Just finished “The Korean War That Almost Was” [by Mike Coppock], in your May issue. I served with the 223rd Infantry Regiment, 40th Infantry Division, from early May 1953 to late April 1954 on Heartbreak Ridge when the cease-fire took effect. Our platoon manned observation posts 24/7, looking across the DMZ from a mountain north of Seoul.
Other platoons patrolled the DMZ from dusk to midnight or midnight to dawn. In midwinter our platoon was called on to give another platoon a two-week break. We were not permitted to take automatic weapons into the DMZ, so I carried an M1 and a .45 pistol.
Our patrols consisted of three men—a leader, a radio man and a third man with a flare on a grenade launcher on his M1. The leader was someone who had done this before and knew the path we were to follow. In some areas it was marked to show where mines had been cleared.
We were to look for infiltrators and/or an invading force. We were to maintain radio silence unless we came across an invasion in force. Then we were to fire the flare and estimate the size of the force. Once we launched the flare, we were history—we were expendable.
On my first patrol we approached a wrecked tank. There was an oil drum next to it. “Hold up,” our leader said. “That drum was standing up yesterday.” Closer examination showed a trip wire. On debriefing we were advised the drum was filled with explosives and rocks.
‘I didn’t realize that so many American and South Korean soldiers died during those tense years’
Having served in South Korea with an artillery unit not far from the DMZ from January 1964 to January 1965, I was very interested in Mike Coppock’s article on the Korean war that almost happened in the late 1960s, shortly after I left. As much as I study wars and history, I didn’t realize that so many American and South Korean soldiers died during those tense years. Outside of the cold and the constant alerts, my own year there was calm. By the fall of 1965 I was in Vietnam.
I must say, by the end of Coppock’s fine article I was seeing red. I thought the capture of USS Pueblo was grounds for an all-out attack on North Korea. But any one of the fatal incidents Coppock brought up certainly could have led to a full-scale war. No matter how that would have turned out, I can guarantee that the North Koreans wouldn’t have their current arsenal of nukes.
Tom R. Kovach
Indianapolis vs. Belgrano
[Re. “Sink the Belgrano!” by Patrick S. Baker, March 2019:] I just finished reading Indianapolis, by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic, and found the parallels between the sinking of USS Indianapolis and ARA General Belgrano (former USS Phoenix) to be remarkable. Both cruisers were of pre–World War II design and were constructed in the 1930s. In 1945 Indianapolis was sunk by two torpedoes fired from a Japanese submarine. Thirty-seven years later Belgrano was also sunk by two torpedoes, fired from a British submarine. In both cases one torpedo hit forward, shearing off the bow, and the other torpedo hit roughly midships, causing the loss of electrical power. Indianapolis sank in 12 minutes, and Belgrano in roughly 30 minutes. Neither ship was able to send out an SOS signal before going down. On both ships approximately 300 crew were killed in the torpedo blasts or were trapped and went down with the ship. On Indianapolis about 880 crew members were able to abandon ship. On Belgrano the number was 772.
At this point the stories of the two ships diverge significantly. The survival equipment on Indianapolis consisted of open life rafts, float nets and life jackets, all of which were in short supply. The survivors were exposed to the elements for four days, during which more than 560 perished and 316 were rescued. Belgrano was fitted out with state-of-the-art covered life rafts. Although the rescue occurred over three days, none perished and all 772 survivors were rescued. This is a testament to the progress of survival-at-sea equipment.
Hopefully, the lessons of the story of these two cruisers will be heeded by those responsible for the lives of modern mariners.
U.S. Merchant Marine
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