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.
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.
Yes, it used to be en vogue for members of the US Military to carry swagger sticks. See way back in the day Roman Centurions carried rods of vine wood about three feet in length. They used these to guide drills of their soldiers and to discipline them when needed.
Not as long as a full staff or cane it found its way through the ages to the British Army. Where at one point it was part it became part of the “walking out” uniform for all ranks. It survived until off-duty soldiers were able to wear civilian clothes then it kind of faded from popular use.
In the US it started in the late 18th century and took strong hold during WWI when the troops saw how cool the British looked with them and in 1922 it became a part of the US Marines regulation uniform where it would come in and out of vogue several times until finally being dismissed from active service in 1960 when the Commandant of the Marine Corps officially designated it as optional.
It will surprise no one that General George S. Patton carried a swagger stick with him that also managed to conceal a blade, he was always prepared, but the best modern story of the swagger stick belongs to General William J. Livsey. From 1864 to 1987 he was the US 8th Army Commanding General in South Korea. He carried a very special swagger stick made from wood from the poplar tree that was the center of the Axe Murder Incident that occurred in the DMZ in 1976, that will be something we will we cover in another story though…
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.