Military history



It was very easy to start a war in Korea. It was not so easy to stop it.

— From the Russian of N. S. Khrushchev, speech before the Bulgarian Party leadership.

LATE IN THE 1952 presidential campaign, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican candidate, said, "If elected, I will go to Korea." The effectiveness of this pledge, though it had little of promise in it, was adjudged by the agony of Eisenhower's opposition. While the pledge was immediately attacked as cheap politics, it undoubtedly swayed the votes of thousands of families with men in Korea. And it was a simple acknowledgment of a fact the incumbent Administration wished to avoid—that the Korean War was at the heart of the campaign and that its continuance under present terms was becoming politically impossible.

It was not the entrance of the United States into the war that came back now to haunt Harry Truman and his picked successor, Stevenson, but the continuing military and diplomatic standoff since 1951. The 2,500 American casualties per month the stalemate was costing were insignificant, except on the conscience of the American people.

During the last years of Napoleon's reign, his ministers calculated that the French nation could afford 100,000 casualties per month in the emperor's wars. The figures were based on the total French population, and the number of men coming of military age each year. What was not taken into account was that the French people, having left the bones of two million men from Lisbon to Moscow, were becoming completely unenthusiastic about stepping "into the breach" however valid the reasons.

Professional soldiers have been and may be used as pawns on the table of diplomacy. Impressed American citizens may not, without vast consequences. In November 1952, General Eisenhower carried the election by a landslide.

On 21 November General Clark in Tokyo received word that the President-elect was flying to Korea in early December, and wanted no receptions, diplomatic teas, and the like. He would make a tour of the front, which presented Clark with an enormous security problem. Eisenhower's movements in a hostile theater had to be kept secret as far as possible, and he must never be permitted to come within each of enemy guns.

The news of the President-elect's coming had a palpable effect on the men engaged in Korea. Ranking general and private alike, many of these men had been haunted by the sense of being forgotten. It had seemed to them that the United States was slowly adjusting to a situation in which Eighth Army held the far-off battle line forever, while life in the homeland went on as before. While public opinion was hostile to the war, there was also evidence that many people preferred to put the unpleasantness out of mind.

There was now very little of the hero's welcome for returnees of the Korean War. The American people did not quite know how to regard a war they had not won.

With news of Eisenhower's coming, generals began to speculate if soon they might be released from the restrictions that bound them to stalemate, while privates wondered if it meant they might soon go home.

Clark, who in company with most of FECOM generaldom, had felt deeply the same frustration as MacArthur, had prepared a detailed list of forces needed and planning required to achieve military victory in Korea. Clark was particularly sanguine about employing Chiang Kai-shek's idle and aging divisions on Taiwan—which had not been used primarily because of European repugnance to the idea.

Eisenhower flew into Suwon early in December 1952, bringing with him a large entourage—Charles E. Wilson, the Secretary of Defense Designate; General Omar Bradley, Chairman of the JCS; Admiral Radford, COMINPAC; Generals Ramey and Persons, Herbert Brownell, and his press secretary, Jim Hagerty.

He made a whirlwind tour of the areas in back of the battlefront, and met briefly with Syngman Rhee. He discussed very little business, and in that sense his trip seemed what his political opponents claimed—a cheap gesture, to pay off a campaign promise in even cheaper coin. But from this visit two highly significant facts stood forth.

Ike never saw Clark's list of requirements for winning the war. The matter was not even broached, and it was immediately apparent to Clark that the new Administration intended to press for an honorable peace rather than to broaden the fighting. In this sense, Eisenhower's trip seemed to solve nothing, accomplish nothing, except to inform the generals that there would be no immediate change of policy.

The other significant matter that was discussed lay buried under a cloak of security. For two years the enemy had battered the U.N. with a propaganda war, while the U.N. attempts to strike back had been somewhat fumbling. Now Eisenhower showed himself keenly interested in psychological warfare as it was being waged from Japan. For two years and more, the U.N. Command had shouted its every intention to the world—and to the enemy; now this was to change.

Eisenhower, and the men around him, rightly or wrongly, were of the opinion that the Soviet Union wanted no big war, and it was time for the United States to take a certain amount of initiative—to keep the other side off balance, if possible. This tactic had been discussed before, and always discarded as too dangerous. Consequently, the policy had been always to tell the Communists exactly where the United States stood, while the Communists said nothing of their own intentions.

The new Administration was determined to step up the psychological pressures that could be applied to the enemy. The Communist world had many vulnerable areas. Some of these, like the captive European peoples, the Administration would find too sensitive; the United States could meddle behind the iron curtain only at the certain risk of war.

But there were other areas, such as the situation in Korea, that might be exploited. Now, certain measures were planned that would have an important bearing on the ending of the war.

While in Korea, Eisenhower was briefed by Clark on the reported ammunition shortage, which had become a major scandal in the American press. It was true that certain calibers of artillery and mortar ammunition were in short supply, and Clark had rationed them. But the line itself had never been hampered.

Part of the shortage was real. Rear-area ammunition dumps had been depleted by the unprecedented expenditure along the line; in the commendable effort to save lives American artillery had taken to hurling enormous quantities of metal during the hill battles. The barrages fired exceeded anything in either of the two world wars, and by 1953 more shells had already been fired during the limited war in Korea than in all of World War II. While the enemy had an estimated number of field guns equal to those of the U.N., it was the American volume of fire, hurled without stint or counting, and its superior placement, that enabled the U.N. to win almost all the hill battles from Heartbreak to Pork Chop.

The rest of the shortage lay in mismanagement by FECOM ordnance. A new ordnance officer was installed; accounting methods were improved; shipments from the States speeded up, and front-line troops ordered not to discuss any restrictions with reporters—and the question of the ammunition shortage died a natural death, while some divisions went on burning up as many as ten thousand rounds per night.

The briefings and discussions ended, Ike flew home; Christmas came. The war went on as before, and the expectations of troops and generals dulled.

But everywhere new pressures were mounting, and events were marching toward conclusions.

While hills along the uneasy battle line were disputed, now in the eastern mountains, now in the Marine zone near the estuary of the Imjin on the west, the American people's impatience with the war was matched in other places. And the impatience was colored by rising fear, for the longer the guns in Korea exploded, the greater the danger of a bigger conflict. The smaller countries of the U.N. had never ceased to explore ways out of the prisoner-of-war deadlock.

It was a difficult task. Steadfastly, the United States refused to order men to return to tyranny at gunpoint; here the moral issue was clear-cut. And just as adamantly, the Red Chinese and North Koreans declined to accept anything less than full repatriation.

This was the only deadlock preventing truce. The other questions, such as unification of Korea, and guarantees of its independence, the U.N. had put by the board in its resolution of February 1951, when it was decided that these problems were to be solved "through peaceful means" at a conveniently unspecified time following cease-fire.

At first, owing to the extravagant claims of Nam II and the Communist leadership at Panmunjom, world opinion had remained confused on the POW issue. Among the neutrals, particularly, there had been much doubt that the United States told the truth, that there had been no coercion used on the POW's at the time the prisoners were rioting by the thousands on Koje. If a mass breakout had occurred, the United States would never have been able to convince these peoples of its truthfulness and morality.

But with the POW's under tighter control, and inspected by neutral teams, the truth of the American position slowly became self-evident.

And inevitably, from the time Haydon Boatner had control of U.N. POW Camp 1, the Communists began to lose the POW propaganda war. After all, their camps had never been opened to anyone, including the Red Cross.

Whether the Communists could publicly admit that many of their captured soldiers refused repatriation or not, the world was becoming aware of it. And more and more of the world, from Mexico to India, was becoming annoyed at Communist intransigence.

In November 1952, Indian Delegate V. K. Krishna Menon, avowedly no friend of the United States, proposed to the U.N. that the POW's of both sides be released to a neutral repatriation commission completely outside the control of either combatant, in agreed numbers and at agreed exchange points in Korean demilitarized zones. The commission would screen them, and if there were any POW's whose return was not provided for, these should then become the responsibility of the U.N.

The proposal was greeted with anger by the Communist side.

In December, with slight modifications, it was passed as a resolution by the U.N. Lester Pearson of Canada, Assembly President, presented the resolution to China and North Korea, requesting their acceptance in order to facilitate "a constructive and durable peace in Korea."

The two Communist governments termed the proposal "illegal, unfair, and unreasonable," and promptly rejected it.

South Korea, which was holding a large number of now decidedly anti-Communist POW's, also angrily denounced the Indian resolution.

The United States was cautiously—it had no great trust in Menon—agreeable.

Now the Communists, who cried over and over again their fervent desire for peace, were increasingly being backed into a corner in which it was apparent they preferred continued bloodshed to a propaganda defeat—and in so doing they were getting the defeat anyway.

Trygve Lie, U.N. Secretary General, stated publicly that it seemed those who had commenced the aggression in Korea were simply not willing to end it. He was widely quoted.

In late 1952, world opinion, for whatever it was worth, was turning slowly but definitely against the North Koreans and Red Chinese. Continued fighting by these nations could only intensify the swing.

When Eisenhower departed the Far East in December, General Clark was certain that the new Administration would opt for a negotiated peace rather than intensified war. Shortly after the inauguration, he was formally notified to this effect.

Then, on 19 February, he was advised by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that on 13 December 1952 the Executive Committee of the League of Red Cross Societies meeting in Geneva had voted fifteen to two that sick and wounded POW's of the Korean War be exchanged even before a truce was negotiated. Only Red China and Russia opposed, and the JCS understood that a similar resolution was pending before the U.N. With concurrence from the State Department, they urged Clark to put such a proposal before the enemy, in advance of the U.N. action.

This very thing had been proposed by the U.N. Command in December 1951; the Communists had rejected it.

On 22 February 1953, Clark wrote to premier Kim II Sung of North Korea, and to Peng Teh-huai of the Chinese Volunteers: … The United Nations Command remains immediately ready to repatriate those seriously sick and seriously wounded captured personnel who are fit to travel in accordance with provisions of Article 109 of the Geneva Convention. I wish to be informed whether you are prepared for your part to proceed immediately with the repatriation of seriously sick and wounded personnel.… The United Nations Command liaison officers will be prepared to meet your liaison officers to make necessary arrangements.

The appeal was delivered through Panmunjom. For thirty-six days there was no reply.

During the first months of 1953, as the propaganda war began to turn against the Red Chinese, other pressures, both subtle and unsubtle, began to make themselves felt in Communist capitals.

Communist leaders, without success, had tried to assess the meaning of the American change of Administration. During 1952 it had been the Republican leadership that had cried the loudest for direct action against the Communists—which had threatened, in one way or another—the loosing of the lightning against the transgressor. It had been largely Republicans who proposed Douglas MacArthur for the Presidency; it had been largely Republicans who seemed to support him in the Congress.

Now the Republicans, a general, at their head, were in power. And generals were as worrisome to the Kremlin, in one way, as they were to Capitol Hill, for the Communist leadership was essentially civilian. It had occurred to the Communist leaders, too, that generals were much more likely to regard war as inevitable than either politicians or diplomats.

The Communist ruling circles knew that General MacArthur, oddly, had been idolized by the American "millionaire ruling cliques" and supported by Senator Taft, who was certainly at the very center of those cliques—and Communist rulers were now trapped by their own mythology, which they tended to believe more than the West gave them credit for. It was Communist dogma that capitalists desire war in search of profits, ignoring the fact that in any Western nation the wealthy probably wanted war less than any other group—since wars normally bring social upheaval.

It may have been, in 1953, that the Republican leadership didn't know exactly what it was going to do about the Korean War. So far, it had not exactly enlightened the American people. But, more important, it had failed to enlighten the Communist world, too, and the Communist world, just now developing new problems, was deeply concerned, and far from convinced that the United States, in a fit of frustration, would not strike out.

Certain pressures out of Tokyo fell on receptive ground.

In Nevada, at Frenchman's Flat, a bright flash and ugly mushroom cloud had signified a gigantic change in the tactical battlefield—a change that had not come about at Hiroshima, despite statements to the contrary. In its early years the atomic device had remained a strategic weapon, suitable for delivery against cities and industries, suitable to obliterate civilians, men, women, and children by the millions, but of no practical use on a limited battlefield—until it was fired from a field gun.

Until this time, 1953, the armies of the world, including that of the United States, had hardly taken the advent of fissionable material into account. The 280mm gun, an interim weapon that would remain in use only a few years, changed all that, forever. With an atomic cannon that could deliver tactical fires in the low-kiloton range, with great selectivity, ground warfare stood on the brink of its greatest change since the advent of firepower.

The atomic cannon could blow any existing fortification, even one twenty thousand yards in depth, out of existence neatly and selectively, along with the battalions that manned it. Any concentration of manpower, also, was its meat.

It spelled the doom of Communist massed armies, which opposed superior firepower with numbers, and which had in 1953 no tactical nuclear weapons of their own.

The 280mm gun was shipped to the Far East. Then, in great secrecy, atomic warheads—it could fire either nuclear or conventional rounds—followed, not to Korea, but to storage close by. And with even greater secrecy, word of this shipment was allowed to fall into Communist hands.

At the same time, into Communist hands wafted a pervasive rumor, one they could neither completely verify nor scotch: that the United States would not accept a stalemate beyond the end of summer.

The psychological pressures on Chinese Intelligence became enormous. Neither an evaluative nor a collective agency, even when it feels it is being taken, dares ignore evidence.

China, losing the propaganda war, had yet gained tremendous prestige on the Korean battlefield. It had engaged the armies of the West and seemingly fought them to a standstill; it had leaped into great-power status in the Orient in a day. But if the United States threw the weight of its industrial and nuclear power onto the scales, power which so far it had held back, the Chinese gains could vanish even more quickly.

While they still spoke boastfully, in the frozen gardens of Peiping there were men who worried. In addition to military concerns, it had been a bad year economically from the Elbe to the Yalu; in many areas harvests were light, spelling trouble in the months to come.

On 5 March 1953 Joseph Stalin died. And because Stalin, like all dictators, had never really dared plan for his own succession but had systematically destroyed anyone seemingly capable of replacing him, the monolithic structure of Russian Communism was doomed.

Before Stalin was eulogized and in his tomb, the struggle for power within the Kremlin began. Before it was over, far in the future, the foundations of the Soviet state would be shaken to their roots.

And with the news, the satellite states, plagued with shortages and famine, suddenly hopeful, seethed with revolt. In East Germany, restlessness would result in open defiance before summer.

The Soviet state could survive both internal power struggles and satellite revolt, but all factions within the Kremlin had no time now for foreign adventures. For a certain length of time, Russia, still not recovered from the ravages of the Second World War but pushed on by Stalin's steel will, would require a respite, for the steel will was gone.

On 6 March 1953, it was time for the sound of the dove in the land, and the invention of the Peace Offensive.

It was time, now, to tempt fate no longer, and to place certain subtle but unmistakable pressures on the Chinese comrades, who, though concerned, still hated to give up a good thing.

Many things, joined together, now moved the world toward great events. In the spring of 1953, the leaders of the United States and the non-Communist world wanted peace. The Communist leadership desperately needed it.

Suddenly, ironically, there was a community of interest in the world, however fleeting it might be.

In the middle of the night in Tokyo, 28 March 1953, Wayne Clark was called out of bed to receive a message from Peng Teh-huai and Kim II Sung. As Clark groggily scanned the message, replete with the usual Communist complaint, abuse, and prevarication, one paragraph suddenly stood out.

Peng and Kim not only agreed that exchange of sick and wounded POW's was a good idea; they suggested that the plenary sessions at Panmunjom, in permanent recess since 8 October, be resumed at once.

Excited, but with much skepticism, Clark pushed the buttons that made it so. More than anything else, he was wondering what new trick the Communists had up their sleeve.

But on 30 March, Chou En-lai, Foreign Minister of Red China, announced publicly that China and North Korea might accept the idea of a neutral repatriation commission for the screening of all POW's.

At Panmunjom the liaison officers from the north suddenly exhibited an interest in progress never heretofore shown.

President Eisenhower said in Washington that the United States would accept every Communist offer at face value "until it was proved unworthy of our confidence." It was at this time that certain Communist leaders, who had been deeply concerned, began to wonder if Dwight Eisenhower might not genuinely be a man of peace. But the die was cast; in their secret conclaves the decision had already been made. The Communist world would try to salvage as much from Korea as they might, but they would withdraw. The adventure was over.

Because of the Communist salvage operations, the end would not come suddenly, but gradually. Men would still die on the gloomy hills, and fighting would still go on, while the Communists stubbornly tried to gain what they could from the POW debacle, for the Communists could never completely forego testing an opponent's will.

On 11 April, both sides agreed on terms for the exchange of sick and wounded captives. The U.N. would return 5,800; the Communists only 684: 471 ROK's, 149 Americans, and 64 from other nations.

For the first time, Americans had concrete evidence that not all of the 8,000 men they had lost into Communist captivity would return home. They did not yet understand the sickening fact that 58 percent of their men had perished in the dreary camps along the Yalu—and when they did, the moves toward peace were already far advanced, and no disclosures of atrocities could delay them.

Around the world, the hopes for a genuine peace rose. Newsmen flocked to Korea as they had not done since the summer of 1950. And it was while the hopes were highest, and newsmen gathered outside the demilitarized zone, that the Chinese tested the United States for the last time on Pork Chop, and made the dying there doubly cruel.

On 20 April, when Pork Chop had hardly cooled, Operation Little Switch began; the American sick and wounded came home, as Americans thought. It was only later, much after 26 April, when the exchanges ended, that Americans learned that the enemy had not played fair—many of the men exchanged on Little Switch were not hardship cases but those amenable to the Chinese, the "collaborators," whom the Communists expected to give a favorable picture of their captivity on return.

After the waves of sentimentality that poured from the press, any future attempts at wholesale punishment of these weaker prisoners was compromised at the start. The Chinese gambit was highly successful. The American public, understandably, gave its immediate forgiveness to the "sick and wounded," and rightly or wrongly, the military forces could not muster public support for harsh measures against those they claimed had been guilty of misconduct behind the wire.

The day after Little Switch ended, 27 April 1953, negotiations to end the fighting began in earnest. The Communists submitted a six-point proposal, the main points of which were:

1. All POW's desiring repatriation would be returned home two months following an armistice.

2. One month later, all others would be sent to a neutral state, where for a period of six months agents of their home countries would be allowed to make explanations to them.

3. Captives asking for repatriation from the neutral country would be released immediately.

4. If any POW's remained at the end of six months, the question of their disposal would be submitted to the political conference that was to follow the armistice.

May 1953 was spent in arguing modifications of the above—the United Nations wanted strict time limitations—and hammering out the selection of nations that might sit on the neutral commission. Late in the month the enemy became more active all along the line, but concentrated on non- American units. Several outposts were lost.

In June, the plenary sessions went into secret meetings, while the enemy launched 104 separate attacks on the U.N. lines, and 131,800 rounds of artillery fell on U.N. lines during a single day. During June, and later in July, the heaviest attacks and fire the enemy had launched in two years crashed against the front, and American opinion was divided. Some felt the Communists were out to wreck the peace talks; others thought they were merely firing up their painfully hoarded ammunition supplies before a truce was signed.

On 4 June the Communists effectively agreed to all major American counterproposals. The way had not been easy; they had fought a rear-guard action all the way, disputing each small point.

In final form, the POW question was settled as follows:

1. Within two months, each side, without hindrance, would repatriate all POW's desiring return.

2. A neutral commission would be set up within the demilitarized zone to accept custody of POW's of each side refusing to return. The commission and the POW's would be guarded by Indian troops.

3. Explanations might be made to reluctant POW's by agents of each side for a period of ninety days, then,

4. For thirty days, while the POW's continued in Indian custody, a conference would try to settle the eventual disposition of any who still refused to go home.

5. At the expiration of this time, any POW for whom no provision had been made would be released to civilian status.

6. The International Red Cross would assist those released to find new homes, if no other provisions had been made.

Now, with the Communists and the U.N. in agreement, only the Republic of Korea and aging Syngman Rhee stood in the way of armistice. And during the days of June, Syngman Rhee alternated between despair and defiance.

Emotionally and politically, Syngman Rhee could not accept the armistice terms. They left his nation and people divided; they left a million South Kore ans dead seemingly in vain. Americans who grew bitter at old Syngman Rhee during these days, when it seemed he might wreck the peace, should have been able to imagine what Abraham Lincoln would have felt, or done, had Britain and France imposed an armistice upon the United States in 1863, leaving it forcibly divided, perhaps forever.

The tragedy of Syngman Rhee and the Taehan Minkuk was simple—while they could not go on fighting without American support, acceptance of the truce doomed the Korean people to permanent division, and the Taehan Minkuk to continued existence as a rump state, permanently incapable of sup- porting itself economically.

Every American pressure, from cajolery to blunt talk, was used to make Syngman Rhee come around. Rhee continued the same refrain in reply: Never, never, never.

Then, on 18 June, Rhee almost destroyed the armistice. He removed South Korean troops from Clark's command, and ordered the release of 27,000 anti-Communist Korean POW's held in camps in the Pusan area. Most of these POW's melted immediately into the Korean population, and many, inducted into the ROK Army, came back as guards for the few who had not escaped.

In Korea, American guards whose heads had been kept down by South Korean fire while the POW's broke out, as at Camp Number 5, Wonju, regarded the release as a big joke. Shortly after the mass uproar at Wonju, when thousands of POW's had run out, South Koreans and American sergeants threw a big party, using up the stock of the N.C.O. club.

But in Washington, for a time, there was consternation. Criticism of Rhee poured in from all over the world. The Communists screamed in self- righteous agony, even though none of the men released would have ever been returned to them. And the Communists asked some very disturbing questions: Could the United States control its Korean ally if Syngman Rhee refused to accept truce?

But, significantly, the Communists directed their anger and propaganda diatribes not at the United States but at the "murderer Rhee." They still wanted cease-fire.

Walter S. Robertson, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, was dispatched by the President to Seoul. He arrived in the Korean capital 25 June 1953, the third anniversary of the Communist invasion, and across every thoroughfare Walt Robertson saw antiarmistice streamers and printed slogans. Many of them cried, Don't sell Korea, in English.

Thousands of demonstrators, on order of the ROK Government, poured through the streets. They shouted "Puk chin! Puk chin!—Go north!"

Outside the correspondents' quarters, hundreds of schoolgirls sat in the dirt, and wept.

For twelve days Robertson and Rhee engaged in what came to be called the Little Truce Talks. For the United States now had to make peace also with its Korean ally. And the Taehan Minkuk's price was high, despite the fact that it had no hope of going north without the United States Army, and that the United States could sell it or not, regardless of how its young women wept.

However painful, Korea, a helpless nation, had to accept the fact that it was to be the principal loser of the Korean War. But in return Rhee got the promise of a U.S.-ROK Mutual Security Treaty, agreement to expand the ROK Army to twenty divisions, at American expense, and long-term economic aid, with a down payment of $200,000,000 and 10,000,000 pounds of food, worth $9,500,000, at once.

In exchange for peace along the parallel, the United States agreed to accept the Republic of Korea as its ward, perhaps forever. For without the United States the Taehan Minkuk could not exist.

In exchange, Syngman Rhee agreed not to obstruct the armistice. He would not sign—nor did South Korea ever ratify the eventual agreement—but he would now support a cease-fire.

While Robertson and Rhee bargained, the Chinese, angered, threw vicious pressure against the line, at a cost to the U.N. of nine hundred casualties per day. A massive offensive crashed against the ROK zones, rendering two ROK divisions unfit for further combat, though the fixed position of Chinese artillery, buried underground, and the quick maneuver of American divisions in support stopped any hope of a CCF breakthrough.

Though the pressure was against the ROK's, American and other U.N. units were caught in the backwash. American artillery units supporting the ROK's were overrun; American tankers with ROK infantry were lost in a Chinese sea. These men, those who survived, would never afterward be admirers of President Rhee.

But the CCF had proved its point, and perhaps taught the ROK's a lasting lesson—without outside aid, the Republic of Korea not only could not mount an offensive; it could not even hold its own frontier.

In this way, with the battlefront ablaze, with most Americans, the scent of peace entrancingly before them, uncaring of the gaping losses inflicted on the ROK's, the final negotiations went forward. The United Nations on 19 July gave the Communist powers solemn assurance that the Republic of Korea would not upset the terms already agreed upon.

Along the weary battle line, green and hot now with the midsummer of 1953, U.N. troops licked their wounds and wondered if they dared hope. A hundred times in two years the peace rumors had waxed strong; a hundred times they had been cruelly dashed. And while they wondered, the big guns continued to flame.

But the talking was done. Each side had accepted a situation that was virtually unchanged from what it had been on 11 July 1951, a truce line upon which they had agreed 27 November 1951, and a POW question that they had settled on 4 June 1953, after each of which dates thousands of men, on either side, had continued to be maimed and killed.

Each side had, perhaps, learned something: the Communists, that the will of free men is not easily broken, even when they are of peaceful intent; the West, that the Communist world holds human life cheaply, if there is aught to be gained.

For that knowledge, and little else, many men, of all nations, had died.

On Monday, 27 July 1953, Lieutenant General William K. Harrison, of the United Nations Command, and Nam II, of North Korea, entered the wooden building the Communists had erected at Panmunjom during the long 1952 recess, from which the Picasso doves had been removed at U.N. demand. At 1001 they signed the first of eighteen documents prepared by each side. It took them twelve minutes to sign them all. Then, each man got up and left the building, without speaking.

Later, the documents, in English, Chinese, and Korean, were signed by Kim II Sung, Peng Teh-huai, and Mark Wayne Clark.

Wayne Clark, putting away the golden pen the Parker Company had sent him specially for the signing, said: "I cannot find it in me to exult in the hour.… If we extract hope from this occasion, it must be diluted with recognition that our salvation requires unrelaxing vigilance and effort."

Now, to the units along the line came the words, "Shoot 'em up, boys—it's done!"

In a burst of wild enthusiasm—yet restrained, in many men, as it was in General Clark, by a certain sadness—the U.N. units burned up what ammunition they had on the ground.

For the last time—all men hoped—the dark Korean hills rocked with flame and noise.

Then, twelve hours after the pens scratched at Panmunjom, the hills lay quiet. At sea ships put back from the cold gray waters off North Korea, and the silvery aircraft stood silent on their fields.

There was no more war—but there was no peace. There was no victory.

It was called cease-fire.

At Prisoner Camp Number 4, Wewan, Sergeant Charles Schlichtef had been handling sick call for POW Company 1 since August 1952. He had Turks, British, French, Niseis, and Puerto Ricans, with all of whom, in varying degrees, he had made friends.

With some of the Turks, especially Beli Hassan, and Hilmi Andranali, the sergeant who interpreted for him with the Turks, while Schlichter spoke to the Chinese doctors in English, he became very friendly.

He could never fail to admire the iron discipline and fierce pride the Turks exhibited in the face of the CCF. Years later he would still correspond with some of these men, and from both the Turkish and British governments he would receive commendations for his work with their nationals.

As the days went by, as each morning Turks came in to greet him gravely with, "Nasa-san, Akadash"—How are you, my friend?—it seemed that captivity would never end. There was no news—but living conditions had improved. Gradually, the Chinese were fattening the POW's up; most of whom were now approaching good health. Most of the POW's felt there must be a reason, and the reason had to be good.

Schlichter could not know that in California an officer had called on his wife to offer her Schlichter's GI insurance benefit, and his death gratuities. Schlichter had been listed as missing in action for two years, and the government was willing to pay. In tears, Elizabeth Schlichter refused.

She told the officer that her husband had told her to stay where he had left her, that no matter what, he would come back. In the absence of everything else, she had only this to cling to. Somehow, alone of all those who had known him, she would not believe him dead.

But suddenly, in April 1953, a number of prisoners were selected to be repatriated, on Little Switch. These were supposed to be the sick and lame, on each side—but the Communists selected mainly men who had no right to go out on those terms; a large number of them were "collaborators."

It was Communist policy to hold the "reactionaries"—of which Schlichter was one—to the last.

Schlichter and most of the men at Wewan knew nothing of what was hap- pening at Panmunjom, and elsewhere, that long spring and summer of 1953.

And then, suddenly, out of a clear sky, they were told, "You're moving." They were taken south to a large collecting point, where hundreds of U.N. prioners of war were being gathered.

Schlichter saw truckload after truckload of men hauled south from the col- lecting point—but he was told nothing.

On 6 September 1953, in the morning, he and the men about him were ordered to board a truck. One man suddenly had an intense anxiety reaction; he shouted and broke into a run, and ran headlong into a pole, knocking himself out.

Schlichter asked an English-speaking Chinese doctor to help this man. It was only when the Chinese shrugged and said his own people would take care of him that Schlichter realized what was coming.

He could never adequately describe how he felt when he knew he was going home.

At 1100 his truck pulled up at Panmunjom, the last convoy of American POW's to be exchanged. A huge, moustached Marine master sergeant walked up beside the truck, called out: "I will call out your last name. You will answer with your first name, middle initial, and Army serial number—"


Schlichter barked out his response, and stepped down.

"Sergeant," the big Marine said gravely, "glad to have you home."

"Fella, you don't know how glad I am," Schlichter said.

One by one, the last 160 American POW's passed through Panmunjom. These were all men who had been marked as "war criminals" by the enemy—and each of these criminals, before he went on to the tables of fruit juice, milk, and ice cream, glittering in the background, in one way or another, on his knees or otherwise, thanked God that he had returned.

General Mark W. Clark was there to greet them.

In this way, Sergeant Charles B. Schlichter, United States Army, returned home. He had done his job. It had taken him 1,010 days to do it.

On 23 September 1953, with the Korean War already largely forgotten by the people, Schlichter's ship lay just outside San Francisco harbor. It was a cold and dreary day, the Pacific fog thick. But the POW's returning home crowded the decks, straining to see.

Then the Master's voice boomed over the horn: "Gentlemen, if you will all look forward, you will see something you never thought to see again—"

And the fog rolled back, and they saw the Golden Gate.

There was an Air Force band on the dock, playing "God Bless America." Men who had spent a thousand days and nights in Communist prison camps did not think it was corny. Every man Charles Schlichter could see through his own misty eyes was crying.

The whistles blew, and the band whumped and boomed, and on the dock he saw Elizabeth.

Some men, no matter how fate deals with them, are fortunate.

As the truce terms provided, within ninety days of cease-fire all POW's had to be screened and repatriated, or otherwise disposed of. After Big Switch was officially finished, evidence in American hands indicated that the Communists still held 3,404 POW's, 944 of which were Americans.

The Chinese said they would not repatriate 320, for various reasons. And for various reasons, twenty-three Americans chose to stay with their captors. In neither case was the American Government able to do anything.

Of the 132,000 Korean and Chinese military POW's taken by the U.N. fewer than 90,000 chose to return home. The Koreans were settled in the Tae-han Minkuk, and some 13,000 Chinese went singing and chanting to Taiwan.

Each Chinese or Korean who refused repatriation was screened by a neutral commission at Freedom Village, Panmunjom, and his own people allowed to persuade him, while the Indian Army stood guard.

Watching the Communist tactics, the Indian Army became decidedly anti-Communist, whatever the notions of its government. The Indians had to fly in and out of the Demilitarized Zone—causing the U.N. Command considerable difficulty—since Syngman Rhee refused to allow one Indian soldier to set foot on South Korean soil.

Among the thousands of Communist POW's on Koje-do had been 474 North Korean female personnel, and the girls had been among the worst of the lot. At about the time Charles Schlichter and his comrades were coming home, these women were put on a South Korean train and sent north to Freedom Village for repatriation. On the way, they broke out Communist flags, and screamed and yelled at the gaping South Koreans alongside the tracks.

As they neared Panmunjom, they began to tear off their capitalist-made and imperialist-issued clothing, to return home in Communist purity. Then they screamed and shrieked and ripped and tore up the train seats. They urinated on what they could not destroy.

Finally, before they got off the train, a number of them defecated in the aisles. Men, and women, come home in different ways.

From the silty Yellow Sea, on the west, to the cold gray waters of the Sea of Japan, on the east, the armies facing each other along the line of contact each withdrew two kilometers to establish the agreed demilitarized zone.

As the U.N. withdrew, its storied hills—scabrous Baldy, torn Pork Chop, Bloody, Heartbreak, Sniper, Arrowhead, White Horse, Kelly, Nori, The Hook, Gibraltar, and a hundred more—drenched in blood, hallowed by human courage, were abandoned. They lay in no man's land, blasted and reeking symbols of man's interminable collision with man. No monuments would mark them, and no pilgrims would visit their rubbled graveyards.

With another spring, or perhaps two, the pine and forsythia and wild plum might grow on them once more, thrusting upward green and fresh from the rusting rubble of wire, shards of shells, and moldering bones.

Except by the men who fought on them, they would be soon forgotten.

To the north of these hills the truce, hardly signed, had already been violated. New men, new arms, new modern aircraft poured across the Yalu, to new fortified bases deep within the mountains. No man knew when they might be used.

To the south, many men—only a few Americans, now, and many Koreans—stood uneasy watch, on a forgotten vigil whose end could not be foreseen. The Korean War, never declared, never ended.

More than two million human beings had died, forty thousand of them American soldiers and airmen, in what was a skirmish, nothing more. Nothing had been won, nothing gained—except that the far frontier had been held.

At a great price, a little time had been bought. The free peoples of the world might use it badly or well, as they saw fit.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!