It was early morning Sunday, June 25, 1950, when the telephone rang in my bedroom at the American Embassy in Tokyo. It rang with the note of urgency that can sound only in the hush of a darkened room. It was the duty officer at headquarters. "General," he said, "we have just received a dispatch from Sŏul, advising that the North Koreans have struck in great strength south across the 38th Parallel at four o'clock this morning." Thousands of Red Korean troops had poured over the border, overwhelming the South Korean advance posts, and were moving southward with a speed and power that was sweeping aside all opposition.
I had an uncanny feeling of nightmare. It had been nine years before, on a Sunday morning, at the same hour, that a telephone call with the same note of urgency had awakened me in the penthouse atop the Manila Hotel. It was the same fell note of the war cry that was again ringing in my ears. It couldn't be, I told myself. Not again! I must still be asleep and dreaming. Not again! But then came the crisp, cool voice of my fine chief of staff, General Ned Almond, "Any orders, General?"
How, I asked myself, could the United States have allowed such a deplorable situation to develop? I thought back to those days, only a short time before, when our country had been militarily more powerful than any nation on earth. General Marshall, then Army chief of staff, had reported to the Secretary of War in 1945: "Never was the strength of American democracy as evident nor has it ever been so clearly within our power to give definite guidance for our coursa * 373
e into the future of the human race." But in the short space of five years this power had been frittered away in a bankruptcy of positive and courageous leadership toward any long-range objectives. Again I asked myself, "What is United States policy in Asia?" And the appalling thought came, "The United States has no definite 'policy in Asia."
Frustration in Korea
Dulles had returned to Tokyo and wired the Secretary of State:
Believe that if it appears the South Koreans cannot themselves contain or repulse the attack, United States forces should be used even though this risks Russian counter moves. To sit by while Korea is overrun by unprovoked armed attack would start a world war.
The only immediate military obligation involving my own forces had to do with the evacuation of 2,000 American and United Nations personnel from the area of the Korean Republic. Late on Sunday, the American Ambassador to Korea, John Muccio, asked that they be brought out. I acted immediately. Within minutes, flights of transport planes were rising off runways in Japan and ships at sea were swinging about and heading full draft toward Korean ports. When enemy aircraft began to threaten, I sent in our warplanes from Japan. The operation was successfully concluded without the loss of a single man, woman, or child.
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Geographically, South Korea is a ruggedly mountainous peninsula that juts out toward Japan from the Manchurian mainland between the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. An uneven north-south corridor cuts through the rough heart of the country below the 38th Parallel, and there are highways and rail links on both the eastern and western coastal plains.
The South Koreans had four divisions along the 38th Parallel. They had been well trained, and the personnel were brave and patriotic, but they were equipped and organized as a constabulary force, not as troops of the line. They had only light weapons, no air or naval forces, and were lacking in tanks, artillery, and many other essentials. The decision to equip and organize them in this way had been made by the State Department. The argument advanced by the State Department for its decision was that it was a necessary measure to prevent the South Koreans from attacking North Korea, a curiously myopic reasoning that, of course, opened the way for a North Korean attack. It was a vital and a fatal error not to prepare South Korea to meet an attack from the north. The potential of such an attack was inherent in the fact that the North Korean force had tanks, heavy artillery, and fighter aircraft with which South Korea was not equipped.
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