
Pork Chop Hill
The Steel Helmet (a particularly excellent movie, by the way)
Mad Men has roots in the Korean War
There’s lots of others
I will check out The Steel Helmet. It’s a stretch to call it a ton. It’s received nothing like the coverage of Vietnam. I had forgotten about the origins of Don Draper on Mad Men.
Mad Men is both Shakespearean in its structure
serves the War in Korea what The Man In the Grey Flannel Suit did for WWII
/needless to say, I’m a big fan of MM
//and also CH, but that’s a different matter
I just watched Pork Chop Hill again a few months ago, and was struck by how well it depicted small unit tactics.
My daddy got a look at the Pork Chop Hill area before it was surrendered to the communists. He says it is very small.
Chesty - Five Navy Crosses
I worked with a Marine survivor of Chosin after my time in the Corps. He told of using axle grease to lube their M-1 Garands, because all the gun oil froze. He had nothing but disdain for the 8th Army, who he claimed abandoned their vehicles with the keys still in them.
BTW, when the Marines boarded ship with their men and material, they refused to return the Army’s equipment.
Good night Chesty, wherever you are.
And to the NSA trolls, FU.
It’s available on Netflix, both disc and streaming.
Well said. BTTT.
The Forgotten War? I haven’t forgotten it.
I like “Korean Patrol” (1951), one of the first movies about the war. Another that I like is “The Hunters” (1958), which focuses on air combat. The “Soviet MiG-15’s” in the film are actually American F-84 Thunderstreaks.
I will look for that later today, thanks.
My uncle was on hill 677, 2PPCLI, they held against 10,000 with 224 men. Battle of kapyong.
Worked with Chosin vet also. We worked together at a fullservice gas station back in the 80s. One cold winter evening he came out in windbreaker while everyone else was bundled up. When asked if he was cold he laughed and said “ i was at the chosin and let me tell you,this ain’t cold” and called us sissies.
God bless them guys
I can get The Hunters on Netflix, but Korean Patrol might be a bit elusive.
The US State Department would rather forget Korea as in January Sec State Acheson, in a statement obviously coordinated with the White House, declared Korea outside the US sphere of interest. McArthur seconded this statement by a similar one.
The US Army, in particular, generally ignores the Korean War because of the wretched performance of many of the 8th army units deployed in the first weeks of the conflict. Soldiers who had maybe two weeks of tactical training a year and often fired less than a hundred rounds on the firing range in a year found themselves suddenly thrust into combat with a tough, well trained and motivated enemy generally better armed and equipped than the US Army. A great many officers at both company and field grade failed miserably as leaders. Some fleeing in confiscated vehicles abandoning their units. Virtually all Army personnel assets available in the Far East and Conus other than the 82nd ABN were tasked to fill gaps and flesh out the 8th Army as it was conducting both a fighting retreat and attempting to establish a firm defensive perimeter. The fighting on the Pusan Perimeter was a closer thing than is generally known even with the concentration of US air, naval and land resources. These initial traumas were eclipsed by the near disaster that the 8th Army suffered at the hands of the Chinese Communists in their surprise counter-offensive sprung a few days after Thanksgiving 1950 as US/UN forces kicked off what was to be the ‘victory’ offensive that McArthur confidently expected would enable him to begin withdrawing some US forces by the end of the year. In this offensive in which one US division (the 2nd Infantry) was virtually destroyed and another (the 25th Infantry Division) was seriously mauled plus numerous non divisional units being destroyed or seriously damaged, the Chinese came near to cutting off and destroying the bulk of the combat forces of the 8th Army. Amidst this chaos it appears the commander of the 8th Army, LTG Walton Walker, suffered a near collapse due to battle fatigue. Walkers disarray led to no real command direction on a structured retreat to defensible positions near Pyongyang. Instead US/UN forces began a virtual stampede to the south . This situation was compounded by the death of General Walker in a vehicle accident shortly before Christmas and the innefectuality of MG Coulter the senior US Army officer in the 8th
The Korean War ought be ever remembered both to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of many US servicemen and their allies. Further this war illuminates every major professional challenge military forces can anticipate meeting. A sudden and unforeseen outbreak of hostilities, an enemy who appears as a near peer material contender with outstanding cohesion, training, and morale and an utterly ruthless elan that motivates them to win at all costs, a primitive battlefield marked by extremes of weather and environment and challenges to the highest command authorities requiring extraordinary moral and intellectual fortitude and sagacity.
The commies overran the peninsula and sacked Seoul and other cities. Without the landing at Inchon the whole thing would have been captured by the commies.
Remember that next time someone says the commies never got into South Korea.
I do like the “The Bridges of Toko-Ri” movie.
Let us not forget that North Korea was totally backed by China and even Russia (air force). South Korea had little more than a token military (if it could be called that) when the North invaded.
The fledgling Korean CIA was very helpful if not instrumental in helping set the stage for the Inchon landing.
Remember that next time someone says the commies never got into South Korea.
Those low-information types who believe the commies never got into South Korea should smarten up by reading The Reds Take a City: The Communist Occupation of Seoul, With Eyewitness Accounts by John Riley (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1951).
There are two excellent Korean series on this war.
The Legend of the Patriots
EPIC Shows made from our Allies perspective.
In Puller’s book, “Fortunate Son,” he wrote that when his father, Chesty, first saw him in the hospital the general broke down in tears. Puller Jr. said the image caused him more pain than his wounds.