I am well aware that my view of the Korean War has no historical importance. Still, it is my view, and I want to share it with you. I do not have a cause to plead or an ax to grind, and that alone ought to count for something. My memoirs are selective and most certainly tainted with time. My recollections are a lot like boot mines, and ought to be approached with caution.
I was a grunt, a Four Deuce forward observer, assigned to duty with a marine infantry company every time the 1st Marine Regiment went back up on line. During the time I was in Korea my boondockers were firmly planted in trench-line mud. When I came home in September 1952, I was proud that I had helped in the attempt to stop Communism in Korea. I was proud of all the men I served, and served with, and I was a little bit proud of myself, too.
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Read an Excerpt
The Korean War began late in June 1950 and for the first fifteen months raged fiercely up and down and across the peninsula of that country. Both North Korea and South Korea were devastated. After the war machines of the United Nations command, of the Chinese communist forces, of both North Korea and South Korea had chewed up the country, spitting out only waste, much had been lost and very little had been gained by either side. The fight to gain land—for one side or the other—ended almost exactly where it began along the 38th Parallel.
Although great masses of land were taken and lost again by both sides during the first fifteen months of the Korean War, the beginning of peace talks saw the war stagnate following a last major engagement in 1951, an action called the Punchbowl. The war stagnated with combatants on both sides living in trenches. War was a matter of reconnaissance and combat patrols, a matter of fierce firefights with small arms, a matter of howitzers and mortars fired discriminately and indiscriminately.
Many books detail the history of early Korean battles, of engagements both large and small, of men and machines of war, of the way and manner and fighting abilities of all concerned with the war, especially during the first fifteen months of the Korean War. Justifiably so; this was fierce warfare and needed to be recorded.
Very few books have been written of the months that followed, from October 1951 until the end in July 1953. In those twenty-one months, many men died in the trench warfare that existed—warfare likened to that of World War I, but which was fought in a more modern manner. Although still a shooting war, a dying war, the Korean War came virtually to a standstill, degenerating in 1951 into dreary and seemingly endless battles for the same hills. Although the war came somewhat to a halt, the men fighting it did not.
War is often quite unconventional, and fighting in a trench warfare situation is often bizarre. One of the last recorded instances of an engagement in the Korean War is perhaps the oddest of all. Some forty minutes before 2200 on July 27, 1953—the hour the shooting stopped—marines on a hill near Panmunjon saw Chinese digging in a trench less than a hundred yards away. They asked if they should shoot and were ordered not to. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hill, their battalion commander, summed up the entire war when he allegedly said: “Don’t start anything you can’t stop.” The marines did not shoot; instead they spent the last few minutes of the Korean War throwing rocks at the Chinese.
The Korean War cost the United States 142,091 casualties—33,629 men were dead; 103,284 were wounded; and 5,178 were captured or missing. This book is about some of the grunts who died or were wounded from September 1951 through September 1952.
These memoirs are not an attempt to answer, solve, or resolve the problems arising from or about the three-year-long Korean War or the much longer stalemate that followed that war. This story was written to let you know how one very young, very scared marine saw his very first war and how he reacted to the killing and the mayhem of it. The stories are my view of that war, a war gone to ground in the trench lines. Dig into the stories and you may find something you were not expecting. I am well aware that my view of the Korean War has no historical importance. Still, it is my view, and I want to share it with you. I do not have a cause to plead or an ax to grind, and that alone ought to count for something. My memoirs are selective and most certainly tainted with time. My recollections are a lot like boot mines, and ought to be approached with caution. I was a grunt, a Four Deuce forward observer, assigned to duty with a marine infantry company every time the 1st Marine Regiment went back up on line. During the time I was in Korea, my boondockers were firmly planted in trench-line mud. When I came home in September 1952, I was proud that I had helped in the attempt to stop communism in Korea. I was proud of all the men I served, and served with, and I was a little bit proud of myself, too. I was very young and naive back then; I believe we all were very young and naive.
C. S. Crawford
Burlington, North Carolina
From Line to Line
I was one of the relatively few men to be promoted to private first class right out of boot camp. I must have shown the Parris Island drill instructors something, maybe perseverance, maybe stubbornness.
I first joined the marines in November 1948. After a lifetime of waiting to be old enough to join, I was permitted to join for just one year. I had to enlist in the USMC-V program. There was a reason for such short-term enlistments.
Recent history had shown that the United States was always caught short without a proper reserve unit of trained men to call upon in the event of war. Prior to World War I the marines had less than 10,000 officers and enlisted men, and after the war was finished, peacetime attrition saw the ranks fall back to 16,000 enlisted men in 1920. When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor in December 1941, there were just slightly more than 4,000 officers and just a bit more than 66,000 enlisted men; four years later there were more than a half-million men in the marines with a wartime strength of 37,664 officers and 485,113 enlisted. Peacetime cutbacks saw the marines reduced to just 7,254 officers and 67,025 enlisted men, the on-board strength as of June 30, 1950, when the Korean War began.
Having studied the problems inherent in bringing reduced strengths to peak effective strengths in a short time period, the Marine Corps developed its own plans to have an effective combat force. A select cadre of combat-experienced officers and enlisted men, the Old Salts, would be retained on active duty. New blood in the form of enlistees would be permitted to join for just one year, and would then stay for eight years in the Marine Corps Reserve, a force trained in marine ways and readily available to be drawn upon. That’s the position I was in during June 1950.
I wanted to reenlist at the end of my first year. Hell! Why not? I liked being a marine. Besides, times were tough on the outside. Men were having trouble finding a job and then keeping it. Nobody in the Democratic White House was admitting it, but everyone thought we were heading into another depression.
Anyway, a major shook my hand, made a big production out of handing me a lapel button called a “ruptured duck,” and handed me a set of honorable discharge papers saying I was a World War II veteran entitled to wear the National Defense Service Ribbon. I didn’t understand any of it, but I didn’t question it either. Young Pfc’s, men “prayin’ for corporal,” hardly ever question majors. All I knew was that during the past year I had fought mosquitoes and ticks and chiggers in the swampy parts of Camp Lejeune. I had distinguished myself learning basic skills in how to identify and avoid copperhead snakes, water moccasins, and NCOs looking for people to put on shit details.
One day I was a marine and the next I was a civilian looking for work. I went home to an economy that was depressing. During the next eight months I worked as a carpenter and yard boy at four lumber companies and saw three of them fold due to bankruptcy. The fourth company, the one where I was then employed, was on very shaky legs.
That’s when the North Koreans came barreling and shooting over the 38th Parallel early in the morning of June 25, 1950. I first heard about it over the radio and then read about it in the newspapers. I headed straight to the marine recruiting station in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I wanted to see family friend Marine M. Sgt. Walter Fletchko, the man who had filled out my first set of enlistment papers.
If there was going to be a war—and from what radio broadcasters were saying it seemed that feisty President Harry Truman wasn’t going to stand for any shit from communist North Korea—then I wanted to be in on it. I had no idea where Korea was located, and I couldn’t have cared less. I only knew that I still remembered my General Orders for a marine sentry on guard duty, remembered most of the lessons I had learned in basic infantry training, and was well aware of the fact that I was tired of working for peanuts in civilian outfits fast going broke. This was my chance to live a life of adventure, the hell-bent-for-leather life I had watched Wallace Beery play in the movies. This was my chance to join the marines for longer than just one year. Hopefully, this would be my chance to earn some NCO stripes.
While I was filled with the high ideals of youth, realistically I must admit that my convictions at that time were perhaps just as shallow as those of the next man. I was an idealist. I felt that a foreign war—especially this war against communism—might require sacrifices because it was for a just cause. Later, when I took the time to examine more closely my Don Quixote ideals, I figured out that it just might be me ending up on the sacrificial block; it just might be me inside the windmill that was being tilted.
However, in the first moments of my militaristic enthusiasm, I eagerly accepted the four-year enlistment contract that Sergeant Fletchko offered me.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Crawford was a young scared Marine when he went to Korea in 1951. This book is his story told many years after the fact . He Doesn't glorify the battles or people. He Doesn't try to explain the why or wherefores of the war. Just tells in simple terms the day to day life and doings of the war from his point of view.The Stories he tells are at times humorous, sad and shocking but never gratuitously graphic or violent.Though his eyes and writing you get a glimse into why such strong bounds are forged between unlikly people in war time. A must read for any military history buff or those who are interested in the Korean War.