06/28/2010 11:52 am ET Updated 5 days ago

Korean War, French Bayonets


If the Korean War is the "Forgotten War" it is fitting that a closer look be taken at the "police action" that began 60 years ago and in three years claimed nearly 38,000 American lives.

Fending off a wave of more than 700,000 Chinese, American forces were aided by a French battalion of volunteers, Foreign Legion and regular troops.

If this offends your vision of the French as soldiers stop here.

U.S. Commander Gen. Matthew Ridgway said the American and French troops "measured up in every way to the battle conduct of the finest troops America and France have produced throughout their national existence."

France wanted to send more troops but was occupied in its ultimately unsuccessful attempt to retain control of its colony of Indochina, or Vietnam as it later became known.

Because of their ability to launch night attacks and stop Chinese advances the French unit was put in the areas where U.S. forces were weakest. In the battle for Jipyeongri, when the Chinese used their previously successful psychological warfare tactics of banging gongs and blowing horns, the French blew their own. Then they fixed bayonets and charged. The Chinese ran away.

Last May, the Korean Army re-enacted the battle. "It was bitterly cold. We blew down the enemy forces again and again, but they were also popping up again and again," Jacques Grisolet, 82, who participated in the battle as a first lieutenant of the French battalion, Korea Times reported.

The French battalion was under the command of Maj. Gen. Raoul Charles Magrin-Vernerey, popularly known as Ralph Monclar. A seminary student who switch to the military he served in World War II with the Free French army of Charles de Gaulle and World War I, where he was wounded seven times.

In addition to the dozens of French medals he was awarded, the U.S. gave him a Silver Star and Britain the Knight Commander of the British Empire.

In the Punchbowl area, just north of the 38th Parallel, Monclar's battalion played a crucial role in dislodging North Korean and Chinese forces from Heartbreak Ridge after a month-old battle that seemed like the unending task of Sisyphus. Each day the U.N. forces would take the hill and then be forced back at night.

To the French the battle of Heartbreak Ridge was known as Crevecoeur.

Of the unit of 3,421 men, 287 were killed and 1,350 wounded.

Also participating on the U.N. side were Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey and South Africa. and Turkey. Denmark, India, Norway, and Sweden provided medical units. Italy, though not a U.N. member, provided a hospital.

The war ended in a stalemate on July 27, 1953, but no treaty was ever signed. Relations between North Korea, which can no longer count on the Russians the Chinese to back them up, have deteriorated.

Sanctions have been applied and the U.S. has led an effort to persuade Pyonyang to stop attempts to produce nuclear warheads and missiles to carry them.

In March, North Korea was accused of sinking a South Korean gunboat, killing 46 crew members.

In recent days meetings have been going on in North Korea that observers believe could put Kim Jong-Il's son, Kim Jong II, in power.

The art world has not ignored the Korean War. The movie Mash and TV version of it was one of the most popular in U.S. history. Movies like The Manchurian Candidate, which was done a second time, and Bridges At Toko Ri told the story of a frustrating war against an enemy with no scruples.