On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As one ship sat burning in the harbor, its anti-aircraft guns blazing at the incoming waves of planes, a chaplain reportedly began assisting the gunners, and was heard to shout, “Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!” This phrase was turned into a popular patriotic song of the Second World War. The chorus ended, “Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition, and we’ll all stay free.” It was this vision of men’s responsibilities that motivated British and American forces. Churchill’s “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” speech — actually, he had said “blood, sweat, toil, and tears” — delivered a similar message: the assurance of victory, at first in a defensive battle, but ultimately offensively. The Allies were determined to carry the war to the enemy’s front door, and then knock down the door. It would not be easy, but it would be done.
Pusan or Inchon?
In June of 1950, the North Korean army attacked South Korea. The poorly equipped South Korean army, outnumbered two-to-one, collapsed immediately. Half of its 65,000 men were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. President Singman Rhee (age 75) and General Douglas MacArthur (age 74), who had flown in from Japan, watched the final rout from the front lines. Seoul, the South Korean capital, fell in four days.
America flew in the Army’s 24th and 25th divisions from Japan. Inexperienced, poorly trained, and poorly equipped, they retreated for six weeks until they were trapped on the southern tip of Korea, the Pusan peninsula. Some American troops had surrendered at first, until they learned how few prisoners the North Koreans took. It looked as if MacArthur’s troops would be pushed into the sea. Finally, the Americans and South Koreans dug in, and a stalemate ensued. A chunk of land south of a 120-mile strip across the southern tip of Korea was all that remained of tree South Korea. Now what? MacArthur had an idea. Why not launch an invasion at the port of Inchon, 24 miles west of Seoul and 150 miles from the rear of the North Korean forces? It was considered impossible to complete an amphibious landing at Inchon. MacArthur knew what military experts believed, so he decided to attempt it. The element of surprise was crucial. The 1st Marine Division was secretly shipped in from San Francisco, and on September 15, the invasion began. It was over the day it started. The American forces cut the North Koreans oft from behind, and within two weeks the North Koreans were defeated. Halt were in prisoner of war camps; the rest were cut off in small units or trying to flee home.
The war did not end, of course. The Chinese Communists invaded with a huge force of 300,000 men in late November. MacArthur had been caught off guard, despite warning signs. The Chinese had done to him what he had done to the North Koreans. It was the worst military defeat of his career. He learned first-hand what he had taught: there is no respite during a war. The war goes on until one side wins.
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