History on the side of the forgotten heroes

Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, a war that went uncelebrated and largely unremembered in the U.S. for nearly 20 years.

In 1970, the war was re-introduced to millions of Americans by the movie "M*A*S*H," then by the long-running TV series by the same name.

While the groundbreaking show explored the complexity and pain of war, its emphasis on martini sipping M.D.s and flirtatious nurses failed to fully convey the gritty horror of the war.

That side was best brought to life by journalist and historian David Halberstam in 2007 with publication of his book, "The Coldest Winter."

Through exhaustive research and interviews, Halberstam recounted how U.S. soldiers were led by a vain-glorious commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a man supremely confident but regularly wrong.

Korea had been divided by the Allies after World War II at the 38th parallel, with the U.S. controlling the southern half and the Soviets the north.

Both countries installed puppet leaders, each of them eager to unite Korea on his own terms.

North Korean Dictator Kim Il-sung invaded the South in April of 1950, quickly driving South Korean forces back. The United Nations condemned the invasion and authorized Allied forces, primarily American, British and Australian, to respond.

The first U.S. soldiers in the fight were poorly equipped and grossly outnumbered, according to Halberstam. Operating on poor intelligence, many were surrounded and overrun, sometimes dying in hand-to-hand combat with the Soviet-supplied North Koreans.

The Americans and South Korean forces staged a bloody retreat and were nearly driven off the Korean Peninsula, finally stopping the enemy around the port city of Pusan.

After an invasion behind enemy lines at Incheon, the U.S. forces drove the poorly supplied North Korean Army back beyond the 38th parallel.

While President Harry S. Truman and Army commanders in Washington urged caution, the vain-glorious MacArthur was confident the Chinese forces would never enter the war.

MacArthur conducted the war from the comfort of his office in Tokyo, never staying for more than a few hours in the war zone. His staff, meanwhile, doctored reports back to Washington that over-estimated the U.S. position.

As the Allied and South Korean forces drove toward the border with China, the Chinese entered the war in large numbers.

It was an unusually cold winter in Korea and soldiers died of exposure, while many lost toes and fingers to frostbite. Tanks and other vehicles failed to start in temperatures that sometimes ran to minus 35 Fahrenheit while weapons often failed to work.

The war turned at the Choisin Reservoir, where 30,000 U.S. soldiers were surrounded by 67,000 experienced Chinese regulars, but managed to fight their way out.

The war eventually ended three years and one month after it began, with Korea divided at the 38th parallel where hostilities had begun.

To this day, U.S. and South Korean forces stare warily across a no-man's land, with tension and suspicion between the two sides as strong as when the war ended.

For many years, the American public considered the war a failure. People continued to bask in the clear-cut victory of World War II, while the Korean War disappeared.

Korea was considered a place where Americans went to "die for a tie," which didn't conveniently fit our self-image as victors.

But history is clearly on the side of the men and women who fought in Korea. South Korea, the country they fought to preserve, is an economic powerhouse and strong U.S. ally in the region.

North Korea, meanwhile, is an economic basket case that subsists by alternately threatening the world and then begging for food and heating oil.

For 60 years, the stark difference between the two Koreas has demonstrated to all nations the fruits of democracy and capitalism vs. the abject failure and tyranny of communism.

But the forgotten lessons of the "forgotten" war have regularly come back to haunt our country, which has time and again jumped into wars in places we didn't understand without firm goals or exit strategies.

If you know a Korean veteran, remember to thank that person tomorrow. If you don't, there are at least two ceremonies tomorrow to honor the soldiers who fought there.

One ceremony honoring veterans will be held at 10 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston and another at 1 p.m. at American Legion Post 24 in Rumford, 184 Congress St.

Show up and show your respect.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

Steve  Dosh's picture

History on the side of the forgotten heroes

Rex, Friday , 14:45 hst
. Just got back from visiting veterans at the hospital.
Thanks for that synopsis
/s Steve
http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://darsba.files.wordpress.com/20...

^^ Check it out ^^ :D

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