Veterans Day: Remembering Korea
The year is 1950. Ever since World War II North and South Korea have co-existed in an uneasy peace soon to be disrupted. Once again using propaganda to justify their conquests the North Korean Communists under the aegis of reuniting both countries. South Korea, a US ally, is unprepared for war just as America is. Some experts are convinced that America is less prepared for war than in 1941 against the Japanese in the Pacific.
Out manned and outgunned
With more than 200 T-34 Russian built tanks and 120 thousand combat troops the North Koreans stormed the poorly defended South Korean border. Within a month the North Koreans penetrated 400 kilometers deep into South Korea and captured the capital, the city of Seoul. American response is to throw 400 soldiers stationed in Japan, cooks, inexperienced officers, and untested troops are rushed into battle with only World War II issue rifles, machine guns, ammo, and artillery, not to mention uniforms inadequate for the extreme elements of the Korean peninsula. These men were rapidly transformed into casualties and POW's. As the armored columns of the North Koreans headed south!
More cannon fodder
Next another thousand US troops and UN foot soldiers are shipped to the coast with the Chaffee Reconnaissance tank. With thin armor and a 76 mm low velocity cannon the Chaffee is no match for the Russian T-34, a main battle tank that took on the German Tiger and Panther tanks in WWII. Once again more cannon fodder is poured into the conflict as the Allies are quickly driven back toward the coast. Another US tank, a relic from World War II is the M-4 Sherman tank, having heavier armor and being fitted with a more formidable cannon has limited success against the advancing Korean troops and their Russian built tanks.
One final assault
While the US Navy and US Air Force bombard the enemy with constant air to ground attacks with a number of early fighter jets and veteran piston driven warplanes the meat grinder is constantly fed with the lives of young men and material. The North Korean offensive finally halts having expended itself, but realizing that if they don't act quickly they will lose the initiative and be forced to retreat! They plan a two pronged armored push to force the allies into the sea! Although the combined allies are dug in with defensive positions established a last push by the Communists could dislodge the South Koreans and allies for good. The aircraft called into service prior to the entrance of the venerable F-86 are such Navy planes as the Vought F-4, the Phantom and Cougar carrier launched jet fighters along with the P-80 Shooting Star. Even the vintage P-47 and AD-1 Skyraider are deployed for ground attack and anti-tank duty.
The juggernaut arrives
There's only one problem. Unknown to the Koreans the Americans have finally shipped in the M-26 Pershing tank! This main battle tank serving in the closing months of 1945 proved itself against the German main battle tanks. There waiting across the river from the North Korean attack wave led by the T-34 tank are the M-26's positioned to repulse the offensive. Within a matter of minutes the American tank crews after refraining from shooting until they have chosen their targets and have gotten their range await the order to commence firing.
For the first time American troops have a top of the line tank to support them. The tank commander gives the order to fire and within minutes T-34's are decimated with turrets being blown off as they tread through the shallow waters of the river. Without getting off a single shot and without inflicting one loss on the mighty M-26 Pershing tank crews the North Korean T-34'a are scurrying to retreat but they are being wiped out so fast they cannot get away from the murderous long range fire of the superior cannon, the anti tank 90 mm. M3, artillery gun with 120 mm. of upper deck armor the Pershing tank is the undisputed giant of that battle. This action is simply the precursor of what is to come as the allies break out from their fall back positions along the coast and begin pursuing the weakened North Korean army forced to fight a retiring action.
The end run
With the US Marine Corps being re-positioned across South Korea to be deployed for the Inchon Landing. Soon General Douglas Mac Arthur's brilliant strategy catches the North Koreans completely by surprise and within days the North Korean army is routed and being rapidly wiped out and taken prisoner as US Marines begin their movement toward the Yalu river nearing the border with China ending the North Korean threat, but unfortunately new developments will doom the hopes of American troops that the war will be over by Christmas so they can celebrate the holidays back home.
Why is this forgotten war so important for Americans who often take for granted the sacrifices of their grandfathers in a foreign war that America was drawn into in order to meet the threat of Communism? For one thing, my father served as a US Marine Corps Sergeant in charge of an artillery crew. He served 2 tours of duty there. When he was stationed right next to Pork Chop Hill one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles during the war, his troop support of South Korean soldiers abandoned their positions leaving the Marine artillery crews without any defensive layer between them and the potential threat of Northern Korean and Chinese foot soldiers just a few hundred yards away. This led to hand to hand combat requiring the Marines to literally have to kill the enemy through using Ju Jitsu and bayonets!
When the South Korean garrison was relocated back into their positions they were told that they did not have to worry about the enemy if they deserted their posts next time they'd be shot by the US Marines themselves! My father commented in remembering the horrors of the war that time and time again they, the US Marines, would have to rescue Army units that were in disarray under enemy attack. The US Army units, he recalled lacked discipline and effective officer leadership. In one instance they encountered an army group under bombardment and when my father asked an Army corporal where his commanding officer was. The frantic soldier pointed to where a crater covered with debris was with the leader cowering under the wreckage as his men lay wounded, disoriented, and misdirected under fire. My father lost 19 of his buddies in the three years of the war.
Difference in attitude
During the battle of Chosan Reservoir where the Chinese and North Koreans had surrounded the US Marines in the dead of a very bitter winter, Commander and World War II veteran of the Pacific island hopping campaigns, Chesty Puller, asked one of his officers for the current status of the situation. When his junior officer commented that the Marines were surrounded it's reported that his reply was, " Good, that means we've gott'em right where we want'em they can't get away from us now!" This reaction epitomizes the heart and spirit of the US Marines.
Another famous remark
The legendary Chosan Breakout known by veterans as "Frozen Chosan" was also engineered by Chesty Puller who directed the main firepower of his troops and artillery toward the rear so they could penetrated the enemy lines and reach reinforcements. When asked by one of his officers if the Marines were retreating, once again Major Chesty Puller replied, "We're not retreating, son, we're merely attacking toward the rear! "
My Dad told me when he and his unit landed at South Korea from Kyoto, Japan that they had somehow gotten separated from their mess sergeant and ration supplies. When he told a neighboring US Army officer in charge he refused to feed the Marines. That left one option. My Dad's unit informed the US Navy Destroyer command who had landed them that they were without food or a mess sergeant to run a kitchen operation. Thankfully the Navy consented to take on the job of feeding the Marines until they were reunited with their proper ration support and mess personnel. It took a long time for my father to ever share his experiences about what happened in Korea and once while my ex-wife, he and I were at the theater watching Clint Eastwood's " Flags of Our Fathers" my Dad said while my wife was freaking out because our young men were coming ashore on some enemy held island unaware they were walking into a trap as the Japanese aimed their rifles and machine guns from well covered positions, " Actual combat is a hundred times worse than what you see on the screen." My ex was a Taiwan Chinese lady who, as a young girl, listened to US armed forces radio and learned to love American music and culture.
From the mouth of experience
I once asked my Dad what he thought of the realism of "Saving Private Ryan" as the Omaha Beach landing was so eloquently portrayed by Steven Spielberg's direction and my father basically said, "What's the big deal? The Marines had dozens of landings in the Pacific and went through that kind of hell over and over again!" My Dad in years passed met many of the Hollywood actors through his business that were former US Marines during the war in a time when patriotism was not spit upon like it often is today and actors answered the call of duty unlike the "Hanoi Janes" of the more recent times. He met Lee Marvin, well known actor, who said he was thankful for the wound he received while being deployed during one of many Pacific island landings as he was convinced that his number was about to come up. He considered his wound to be good luck charm because he was evaced stateside and he survived to begin his acting career.
One of the last things he told me was after returning home after two tours of duty in Korea was when he summoned a taxi in San Francisco anxious to get back into civilian life and marry my mother whom he'd met at a USO dance when he commented to the cab driver that he'd just gotten back from Korea. The taxicab driver's response was, "So what."
So, after surviving Korea my father and his unit were standing at attention early in the morning about to fall out for the mess hall, a plane flew overhead and accidentally dropped a practice bomb snagged under its wing! The explosion caused all the veterans there with war nerves to immediately hit the deck! So all of them dived for cover instinctively! Half of the mess hall got blown up, but luckily no one was injured! He always thought of how ironic it was that he'd survived the war only to get nearly killed while back home in the states!