“When the cold, biting wind howls down from the mountains, I can almost hear their screams and cries riding upon it.”
When I’ve walk across the frozen Woosong campus here in Daejeon, South Korea (approximately two hours south of Seoul) on my way to school the past few weeks—when it has been so bitterly cold here—and have seen the snow-capped and pine-dotted mountains in the distance, I think about the war, which was fought north of here sixty-one years ago. I think about the men who had to traverse some of those mountains, trying to keep warm and dry during one of the coldest winters on the Korean peninsula. I think about the American blood spilled on the snow-covered ground of Korea, the same way that blood was spilled at Valley Forge and Bastogne. I think about the young men who died here far away from home and loved ones who would never know warmth again.
And when the cold, biting wind howls down from the mountains, I can almost hear their screams and cries riding upon that cold wind.
Sixty-one years ago, as January came to a close; the Korean War still could have been lost for South Korea and the UN forces, which had come to Korea’s aid. Since November 1950, when the Chinese entered the war, the conflict had become, according to General Douglas MacArthur, “an entirely different war.” Those Chinese forces, an unstoppable juggernaut since Kunu-ri and Chosin, had pushed UN forces south of Seoul during the New Year’s Offensive. Poised to strike again around Wonju—a key transportation hub—men of the US Second Infantry Division, as well as French, Netherlands and other UN Forces, were about to turn the tide of the war at the Twin Tunnels and Chipyong-ni. It would not come easy and without cost, especially the casualties, which would befall the Second Infantry Division at Hoengsong February 12-13, 1951.
These were not the names of faraway places, which would become the vernacular of a nation remembering gallant stands and battles. For the generals sending men into harms way, these were names—marked by tiny flags and grease lines on crinkled, yellowed maps. For the hundreds of men who would lose their lives in “Massacre Valley” alone, they would be a cold, scribbled number written under KIA or MIA.
This is what I think about every day, when I see those cold, dark mountains shivering in the distance and the men who could have come from towns like LaSalle, Illinois; Vassar, Michigan; Waterbury Connecticut; San Antonio, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; Charlotte, North Carolina; Indianapolis, Indiana; Cleveland, Ohio; Wheeling, West Virginia—who found themselves on those hills and mountains, in those frozen paddies and valleys of that so-called “forgotten war.”
This is why I sat down in 2009 and began to write my novel War Remains, much of which surrounds that battle fought in February 1951. I wanted to remember and honor the men who came here. Above all, I wanted to honor the veterans I met, when I was covering Korean War Commemorative events for an English-language newspaper in Seoul from 2000-2003 and honor the memory of their brothers in arms who never came home.
I wrote War Remains because I haven’t forgotten—and never will.