US Victory lost in History

U.S. Victory Lost in History

The News and Observer | November 07, 2005

Ron Rice crouched in a trench on a sweat-popping July afternoon, shaking off a long, dirt-kissing crawl to escape the crossfire of two North Korean machine gun nests.

A supersonic zip of air brushed his ear. The mud-streaked squad leader took a swat at what he assumed was a blood-sucking fly, then heard the distinctive automatic chatter of an AK-47 assault rifle, the Cold War gun of choice for communist soldiers.

Slugs struck a hard-charging captain with the surname of Scripture. Rice and five other members of his squad zig-zagged the officer to safety as bullets kicked up dirt at their feet.

"The only thing you think about is getting through that -- no fear," said Rice, 61, who lives in Advance, near Winston-Salem. "Fear wasn't part of the equation -- that came later."

As he contemplates the approach of Veterans Day on Friday, Rice has firefight memories that come from the Korean peninsula, but not the Korean War. His taste of combat came in 1967, 14 years after an uneasy cease-fire ended that conflict in 1953.

While the U.S. was sharply escalating military action in Vietnam -- the definitive war of his generation -- Rice and other American soldiers were fighting elite North Korean troops in sharp, small-unit battles along the demilitarized zone that still divides the two Koreas.

Dubbed the Second Korean Conflict by historians and veterans, this undeclared and relatively unknown border war lasted 37 months from late 1966 until late 1969.

But if the Korean War is America's "forgotten war," then the Second Korean Conflict is its forgotten echo.

Few know about this successful defensive campaign against North Korean infiltrators who hoped to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea. Fewer still realize that the fighting along the Korean DMZ marked an American military victory that offers bedrock lessons for the counterinsurgency campaigns against the irregular forces fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It turned out differently than the Vietnam War, but nobody knows about it," said Army Brig. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, author of the most detailed comprehensive historical analysis of the Second Korean Conflict and commander of the team training the new Iraqi army. "It was a success. It's like Sherlock Holmes -- the dog that didn't bark. When you hold the line against bad things and you do what you're supposed to do, you don't get special credit for that."


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