Like most Americans, I watched the 70th anniversary D-Day events from Normandy recently, and admittedly I wept at the sight of 9,000 graves. Brave men who died in a just cause. But I could not help ruminating about the other war, mine, the 'police action' in Korea which is never mentioned in the same breath as Vietnam and WW II although 36,000 American boys died there in a war which has never officially ended. President Obama did pay tribute to them a year ago on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, but we want to take this opportunity on the upcoming 61st anniversary in July of the 'cease-fire' to recall them once again.
To briefly recap, on June 25th, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea with 135,000 troops. President Harry Truman responded by deploying the 7th Fleet to waters off Taiwan to prevent the spread of the conflict. (Yes, that's the same North Korea which has a nuclear bomb and is threatening us today.) The 19-year old Jay Weston had just graduated fron N.Y.U. and went to work for $25 a week in a Manhattan publicity firm, working his way up to junior publicist at $75 a week. He was writing column items for such gossip columnists as Walter Winchell, Leonard Lyons, Earl Wilson and Dorothy Kilgallen.
The war was but a blip in his consciousness. On July 1st, 1950, the first U.S. infantry unit arrived in Korea. Off Korea's east coast, the U.S.S. Juneau destroyed three attacking Noth Korean torpedo boats, Three days later the first U.S. ground action of the war took place in the Battle of Osan, delaying the southern move of the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) units. The next day, 57 Army nurses arrived in the farthest-south major city of Pusan. Later, twelve of them moved up to a mobile Amy surgical hospital (MASH). That summer Jay made his first trip to Hollywood, working on the Ronson cigarette lighter account to place their table lighters on movie sets. He stayed in a closet-sized room on the first floor of the Beverly Hills Hotel for $13 a night. Seeing Cary Grant in a tuxedo enter the Polo Lounge was his first view of stardom.
On Sept, 15th, in a brilliant, surprise and startling move initiated by the Commanding General, Douglas MacArthur, U.S. and Allied forces landed behind enemy lines at the port city of Inchon and, by the end of the month, had recaptured the capital city of Seoul. A low draft number did not intimidate Jay, who was living the grand life of a young bachelor, dating chorus girls from the Latin Quarter. By then he was doing publicity for former actor-turned-newscaster Robert Montgomery, who was broadcasting a hard-hitting daily 5-minute radio newscast. This would later prove to be a fascinating element in Jay's Korean adventure.
October 20th, the war's first airborne operation. Paratroopers drop into North Korea and, with ground troops drive north, killing and capturing 6,000 North Koreans during the operation. Then the hammer fell in Korea! October 25th, the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) launch their first-phase offensive of the war. U.S. B-29s and Navy aircraft attack the Yalu River bridges in an attempt to isolate the battlefield from China proper. Suddenly, this war takes a different and ominous complexion. November 27-December 9 -- the Battle of the Chosin Resrvoir. The encircled 1st Marine Division fights its way southward to the port city of Hugnan, where 105,000 U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) troops are evacuated.
Early January 1951, a half-million Chinese troops push U,N. forces 50 miles south of the 38th Parallel and recapture Seoul. The war is not going well for the Allies.
And in January 1951 Jay receives his Draft Notice. Report at 4:00 a.m. at the Whitehall Army Station with two sets of clean white underwear for service with the U.S. Army. At the bus stop, he bids his father goodbye and boards a bus with other recruits for eight weeks of basic training at Fort Devers, Mass. Everyone is suffering from respiratory ailments. The M1 rifle is heavy, KP (kitchen patrol) duty is forever. Assigned to the Signal Corps, he takes a three-day trip in a sealed troop train to White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. Despite fear of heights, he has to climb telephone poles. Finally someone notices his writing/publicity skills and he is assigned to Information and Special Services. Report for duty in Korea. Fly to San Francisco and board a troopship for the three-week trip to Korea. Ghostly early-morning fog as the heavily-laden troop ship slips into the harbor of Pusan, Korea. Yes, it's true..you can smell the country about 13 miles out at sea due to the use of 'night soil.' You never get used to it.
March 9th, Jay's birthday. Operation Ripper drives the Communsts back to the 38th parallel and retakes Seoul. On April 12th, the war's first major aerial duel. More than 49 MIG-15s attack a B-29 formation, shooting down two bombers. Eleven of the MIGs are destroyed, seven by B-29 gunners. Jay is assigned to Special Services at the Hialeah Compound in Pusan, where all foreign military officers (of 15 countries) and top U.S. Army brass live and work. He gives the mandatory weekly news lectures to thousands of troops. The Commanding General of the compound suggest that he post should have its own newspaper, since the Stars and Stripes, published in Japan, does not reflect the views of local soldiers.
This paper, The Hialeahan, goes on to win three U.S 8th Army Awards as the best paper in Korea (until it is declared ineligible for further competition.) From a staff of one, Jay, it builds to a hundred and major status and reputation for hard-hitting true reporting throughout the country. Weston gets the coveted War Correspondent badge (simulated status of Lt. Colonel when traveling). The newspaper carries specially-written columns by Lyons, Wilson and others and the high brass is thrilled. Revealed here for the first time: Weston was sending back to reporter Montgomery uncensored info on what was really happening in country. April 11th, 1951...in a meeting which President Truman called at Wake Island, General Douglas MacArthur is fired from his role as Supreme Commander for advocating the use of nuclear weapons against the Chinese. The news of the firing was first broadcast by Robert Montgomery in his New York radio broadcast.
Sept, 13-Oct. 15th...the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge (Hill 931). The Second Infantry Division seized the ridge. In 1986 Jay Weston co-produced a Clint Eastwood film called "Heartbreak Ridge," although it had nothing to do with that battle. Korean War truce talks begin in July 1951. On November 27th, the two sides agree on the 38th Parallel as the line of demarcation and military actions slow. When General Mark Clark assumes command of the U.N. Forces in Korea on May 12th, 1952,he is confronted with a military deadlock on the front lines, stalled armistice negotiations and a violent prisoner-of-war situation on the island of Koje-do just off the southern coast of South Korea below Pusan where Jay was stationed and reporting on the story. Clark believed that the Communists only understood force and he stepped up military pressure on the enemy to break the stalemate at Panmunjom.
Jay becomes friendly with General "Bull" O'Connor, who was brought in to put down the prisoner riots. To aid their prisoner-of-war riots, the Chinese infiltrated troops to join with the North Korean guerrillas operating in the hills outside of Pusan. One night in mid-52, they attacked the Hialeah Compound. Jay, living alone in his newspaper office, heard the bugles blowing and the guns blazing as enemy troops stormed the compound. One Chinese soldier kicked in the door of the newspaper office and was killed with a single shot from a Smith and Wesson 38 caliber revolver which Weston had won the week before in a card game.
In Sept. 1952 Bob Hope and his USO troupe (Frances Langford and Jerry Colonna) landed in Pusan, and Jay gets to introduce the troupe at their first concert and travels up the peninsula with them for several days. In the meantime, the war has heated up, and fierce combat with the Chinese troops will continue all through the rest of '52 and well into '53. On March 23rd and 24th, 1953, the Battle of Pork Chop Hill starts, continuing until mid-April, with heavy American casualties. April 20-26th, Operation Little Switch exchanges sick and wounded POWs, including 149 Americans. In mid-July the last Chinese Communist offensive takes place. The final U.S. ground combat takes place on July 24-26th. On the 27th, the last air kill of he war, an F-86 pilot downs an enemy transport near the Manchurian border.
On Juy 27th, the United States, the North Koreans, and China sign an armistice, which ends the war but fails to bring about a permanent peace. To date, the Republic of Korea (South) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North) have not signed a peace treaty. Today's New York Times reports on the tense situatiin in the armistice zone of Panmunjon. A total of 33,651 of our service members died in battle during the Korean War -- 27,709 U.S. Army; 4,269 U.S. Marines; 1,198 U.S. Air Force; and 476 U.S. Navy. 7,140 servicemen became prisoners-of-war. It is estimated that there were more than 2 million military and civilian casualties. The forgotten war indeed!
Jay Weston returned home at the very end of 1952 and was discharged in early 1953, with the Army Commendation Medal. As he was being decorated at the Brooklyn Army Base, the office-in-charge asked him if he would like to reenlist. He replied in the negative. Today Jay Weston is a well-known movie producer, publisher of the Jay Weston Restaurant Newsletter, and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthky issues) email him at email@example.com