It could be a page right out of the Korean War novel, War Remains.
Another soldier, Corporal James Rexford Hare, has come home from a forgotten war. And this time, it’s a soldier who was captured during the battle at Hoengseong.
Hare was in the 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was part of the American forces supporting Republic of South Korea forces near the South Korean town of Hoengsong, when Chinese forces launched a massive counter attack, according to a news release from the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington.
According to the release, “During the attacks, U.S. and Korean forces were forced to retreat south. Over the next few days units of the 2nd ID were attacked again, suffering more than 200 casualties, including more than 100 servicemen being captured by enemy forces.”
Thanks to advances in DNA testing, more and more remains are being identified and quicker than in the past. Although there are still more than 7,900 missing Americans from the Korean War, with each set of remains identified and another service member coming home brings hope to those families waiting for their loved one to come home.
Two months ago I was approached by a Korean filmmaker who asked me if I would be interested in taking part in a documentary he was making on the Korean War. Turns out the documentary he was making was about the Battle of Hoengseong which I described in my novel War Remains and that one of his friends (who also happened to be one of my Facebook friends) had read my book and told him about it. A few messages and emails later, we met one afternoon at SolBridge in April and talked about his documentary. Two weeks later, I was on my way back to Hoengseong and Massacre Valley to be interviewed and describe the battle that was fought here in February 1951 and the battle which is at the beginning of War Remains.
Then, on my birthday, May 28, which was also Buddha’s Birthday in Korea this year, the producer/director Park Jong-woo came down to Daejeon and filmed more scenes in my office at SolBridge.
Down a small grassy knoll behind the US Second Infantry Division Monument in Massacre Valley is the original road which ran from Changbong-ni to Hoengseong. Although the road was narrower and unpaved in 1951, one can still see how dangerous it would be for withdrawing troops to use this road. They men were literally sitting ducks for the CCF which controlled the high ground. Like the Gauntlet in November 1950, the men of Support Force 21 were doomed as soon as they entered the valley. Sadly, US troops would pay another dear cost for being road bound. As soon as the Chinese knocked out a tank or howitzer, a bottleneck was created and chaos, horror, and death ensued.
Today, the valley looks so peaceful and bucolic.
One can only imagine the horrors of battle here those fateful days in February 1951.
Update: January 14, 2014
My friend, Doug Mayes, who lost an uncle at Hoengseong, shared this footage of Massacre Valley taken a few weeks after the battle.
There was a time, many, many years ago when I once dreamed of becoming the next Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, or Martin Scorcese before I started to study film at Southern Illinois University and “Bubbles, the Nudie Dancer” (Damaged Goods) shattered that dream.
Working on this Korean War documentary in Hoengseong this past weekend, reminded me a little of that dream, especially when it came to setting up a shot and blocking the scene and then having to run through a particular shot a few times.
It was a thrill looking through the viewfinder and watching and hearing me talk about the Battle of Hoengseong.
After Producer/Director Park Jongwoo and his crew shot some footage in Massacre Valley, our next stop was to Hill 930, north of Changbong-ni where the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 8th ROK Division was dug in on the north side of the mountain on the night of February 11, 1951.
From their vantage point on the north side of this mountain, they would have a clear view of Sammachi Pass and any enemy infiltration. Back in 1951, there were hardly any trees on this mountain (which was the case for most of the mountains throughout Korea; the Japanese had heavily forested much of the timber their the occupation period) which gave the ROK soldiers an unobstructed view.
What was most interesting about climbing up the northern side of the mountain was seeing the foxholes these ROK soldiers had dug over 61 years ago. Surprisingly, these foxholes were in very good shape having been undisturbed for all these years; even, some of the timber used to buttress them were intact.
One foxhole in particular (the one pictured here) had one wall made with stacked stones, which reminded me of some of the fortifications made by soldiers at Gettysburg.
At the beginning of War Remains, I talk about Support Force 21, the 3rd Battalion of the 38th Infantry Regiment, US Second Infantry Division, and the small village of Saemal. This past weekend, during my return to Massacre Valley, the producer/director of the Korean War documentary, Park Jong-woo, his crew and I went to the spot where the 3rd Battalion was most likely bivouacked on the morning of February 12, 1951.
After having to withdraw from Changbong-ni at around 3:00 in the morning, this is where Support Force 21 arrived later that morning as well as ROK soldiers from the 21st, 10th, and 16th Infantry Regiments. They all thought that they had made it to safety, but their ordeal was far from over.
In this photo, I am explaining to Park Jongwoo what I will talk about in this segment of the documentary. We are standing on the old road to Chipyong-ni, which would be the site of a fierce battle a few days later, next to a rice paddy where the 3rd Battalion was bivouacked.
The first filming of the day was near this bridge leading into Hoengseong. In 1951, this was the only route leading into town and for the men of the 38th Infantry Regiment, Support Force 21, and ROK forces, this was the end of Massacre Valley and the way to safety. The original bridge was destroyed during the war, but this one was built on the original site.
Yesterday, it was, “Hey, I’m going to Hoengseong to be in this documentary about the Korean War and talk about the battle and my book!”
Today, it was more like, after one of the crew had me wear a wireless mike, “Yikes, I’m going to be filmed and recorded!”
Well, it wasn’t that bad.
Throughout the day, it took no more than two or three takes for most of the shots and interviews. Sometimes, I just wanted to say something more; a few times I did get a little tongue-tied.
Being a teacher really helped. Once I got going and found my rhythm, it was like teaching a class.
This past weekend, May 4-5, I returned to Massacre Valley north of Hoengseong. It was this valley and the battle that was fought here in February 1951 which would become the basis for my Korean War novel, War Remains. And it was because of that novel and a friend on Facebook, which brought me back to Massacre Valley (I first visited here in November 2010, right before I completed my novel) to take part in a documentary about the Korean War, this battle, the search for war remains, and my novel.
After I finished teaching on Friday, I took a bus from Daejeon to Wonju. I left at 2:27 and didn’t get to Wonju until after 5:00. There I met the producer/director of the documentary, Park Jong-woo who I met through one of my Facebook friends. Actually, Mr. Park had already heard about me and my novel through another friend, an American Daniel Morris, who also heard about my book and bought it. Turns out he served with the US Army in Korea and when he got out, decided to stay here and teach. Mr. Park, who was making another documentary about the Korean War decided that he wanted to use me, to talk about the battle in the documentary.
After we met, we went to Hoengseong where he introduced me to his crew. We met in the parking lot of a Methodist Church that was there during the Korean War; during the battle, the commander of the Netherlands’ Battalion, Colonel den Ouden was mortally wounded by a grenade. His men didn’t have any means to carry his body back to an aid station, so they removed the door from this church to carry their Colonel’s body.
After dinner in a local restaurant, where we tried out some of Hoengseong’s famous beef, we turned in early. We wanted to start filming at 7:00am.
The picture you see here is the original road from Hoengseong to Changbong-ni. This is facing north toward Changbong-ni. Back in 1951, this road was narrower and unpaved. This is also the beginning of Massacre Valley.
I first learned about Hoengsong and “Massacre Valley” when I read Stanley Sandler’s Korean War history, No Victors, No Vanquished in 2000, but it wasn’t until May 2001, when I had the chance to sit down with Oscar Cortez, when I learned more about “Massacre Valley” and what happened to elements of the 2nd Infantry Division.
When I started to write my Korean War novel War Remains in the fall of 2009, I remembered that interview I had with Oscar on our way to another Korean War battlefield, Chipyong-ni when he described the battle he was in north of Hoengseong in February 1951. That’s when I knew how my novel would begin and end and one of the battles which would figure prominently in the book. I wanted readers to know about this battle and to remember the men who lost their lives there.
This is another view of the valley and the monument which was dedicated to the United States Second Infantry Division (which is still stationed in South Korea). That’s another irony of this so-called “forgotten war.” One of the divisions which fought in the war, is still here and ready to fight.
And let’s not forget that there are still over 7,900 American service members from that war still listed as MIAs.
Of course, for the family members still waiting for their loved ones to come from that war, it has never been a forgotten war for them.
Three of my Facebook friends and their families are waiting for their loved ones to come home. One of those friends lost an uncle in this very same battle.
It’s been almost four years since I published this novel about the Korean War. I am proud of it and the lives it has touched.
Review of Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm in Travel Wire Asia:
"It’s a fairly rare expat in Korea who can claim twenty-plus years in Korea. Jeffrey Miller is one of those guys, of course, and his first-person perspective on Korea’s history since 1990 is a rock-solid one." -- Chris Backe