Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Battle for Pusan: A Korean War Memoir

The Battle for Pusan: A Korean War Memoir by Addison Terry (2000) is the author’s experience during the early days of the Korean War while a member of the 27th Regiment (Wolfhounds) of the 25th Infantry Division and the 8th Field Artillery Battalion. The book was written when the author was recovering from gunshot wounds in an army hospital in 1951 so his experience was fresh in his memory.

The author was stationed in Japan during the post-WWII occupation when the surprise attack by the North Koreans occurred. The 25th Infantry Division was the second US division committed to the defense of South Korea. The press was forecasting a Korean Dunkirk, but the undermanned divisions held on until more troops and weapons could be deployed.

My rating: Very Good (****). A self-report by a 2nd Lieutenant on the front line. War told by a participant who was involved from almost the very beginning of action. Much more meaningful than a historian writing from researching a number of other books. Well-written and easy to follow—a great story about a war most Americans know little about.

Strategies or themes presented by the author were:

Old Equipment and Lack of Preparation.

“This set me to thinking of our army’s equipment in general, of which our secretary of defense Louis Johnson was so proud.” (p. 42)

“The jeep that my FO party now was assigned had come out of the ordinance depot in February 1942. This was the vehicle on which our lives depended day in and day out." (p. 42)

“The radio that our party was carrying had come out of a depot in 1943. It was an SCR 610, declared obsolete and replaced in 1946 by an SCR 619, a more compact and efficient model. We had not seen any of these, however. Incidentally, in sixty-two days of combat this particular radio worked for only one mission.” (p. 42)

“The heartbreaking part was that in spite of the competency of the gun crews and the fire-direction personnel, the howitzers were all so old that it was never unusual to have from fifty to two hundred yards’ dispersion.” (p. 42)

“… the guns [artillery] were truck-towed, and the situation called for self-propelled guns.” (p. 42)

“In reality, the forces we had in Korea at this time—the 24th and 25th Divisions were at two-thirds strength (two battalions to a regiment instead of three).” (pp. 42-43)

“This was the first time we were to have tanks. They were old Shermans, but they looked good to us.” (p. 48) Previously, they only had towed artillery while the North Koreans were breaking through with Russian T34 tanks. (p. iix)

Lack of Policy.

“Sunday, 25 June 1950. The North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea with great force. Dean Acheson, secretary of state, had stated that Korea was beyond the strategic interest of the United States, as was Formosa. President Harry S. Truman
had made no statement about protecting South Korea. General Douglas MacArthur had no plans for the defense of South Korea” (p.3)

“For us in Japan during March and April of 1950, it seemed that the secretary of state’s
pronouncement that Formosa was not militarily and not politically important to our national
was an open invitation for the Communists to parade into French Indochina and Korea.” (p. 41)

“How only a few months before that we had been told at Officers’ Call that there probably would be a conflict in Korea, but that our State Department had decided we would not intervene. I was curious to know the circumstances leading to such obvious indecision in the State Department. I was indignant over the seeming nonchalance with which we were committed to this action. It seemed as though our entire Far East Command was being steered from one course of action to another on the individual whims of a small number of politicos in Washington.” (p. 40)

“The reversal in our State Department’s thinking concerning Korea seemed extremely late, and certainly most unnecessarily costly.” (p. 41)

“In the past, our armies knew what they were fighting for, or at least the individual soldier thought he knew what he was fighting for. In this case it was different. No one knew why we were here and, although the policy makers in Washington had published statements of policy that might be acceptable to the party supporters at home. I knew that the same statements would sound might hollow in this valley where the smell of death was so heavy.” (p. 179)

Inaccurate Information.

“After I had been in the thick of things a little while I learned to laugh at the stories of men from other outfits, but at this time I hung onto every word and noticed that the others in our column did likewise.” (p. 14)

“The Stars and Stripes had also said that the 1st Cavalry was winning the war in Korea … [but] their artillery had continually shot at us … [and they] left all of their equipment behind us so that our fighting withdrawal would be more difficult” (p. 113).

Defending Their Own Country.

“The place was stuffed with ROK troops. They were everywhere, cleaning weapons, smoking American cigarettes, eating C rations, and telling jokes. Their nonchalance made me mad. I always grew furious when I saw those little ne’er-do-wells sitting around behind the lines while GIs were getting their fannies shot off to save a country most of them had never even heard of before now.” (p. 81)

“The ROKs were literally loaded with captured rifles and burp guns, each man with two or three plus his own weapon. That was one thing that could be said in praise of the ROKs. They always brought back any enemy equipment they could get their hands on, while our troops were doing well to hang on to their own gear.” (p. 107)

“’Don’t worry about that, sir. It’s only the damn gooks getting tortured. …Oh, it’s not our people who are doing the dirty work, sir. It’s those dirty little ROK marines. Jesus, they are mean little bastards.’ Suddenly there was a blood-curdling scream from down the road that made everyone shiver, in spite of the heat. …’Oh, there are lots of good tortures,’ answered the kid on the truck, ‘but you should see the one they give with two EE8s. …you should see those bastards dance when the juice starts through’em.” (pp. 129-130)

Poor Decision-Making.

“Between my teeth I asked if the fire that had just gone over was the fire that had taken priority over mine. He said that it was. That’s when I really blew my top. Somebody had delayed the fire mission for at least ten minutes, taking it away from me and giving it to someone else who was to fire at the same target [but using the wrong coordinates and missing].” (p. 183)

“… the fire mission never did go out. In the interval, the enemy was plastering the hell out of the tanks and infantry … I waited and cussed. …he replied that the mission was unsafe due to the fact that friendly troops occupied the area of the coordinates I had given him. This was the crowning blow. I glanced at the map to make certain that I was not in error, and then I was insubordinate in the worst kind of way.” (pp. 188-189)

Some interesting items brought up by the author included:

  • “I was thoroughly disgusted with the lackadaisical attitude these people [GIs] a short distance off the front had concerning their security. In reality, they were just as prone to be overrun as anyone else in this war. No one was really safe, the front was everywhere.” (p. 73)

  • “The picture was good—a comedy with Abbott and Costello. We were just getting into the third reel when we heard a plane motor. There were two explosions to the west toward Masan. The North Koreans had bombed us? What a low blow. The picture was stopped and we were told to go back to our area. There would be no more pictures. I was furious. When morning came it was learned that the enemy had killed two pigs. There were no other casualties.” (p. 138)
  • “As we ate I felt an unusual fear grip me and felt like I had that first morning of combat. I wondered if it would be like this every time we went back to slaughter after a rest. The men were unusually quiet, too, and I rationalized that they probably felt as I did.” (p. 140)

  • “This was always the way. We would ride long enough for everyone to get good and cramped and then we would stop and fight like hell. After we had licked the North Koreans, some other outfit would come in and take over the quiet sector and we would be moved to another fire. Was there no justice?” (p. 140)

  • “There were two reasons why machine-gun belts were used to move the enemy dead:” bodies were sometimes booby-trapped and they were filthy and germ-infested so no Gi could stand to touch them. (p. 105)

  • Wounded officers were separated from enlisted men for treatment. “I sat there in silence … mentally kicking myself for not telling the sergeant that I was a lieutenant when he first sounded off in the tent. This was certainly no way to treat a wounded man. I made up my mind then and there that a sergeant in the medics was nearly as bad as a real-echelon M.P.” (p. 161)

  • “The article [Stars and Stripes] that most interested us concerned a bill being prepared in Congress to grant combat pay to the ground forces in Korea. … the air force was receiving flight pay and the navy sea pay while getting three meals a day and sleeping in clean beds. On the other hand, the army was suffering 99 percent of the casualties and living in the mud for the same pay the garrison soldiers were receiving safe in the States.” (p. 203)

Click below to buy "The Battle for Pusan."

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