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If the Korean War of 1950 to 1953 that came close to taking my life has indeed been forgotten, certainly among the youth of our country, it may be due to its convenient omission by an educational system that is biased against United States involvement with democratic struggles of other countries across the globe. It could also be due to the fact that the war was never won. It might be time to turn off the soaps, the cartoons and the sports channels to have serious discussions with your children about the history that you and your grandfather experienced since the one proven fact of life is that history repeats itself.
The forgotten war, my war, the Korean War, cost over 52,000 young American lives, lost in a short three years, far more lives than it took 10 years to expend in the Vietnam conflict. The Korean War took place on a continent where thousands of rice paddies were tilled with human excrement! We could smell our waiting battlefields three miles at sea from the deck of the U.S.S. Mitchell, which was crammed with young U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marines headed across the Pacific for over a year of bloody combat. We were on a mission that provided no time, no inclination for the drug abuse by soldiers that took place in Vietnam. Not in Korea, where you would fight every day, charge forward on frostbitten feet, retreat when you ran out of ammo, where you were lucky to have food every day, potable water, and sufficient ammunition.
Ours was a United Nations war with the United States suffering the preponderance of mutilated casualties. Canadians were the youngest – foolish with confidence – charging North Korean machine gun nests like the brave actors of a John Wayne movie – cut to pieces just as fast as their charge into action. The Aussies were tall, great fighters – hyper masculine with their show of courage – well trained with the bayonet, powerful enough to fire a Browning automatic with one hand while dragging a fallen brother with the other. The Brits were amazing! Taking cover from a barrage of incessant cannon fire, they would break for tea every day at the “proper” evening hour.
When potable water and mud-soiled tea bags became seriously scarce, they boiled their “bloody urine.” We borrowed that foul trick and used it until the first snows blanketed our battalion, blessing us with a foot of God’s clean white moisture. A surprising number of days were fought without food, but the lack of potable water brought sickness, weakness and, among the brave warriors, confused awareness that the richest nation in the world could not provide sufficient food and water for its fighting troops. We couldn’t blame it entirely upon the hat salesman-turned-president Truman.
The North Koreans were wise enough to loft their cannon fire and strike at the rear of our division knowing that the water and food trucks were there. Half of the North Korean units were trained to fight at night knowing that American combat training was restricted to daylight. To sleep, we were advised to use dead North Korean bodies as protective cover with fixed bayonets at the ready and poised for their quietly creeping comrades. The Monsoon brought 40 days and 40 nights of incessant rain, pounding our helmets like a gentle machine gun. Years later, we survivors were amused at the statues that were sculpted for commemoration of our efforts. The soldiers were draped in sculpted raincoats. We were never issued those raincoats until a month before the peace talks at Panmunjom, three years after the first shot.
Our nation had elected a president who had no close combat experience in situations that drive a soldier to his most basic, primitive behavior. Thousands of young American boys were slaughtered, crossing the Pusan perimeter. Several of my high school friends were blown apart with sophisticated munitions. We had no flak jackets. Shrapnel that tore through so many of those young bodies were stamped with Russian printing. The Russians were our silent enemy. We were supplied with World War II Garande rifles and fixed bayonets, barely three feet in length and with sparsely limited bullet clips. The Chinese had rifles over a foot longer, far superior in a bayonet fight.
Our charging orders were “Three on One or run!” Those who didn’t follow that directive were speared, their limp, lifeless bodies sunk into the human excrement that nurtured the odiferous Korean rice fields. In desperation, against intolerable cold that brought bitter frostbite, many Army personnel tore off the down-filled vests and fur hats from dead North Korean and Chinese soldiers to wear over their thin combat fatigues, which offered little protection against the bitter Korean winter!
In April of 1951, Truman vociferously fired one of our nation’s greatest generals! Successfully striking with surprise from the northwest at Inchon, our heroic General MacArthur planned and executed a brilliant pincer movement, resulting in recapture of the capital, Seoul. He wanted our soldiers to push the North Koreans to the Chinese border after that successful show of strength, but President Truman angrily rejected the plan. MacArthur flew to Washington, pleading for permission to advance our troops to the Yalu River.
He begged our commander in chief to allow a show of strength that might have prevented the heavy onslaught of Chinese soldiers that soon overwhelmed us with their sheer number. Truman, jealous of MacArthur’s popularity and worried about his competition in the next election, relieved the great combat leader of his command. The morale of the troops after that shocking dismissal compelled some to throw down their weapons in disgust. A politician was controlling our progress. MacArthur, the adulated head of our finest forces, had been disgraced. Many went so far as to throw their hands up and surrender. They were never seen again.
“Stand down!” was Truman’s order. “Ours is only a police action. Hold at the 38th parallel until your ammo runs out. . . .” It was a foolish way to fight a war.
“Stand down!” Does that directive sound familiar? It’s the same cowardly command that we now know was delivered to our brave defenders of the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, while our president and his staff watched the horror of their demise in their White House situation room, real time video of the bloody scene delivered by drone. (This evidence is now confirmed by retired Army Lt. Colonel Tony Shaffer.) One brave soldier disobeyed the official command in an effort to rescue the survivors. Ty Woods, a Navy Seal, was trained to never leave an American in danger when you have the courage and means to rescue them. He saved 30 shocked diplomatic employees and, unfortunately, gave his life for that. Ty recognized that a U.S. diplomat compound is American soil! Ty was a patriot. I would have felt secure with him watching my back.
In this day and time, we are confronted with a savage enemy whose chauvinistic men honestly believe that their 72 virgins’ award awaits the sacrifice of their lives for Jihad. This is a difficult enemy, one that will only respect power and confidence. Our congress should pass a law that the commander in chief of our fighting forces be a strong patriot, one preferably with combat experience, to guide his decisions in the defense of our country and in the defense of the principles “. . . for which it stands . . .”
Seven of us returned from the forgotten war from a brave division of 340. “Stand down?” I choose to stand up with real men like Ty Wood, with patriots who are willing to defend flag and country.
May God bless all American combat veterans, those who have passed and those who are still plagued by horrific drams of incessant hell on Earth. We may be old and a bit wrinkled but we will die as patriots. God help us deal with the thundering dreams.
Sgt. Frank Covino of Warren is an 81-year-old Army veteran of the forgotten war. He is the recipient of the distinguished Synghman Rhee Presidential Unit Citation, Seoul, Korea, 1953.