There’s that scene at the Battle of Cowpers in the film The Patriot where the American line is starting to break and Mel Gibson’s character rushes to encourage his men and saves the day. You might know it.
Well, in 1950 the situation in the Korean War was the same at a place called the Pusan, now called Busan, Perimeter. American and South Korean forces had been thrown back by the North Koreans to a line around that port and their backs were up against the wall. A lot of men died before General MacArthur, in an end run amphibious invasion of Inchon, relieved the perimeter and went on the offensive.
That was one of the first engagements in the Cold War between freedom and Soviet Marxism. The conflict lasted from 1945-1991 and cost in only Korea and Vietnam about 100,000 American lives. This Memorial Day we should remember those men.
The combat, officially never wars, doesn’t get its due because when we left they had both ended in a draw. The draw held in Korea. It didn’t in Vietnam. That’s why Vietnam and Korea, especially Korea, are the forgotten wars by the popular culture.
There are more than several good Vietnam films like We Were Soldiers and Hamburger Hill. But Korea rates Pork Chop Hill and The Bridges at Toko-Ri and not much else. But the men fought and died just the same, only without the requisite honor and glory that was due them by their countrymen.
Perhaps because it was a stalemate, I find the Korean War Memorial on the mall in DC the most poignant and fitting of the lot. Not an edifice that tries to overawe like the WWII Memorial and past the noble simplicity of the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean Memorial is a fine mural and statues of a platoon of soldiers on patrol.
There are 19 stainless steel statues designed by Frank Gaylord. Each statue is between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches tall; each weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. The men represent a platoon drawn from the various branches of the armed forces; fourteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, three are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy Corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer. They are dressed in full combat gear.
The look on the faces of the hard slogging platoon in ponchos is one of vigilance combined with extreme fatigue, the famous “thousand yard stare.” I’ve always thought their visages served as a metaphor for the Cold War itself.
From the Berlin Airlift, to the Chosin Reservoir, to the Bay of Pigs, to the troops of NATO in Germany whom I served with, to the jungles of Vietnam millions manned the ramparts of liberty. That was the high price of seemingly eternal vigilance.
So on this Memorial Day, between the beer and hot dogs, spare a moment for the men who fell in Korea and Vietnam and for other free men who gave everything serving in remote places that we will never hear about. For over 45 years they fought and eventually won. No real stalemate, no real draw. They held the line and won. And so did we.