INTERVIEW WITH EDWIN SIMMONS-3/2/97
INTERVIEWER: This is tape number 10477, 3rd of February 1997, interview with Brigadier General Ed Simmons. General Simmons, thank you very much for talking to us this afternoon.
GENERAL EDWIN SIMMONS: My pleasure.
INT: Could I just start off by asking you to tell us what your position was, what unit you were in at the beginning of the Korean War.. at the time the Korean War began.
ES: When the Korean War began, 25th of June 1950, I was the company commander of weapons company 1st Battalion 6th Marines and we were at [Camp Lejeune]. The battalion had just gotten back from the Mediterranean and then suddenly we were on a troop train going west and we became the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines and we were a half-strength battalion because of budgetary considerations. The Marine Corps was very thin at the time. We had 2 very thin divisions, 2 very thin aircraft wings.
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INT: So Brigadier Simmons, could you tell us about the state of the regular forces when the Korean War broke out and how the situation had changed from the end of the Second World War 5 years before.
ES: At the end of World War II, there was no doubt that the United States was the strongest military power in the world. Twelve million men under arms, an army alone of over 6 million, a hundred divisions, thousands of ships, tens of thousands of aircraft. Well, President Truman was a Midwesterner of the old school. He believed that at the end of the war, you demobilised and everyone went home. He had a American or Anglo-Saxon distrust of a large standing army. He believed in universal military training. He believed in a trained citizen reserve, but he thought the regular forces should be minimised. There also were budget constraints. Suddenly, this open-ended pocket-book of World War II was closed and so in the 5 year period between 1945 and 1950, the armed forces of the United States became progressively smaller, down to a total of about one and a half million, of which the Army had about 600,000 and ten divisions, all half-strength, two-thirds strength, scattered around the world not ready for combat, doing constabulary duty in Germany and Japan. A number of dismaying things that happened in that 5 year period - Winston Churchill of course made his Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri, Truman's home state "in 1946 the Iron Curtain is descending over Europe", and I might say that Americans probably hold Winston Churchill in higher esteem than do the British, just like the British probably hold F.D.R. - Franklin Roosevelt - in higher esteem than perhaps we do, and yet the events of 1948, the fall of Czechoslovakia and Hungary, you had what was happening in China - the final failure of the Chinese Nationalists (cough). In 1949 you had the beginnings of NATO in 1949 but not yet armed. You had a very strong anti-Communist feeling in our country. It's easy now, 50 years later, to say that it was hysteria or paranoia. It didn't appear to be that way then. There were the atomic spy trials. The Soviets had exploded their atomic weapon (cough). We no longer had a monopoly on atomic weapons. It appeared that the Communist infiltration of our government was much wider and deeper than just atomic matters typified by the Alger Hiss case. Whitaker Chambers, a confessed Communist himself, involved Alger Hiss who had been a very highly placed person in the State Department, as his principal source of classified materials. Hiss had moved on. He was now the head of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, a very high-visibility figure. There was a trial in 1949. He was not convicted in that first trial. He was tried again in 1950 and found guilty. Persons such as Congressman Richard Nixon became anti-Communist leaders. There were the hearings involving a great deal of Hollywood and the media, highly publicised. America had reason to believe that we were infiltrated by the Communist. This feeling was very strongly held by the veterans of both the First World War and the Second World War. They sort of seized on Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin as their standard-bearer. Joe McCarthy had been an officer in the Marine Corps during the war. He'd been a staff officer, an intelligence officer but he made some pretence of being a combat officer. He liked the nickname 'Tail-gunner Joe' - big, handsome, rugged-looking black Irishman. Um, there had been another Joe McCarthy who'd been a battalion commander at Iwojima who received the Medal of Honour - quite a different person but Senator McCarthy didn't mind it one bit if they got the two McCarthy's mixed up. And then along about February 1950, he waved a piece of paper saying he had a list of 200 Communists in the State Department and there were great investigations and so forth. So by the time of the North Korean invasion of South Korea, there was a very very strong -- and sincere -- anti-Communist feeling in this country.
INT: Focusing specifically though on the military, can you tell us roughly what was the combat potential then of the troops who were occupying Japan, the nearest troops to Korea at the time?
ES: MacArthur had the 8th Army in Japan. It was under the command of Lieutenant General Walton Walker who had been a good core commander in Europe in World War II. Walker had 4 divisions -- the 7th, the 24th, the 25th and the 1st Cavalry division. First Cavalry Division was cavalry in not.. name only. It was a dismounted division. These divisions were at about two-thirds strength. They were scattered throughout the Japanese islands. They had not really trained for combat. They were doing constabulary type duties and, quite frankly, enjoying a good time in occupied Japan., Their combat potential was very low.
INT: Right. Could we come onto the Inchon landings themselves. Can you tell us a little about the.. debate or the argument MacArthur had to persuade the Pentagon and military chiefs that the Inchon landings were a viable military option?
ES: MacArthur had not paid much attention to Korea until the war began. He had only been there once. That was for the investment of President Syngman Rhee. Suddenly, he had the task of defending Korea and initially he was very optimistic. He went to Korea on the 29th of June, just 4 days after the beginning of the war, got to the south bank of the Han river overlooking Seoul, saw the disarray that the South Korean army was in and he sort of formulated in his own mind how he would fight this campaign. He knew there would initially be a delaying action, a falling back down the length of the peninsula, and then as early as that, he envisaged...visioned landing at Inchon in a turning movement which would cut the North Korean lines of communication, cause the North Koreans to turn about and fight on a new front. Originally, he planned to use the First Cavalry division to do that, but the war got larger than he expected it to be and he had to use the First Cav to reinforce these forces that were falling back on Pusan, and by the middle of August, they had been pushed back into a rather small perimeter called the Pusan Perimeter. He first thought about using marines in the middle of July. A Marine General by the name of [Lemial] Shepherd, who was commanding general Fleet Marine Force Pacific, was visiting him and MacArthur, in typical dramatic fashion, went to a map of Korea and said "if I only had the 1st Marine Division once again, I would land them here" and he pointed at Inchon, and General Shepherd said "well, you ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the 1st Marine Division and I will deliver them to you" and that's when the planning really got serious. But no-one had much confidence that this landing would be a success. There were severe reservations about it. Aumore Bradley, the chairman of the newly-formed Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been an informal organisation until now and Bradley was the first formal chairman -- Bradley thought that large-scale amphibious operations were a thing of the past. General Laughton Collins was Chief of Staff of the A. He had no confidence in it either but MacArthur towered over him. Machad been superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point as a brigadier general when Laughton Collins had been a captain instructor at West Point. MacArthur enjoyed that advantage over all the other army generals. After all, he had been a general for 50 years at that point -- or nearly 50 years. Correction, he had been a general since 1917. the hour of decision was the 23rd of August. Admiral Forrest Sherman and General Laughton Collins had come out as representatives of.. the JCS to evaluate this planned landing at Inchon and the meeting was held in the Dai-ichi Building -- MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo -- and there's various accounts of what were said.. was said and heard at that time or even who was there. But at the end of the conference, everybody remembers how MacArthur summed it up. He said "we will land at Inchon and I shall crush them" and Admiral Sherman and General Collins took this back to the JCS and they passed it to President Truman. President Truman didn't veto it. They took his silence for being assent and the wheels were put in motion for the landing at Inchon. Now this was the 23rd of August. Troops had to be gathered literally from all over the world to do this, amphibious shipping had to be gathered, the thousands of ships that we had had at the end of World War II were now just rusting hulks. Landing Ship Tanks, the famous LSTs, had to be recovered from the Japanese. They'd been loaned or sold to the Japanese to make up for their shipping losses. we actually loaded out on LSTs that had Japanese crews or in some cases crews that were flown out from the United States. I was with the 3rd Battalion 1st Marines. We had arrived in the Kobi area well toward the end of August. We moved up into the Lake Biwa area, into an old Ja