I came upon the article
shown below recently and thought many on this list would like to read it.
Happy Holidays and,|
Stay safe, buddy.
J. Charles Cheek (John)
Author of "Stay Safe, Buddy" (ISBN 159286631X)
A Novel about Humor & Horror during the Korean War
THE WORLD'S SCARIEST PLACE
By JAMES BRADY
And then, every so often, the paranoid and loopy North Koreans do something nasty or just plain stupid, and a forgotten little war is momentarily back on the front pages, on the evening news. Last week, this country and its South Korean allies agreed gradually over several years to "reposition" the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division further south of the DMZ to reduce tensions in the region. Symbolism? Or something more?
And 50 years after the end of the Korean War (July 27 is the actual date), why do we still have 37,000 GI's in Korea?
For 10 days this spring, Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer Eddie Adams and I, on assignment for Parade magazine, traveled along the DMZ interviewing four-star generals and ordinary GIs, ranging with handpicked U.S. recon scouts, flying in Black Hawk choppers up into the Taebaek Mountains of North Korea where, due to the meandering nature of the demarcation line, the ROK (Republic of Korea) army still holds fortified and entrenched outposts. The Zone runs 155 miles and 4,000 meters wide, and we got to see considerable stretches of it.
A palpable tension gripped the place. The North was developing nukes, threatening to sell, barter or, worse still, use them. The South, under a new president elected on a pledge to distance himself from Washington, seethed with anti-American riots - assaults on Yanks in the streets of Seoul that led to curfews on our troops.
I had been there before. In 1951-'52 as a young Marine officer, a rifle platoon leader, then as rifle company exec, finally as battalion intelligence officer. Eddie Adams was also an old jarhead, a buck sergeant who'd been there in '53, last year of the war. So we knew a little about Korea, and I'd written a couple of books about its war.
Our first stop was at the HQ of Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, a Rhode Islander who is sort of the "Tommy Franks" of northeast Asia, in charge not only of our own GIs but all other U.N. and ROK forces. The general began by objecting to my use of the term "tripwire" to describe our military role. "U.S. Forces are still here because we signed a mutual defense treaty with South Korea in 1953. Our goal is to maintain peace in Korea and we also insure stability in northeast Asia."
LaPorte assessed the old (and maybe future) enemy: "The North has a 1.2 million man standing establishment and they are credible. They have 12,000 artillery and missile tubes. I can take you to the DMZ and show you their artillery behind the hills that can range this building."
One surprise: He told us the ROKs man the entire DMZ, but "for one outpost and one reconnaissance battalion of about 600 men, 40 percent of them American."
So out of the 37,000 Yanks in the country, only a stunning 240 GIs are up on the line facing North Koreans. Two days later, we were there with that handful of Yanks in "the scariest place in the world."
Lt. Jim Gleason, a 25-year-old VMI grad with a boxer's nose and a homemade Mohawk, commands the outpost they call OPO. The tour buses go to Panmunjom for the show, the flags and plaques, the pomp and rigid sentries. What few civilians ever see is the outpost line where we fought the Chinese in the spring of 1952 and where Gleason and I now swapped platoon-leader shop talk. "We own the night," he said of their new optics.
Only his platoon sergeant (Christopher Surtees) had ever seen combat, in Somalia, and the scouts kept asking me about the shooting war while I interviewed them. A big rifleman was hung about with six or eight 30-round cartridge magazines. "Got enough ammo?" I wisecracked. "Could always use more," he said.
That night we bunked in with the scouts. No more log and sandbag holes in the ground; this year's fashion in bunkers runs to reinforced concrete and indoor plumbing. "Bleeping posh," Adams remarked, still the old sergeant.
I asked Gleason's CO, Lt. Col. Matthew Margotta of San Jose, his orders if the million-man Red army comes south. "We could protect key bridges and OPs, but we also have plans to retrograde south. We can defend or pull out. Every year we have a 'defense of Korea' exercise, what we do if the shooting starts." His phone is linked direct to Gen. LaPorte.
A Black Hawk flew us to "the Punchbowl," an extinct volcano up in the North, our pilots swivel-hipping the chopper low through snow-capped mountain passes to duck enemy radar and sight lines. "They'll take an occasional shot," we were told. Hell, I'd spent five months on these ridgelines getting shot at. This was cool!
We bypassed neighboring Heartbreak Ridge and climbed the jeep past ravines and minefields to Hill 749 along the Kanmubong Ridge. The trenchlines had eroded, the bunkers collapsed, the barbed wire rusted away, but the same menacing high ground still faced us to the north.
It was up here in late '51 that I reported in to Capt. John Chafee (later the senator), where I saw my first dead, fought my first firefight, where I became a Marine. And, to put it in perspective, in taking this lousy little hill over four days that September, 90 Marines were killed and 714 wounded. I was one of their replacements. In the entire Iraq campaign to date, we had 118 battle deaths.
Korea is a tough place. Is this where we fight the next war, the war after Iraq?
Jim Brady is a former Post associate publisher. His latest book, "The Marine," a novel about the first 100 days of the Korean War, was published this month. In Korea he was awarded the Bronze Star with combat V for a firefight against the Chinese on Memorial Day of 1952.