November 24, 1962 Kilroy Was Here

Kilroy was Here became a protective talisman, a good-luck symbol expected to provide good juju, for the American GI.  Soldiers began to write the graffiti on newly captured areas and landings.  Kilroy was the “Super GI”, showing up for every combat, training and occupation operation of the WW2 and Korean war era.  The scribbled cartoon face was there before you arrived.  He was still there when you left.

The Fore River Shipyard began operations in 1883 in Braintree, Massachusetts, moving to its current location on the Weymouth Fore River on Quincy Point, in 1901.  The yard was purchased by Bethlehem Steel in 1913, and operated under the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation.

Most of the ships built at Fore River were intended for the United States Navy, including early submarines built for Electric Boat, the Battleship USS Massachusetts, and the Navy’s first carrier, the USS Lexington. In the inter-war years, non-US Navy customers included the United States Merchant Marine, the Argentine Navy, the Royal Navy of Great Britain and the Imperial Japanese Navy.

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USS Salem CA-139 museum ship, Fore River Shipyard, Quincy

The Navy Act of 1938 mandated a 20% increase in American Naval strength. Much of that increase came through Fore River. The Shipyard employed 17,000 personnel the day Imperial Japan invaded the American Pacific anchorage at Pearl Harbor. That number increased to 32,000 by 1943 with a payroll equivalent to $9.69 Billion, in today’s dollars.

Kilroy-3Necessity became the mother of invention, and the needs of war led to prodigious increases in speed.  No sooner was USS Massachusetts launched, than the keel of USS Vincennes, began to be laid. By the end of the war, Fore River had completed ninety-two vessels of eleven different classes.

Builders at the yard were paid by the number of rivets installed. Riveters would mark the end of their shift with a chalk mark, but dishonest co-workers could erase their marks, marking a new spot a few places back on the same seam.

Shipyard inspector James Kilroy ended the practice, writing “Kilroy was Here”, next to each chalk mark.

With hulls leaving the yard so fast there was no time to paint the interiors, Kilroy’s name achieved mythic proportions. The man literally seemed to be everywhere, his name written in every cramped and sealed space in the United States Navy.

For the troops inside of those vessels, Kilroy always seemed to have “been there”, first.  This was a symbol, an assurance that this particular troop ship, was well and truly sealed.

Kilroy was Here became a protective talisman, a good-luck symbol expected to provide good juju, for the American GI.  Soldiers began to write the graffiti on newly captured areas and landings.  Kilroy was the “Super GI”, showing up for every combat, training and occupation operation of the WW2 and Korean war era.  The scribbled cartoon face was there before you arrived.  He was still there when you left.

Kilroy-6German Intelligence believed Kilroy to be some kind of  “super spook”, able to go anywhere he pleased and to leave, without a trace.

The challenge became, who could put the Kilroy graffiti in the most difficult and surprising place.

I’ve never been there, but I I understand there’s a Kilroy, at the top of  Mt. Everest.  The cartoon was scribbled in the dust of the moon.  There’s one on the Statue of Liberty and another on the underside of the Arch of Triumph, in Paris.  There’s on the great Wall, in China.

The World War 2 Memorial in Washington, DC could hardly have been complete without a Kilroy, engraved in granite.  If you look closely enough, you’ll find two of them.DSC07960 (1)

Under-water Demolition (UDT) teams, predecessors to the United States Navy SEALs, swam ashore on Japanese-held Pacific islands, preparing the way for amphibious invasions.  More than once, UDT divers found that Kilroy had already been there, the silly cartoon nose scribbled on makeshift signs, and even enemy pillboxes.

When Truman, Stalin, and Churchill met at Potsdam, a VIP latrine was built for their exclusive use.  Stalin was the first in, emerging from the outhouse and asking his aide, “Who is Kilroy?”Trumanstalin

Ask a Brit and he will tell you “Mr. Chad” came first, cartoonist George Chatterton’s response to war rationing.  “Wot, no tea”?

kilroy_no_spamThe cartoon appeared in every theater of the war, but few knew the mythical Kilroy’s true identity.

In 1946, the Transit Company of America held a contest, asking the “real” Kilroy to come forward.

Nearly forty guys showed up to claim the prize, a real trolley car.  Doubtless they all felt they had legitimate claims, but James Kilroy brought a few riveters and some shipyard officials along, to vouch for his authenticity.  That was it.

That Christmas the Kilroy kids, all nine of them, had the coolest playhouse in all of Massachusetts.

trolleycarJames Kilroy went on to serve as Boston City Councillor and member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, from Halifax.  Surely there is a doodle, somewhere in the “Great & General Court” up there in Boston, to inform the passer-by.  Kilroy was here.

James Kilroy passed away on this day, November 24, 1962, at the age of sixty.

November 28, 1950 Of Courage, and Candy

Everything had a code name to throw off Chinese anti-aircraft units.  A frantic call went out for 60-mm mortar ammunition, code named “Tootsie Rolls”.  Somebody didn’t read up on the code book, and that’s what they got.  Chocolate candy, by the ton. 

On June 25, 1950, ten divisions of the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) launched a surprise invasion of their neighbor to the south. The 38,000-man army of the Republic of Korea (ROK) didn’t have a chance against 89,000 men sweeping down in six columns from the north. Within hours, the shattered remnants of the Republic of Korea Army and its government were retreating south toward their capital of Seoul.

The UN security council voted to send troops to the Korean peninsula.

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H/T, Encyclopedia Britannica

Poorly prepared and under-strength for what they were about to face, units of the 24th Division United States Army were hastily sent from bases in Japan. It was not until August when General Douglas MacArthur’s forces in theater, designated United Nations Command (UNC), was able to slow and finally stop North Korean forces around the vital southern port city of Pusan.

American forces and ROKA defenders were in danger of being hurled into the sea.  Most of the KPA was committed to doing just that, as plans were hastily drawn up for an amphibious landing on Inch’ŏn, the port outlet for the South Korean capital of Seoul.

With a narrow, labyrinthine channel and a tidal variation of nearly 30-feet, Inch’ŏn was a terrible choice for a major amphibious landing, with no more than a six-hour window permitting use of the beaches.

The Inch’ŏn landing was one of the great operations in military history, recapturing the capital and all but destroying North Korean military operations in the South.  Meanwhile, a storm was building north of the border, in the form of a quarter-million front-line Chinese troops, assembling in Manchuria.

1200px-Chosin

The war seemed all but over in October as UNC forces streamed into the north, the US 8th Army to the west of the impassable Taebaek mountains, the ROK I Corps and US X Corps to the east, reinforced by the US 1st Marine landing at Wonsan.  North and South would be reunited by the end of the year, and everyone would be home by Christmas.  Except, that’s not how things worked out.

By the end of November, 30,000 UN troops were spread along a 400-mile line near the Chosin Reservoir, all but overrun and fighting for their lives against 150,000 Chinese forces of the “People’s Volunteer Army (PVA).

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Hat Tip, National Museum of the Marine Corps, Korean War Gallery

Weather conditions were savage at the “Frozen Chosin”, a Siberian cold front dropping day-time highs to -5° Fahrenheit, with lows exceeding -25°.  Vehicles and radios failed to start in the cold, and medical supplies froze.  Morphine syrettes had to be thawed in the medic’s mouth, prior to use.  Frozen blood plasma was useless.  Just to cut off clothing to deal with a wound, risked frostbite.  Perhaps worst of all, gun lubricants turned to gel and springs froze.  There must be no more demoralizing sound in combat, than the impotent click of a firing pin, too weak to work.

Clifford Meyer remembers: “During November 1950 the First Marine Division with elements of two Regimental combat teams of the U.S. Army, a Detachment of British Commandos and some South Korean Policemen — about 15,000 men — faced the Chinese Communist Army’s ten Divisions totaling 120,000 men. At a mountain reservoir called Chang Jin (we called it “Chosin”) temperatures ranged from minus five degrees below zero in the day to minus twenty-five degrees below zero at night. The ground froze so hard that bulldozers could not dig emplacements for our Artillery. The cold impeded our weapons from firing automatically, slowing down the recoil of our artillery and automatic weapons. The cold numbed our minds, froze our fingers and toes and froze our rations. [We were] seventy-eight miles from the sea, surrounded, supplies cut, facing an enemy whose sole objective was the annihilation of the First Marine Division as a warning to other United Nations troops, and written off as lost by the high command“.

The PVA launched multiple attacks and ambushes over the night of November 27. The “Chosin Few” were all but surrounded by the morning of the twenty-eighth, locked in a fight for their lives.

Over two weeks of bitter combat, fifteen thousand soldiers and Marines fought their way over seventy-eight miles of gravel road, back to the sea. One war correspondent asked 1st Marine General Oliver Prince Smith if they were retreating. “Retreat? Hell”, Smith said, “we are attacking in another direction”.

battle-of-chosin-reservoir

Survival depended on air drops from US Navy Task Force 77 running 230 forays per day providing close-air support, food, medicine & combat supplies, and US Air Force Far East Combat Cargo Command in Japan, airdropping 250-tons of supplies.  Every day.

Everything had a code name to throw off Chinese anti-aircraft units.  A frantic call went out for 60-mm mortar ammunition, code named “Tootsie Rolls”.  Somebody didn’t read up on the code book, and that’s what they got.  Chocolate candy, by the ton.

What at first seemed a screw-up of biblical proportions, soon proved a blessing in disguise.  With no way to build a fire and frozen rations unusable, those Tootsie rolls were all that stood between survival and starvation. 15,000 soldiers and Marines suffered 12,000 casualties before it was over: 3,000 dead, 6,000 wounded and thousands of frostbite cases.

2134504558Untold thousands of Tootsie roll wrappers littered the seventy-eight miles back to the sea.  Most credit their survival to the energy provided by the chocolate candy.  It turns out that frozen tootsie rolls make a swell putty too, useful for patching up busted hoses and vehicles.

The Korean War Gallery at the National Marine Corps Museum in Quantico features a lone Marine, 30-mm machine gun at the ready, marching out of the frozen wastes of the Chosin reservoir.  There’s a paper candy wrapper in the snow at his feet.  Though age has diminished their numbers, the “Chosin Few” still get together, for the occasional reunion.  Tootsie Roll Industries has always sent the candy and continues to do so, to this day.

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August 19, 1976  Operation Paul Bunyan

American forces in South Korea were moved to DEFCON 3 on August 19.  Two days later, the show of force response called “Operation Paul Bunyan”, descended like a biblical plague, on the North Korean outpost.

The current impasse with North Korea has died down for the time being, but the Korean peninsula is no stranger to conflict.  16th and 17th century Manchu and Japanese invasions brought about a sense of Korean isolationism, leading many to describe the place as a “Hermit Kingdom”.  The tendency became more pronounced in the 19th century, as Koreans witnessed the colonization of China to the north, and its humiliation in two opium wars.

The July 1866 General Sherman incident resulted in the death of all 20 officers and crew and the destruction of an American armed merchant marine side-wheel steamer, leading to the U.S. Navy’s 1871 expedition to the Kingdom of Joseon (Chosŏn), the Shinmiyangyo.  The expedition would result in the death of about 300 Korean soldiers and three Americans.

General Sherman Incident

US-Korean relations soured in 1905 in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War, when the U.S. recognized Korea as falling into the Japanese “sphere of influence”.

Korean nationalists were dismayed in 1910, with the Japanese annexation of the Korean Peninsula.  Woodrow Wilson’s high-sounding principles of national self-determination bypassed the Hermit Kingdom, leaving Koreans with virtually no role in their own internal administration.

Following the Japanese defeat in WWII, the Korean peninsula was divided into two occupied zones:  the north held by the Soviet Union and the south by the United States. The Cairo declaration of 1943 had called for a unified Korea, its division along the 38th parallel intended to be temporary.   It wasn’t meant to be.  Kim Il-sung came to power in North Korea in 1946, nationalizing key industries and collectivizing land, haranguing his countrymen about the “spirit of self-reliance” he called Juche, (JOO-chay).

kim_il-sung
Propaganda poster depicting “Dear Leader”, Kim Il-sung

South Korea declared statehood in May 1948, under the vehemently anti-communist military strongman, Syngman Rhee.

The 1948-49 withdrawal of Soviet and most American forces left the south holding the weaker hand. Escalating border conflicts led to war when the North, with assurances of support from the Soviet Union and Communist China, invaded South Korea in June 1950.

Within days, the United States secured a United Nations resolution, calling for the defense of South Korea against North Korean aggression.  Sixteen countries sent troops to South Korea’s aid.  90% of them were Americans.

American intervention turned the tide.  US and South Korean forces crossed the North Korean border in November 1951, pressing north toward the Chinese border.  Hundreds of thousands of troops from the People’s Republic of China poured across the border in December, mounting heavy assaults against allied forces and converting what had been a war of movement, into a brutal stalemate and war of attrition.

Republican Dwight David Eisenhower won decisively in the 1952 Presidential election, a contest which turned heavily on foreign policy.  It wasn’t long before President Eisenhower’s public hints of nuclear escalation brought all sides to the negotiating table.

33,741 Americans lost their lives in the Korean war.  Total casualties including North and South Korea, China and United Nations forces, military and civilian, number some 2.8 million.

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View from the south side of the Joint Security Area, Korean DMZ

An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, a new border drawn between North and South Korea, giving South Korea additional territory and creating a “demilitarized zone” between the two nations.  WWIII had been averted, though the two sides technically remain at war, to this day.

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North) and the Republic of Korea (South), has been the focal point of cold war tension, ever since.

The Korean DMZ conflict of 1966–69 culminated in the Blue House Raid of 1968, the attempted assassination of ROK President Park Chung-hee by North Korean commandos.  This period saw a series of skirmishes along the DMZ, resulting in the death of 43 Americans, 299 South Koreans and 397 North Koreans.

blue-house
South Korean Executive Mansion – “Blue House”

Some such episodes are borderline comical, such as the “mine is bigger than yours” tit-for-tat known as the “flagpole war” of the 1980s.  The South Korean government built a 323′ flagpole flying a huge, 287lb ROK flag in Daeseong-dong, 350 meters from the line of demarcation. Not to be outdone, DPRK government officials erected a 525′ flagpole in Kijŏng-dong, flying a 595lb flag of North Korea. As of 2014, the DPRK pole remains the 4th tallest flagpole, in the world.

Flagpole War

Other episodes are distinctly un-funny, such as the 1976 axe murders of two American Army officers.

The Joint Security Area (JSA) lies within the village of Panmunjom, the only piece of the DMZ where North and South Korean guards stand face-to-face.  There the “Bridge of No Return” crosses the border, the Military Demarcation Line running across its center.  Here, POWs were brought from both sides, and given their final ultimatum.  They could stay in the country of their captivity or cross that bridge and return to their homeland.  They could never come back.

Axe_murder_incident_Lt._Pak_Chul
Lieutenant Pak Chul

The bridge was last used for prisoner exchange in 1968, when the crew of USS Pueblo was released and ordered to cross into South Korea.

Visible only during winter months, command Post #3, near the Bridge of No Return, has been called the “loneliest outpost in the world”.  On numerous occasions, North Korean troops have taken advantage of this isolation, attempting to grab United Nations Command personnel and drag them across the bridge into North Korean territory.

On August 18, 1976, five Korean Service Corps (KSC) personnel entered the JSA, escorted by US Army Captain Arthur Bonifas, his ROK counterpart Captain Kim, area platoon leader First Lieutenant Mark Barrett, and 11 American and South Korean enlisted personnel.

15 North Korean soldiers appeared, commanded by Senior Lieutenant Pak Chul, whom UNC soldiers called “Lt. Bulldog” based on his confrontational history.   Lt. Pak ordered the UNC to cease tree trimming, “because Kim Il-sung personally planted it and nourished it and it’s growing under his supervision.”  Captain Bonifas turned his back on the North Koreans, ordering the detail to continue.  That’s when the stuff hit the fan.

Axe Murder Incident

Another 20 North Korean soldiers crossed the bridge, carrying crowbars and clubs.  Lt. Pak removed his watch, wrapped it in a handkerchief, placed it in his pocket, and shouted, “Kill the bastards!”.

When it was over, Captain Bonifas and First Lieutenant Barrett were dead, hacked to death with axes dropped by the tree-trimmers.  All but one of the UNC guards were injured.  Within hours, Kim Jong-il, son of “Dear Leader” Kim Il-sung, described the incident as an unprovoked incident in which American officers attacked North Korean guards.cpt_bonifas

The CIA believed the whole episode to have been pre-planned.  American forces in South Korea were moved to DEFCON 3 on August 19.  Two days later, the show of force response called “Operation Paul Bunyan”, descended like a biblical plague, on the North Korean outpost.

At 7:00am on August 21, 23 American and South Korean vehicles drove into the JSA with chainsaws, 753 troops escorted by two 30-man security platoons, armed with pistols and axe handles.  This was no tree trimming operation.

64 South Korean Special Forces brandished M16 rifles and M79 grenade launchers. Lethally effective elite soldiers, they taunted the North Koreans, daring them to cross the bridge.  Several had Claymore mines strapped to their chests, firing mechanisms at the ready.Lt._Mark_Barrett

20 utility helicopters and seven Cobra attack choppers circled overhead, behind them F-4 Phantom IIs and nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortresses.

12,000 additional troops were ordered to Korea, including 1,800 Marines from Okinawa.  At Yokota Air Base in Japan, a dozen C-130s stood “nose to tail”, ready to provide back-up.  Air bases from Guam to Idaho were on full alert.  The entire USS Midway carrier task force, stood offshore.

“Minds blown” by this show of force, North Korea responded with 150-200 troops of its own, but did little but look on at the proceedings.

42 minutes later, all that remained of dear leader’s tree was a 20’ stump, deliberately left to aggravate North Korean sensibilities.

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Korean DMZ ‘Incident Tree’

Captain Bonifas and Lieutenant Barrett were posthumously promoted to the ranks of Major and Captain, respectively.  Today, Camp Bonifas is home to the United Nations Command Security Battalion – Joint Security Area, whose mission it is to monitor and enforce the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953 in the no-man’s land between North and South Korea.

Camp Bonifas is home to a one-hole, “par 3” AstroTurf patch, surrounded on three sides by minefields.  Sports Illustrated has called it “the most dangerous hole in golf”.  There is at least one report of an errant shot exploding a land mine. How nice it is that a sense of humor can survive, even in this wretched place.

Most Dangerous Hole