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Calculated Risk: Behind the Inchon Invasion


The Secrets of Inchon:

The Untold Storing of the Most Daring Covert Mission of the Korean War

By Commander Eugene Franklin Clark, USN

G. P. Putman's Sons, New York, N.Y.; 2002

ISBN: 039914871X

Penguin Putnam Inc.


Review by Jerry Winzig


In August 1950, Gene Clark was a 39-year old U.S. Navy lieutenant on General Douglas McArthur's staff, stationed in occupied Japan with his wife Enid, his 12-year-old daughter Genine and his nine-year-old son Roger.  Fluent in Japanese, Clark was responsible for interrogating Japanese prisoners repatriated from Communist Russia.  He was a "mustang" -- an enlisted seaman who had risen to chief petty officer before being commissioned an officer during World War II -- and had earned a law degree from Golden State College in San Francisco while in the Navy.


By late August, just two months after the invasion from the North, the South Korean, U.S., and United Nations forces were in desperate straits, reduced to defending only the perimeter around Pusan.  McArthur had just received approval from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff for a highly risky venture.  It would pull badly-needed troops from the Pusan perimeter, combine them with reinforcements from the United States and Europe, and attempt to cut off North Korean forces at the rear by launching a dangerously improbable amphibious landing at the low-water port of Inchon near Seoul on September 15.


On August 26, just 20 days before the assault, Clark was called into the office of Captain Edward Pearce in downtown Tokyo and asked to lead "a little rumble."  The proposed landing at Inchon was complicated by tides that rose and fell 29 feet in a 24-hour period.  At low tide, this exposed miles of mudflats, some of them extending 6,000 yards from the shoreline.  Given his amphibian experience in World War II, Clark was being asked to lead a small but critical covert mission behind the lines to perform reconnaissance of the current landing conditions in Communist-held Inchon.


The mission consisted of just three men -- Clark, a bilingual South Korean Navy lieutenant, Youn Joung, and a former South Korean counterintelligence officer, Colonel Kee In-Ju.  They were provided with as many supplies as could be spared to assist them in working behind enemy lines, including two hundred pounds of rice, 50 cases of World War II C-rations, two cases of Canadian Club liquor, and one million won, worth about $550 at the current exchange rate.


The Secrets of Inchon is Clark's first-hand account of that mission.  Written as a keepsake for his wife and children and because he wanted his Korean comrades to be remembered, the manuscript remained in a safe-deposit box for almost 50 years until after his death in 1998.  When historian Thomas Fleming published an account of the Inchon invasion, his family remembered the account and showed him the manuscript.


It is a vivid and moving story of personal bravery and heroism on the part of people struggling for their lives against a ruthless, ugly tide of totalitarianism that has almost completely swallowed up their homes, villages, and countryside.  The risks were enormous for the invasion force and for Clark, Youn, and Kee.  As a precaution, Youn and Kee assumed false identities as Yong and Kim, names that Clark uses in his account.  At one particularly dangerous step in their mission, they taped grenades to their bodies so they could blow themselves up if necessary to avoid being captured and giving away the mission.


In the face of almost impossible odds, Clark, Youn, and Kee -- with the help of a South Korean gunboat and many South Korean people who rallied to their support -- set up a base camp on a small island near Inchon, liberate the island, drove the Communists off of a nearby island, made contact with the South Korean resistance between Inchon and Seoul, successfully charted the channels, islands, and sea walls of the occupied port (often working at night), regularly radioed reconnaissance reports back to Tokyo, resurrectted a small but critical lighthouse, and finally, lit the lighthouse in time to guide the United Nations invasion force of 230 ships and numerous landing craft from seven nations.


As a result of this mission -- and the sacrifices of many South Koreans -- the Inchon invasion was successful.  In the initial landing on two key islands, not a single Marine was killed.  Just after sunset, the Marines landed in downtown Inchon and breached the seawall that Clark and Youn had measured.  By September 25, the Marines were on the outskirts of Seoul and the U.N. forces in Pusan had broken out of their perimeter.


Clark's account, while never scurrilous,  is colored by racial and sexist attitudes that -- 52 years later -- we may find offensive.  Nonetheless, Clark is continually impressed by the bravery and ingenuity he encounters among the Korean people.  Several times he regrets some of the things he says.  Through his intense account, the reader feels the heroism and pain of the people who lived on those islands near Inchon 50 years ago.  The fate of Lim, the 17-year-old Korean girl who feeds and cares for the trio, and her boyfriend, Chae, is heartwrenchingly sad.


Clark's account is truly a first-person historical account of an event that changed Korean history.  If his mission had failed and the Inchon invasion had floundered, all of Korea might today live under the dismal, oppressive, impoverishing regime of Kim Jong Il, Seoul would not be the thriving metropolis it is, and Inchon would not be home to a new international airport.


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