In Korea's Three Wars

(Adapted from the Memoirs of a Flying Mustang)

A Flying Horse is a myth, of course.
Yet what of a jumping frog?
Do wings on a pony
seem at first thought more phony
than legs on a polliwog?


     Pegasus, the mythical flying horse, is a symbol of adventure. These are tales of adventure, but not at all mythical.

      Any adventure of worth includes some element of risk; some manner of hazard or peril is to be expected. These adventures included many perils, some of them quite unexpected.

      A mustang, of course, is really a horse, in the original meaning of the word. "Mustang" is also a term used in the U.S. Navy to denote an officer commissioned out of the enlisted ranks. It derives, apparently, from the sometimes similarity of such an officer to the wild horse called by that name. Brought properly to bridle, the mustang horse was reliable in support of its rider. But an abusive rider, or one excessive in his demands, might find himself unseated.

      This writer was a "mustang" in the Navy sense of the term, having accepted commission after serving for 16 years in enlisted status, as aviation mechanic and pilot.

      There is need, perhaps, to explain a bit about the somewhat unique few sailors and marines who flew in the naval service as enlisted pilots. They were officially designated "Aviation Pilots" in distinction from the "Naval Aviator" designation for commissioned officers. A total of about 5000 men earned that Aviation Pilot designation during the thirty years the opportunity was available to enlisted men.

      Because they were so few in number, the existence of the enlisted category of pilots was and still remains little known outside of Naval Aviation circles. But no matter that lack of widespread recognition. By and large, they were not seekers of public recognition. They mostly just loved flying.

      They might well be regarded as seekers of adventure; providing that the true meaning of "adventure" is understood. Adventure sometimes includes thrills; but thrill seekers are not true adventurers. adventure sometimes brings some manner of public recognition or "glory." But publicity seekers and glory seekers are not true adventurers, either.

      True adventure is the commitment of self to worthy purpose, and the acceptance of challenge or opportunity to achieve such; sometimes in the face of considerable risk or peril. Thrill seekers are fools when they take unnecessary risks just for sensation and not for worthy purpose. Glory seekers are opportunists who would claim credit for great or noble achievements which my not have been either great or noble, or which may have been done by others, or may not even have been done at all. Some of the events recounted in this work will vividly demonstrate that both thrill seekers and glory seekers often cause additional perils for the true adventurers.

      These events will also demonstrate that there are infinitely more ways than in aircraft or spacecraft in which a Human Spirit can fly. Life itself is for some an adventure. For many others, however, it appears to be a bore. Some there are who seek escape from that boredom by taking foolish risks. In so doing they can expect, at best, a few momentary thrills; often at the cost of injury to others as well s to themselves. Only when the quest is for something beyond itself can the potential of Human Spirit be fully achieved. Whatever perils may be encountered in the course of such a quest pale in comparison to the inner satisfactions which derive, not only from success but also just for sincerely trying.

      Memoirs are written to share with others some of those satisfactions gained from the ventures and the lessons learned by the experience. Usually these are of interest only to one's family and close friends. It was to that purpose the memoirs of this venturer were originally intended, and for the most part still remain. But it has been urged by several friends and acquaintances that one part of them should be of interest and value to a much wider audience, for the insights it can provide into the historical realities of a period in our national history which has until now been sorely neglected or misunderstood by most contemporary historians. Especially persuasive in that regard has been John Toland, whose own extensive contributions to completeness (and sometimes clarification) in the records of recent history certainly qualify him as a discerning judge in such matters.

      This segment of memoirs deals primarily with the three-plus years of open armed conflict in Korea; beginning in June, 1950 and extending through July, 1953. The record of events recounted in this work will demonstrate that there were two distinctly separate and different military conflicts in that period. The "third" war, in the psychological and political fields of warfare, was being waged also (almost exclusively by the enemy) during those two military conflicts, continues so to this day, and will likely continue further until the whole of Korea is once again united under one political system or the other.

      The first military conflict, against the forces of the North Korean communist regime, we won decisively in a matter of just a little more than four months. In addition to virtually complete dissolution of the North Korean communist forces which had invaded South Korea, we had liberated from communist control the territory from which that invasion was launched. And the general populace of North Korea greeted the South Korean and U.S. troops who did it accordingly—as liberators!

      The second military conflict, against Chinese communist forces, we lost; not by military defeat, but in the political field of warfare. It is preferred by those of our countrymen who caused or allowed that defeat, to claim that the Korean War ended in a "stalemate." The falsity of that claim is exposed by the fact that the Chinese communist forces achieved the basic objective of their invasion of Korea. That is what winning in war really consists of; not necessarily the destruction or even defeat of the other side's armed forces.

      The entry of Chinese communist forces was not a second attempt to take over South Korea. Their objective, for and at behest of the Soviet Union, was to regain the territory which had been lost as result of North Korea's unsuccessful invasion of the South. And they would not have been capable of that, or dared to attempt it, had they not been assured in advance of restrictions imposed upon our own and allied forces. Subsequent events have confirmed suspicions acquired at the time, that subversive elements were involved in imposing those restrictions. At least three Soviet agents operating in the British foreign service (Philby, Burgess, and MacLean) were in positions to greatly influence policies and directives emanating from United Nations HQ in New York and the U.S. State Department.

      Such are but sampling of the historical realities which were learned in the course of considerable personal experience in all three of those wars in Korea. There were other valuable lessons; about the character, strengths and weaknesses of our communist enemy, and also of ourselves. And as Karl von Clausewitz prescribed in his classic treatise on the subject, realistic knowledge of both the enemy and ourselves is essential to success in any field of warfare.

      The scarcity of helicopters at the outset of the war resulted in a wide variety of travels and personal contacts for those of us who flew them. This provided opportunity to observe performance of our own forces in both the combat areas and the rear echelons. Some matched the best of our military tradition. Especially so in the first several months, through the "first" war to victory and the early part of the "second" war as some of our ground forces had to fight their way out of entrapment by the overwhelming numbers of invading forces from Communist China.

      Yet there were some disturbing trends evident in our armed forces from the very beginning, which worsened (at least in my own experience) after military operations became bogged down and further inhibited by the so-called "peace talks." There seemed to be an ever increasing number of "publicity hounds" and "glory seekers."

      Following a rescue operation in January, 1951, under sufficiently adverse conditions to make it somewhat newsworthy in itself, my crewman and I learned that others who were only bystanders at the scene had grossly exaggerated the circumstance and their own parts in the operation and arranged for their story, which included deliberate falsehoods, to be sent off as an official press release. For a time, then, we were to some extent compelled to live with those lies as if they were our own.

      In several instances, such self-serving types actually interfered with conduct of operations, creating additional hazard and loss of life. Finally, in my own case, two such combined their talents of falsehood to cause the failure of what would otherwise have been a relatively easy rescue. And in the process (according to a summary of official, Navy action reports presented during inquiry into the matter) they caused the loss of one Navy helicopter and severe damage to another; loss of one Navy aircraft and its pilot, plus damage to five other aircraft sent to provide cover for the operation; the diversion of two Marine helicopters from other assignments; two days of wasted effort by the Navy's aircraft carrier, Valley Forge and cruiser, Rochester; and (incidentally) capture by the enemy of myself and one of the glory-seekers who had lied about the circumstance in order to go on the mission with me in place of my regular crewman.

      For thirty years after return from Korea, public mention of certain details of that failed mission was forbidden because it involved clandestine operations in enemy territory. For the same reason, instead of a court of inquiry to examine the charges I had made against their two junior officers, the intelligence agency involved insisted on an "in-house" investigation. Some 475 pages of now declassified documents show no indication that a proper court of inquiry, to clearly fix responsibility, would necessarily have exposed any national secrets. But it would have revealed the identities of the several higher ranking officers in that agency whose dereliction of their own duties and allowed two untrustworthy first lieutenants to be in charge of an operation wherein myself and my Navy seniors in command would assume only men of proven integrity would be placed.

      Failure of that mission brought to an abrupt end what to that point appeared a very promising career for myself in the new field of rotor-wing aviation. It might be said, and in fact was said later on by an enemy interrogator, that I had already become quite "famous" in that field. But earned fame (as distinct from that which is product of press agentry or public relations' hype) is usually in fact quite fleeting. And well that this is so! For unlike certain of his physical aspects, a man's laurels do not broaden when rested upon.

      "Fate," on the other hand, is not so "fickle" as the old saying in that regard seems to imply. At least it was not so to myself in this instance. That turn of events which precluded further venture in one very challenging field, presented a much greater challenge leading eventually to much higher of both adventure and reward. For there is no greater challenge than to hold fast to principle and clear conscience in the face of severe hardship and jeopardy. And no greater satisfaction than to succeed in doing so.

      More important than the personal satisfactions, however, were the lessons learned about the character of that "third" war in Korea. We won the first war there, quickly and completely, because of our military superiority; not only in equipment but also in tactical expertise. We lost the second one despite that continued military superiority because of our gross inferiority in the fields of psychological and political warfare which were, and yet remain unfinished, the "third" war of Korea. And that, of course, is but part of a continuing global war of Totalitarianism against Freedom, which we continue to lose (evidenced most vividly in Vietnam) because of our continued inferiority in that realm of warfare.

      Totalitarian forces are superior in psycho-political warfare only in the sense that the defender's of Freedom are inferior of performance in that realm. And that inferiority is borne primarily of ignorance (that is unacquaintance with the facts and realities of the conflict, or otherwise ignoring them). Perhaps the experiences here recorded, which were largely responsible for my own education in those regards, will serve similarly now for others who care to know about such things.

      A prologue seems in order, summarizing prior experiences which bear in some way on my performance and reactions in the various situations encountered in the course of that "education." It includes highlights of prior events having more or less direct bearing on those to be recounted in the main text; especially as means of introducing in advance certain persons who in one way or another considerably influenced those later events.

      One element of "literary license" has been indulged in this presentation, when dialogue seemed to be the most readable and efficient way to present what it is wished to convey. It is by no means claimed that these have been remembered verbatim through the nearly forty years since they took place, or necessarily in sequence of the conversation. But the substance and essence are well-remembered, and presented without intended exaggeration or amelioration. The more profound, irritating, enlightening, amusing, and/or otherwise memorable elements do indeed remain quite vivid in the mind, along with other unforgettable things.

      The presentation is necessarily autobiographical, because it was to or around myself that it all happened. But it is those things which happened that are important; not the fact that so many of them happened to me.


—end draft preface—


Table of Contents
©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.