Korean War (13)

View from the USS Mount McKinley

View from the USS Mount McKinley

Without reinforcements from the U.S. or Taiwan and no permission to bomb Manchuria or blockade China, MacArthur continued to issue his complaints, but felt there was nothing left to do but withdraw from Korea. Mao, upon hearing of the Allied retreats, ordered his general, Peng to advance to the 38th parallel and hold it.

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8 December 1950, explosives were used to create mass gravesites in the ground too frozen to dig individual plots. A Graves Registration officer drew a map for its relocation and a chaplain recited “The Lord Is My Shepard.” This would not be the only such site; Marines, soldiers and Royal Marine Commandos were interred hundreds at a time at Koto-ri. Also on this date, the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines broke through a roadblock and took the CCF by such surprise at Chinhung-ni that a kettle of boiling rice was found.

9 December, the 1st Marine Division, the 3rd and 7th Infantry Divisions, close to Pusan, had extremely heavy battles; as did the Korean I Corps at Samchok. They would create a 60% loss of the Chinese they encountered.

10 December, the 187th was out of Pyongyang and set up a new command post at Sohung. They set fire and blew up the large stores of Russian supplies and equipment they had captured. A series of battles had to fought to now keep the withdrawal route open.

General O.P. Smith and 14,000 troops made it down the snow covered Funchilin Pass. Photographer, David Duncan, from “Life” magazine, snapped a photo of a Marine hacking his breakfast out of a frozen can of beans. The sight of ice crystals on the beans and in the Marine’s ragged beard made him ask a question, “If I were God and I could give you anything you wanted, what would it be?”
“Gimme tomorrow,” was the reply.

13 December, after General Bowen notified Gen. Walker that his 187th RCT was south of the 38th parallel, Walker ordered him to get them moving back north. The first two days, the troops would not see the enemy.

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15 December, General Peng, at a Chinese commanding officer’s meeting, stated he felt obligated to cross the 38th, but he was not eager to extend too far into South Korea. American intelligence at this point was uncertain of Chinese intentions. But, on this morning, as the 674th Field Artillery, 187 RCT prepared to move out, an observer spotted columns of CCF headed straight at them. The guns swung around into position, paused, and at 500 yards, ALL the heavy weapons opened up. The enemy was caught unawares and bodies fell everywhere, but still, those alive continued to charge. The 3rd Battalion received a radio message from approaching Air Force planes, “Is this a private fight or can anyone get in?” The ground force guns, already getting hot, couldn’t believe how perfect the timing was. The planes bombed, then dropped napalm and when they were empty, they strafed the area until they were out of ammo.

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Also on the 15th, the first contingent of Canadians, the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry arrived in Korea.

23 December, Gen. Walker and his usual driver, MSgt. George Belton, left the Seoul Headquarters with intentions of going 20 miles north to meet with Rhee. A ROK weapons carrier, rushing south, clipped the rear tire of the jeep, hurling it off the ice covered road. As it flipped and turned over, both men were killed instantly.

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At Hungnam, the city began to shrink in size as the Marines began to go aboard the ships. Reporters and photographers asked the men to smile for the cameras, but few obliged them. Lt. Charles Mize wrote his wife, “I’ll never forget the misery and bravery or the many buddies who died…” Gen. O.P. Smith held a memorial service at another gravesite as 22,215 Marines embarked. When the last ships cleared the beach on 24 December, 400 tons of dynamite (too frozen to ship back) and 500 abandoned 1,000 pound bombs blew the Hungnam waterfront apart.

Some of the troops showed the holiday spirit and their attitude toward the war by sending a HQ-mimeographed Christmas message to friends and family back home:

Xmas greetings from Korea,
Land of lice and diarrhea.
From mulchy shores we’ve half-mastered,
Merry Xmas, you lucky bastard!

November had been the largest retreat in U.S. history and December was not much better. The home front cheered the Marine victory at Chosin Reservoir, but there was little else to be happy about. Truman began to act and speak in what was described as a paranoid manner and Korea’s future was dubious.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Current news – In Arlington, VA, construction began on the Pentagon, 11 September 1941 to house the rapidly expanding War Department, When completed at a cost of $85 million in 1943, the building accommodated approximately 20,000 workers along 17.5 miles of hallways. In 2001, 60 years later, the building was attacked.

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Farewell Salutes –purple_heart_medal_sticker-rc43cdfcb25234517914e87abe35e9c82_v9waf_8byvr_512

Robert Solomon – Bethesda, MD; US Army Air Corps, WWII PTO

Edward T. Guggenheim – Silver Spring, MD; US Navy, WWII

Hazel (Molson) Iverson – Montreal, Canada; Royal Canadian Air Force, Eastern Air Command, radar plotter, WWII

Elwin Le Blanc – Montreal, Canada; flight officer, WWII

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Resources:Korean War.org; History.navy.mil; Canadians in Korea; “Rakkasans” by E.M. Flanagan; “MacArthur’s War” by Stanley Weintraub; “Korean War” by Stephen Badsey; “The Korean War” by Maurice Isserman; “The Week” magazine;

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on September 16, 2013, in Korean War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. gpcox – The story of 15 Dec and the CCF forces walking right into enemy hands reminds me of how often life can hinge on a split second – How many times did your own life change in an instant? I know it happened at least a dozen times in mine. RIGHT NOW is all we really have. (I guess I should get off my soapbox, right? I wonder what brought that on…)

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  2. Imagine that? Smile for the cameras? Oh my….misery indeed.

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  3. Another wonderful history lesson! I look forward to the next one. And thanks for that info about the Pentagon–it’s amazing!

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  4. Looking back, I am so grateful China was not bombed, and the war did not escalate beyond the horror it was.

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  5. Tom Hanks and HBO have done ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’, they need to get on the stick and do one on Korea and consult this blog when they do!

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  6. My dear old dad missed this one by a few years..

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  7. Another very interesting read, thanks !!!

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  8. The expression “Lions, led by goats” just keeps coming to mind and I can’t get rid of it …

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  9. Explosives digging mass graves and photographers asking soldiers to smile for the camera… What a juxtaposition of images that brings to mind.

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  10. What an horrific photo of the mass grave. The reality of the true horror of war comes through loud and clear in your posts. Sobering history as always – thank you.

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    • Your welcome. I very nearly neglected including the grave photo being that it was so graphic. I keep trying to include something humorous to the posts (the way Smitty did in his letters home), but it is REALLY hard.

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  11. Harrowing. The soldier’s response to Duncan’s question made me cry, frankly. I was shocked at the circumstances in which people found themselves in that war.

    I’m glad you are helping us to understand more about this forgotten war.

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    • The more I’ve looked into this war, the more I fail to fathom how it ever became forgotten in the first place – outside of Washington’s red face. I felt the same with the answer Duncan got, gives one the chills.

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  12. Such a forlorn quagmire.

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  13. Another excellent history lesson from my favorite teacher…

    Lest we forget

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  14. Loved the reply to the question, “If I were God…”

    Interesting fact regarding the Pentagon construction and 9/11, I never knew that.

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  15. The decisions made between December 1950 and the next few months that followed, I guess is ultimately going to make or break MacArthur. The end is near ? What was the relationships like between all the generals at this stage ?

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    • I believe you already got the general gist of Almond, a yes-man and not well respected. Walker – is hard to say – no solid evidence but it seems some thought him smart while others felt he was too cautious. They felt MacArthur was not in Korea enough , so when he was, he gave away offensive actions, but otherwise the brilliant military man he always was, just maybe a bit too old now. MacArthur was just plain frustrated with Washington and the politics, he could not adjust to fighting a war without trying to win.

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