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Voices from the Korean War

Voices from the Korean War: Personal Stories of American, Korean, and Chinese Soldiers

Richard Peters
Xiaobing Li
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Voices from the Korean War
    Book Description:

    "In three days the number of so-called 'volunteers' reached over three hundred men. Very quickly they organized us into military units. Just like that I became a North Korean soldier and was on the way to some unknown place." -- from the book

    South Korean Lee Young Ho was seventeen years old when he was forced to serve in the North Korean People's Army during the first year of the Korean War. After a few months, he deserted the NKPA and returned to Seoul where he joined the South Korean Marine Corps. Ho's experience is only one of the many compelling accounts found in Voices from the Korean War.

    Unique in gathering war stories from veterans from all sides of the Korean War -- American, South Korean, North Korean, and Chinese -- this volume creates a vivid and multidimensional portrait of the three-year-long conflict told by those who experienced the ground war firsthand. Richard Peters and Xiaobing Li include a significant introduction that provides a concise history of the Korean conflict, as well as a geographical and a political backdrop for the soldiers' personal stories.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4593-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Photographs
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xi)
  6. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xii-xii)
  7. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  9. Part One. The Korean War:: A Short History

    • Chapter 1 Background and Origins of the War
      (pp. 3-14)

      IT IS ONE of the more unfortunate and ironic events in history that Korea, a nation that prior to 1945 included the most homogeneous and united of all peoples, should become a nation divided. Whatever differences may have existed in regard to caste or class, the Korean people speak the same language throughout the peninsula and, with minor variations between north and south, are of the same culture. This cruel fate is made even more tragic by the fact that the Korean people were divided by other powers—clearly the victims of Cold War politics.¹

      The tragedy of Korea, however,...

    • Chapter 2 The Opening Phase: South toward Pusan, North to the Yalu
      (pp. 15-20)

      WHEN THE NORTH Korean army invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, it is hard to conceive of a nation more ill-prepared for war than the United States, psychologically as well as militarily. World War II had ended only five years earlier, a war in which Americans had fully committed themselves to the defeat of the Axis powers. Young men and women had volunteered for military service by the thousands; others had turned to defense work. Children had collected rubber, paper, and scrap iron, and everyone with a whit of soil had planted a victory garden. Every family with a...

    • Chapter 3 China Enters the War
      (pp. 21-24)

      WASHINGTON, OBVIOUSLY, HAD concluded that neither China nor the Soviet Union would intervene if the UN forces advanced north of the 38th Parallel. By late September, however, Washington had already received a disturbing report indicating Mao had called for a major build-up of the Chinese army. Even more ominous, in an October 1 speech at Beijing, Premier Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai) warned that the Chinese people “will not tolerate foreign aggression and will not stand aside should the imperialists wantonly invade the territory of their neighbor.”¹ The premier followed up the next day by informing the Indian ambassador to China,...

    • Chapter 4 The Chosin Reservoir Retreat and Advance to the North
      (pp. 25-34)

      ON OCTOBER 25, 1950, the ROK First Division captured the first Chinese soldier, a clear indication Chinese troops were entering North Korea. The prisoner reported thousands of Chinese soldiers had already crossed the Yalu and were holing up in the mountains while the UN forces advanced north. In late October and early November, after waiting patiently for the right opportunity, the Chinese troops sprang the trap. They set fires to the forests north and northeast of Unsan to obscure UN aerial observation, then emerged from the hills, sometimes behind the UN lines.They attacked the ROKs first and then the Americans....

    • Chapter 5 Truce Talks and Prison Riots
      (pp. 35-39)

      CLEARLY, THE BATTERED Communist forces lacked the firepower to break through the UN lines on a wide front. Realistically, they could no longer expect to recapture Seoul and drive into South Korea. They could achieve temporary success in limited sectors, but even this success came at the cost of huge casualty figures. On the UN side, even if the firepower and troops to drive the Chinese back to the Yalu were available, the will to do so was lacking, especially in Washington and among the other UN participants. Although Ridgway believed the Eighth Army, if ordered to do so, “could...

    • Chapter 6 Trench Warfare and Peace
      (pp. 40-48)

      IN THE MEANTIME, the war went on. Since the end of 1951, when the two sides agreed on the demarcation line, the nature of the war had changed. It was no longer a war to “win,” and every UN soldier soon knew it. Instead, it had now become a stalemated war of the trenches, the most forgotten part of the forgotten war. Yet, about 45 percent of all U.S. casualties tragically occurred after the beginning of the truce talks.¹ Much bloody fighting lay ahead, but the front lines remained essentially unchanged. Both sides just dug in and prepared to stay....

  10. Part Two. Many Faces, One War

    • Chapter 7 Getting to Korea
      (pp. 51-54)

      I FLEW FROM Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, for a few days leave in Stillwater, Oklahoma, before going on to Seattle, where I would ship out for Korea. Since my buddy Pete Hitt was on leave in Denver, I decided to catch a bus to Denver and ride the train with him to Seattle.

      My mother and I decided to say goodbye at the house, so I took a cab to the bus station. In a scene reminiscent of the early morning departure of Jeff Bridges for Korea in the movieThe Last Picture Show,I, too, started my trek. It was...

    • Chapter 8 A Mortar Man’s Story
      (pp. 55-64)

      SOMETIME BEFORE I turned eighteen in 1948, Congress passed a law that permitted you to fulfill your military obligation by entering the service for one year and then remaining in the reserve for six years. Several of us in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, where I grew up, thought that sounded better than the alternative, which was to be drafted into the army for two years of active duty. So we decided to join the army for one year and get our service out of the way, or so we thought. Little did we realize a war was less than two years...

    • Chapter 9 Escaping the Trap
      (pp. 65-75)

      WE LANDED AT Pusan on August 24, 1950, at Dock 5. It was about 4:00 in the morning and still dark. Most of us were out on the deck waiting for the ship to dock. On the docks, we saw our first Koreans; they were putting in place the gang planks we would use to disembark. They had a yellowish complexion, slanted eyes, and wore what we called knee pants.

      From the ship’s deck we could see part of the city of Pusan, and it looked very crowded. The main part of the city was built along the flat lands...

    • Chapter 10 A North Korean Officer’s Story
      (pp. 76-84)

      IN 1928, I was born into a Korean farmer’s family in Hailin County, Heilongjiang Province, Northeast China. Let me tell you a little bit about the Korean immigrants to China. There are about 2 million Korean people living in China today as one of the fifty-six Chinese minorities. Most of the Korean Chinese live in Northeast China, including Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Jilin Provinces. Most of them work on their farms in the countryside. We are Chinese citizens, but we speak Korean, celebrate our holidays, and keep our traditions, just like the Mexican immigrants living in America.

      As the first generation...

    • Chapter 11 China’s Crouching Dragon
      (pp. 85-94)

      IN 1922, I was born into a peasant family in Leting County, Hebei Province. During the Chinese CivilWar (1946–1949), I joined the Chinese Liberation Army (PLA), and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1948. At twenty-eight I became a captain in the 347th Regiment of the PLA Thirty-ninth Army. In late July 1950, our army moved one thousand miles from Henan Province in Central China to Liaoning Province in Northeast China.

      We were told that American troops had invaded Korea. Some soldiers asked me during our long, northward railroad journey if we were going to Korea to fight Americans....

  11. Part Three. Chosin Accounts

    • Chapter 12 The Chosin Reservoir: A Marine’s Story
      (pp. 97-116)

      IN DECEMBER 1948, I joined the Twentieth Infantry Battalion, USMC Reserve, in Oklahoma City. Like many others, I became a marine largely because so many of my friends had already joined. When summer came, we climbed aboard a military transport plane and flew to Camp Pendleton, California. This was my very first ride in an airplane. After two weeks of marine training I returned to Oklahoma City, where a short time later I married my girlfriend, Betty Baker.

      Little did I realized when I joined the Marine Reserve that I would be just in time for the Korean War, which...

    • Chapter 13 The Chosin Reservoir: A Chinese Captain’s Story
      (pp. 117-124)

      THE PLA NINTH Army Group became the CPVF Ninth Army Group in mid-October 1950. It was stationed in Southeast China as the CPVF reserve. In early November, the army group received its order to move north. It began to transport its three armies, the Twentieth, Twenty-sixth, and Twenty-seventh, by railway from Southeast to Northeast China on November 7.

      The CPVF situation in Korea became critical in November. After the CPVF’s first offensive, in late October, the UN forces prepared an all-out counteroffensive scheduled for late November. General Douglas MacArthur promised his soldiers they would be “back home for Christmas” after...

  12. Part Four. On the Front Lines

    • Chapter 14 The Hwachon Reservoir Fighting
      (pp. 127-130)

      ABOUT 3:00 P.M. on June 5, 1951,I (Item) Company was ordered to attack in the Hwachon Reservoir area, which was located in central Korea, north of Chunchon and a little south of the 38th Parallel. Our mission was to take a hill, the largest hill in the area. We began our attack in a valley and started the long climb up the hill.

      At the time of the attack, I was the squad leader for the Third Squad in the Second Platoon. We started up the hill while our artillery bombarded the enemy positions. After we had gone about a...

    • Chapter 15 Life on the MLR
      (pp. 131-133)

      ON MARCH 2, 1952, we left San Diego for Korea on theRego.We arrived in Korea and disembarked on March 27. Almost immediately we found ourselves on a train headed for the front, and then on a truck to our unit. I was assigned to Charlie Company, Fifth Regiment, First Marine Division. My job—machine gunner.

      By the time I arrived in Korea both the Communist forces and the UN forces had dug in, and the lines had stabilized in what had become a war of the trenches. This was supposed to be a quiet war, just a “police...

    • Chapter 16 A BAR Man’s Story
      (pp. 134-140)

      IN 1950, I was a twenty-three-year-old single man living in Cumberland, Maryland. In the eyes of my draft board, that made me just right for the army. I entered the army in November 1950, and after training at Camp Pickett,Virginia, I found myself on the USSGeneral A.E. Andersonheaded for Korea. When the ship pulled out of the harbor near Camp Stoneman, California, an army band on the dock played “So Long It’s Been Good to Know You.” When we arrived in Yokohama another army band on the dock played “If I Knew You Were Coming I’da Baked a...

    • Chapter 17 First Combat
      (pp. 141-149)

      SOMETIME LATE IN March 1953, we received our orders to go back on the hill, somewhere in the Punchbowl area. I was in the Fourth Squad,Third Platoon, A Company, Fifth RCT, and had been in Korea only since January. While I had been on the front line before, I had yet to see a Chinese soldier or experience any real combat.

      We reached the top of the hill after a tough climb, and Corporal Boucher, our squad leader, showed us our guard positions. I stood guard on the last post on our right flank, only about fifteen or twenty yards...

    • Chapter 18 Outpost Harry
      (pp. 150-155)

      IN MAY 1952, I graduated from a small country high school near the town of Mount View, in southwest Oklahoma. At the time, I had lived my entire life in a farming community with my mom and dad, plus my three brothers and three sisters. I had no idea how much my life would be changed in the next two years by the war in Korea.

      I spent the summer working on the farm as usual, but by fall, I was ripe for the draft. Then one day I received my draft notice, and on October 23, 1952, I was...

    • Chapter 19 A ROK Lieutenant Survives the Bloody Ridges
      (pp. 156-172)

      IT WAS AUGUST 1951, the second year of the war. The regiment would move toYanggoo for an operation to drive the Chinese troops off the strategic Hill 983 (the Sooribong).The roar of artillery in the distance was becoming louder by minutes as if it foretold the coming battle.

      Captain Jung addressed his officers. His words were simple and direct. “Until now we undertook operations in tandem with the U.S. Army units. But this operation is for the Thirty-sixth Regiment alone. We should remember that how we do in this battle will reflect on the honor of the entire ROK Army....

    • Chapter 20 The Chinese Go Underground
      (pp. 173-184)

      WE WERE SHOCKED when we heard that our regiments had lost fourteen out of sixteen positions on Hills 597.9 and 537.7 on October 16, 1952. I couldn’t believe that the regiment had 550 casualties in a one-day defense. The next day, my Eighth Company received an order to reinforce the First Company’s defense on Hill 597.9. At the company briefing, I didn’t tell my men that the First Company had only twenty men left, including the wounded, out of the company’s two hundred men. I didn’t want to scare a couple dozen new recruits who had been in our company...

    • Chapter 21 North and South: A Korean Youth Serves in Both Armies
      (pp. 185-198)

      ONE DAY, WHILE returning home from an errand, I overheard several elderly neighbors repeating some strange rumors. It was June 24, 1950.

      “It is said that a war has broken out.”

      “Who in the world says such a thing?”

      “Someone heard that the North’s Reds are invading.”

      “That could be major trouble. But could that be true?”

      I rushed home, but my anxiety remained unbearable. Could it be true? But nothing happened that night. In the morning, my entire family was terribly uneasy. We heard that war had indeed broken out. My father was out checking on the rumors, but...

  13. Part Five. Behind the Front Lines

    • Chapter 22 The “Lighter” Side of the War
      (pp. 201-205)

      WHILE I WAS in Korea during the winter of 1951–1952, only one major Hollywood performer visited our troops. It was still cold but not quite as icy when Betty Hutton and a troupe of entertainers came by the Forty-fifth Infantry Division.

      Along with others, as Division Public Information officer I was present with a photographer at the time of her arrival. When she got off of the helicopter, I was concerned about her show appearance. She had a bad case of laryngitis and could hardly utter a sound. Nevertheless, she was determined “to go on with the show.”


    • Chapter 23 A Korean Housewife’s Story
      (pp. 206-210)

      AT THE BEGINNING of the Korean War in 1950, I lived in Seoul with my husband, Lee I. Won, and our nearly two-year-old daughter, Lee Hong Im. I was twenty-four years old at the time, and I stayed home to take care of the house and my little girl. My husband had an office job working for the electric department in Seoul.

      At the time, we knew there were big problems between South and North Korea. Sometimes we heard about shootings around the 38th Parallel, which divided the two Koreas. We also knew that sometimes those living in North Korea...

  14. Part Six. POW Camps:: North and South

    • Chapter 24 An American Officer Observes the Koje Island Uprising
      (pp. 213-215)

      IN THE EARLY spring of 1952, the big news from Korea, which I followed in theStars and Stripes,dealt with the American prison camp on Koje Island, located just offshore from Pusan.

      This prison had become so overloaded that control was almost impossible. The Communist prisoners had fashioned eating utensils into knives that they could use as weapons within the compound. Behind the chain link and barbed wire fences they were conducting kangaroo courts, and maiming and even killing their fellow prisoners.

      Finally, the situation became so bad that the Americans had to move in with tanks to literally...

    • Chapter 25 One Week Of War, Three Years of Captivity
      (pp. 216-234)

      I GREW UP in Twin City, Georgia, and saw service in the Army Air Corps at the end of WWII. Out of the service in 1945, I went back to college and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1947 through the Army ROTC program. By March 1948, I was back on active duty. Later assigned to the Twenty-fourth Infantry Division in Japan, I was in just the right place to see action when the North Koreans invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950.

      As it turned out, elements of the Twenty-fourth Division were the very first U.S. forces assigned to...

    • Chapter 26 A First Sergeant’s Expreience
      (pp. 235-241)

      LIKE SO MANY others, when the Korean War began in June 1950, I entered the war as a WWII retread. I had served in the First Cavalry Division in the Philippines, then spent a year with the occupation forces in Japan. In December 1948, after a year and a half of college, I had started a new job. Since I had stayed in the reserves in order to preserve my rank as staff sergeant, and the army desperately needed experienced personnel, I was just right to be called up.

      In September, I received my notice to report for active duty...

    • Chapter 27 Organizing the Riots on Koje: Colonel Zhao’s Story
      (pp. 242-258)

      DURING THE CHINESE People’s Volunteer Forces’ Fifth Campaign in the spring of 1951, the UN forces managed to surround the 180th Division. The 538th Regiment, my regiment, was assigned the mission of breaking through the enemy lines and leading the division’s retreat to the north. When we attempted to carry out our mission during the night of May 24, we failed. I lost contact with regimental headquarters during the night and was captured by the UN forces on May 25. By May 28, most of the division was gone, and nine thousand Chinese soldiers, I learned later, became prisoners of...

  15. Perspectives on the War
    (pp. 259-264)

    IN JUNE 1950, the invading North Korean army, trained and advised by the Soviets, armed with Soviet weapons, and indoctrinated with the Communist rhetoric of its leader, Kim II Sung, quickly forced the ROK Army into a hasty retreat. Labeling themselves as “liberators” who invaded to free the enslaved South Koreans from the tyranny of Syngman Rhee and the capitalist-imperialist Americans, many South Koreans initially saw the invasion as a means of achieving a unified Korea and welcomed the invaders. The North Korean army’s brutal persecution and needless killings, however, quickly turned the South Koreans against the invaders.

    When American...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 265-272)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 273-279)
  18. Index
    (pp. 280-291)