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Email from W.E.B. Griffin on the 60th Anniversary of the Ending of the Korean War

July 27th is a notable date, the ending of the Korean War.  It is hard to believe that sixty years have passed; yet, this conflict still makes the headlines with the despotic North Korean leaders constantly calling for genocide against the South Koreans and Americans. 

Best-selling military fiction author W.E.B. Griffin whose real name is William E. Butterworth III emailed a piece about his impressions, having served in Korea from 1952-1953 as a combat correspondent assigned to the 223rd Infantry Regiment, 40th Division and the 10th Corps Headquarters.

His article is noteworthy since it reflects on how the draft was able to incorporate all segments of America’s society, making the armed services accountable to all citizens, not just the ones who, today, put their lives on the line by stepping up to the plate and volunteering.

The article by W.E.B. Griffin is listed below:

The late General Donn W. Starry, universally recognized as both a distinguished warrior and one of the Army’s greatest intellectuals, began his address to the Corps of Cadets and several hundred of his fellow graduates on the 50th Anniversary of his West Point graduation with this comment: “I have many memories of my four years as an inmate of this institution, none of them favorable.”

Similarly, I have many memories of my service in Korea , few of which reflect favorably on our society today.

I remember, for example, standing at a cross-road in the Punchbowl behind Heartbreak Ridge in a freezing rain waiting for a jeep to pick me up. I had just come from seeing Captain George S. Patton, who commanded a company “Up On The Ridge”  of 140th Tank Battalion tanks named after his father. With me, also rain-soaked, un-shaven, shivering, hungry and miserable, waiting for a jeep to pick him up, was a young major. His name was Eisenhower, and his father was President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces.

I remember, too, a week or so later, being in a sandbagged bunker, command post of an infantry company of Colonel (later Major General) Curtis W. Herrick’s 223rd Infantry Regiment, quite literally on the front of the front line. In the bunker were the company commander, a captain;  his brother, a lieutenant assigned to the regiment on our left flank; and a GI correspondent―a PFC―of the Army newspaper Stars & Stripes.

As we tried without much success to warm ourselves with coffee heated on a small stove, we heard the grinding of gears on a truck, and moments later a first sergeant made his way into the bunker to announce ‘six replacements, Captain, one of whom insists he shouldn’t be here.”

A moment later, a nice looking young man appeared. He told the captain a mistake had been made. He didn’t belong in the infantry, he said, because he was a Harvard graduate.

“Wonderful,” the captain said. “You’ll be right at home here. I’m Harvard ’49. My brother here is ’51. And I’m surprised you don’t recognize PFC John Sack. He was famous around Harvard Square as the only man ever to be simultaneously editor of both the Lampoon and the Crimson. First Sergeant, take this splendidly educated rifleman to his platoon sergeant.”

At the time, I thought it was hilarious.

Sixty years later I’m saddened by the thought that exchange would not have occurred in Iraq or occur now in Afghanistan . With rare and notable exceptions―Vice President Joe Biden’s and Senator Jim Webb’s sons leap to mind―the sons of the politically powerful and the alumni of the Ivy League seem now to feel that picking up a rifle and going off to fight for the United States is something best left to the untermensch. 

W.E.B. Griffin
Late Sergeant/Combat Correspondent
X Corps, Korea