- A Foxhole View: Personal Accounts of Hawaii's Korean War Veterans
Intimations of mortality seem to have inspired A Foxhole View and a number of other accounts of the Korean War published in the last decade. The reason veterans lend themselves to interviews, attend conferences, and contribute to the books marking the fiftieth anniversary of the war that was fought from 1950 to 1953 is simple. If the old men want more notice of their war than a line in an obituary, it is time to tell their stories.
Sandwiched between World War II—the great "crusade" against evil that [End Page 318] was fought by the self-effacing "greatest generation"—and the long and bitterly contentious American war in Vietnam, the war in Korea has become a cliché: The Forgotten War. The cliché is not entirely an expression of self-pity.
After all, the Korean War Veterans' Memorial in Washington was dedicated in 1995, forty-five years after the war started and well after the 1982 dedication of the Vietnam War Veterans' Memorial. The Korean War Veterans International was founded in 1986, the Korean War Veterans' Association in 1985, the Association of Airborne Ranger Companies of the Korean War in 1983, and the Chosin Few in 1983. The graying veterans of Korea, denied earlier national celebrations of their war, or even recognition, organized and began memorializing themselves from the 1980s to the turn of the twenty-first century. They may have sensed that Samuel Hynes was right in his ruminations in The Soldiers' Tale: Bearing Witness to Modern War. He said that World War I, World War II, and the war in Vietnam were the "myth-making conflicts that have given war the meaning it has for us." He dismisses the war in Korea as "a war that came and went without glory, and left no mark on American imagination."
A Foxhole View begins by noting the general silence regarding the Korean War and the disproportionate contribution made by Hawai'i soldiers as measured in killed and wounded. It then sets out to address both propositions by allowing the Hawai'i veterans of the Korean War to tell their stories in their own words. Seventy were identified and approached, and thirty-five were interviewed and find their tales in the book.
The editor sets the scene with an overview of the war, including chronology and glossary, thus allowing the general reader to put the varied individual battle experiences into the broader context of the war. He then presents brief accounts, varying in length from a single paragraph to a few of pages, in chronological order beginning in June 1950 and concluding with the return to Hawai'i in September 1953 of soldiers who had been prisoners of war.
It's all there in first-person descriptions: unready American soldiers initially overrun by well-trained and well-equipped North Korean troops; the desperate fighting to maintain the Pusan Perimeter, the U.S.-led United Nations' toe-hold on the peninsula; the Inchon landings and the Pusan breakout resulting in the near-destruction of the North Korea People's Army; the UN crossing of the 38th parallel and the advance to the Yalu River; the entry of Chinese troops into the war, bitter fighting in sub-zero temperatures, and retreat of United Nations forces; offensives and counter-offensives as Seoul changes hands several times; and then the stabilization of front lines roughly along the 38th parallel, the start line. After about a year, the sweeping war of movement settled into war in a form familiar to the veterans of World War I with bunkers, trenches, artillery exchanges, and night patrols in no-man's-land. [End Page 319]
The individual experiences over three years and ranging in space from Pusan to the Yalu add up to a comprehensive and recognizable mosaic. The weapons, communications wire, flares, battlefield noise, barbed wire, raids, ambushes, assaults, defense, rest and recuperation, extremes of temperature, dysentery, trenches, outposts, and listening...