"Forgotten war" is proper moniker for Korean conflict
Commentary by PAT MURPHY
If its true that GIs in my Korean War outfit slaughtered
civilians 49 years ago, as recently reported by the Associated Press, it would be another
unsurprising entry in the history of a war that from start to finish was a blur of the
best and worst.
The alleged slaughter by First Cavalry Division riflemen supposedly
occurred in July, 1950, two months before I arrived in September, a 21-year-old, and like
most replacements, utterly unable to pinpoint South Korea on a map, rushed by air from
Fort Benning, Ga., to Japan, then by boat to Pusan, where U.S. forces had their backs to
the sea as North Korean units advanced.
Within a few months, Id be promoted from private first class to
sergeant first class in headquarters company of the First Cav, presumably because of a
shortage of sergeants.
Panic was everywhere. So were bodies and the wounded. South Koreans
were in full flight, clogging primitive dirt roads and slowing military traffic. Republic
of Korea troops on U.S. flanks broke and ran, leaving GIs to be captured or wiped out by
First U.S. troops into Korea were soft from comfy occupation duty in
Japan. Equipment was lousy.
But some GIs rose to incredible feats of heroism. One First Cav
rifleman killed North Korean soldiers assaulting his position with a small trenching
shovel before he was fatally wounded.
It didnt help young U.S. soldiers that grouchy old sergeants with
World War II combat duty told us to fill out our Last Will"most of youll
be dead in 48 hours."
We heard up and down the line about Korean women reaching into their
puffy white trousers for hand grenades, and tossing them into passing U.S. trucks.
Perhaps GIs paralyzed by fear in those early hours mowed down innocents
rather than risk being ambushed.
Korea to GIs was not glorious or noble. The country was filthy. The
sweet smell of burning and decaying flesh is with me even today. The politics of the war
was of less interest than merely surviving.
Weapons froze. One solution was to urinate on operating mechanisms.
Winter clothing was siphoned off by headquarters troops back in the
rear, leaving combat units near the Yalu River dividing Communist China and North Korea
freezing in 1950 weather as much as 30 degrees below zero.
And Gen. Douglas McArthur, whod masterminded the brilliant pincer
landing at Inchon, screwed up in his misjudgment of the Chinese, who poured over the
border and routed United Nations units into a humiliating retreat to where it all began at
the 38th Parallel.
Probably just as well that Korea is known as the "forgotten
war." Not many who served there, or families of the 33,667 combat dead, want to
Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a
former radio commentator.