By Ray Nasser
As a 19-year-old when Truman announced we would enter a conflict in Korea, I had great misgivings about his decision. I strongly agreed then, as I do now, with Washington's farewell address when he warned against entangling alliances. Though we had no alliance with South Korea, our entry into the war amounted to the same. I now think Truman made the right judgment call.
It was on June 25, 1950, that the Communist North swooped down on the unprepared Republic of South Korea. Syngman Rhee was the president and had little means to repel the invaders. He had an untrained skeleton of an army with little arms or ammunition. American troops were there only to advise and train.
At the close of World War II, the United States and Russia agreed to a trusteeship to reorganize the peninsula into two governmental bodies. The United States would occupy the peninsula from the 38th parallel south and the Russians from the 38th to the North. Kim Il Sung was the communist leader of the North. The purpose of the occupation was to return Japanese POWs to their homeland and restore a governmental body. Rhee wanted to unite the peninsula as a Republic under his control, while Kim Il Sung wanted to bring the peninsula under communist rule.
The South Korean Army could not withstand the onslaught, and American troops were unprepared and ill fitted to fight. On June 27, Truman convinced the U.N. Security Council to send troops to Korea. Eventually, 16 nations took part. On June 28, the capital, Seoul, fell to the Reds. As things continued to get worse, our president ordered a naval blockade of the coast. He then sent Gen. MacArthur to Korea in an effort to stop the communist advance from taking control of the South.
The genius of MacArthur to formulate plans to attack on the west coast at Inchon Harbor paid off. The Reds were completely unprepared. Most thought it unthinkable to invade in the treacherous tides at Inchon.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Omar Bradley, only consented to the attempt because of Mac's persuasiveness. For the Marines who first landed, it was a cakewalk. My friend, the late Marylon Palmer, said his battalion took a defending island without firing a shot. The communists simply threw up their hands.
By October 1950, the NKPA (North Korean Peoples Army) was all but defeated. Some of our troops made it all the way to the Yalu. Unknown to MacArthur, Chinese communists started crossing the Yalu and hiding in the hills in mid-October. On Oct. 25, these Reds launched an attack on ROK (Republic of Korea) troops who were taking an active part in the war. The tragic and brutal battle at the Chosin Reservoir lasted from Nov. 17 to Dec. 13 while the temperatures plunged to 30 degrees below zero. Today, survivors of that battle suffer untold agony because of extreme frostbite, resulting in neuropathy.
Over 67,000 Chinese encircled 30,000 U.S. forces in that battle. As our troops fought their way to Hungnam, it is hard to believe that they took 90,000 refugees with them. Truman ordered every vessel in the Pacific to head to Hungnam. Only a few months earlier Russia had mined the harbor. It is also amazing that our minesweepers could clear the port for the hundreds of ships coming in. Even tankers, full of oil and gasoline, took refugees on their decks to Pusan.
From this time on, our troops would be fighting mostly Chinese troops. MacArthur now had to reorganize and push to the North. However, this time Truman ordered him to stop at the 38th parallel. It now stands as the dividing line between the two Koreas.
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was elected on the promise he would end the war. Americans were tired of war and reading reports of so many young men being killed and maimed in Korea. During the winter and spring of 1952-53 the Reds began stepping up harassing patrols and attacks. Ike took office in January of '51. Mothers, fathers and most Americans were becoming disappointed and more upset with the continuing war. Americans began putting more pressure on Eisenhower to keep his promise. Then in July of '53, more than 100,000 Chinese attacked U.N. forces to gain as much ground as they could before an armistice could be signed.
On July 15 my unit was holding a hill about a mile forward of the battle line, when the Chinese attacked at the stroke of midnight. We were outnumbered about five to one. They even came down into our trenches, and some were fighting hand to hand. On July 25 the enemy simply started withdrawing. Later I learned that Ike had ordered Gen. Clark, who was now in command of U.N. forces, to use atomic weapons if the Reds did not fall back to their original positions. It worked. Two days later on July 27 the armistice was signed.
All wars are horrifying to the grunts, dogfaces and all those who must kill or get killed. Only seven days after American troops fought their first battle at Suwon they found seven GIs bound hand and foot and shot through the head. The communists were evil then and are still evil. It was not uncommon to find our troops who were taken prisoner to be lying along a path or road with cavernous bullet holes in their heads or backs. On Aug. 14, 1950, 45 Americans were found in a ravine with their hands tied behind their backs, equipment and clothes stripped from them, and shot. A few months later, 138 Americans were found killed in the same manner near Pyongang. It was determined that Russian burp guns were used in the slaughter.
Korean War casualties were astronomical. More than 33,600 of our men were killed in action and 20,000-plus died of wounds, sickness and accidents in that war. Another 103,284 were seriously wounded. Over 400,000 South Korean combatants were killed and the North Koreans more than 500,000. Nearly a million Chinese gave their lives. Nearly 4,000 allied troops were killed in Korea.
Many believe the Korean War delayed communist aggression in the Far East until North Vietnam attacked their brothers in the South.
If you are a Korean vet suffering from neuropathy, I have some good news for you. The Illiana Health Care System, Department of Veterans Affairs, Danville, has laser treatment available for those of you who suffer from neuropathy. I have taken the treatment on my feet, legs and hands and it was very successful to ease the pain and slow the progression on me. I am the VFW hospital representative at Danville and if I can assist you, please call me at 217-554-4220. I am in on Wednesday and Friday mornings. You may call at anytime and leave a message.
Ray Nasser lives in Danville. He is a combat veteran of the Korean War and taught middle school in Danville for 20 years. He also is a veterans advocate at Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System in Danville.