Home From Korea by Christmas, 1950

by | Aug 16, 2017 | History, Politics | 3 comments

In October, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur promised his troops that had been recalled into military service and sent to Korea–after the war started in June, 1950–that he would have us: “home by Christmas, 1950.” (I was on the way to a troop ship in San Francisco headed for Pusan, Korea after being recalled by the Army where I had served earlier as a Corporal in the 2nd Armored Division.)

None of us, of course, made it home anywhere near that Christmas. THIS GENERAL (what is it with Trump and “his generals”…doesn’t he know HOW you get to be a GENERAL…sycophant sucking up through the ranks and never saying “no” or ever disagreeing with superiors, that’s how.) I guess for the current draft-dodger in the White House being surrounded by four or five generals makes him feel secure, powerful, and all-knowing. Be careful, Donald.

Trump might want to think about President Truman’s quote about Five-star General MacArthur in a December, 1973 Time magazine piece:

“I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”

But, I digress.

The North Korean Kim dynasty was founded by Kim II-sung in 1948 and it was Kim who started the Korean war. He was succeeded by Kim Jong-il in 1994 and then in 2011 by Kim Jong-un who became the current Supreme Leader.

General McArthur believed that the North Koreans, who provoked the war (known as a “police action” by the United Nations) on June 25, 1950, were weak, disorganized, lacking in armaments, with no committed allies and would easily be defeated by the UN forces headed by U.S. armed might. So, our military officers in charge of this war’s strategy believed that it would take only six months or less to defeat the North Koreans and the American troops would return home by Christmas, 1950.

MacArthur, from the remote Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo, directed a strategy that was designed to reach the Yalu river (the Chinese boundary with the Korean peninsula) by Christmas, 1950. MacArthur flew to Korea, the day after Thanksgiving, and told the American troops that the war would end by Christmas. Known as the MacArthur Christmas offensive, it lasted two days and then the Chinese launched counterattacks that drove the UN and U.S. forces south of the 38th parallel (border with North and South Korea). MacArthur and his generals did not believe China would enter the war to help its satellite government in Pyongyang or that the Soviets would assist their ally China. Clearly mistakes and errors in judgment were made by MacArthur and his generals, and the UN and the U.S. almost lost the war. Indeed, their strategic errors could have turned into a land war in Asia which could have escalated into a nuclear war with Russia.

On April 11, 1951, President Truman fired General MacArthur and those of us in a convoy from Seoul to Uijongbu that day, stopped and cheered Truman’s bold and constitutional action.
This “police action” turned into a 3-year war with a death toll on both sides of just over 1.2 million and has yet to be officially over and is still but a cease-fire agreed to on July 27, 1953. Our wars never seem to end—nor even fade away.

When our Communications Reconnaissance Company reached Seoul in March, 1951–after the Chinese were driven out–we occupied the national capitol building where the Chinese had stabled their horses. I vividly recall this today because the instruments of war of 1950 are not those of 2017—light years have passed and we have moved from traditional ground and air combat to nuclear warfare as Trump seems to suggest.

Although the use of nuclear tactical weapons was considered by President Truman and his advisors in 1950-51, indeed, they were authorized, but never used. In any event, North Korea’s army in 2017 is far better in organization, weapons and size than in 1950 and much of it is stationed just 35 miles from thousands of American soldiers and millions of Koreans in the Seoul and the DMZ area.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Have you read or seen anything the past few weeks reminiscent of this? Ask yourself if history could repeat itself if some of the same variables are there 67 years later? Check this out:

…the same totalitarian family dynasty is in control of North Korea;
…the same allies, China and Russia, are propping up North Korea;
…the same United Nations is passing resolutions warning against aggression and blocking aid;
…a South Korean military supported almost exclusively by U.S. weapons and troops;
…a modernized North Koreans military with missiles, nuclear warheads and substantial arms support from China and Russia;
…the same ominous threats to South Korea and Japan who are now close U.S. allies; and
…once again, the possibility of a land war in Asia.

But, NOW, we have a Commander-in-Chief with a collection of “his generals”–whose competence and mettle have yet to be tested–who twitters threats and vocally goads North Korea’s leadership (and that of China) into starting a thermonuclear or conventional war. (Why is it that draft-dodgers like Trump are so eager to start wars that their children and grandchildren will never have to fight?)

Why is this important to North Carolina? Defense is big business in our Southeast (Fort Bragg, Pope Airfield, Johnson Air Base, Marine Air New River, Camp Lejeune, Ocean Terminal Sunny Point) and we have a nuclear power plant in Southport. We are a target-rich environment for a global nuclear attack. Furthermore, we are not even sure how to fight a nuclear war. It has never been done and we are supposed to believe that Trump can do this and keep the conflict within the Korean peninsula!

Count me a skeptic, a cynic, and a vocal opponent of another Korean war. Oh, and, yes, I did make it home a year later for Christmas in 1951 wondering what the past year in Korea was all about. I am still not sure. But, I do know this: I want my and other American’s children and grandchildren home and not in Korea for Christmas, 2017.

Dr. Walt de Vries enlisted in the 2nd Armored Division in 1948 and worked as a corporal in the ACS G-1 office (personnel).  He was separated to inactive duty and then recalled in 1950 and sent to Korea as an Intelligence NCO in the 352nd Communications Reconnaissance Company.



    Dr. DeVries,
    Thank you for a wonderful piece. You long have been a hero of mine and recall your influence on the later Skipper Bowles in 1972 during his North Carolina gubernatorial campaign. Thank you for what you do and what you have done for well for so long.

  2. Norma Munn

    Thoughtful piece. Thanks. The Korean War has always seemed to me to be unmitigated hell as well as caused by the hangover of issues from WWII. Then we did it again in Viet Nam. We seem to be very slow learners. And profligate with lives and money in these circumstances.

    I expected Trump to choose the military for a lot of his advice, so am not surprised. And I had reluctantly concluded they might be the only ones with any chance of keeping him somewhat rational. In view of the last few days, I don’t think even they have a chance. None of that means I don’t view their presence in so many places in this administration as troubling in a larger sense, but compared to some of his cabinet, they are models of restraint and sanity. That alone should scare the hell out of all of us.

  3. D B

    So what do we do? Draw a line in the sand, that worked well. I do not want another war with anybody. If the former president would had acted more like a president maybe we would no be here today. And I think President Clinton play a hand in this also. He made what kind of agreement with North Korea?

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