July 27, 1955—Yongdungp’o, South Korea——As Eighth Army chief order of battle analyst of the Chinese Communist Forces in North Korea, I stare at a huge map of the Korean peninsula. In the corner rests an M1 Garand rifle.
Ordinarily, when we carry weapons they are holstered side arms. But today is different. It’s two years to the day American, South Korean, and United Nations forces entered into a cease-fire with the North Korean and Chinese Communist Forces at a non-descript place call Panmunjom, a stone’s throw from the 38th Parallel across which the NKPA swarmed on June 25, 1950 when it invaded South Korea.
American and South Korean troops are on high alert throughout the country. Our intelligence assets, such as they are, have been working overtime for any sign that the Communists will celebrate the armistice, which they consider a victory, by anything from a nuisance incursion to a full-blown invasion. If they attack, again, will we be better prepared?, I wonder. Will we be pushed off the peninsular, as almost happened from June to September 1950? Will the NKPA murder their prisoners? Will the Chinese fight the same way? Dozens of questions. No answers.
Reports come in from the CIA’s Combined Command for Reconnaissance Activities Far East, occasional defectors, and elsewhere. I brief the Eighth Army G2, Colonel Hasselbach.
I read the reports. Watch the maps. The day and night pass. Nothing happens.
July 25, 2013—Denver, Colorado——I sit at my computer 58 years, less forty-eight hours, after that day in Yongdungp’o. Though there is no Garand M1 in the corner of my study, I am mindful that July 27, 2013, is the 60th anniversary of the cease-fire. What are the North Koreans—they of the nuclear weapons, rocket launches, military provocations, civilian kidnappings, forced starvations, terrifying gulags—doing? Are American and South Korean troops dug in, waiting?
The Internet answers my questions in an Associated Press report from Pyongyang, the capital of Communist North Korea.
Turns out, in Pyongyang it’s party time, on this North Korean “Victory Day.” According to the Associated Press:
Brightly colored banners with the words “Victory" and “War Victory” fluttered from buildings across the capital city. The North Korean government is expected to use the anniversary to draw attention to the division of the Korean Peninsula and to rally support for Kim [Jong Un].
North Koreans have been gearing up for months for the milestone war anniversary. Soldiers were assigned to carry out an extensive renovation of the Korean War museum. Students rehearsed every afternoon for a new war-themed rendition of the “Arirang” mass games song-and-dance performance, which opened Tuesday. And citizens got down on their hands and knees in the lead-up to help lay sod and plant grass as part of a massive greening of Pyongyang.
Scores of foreign visitors have arrived in Pyongyang this week, including a planeload of journalists from the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and elsewhere. China's vice president, Li Yuanchao, arrived Thursday.
Yet, as the AP reported, among the celebrants are some Americans. Not just journalists, but two others who must have lost their minds when they decided to participate. The AP again:
Two decorated U.S. war veterans who survived one of the worst battles of the Korean War found themselves among former foes at a memorial ceremony Thursday as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launched the country's commemoration of the war's end 60 years ago.
Back to the Associated Press story:
The two Americans, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Hudner , of Concord, Massachusetts, and Dick Bonelli, a former U.S. Marine from Englewood, Florida, are in North Korea on a mission to revisit Jangjin County, better known to Americans as the Chosin Reservoir — site of one of the deadliest battles of the Korean War.
“It’s a very emotional occasion to be here with so many veterans — not only the veterans but also the people of the nation who turned out to show their support to all of veterans,” said Hudner, who received the Medal of Honor for trying to save his downed wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950. (My emphasis.)
“And as an American veteran, I am delighted to see that our former foe and we share some of the same feelings about this,” Hudner said.
Perhaps while Hudner and Bonelli were celebrating they joined “[o]ne North Korean, Pak Chun Son, [who] sobbed as she paid her respects at the gravestone of her father, Pak Hyon Jong, who died in the war when she was 5. ‘My father will be honored on this hill forever,’ said her brother, Pak Yun Yong, who was 8 when his father died. He was dressed in a military uniform weighed down by medals. Tears sprang to his eyes. ‘We want to raise our children to be patriots like their grandfather was’.”
One wonders how many Americans the late Mr. Pak killed before someone on our side nailed him.
Of one thing I am certain. The tens of thousands of dead, wounded, captured, imprisoned, and missing American, South Korean, and UN troops, and countless dead and maimed South Korean civilians aren’t celebrating.
Nor should anyone who calls himself an American.