Back to Home Page

Local Links
Sun Valley Guide
Hemingway in Sun Valley
Real Estate

For the week of Oct. 6, 1999 through Oct. 12, 1999

"Forgotten war" is proper moniker for Korean conflict

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

If it’s 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, I’d 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 North Koreans.

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 didn’t 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 you’ll 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, who’d 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 remember it.

Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


Back to Front Page
Copyright 1999 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.