Saturday, Harold Fleener and his wife decided to have brunch out. Their first selection was Denny's. The price is low and mediocracy was guaranteed. Mostly they just wanted a quick meal. They pullled into the parking lot and immediately left. The parking lot was jammed and the waiting area was jammed. They then decided on Mimi's. The food is a tad better, the ambience was much better but the price is double. They didn't really care; they just wanted a quick meal. They drove about four meals pulled into a parking lot but there were customers backed up into outside seating.
They looked at each other, considered the alternatives; fixing their own breakfast, a frozen dinner or McDonalds - which was in the same complex as Mimi's. They decided to pick something up and take it home. Mostly they just wanted a quick meal. Quality and price takes a pretty good drop from Denny's. Mac was crowded but not too bad. They decided just to eat there rather than letting the food get cold on the way home. Mostly they just wanted to provide something for their digestive mechanism to work on and enough calories to get them through a tough day of watching reruns of Law And Order.
They were greeted by Charlie Quan, the manager, who held the door open for them. Charlie has a MBA from ITT Tech and worked in quality control in a local manufacturing firm in San Bernardino. He made $20 an hour. His company moved their operation to Mexico. Charlie now earns $12 an hour at Mac's. He is 36 years old and is married with two children. His wife is a waitress at a local Mexican food restaurant. She makes $7.50 an hour plus tips. Together they make $36,600 a year, about $8,000 a year below the poverty level. Their car is parked in the employee area. It is a 2005 Toyota with a bumper sticker that reads, "America, love it or leave it."
Michelle Hernandez took their order. Michelle is 22 years old and is attending Cal State San Bernardino. She is a junior and has already accrued $25,000 in student loans. She is majoring in Social Studies and is the unwed mother of a two year old son. She earns $7.50 an hour and works 32 hours a week. She supplements her income by working fill in at a local Starbucks. Fleener tried to put a tip on the bill but Michelle told him he couldn't do it. Charlie told Fleener on the way out that management didn't want the customers to think that their employees were underpaid.
The cook was Ardis Washington. Ardis is married with two toddlers. He earns $8.00 an hour. His wife Jolene works at Pineras and earns $8.00 an hour. Together, they earn $26,000 a year. Their income is supplemented by food stamps.
Harold and Maude managed to choke the food down. The meal cost $14. We'll have to do this more often Maude says, "The food wasn't bad and mostly we just wanted a quick meal." They drove home in their 2013 Lexus and spent the rest of the day reading books by their favorite muckraker. They didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the folks at McDonalds.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
I just watched the movie, "Sounder," with Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield made in 1972. The movie was an academy award contender. The setting was somewhere in the South in the 1930's. It was about racism and mistreatment of blacks. In the 30's this was not limited to the south but certainly worse there. The movie is about the hardship of one black family. Hardship was not limited to black people but racism exacerbated the impact on them. The father of the famiily was forced to steal some food to feed his family and was imprisoned. Authorities refused to tell the family anything about the trial or where he was imprisoned. The meat of the story was the futile attempt of the oldest son, in pre or early teens, to locate the father. Of course the brutality of the white society was the highlight and the purpose of the movie. In 1972, the audience was ripe for the theme.
The story had a happy ending - as happy as possible for this family in those times. The father became useless to authorities when he was crippled in a demolition accident and was released. The story ended when the son, David Lee Morgan marched away to go to school.
It was an excellent movie. It piqued my memory of those times and my experience in awakening to my own racism when I was a young man. My experience while stationed in the South in 1950-1953, gave me a close up view of the horrible treatment of African Americans - called colored in those days - by otherwise good people. I never felt any guilt because I never took part in it but I should feel guilty because I stood by and watched without acknowledging that it was bad. David Lee Morgan, in real life, could well have beena young man who actually became my friend when I was in the army in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
From Pages 161 through 164 of my book, "The Rise and Fall of the American Middle Class:"
David A Dansby. Dansby was a young man who was transferred into AT&M from another regiment of the 82nd. That’s a common situation. What was different about this was, Dansby was a black (colored in those days) soldier. He was the first black member of the 82nd to serve in a theretofore all white unit. On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9918 which read in part:
“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.”
It apparently took four years for the 82nd to implement the order. It didn’t seem odd to me because my basic training unit at Fort Ord was integrated. But it was an unpleasant shock to most. AT&M Platoon was among them. Dansby was quiet, friendly, intelligent and NON-CONFRONTATIONAL. I couldn’t believe how he was treated by my friends, particularly those from the South. Far from giving him some emotional room, the “nigger” jokes ran amok. Dansby was obviously irritated and hurt but he kept his mouth shut. I didn’t participate but neither did I do anything to stop it. I could have. I wasn’t afraid of anybody in my platoon but didn’t feel the need to get into fights over Dansby. He was not very big or physically imposing – probably about 5-10 and 170 pounds.
Like Bernard Turner, my black friend in basic, he was funny and personable. Gradually the guys grew to like him and the bad taste jokes pretty much stopped. We grew to respect his feelings. I was probably more his friend than anyone else. I had a car. I was driving to Fayetteville one day and I saw him waiting for the bus. I stopped and offered him a ride but he politely declined. I coaxed him but to no avail. I guess I knew but insisted on an answer as to why. He feared being seen in Fayetteville getting out of a car driven by a white man. I’m not making this up. In my best bravado, I told him that I wasn’t afraid of those locals. His reply was, “I am.” He took the bus. It piqued my interest and may have been a key to my developing political views. The fundamental and critical fact that became clear to me as I trained, ate, slept, discoursed and joked with Dansby was there was only one thing that was different about him and that was his African features.
My exposure to the agitation and discomfort caused by Dansby’s assignment to our platoon piqued my interest in how blacks were being treated in the South. The theater in Fayetteville had a balcony and all the coloreds had to sit in the balcony. If the balcony was full and other seats were empty, they remained empty. The manager would rather lose the revenue than permit coloreds to sit with whites. Colored people were not permitted to eat with whites in restaurants and most of the up scale restaurants didn’t serve coloreds at all. There were always two drinking fountains, one for whites and one for coloreds. The white one was always well maintained and the other one always had green water stain and other grime on it.
Colored bus riders had to ride on the back of the bus. Earlier, before I knew of the law, I got on a bus in Fayetteville. I always sat in back on the bus or streetcar so I routinely went there. The bus driver told me I would have to come up front. I politely declined, still not aware of what was going on. Then he got a little hostile and told me he wasn’t moving until I came up front. I started to catch on but I was young and wasn’t going to be intimidated. I called back and said, “OK with me, you’re the one on a schedule, not me.” There was a black lady sitting near me and she told me that she was on a schedule and please do what the driver says. So I did. It was kind of fun to me but in retrospect, it wasn’t fun at all.
Dansby was followed by other black soldiers. The next one was a young kid name Lipscomb. Lipscomb was an athlete. He was the 1952 version of a wide receiver. He showed me some of his clippings from high school. Thanks to Dansby he had it easy. He was the youngest one in our platoon and treated pretty well. I believe we ended up with a total of 6 blacks in our company and were finally accepted. The grunts weren’t the problem.
I was reading the bulletin board in front of the Orderly Room for assignments and Sgt. Odum was beside me. Two black troopers walked by on their way to chow. Sgt. Odum stared at them as they approached and passed by. Then he turned to be, shook his head sadly and said, “If I had ten years more or ten years less, I’d get out of this army today.” He felt that something he cherished, the 82nd Airborne, pride and joy of the United States Army, America’s acclaimed Guard of honor, had been fatally weakened by having black soldiers stand in their ranks. Odum was a good man, a hero of WWII, someone who I looked up to. I wondered what was going to happen to America when all these soldiers went home.
In May, 1951, Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton's unit pushed northwards with the Eighth Army. On June 2, near the village of Chipo-ri northeast of Seoul, his platoon encountered heavy resistance while attempting to take Hill 543. Taking command after his platoon leader was wounded, Charlton regrouped his men and led an assault against the hill. Wounded by a grenade, he refused medical attention and continued to lead the charge. He single-handedly attacked and disabled the last remaining enemy gun emplacement, suffering another grenade wound in the process. Sergeant Charlton, a black soldier from New York City, succumbed to his wounds that day, dying at the age of 21. For his actions during the battle, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
On Christmas night, 1951, Harry T. Moore and his wife were fatally injured at home by a bomb that went off beneath their house. It was the Moores' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Moore died on the way to the hospital in Sanford, Florida. His wife died from her injuries nine days later.
Moore has been called the first martyr in the Civil Rights Movement. He was the first NAACP official murdered in the civil rights struggle. The murders caused a national and international outcry, with protests registered at the United Nations against violence in the South. The NAACP held a huge rally in New York, where the renowned poet Langston Hughes read a poem written in memory of Moore.
Although the state called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help the investigation, it was unable to bring any indictments against the suspects.
There were eleven other bombings against black families in Florida the year that Moore was killed. The risk to activists and any blacks in the South was high and continued to be so. According to a later report from the NAACP's Southern Regional Council in Atlanta, the homes of forty black Southern families were bombed during 1951 and 1952. Some, like Harry Moore, were activists whose work exposed them to danger, but most were either people who had refused to bow to racist convention, or were simply "innocent bystanders, unsuspecting victims of random white terrorism." For example, bombing was prevalent in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950s, used by independent KKK groups to intimidate middle-class blacks moving into new neighborhoods.
Friday, February 21, 2014
An up-close and personal view of life’s struggle
I am worried about an old friend. I hear from mutual friends that he is despondent due to aging and health problems. We went to school together and used to play ball together. His name is Gerald Attrix. Everyone calls him Jerry. I went to see him last night and we went to dinner at Applebee’s, his favorite restaurant. I’m not sure of despondency but he was not his usual ebullient self. After dinner and some small talk about the good old days, I asked him what was up. We have always been honest with each other.
He looked at me without speaking for a few seconds, took a sip of his coke, looked down and then straight at me. I could tell that Jerry was going to level with me.
I am having a tough time. It’s the first time in my life that I haven’t been sure that I could handle it. This is what he told me.
Jerry has a beautiful wife. They have been married for 60 years. They have four grown children, sixteen grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Jerry and Maureen love them all and are loved in return.
Jerry was born during the depression and grew up poor. He managed to get an education and was successful in his professional life. He and Maureen are comfortable financially.
Jerry was very small in his early youth but grew after high school to nearly six feet tall and in his prime weighed about 170 pounds. It is fortunate that he was healthy because he never saw a doctor until he had to have a physical to go to scout camp when he was about 14. Jerry was one of these guys who was agile with good hand eye coordination but was slow and small. He was good at all sports and things that required physical agility and strength. When he was in the army he tested in the top five percent of inductees during the Korean War. He was good at all sports but excelled in none. If you picked up a group of young men at random – like being drafted into the military, he would be among the best at any sport; football, baseball or basketball. If you picked a group of guys specifically to play any of those sports, he would struggle. He would be marginal. This was a source of disappointment to him but he dealt with it by focusing on basketball and baseball and with maximum effort. He considered himself a good athlete and was considered by most of his peers as a fairly good athlete. Along with other things in his life, he was good enough to instill confidence in his ability to take care of his space. He was forced often to do so.
He played competitive basketball until he hurt his knee at age 38. Being unable to any longer compete in basketball and baseball (actually fast-pitch softball), he turned to long distance running and bicycle riding for competition. This kept him happy for the next 35 years or so while he kept busy building houses. Other than several knee and shoulder surgeries, he was in excellent health and never had to take a prescription pill except for pain after a surgery. When he was 69 years old he had to have knee replacement surgery. That ended his long distant running and bicycling. He replaced that with weight training and treadmill. He missed the competition but he adapted to his aging. He adapted well. He took what God gave him and he was still totally independent. If something went wrong, he fixed it.
Sometime around 2005, he started getting health hits – one at a time. The first real problem was dizziness. Doctors could not diagnose it and it intensified year by year. He was diagnosed with an atrial fibrillation while being tested for minor foot surgery. For the first time in his life, he had to take prescription medicine on a regular basis. He didn’t like this but he dealt with it. It all went downhill from there. Testing for his heart discovered he had three blocked arteries and he had to have by-pass surgery. Bit by bit, he had to increase his intake of medicine. Finally, he had to have knee replacement surgery of his right knee. He never fully recovered from it. He has constant pain in his right knee and in his shoulders (rotator cuff surgery).
During the years of going downhill physically, he compensated by activity in the LDS Church. Now, that is severely curtailed by the dizziness, knee problem and constant medical appointments for him and his wife. His wife Maureen had a stroke during minor brain surgery and another one last year. She is still recovering from these.
Jerry grew up in a tough town in a tough time and always had to take care of himself. He took great pride in being able to do so. He is no longer able to do it. He has to pay for repairs around the house that he used to do himself or, in some cases, ask help from his neighbors. Fortunately, he has members of his Church and neighbors to help him and Maureen out. He understands that this is all probably normal aging but he is now having more of a problem dealing with it. One of his problems is that it was thrust on him so suddenly and totally.
He and his wife, it seems, takes turns caring for the other one. Fortunately, one has always been up when the other was down.
The bottom line that I got from talking with Jerry is that He is uncertain of the near future or what he wants. Neither he nor his wife can expect to be around a lot longer. On the one hand, the thought of losing his wife depresses him. On the other hand, the thought of abandoning Maureen disturbs him even more. He (and Maureen) is consoled by the fact that there will be a happy ending and that mortal life is but a blink of an eye in eternity. They were sealed in the Temple for eternity and expect to be together after a probable short interlude which will be softened by the love of their family.
Meanwhile, Jerry, being a tough dude, continues to whine in the face of death. Could anyone do more?
Oh yeah, Jerry leaves behind for his posterity three books that are destined for immortality after his death. Books he wrote under the preposterous pseudonym of Brooks W. Wilson.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
The Korean War – the forgotten war.
I haven't forgotten it! Have you? This is how I remember it 64 years later as the anniversary of it's beginning nears. It is not a documentary. It is my impressions as I experienced the war at the time and reflected on it later in my life. Part of this account is based on my memory and part is research I conducted for a book. My memory was stimulated somewhat by reading The Coldest Winter, by David Halberstam. I recommend it for anyone interested in that brutal and futile war.
I was 16 years old when WWII ended on August 15, 1945. Like all Americans, I was glad it was over but like a lot of kids my age I had wanted to get involved. I had wanted to fight for my country, to be, perhaps, a hero. Just five years later when I was 21, I got a second chance when the North Koreans stormed across the 38th parallel into South Korea on June 25, 1950. The problem was, by this time I didn’t want to get involved.
To some historians, the Korean War was a turning point in our wars. In the context of history, it was to me, another war we could have avoided. I say this having been involved in it and having studied it later. It’s true that after the shooting started, given the conventional wisdom of 1950, our options were limited.
Backdrop for the war
The settlements between the allies at the end of WWII had left a divided Korea. How this came about would be, and has been, the subject of books – some of which were little more than political propaganda. China had been involved in a civil war transcending the world war and the Communists had swept the nationalists off the Chinese mainland onto the island of Formosa. Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into two countries, North Korea and South Korea. North Korea had a communist government under the control of Russia. South Korea was occupied by the United States who set up what was little more than a puppet government with a capitalist economic system and democratic political system.
North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK - had a Russian equipped and trained army. The United States was there to defend South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea – ROK. Although the South Koreans had an army, it was ineffective and the war was destined to become a war between North Korea and the United States. After the North Korean army was defeated and China intervened, it became a war between the US and China.
When the big war ended, the pressure was intense on Truman to cut the size of defense spending but he needed no pressure. He wanted to decrease it. Without citing numbers, the military budget was slashed significantly. Our army, by 1950, was reduced to poorly trained garrison soldiers with a few career officers and NCOs who stayed on after the end of the war. General McArthur was in charge of all forces in the Far East Command. That included Japan and Korea. He took the better officers with him to Japan and never trusted any assignments that came from Washington.
On June 25, the trouble that most of us weren’t aware of erupted when the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel into S. Korea. The invasion started in the early morning hours on the Onjin Peninsula. The North Koreans started shelling Kaesong and the South Korean army panicked and fled south. By 9:30 AM, Kaesung was in North Korean hands. Several US military advisers were taken captive. The South Korean army collapsed at Cholwon and the North Korean tanks raced toward Seoul.
This was totally unexpected but it shouldn’t have been – an early intelligence failure. Kim II Sung was a puppet dictator who had been trained in Russia. He was 100% Korean and his ambition was to rule a united Korean state. Sung had grown up in Korea under a brutal Japanese dictatorship. As a young boy he had fought with the Communist Chinese against Japan in Manchuria. Since the end of the war, the US had befriended Japan so he saw the United States occupation of the southern half of “his” country as just an extension of the Japanese occupation. Although our occupation wasn’t brutal, it was without respect or understanding of their culture. Many South Koreans didn’t like us much more than the North Koreans did and the last thing they wanted to be was like us, which is what we had in mind for them. Add to that, the US opposition to Communist China and support of Chiang, and you have the recipe for war.
Sung did not have a lot of respect for China, certainly not hostility but no real respect. He didn’t need China’s permission to invade. He did need Russia’s, which was not readily forthcoming. All their military equipment was Russian. Finally, intelligence picked up on the fact that Americans were ripe for picking and Russia approved but stayed out of it. China approved too. They were bitter because of the assistance we gave to Chiang and our failure to accept them as a nation. They also saw the threat of a US controlled country sharing a border as very dangerous. Sung was sure of a quick victory and told China they wouldn’t need anything from them.
It turned out that Sung was right. The American army was understaffed, ill-trained, ill-equipped and logistically unprepared. The terrain wasn’t amenable to artillery and the only mortars they had were the small ones, 60 mm, with less range and explosive power than the larger 80 mm, developed at the end of WWII.
The NK army advance was virtually unabated until the American army was pushed into a much smaller perimeter at Pusan in the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. They held there but the fighting was brutal and American losses were unsustainable.
Back in the Unites States
As soon as the conflict began, Truman acted. He committed US troops in behalf of the United Nations and belatedly obtained their approval. He began mobilization. He called up the active reserves, mostly for training purposes, and activated the draft.
We were getting a lot of news from Korea, all bad. I wasn’t happy about it but, like the rest of America, agonized over it about ten minutes after putting the paper down. Not so for the thousands of reservists who had resumed their civilian lives and were called back to duty after being out just a few years. I did start thinking about it, however, when I got a notice to report for a physical toward the end of the summer. I always hated the word “draft dodger” when someone was called that during the “war.” I mean I hated draft dodgers especially when I felt discriminated against because I was too young to serve, but this was different; it was a police action not a war and I didn’t understand it.
I received my “Greetings from the President of the United States” and was ordered to report for a physical sometime around August. I wasn’t inducted into the army until December 13, 1950. I can’t speak for all the other young men who were called up but I had moved on with my life since the war ended five years earlier. This was a strange war – never officially called a war but a police action - and I never fully understood it until studying it years later.
On Wednesday, December 13, 1950, I reported to a vacant Mode O Day warehouse in downtown Los Angeles to be officially inducted into the United States Army. It was an emotional day. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking. I know for sure that I was unwilling. I was just three years from the poverty I had known growing up and for the first time in my life I had more money in my pocket than most of my friends. I didn’t have a special girlfriend but I had one that I hoped would become special. I wasn’t sure about the war. What was it all about? During the “real” war, guys were treated special when they marched off. When I left, nobody even knew outside my family. I was a democrat but hardly political. I managed to graduate from high school without learning anything except how to read, write and do my sums.
I don’t remember much about the day except there were a lot of draftees, of all shapes, sizes and colors and a few army guys who acted like they didn’t like us. They called us a lot of names, nasty names, and I was convinced they meant it. I had a little problem dealing with it. I know it is all part of the training process but to this day, I don’t see the need for it. After a soldier is trained and assigned to a regular unit, they don’t do it anymore. It had no positive effect on my learning to be a soldier. There were a lot of newspaper people there interviewing recruits and taking pictures. We were told that we were the first group of draftees after the N Korean invasion or the largest or some sort of hallmark element. I was underwhelmed.
We were loaded on a train with a berth; my first time on a train. I haven’t liked trains since. It was an overnight trip from Los Angles to Fort Ord near Monterey, California. When we left the train, we were herded into a formation and marched onto the military base. We were greeted with the Fort Ord band almost like we were special. That didn’t last long. The band marched off and we were again greeted by a bunch of army people who swore at us and acted like they didn’t like us. In a few days they started molding us into soldiers.
Introduction to war
During the 4th week of basic training, our company was assembled in bleachers overlooking an “impact area” about the size of two football fields. A soldier fired into the area with a .45 automatic, then one with a .45 hand held machine gun (called a grease gun), then the carbine, the M1, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), light and heavy .30 machine guns, rocket launcher and mortars. Then we heard the flutter of the 105 howitzers overhead and watched them explode in the impact area and finally, the big guns, the 155 howitzers. I was mesmerized and I expect I was typical. Finally, for about five minutes, every weapon the army had at its disposal was fired simultaneously into that small area! It was beyond awesome and fearsome! No living creature could have survived. There, for the first time, I saw up close and personal the brutality of war. Strangely enough, I didn’t project myself onto that impact area; after all, these were our weapons. Instead I envisioned being on the other end of the assault and killing those in the area. And I still didn’t know what the war was about and why I would want to kill some 21 year old Korean.
I was non-political before I was in the army. I was more likely to get into a shouting argument over who was the best running back in the country than who the president should be. I didn’t fight in the war but that wasn’t my decision and most of the young men who I trained with in basic training did fight in it and more than a few were killed. There is a great deal of literature arguing, with facts and logic, that with some better decisions after the end of WWII, the Korean War may not have even happened. It’s apparent, at least to me, that nothing is different in the world because it was fought.
While the young men like me were waiting for induction and being trained, the final outcome of the Korean War was being decided. The American troops retrenched at Pusan. The defensive area was smaller and they had gotten some crack replacements from the States and Hawaii. On September 7, after an all-out assault by NK to breach his lines, General Walker, the commander of the Korean forces, on September 7th said “We are not going any further.” His confidence waned two day later when McArthur pulled the 5th Marines, arguably the best fighting men Walker had, out for the Inchon invasion. But they did hold.
The Inchon invasion
On September 15, McArthur landed 70,000 troops, mostly Marines in the harbor of Inchon. Nearly 320 warships including 4 aircraft carriers were involved. It was a spectacular success and turned the war around at that point. There had been a lot of advice against it; saying it was too risky, bad tides, too easily defensed, etc. McArthur would hear no criticism. He claimed that because it was so risky it would totally surprise the N Koreans. As a matter of fact it was a surprise and was not well defended. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Chinese intelligence warned NK that it was going to happen and they ignored them. Sung had no respect for the Chinese. After the landing, McArthur got rid of all those who spoke of the hazards and turned north toward what he believed would be even greater success but ended up, instead, a stinging costly defeat.
The Chinese enter the war
On November 25, 1950, two days after Thanksgiving, as I awaited induction, the Chinese entered the Korean War. Over 300,000 Chinese troops crossed the Yalu and overwhelmed the surprised American and ROK troops. McArthur had predicted the end of the war and unification of Korea by Christmas. The surprise attack wiped out entire units of our military and turned the war around. Thousands of Americans were killed. The success of the Inchon landing which had earlier turned the war around in our favor emboldened McArthur to decide, almost unilaterally, to invade N. Korea and race to the Yalu River. Truman and the Pentagon had reservations and feared escalation of the war. McArthur, however, had become a national hero. Public opinion favored punishing the aggression of the Communists by occupying N. Korea and unifying the country with a democratic, capitalist government. General Douglas McArthur had made the decision to invade N. Korea, a decision that should have been made, or not made, by civilian government. Ironically, other military leaders in Korea opposed the extension of our supply lines into the north into what was primarily wasteland.
While the Chinese attack was a surprise to McArthur’s Tokyo headquarters, it shouldn’t have been and actually wasn’t to the commanders in the field. There was ample evidence that there were Chinese troops south of the Yalu and that China intended to protect its border. A month earlier, Chinese forces had defeated
The period from early November 1950 to late January 1951 was in many ways the most heartbreaking of the Korean War. During the previous summer the North Korean attack had been a total surprise, and the disastrous retreat to the Pusan Perimeter was painful in the extreme. However, the series of defeats could be explained by the necessarily haphazard and slow reinforcement of the outnumbered U.S. and South Korean forces. Moreover, these defeats were followed by elation as the Inchon landings reversed the situation and the UN forces seemed on the verge not just of victory in South Korea but of total victory, including the liberation of North Korea and the reunification of the peninsula. All these dreams were swept away by the massive intervention of the Chinese Army.There would be no homecoming victory parade by Christmas.’
The initial warning attacks and diplomatic hints by the Chinese were ignored by the overconfident Far Eastern Command under General MacArthur. MacArthur’s failure to comprehend the reality of the situation led the entire United Nations army to near disaster at the Chongchon River and the Chosin Reservoir. I have two personal friends who were trapped with the Marines at the reservoir. They both survived. Only the grit and determination of the individual American soldiers and marines as they fought the three major enemies of cold, fear, and isolation held the UN line together during the retreats from North Korea. Once tied together into a coherent defensive line, under new and dynamic leadership, these same soldiers and marines showed their determination to continue the fight. Hard battles lay ahead, but the period of headlong retreats from an attacking, unsuspected foe, was finally over.
On April 11, 1951, President Truman issued the following statement to the press:
"With deep regret I have concluded that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States Government and of the United Nations in matters pertaining to his official duties. In view of the specific responsibilities imposed upon me by the Constitution of the United States and the added responsibility which has been entrusted to me by the United Nations, I have decided that I must make a change of command in the Far East. I have, therefore, relieved General MacArthur of his commands and have designated Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway as his successor.
“Full and vigorous debate on matters of national policy is a vital element in the constitutional system of our free democracy. It is fundamental, however, that military commanders must be governed by the policies and directives issued to them in the manner provided by our laws and Constitution. In time of crisis, this consideration is particularly compelling.
“General MacArthur's place in history as one of our greatest commanders is fully established. The Nation owes him a debt of gratitude for the distinguished and exceptional service which he has rendered his country in posts of great responsibility. For that reason I repeat my regret at the necessity for the action I feel compelled to take in his case.”
Truman’s words were euphemistic and reflected the political context of conservatives who used McArthur’s blunder to attempt to blame Truman and “communist appeasement” as the mantra for their next presidential campaign. They were frustrated by having a democrat in the White House for 20 years. This was McArthur’s blunder pure and simple. Blinded by egomania fueled by the success at Inchon, which success was a result more of luck and the incompetence of the North Koreans than McArthur genius, he turned his forces northward across the 38th parallel with his plan to unify Korea. He had created a cult of sycophancy in his command. Anyone who disagreed with him or suggested danger in the Inchon plan was fired. His intelligence officer never gave him any intelligence that would contradict his hunches. He inexplicably split his command into two columns proceeding up the Peninsula and ignored every complaint that they voiced.
He went too fast, his supply lines were impossibly stretched into nearly impassable country and he continued to ignore intelligence indicating the Chinese were there in excess of 300,000 strong; instead deferring to his own intelligence operation which said what he wanted to hear. As they sped northward, communications between units were poor. The result, anticipated by many of his commanders on the ground, was the most disgraceful defeat in US Military history. He was defeated by an enemy without a leader who had even attended a military academy and who was not supported by artillery or air power. He was led into a trap by a general who outsmarted him.
It was a disgraceful retreat from the Yalu River. In the face of overwhelming numbers and certain defeat, many officers abandoned their men; many of the soldiers quit fighting and just ran. The leadership in Tokyo was frozen and failed to lead, insisting that they retreat down a narrow road with Chinese on either side slaughtering them as they passed. The wounded were left to die and some were crushed by our own tanks as they lay bleeding in their path. The men on the ground, both officers and enlisted men had much stronger criticism of McArthur than Truman did.
The American troops finally held just north of the 38th Parallel, the original border of North and South Korea. This was where the war finally ended. There was a lot of fighting and a lot of dying after this but it was mostly for bragging rights and for local strategic advantage. This was where the soldiers that I had been trained with entered the war. Not just the ones that I trained with but thousands from other training bases in the country. There were offenses and counter offenses. They fought and won and lost observation sites which never changed the final positions of the two countries. I was discharged in late 1952 as the peace talks at Pammunjong were taking place. July 27, 1953, two weeks after I had gotten married and forgotten the war, a Peace Treaty was signed and the 38th parallel was reset as the boundary between communist North and anti-communist South. There was a buffer zone established north of the border so we gained a minute area of ground. Nothing had changed except we sent the message that we would fight to resist the “spread of Communism” and we have never, to date, been unprepared for war anywhere (at the cost of Billions of dollars annually). Cold War tensions continued unabated. Gen. Mark W. Clark said he has "the unenviable distinction of being the first US Army commander to sign an armistice without victory."