Flying the inestimable P40 Thunderbolt, the 25th Fighter Squadron was formed at Hamilton Field California in January 1941. A year later in January of 1942, this unit became one of the first deployed to fight the Japanese in the.
After a stop in Melbourne Australia, the unit continued to Karachi, India where it began its combat operations. In September it flew its first escort mission. Eventually, they moved to Assam, India, where the unit picked up the name “Assam Draggins”.
Its primary mission was to disrupt that Japanese in Burma. In February 1943 it carried out its most important mission. With their P40s modified to carry 1,000 pond bombs, they stood in for a B25 squadron. They managed to halt a major Japanese advance.
Over the course of World War II, this unit saw more combat than any other fighter squadron and was finally deactivated in December 1945. Only to be called back into service during the Korean conflict where it flew out of, ironically enough, its base in Japan.
For more on the history of this incredible air unit and its further adventures, click here.
In 1949, with war looming on the horizon, the Republic of Korea Marine Corps was founded. Its initial strength was only 380 men. They were patterned heavily on the US Marine Corps and were armed using surplus weapons from WWII. When we say surplus, we mean JAPANESE surplus. That is the kind of life they started with as they started a long fight against the communists. These operations would lead directly into the Korean War where they fought alongside the United Nations forces (United States, United Kingdom, etc.) After the long and bloody war was fought to a stalemate the ROK Marines were not done.
In the 1960s when the United States found itself embroiled into a similar conflict in Vietnam, South Korea was asked to provide support. They answered with three divisions and were deployed in the southern part of the country alongside the US Marines. In return for their involvement, the US reimbursed the South Korean government almost a billion dollars.
Today with an estimated strength of about 29,000 men the ROK Marines not only carry out operations against their northern cousins (when needed) but they are an integral part of the ongoing War on Terror.
The uniform above is from the Korean War era and it is easy to see the American influence in the design.
Want to know about them? Click Here. Of course, the page is in Korean, so brush up quick!
Women in Uniform
The uniform above is the female version of the standard Navy dress uniform from the time of the Korean Conflict. Women have always had roles in the military. Over time those roles have shifted and changed as the traditional roles of women in society have changed. Women served in World War II but after the war, they were mostly shut out from serving and returned back to civilian life. To President Truman, that was not acceptable.
On June 12, 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was enacted that allowed women to serve as permanent and regular members of the US military. Previous to this they could only serve during wartime. Even then under very limited circumstances. It was not completely a brand new day however as they were excluded from aircraft and ships which may engage in combat.
In 1949, the Army established a regulation that mothers with dependent children could not serve. Immediately any female with a child under 18 years old was discharged. This was rolled back in the 70’s with federal regulation.
On the cusp of the Korean War, women were able to serve in the conflict and many did. Over 120,000, in fact, served in various roles. Mainly in so-called “pink collar” positions, administrators and such. They also served as nurses in various units including the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, that’s right. If not for the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act who would Hawkeye have had to harass on M*A*S*H?
Most importantly this act symbolizes the road that women have had to travel to be treated as equals during wartime. The process continues today and there are always bumps in these long and winding roads. When it comes to war through the old adage of “any warm body will do” may soon become the watchword.
Medals of the Forgotten War
Above are medals that were presented to an American soldier during that the Korean War. Starting from the top left the medals are:
Army Commendation Medal
Army Good Conduct Medal
National Defense Medal
Korean Service Medal
Quite a selection.
Being sandwiched between WWII and the Vietnam War it truly seemed to earn its sobriquet of The Forgotten War, unless you were one who served or had family that did. In fact, it can probably be said that if not for the television show M*A*S*H, it would still be mostly forgotten. Which is sad when you consider that over 36,000 American soldiers gave their lives in just shy of three years. Of course, that pales in comparison to the approx 140,000 South Korean soldiers that died. In comparison though to the just under 7,000 deaths of American soldiers during the 13+ years of the War on Terror, it sort of makes you wonder it is still so forgotten.
The Korean War was the first major confrontation in the post-WWII world and pit the forces of the United Nations (28 nations participated in the war in various roles, 17 with combat troops) against North Korea, China, the Soviet Union and their allies (6 other nations). Quite a scrum, which could have easily swung out of control to become World War 3, the fact that it didn’t is sort of miraculous. In fact maybe instead of the Forgotten War, we should start calling it the Close Call War. Regardless of the name, one thing can be said. There are plenty of medals to go around.
Few quotes actually do justice to the US Marine Corps and the one above that was offered up by General Oliver Smith during the Korean War is one that does in a nutshell.
By November 1950 the Chinese had been involved with the war in Korea for about a month. After a number of actions, it appeared that they may not be a match for the UN troops. Several initial battles led to Chinese defeats with high casualties around the area known as the Chosin Reservoir. Expecting a different result Chairman Mao Zedong personally called for the destruction of the UN troops. To achieve this he sent the 9th Army across the border into North Korea. UN intelligence never saw it coming.
On the night of November 27th, the Chinese 9th army completely surprised the US X Corps at the Chosin Reservoir and kicked off a terrible 17-day battle. The X Corps was made up of American, South Korean and British troops, about 30,000 strong. They were quickly surrounded by almost 120,000 Chinese soldiers hell-bent on their destruction.
General Smith, the commander of X Corps knew the only way out was through the Chinese lines. On December 6th Smith began the breakout with the 7th Marines in the lead and the 5th Marines bringing up the rear. When asked by a member of the press corps if the Marines were retreating Smith responded, “We are not retreating, we are just advancing in a different direction.” As happens with most historical quotes, time has changed it into the more familiar one seen above.
The running battle was the stuff of legend as the Marines did the impossible. Fighting through Chinese night attacks, ambushes, human wave attacks and even having to build a bridge from sections dropped by plane, the finally reached friendly territory on December 11th. When all was said and done the UN forces lost almost 13,000 men to the Chinese nearly 60,000. The Marines were a rock that the Chinese nearly broke on. It would it would be many months before the Chines would be able to continue offensive operations.
Propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” So you can say just about everything you see during the day is propaganda. The use of propaganda during wartime is almost as old as war itself and certainly has had its place in American Military History.
The examples that you see in the picture are from the Korean conflict. Pamphlets like these were disseminated to the general population to convince them that the UN/South Korean troops were the good guys. The goal was to either get people to fight, flee, or at least not support the enemy. There is an ongoing debate as to how effective it is or was during this conflict. Other times the effective use of propaganda has proven very valuable.
Before and during the American Revolution the use of propaganda was vital to sway people to the side of the rebels. Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre that took some liberties with events. The stories that surrounded young Jane McCrea led to the British defeat at Saratoga. Propaganda proved an invaluable tool in gaining the support needed to win the American Revolution.
Several times it was not just used to gain support for a war, but to actually get one started!
During the lead up to the Mexican War is an example. The administration was able to convince the people that Mexican soldiers had attacked American soldiers on American soil. (A dubious and purposeful claim that a young Abraham Lincoln took exception to.)
Don’t forget using the sinking of the USS Maine to throw us into war against Spain. There many more examples in our history. Now expand that to the rest of the world. It seems that propaganda is just as important as guns and money to starting, fighting and winning a war.
The Other Side of the Korean War
The Korean War was a civil war that drew in outside forces on both sides. In every war each side believes that they are right and that they alone are fighting the good fight. With that said it is sometimes easy to overlook the other side of a conflict that your nation was on one side of.
As an early battleground of the proxy wars between major powers during the Cold War. Officially it is still going on, just on pause and any glance at a newspaper reminds you that at any time it could flare back up.
In the picture above is a simple plaque in a display case in a museum. In the case (and we see them later in another article) is a North Korean flag, a soldiers fur covered hat and a rifle, but it us the badge in the picture that is interesting on this point.
Estimates on casualties during the Korean War put the North Korean losses at between 215,000 and 350,000 killed and another 300,000 wounded. On top of that an estimated 1,550,000 civilians (estimated) lost their lives.
War sucks and the goal of war is to win. People die in war, soldiers and civilians. Those numbers above are astounding and should cause you to think about the other side for just a minute. As a comparison the other side, (South Korea and the United Nations) had an estimated total of 178,426 dead and around 566,000 wounded, civilian dead,wounded and missing totaled about 990,000.
So the other side can have their medals, just like we do. The main lesson in all this is that war is terrible. Honestly if you are reading this odds are you already know that.
East of Chosin Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950 written by retired Lt. Col. Roy E. Appleman is a stark and dramatic portrayal of one of the most tenuous battles of the Korean war. Often referred to as the “forgotten war”, Korea was not a glamorous as WWII and quickly became over shadowed in Vietnam. As one of the first conflicts of the Cold War, Korea became the proving ground of the conflict between democracy and communism that dominated the next forty years .
In this book, Appleman focuses on the men involved in the battle not the politics that placed them there as such he makes great use of both primary sources, such as interviews with survivors and accounts written shortly after the battle, and official accounts. These two sources often were in conflict of each other, making the authors job one of having to sort through what was seen and what was reported. This is understandable considering the chaos and confusion of the time but there is no accounting for the sometimes fantastic discrepancies. For example there were several engagements that appear in the official record, but show up nowhere in survivor accounts. The author does a good job of presenting these discrepancies in an honest and questioning way, providing great depth to the accounts.
Far from a simple narration of the events of the campaign the author takes great pains to not only relay the events, but also provide his own insights. This can sometimes come off as an armchair general questioning a commanders decision well after the fact. That line however is seldom crossed for more than a sentence or two and his musings are there to provide perspective. Even so, he is never afraid to point out mistakes and show the consequences of poor planning on all levels of the X Corp. A simple action, such as air dropping the wrong type ammunition to the wrong unit had devastating consequences, to that unit and many others. Beyond simply pointing these mistakes out the author tries to explain, not place blame for the mistakes.
The real value of this book is in the stories and remembrances of the soldiers that were there on the frozen shores of the Chosin Resovoir. Having the events shown through these men’s eyes brings a level of humanity that is often lacking in accounts such as this. Here the author hits his stride as he not only provides the accounts, but provides enough details of the storytellers to put a true human face on the story. Alongside the narrative we are shown photographs taken during and around the time of the battle. There were few survivors of the battle, but there were many heroes, and thanks to the author we know who there are and what they were able to accomplish. In all, this is a very good and informative account of the events and well worth further study.
Lt. Col. Appleman served in the Korean War as an army historian. His position provided him with access to troops involved in the combat and an unparalleled knowledge of the conditions experienced by the troops. This knowledge was parlayed into five books on the Korean conflict.