Inchon Landing Remembered
Historians acknowledge that the United Nations Forces’ landing at Inchon Harbor on September 15, 1950, was one of the most successful operations in modern military history. Twenty-five thousand tons of supplies, 6600 vehicles, 260 vessels, and 74,000 men were mobilized to capture the enemy-occupied harbor.
Then a nine-year-old growing up in a war-torn country, I thought General MacArthur was God’s angel who turned a losing battle into a winning one overnight, with a simple stroke of a magic baton. But recently I met an Overland Park (Kansas) resident, and my perception of the Inchon Landing and the most admired general of all American generals changed. Although it was MacArthur who engineered and executed the massive plan with precision, men like Corporal Clyde Koch stepped into enemy territory, sweated, bled, and even died in order to retake the harbor.
Veteran Koch claims that he was only a small cog in a big war-machine. But for “a small cog,” he showed much pride as he began to talk about that September day fifty-four years ago.
Then 20, Koch watched a barrage of fire on the distant shore from a landing-ship-tank (LST). “This is for real,” he said to himself. He was nervous, but not that much, he says. He had been a Marine for three years. After six months training on Guam Island he served in the US garrison troops in Tsing-Tao, a large beer-producing port city in the northern province of Shantung, China. [After World War II ended the US troops were in China, mainly to support the Chinese government and to disarm the Japanese troops who had occupied China since 1937. During the following years, while Chian Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang and Mao Ze-Dong’s Communists fought bloody murder, the US troops remained in China, this time, to discourage communism from spreading. With Mao’s Communists taking over throughout Mainland China in 1949, all US troops returned to the United States.]
Koch’s unit, Charlie Battery, (1st Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division) had been aboard a landing-ship-tank (LST) since they had left Pusan on September 7th, and everyone was anxious for landing. The sea had been so choppy that motion sickness was a common ailment among the Marines. As morning wore on, enemy resistance seemed weakening, and finally, in mid-afternoon, orders came to abandon the LST and board a smaller landing craft loaded with 105mm howitzers.
As the boat carried them to the shore during the high tide, Koch was surprised to discover that the communists were nowhere to be found.
"The Navy pilots have done a wonderful job of clearing the shore with their bombardment,” Koch says. “It was an easy landing for us.”
The beach was littered with dead bodies, driftwood, and abandoned military equipment. In one area, behind a blood smeared chain-link fence, about 60 young North Korean prisoners, barely 16 or 17 years of age, sat in a group, stark naked, except loin cloths, hands bound behind them. It bothered Koch that one’s victory meant another’s defeat. But he had no time to be sentimental about it: his artillery unit was ready to move again.
While air-fighters dropped bombs and napalm onto the town of Inchon, and the Infantry marched toward the capital, Charlie Battery crossed the Han River on pontoon boats to secure the area for the advancing troops. They blasted enemy equipment and its defenders along the shoreline. By the evening of the third day, they were at the edge of Kimpo airfield on the outskirts of Seoul, and within hours, the 6,000-foot runway was captured. The UN suffered fewer than 300 casualties, but the enemy lost ten times more.
On September 25th, Seoul was officially liberated from the enemy, although it took another three days for the UN troops to drive the fanatical North Koreans out of the area. On September 28th, General MacArthur escorted South Korea’s 74-year-old president, Syng-man Rhee, back to his presidential seat at the partially damaged National Assembly Hall.
Surrounded by smartly dressed U.S. soldiers imported from the Occupation Force in Japan for the occasion, General MacArthur solemnly declared the city liberated in God’s name, before leading the teary audience into the Lord’s prayer.
The old Korean president couldn't hide his overwhelming emotion as he expressed his “undying gratitude” to MacArthur and the American military for restoring the capital’s lost dignity. Afterwards, from the front lawn of the presidential mansion, the general and the president watched South Korea’s military band parading triumphantly through the ruined streets.
Koch wasn’t at the ceremony but he heard about it. He was with his fellow marines on Inchon Beach, waiting for orders to embark on a new sea-journey to Wonsan, one of the major harbors in North Korea. A month later, he and his unit would march to the Chosin Reservoir, where the Chinese Volunteer Corp ambushed them mercilessly. On December 2nd that year, Koch was wounded severely when an enemy bullet entered into his abdomen and lodged in his hip, which he would carry with him for years afterwards. After a lengthy treatment and recuperation, first in Yakasuka Japan and then in Hawaii, he was discharged from the Marine Corps on August 18th 1951.
Today, Inchon is a vibrant harbor boasting a giant bronze statue of General MacArthur overlooking the beaches and its modern international airport where tourists pour in every year from all over the world to get a glimpse of a historical harbor. Four years ago, Veteran Koch was one of them.
“It was great going back,” he says with a smile.
Although the Korean War was known as the Forgotten War and the American soldiers didn’t return with glory and shining images as victors at the war’s end, to Inchon and to those who lived through a long period of fear and destruction, it was unforgettable.