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10 Facts About the Korean War

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Over six decades later, we are no closer to a peaceful ending of the conflict.

1. The North Koreans captured an American general.

A month after the Korean War broke out, Major General William F. Dean, commander of 24th Infantry Division, was separated from his forces in Taejon while trying to help wounded soldiers. While out seeking water for a particularly injured G.I., he fell down a cliff and was knocked unconscious. He would be isolated in the mountains for the next 36 days, losing 80 pounds in addition to the broken shoulder and head wound he had sustained. When two South Koreans found him, they pretended to lead him to safety, but in fact brought him to a North Korean ambush site. Though Dean tried to fight his captors, he was down to 130 pounds and too weak to resist for long. He was taken prisoner on August 25, 1950, and remained prisoner until the end of the war. (This would have been like the Iraqi insurgency capturing David Petraeus when he was commanding the 101st Airborne in Mosul.)

2. The Army built an impromptu special operations unit.

The United States lacked a guerrilla warfare capability at the start of the Korean War, and had to put one together, and fast. The result was the 8240th Army Unit, comprised of Rangers and other soldiers with unconventional warfare experience from World War II. They advised indigenous “partisan forces” in Korea on how to fight behind enemy lines to undermine the North Korean Army. In 1952, soldiers with the new designation of “Special Forces” graduated from the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Center and School, and supplemented the 8240th. At its height, the unit advised 38,000 partisan fighters.

3. The Korean War combined old tactics and new ones on land, sea, and air.

The paratroopers of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (known as the “Rakkasans”) conducted all of the airborne operations of the Korean War. They jumped into Sunch'ŏn, North Korea in 1950, and Munsan-ni, South Korea in 1952. The Rakkasans fought in a total of six campaigns in Korea. Today, the unit’s heirs are part of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

The Battle of Inchon (1950) was an amphibious invasion of Incheon from the Yellow Sea. It was a major victory for United Nations forces, and turned around what was then a losing war. The U.S. Marine-led force was commanded by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.

Meanwhile, the Korean War is the first war fought with jet airplanes. Propeller-driven aircraft gave way to P-80 Shooting Stars and Soviet MiG-15s.

4. The 38th parallel is a recurring theme before, during, and after the war.

In 1896, the Japanese government proposed to the Russian government that Korea should be split in half along the 38th parallel, with Russia taking control of the north. This probably would have saved everyone a lot of trouble down the line, but the Russians balked and Japan consolidated its hold of Korea in 1910. After World War II, Japan relinquished control, and the U.S. State Department again looked to the 38th parallel to establish two separate countries. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, launching the Korean War. Today, the demilitarized zone dividing the two countries intersects—you guessed it—the 38th parallel.

5. The Korean War goes by many names.

In the United States, we call it the Korean War (and sometimes the Forgotten War). North Korea calls it the Fatherland Liberation War. In South Korea, it’s called Six-Two-Five, after the day it started. China’s subtle name for the conflict is the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.

6. CIA on NKA: Nothing to see here!

Months before the North Korean Army crossed the 38th parallel, the CIA noted the southward movement of NKA forces, but called it a defensive measure, and called the possibility of an invasion “unlikely.” On June 24, 1950, Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, had to telephone President Truman. “Mr. President,” he said, “I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea.”

7. The American occupying force in Japan provided manpower for the Korean War.

At the war’s start, it was pretty clear that Republic of Korean forces were outmatched by the North Korean Army. General MacArthur personally went to the front lines to get a look at the situation. He quickly requested ground troops to help save the situation. President Truman eventually authorized the movement of two full divisions from Japan to Korea. The divisions, coming from the relatively peaceful job of occupying Japan following World War II, were something less than battle-ready—especially when compared with the North Korean veterans. It was during the successful two-month defense of Busan, South Korea, that American forces were finally hardened for war.

8. The Korean War provided an early victory for a secret American signals intelligence agency.

As I describe in my book, the American intelligence community faced its worst fears on Friday, October 29, 1948, when the Soviet Union disappeared. While post-war America dismantled its signals intelligence and cryptanalysis capabilities, the Russians were doubling down. On “Black Friday,” as it was called, the Soviets activated a new communications grid and encryption methodology. Signals began transmitting by cable, cutting off most radio interceptions; what little remained was indecipherable. In response, the Secretary of Defense ordered the creation of a Top Secret organization known as the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA).

Though AFSA suffered from institutional dysfunction and wasn’t particularly effective against the Soviets, it had good fortune during the Korean War, intercepting high-level North Korean broadcasts. To the astonishment of the agency’s signals-intelligence specialists, North Korea was broadcasting the details of its most sensitive military operations in plaintext, with no encryption at all. When the North Koreans finally got wise to America’s interception prowess, AFSA made short work of the new ciphers. AFSA would eventually be reorganized as the National Security Agency.

9. The United States had dropped the Bomb only five years earlier, and was ready to do it again.

In 1950, the Bomb was only five years old and the wonder of the atomic age promised a bright nuclear future. It was just assumed that atomic weapons would be part of any future conflict—like the Korean War, for example. The Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered the employment of the atomic bomb against China if it sent troops or bombers into Korea. China ignored the threat. Likewise, there were plans to drop the Bomb on the Soviet Union if it got involved, but European leaders objected to such an escalation, fearing the Soviets would us it as a justification for the conquest of Europe. Accordingly, the United States promised to use atomic weapons in Korea only to prevent a “major military disaster.”

10. The Korean War never ended.

On July 27, 1953, American Lieutenant General William Harrison, Jr. and North Korean General Nam Il signed the Korean Armistice Agreement, ending “all acts of armed force” in Korea, until both sides were able to find a “final peaceful settlement.” The agreement was notably not a peace treaty, but rather, a ceasefire. Over 60 years later, it seems we are no closer to a peaceful ending of the conflict.

This article originally appeared in 2013.

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History
Civilian Researchers Discover Wreckage of the USS Indianapolis
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On July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. More than 70 years after the historic naval tragedy— which claimed the lives of nearly 900 crew—The New York Times reports that the ship’s mysterious final resting place has been found.

The discovery came courtesy of a team of civilian researchers, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His state-of-the-art research vessel, Petrel, located the wreck 18,000 feet below the Pacific’s surface, the team announced on Saturday, August 19.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

Before it sank, the USS Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to a naval base on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian. After delivering enriched uranium and components for Little Boy— the atomic bomb that the U.S. would drop on the Japanese city of Hiroshima about a week later—the cruiser forged ahead to Guam, and then to the Philippines. It was supposed to meet the battleship USS Idaho at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare to attack Japan.

The USS Indianapolis never made it to Leyte Gulf. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted the cruiser and fired six torpedoes. The USS Indianapolis—which was hit twice—sank within 12 minutes. Around 300 to 400 sailors and Marines were killed in the attack; the rest were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for several days.

Many of these survivors would ultimately lose their lives to sharks, a grisly scene that would be famously (albeit semi-accurately) recounted in the 1975 movie Jaws. Others died from drowning, heat stroke, thirst, burns and injuries, swallowing salt water or fuel oil, and suicide. More than 300 crew members were rescued after a bomber pilot accidently sighted the imperiled men while on a routine antisubmarine patrol.

The mass tragedy—which wouldn’t be announced to the public until August 15, 1945—sparked controversy: Charles B. McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis, was found guilty in a court martial of failing to steer the ship on a “zigzag” course to elude Japanese submarines. A Japanese submarine captain testified that this precautionary measure wouldn’t have thwarted the enemy, but McVay was charged nonetheless. The captain died by suicide in 1968, and wouldn’t be officially exonerated by the Navy until 2001.

For decades, the remains of the USS Indianapolis were lost to the ravages of time and nature. But in 2016, naval historian Richard Hulver found a historic ship log that mentioned a sighting of the USS Indianapolis. Allen’s search team used this information to locate the ship, which was west of where experts assumed it had gone down.

Allen’s crew took pictures of the wreckage, including a piece of its hull, and will search for more of the ship. They plan to keep the exact location of the USS Indianapolis a secret, however, to honor the sunken ship as a war grave.

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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entertainment
The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

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When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

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