The Inchon Move

Mar 29th
Posted by shambo  as History, Military, Travel

The Inchon Move

Let me say this about that.

I have been interested in military history since I was a kid.¬† Later in life, my profession often required¬†me to¬†travel internationally, which also afforded me the opportunity to visit many of the great battle sites¬†I had read about as a child.¬† However, visiting the site of a great military¬†battle and ‘participating’ in one, are entirely different experiences.

In the late 1980′s I was put in charge of five large manufacturing operations in Asia – one of which was in Seoul, South Korea.¬† During my visits to this plant I often took the opportunity to travel around¬†the country¬†to develop sources of supply and local partnerships.¬† Travelling from Seoul in the northernmost part of Korea, to Pusan in the southernmost part of the country,¬†gave me¬†ample opportunity to visit many Korean War battle sites.

One Saturday afternoon, with little to do until the following Monday, I decided to drive from my hotel in Seoul to the site of the ‘Battle of Inchon’, some 30 miles away.¬† For those of you who do not share my passion for military history, I will give you a thumbnail sketch of the significance of the ‘Battle of Inchon.’

In mid-1950, the U.S. Army had been driven completely out of North Korea Рthen South Korea, and were hanging on by a thread on the southern tip of the country in Pusan.  The vastly superior North Korean troops threatened to push the Americans into the sea until Gen. Douglas MacArthur devised an incredibly audacious plan.

MacArthur could see potential disaster in an all-out¬†battle with the¬†North Koreans, attacking his much smaller army with their backs to the sea.¬† Rather than surrender or attempt a risky Naval retreat while under fire, MacArthur¬†decided to move some of his reserves off the peninsula, maneuver them 500 miles back north by boat, and attack Seoul from the Port of Inchon.¬† In short, he changed the battle scenario¬†from the North Koreans attacking the Americans¬†to their front – to – getting attacked by the Americans from their rear.¬† War correspondents called it “The Inchon Move” and it joined the lexicon of brilliant¬†tactical maneuvers from American boardrooms to sporting events to¬†poker tables.

I had no idea how to get to Inchon, and in those days, very few road signs were in English.  I asked the hotel manager for a map to the city of Inchon which he dutifully provided, albeit in Korean.  Confident that I could match the Korean characters on the map with the characters on the road signs, I rented a car and was on my way.

After about two hours¬†it became obvious I had … travelled a helluva lot further than thirty miles.¬† Another¬†half hour¬†convinced me that I was hopelessly lost.¬† The terrain was a mix of flat rice fields dispersed between steep, heavily forested¬†mountains and was eerily devoid of people.¬† It was spooky quiet and I had only about an hour of daylight left.¬† I began thinking about having to spend the night in the car with no food, no water¬†and no¬†blankets against the subzero December temperatures.

I may have lost my concentration a bit as my little Kia struggled up a narrow mountain road while I attempted to read the map and drive at the same time.¬† As I topped a hill, there was a sharp left hand curve and a steep decline.¬† I wasn’t ready for it and my car began to¬†swerve out of control.¬† As I struggled with the steering wheel, a much bigger problem came into view ….. a tank.

A tank  Рa huge army tank was sitting square in the middle of the road and was about to be mounted by my little Kia.  I locked-up the brakes and went into a four-wheel slide, coming to rest sideways within a foot of the tank.  Instantly, a dozen uniformed soldiers surrounded my car with their rifles pointing at my nose and shouting at me in Korean.  Inchon is VERY close to the North Korean border and I surmised that if these were North Korean soldiers I may have accidentally crossed the border.  If so, I had well and truly screwed the pooch.

I carefully removed my hands from the death-grip I had on the steering wheel and placed them on the roof of the car.  This seemed to annoy the gentlemen with the rifles and their shouting became more intense.

What do you say to a dozen soldiers who are pointing their weapons at your head and shouting orders in a language you don’t understand?¬† At that moment, with my life flashing before me, I recalled a piece of advice my father had given me as a child: “Son, never pass up a chance to shut the f_ _k up.”¬† If there had ever come a time when this piece of advice was relevant, this was it.

Suddenly, over the cacophony of Korean shouts came a louder, more authoritative command Рalso in Korean, but with what sounded like a Southern American accent.  Apparently all the adrenaline coursing through my veins had made me delusional.  I was about to be shot by a North Korean commander with a Texas accent.

The soldiers backed away a step or two but kept their weapons pointed at¬†my head.¬† Another sharp command by the mysterious voice and they backed away a few more steps and lowered their guns.¬† I was still sitting in the drivers seat, with my palms pressed firmly on the roof when a tall thin soldier dressed in an American uniform walked up to the drivers side window and said in a thick¬†accent I had not heard since my last trip to Houston¬†: “Sir, what in the hell are you doing here?”

It was a surreal moment.  Had the Texans joined forces with the North Koreans?  I froze.  I just sat there while my mind tried to process what was going on.

“Sir, please exit the vehicle”, the American sergeant ordered.

“I don’t think that is such a good idea, Sergeant” I replied.¬† “Your Korean buddies tend to get aggravated every time I move.”

I was fully prepared to sit in that Kia until doomsday before I did anything to provoke the guys with the guns.¬† Another piece of fatherly advice came to mind in my predicament: “Son, when you’re walking on eggs, don’t hop”.

The American sergeant barked another order and the Korean soldiers (South Korean soldiers, thankfully) dispersed and I got out of the car.¬† “Sir, what are you doing here?” ¬†the sergeant repeated.¬† “Don’t you know where you are?”

“I have no idea”¬† I answered.¬† “But clearly, wherever it is, I’m not welcome.”

The sergeant pulled a map out of his fatigues and spread it out over the hood of the Kia.¬† He pointed to a small island in the most northwesterly corner of South Korea, where the Imjin River joins the Han River and flows into the Yellow Sea.¬† Here, the Imjin River IS the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.¬† He nonchalantly pointed beyond the tank¬†to a narrow river and said: “That’s the Imjin” without looking up from the map.¬† “You could throw a baseball into North Korea from here.”

The sergeant went on to explain that the previous night a small boat carrying six North Korean infiltrators had crossed the Imjin River and attempted to enter South Korea.¬† The infiltrators had been intercepted and a fire fight broke out that had ended around daylight that morning.¬† All six infiltrators were killed, along with two of the South Koreans¬†under the sergeant’s command.

“You can forgive my boys if they’re a little jumpy.”

All I wanted was to get the hell out of that place, go back to my hotel and drink myself into a stupor.  The sergeant offered to escort me a few miles back to the main road that would take me to Seoul.  He instructed me to follow him in his jeep, but not to get closer that five car lengths, nor more than ten behind.  His reason for this instruction was soon to become obvious.

He instructed a Korean soldier to “mount” his jeep, which¬†he did immediately, crawling into the back seat and loading a bazooka !!!!!¬† Again, my nose was the target of choice and what little inventory of adrenaline I had left rushed to my veins.¬† The jeep took off a lot faster than my underpowered Kia and I struggled to maintain the five to ten car lengths distance dictated by the sergeant.¬† Turns out that this distance is the perfect ranging for a 100% accurate shot from a bazooka.

I contemplated what a round from a bazooka would do to my head at that range, if the Korean soldier decided I was a threat.  I imagined it would have an effect similar to a water balloon dropped from a four story window onto concrete.

At a main intersection about five miles down the road, the jeep came to a stop.¬† I stopped the Kia¬†exactly 7 1/2 ¬†car-lengths behind the jeep as the sergeant approached.¬† “Sir, just follow this road about 40 miles and it will eventually lead you back to Seoul.¬† Ya’ll have a nice day now, ya hear.”

“Have a nice day?”¬† How can you have a nice day after a near death experience, two cardiac arrests, and a lower digestive tract trying to make The Inchon Move¬†on¬†it’s own?¬† I really, really needed a drink.

At the hotel bar that night, as¬†I proceeded to put the bar maid into a higher income tax bracket, I pondered how I would have handled actually being in the Battle of Inchon.¬† My little experience was trivial compared to the real thing, yet it was still terrifying.¬† What courage those guys fighting in MacArthur’s army must have had.

I have never looked at a battlefield the same way since.

And, that’s all I have to say about that.

Shambo

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Sean  11th November 2012  

    That is the greatest thing ive every read haha. I got a kick out of it. Glad you made it out fine.

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