Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Supply Logistics

August 1951. Yangku, Korea.  A team of U.S. Army soldiers supported by Korean Service Corps members shoulder a load up the steep slopes of a hill.  They may be carrying mortars and related ammunition.  It was imperative to occupy and fortify high ground if the surrounding territory were to be held.  Such heights were almost always inaccessible by mechanized transport.  Helicopters in 1951 were not yet available in sufficient numbers (or payload capacity) to ease the foot soldiers' burden. Domesticated oxen would do, if available.  If not, strong backs and many hands were the solution.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

GMC Deuce and a Half

C. 1950, Korea.  This confident-looking crew pose before their GMC 2.5-ton cargo truck, so named for its cargo-carrying capacity.  The "Deuce and a Half" was the U.S. Army's standard vehicle for carrying men, weapons, rations, and any other supplies that could be crammed onto the cargo bed.  The trucks available to the Army for operations in Korea in 1950 were entirely war surplus, manufactured no later than 1945.  Many examples saw service in World War II, and had the scars to show it.  Plentiful in number, the GMCs often suffered poor mechanical integrity, providing maintenance headaches to mechanics.  Nevertheless, these trucks were the Army's lifeline in Korea.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Edward "Buster" Morrison, Age 19

**UPDATE, August 18, 2019:  Buster Morrison's remains have been identified and returned home for final interment.  Read more here.

Edward Marshall “Buster” Morrison was a big kid from a big family, the fourth of nine children. “He didn’t take no lip from nobody,” his brother Joe said years later. Raised in Ashland, Wisconsin, Buster grew up hunting, fishing, delivering newspapers, and ice skating on Lake Superior. This good-looking boy enjoyed hand-holding with a few girlfriends. Ultimately, however, Ashland bored him. He joined the Army in anticipation of seeing the world. He joined the thousands of teenaged U.S. Army soldiers billeted in Japan during the post-WWII occupation.  Then came Korea: Buster was deployed along with Philip Hughes as a rifleman with Baker Company, 34th Infantry Regiment.  That unit’s initial combat assignment on July 6, 1950 was to blockade the North Korean Army’s advance from a defensive position on a hill just north of P’yongt'aek. The Americans were out-numbered and out-gunned.  A survivor of that engagement says that Buster, age 19, was killed at his fighting position. That battle led to the Americans' hasty and disorganized retreat to Ch'onan, where another battle awaited them. Buster’s remains are still unaccounted for.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Korean War Chow Line

C. 1950.  It's hard to tell which meal of the day this is, as the mess crew is serving a choice of coffee - ladled from a re-purposed trash can - and bottles of Coca-Cola.  Rough accommodations not withstanding, the line up of men appear eager for the refreshment. These men are clean shaven and their hair is cropped; perhaps they have not been in the field for long.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Come as You Are

The Korean War caught the American military off-guard in many ways.  What the U.S. did not lack in 1950 was plenty of surplus equipment. One of the duties assigned to troops occupying Japan during the late 1940s was the collection of materiel accumulated for the invasion of Japan - an event that was planned but never happened.  The image above shows an aircraft runway populated with jeeps used on Okinawa and other Pacific battles preceding the conclusion of World War II.  Teams of military and Japanese civilian contractors overhauled these and other vehicles before and during the Korean War. When that war broke out, the American military relied on surplus assets for at least a year.  Loss of life was sometimes caused - or hastened - by the poor mechanical integrity of these vehicles.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Dignity and Resolve

This photo is a classic for good reason. The setting is South Korea, 1950, the land of morning calm.  Without knowing the backstory of the war initiated that year, the viewer may ask: Why would there be conflict here in this barren place? It's impossible not to admire the order displayed by both columns of people. The soldiers march into harm's way. The refugees form an orderly column toward an unknown destination. The dignity and resolve of everyone involved are immeasurable.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Korean War Refugees

Korean War history, as extensive as it is, fails to adequately recognize the hardships of the many civilians caught between the belligerents.  It is hard to imagine the plight of these families. In 1950, faced with consequences of regime change, they would rather abandon their homes and farms. The unknown was more bearable than what was to be imposed on them by the forces encroaching from the north.  The U.N. forces coming to the aid of South Korea shared roads clogged with men, women, and children, their worldly possessions limited to what they could carry.  They took flight, generally south toward Pusan, not knowing what accommodations may await them.  One of the better descriptions of the refugee experience was provided by New Yorker magazine's E.J. Kahn in "The Peculiar War: Impressions of a Reporter in Korea."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Tsushima Strait

1950.  Enroute to Korea.  Over 50 percent of the U.S. Army troops committed to Korea during the summer of 1950 were age 19 or less.  These boys elected to stay on deck of the cargo ship that took them for a 15-hour cruise across the Tsushima Strait from Sasebo, the Kyushu (southern Japan) port.  They had no clue what awaited them in the Land of the Morning Calm. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

South Korean Landscape, C. 1950

In 1950, almost every square inch of Korea's flat river valleys were cultivated with rice paddies.  Per the prevailing agricultural techniques at the time, these fields were fertilized with human waste. Fighting a war in Korea involved taking control of the high ground, a task for which trucks and mechanized equipment were useless. The U.S. Army during the Korean War relied on trucks - and therefore roads - for resupply and communications. These roads were rough and, during 1950, clogged with refugees escaping forces invading from the north. Enemy soldiers were exceedingly adept deploying roadblocks and ambushes, taking full advantage of the rough terrain.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

At Ease in Korea, 1950

From the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.

1950.  An unidentified U.S. Army private soaks his feet in a spare helmet. American soldiers rushed to Korea that summer were outfitted from World War II surplus stockpiles stored in Japan. Quartermasters had plenty of supplies, but logistics very often prevented soldiers in the field from receiving properly tailored clothing.  Ill-fitting boots worn on extended marches wreaked havoc on men's feet.

Where it all began...

The Battle of Turkey Thicket was inspired by a small memorial plaque bolted to the interior wall of St. Edmond's Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. I first noticed it around 1995. The plaque is the only one of its kind in the entire church, placed under the 14th station of the cross. Over the years, I sifted through the Internet and found the story - and the people - behind the memorial.  There was more to it than I had ever imagined.