A Korean War Story

As most of you know, the Korean War began with a devastating sneak attack from a Nork military that was larger, much better armed, and more experienced than the South Korean forces. In essence, the Norks cut through the South Koreans like a hot knife through butter and had the US not gotten involved, the war would have been over relatively quickly.

But, there are so many intriguing little details about the war that I’ve already learned from reading Robert Leckie’s “Conflict: The History of the Korean War.” Personally, the thing that surprised me the most was how close we came to losing that war, even after American troops got involved. Our Air Force made a big impact, but believe it or not, at one point, the war and the freedom of all the South Korean people may have been lost if not for the actions of a single brigade of Marines.

It was still fairly early in the war and the American and ROK forces were digging in and desperately trying to hold a defensive perimeter to stop the rapid advance of the North Korean forces. But, there was a breach in a key area, one that could have almost irreversibly turned the war in the favor of the North.

Here’s a report from Leckie’s book by a British military observer that explains how dire the situation was and how their hopes all rested on the marines (emphasis mine):

“The situation is critical and Miryang may be lost. The enemy have driven a division-sized salient across the Naktong. More will cross the river tonight. If Miryang is lost Taegu becomes untenable and we will be faced with a withdrawl from Korea. I am heartened that the Marine brigade will move against the Naktong salient tomorrow. They are faced with impossible odds and I have no valid reason to substantiate it, but I have a feeling they will halt the enemy.

I realize my expression of hope is unsound, but these Marines have the swagger, confidence and hardness that must have been in Stonewall Jackson’s Army of the Shenandoah. They remind me of the Coldstreams at Dunkerque. Upon this thin line of reasoning, I cling to the hope of victory.”

Here’s Leckie’s description of the first day of fighting:

“The marines struck in Obong-ni, or No-Name Ridge as they called it, the morning of August 7. Twice they attacked, and twice they were hurled back, but by nightfall they had clawed their way to the summit of two of the ridge’s hills.”

The next day, immediately following an airstike that took out a machine gun nest, the Marines did what they do best: obliterate the enemy:

But then, the blast still echoing in the surrounding hills, they rose and swept through the destroyed position, their rush gaining momentum until they had taken No-Name Ridge and had put the broken enemy to flight.

“From that moment,” General Craig reported, “the issue west of Yongsan was no longer in doubt. A routed enemy fled westward, racing desperately from the continued ground and air assault of the Marines, who, before the day was over, accounted for the destruction of 4,000 enemy troops.”

The pursuit carried as far as the river, and there, said the log of the carrier Sicily, “the enemy was killed in such numbers that river was definitely discolored with blood.”

Had that one battle gone a different way, the entire course of history over the last fifty years could have been dramatically changed for the worse…

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