Who Was Willoughby?

In February 1942, General Douglas MacArthur (shown left) (who formerly served as Army Chief of Staff and then after retirement, as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army) scampered away from the Philippine Islands and headed toward Australia, thereby avoiding capture by a massive Japanese invasion of the Philippines.  He did this at the direction of the President of the United States (Franklin D. Roosevelt).  When he departed aboard U. S. Navy patrol/torpedo boats and seaplanes, MacArthur took with him his family, his personal staff, and his intelligence officer —Colonel Charles Willoughby, Army of the United States (AUS)[1].  Willoughby continued to serve on MacArthur’s staff until that fateful day on 10 April 1951 when President Harry S. Truman relieved MacArthur of his position as Supreme Allied Commander, Far East and sent him into retirement.

Charles Andrew Willoughby (depicted right), born on March 8, 1892, died October 25, 1972, eventually served as a Major General in the United States Army.  He was born in Heidelberg, Germany as Adolph Karl Weidenbach, the son of Baron T. Tscheppe-Weidenbach—but this was disputed by a New York Journal reporter in 1952[2].  Some uncertainty remains about who this man was, as well as his family lineage.  What we are certain about is that Willoughby migrated from Germany to the United States in 1910.

In October 1910, Willoughby enlisted in the U. S. Army, and over the next three years he served with the US Fifth Infantry Division, rising to the rank of sergeant.  In 1913, he was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army and attended college at Gettysburg College.  Having already attended three years at the University of Heidelberg and the Sorbonne (Paris), Willoughby enrolled as a senior, graduating in 1914.  Actually, we do not know for certain that he actually did attend Heidelberg University, or the Sorbonne.  In any case, Willoughby received a commission to second lieutenant in in the officer’s volunteer reserve, U. S. Army, in 1914.  At this juncture, his name was Adolph Charles Weidenbach[3].  He spent three years teaching German and military studies at various prep-schools in the United States, and then on 27 July 1916 he accepted a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant; he was advanced to the rank of first lieutenant on the same day.  He rose to the rank of captain in 1917 and served in World War I as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Willoughby later transferred from the infantry to the US Army Air Corps; his training as a pilot was conducted by the French military.  After some involvement with a French female by the name of Elyse Raimonde DeRoche, who was later shot as a spy, Weidenbach was recalled to Washington and asked to account for his pro-German sentiments.  He was eventually cleared of suspicions in this regard.

Following World War I, Willoughby/Weidenbach was assigned to the 24th Infantry in New Mexico from 1919 to 1921, and was then posted to San Juan, Puerto Rico where he served in military intelligence.  He subsequently served as a Military Attaché in Ecuador and for unclear reasons, Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government (shown right).  Beginning in the 1920s, Willoughby became an ardent admirer of Spanish General Francisco Franco, whom he referred to as the greatest general in the world[4].

In 1929, Willoughby/Weidenbach received orders to the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  He became an instructor there in 1936, and received his promotion to lieutenant colonel.

Throughout World War II, the occupation of Japan, and the Korean War, Willoughby served as MacArthur’s chief of intelligence.  MacArthur is said to have jokingly referred to Willoughby as “My pet fascist”.  He is also quoted as having said of Willoughby, “There have been three great intelligence officers in history: mine is not one of them.”

Author John Robert Ferris (Intelligence and Strategy: selected essays) stated that MacArthur’s pronouncement could be a gross understatement.  He described Willoughby as a candidate for the worst intelligence officer in the Second World War.  As an example, in early 1944, in the largest landing of the Pacific war to that date, four infantry divisions were employed in the taking of Hallandia, Dutch New Guinea.  Willoughby had reported sizable Japanese forces there.  Accordingly, the entire Pacific Fleet stood out to sea to screen the landing.  Surrendering to this mighty force were two thousand frightened Japanese warehouse and supply troops.  The operation was completely in line with MacArthur’s policy of “hitting them where they ain’t,” and so Willoughby’s misappraisal was conveniently filed and forgotten.

Willoughby was temporarily promoted to major general on 12 April 1945.

After the war, Willoughby was instrumental in arranging the exoneration of a Japanese war criminal by the name of Lieutenant General (Medical) Shirõ Ishii[5] (Unit 731) in exchange for information about biological warfare.  This was not his only debacle:

Willoughby (apparently with the approval of MacArthur) made a weak grab for the US counterintelligence effort.  Counterintelligence was not under Willoughby’s umbrella, but he and MacArthur had been stonewalling the OSS since the beginning of World War II.  What we can say with certitude, however, is that the inadequacy of US counterintelligence in Japan can be attributed to either Willoughby’s (or MacArthur’s) incompetence or his professional negligence.  When US forces occupied Japan, there was no counterintelligence effort.  One news reporter discovered the Japanese Foreign Office, Radio Tokyo, and various military offices openly burning classified documents in the middle of the street, denying this information to the occupying force.  There were no counterintelligence officers present in Japan to stop them.

Commanding the 8th US Army, General Robert Eichelberger lacked the benefit of counterintelligence advice when he welcomed the commander of the Japanese Army in Yokohama.  General Kenji Doihara was also Japan’s top intelligence officer; it was he who had engineered in 1931 the incident leading to Japan taking over Manchuria.  Eicrhelberger thought that Doihara was a “splendid little fellow.”  It was only the next day after Eicrhelberger this meeting was reported through intelligence channels to Washington DC that MacArthur ordered Doihara’s arrest.

Not long after the US occupation began, military police arrived at the Marunouchi Hotel looking for black-market operators.  What they found was Major General Willoughby having dinner with the stranded Italian Fascist Ambassador to Japan and members of his staff[6].  Naturally, Willoughby vented his anger at the military police, who were only doing their jobs.

Willoughby’s service in Japan lacks clarity unless it also reveals his vendetta against critics, or those guilty of lèse-majesté toward MacArthur.  Consequently, Willoughby spent as much time and energy to his dossiers on newsmen and military heretics as he did to reports on enemy dispositions.  William Costello from CBS decided that he much preferred digging up his own material about the Japanese rather than using handouts supplied by MacArthur’s headquarters.  How did Willoughby deal with this situation?  He sent people around to discuss with Costello what might happen if his communist membership card from the 1930s became public knowledge.  Costello was underwhelmed; he had never been a communist.  Digging in, Costello became a one-man anti-Willoughby campaigner, telling anyone and everyone who would listen what a creep Willoughby was.  By 1948, Costello was winning this war; so much so, in fact, that MacArthur invited him to a stag party.  If Costello ever attended the party, let’s hope he kept his clothes on.

Leopards never change their spots.  During the Korean War, Willoughby intentionally distorted, if not suppressed intelligence estimates that resulted in the death, injury, or captivity of thousands of American military personnel.  He did this, it is argued, to better support MacArthur’s horribly negligent (or grossly incompetent) assertion that the Chinese Army would never cross the Yalu River … and in doing so, allow MacArthur a much freer hand in his prosecution of the Korean campaign —by keeping the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington DC (and the President) in the dark.

As writer/historian David Halberstam[7] reminded us, “Control intelligence, you control decision making.”  Halberstam argues that Willoughby was appointed head of intelligence for Korea due to his sycophancy toward MacArthur and points out that many veterans of the Korean War, enlisted and officer, believed that the lack of proper intelligence led field commanders to develop inadequate employment plans such that they could not provide combat support to one another.  Entire Chinese infantry divisions passed through the gaps that existed between forward deployed American units.

In late 1950, Lieutenant Colonel John Chiles served in the operations section of the US 10th Corps.  He later stated that because MacArthur did not want the Chinese to enter the war, Willoughby falsified intelligence reports so that they wouldn’t enter the war.  “He should have gone to jail,” Chiles said.

Willoughby never went to jail, however.  He retired from the Army in grade of major general on August 31, 1951.  In retirement, he lobbied for Generalissimo Francisco Franco … true colors.

True to form, Willoughby launched a broadside in Cosmopolitan after his retirement against certain correspondents and commentators critical of MacArthur’s strategy. His targets included Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, one of the most able war correspondents and a Pulitzer Prize winner; Hal Boyle, front-line correspondent for the Associated Press; Hanson Baldwin, military specialist of the New York Times; Joseph Alsop, syndicated columnist; and Drew Pearson, columnist and radio commentator.

There was nothing diplomatic in Willoughby’s handling of MacArthur’s critics.  He called them rag-pickers of American literature, men who were addicted to yellow journalism, sensationalists, men whose reporting provided aid and comfort to the enemy.  The newsmen replied to Willoughby with equal vigor, but the mildest reply was offered by Hanson Baldwin: “As an intelligence officer, General Willoughby was widely and justly criticized by Pentagon officials as well as in the papers. His . . . article is as misleading and inaccurate as were some of his intelligence reports.”  Gordon Walker, correspondent and later an assistant foreign editor of the Christian Science Monitor, said: “There is strong evidence . . . that General MacArthur’s staff withheld intelligence information on Chinese intervention —from the President and from front-line corps and division commanders— Frontline commanders who ordered their troops into battle without prior knowledge that they faced overwhelming odds…”

Willoughby reminds us of several things: first, more important than what a man says is what he does.  We cannot claim that integrity is one of Willoughby’s virtues.  Neither does a man become a saint simply because he wears an American military uniform.  Willoughby died on 25 October 1972 —just in time for dia del diablo.  To our everlasting shame as a nation, we buried him in Arlington National Cemetery.


[1] The Army of the United States is the legal name of the “land forces of the United States” (United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 and United States Code, Title 10, Subtitle B, Chapter 301, Section 3001) and has been used in this context since at least 1841, as in the title: General Regulations for the Army of the United States. The Army, or Armies of the United States includes the Regular Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve (as well as any volunteer or conscripted forces).  Someone receiving an officer’s commission into the Army of the United States holds a temporary appointment and serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

[2] The Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Briefadeligen, a standard catalogue of German gentry, does not help to clear up this matter.  According to this document, General Franz Erich Theodor Tülff von Tschepe und Weidenbach lacked the title “Freiherr” and never received letters of patent from Emperor Wilhelm II entitling him to use the surname “von Tschepe und Weidenbach” until 1913.  By this time, he had five children; none of them were born in 1892.

[3] At some point before 1930, Weidenbach changed his name to Charles Andrew Willoughby, which is a loose translation of Weidenbach, German meaning Willow-brook.  In any case, Willoughby was fluent in English, Spanish, German, French, and Japanese.

[4] I can only imagine what MacArthur later thought about such intense feelings toward some other general.

[5] Responsible for the death and suffering of more than 10,000 allied military personnel during World War II.

[6] Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government in the 1930s.

[7] The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

The Bravest Marine …

EGA BlackWhen the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Chew-fen Lee was a high school student who answered to the name Kurt. He had voluntarily associated himself with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). In 1944, the 18-year old engineering student joined the United States Marine Corps. Standing barely 5’6” tall, weighing only 130 pounds, Lee made sure he measured up to the high standards for U. S. Marines by working harder than everyone else; he transformed himself into a wiry, muscular leatherneck. After graduating from boot camp, the Marine Corps assigned Lee to Japanese Language School. After graduating from the school, the Marine Corps retained him as a language instructor. By the end of the war, Lee had earned promotion to sergeant and was accepted to attend officer training school.

Major Chew-fen Lee USMCFrom October 1945 to April 1946, Lee attended The Basic School for newly commissioned Marine Corps officers. Upon graduation, Second Lieutenant Lee became the first non-white officer and the first Asian-American officer in Marine Corps history. At this time, Lieutenant Lee deployed to Guam and China to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war.

At the beginning of the Korean War, First Lieutenant Lee commanded 1st Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment commanded by Colonel Homer Litzenberg at Camp Pendleton, California. In late August 1950, the 7th Marines received a warning order to prepare to move out; Lieutenant Lee decided to set an example for other Chinese Americans to follow. He later recounted, “I wanted to dispel the notion about Chinese being meek and obsequious.” He did not expect to survive the Korean War.

The 7th Marines shipped out on 1 September 1950; while aboard ship, Lieutenant Lee drilled his Marines night and day on the main deck —enduring derision from his contemporary lieutenants. After arriving in Japan, Lee’s superiors attempted to assign him as a staff officer handling translation duties, but Lee insisted he was there to fight communists and he retained command of his platoon.

Navy Cross MedalThe 1st Battalion, 7th Marines landed at Inchon, Korea on 21 September 1950. The 7th Marines joined up with the 1st and 5th Marines in their northward movement, forcing the North Korean army into a retreat. Lieutenant Lee and his Marines endured vicious street fighting in Seoul as part of operations Hook, Reno, and Vegas. Subsequently, the Marines were withdrawn from Soul, re-embarked aboard shipping, and made another amphibious landing at Wonsan, along the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula.

By early November, the communist Chinese decided to augment withdrawing Korean forces. On the night of 2-3 November in the Sudong Gorge, Chinese forces attacked Lee’s unit. Lee kept his men focused by directing them to shoot at the enemy’s muzzle flashes. Lee single-handedly advanced upon the enemy’s front and attacked their positions one at a time to draw fire and reveal their positions. Lee’s men fired at the muzzle flashes and inflicted heavy casualties. This action forced the Chinese to retreat. Lee, shouting to the Chinese in Mandarin, confused them and at this time, he attacked the Chinese with hand grenades and gunfire. This action earned Lieutenant Lee the Navy Cross medal for heroism under fire. The lieutenant suffered gunshot wounds to his left knee and right arm.

Five days later, the hospitalized Lieutenant Lee learned that the Army intended to send him to Japan for recuperation; he and another Marine stole an Army jeep and drove back to his unit on the front at the Chosin Reservoir. Upon arrival, Lee’s battalion commander assigned him command of the 2nd Platoon, Company B. Lee commanded his platoon while his arm was in a sling.

Late on 2 December, Lieutenant Lee was ordered to spearhead a 500-man thrust against the Chinese forces in an effort to relieve a vastly outnumbered Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines at a place called Toktong Pass —a strategic location controlling the main road to the Chosin Reservoir. Lee’s platoon, weighted down with heavy equipment, advanced through -20° temperatures and under limited visibility due to blizzards and darkness. Lee’s battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis, had no special instructions for Lee—other than to stay off the roads and avoid heavily defended roadblocks.

Silver Star MedalLieutenant Lee placed himself at the point of his platoon and used only his compass to guide the battalion in a single file over treacherous terrain. Suddenly, heavy enemy fire pinned Lee down below a rocky hill. Refusing this delay, Lee directed his men to attack the hill with “marching fire,” a stratagem used by George S. Patton in which troops continue to advance as they apply suppression fires against the enemy. Upon reaching the rocky hill, Lee and his men attacked the Chinese in their foxholes. Lee, with his arm still in a plaster cast, shot two communists on his way to the apex of the hill. When he reached the top of the hill, he saw that the Chinese foxholes were all constructed facing the other way, where the Chinese expected the Marines to attack. The foxholes were all empty, however. Lieutenant Lee’s attack had driven the Chinese into retreat.

Following this success, 1/7 established communications with Fox Company and Lieutenant Lee led Baker Company forward in an attack that forced a path to the beleaguered Fox. During this attack, Lee received another wound in the upper part of his right arm, above his cast. Undeterred, Lee regrouped his company and led them in several more firefights against pockets of enemy resistance. On 8 December, a Chinese machine gun wounded Lee seriously enough to end his Korean War service. Lee received the Silver Star medal for his attack against superior numbers of Chinese regulars. For his wounds, he received two Purple Heart medals.

During the Vietnam War, Major Lee served as the 3rd Marine Division combat intelligence officer; he retired from active duty in 1968. In 2000, then retired General Ray Davis described Kurt Lee as, “… the bravest Marine I ever knew.” One would expect that the Marine Corps would promote Lee above the rank of Major, and many attribute this to his “pugnacious” nature when dealing with superior officers, who continually criticized him for his aggressive “chip on the shoulder” demeanor. Major Lee’s response was truculent. “My chip is a teaching tool to dispel ignorance.”


Major Lee passed away at his home on 3 March 2014.  He was 88 years old.  Semper Fidelis, Major Lee —I have admired your courage and your example to all Marines.

Edward A. Craig —Marine

It has been necessary for troops now fighting in Korea to pull back at times, but I am stating now that no unit of this Brigade will retreat except on orders from an authority higher than the 1st Marine Brigade.  You will never receive an order to retreat from me.  All I ask is that you fight as Marines have always fought.”

—Edward A. Craig, Brigadier General, U. S. Marine Corps

Commanding General, 1st Marine Provisional Brigade

“The Pusan perimeter is like a weakened dike; the Army intends to use us to plug the holes as they open.  We’re a brigade —a fire brigade.  It will be costly fighting against a numerically superior enemy.  Marines have never lost a battle; this brigade will not be the first to establish such a precedent.  Prepare to move.”

—Edward A. Craig, Brigadier General, U. S. Marine Corps

Commanding General, 1st Marine Provisional Brigade

This firebrand Marine Officer was born on 22 November 1896 in Danbury, Connecticut.  His father, a career officer in the United States Army (Medical Corps), was not at all disposed to having his son become a Marine: “They are a bunch of drunkards and bums.”  As with many Army officers (then and now), he overlooked one thing about the Marines —they are renowned for two things: they know how to make Marines, and they win battles.

Craig attended St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, graduating in 1917.  After four years in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC), he applied for a commission and was accepted as a Second Lieutenant on 23 August 1917.  Upon completion of training at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, Craig was assigned to duty as an Adjutant with the 8th Marines.  Although never dispatched to a line unit during World War I, he did serve in protecting/safeguarding oil fields in Texas from German attack along the coastal areas.  The 8th Marines performed this duty for 18 months, during which time the regiment intensely trained for combat.  During this time, he was promoted to First Lieutenant.

In 1919, Craig accompanied his regiment to Haiti via Santiago Bay, Cuba.  There, the 8th and 9th Marines formed the 1st Marine Brigade, a temporary organization organized to perform a specific expeditionary task.  A short time later, Craig was transferred to the 2nd Marine Brigade, which was stationed in the Dominican Republic.  There, he was assigned as the Commanding Officer, 70th Company, 15th Marine Regiment and received a temporary promotion to Captain.  Within the first 8-months he served in this capacity, he was assigned to La Romana, conducting combat patrols in areas populated by bandits and rebel forces, and later assigned to Vincentillo, a remote outpost, where he served an additional six months.

Craig returned to the United States in December 1921.  After a short stint at Quantico, Craig was assigned to Puget Sound where he served as Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment, Naval Ammunition Depot.  In 1922, he was ordered to the U. S. Naval Station near Olongapo City, Philippine Islands.  He subsequently served as Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment about the cruiser, USS Huron[1], then assigned to the Pacific Ocean area.  In this capacity, he and his Marines participated in several landings, including at Shanghai, China in 1924 safeguarding the international settlement from rival Chinese armies that were fighting nearby[2].  His detachment was later sent to Peking in response to the warlord Wu P’ei-Fu; Craig’s Marines remained there for a month before returning to the Huron.

Craig returned to the United States in March 1926, where he was briefly assigned to the 4th Marines at San Diego, California.  He was subsequently selected as aide-de-camp to then Commandant John A. Lejeune.  He served in this capacity until General Lejeune’s retirement in 1929.  At Craig’s request, he was subsequently assigned to duty with the Nicaraguan National Guard as a staff officer (training) near Jinotega.  From 1931 to 1933, Craig joined the Marine Corps Base, San Diego but while there served on detached duty with the US State Department.  From 1933 to 1936, Craig served as a company commander in the 6th Marine Regiment and then another staff assignment with the 2nd Marine Brigade where he served as a personnel officer.  From 1937 to 1938, Craig attended the Marine Corps Schools Senior Officer’s Course at Quantico —at the completion of which he returned once more to San Diego, California where he served severally as an instructor at the Platoon Leader’s Course, an Inspector-Instructor, Reserve Field Training Battalion, and Base Adjutant.

From June 1939 and June 1941, Craig served as an intelligence officer aboard the aircraft carriers USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise.  During this period, he served temporarily at the Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor.  In brief periods, he served in the commands of Admiral Ernest King, Charles Blakely, and William Halsey.  In July 1941, Craig was assigned as Provost Marshal and Guard Battalion Commander at San Diego, California.  These duties took on greater importance after Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor in December.  In June 1942, Craig assumed the duties of regimental executive officer, 9th Marine Regiment but within a few months, having been selected for promotion to Colonel, he was assigned as Commanding Officer, Service Troops, 3rd Marine Division.  After the division’s arrival in New Zealand, Craig requested an infantry assignment.  In July 1943, he was again assigned to the 9th Marines —this time as regimental commander.  Craig led the regiment at Bougainville through April 1944; he continued to led them during the Battle for Guam.  During this campaign, Craig earned the Navy Cross.  In September, Craig was ordered to the V Amphibious Corps, where he served as Operations Officer.  In this capacity, he directed the planning for the assault on Iwo Jima in February 1945.  In July, Craig returned to the United States to serve as Chief of Staff, Marine Training Command, San Diego.

After the war, Craig served as the officer in charge of specialized amphibious training, Eight Army in Japan.  While so assigned, Craig was advanced to Brigadier General and assigned as Assistant Division Commander, 1st Marine Division, which was then serving in Tientsin, China.  In June 1947, Craig assumed command of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, Fleet Marine Forces, Guam, where he served for two years.

As with the other services, the Marine Corps was drastically reduced in size after World War II.  Accordingly, it was unprepared for North Korea’s invasion of South Korea on 25 June 1950.  As a response to the aggression, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the Marine Corps to ready a 15,000-man division into Korea as part of the United Nations Command.  The Marine Corps response was immediate, but in the interim, 4,725 Marines were assembled around the 5th Marine Regiment.  On 7 July 1950, the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade was reactivated, and Brigadier General Craig was assigned to command it.  The Brigade arrived in Pusan, South Korea on 3 August.  Combat operations began almost immediately.  As part of Eighth Army’s reserve, the Marines were used as a stop-gap measure to plug holes in the line left vacant by Army units in retreat.  It became known as the Fire Brigade.  In September, the Brigade rejoined the 1st Marine Division during the assault on Inchon and Brigadier General Craig served under Major General Oliver P. Smith as Assistant Division Commander.

Upon his return to the United States, Craig was promoted to Major General and assumed the directorship of the Division of Reserve, Headquarters Marine Corps.  In recognition of his valor in combat, Craig was advanced to lieutenant general on the retired list.  He passed away at his home at El Cajon, California on 11 December 1994.  He was 98 years of age.


[1] USS South Dakota was renamed USS Huron (CA 9) on 7 June 1920 to free up the name for a new class South Dakota battleship.

[2] This was during the so-called Warlord Era in China when scattered international settlements were frequently threatened by Chinese nationalists and the anti-foreign movements among various groups.


In his later years of service, Oliver Prince Smith commanded the 1st Marine Division in one of its most extraordinary battles: The Chosin[1] Reservoir.  Few battles can compare to the intense fighting that took place there.  It was a time when the entire body of United Nations forces were stopped in their advance to the Yalu River by an overwhelming number of Chinese Communist infantry.

At the time, the 1st Marine Division and US 7th Infantry Division operated as part of the US 10th Army Corps (X Corps) some 60-70 miles inland, in the mountainous regions of central Korea.  Temperature hovered around thirty degrees below zero, but powerful winds from Manchuria plummeted these temperatures even lower.  Suddenly isolated from all other UN forces, the only hope these troops had to survive the onslaught was a quality leader with fierce determination[2].  It has been said by those under Smith’s command that he was precisely the right man, at the right place, and at the right time.

The Chinese forces assaulting X Corps included the 20th, 26th, and 27th Chinese field armies —totaling 12 infantry divisions.   China’s sudden attack sliced between the two forward elements of X Corps: the 1st Marine Division was operating inland, on the left, and the US 7th Infantry Division was operating nearest the east coast, on the right.  3rd US Infantry Division, with only two regiments, was assigned to X Corps reserve.  The 1st Marine Division was the most formidable component of the X Army Corps[3] and General Smith was its most capable general.  China’s intent was to destroy the Marine division; were it not for the leadership and combat skill of Major General O. P. Smith, they might have succeeded.

What do we know about General Smith?

General Smith was born in Menard, Texas (1893), but grew up in Northern California.  He attended the University of California (Berkley), working his way through college doing odd jobs, but mostly gardening.  Gardening became his hobby and one that he pursued his entire life.  He graduated from UC in 1916; he applied for and received a commission to Second Lieutenant on 14 May 1917.

The following month, Smith was ordered to duty with the Marine Barracks, Naval Station, Guam, Marianas Islands.  Subsequently, Smith served various tours of sea and shore duty, in Haiti with the Gendarmerie d’Haiti, and attended professional schools at Fort Benning, Georgia, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, and being fluent in French, he was the first Marine Corps officer to graduate from the Ecole Superieure de Guerre, in Paris, France.  Smith also successfully served as the Assistant Regimental Operations Officer, 7th Marines, as Fleet Marine Force Operations Officer in San Diego, and then finally as a lieutenant colonel, he received his first organizational command —1st Battalion, 6th Marines.  In May 1941, the 6th Marine Regiment was ordered to Iceland as part of the US Defense Force protecting Iceland from German attack, relieving British forces for duty elsewhere.  While in Iceland, Smith was advanced to Colonel.

The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941 brought home to Smith the realization that most Marine officers and senior NCOs in his command had no appreciation for the complexities of amphibious warfare, particularly when conducted so far from the United States in the South and Central Pacific Ocean region.  Colonel Smith therefore embarked upon a program for officers, NCOs, and enlisted men to educate them about the difficulties of amphibious operations.  The program, which he personally taught, was so successful that it was extended to the officers and men of other battalions.

Upon his return to the United States in 1942, Colonel Smith was assigned to the staff at Headquarters Marine Corps where he led the Division of Plans and Policies.  Then, in 1944, Smith was ordered to the 1st Marine Division, then serving on New Britain.  Assuming command of the 5th Marine Regiment, Smith led his command in the Talasea phase of the Cape Gloucester Operation.  Advanced to Brigadier General, Smith then served as the Assistant Division Commander from April 1944 through October 1944 (which included the assault on the Island of Peleliu in the Marianas.  In November 1944, Brigadier General Smith was assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) for the US X Army; he participated in the Battle of Okinawa from April through June 1945.

In July 1945, Smith assumed the duties of Commandant, Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia and in January 1948, assumed command of the Marine Corps Base, Quantico.  In April 1948, Smith was assigned as an assistant commandant and Marine Corps Chief of Staff, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps.  While serving in this capacity, he also served as editor-in-chief of the professional journal, Marine Corps Gazette.

Major General Oliver P. Smith was named to replace Major General Graves B. Erskine as  Commanding General, 1st Marine Division in early June, 1950.  Before the shift in commanders could take effect, however, on 25 June 1950, North Korean forces launched a massive assault on the Republic of (South) Korea.

At that time, the Marine Corps had suffered the same fate as other organizations within the Department of Defense, to wit: President Truman and Defense Secretary Louis Johnson reduced these units in strength and material to the extent that the United States military had no combat-effective units.  In the case of the 1st Marine Division, on 25 June 1950, the division’s combat capability was on the order of a reinforced regimental combat team: the division had but one understrength regiment: 5th Marines, then commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L. Murray.  At this early stage, the 5th Marines had but two battalions (rather than three); each battalion could field two rifle companies (rather than three), and rifle companies had but two infantry platoons (rather than three).

On 26 June 1950, General Erskine and the Marine Corps faced with two immediate herculean undertakings: first, to send Marines to Korea to defend the Pusan Perimeter; second, to reestablish the 1st Marine Division as an effective fighting force.  To complete the first task, Marine Corps Headquarters ordered the formation of the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade.  The Brigade was formed around the 5th Marines and Marine Aircraft Group 33; leading the Brigade was Brigadier General Edward A. Craig, who previously served as the Erskine’s Assistant Division Commander.  Craig was a veteran of two world wars.

The effort to bring the air/ground components up to war-time status and efficiency not only involved massive personnel realignments from the supporting establishment (Marine Barracks, Detachments, Recruiting Duty), but also transferring individual Marines from the 2nd Marine Division (at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (at Cherry Point, North Carolina).  Additionally, reservists were called to active duty to fill in the ranks of reactivated regiments (1st Marines and 7th Marines).  Lacking funds due to defense cuts, many reservists had yet to attend recruit training, so it fell upon General Erskine and General Smith to provide pre-deployment training as part of their efforts to rebuild a fighting division.  This was achieved in record time.

Remarkably, the Brigade departed San Diego, California on 7 July 1950.  It would take General Erskine and General Smith a little longer to provision and deploy the remainder of the division.  Fortunately, most of the division’s senior company grade officers, field grade officers, and senior NCOs were veterans of World War II; they knew the business of war.  This one factor goes a long way in making a distinction between the combat performance of Korean-era Marines and their army counterparts.

General Smith assumed command of the 1st Marine Division on 26 July 1950.

General Smith was a scholar, an intellectual, and well-schooled in the art and science of war.  He possessed a calm, pleasant demeanor, and a degree of self-confidence unmatched by any other senior Marine Corps leader at the time.  He trusted his officers and NCOs to do their job.  Smith was also a devout Christian —important, perhaps, because no matter what crisis he faced in combat, he never took counsel of his fears.  His was a calming, professional influence over subordinates —most of whom, as I have said, had themselves experienced the crucible of war.

General Smith loved his Marines; he felt deeply the loss of their lives in combat.  The fact that he was a Marine through and through is evidenced by the fact that when he was offered an airlift withdrawal of his division from the Chosin Reservoir, he responded, “No.  We are going out as a Marine division, with all of our equipment, and we will fight our way out as an organized Marine division; we are attacking in another direction —as an organized division.”  Bring them out he did … with the dead, wounded, and the survivors of the 7th Infantry Division’s 31st Regimental Combat Team, and most of the division’s combat equipment.

For additional information about this courageous, resourceful, and much-loved Marine Corps officer, I highly recommend these two books: For Country and Corps: The Life of General Oliver P. Smith, by Gayle B. Chiseler (Naval Institute Press), 2009 and The Gentle Warrior: Oliver Prince Smith, by Clifton La Brea, Kent State University Press, 2001.  Additionally, for a knuckle-biting read of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, I recommend The New Breed: The Story of the U. S. Marines in Korea by Andrew Clare Geer, (Harper Press) 1952.  In the case of the last book, it may be somewhat difficult to obtain, but there are pre-owned copies available at Amazon, and I believe Google offers copies through its print on demand system.


[1] At the beginning of the Korean War, the only maps available to US forces were those obtained from Japanese sources.  The Japanese name for this region was Chosin, but in the native Korean language, Changjin.  In Marine Corps history, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir is still referred to as such, acknowledging the sacrifices of the Americans who fought there, but according to modern maps, particularly those of Korean origin, no such place exists.

[2] The US Eighth Army was decisively defeated in the Battle of the Chongchon River; forced to retreat all the way back into South Korea, it was the longest retreat of any military unit in US history.  Units retreated helter-skelter, many leaving their dead and much of their equipment to the enemy.

[3] At the outbreak of the Korean War, the 7th Infantry Division was seriously depleted of trained soldiers due to the incredible short-sightedness of the President and his Secretary of Defense.  Ordered to transfer soldiers to the 25th Infantry Division as replacements in late June 1950, the 7th Infantry Division soon became combat-ineffective.  In July 1950, the 7th Infantry Division consisted of only 9,000 men.  To make up for this deficiency, General Douglas MacArthur assigned 8,000 poorly trained South Korean conscripts.  The division did eventually reach its war time strength of 25,000 men, but this number included, in addition to the poorly trained, non-English-speaking Koreans, a regiment of Ethiopians.

Every Marine a Rifleman

“Every Marine a rifleman is a mantra that has been engrained in our warrior ethos since the first day we aspired to be Marines. This aspect of our Corps sets us apart from other branches of Service who delineate themselves by occupational specialty or demonstrate allegiance to a specific unit through the wearing of a patch or symbol. The only symbol we as Marines recognize is the Marine Corps emblem. We are united not only by this iconic emblem but also by the shared experience of the training we all endure aimed at achieving proficiency as warfighters first; everything else is secondary. Examples of the execution of that concept are a testament to the continuing exceptionality of the Marine Corp.”

—James H. Ferguson, First Lieutenant of Marines

Skill with weapons of war is the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps and the development and maintenance of these skills has been emphasized by Marine leaders since the Corps’ earliest days. This emphasis and proficiency is how Marines win America’s battles. Because the Marine Corps has never been a large service, it is necessary that every Marine —no matter what his military occupational specialty— is able to perform the duty of an infantryman. Any Marine who is unable to qualify with his service rifle is useless to the Corps.

Nowhere was the skill of warfare more critical to the survival of Marines than the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, October – December 1950.

Subsequent to the successful landing at Inchon and the retaking of the capital of South Korea, General of the Army Douglas McArthur attached the First Marine Division to the X Corps [1] and ordered them to make another amphibious landing —this time, on the eastern side of the peninsula at a place called Wonsan. There was not much time from October 7, 1950 to re-load amphibious shipping for this landing, but all Marines turned to. In MacArthur’s mind, it was critical to provide a blocking force to prohibit the escape of fleeing remnants of the beaten North Korean Army.

As it turned out, the Wonsan landing was unnecessary. The Eighth Army quickly advanced to seize the North Korean capital of Pyongyang; on the east coast, two Republic of Korea divisions temporarily assigned to X Corps occupied Wonsan without any resistance. The Marines came ashore unopposed on 25 October 1950.

During the unloading, Marine Corps Shore Party units assumed responsibility for the beaches. [2] At the outset, the Marines encountered difficulties from offshore sandbars. Tractors were marshaled to pull wheeled vehicles to high ground, and the beach had to be sculpted with ramps to facilitate unloading from small boats. No matter the difficulties, the Marines plugged away even to the extent of using floodlights for cranes during hours of darkness. In spite of the lack of armed opposition, Shore Party Marines took no chances: they set up a defensive perimeter on the exposed flank of the southern beach.

After six days of unremitting effort, the First Marine Division was finally ashore. Stacked along the shore stood 18,000 tons of supplies and equipment, and nearly 5,000 vehicles. A week later, the Shore Party Battalion was placed under the operational command of X Corps and ordered to unload the Third Infantry Division.

First Engineer Battalion was at the same time employed in every conceivable combat engineering task, from saw mill operations, repairing railways, converting railway passenger cars to accommodate wounded personnel, and repairing or constructing bridges and air strips. Potable water points were established, tons of enemy ammunition exploded, and the Division command post and nearby hospital at Hamhung was wired for electricity.

The combat engineers also doubled as infantry. On 3 November 1950, the Seventh Marines engaged a Chinese Communist division while en route to Hagaru-ri. A squad of combat engineers filled a gap in the line at a critical moment … it was only one of many engagements involving Marines of the First Engineer Battalion.

The combat engineers worked steadily to improve the main supply route (MSR) from Hamhung to Hagaru-ri; they did this while exposed to the possibility of enemy snipers or substantial attack. What they knew, and what every Marine assigned to the First Marine Division knew, was that no one on MacArthur’s staff in Tokyo or at the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington had a clue about what was really unfolding in Korea. Not even the X Corps command, Major General Edward M. (Ned) Almond. [3] Even though the Chinese withdrew after their first engagement with the Marines, the Marines knew —because all intelligence seemed to indicate— that the Chinese had entered the conflict. The Marines needed their tanks; combat engineers made sure that the roads were suitable to accommodate them.

Marine engineers and tank officers found the MSRs uninspiring. From the railhead at Chinhung-ni all the way to the Chosin Reservoir the road presented a series of sharply winding curves atop narrow shelves —cliffs on one side of the road, and deep chasms on the other. It was not the ideal terrain for fighting a determined enemy. Combat engineers widened and reinforced the roadway; a great deal of attention was directed to bridges, bypasses, and culverts. The task was so critical that Major General Oliver P. Smith (Commanding General, First Marine Division) pulled combat engineers away from other tasks so that they could concentrate on the MSR.

Chosin Reservoir 001By mid-November, Chinese Communists were not the only enemy: cold weather was setting in. I do not mean the kind of cold weather one might find in Indiana; it was cold weather of the frigid north. The only way to break the frozen soil was by bulldozers, but even then the freezing cold demanded innovation from these Marines —including the use of carbide to jury-rig fiercely hot furnaces that kept the water from freezing, which enabled Marine engineers to construct piers. The engineers also found good uses for enemy munitions left behind in their efforts to improve the MSR.

The first Marine tanks traveled from Chinhung-ni to Hagaru-ri on November 18; on that same day, Marine engineers began constructing a landing strip suitable for C-47 aircraft at Hagaru-ri. Combat logisticians began pushing supplies forward to Hagaru-ri as General Smith anticipated Communist Chinese attacks upon forward units. The strip was ten percent complete by the twenty-second of November, but the temperatures made in nearly impossible for bulldozers to penetrate the granite-like earth. Another example of innovative Marines was that the combat engineers paused long enough to weld steel teeth rippers to the blades of the bulldozers. This did work for a while, but the earth froze to the cutting edges, and this required the Marines to use air compressors and jack hammers to remove the frozen soil.

C-47Under these circumstances, it is not remarkable that the Marines had completed less than fifteen percent of the airstrip when the Chinese attacked in full force. What is amazing is that within only ten days, the Marines had transformed permafrost into an operative landing strip suitable for C-47 aircraft. It was the result of these efforts that hundreds of frostbitten and wounded Marines and soldiers of the Seventh Infantry Division were evacuated by air. The C-47 pilots of the United States Air Force deserve credit for their skill and daring during this massive effort to save the lives of our troops. The combat engineers had scraped out an inadequate strip, the air control mechanisms were crude in the extreme, but not a single plane was lost during the effort.

I want to spend some time on the Air Force effort to support forward deployed soldiers and Marines.

When the Chinese attacked the UN Forces in North Korea, they did it with 18 infantry divisions approximating 150,000 men. They cut the single road that ran south from the Chosin by destroying a road bridge near the hydroelectric dam near Koto-ri. Their intention was to deny any escape to soldiers and Marines. Since the Marines could no longer push their resupply forward on land, C-119 “Flying Boxcar” aircraft of the U.S. Air Force Far East Combat Cargo Command, which included the 314th Troop Carrier Group, airdropped ammunition, rations, and fuel to the soldiers and Marines of X Corps.

At this point, the temperature in North Korea registered minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Chinese may have imagined that they had the Americans boxed in, but General Smith contacted the Far East Combat Cargo Command requesting aerial delivery of a replacement bridge. This was a feat that had never been achieved. What was needed were four M-2 Treadway Bridges; Smith requested eight.

C-119 BoxcarOn Dec. 6, 1950, the Air Force made a trial drop of a single 4,000-pound M-2 from a C-119 at Yonpo airfield in North Korea. The test drop took place at an altitude of 800 feet and flying at 140 knots. Five of the six parachutes failed to open and the bridge span fell to earth like a brick. With no time left for further tests, parachute riggers configured eight Treadway Bridge sections, each with larger cargo parachutes, and loaded the 4,000-pound items onto eight C-119s from the 61st Troop Carrier Squadron.

The following day, three of the loaded C-119s took off from Yonpo airfield five minutes apart.  The first three bridge sections were dropped successfully from 800 feet at 120 knots on a drop zone a half-mile north of Koto-ri. The next five C-119s then took off from Yonpo airfield and successfully dropped their bridge sections on a UN drop zone one mile southwest of Koto-ri. Six of the eight bridge sections landed undamaged within the small drop zones, one was damaged as it collided with earth, and one fell into Chinese-controlled territory.

After clearing the surrounding slopes of Chinese troops, Marine Corps combat engineers immediately used four of the eight Treadway Bridge sections to repair the bridge across the 1500-foot-deep gorge at Koto-ri. The MSR was reopened on December 9, 1950. Within three hours, thirty thousand American troops began their march to Hungnam. They took with them all their vehicles, all of their wounded, and all of their dead.

The Chinese renewed their efforts to stop them. In this process, the Chinese gave up nine infantry divisions to withering Marine air and ground firepower. Service troops from more than 30 non-infantry units fought alongside the First Marine Regiment, commanded by Louis B. “Chesty” Puller. Some of the engineers took part as infantry, and others continued to work on the airfield even as they became targets for enemy snipers.

The Marine defense of Hagaru-ri provided a base for the Fifth and Seventh Marine regiments when they cut their way through from Yudam-ni. During this march, combat engineers were often on the point using bulldozers to remove wrecked vehicles, destroying enemy roadblocks, or constructing bypasses. Combat engineers also engaged in fighting during the march from Hagaru-ri to Hamhung. At the last moment, they added another 300 feet to the landing strip at Koto-ri —they did this while under fire and frigid conditions.

In combat, every Marine a rifleman. It was true at the Chosin Reservoir and it remains true today.


[1] X Corps consisted of two regiments in the Third Infantry Division, an emaciated, inexperienced, and poorly led Seventh Infantry Division, and the U. S. Marine Corps’ First Marine Division.

[2] Marines assigned to shore party units are responsible for organizing beach areas during an amphibious landing. They perform a function similar to Navy Beach Masters. In World War II, shore party Marines were assigned to Pioneer Battalions, along with combat engineers, and heavy equipment operators. Subsequently, these became separate battalions within the framework of an infantry division.

[3] General MacArthur set into motion a very unusual (some might even argue inept) command relationship by assigning Ned Almond to command X Corps. While in this capacity, he also served as MacArthur’s Chief of Staff in Tokyo. When Almond should have been reporting to the Commander of the Eighth Army, Almond ignored Lieutenant General Walker; he ignored the X Corps as well. Major General Smith and his staff did most of the planning, and the primary military leader of X Corps was General Smith.


Top Ace

My guess is that some folks have a natural (instinctual) flying ability; Chuck Yeager may have been one of those people. But if it doesn’t come naturally, then most people learn to fly the hard way. If there is one thing I know about flying, it is that flying will kill you. Nowhere is this truer than when flying high performance aircraft where there is not a lot of room for pilot or mechanical error. I personally enjoy reading the stories of these brave men; stories that lead you to conclude many of them had angels for co-pilots.

Francis Stanley Gabreski (1919-2002) (a.k.a. Gabby) found that he was interested in flying while attending Notre Dame in 1938, but at this point in his life, Gabreski was an ordinary young man with unimpressive grades at a prestigious university. College officials almost forced him out of college at the end of his freshman year but, fortunately, he rebounded. It was also about this time when his private flight instructor told him that he did not have the knack for flying. Gabreski had some soul-searching to do during that summer.

Boeing PT-17
Boeing PT-17

It was toward the beginning of Gabreski’s sophomore year when Germany attacked Poland. Gabreski’s parents migrated from Poland at the turn of the century; as a proud Pole, Gabreski found a renewed interest in flying and having listened to a presentation by Army Air Corps recruiters, he decided to enlist as an aviation cadet. After his induction, Gabreski attended primary flight training at Parks Air College in Illinois. His flying performance was sufficiently mediocre and his pilot instructors wondered if he had what it takes. They insisted that he pass an elimination check ride before continuing to the next phase of his training. He passed.

Gabby continued his training at Gunter Army Air Base in Alabama, completing advanced flight school at Maxwell Field, Alabama in the North American AT-6 Texan. Having earned his pilot’s wings, he received his commission as a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army Air corps. In March 1941, he was on his way to his first assignment —Wheeler Field, Hawaii.

Curtiss P-36
Curtiss P-36

Upon arrival in Hawaii, the 15th Pursuit Group assigned Gabreski to the 4tth Pursuit Squadron. He began training to fly the Curtiss P-36 and P-40. Not long after that, Gabby met his future wife, Kay Cochran. Not long after than, the Japanese Imperial Navy came calling on December 7, 1941. Wheeler Field was a primary target of the Japanese, which caused a great deal of confusion at the airfield. Gabby and his squadron mates did manage to get a few P-36 fighters in the air, but by the time they were able to get armed and airborne, the Japanese had already withdrawn. Gabreski remained at Wheeler through the summer of 1942 training in the newer model P-40 and Bell P-39.

Now that President Roosevelt declared a state of war to exist between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan, Gabreski became keenly interested in the European War and how Polish Air Squadrons were doing with the Royal Air Force. Realizing that the United States did not have many experienced fighter pilots, and because he spoke Polish fluently, Gabreski volunteered to serve as a liaison officer within the RAF with Polish Air Squadrons so that he could learn from their experiences. The Air Corps approved his request and in September 1942, Gabreski was promoted to captain and ordered to attend briefings in Washington DC.

Supermarine Spitfire IX
Supermarine Spitfire IX

In October, Captain Gabreski reported to the Eighth Air Force, 8th Fighter Command, which was at the time a rudimentary headquarters. Gabreski tried to arrange an assignment with 303 Squadron, but they had already been withdrawn for rest and recuperation. In January 1943, Gabby posted with 313 Squadron at Northolt where he flew a new fighter aircraft called the Super-Marine Spitfire (Mark IX). His first encounter with the Luftwaffe occurred on February 3, 1943 when a group of Focke-Wulf (Fw)-190s jumped his squadron. In Gabreski’s excitement, he failed to properly apply sound aeronautical tactics; he failed to bring down a single aircraft. He learned an important lesson about keeping one’s cool under pressure. In all, Gabby flew twenty missions with the Poles, engaging in combat only once.

Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

In late February, Gabreski joined the 56th Fighter Group where he flew the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, he quickly became a flight leader; his success resulted in some resentment by his squadron mates —his arrogant personality did little to improve this. Gabreski received a promotion to major in May 1943; when his squadron commander was promoted in the following month, the Group Commander ordered Gabby to assume command of the 61st Fighter Squadron over two officers that were more senior. This sort of thing does happen in the course of a military career, but it did not endear Gabreski to his officers and the situation worsened still when both of these more senior officers were lost in combat in late June. Meanwhile, Gabreski still had not achieved a single kill.

His first kill came on August 24, 1943; an Fw-190 over Dreux, France —but he continued to receive criticism from other squadron pilots because his attacks were so hastily conducted that his wingmen had no opportunity to also engage. This did not seem to concern Gabreski.

On November 26, 1943, the Eighth Air Force assigned the air group to cover the withdrawal of B-17 bombers from Bremen, Germany. The P-47s arrived on station and found the bombers under heavy attack. During this engagement, Gabreski earned his fourth and fifth kills.

That month, the Colonel Robert Landry temporarily relieved Colonel Zemke as Group Commander, but because he lacked combat experience, command of combat missions fell to the deputy commander and operations officer, who by this time was Gabreski. When Zemke resumed command in January 1944, Gabreski relinquished command of the 61st Fighter Squadron and served as Air Group operations officer.

Gabreski arranged to have two Polish pilots assigned to the 56th Fighter Group to help ease a shortage of pilots, a shortage resulting from end-of-tour rotation of seasoned combat pilots. Five more Polish pilots were accepted in April; they called themselves “Polish Flight.”

By March 1944, Gabreski had earned 18 victory credits with six multiple kill missions. He ranked third overall in the ETO “Ace Race.” At this time, only two other officers had more kills: Major Robert S. Johnson, and Major Walker M. Mahurin. Both officers rotated back to the states in May 1944. After receiving his promotion to lieutenant colonel, Gabreski assumed command once more of the 61st Fighter Squadron. On May 22, 1944, Gabby shot down three Fw-190 aircraft. He tied Major Johnson’s record for aerial kills on June 27 (passing by Eddie Rickenbacker’s World War I record), and on July 5, 1944, became the leading Ace in the European theater. With 28 victories, Gabby matched the number of victories in the Pacific theater, achieved by Richard Bong.

Gabreski reached 300 combat hours on July 20, 1944; it was time to rotate home, and marry Kay Cochran. On the morning of his scheduled rotation back to the states, Gabby requested to fly one final escort mission. By that evening, Gabreski became a welcomed guest in a German Oflag. He remained as such until the end of the war.

After the war, Gabreski served as a chief test pilot, attended Engineering Flight Test School, and then decided to accept a position with Douglas Aircraft. [1] He was recalled to active duty in 1947, sent back to complete his degree at Columbia University, and resumed his US Air Force career flying the F-80 and F-86. He received his promotion to colonel in 1950.

Gabreski joined the Korean War in 1951; he and others delivered the F-86E to the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Group at Kempo Air Base. On July 8, 1951, Gabby shot down a MiG-15, followed by additional kills on September 2, 1951 and October 2, 1951.

F-86E Sabre
F-86E Sabre

At this time, a growing MiG presence threatened the B-29 attacks along the Yalu River. Fifth U. S. Air Force created a second Sabre wing by converting the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing from F-80s to F-86s —amazingly accomplished within a ten-day period. Fifth Air Force assigned Gabreski to command the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing stationed at Suwon Air Base. During its first seven months, the 51st scored 96 MiG kills with only two operational squadrons, comparing favorably with its rival 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, which operated three squadrons. Meanwhile, Gabby scored 3 ½ more MiG kills, making him a jet ace. [2]

Gabreski’s aggressive leadership helped the United States to achieve and maintain air superiority over the Korean peninsula … but it also led Gabreski to violate international rules of engagement. Chinese (and possibly Russian) MiGs were stationed in China; they would fly missioned into Korea, and then escape back into Chinese air space and “MiG sanctuary.” Gabreski and Lieutenant Colonel Walker M. “Bud” Mahurin quickly tired of this behavior and resolved to do something about it. In early 1952, Gabreski and Mahurin planned and executed a mission during which time the F-86E turned off their IFF equipment and overflew two Chinese air bases.

Col. Frances S. Gabreski USAF 1958
Col. Frances S. Gabreski USAF (1958)

Gabreski, meanwhile, continued to receive criticism from other pilots; if not about one thing, then about something else. Part of this had to do with his stubborn nature and his fierceness in combat. In spite of some claims that he exaggerated kills, or that he had little regard for his wingmen, other pilots swore that he was the finest jet pilot in the Air Force.

Upon his return to the United States, the City of San Francisco honored Gabreski with a ticker tape parade on Market Street —but this was a long time ago when San Francisco was still an American city.

Francis Stanley Gabreski is one of only seven American pilots to become an air ace in more than one war. Officially credited with 123 combat missions in Korea, he achieved 289 missions during his 26 year his career. He retired from active duty in November 1967. He passed away on January 31, 2002 and accorded full military honors at his funeral on February 6, 2002.

Colonel and Mrs. Gabreski had nine children in their 48-year marriage. Two sons were graduates of the USAF Academy; Terry L. Gabreski, his daughter-in-law, achieved promotion to lieutenant general in August 2005; she served as the highest-ranking female in the US Air Force until her retirement in 2010.


[1] I do not know this for certain, but I suspect that the odd move from Air Force Officer to Douglas Aircraft Corporation and return to active duty had to do with the fact that the US Army Air Corps was in the process of conversion to the United States Air Force.

[2] One-half of a kill is credit for an assist to another pilot.

War in Korea

The United States developed a keen interest in Japan in 1853. On 8 July of that year, Commodore Matthew Perry led a squadron of US Naval vessels into the Harbor at Tokyo Bay. He was seeking to establish regular trade with the Japanese, diplomatic dialogue, and humane assistance for shipwrecked sailors. Initially, the Japanese weren’t having any of it, but they were impressed with modern technology demonstrated by Commodore Perry and today we are all living happily ever after.

RODGERS J AdmiralAfter the Civil War, the US government wanted to continue establishing diplomatic relations with East Asian nations. So, in a manner similar to that demonstrated by Commodore Perry, a naval squadron was sent to support American diplomatic delegations hoping to establish trade and political relations with Korea. The US delegation also sought to ascertain the fate of SS General Sherman [1]. On 1 June 1871, Korean shore batteries fired on American warships operating adjacent to the Korean island of Ganghwa. When Admiral John Rodgers failed to receive an apology from the Korean government within ten days of his demand, he initiated punitive action against the Joseon government.

Korea 1871 001On 10 June, Admiral Rogers landed 650 Americans; objective: capture and render ineffective coastal forts. In the doing of this, American forces killed 200 Korean defenders with a loss of only three American killed in action.

The expedition consisted of 550 sailors, 100 Marines, and five warships: Colorado, Alaska, Palos, Monocacy, and Benicia. Admiral Rogers’s flagship was the Colorado; embarked with him was Frederick F. Low, US Ambassador to China. The leading Korean was General Eo Jae-yeon commanding what Koreans called the Tiger Hunters.

Korea 1871 002The American first objective was a lightly defended garrison on Ganghwa along the Salee River. The second objective was a light garrison at Deokjin. The Koreans were poorly armed and denied effective range by American naval artillery and 12-pound howitzers. The American third objective was the Fort at Deokjin, which the Koreans promptly abandoned. Navy and Marine Corps shore party quickly dismantled the fort and continued to the Gwangseong Garrison, a citadel. By this time, Korean forces regrouped there. Along the way, Korean units attempted to flank the Americans, but they were beaten off by well-aimed artillery placed on two hills.

McKEE HW LT USNArtillery fire from ground forces and Monocacy offshore pounded the citadel in preparation for an assault by US forces. A force of 547 sailors and 100 Marines grouped on the hills west of the fortress (infantry troops were on the hill directly west of the fortress, while artillery troops on another hill both shelled the fortress and also covered the Americans’ flanks and rear) keeping cover and returning fire. Once the bombardments stopped, Navy Lieutenant Hugh McKee led the American charge at the Citadel.

SCHLEY WS Cdr USNKorean forces were armed with matchlock rifles, a fact that aided the Americans who were armed with Remington rolling block carbines. The Americans made it over the walls and found themselves confronting Korean troops armed with rocks. McKee was the first to enter the citadel, but he was fatally wounded. Commander Winfield Scott Schley was the second American to enter the citadel; he shot the Korean that had shot McKee. Corporal Charles Brown from the Colorado and Private Hugh Purvis from the Alaska captured General Eo’s standard. Private James Dougherty killed General Eo when he failed to surrender. Corporal Brown, Privates Dougherty and Purvis, and Carpenter Haydn received the Medal of Honor for their courage under fire.

The fighting only lasted fifteen minutes; in the end, 243 Koreans lay dead. American killed in action included Lieutenant McKee, Seaman Seth Allen, and Private Denis Hanrahan. Ten additional Americans received battle wounds. Twenty Koreans were captured. In total, the Americans captured five forts, dozens of various sized cannon, and while the Americans hoped to use the captives as bargaining chips with the Korean government, the Koreans refused —referring to the captives as cowards. One of these included General Eo’s deputy commander.

Diplomatically, the mission was a failure. The Koreans simply refused to negotiate and the American aggression led the regent Daewon-gun to strengthen his policy of isolation. He issued a nation proclamation against appeasing foreigners. On the other side of this coin, there were no further attacks on foreign ships. In 1876, Korea established a treaty with Japan after the Japanese Navy threatened to fire on the city of Seoul; apparently the Japanese learned quite a bit from Commodore Perry twenty-three years earlier.  The development of a Japanese Navy in that time period is nothing short of remarkable. Treaties between Korea and European countries and the US soon followed.

In addition to the Marines receiving the Medal of Honor for this engagement were:

Chief Quartermaster Grace

Quartermaster Troy, Franklin, and Rogers.

Boatswain’s Mate McKenzie

Ordinary Seaman Andrews

Carpenter Hayden

Landsman Lukes and Merton

These were also the first medals of honor awarded by the United States for a foreign engagement.

From April-May 1882, the United States and Korea negotiated and approved a 14-article treaty. The treaty established mutual friendship and mutual assistance in case of foreign attack, and also addressed such specific matters as extraterritorial rights for American citizens in Korea and most favored nation trade status. The treaty remained in effect until Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910.

The next conflict in Korea involving the United States occurred in June 1950.


[1] The General Sherman was a US merchant side-wheel steamer that visited Korea in 1866. After passing the Keupsa Gate without permission of the Korean government, the ship was attacked. Ships company battled for several days, but ultimately the ship was destroyed.