Five years after the end of World War II, during a time meant to be devoted to postwar rebuilding and remembrance, on a peninsula approximately the size of Florida, a small country was invaded by its northern twin across the 38th Parallel[1]. Intent upon stemming the spread of Communism, the United States led United Nations forces into the nascent war in Korea. By the time they entered the fray, the war was nearly lost, with the North Korean Communists pushing South Korean, and initially U.N. Forces, into a narrow corridor in the south. American General MacArthur gambled with a counterstroke, landing troops at Inchon on September 15, 1950. His forces pushed back, shoving the Communists back across the 38th Parallel. MacArthur announced that he would “crush” the enemy forces, sweeping them from the field of battle. On October 1, MacArthur broadcast a message to the North Koreans demanding immediate surrender. Two days later, however, the Foreign Minister of Communist China, Chou En-lai warned that, if U.N. (U.S.) troops crossed the 38th Parallel, China would intervene, changing not only the balance but the entire face of the war.

MacArthur refused to take the Chinese threat seriously and commanded his troops to keep pushing north. On the morning of October 9, 1950, American troops crossed the 38th Parallel. North Korea’s Kim Il-sung commanded his troops to fight to the last man and Chinese leaders declared that the “American war of invasion” had been a serious menace from the beginning, and by crossing the 38th Parallel on a large scale, forced Chinese intervention.

Neither did the Central Intelligence Agency take the Chinese threat seriously, reporting to President Truman that there were no “convincing indications” of a full-scale Chinese intervention in North Korea. MacArthur assured the President that Chinese intervention was unlikely and opined that North Korean resistance would end by Thanksgiving. Several days later MacArthur announced from his headquarters in Tokyo that the war was definitely about to come to an end. At that time, moving largely at night and undetected by the U.N. Command, large elements of the Chinese Fourth Field Army were swarming across the Yalu River into Korea.

Threats of Chinese intervention were apparently not taken seriously by anyone in the Pentagon, the State Department, or the White House. MacArthur’s chief of intelligence continued to disregard on-the-ground reports of massive build-ups of Chinese Communist regular army troops, insisting there were only between 15,000 and 30,000 “political advisors” in the whole of the country. At that time, approximately 300,000 Chinese troops surrounded the American Army-commanded X-Corps, including the 1st U.S. Marine Division.

The resulting Chosin Reservoir campaign was to become famous in the annals of military history. The men who fought their way out of that terrible net, against not only enemy forces but also Army command ignorance, would experience some of the worst conditions in the history of modern warfare. Many Marines who had fought through the storied battles in the South Pacific of World War II reported that this was worse than anything they had experienced before. As the winter hit with terrible vengeance, temperatures dropped to 25 degrees below zero and worse. Men fought both the cold and human-wave attacks that left the ground littered with corpses. American losses were terrible. Chinese losses were exponentially worse. The battles in the north could have gone far worse for the Americans had they not fought heroically and been led by Marine General Oliver Smith and his commanders in the 1st, 5th, and 7th Marine Regiments and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Vastly outnumbered and fighting against near insurmountable odds, the Americans somehow managed to defeat the Chinese Armies surrounding them in northeast Korea in November and December 1950.

The war dragged on for three years, during much of which peace talks bogged down in political questions while thousands died and thousands more were maimed and injured until the cease-fire on 27 July 1953, at 22:00 hours. In three years of war, American losses killed in action paralleled the numbers who died in eight years of war in Vietnam. Ironically, terribly, some of the worst losses came as the war drew to a close. Few today know or remember the battles of Pork Chop Hill, also known as “Hell’s outpost”[2], during which more artillery fell on that killing ground than anything seen in the history of warfare, including the guns at Verdun or Kwajalein. Over 77,000 rounds of artillery fell. Casualty rates in some platoons reached or exceeded 70%. American G.I.s fought heroically against unbelievable odds and conditions, losing more than most of us can ever understand, only to watch as the politicians decided the Hill was ultimately not worth keeping and simply gave it up.

Upon their return home, Korean War veterans were met with thundering silence. Perhaps concerned that the American people had enough of war in the 20th Century, politicians and the media largely minimized or outright ignored the War, referring to it, if at all, as a police action or conflict. Veterans were quietly ushered home and expected to get on with life with no fanfare, parades, or public gratitude for their sacrifice and service. It was easy for the civilian population to forget the war they knew little about. Falling between World War II and Vietnam, the Korean War Veterans were ignored by a country by and large ignorant of their heroism and sacrifice.

That the Korean War has come to be known as the Forgotten War is an abomination. The men who fought in Korea never forgot that war; many remember it every day of their lives. So, too, should we. While we welcome home returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, acknowledging and remembering their sacrifice and their service, and duly acknowledge the veterans of the war in Vietnam, let us also express our thanks, respect, and gratitude to the veterans of the Korean War – the war that shall not be forgotten.

[1] Historical data are taken from Martin Russ’s Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950. (2000). New York, Penguin Books; and from as-yet unpublished correspondence with James Butcher, Ph.D., formerly Sergeant First Class, Fox Company, 17th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army, Korea.

[2] James Butcher, Ph.D. Personal communication.


About Thomas N. Dikel, Ph.D.

I am a Developmental Psychopathologist trained in child development, clinical psychology, pediatric neuropsychology, and forensic psychology. My focus, expertise, or specialty is trauma and PTSD, particularly child abuse and combat related trauma. I work with both adults and children, and adults who are dealing with childhood issues. I am available for forensic evaluations, consultation, and expert witness testimony.
Gallery | This entry was posted in American History, Chosin Reservoir, Korean War, Military history, Pork Chop Hill, Veterans and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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