Korea - ''The Worst Was Yet Come''
‘’…It was so bitterly cold, you couldn’t think clearly when you needed to.’’
The Story ofCpl. Bobby Plante, US Army
The War as Written About in North Korean High School History Books
The War as Written About in American High School History Books
In the first hostile act of the Cold War, Communist troops crossed the 38th Parallel and in less than a month, the Americans found themselves at war for the second time in a decade. The conflict was notable for its first use of helicopters and America’s first high-speed fighter jet, the F-38. Brought to the American public in a weekly TV Show that ran twice as long as the actual war, M*A*S*H* and the zany antics of its hospital units under-shadowed a dark and gory fight for life.
Despite being a relatively short war, it was exceptionally bloody. Of the five million people who died in this war, 10% of them were civilians. It was a sign of things to come with regards to Vietnam. 40,000 Americans were killed in Korea and another 100,000 wounded.
Often called ‘’The Forgotten War,’’ and seldom mentioned in most High School classrooms, the war is technically America’s longest continuous war. As we see even today, the war is still going on in the minds of the North Koreans. The only thing keeping millions of troops at firing at one another is a shallow truce.
The perspectives of North Korea and America couldn’t have been more different and it is interesting to compare the claims with the facts. Below are the words out of a North Korean High School text book which tell the story of the war and the personality cult of Kim Il-Sung. The people of North Korea believed their soldiers were well taken care of despite the high death-toll. They believe (and still do) that these soldiers were fed and kept warm despite the miserable weather for much ofthe three years America was at war.
When you read the words of the North Korean High School Text Books, keep in mind that Cpl. Plant’s recollections are very different. But it was the masterful use of propaganda and the people in the North bought it. To them, an armistice was a victory while for most American soldiers it was a three year job to which they could return to something potentially better at home.
With lives lost and many more changed forever, the Korean conflict added a bittersweet taste to the patriotism felt after the end of World War II. War, a sobering reminder of the worst that humanity can become, is as part as everyday life as it is an every day march toward death for those whose innocence was betrayed on the battlefield. For these men were miles away from the shelter of peace they knew only months before, away from the glory of victory and away from a life of so much potential. Given how we relay this legacy to our next generation, we balance precariously on a fine line of truth that can so easily be misunderstood if not taught correctly.
North Korean Secondary School Text Book
Note: The Publish Date is Important to this kind of pursuit of history.
In this case, the date for this book is 1982
‘'Upset by the fast and astonishing growth of the power of the Republic, the American invaders hastened the preparation of an aggressive war order to destroy it in its infancy.
The American imperialists furiously carried out the war project in 1950. The American imperialists called the traitor Sungman Lee to Japan and gave him orders to hurry the war, while frequently sending warmongers to the South to survey preparations for war and imperial conquest. Accompanied by their puppets, the bastards crossed the 38th parallel at dawn stoking the flames of war, jumping around like mad men, yearning to invade the North under any pretext, and our peaceful homeland was surrounded by the cannons and clouds of war. After convening a Cabinet, His Excellency declared several key points for the world to see:
’The bastards are unparalleled in their ignorance. The American bastards were mistaken regarding our Chosun People. (Referencing the Choson Dynasty)
The American bastards look down upon our Chosun People. As the saying goes-wolf dogs should be conquered by clubs and we should show to those ignorant invaders what our true colors are. They shall be sent back to their misery ridden cesspool across the Pacific.’’
Our greatly adored leader looked upon his Cabinet for combined suggestions, but his wisdom outshines them all. He listened to every opinion offered and stood in front of a map and pointed to the east of a battle line and said in a loud and booming voice, ‘’The Enemies are targeting this place.’’ Our beloeved leader then mapped out measures for a counter-defense for the plateau.
At one point, during a time when American bastards were dropping 30,000-40,000 bombs on that plateau every day, our greatly adored leader called the commanding officer ofthe 1211. He called and asked if supplies had arrived and then inquired about the health of the troops. He is very concerned about the lives of our soldiers. ‘’.....Every soldier is a priceless treasure. Everyone is a precious comrade in this revolutionary war. We care for our brave comrades in arms. They get hot rice and clothing so that they do not catch colds or worse.’’
The troops of Peoples Army defeated American bastards over and over again on every battlefield. Cornered into a dead end, they didn’t know what to do. The quick tempered Americans kneeled down before the Chosun people and signed an armistice to which Kim Il-Sung gave the following instructions:
The American invaders finished kneeling down before our Chosun people. We bent the pride of the Americans who used to boast of being the world’s most powerful nation and for the first time in history, we brought the beginning of their decay. This victory will forever shine in the Chosun People’s Combat History and will be an inspiration for all the people of the world should they be faced with American imperialism. His excellency, Kim Il-Sung, summoned immediately an emergency cabinet and his voice echoed in the room:
‘’The bastards are unparalleled in their ignorance. The American bastards were mistaken regarding our Chosun People. (Referencing the Chosun Dynasty)
The American bastards look down upon our Chosun People. Asthe saying goes-wolf dogs should be conquered by clubs and we should show tothose ignorant invaders what our true colors are. They shall be sent back totheir misery ridden cesspool across the Pacific.’’
The Korean War From The Japanese Perspective, 2002
The Japanese High School History Books of the sixties and seventies are almost completely differing in their views of Korea than they are today. Having just come out of a decisive and humiliating military defeat, the Japanese weren't keen on writing history, let-alone interpreting it for educational value.
Narratives and stories of personal heroism are all but non-existent in Japanese textbooks as the focus stays on the literal translation of chronological data. For the Japanese, it keeps them absent of potential conflict - even on the world stage as it exists today.
The geopolitical notion of communism as is defined by the North Koreans, is without judgment by the present day Japanese. Declining to offer a counter to the provocations of North Korea, the Japanese are very aware of the history they have had on mainland Asia and the notion of being an utter outcast in terms of the violence and bloodshed they were guilty of in both World Wand World War II.
At the end of World War II, Japan's military fate was completely left into the hands of the Americans. In Article 9 of the Peace Treaty that ended the great war, no Japanese military was to be assembled and all military bases on the island were as well.
Although the American Occupation of Japan came to an end on April 28, 1952, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty went into effect, the United States was hardly prepared to abandon its military presence in Japan. With Japan a key strategic partner in Cold War Asia, the Korean War still in progress, and the military threats from China and the Soviet Union apparently very real, American planners were insistent that substantial U.S. forces needed to remain in place in Japan. At the peace negotiations in 1951, the Japanese delegation was pressured to endorse a separate security agreement with the United States.
The Japanese were reluctant to accept this ongoing subordination to America, but had no choice but to acquiesce, signing the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty on the same day (September 8, 1951) as the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The Security Treaty was revised and renewed in 1960 and almost 50,000 American troops are still stationed in Japan today.
''The Japanese and Korean peoples have sustained a long and prosperous relationship that has last a thousand years. In the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War, the two empires signed an agreement (Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905) to forever be absorbed into the Japanese Empire. After some disagreement in the 1930s, the Japanese and the Korean empires were soon at war.
At issue was their allegeince to China, and the breaking of the 1905 accord. It was considered to be a serious breach to ally with China, our mortal enemy at the time. We had occupied Korea and welcomed the Korean people as part of our own culture. In 1937, Japanese law was adjusted so that at last the Koreans could take on our traditional names, since people who lacked Japanese names were not recognized by the colonial bureaucracy.
World War II devastated not just Japan, but the Korean Peninsula, and in 1945, the United States and the USSR captured the peninsula and ended Japanese rule there. Korea was divided into two occupation zones that were intended to be temporary. However, a unified state was never given back to the newly independent Korean people. Instead, the Korean War broke out between the Soviet and Chinese-backed northern half of Korea and the United States and United Nations-backed south.
As the Communist movement spread through China, our armies sought to disrupt it, fearing the great spread of its movement would impact the economies of Asia. With Korea agitating a war against our only militarized ally, and because of the breach of the Treaty of 1905, Japan took this as a provocation for war.
After the Korean War, South Korea transformed into a liberal democracy and tried to purge itself of the remnants of Japanese rule. The country prosecuted a small number of colonial collaborators immediately after World War II, and some of their land was confiscated. Today, disputes continue about how and whether to prosecute those who worked with the Japanese government during the occupation.
At the Tehran Conference in November 1943 and the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Soviet Union promised to join its alliesin the Pacific War within three months of the victory in Europe. Accordingly, it declared war on Japan on 9 August 1945, three days after the USA dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. By 10 August, the Red Army had begun to occupy the northern part of the Korean peninsula.
On the night of 10 August in Washington, U.S. colonels Dean Rusk and Charles H. Bonesteel III were tasked with dividing the Korean Peninsula into Soviet and U.S. occupation zones and proposed the 38th parallel.
This was incorporated into the U.S. General Order No. 1which responded to the Japanese surrender on 15 August. Explaining the choice of the 38th parallel, Rusk observed, "even though it was further north than could be realistically reached by U.S. forces, in the event of Soviet disagreement ... we felt it important to include the capital of Korea in the area of responsibility of American troops".
He noted that he was "faced with the scarcity of US forces immediately available, and time and space factors, which would make it difficult to reach very far north, before Soviet troops could enter the area". As Rusk's comments indicate, the U.S. doubted whether the Soviet government would agree to this. Stalin, however, maintained his wartime policy of co-operation, and on 16 August the Red Army halted at the 38th parallel for three weeks to await the arrival of U.S. forces in the south.
Today, the batteries of North Korean artillery lie just on the other side of the divided peninsula’s demilitarized zone. There are thousands of them—some hidden, others out in the open. Artillery shells are stored in an elaborate network of tunnels; and though much of the weaponry and ammunition is old, U.S. forces stationed in South Korea have no doubt they would be effective.
The Account of Cpl Robert ''Bobby'' Plante, US Army
(In His Own Words)
I signed up because I couldn’t make up my mind on what to do. Pretty soon I was in Kentucky at Fort Campbell as a part of the 101st Airborne. Our unit was the 26th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. They combined us with the 11th Coast Artillery and sent off to Korea. Don’t tell me that wasn’t a war. That was nothing like the stories I heard about World War II. My brother fought in World War II and he was mainly in Sicily after lengthy training in Honolulu.
He led me to believe it was a real picnic most of the time. He came back with a wonderful tan and a beautiful wife from Hawaii. Wearing the uniform looked like a pretty good idea at the time! But- I wasn’t exactly expecting Hawaii or Italy, but I surely wasn’t ready for what I saw in Korea.
On or about the first of June 1950 after our lunch and while in the barracks, a Lieutenant asked what we knew about Korea. We didn't know very much other than the fact it was near Japan. The Lieutenant looked at a clipboard and read out-loud that it was half-Communist and half-capitalist and both Japan and China shared governing the country.
Seemed rather odd and far away to me.....It was divided by the 38th parallel and was called North and South Korea. We were told to be prepared to go and to take our leave at once. I was taking a few days with my family when I was abruptly told that it was time to get going and to get back to camp immediately.
Was I anxious to go to war? I don't know. I had heard about things that happened, some good and some bad. I had heard my big brother talk at different times when he would be in the company of other veterans. War sounded like a camping experience where you were included in things. Again, I guess my number one worry was would I or could I do what I was trained to do? Would I be man enough? Would I live or die? Would I come back in one piece? I guess the answer to whether I was anxious about going to war would be no. I never gave war a thought.
I was 18 years old. To say goodbye to family and friends was no problem and took very little time. Thinking back, I said all goodbyes as though I was just going back to camp from leave and that I would see all again during my next leave. I did find things different in the way I was treated when traveling. It was as though those people knew I was off to a war. The serviceman got the seat first!
Korea was so bitterly cold, you couldn’t think clearly at times Let me tell you what I mean. I was a machine-gunner. It was so cold that our fingers would freeze up. You couldn’t use gloves when firing a weapon and yet it is so cold you get frostbite. I didn’t know how any of us would survive the winter, let alone the next three years.
When it wasn’t snowing, the wind was blinding you. When it wasn’t windy, it would rain, and you’d get covered in mud. In the summer you were eaten alive by flies and mosquitos and you’d find yourself praying for winter again. I thought, ‘Now why are we fighting for this place again?’’
The Little Things Only A Soldier Would Know
Trying to think of what i remember the most - I'd have to say how ignorant our officers thought we were. And it wasn't just them either, it was the entire attitude of the military. We apparently needed instructions on how to do just about everything. Oh and it got to you sometimes. ''Do it this way, '' or ''Not this way'' and ''You have to follow all 15 steps to open up the box of safety-blades they'd give you so you could shave.'' At night, we'd read outlaid some of the directions to things because you couldn't help but laugh.
Some of the boxes we unpacked made us feel dumb. We'd open a box of cleaning supplies, and on the outside it would say, ''Do Not Swallow'' Well No Kidding! They'd send over office-type items like scissors and you'd have an entire set of instructions written on the outside of the box as to how to use the damn things! But it was the ammunition that really made us think. On the box of hand-grenades it would say, ''Pull-Pin, Throw Away'' So to many of us, that would seem like ''pull the pin, and then throw the pin away!'' A box of bullets would inform you not to load them backwards and our shoes would identify whether it was a right shoe or a left shoe, on account of the fact we army guys didn't know our right foot from our left foot!
But there would always be that one guy you hated to see coming. Either it was someone who irritated the holy hell out of you with a 'to-do' list of meaningless tasks or it was that guy you wanted to give a good licking to. Tensions could get quite high at times. I knew this little Jewish fellow, Irving Sternberg. He went by Ross though. Boy, he was so pin-prick sensitive, which you cannot be around guys like this. But unlike any other guy in plain-sight, he was muscular.
We couldn't believe how massive the guy was. And short. Maybe 5'7" but a little tank on two feet. His muscles had muscles! We all admired his grit, toughness....and then you'd see him with that yamulke on sometimes and it was such a contradiction. You couldn't help but think he would be a doctor or a lawyer, I mean, that's what the guys thought...and Sternberg would get so ticked if anyone brought it up. We called him ''Boss Ross'' but you knew never to call him by his other name, 'Super-Jew.'' He'd really get on you if you did that.
One night - on a Friday, he would hold his Shabbat service very quietly with the only other Jew, Merv Levy from Hoboken. Merve was the nicest of guys and Ross protected him. Merv had a gift for sewing, so we'd always give him our socks and things to sew. One night, we were all at the table and Merv didn't get his kosher meal. The rest of us were eating something that resembled a pork chop but Merv couldn't eat it. Ross told him to take it back and ask for his kosher meal. But Merv didn't want to make waves, he would pick around it and eat his grey peas. (They were green peas when they left the States and grey by the time they got to us!)
Anyway, Ross gets up and heads over to the line and says that Merv missed out on his kosher meal. Oh gee, the guys felt so bad. They served the kosher meal to a boy from Tennessee. Now I didn't know him, but apparently Ross did. So he goes over to where the man is sitting and says, ''Hey, you're eating Merv's meal....give it up.'' This young man - being from the deep south knew he was eating something unusual and decided he'd eat it because it HAD to be better than this piece of tasteless leather everyone else was getting. It was too late, the meal was gone. It got a little quiet when Ross looked like he was going to get angry. ''Leave him alone Boss!'' yelled Merv, ''He'll get circumsized at 0600 now that he's one of us!'' We all busted with laughter!
Some of the boxes we unpacked made us feel dumb. We'd open a box of cleaning supplies, and on the outside it would say, ''Do Not Swallow'' Well No Kidding! They'd send over office-type items like scissors and you;d have an entire set of instructions written on the outside of the box as to how to use the damn things! But it was the ammunition that really made us think. On the box of hand-grenades it would say, ''Pull-Pin, Throw Away'' So to many of us, that would seem like ''pull the pin, and then throw the pin away!'' A box of bullets would inform you not to load them backwards and our shoes would identify whether it was a right shoe or a left shoe, on account of the fact we army guys didn't know our right foot from our left foot!
We got to the act of war a little too quickly for my taste. Now the boys you were sleeping beside, laughing with, sharing a meal or a smoke with, well, now they were scared and vulnerable. I saw fear and determination in one moment, from the same man. It would be that way, with long intervals of nothing and then a senseless, heart-thumping surge of adrenalin, and in a few moments, perhaps a couple of hours, you'd hear them - muffled if they were farther away, 'snap, snap' if they were moving closer, and then a crack of the whip, ''schhhhhwwwwwwe CRACK'' over and over again when they were close.
We dug two-man foxholes and this allowed one guy to rest while the other was watching. When you dig a foxhole like this, you want it on the highest point which makes you a target as well. Everyone knows you are there, so people often lost their lives whenever their was a fire-fight. It was a a repeated pattern that I grew to know all-too well.
I often found myself shooting at ghosts. Nothing seemed to work. We weren't sure where their fire was coming from and we weren't ready as young men. Challenges of the fight broke some of the men before any enemy could.
First they fire at you and then the mortars would be called in to push back any spirited offensive. The guys would move up the hill while the mortars created mass confusion for the Koreans and enabled us to push forward. The mortars were firing just ahead of us so if we advanced too quickly we ran the risk of getting killed by friendly fire.
Finding ourselves in a fight with an enemy so sure of their brainwashed ideology wasn't easy. It was painful. You'd have them licked, and everyone knew it, but they didn't know it. Like the Japanese in WWII, they would have fought to the last man.
We were put with three other platoons and our training was precise that we were able to work in-sync with one another for a time. We would get set, platoon number three would roll past us. Then we re-situate, and the second platoon would roll past, and then we'd go. Every time we advanced, we passed the bodies of our own. We had to pass up the injured and hope the medics could treat them.
Our weaponry was really questionable and shoddy. It ultimately affected our morale. We had a T-19 cannon, which was a 40-mm cannon on a half-truck vehicle that vibrated uncontrollably. It made every shot a matter of luck and chance. Worse still, you couldn’t hold onto it for long because the vibrations were so bad.
The nature of these half-truck vehicles left the men vulnerable and wide open to snipers. We lost a lot of men with the T-19 and it was such an issue, a Top-Secret report was sent to the President asking for changes to the weapon. It was not a good thing at all.
Secondly, our tanks were limited in mobility because they were not created for the terrain we were fighting on. Korea was tough country, that’s for sure. The M-15 and M-16 half-tracks were poor choices forthe war, but we hardly had time to create new weapons in the aftermath of WorldWar II.
Getting Wounded in Pusan
The records say that I got wounded in Korea in 1950. It’s true that I was in a rough battle. It was in Pusan and there were so many men. We were part of the United Nations forces in the beginning but it was really us and the Brits and the Australians and they were getting stomped badly. So we join them and on the second day, we were in combat. But they had us outnumbered, it was ridiculous. Thirty-to-One, Forty-to-One, who knew? They just kept coming like robots -- and they didn’t expect to live either.
Some of them came without shoes, or if they had them,they weren’t the type to stand the cold and moisture… We couldn’t believe what we were seeing, after-all, these men were not terribly well trained. Some of them were barely men as it was. They were sacrificed, one after another.
Killing Up Close, Personal
I heard the obvious yell for everyone to get down. The man in front of me took a bullet to the chest. I crawled on my belly, trying to get to him. I told the men to provide cover while I went to get him. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I reached him, but that was the only thing on my mind. When I got there, he was on his stomach. I got alongside him and turned his head so I could see how badly he was injured. His face bore the whole of a bullet – directly in the nose. His face was shot off.
He was a Scotsman, and his last name was Annan. The United Nations troops and the American forces were largely unknown to one-another. I heard later that Private Annan was a soon-to-be-father for the first time. It only made the pain inside of me that much more and I see this nightmare in my sleep every night. You never get past it. You think you will, but you never do.
Meanwhile, the sound of machine-gun fire, branches being sawed off trees, and then - all of a sudden, something goes wrong with my machine gun and it sort of shattered apart blowing shrapnel everywhere. I never figured out to this day what happened, but it was either a mechanical malfunction or it had actually been shot itself. I was covered in mud and in complete shock.
All I could hear was this loud buzzing in my head. It was peaceful in the moment. I knew I was alive, but I couldn’t feel it. Slowly begin feeling movement. The guys were carrying me but my whole body was numb and tingling. I began to try to move my hands but I couldn’t, and then I sort of went out I guess.
When I came to my senses, later that night, I had tiny pieces of metal in my hands and neck and part of my face. But I was happy to be alive. I wasn’t even seriously wounded. But the recovery couldn’t have happened fast enough. Any talk of sending me home and I would have howled. Many of our guys were killed in the battle and several were taken as POW’s.
One of them was a good friend of mine, a younger guy, Paul Schrencengos. He was so young and barely eighteen when he got to Korea. It would have been better to die than to be taken prisoner by the Koreans. They'd hold you down and burn your feet so you couldn't run away. Then they'd humiliate you, doing horrible things. They had no regard for humanity and certainly not observant of the rules of military combat.
Their prisoners that were captured by the Americans were better treated and more likely to be fed than in their own army! But Paul was taken prisoner and it devastated many of us. He was unfazed by anything because he was so innocent.
Within a few weeks I was having problems holding and handling weaponry, so they decided to make me a jeep driver. A jeep driver! Well why on earth would I not be happy with that assignment? I got to see Korea – not that there was much to see – but I got to travel with certain men, like the time I took General Ridgeway for a ride. There wasn’t a finer man in my opinion.
MEETING GENRAL RIDGEWAY
Ridgeway was so kind, so admired. Under the United Nations we had no idea where the enemy was located. We continued to get bad information and he wasn’t going to have that. He demanded that everyonefully knew and understood their roles, which wasn’t exactly the case when thewar began. With the UN, you never felt like there was an end-result. We seemed purely defensive, except for the fact that we weren’t.
Let’s say that we fight the North Koreans in a certain strategic position and we win. Are we allowed to go and take the strategic location? What will happen if we withdraw after winning a key battle? If we are allowed to keep the position, are we going to secure it?
Until Ridgeway got there, we didn’t clearly have any idea what woulddetermine victory. Because he was a West Pointer, everyone knew how smart the man was.
I am driving with him and he was so mild-mannered you wouldn’t have known he was the most important man in Korea not named Douglas MacArthur. He asked me about my family and upbringing. I thought he was great. He thanked me for the ''dedication to the country.'' He added a special and poignant lesson for young man.
’’The Three C’s’’-Character, Courage, and Commitment. He said that ‘’a soldier can have a lot of great traits but if he lacks in character, lacks in courage or lacks in his commitment, he will either be a discharged soldier or a dead one.'' That was a great lesson coming from him and I raised my children on those three things.
When we finally arrived – he gets out of the jeep and I saluted him. It was then that I noticed he had a hand grenade, in fact two ofthem, affixed to his uniform.
‘’Sir, may I ask what those are for?’’ Ridgeway said that he was saved many times in Normandy by having grenades ready to toss. This General was one of those ‘’take-charge guys’’ and he lead from the front of the battle. When I mentioned this to the guys – they wanted to know what he was like and all, one of them said ‘’that’s why they call him ‘’Iron-Tits.’’ And you know, it was true.
That was how many of the guys knew Ridgeway, by that very name. Only you would never say that to his face, oh no, way too much respect for that. But I thought it was interesting to learn after the ride had ended.
As I turned to leave, I wanted to just be like anyother soldier and look the part. But he said something that I couldn’t make out and Just then he reaches for my hand and with both of his hands he shakes my own hand. It was so out of character for the military, let-alone a General!
It was a small gesture but I couldn’t get over it, my heart was pounding. I was so reckless with that jeep when I wasn’t driving with folks in it, and I nearly flipped that things two or three times because I was so excited.
''Iron Tits'' Ridgeway
About a year later, he comes to do an inspection and I am standing in the back of a bunch of soldiers – way in the back. ‘’Plante! Front and Center! Someone, I think our UC (Unit Commander) is yelling at me.
I get to the front and there is General Ridgeway, asking me how my family was. I got to be his driver a second time but this was later in the war, early 1953. He was much more serious now and he was deep in conversation with two other members of his command, so we scarcely talked to one another this time. He was nonetheless wonderfully polite and thanked me for the ride.
I probably drove from one part of Korea to the other, saw some nice things, and a whole lot of things I’d rather forget. I drove by countless villages where there wasn’t any electricity and yet it would be10-below outside.
The food, oh the food…how did those people survive on what they eat? It stinks to high-heaven. When I would drive up to a smalltown, the aromas were nauseating. They cook cabbage type soup and they catch fresh-water fish and they throw it all together.
It often has soy sauce or vinegar to mask the rotting flavor of what little meat they can come up with. You ask me to use all five senses and this is one I would rather forget. That smell still makes me ill. And worse still, you’d often meet these people, nice though they were, their breath just screamed at you. It was as if they had never learned how to take care of their teeth. But such is the life of the Korean peasants.
I often get asked if life in the Korean war was anything like the TV show, M*A*S*H*. It was pretty close. I can tell you that there were army nurses but none of them looked like ‘Hot Lips’ or whatever her name was. Other than my own stay in a MASH unit I drove back and forth to pickup supplies and deliver them places.
The whole idea of a MASH unit originated in Korea I think. We were in such rough terrain there was no way to send wounded soldiers to Seoul for medical care. We brought in choppers and I loved watching the things fly. The sound of them beating in the dense summer air with that subtle compression – boom, boom, boom…
Because there were troops from all around the world, we needed lots of interpreters to talk to the hospital staff. This slowed things down even more, and to make matters worse, almost everyone had horrible frostbite. The choppers didn’t have room to take the wounded on them. They were affixed to the side of the helicopter.
You could wrap up the guys and hope for the best, but very often, they would freeze anyway and even die on the journey. Several times I was asked to transport the less seriously wounded by jeep. If I wasn’t doing anything else, sometimes they’d ride with me. On two occasions they died in the seat next to me.
One guy I picked up would become the best man at my wedding. We hit it right off. I had dropped off a package and was looking forward to getting back so I could get my mail. We all looked forward to mail-day. On the way I see a chopper taking off and a truck that is so weighed down the tires look like they would blow.
There was a fair amount of trash around the vehicle The driver of the truck asked me to take some of the supplies so he could take a couple of guys back to the field hospital.
‘Well sure, but why don’t you just let me take the guys instead?’ That seemed more logical since that truck couldn’t get more than twenty or twenty-five miles per hour. I could zip around pretty good in my jeep.
His name was Duncan, and like me he was a Corporal. Everything about him just told you he was a man of those ‘Three-C’s’. He just oozed character, courage, and no one was more committed than Duncan. The other man, his name was Foster. He was quiet and not hurt too badly, that’s allI could tell you. But Duncan – now here was a ‘Man’s man.’
And until I got to Korea I had scarcely met a negro, and now I am riding with a guy with a terrible case of skin burn, like when you fall on gravel. He had been through something, and I had to lay him diagonally across my jeep while the other guy held down his legs. He is laying on his back looking up at the sky and I asked him, ‘How’d you get like this?’’ He turned his head to look my way and said he had fallen out of that truck with his two buddies.
The driver had neglected to mention any of this when I drove up behind him. I wasn’t one to ask questions and I had assumed they had been taken out by snipers – which sometimes happened. The chopper turned out to be for a third guy, sitting on top of all of these boxes and he had suffered a bad injury to his head.
Don Duncan and I became fast friends, but he was in a segregated unit. We weren’t exactly encouraged to intermingle but none of the men I knew were like that. Everyone bleeds red you know. When we both were shipped home, he was like a brother to me. One thing I remember was how poorly the Koreans treated people of color. They were horrible to them – even thought they were there to protect them! I stood up several times against these Koreans who even outranked me – but I didn’t care.
Duncan (I never called him Don) told me I shouldn’t blame the Koreans for the way they treated them. ‘’They are only modeling what they see every day Bobby.’’ And I guess it was true. Korea was a war where we learned to fight truly with one another, black, white, brown, whatever. But the growing pains of that were still happening and many times it just wasn’t fair.
A group of guys from Fort Rucker in Alabama had just arrived sometime in the fall of ‘52, just as the weather had grown colder. The supply captain rerouted a huge box of blankets destined for 77TH Black Engineering Corps where Duncan was situated. I saw what was happening and told my superior officer.
He went to barracks and the blankets were on the way to where they were supposed to go. But not before I heard some pretty bad things. ‘’Let them freeze, we need these blankets more than they do!’’ But - we all needed each other and it wasn’t this way any other time that I saw.
I got out as soon as I returned to the States in ’53. I suppose I would have stayed in had I had more time to think about it, but itwas so quick – going from non-stop combat and noise to the absolute peace and tranquility of a peaceful north Texan town. I made a lot of friends that are all fading away now.
Dunkin passed several years ago. He ended up moving out here from Tennessee just so he could be close to me and my family. No one knew it back then, but Dunkin was quite well off and he didn’t even need to work. He’s sit outside on a chair, smoke a cigar and read the newspaper and talk to anyone and everyone that came by. I do miss him.
People often asked me in the years after Korea whether we won that war or lost it. You know, I wasn’t even sure. I was just happy to survive! But looking at how things have turned out now, I just assume we should have just gone in and finished them off. They are annoying to the whole world.
This is really what the issues are today with that country. We never finished off what we started. By the time we pushed them all the way back, our politicians held off. My friends and my family were actually happy we didn't continue because they saw what a strange country it was in the years immediately after the Cold War began. That total isolation....who knew it would become such a quagmire?
I tell you this. If we were to fight them again, we had better finish what we start, regardless of whether China wants to get in on their side or not. They are getting close to being able to do what they are threatening to do..... A Nuclear North Korea...?
Ask anyone who fought in that war, and they'll tell you the same thing. It didn't have to happen....We were there, we were ready, we were willing and we were able. To see them today and realize that they have nuclear weapons --- all I can say is that it never needed to happen that way.
But there is one thing which ties me together with any soldier I see. No matter who he is. The last time you take your shoes off, the last time you put your dress-whites away, stand together and salute the flag at sunrise, it stays with you. And we didn't read about it or watch it on film reels or later on television. We LIVED it. ###
Robert Bluestein, ©2017