Ranch Country photography
by Robert McCune
THE HILLS AROUND US: KOREA 1950-'51
This is a Memoir of a short period of time in my life, during the war in Korea. Within these pages you will also find a glimpse into the lives of a group of airmen who came to the aid of South Korea in the early days of that war, to help when there was a great need for such help. These were the pilots of the F-51 Mustang, used in the Korean war as a fighter-bomber in close tactical support of United Nations ground forces. With the pilots came the crew chiefs and the mechanics and the armorers of those aircraft.
Other airmen (non-pilot officers and men from the ranks) answered that early urgent call for volunteers. They came to help fight against the North Korean invaders. Truck drivers, cooks, Air Police, water supply technicians, construction equipment operators, air-crash rescue firefighters, medics, communications men. And teenage soldier-airmen like myself who did whatever odd job was assigned to them. These men of the 18th Fighter-Bomber were all volunteers in the beginning. We were proud to be part of that struggle against Communist aggression. Proud to be there. Proud of “our” pilots.
I had great respect and admiration for the pilots and the F-51. I still feel that way, these many years later. The pilots were heroes. Each one. Several years before he died, I talked about this with my father when writing a biography of his naval career. As a Chief Warrant Officer, he served in the aircraft carrier ENTERPRISE CV 6, during World War II in the Pacific. He said to me, “The pilots and crew members who flew the bombers, torpedo planes and fighters were what we (the ship’s crew) were out there for. Everything we did was to put them where they could do their job. I can’t really tell you how much I thought of them. Some were barely more than boys.” Pausing in reflective thought, he added, “They were all brave men.”
We were a propeller-driven F-51 outfit, with the squadron markings of four nations: The United States, Australia, South Africa with a Cheetah decal on the fuselages (some, with a Springbok). And the Republic of Korea with its T’aeguk yin and yang national emblem on fuselages and wings. The 18th Fighter-Bomber was indeed a United Nations unit.
When young eagles, many of the pilots flew the P-51 and fought in World War II. (Re-designated F-51 in Korea). Now, in 1950-1951, many of them were husbands and fathers and were considered middle-aged by the younger pilots who flew the new Shooting Star and Sabre jet fighters. They came to Korea to fly the most dangerous kind of air operations of that war.
Many of you who read this probably have a special interest in the Korean War. You may have served in that war yourself, as a soldier or marine or sailor. As a doctor or nurse. Maybe as a pilot, or as a noncombatant airman like myself. If you yourself weren’t there, but you had a relative or close friend who was, it might not be all that difficult to imagine that much of what is described herein could have been experienced and written by that person.
This book is dedicated to those pilots of the 18th Fighter-Bomber squadrons, and to the men who helped keep the F-51 Mustangs flying. The people whose names I remember, and those whose names I have long since forgotten. And there’s the men of the 2nd Division, who suffered greatly in their rearguard action in North Korea in the early winter of 1950. I also wish to pay tribute to the memory of an old gray-bearded Korean rice farmer and his granddaughter. Their time-out-of-time hospitality brought momentary peacefulness to me, in those eight unforgettable months I served in Korea. Land of the Morning Calm.
Books cited in THE HILLS AROUND US
THE KOREAN WAR, by Matthew Ridgeway, General, U.S. Army
CONFLICT, by Robert Leckie
DRAWING THE LINE, by Richard Whelan
KOREA, THE UNTOLD STORY, by Joseph C. Goulden.
THE KOREAN WAR, by Max Hastings.
The following comments are from one of several letters received about the book. "...So much of what you wrote reveals a person who had the same frame-of-mind that I did. We experienced the war at the same point in time...I was a Flight Nurse and flew with the 5th Air Force Combat Cargo...You and I had quite different experiences but because I was there, what you wrote made me recall scenes I hadn't thought about for a long time....Your book is a treasure and shows a lot of work..."