Captain Hank (Hakon) is my Korean Marine. Hank is a mustang officer, having served as an enlisted man and NCO with the 5th Marines in WW II, seeing action on Peleliu and Okinawa.
He's still with the 5th Regiment, but now he's a company commander.
In the five years since WW II has ended, demobilization, disengagement, and an overabundance on the promise of technology has left America woefully unprepared to fight a limited, unconventional war.
On the dawn of the Cold War and the Nuclear Age, the Marine Corps seemed antiquated, irrelevant, even quaint…and ripe for massive downsizing or worse.
Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson made no bones of his dislike for the Corps, President Truman professed no love for the Marines, and popular Army wartime commanders like Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower led the charge to downsize the Marine Corps to a ceremonial naval guard force.
The Marine Corps fought back, claiming the affect of atomic weapons did not make amphibious assaults obsolete, and making vertical assault with helicopters a reality. Detractors remained underwhelmed. No one wanted a war, but the one that was coming would arrive as timely as the old U.S. Cavalry for the Marines.
On June 25, 1950, when the North Korean People's Army roared into South Korea, it threw officials in Washington into an uproar. When General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander in the Far East, requested deployment of American ground troops to help stem the tide, the first U.S. troops to arrive were stale and soft garrison troops, fed piecemeal into the chaos.
Marine Corps Commandant Clifton Gates quietly alerted the 1st Marine Division to get ready for war, and a well-trained, provisional air-ground brigade, the core of the 1st Mar Div. was fully armed and ready at Camp Pendleton, California.
Gates got word to MacArthur that a Marine brigade was ready to go, and was his for the asking. MacArthur responded immediately, and the Marines were on the way to Korea.
Within two weeks of the Marines and X Corps landing behind the North Korean lines at Inchon on September 15, the North Korean army (NK) was largely made ineffective. The way to the Yalu, and total destruction of North Korea's military power, seemed virtually unopposed. But all was not as it seemed ...
China had resolved to keep North Korea as a buffer between the West and the open expanse of the Manchurian plains. As UN forces became separated in pursuit of the retreating People's Liberation Army (PLA) the Chinese marshaled their fighting forces, moving weapons, supplies, and tens of thousands of infantry into the central mountains, behind the advancing UN troops.
Facing Eighth Army was the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) 13th Army Group, of about 180,000 men. Effective NK strength had also grown to about 100,000. In the east, the CCF faced X Corps with their 9th Army Group, consisting of 4 armies, of 12 divisions and about 120,000 men.
One of the lessons the Chinese had learned was from the only defeat their first probes had undergone, the destruction of the 124th division by the 7th Marines. The main objective of the entire 9th Army Group was the destruction of the 1st Marine Division.
On Friday, November 25, following a tremendous artillery barrage, Eighth Army jumped off, in an offensive intended to end the war. The Marine assault was delayed until November 27.
Eighth Army's advance seemed to go well, for a day. Opposition was so light, and the desire to reach the Yalu and end the war so great, that General Walker's divisions were speeding along without protecting their flanks, or maintaining artillery support capability for advanced units. On the night of November 25-26, the CCF struck.
UN troops who fought for the UN (notably the British, Australians, and Turks) fought with great bravery and determination. The Turkish Brigade, badly deployed, virtually without effective communications to adjacent units, was almost totally wiped out in the initial Chinese attacks.
The same bravery and determination cannot be used to describe the U.S. Eighth Army, which virtually fled from the Chinese Army. Inexperienced garrison troops to begin with, unprepared by training or psychology for the savagery of infantry combat, they performed very, very poorly.
Individually, members of the Eighth Army demonstrated great bravery but, as groups, they frequently retreated without fighting. In many cases, they abandoned all their heavy weapons in defensible positions.
On November 30, 1950 X Corps ordered the Marines to escape, leaving behind their heavy weapons and equipment. 1st Marine Division Commander Oliver Smith quietly replied, "No Sir. We'll fight our way out like Marines, bringing our wounded and our gear". An Air Force General offered to orchestrate a massive evacuation of the Marines, less their weapons and equipment, an "aerial Dunkirk" he called it, with relish. Smith thanked him and sent the astonished general on his way.
Considering the odds against them, the 1st Marine Division was all but written off, but so began an incredible breakout and 13-day fighting retreat by about 20,000 troops, spread out loosely over a narrow, mountainous, one-lane supply road, covering about 78 miles to the Sea of Japan and Hungnam. For the first 35 miles the Marines were on their own, battling continuously with 10 CCF divisions.
The 1st Marine Division took full advantage of its artillery and air support ... but it also fought the Chinese man-to-man, hand-to-hand, night and day, while cut off from the rear and with transportation at a dead stop. In the bitterly cold, sub-zero winds of Chosin, as in steaming jungles of an earlier war, the Marines never lost their will to fight, or their capability of fighting effectively.
Heavily outnumbered, the Marines successfully defended against every attack, and in turn successfully attacked the Chinese wherever they had cut off the Main Supply Road (MSR). The Marines not only fought their way out, they brought out their wounded, and most of their dead and equipment...and much serviceable Army equipment.
When the 1st Marine Division entered the port city of Hungnam on Dec 12, the seven Chinese Divisions that attacked the Marines had sustained so many casualties that they simply ceased to exist on the rolls of the Chinese PLA.
One admiring onlooker, watching the survivors arrive in Hungnam said, "Look at those bastards. Look at those magnificent bastards!"
Army historian SLA Marshall concluded, "No other operation in the American book of war quite compares with the show by the 1st Marine Division in the perfection of tactical concepts precisely executed, in accuracy of estimation of the situation, in leadership at all levels, and in promptness of utilization of all supporting forces.
During the three years, one month, and two days of the Korean War, several strengths of the Marine Corps were demonstrated: combat readiness, tactical vision, hard-nosed valor, and the ability to transmit their high spirited elan to foreign marines.
Marine performance in Korea prompted President Truman to sign legislation defining the Marine Corps as a separate service within the Department of the Navy, with a minimum of three divisions and three air wings. For the first time, the Marine Corps had the legislative legitimacy they lacked in their first 177 years of existence.