A Novel of a Marine Rifle Company in the Forgotten War
by Dale A. Dye
The following is excerpted from Dale A. Dye’s most recent novel, Korean Odyssey—now available in hardcover and ebook.
THEY CALL KOREA the forgotten war. It is, I suppose, except for a handful of military historians and a dwindling number of veteran survivors. It was not an event that carried the absorbing worldwide interest of World War II, a bloody global clash that ended less than five years before the war in Korea began in the summer of 1950. Most war-weary and isolationistleaning Americans didn’t give Korea much thought until friends, sons, and other relatives began to be wounded or killed in significant numbers. Not many citizens understood the stated reasons for sending American soldiers to fight: Support an unprepared ally in South Korea that had been cruelly invaded by their North Korean neighbors and blunt the spread of worldwide communism. As the war escalated, particularly after Chinese combat formations got involved, many Americans vocally disputed the call for American sacrifice in a place as remote and unfamiliar as South Korea.
American involvement in the Korean War had shaky underpinnings from the start. Harry S. Truman, the U.S. President who ordered troops into South Korea, finagled his decision past Congressional oversight and inevitable dispute by calling it a “police action,” thus sidestepping the requirement to ask Congress for a declaration of war. None of that meant much to the soldiers and Marines who found themselves on short-notice orders to head for combat in Korea. And few of those shorthanded, undertrained, and mostly garrison troops were anywhere near prepared for the ordeal that followed. Therein lies the story in my view as an author, amateur historian, and Marine combat veteran of later wars, also mostly controversial and undeclared.
In my early years as a Marine, I knew a number of Korean War veterans. Some of them offered hard-learned tips and valuable training based on their experience. And some of that played a big role in keeping me alive when I faced my own combat crucible in Vietnam. Their stories of combat in Korea, some embellished but many gospel, stuck with me over two decades in uniform and I often wondered why more wasn’t written about the war in Korea. That conflict never really spawned the flood of literature that World War II and the Vietnam War did. Even the currently unresolved, controversial, and ambiguous conflicts in various part of the embattled Middle East seemed to have more written about them. I consider that a disservice to Korean War veterans — not to mention a sorely missed literary opportunity. Hence, this book.
And this book is a novel full of departures from the record of actual events during the Korean War. There are any number of good books and historical monographs that adhere to strict recounting of events in Korea circa 1950–53. This book is not one of them. I was compelled by my storytelling instincts to narrow the focus primarily to one Marine rifle company from initial spool-up at Camp Pendleton through the end of the Chosin Reservoir Campaign. I chose to end the story there because what happened after that brutal campaign in the winter of 1950 was less interesting than what came before. And I needed to cap the book at a readable length. Simple as that.
The main characters I created to serve with Able Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, are entirely fictional, although I admit that most of them are admixtures and vague reflections of real Marines I knew and admired somewhere or sometime in my two decade active-duty career. Other characters are real people directly or peripherally involved in the Korean War. In a few places, I quote them directly from the historical record, but in most instances I take the liberty of relating what I believe they would have said or thought given the situations they were facing. I’m a novelist. I get to do that.
Historical nitpickers — on the off chance that any of them read this work — will likely complain that that the business of sweeping up support troops for service in rifle companies and the call-up of Marine Reserves actually took place after the first draft of Marines went to Korea as the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade and not prior to it as I relate in this story. They may also complain that some of the actions I’ve attributed to Able Company 1/5 were actually fought by other units of the 1st Marine Division. They’d be correct — and I’d be pleading guilty quite happily. I have attempted to convey the sense of the time, the struggle of an undermanned Marine Corps, and the initiative of men who knew when it was time to shit-can the rulebook. This story is meant to absorb and entertain, with only a respectful nod to historical accuracy.
A word about jargon here as I have always loved the way Marines talk or used to talk. When my Marines speak in this book, they use the Naval terminology that was so common among Marines for many years after World War II. For instance, it was entirely common and appropriate to address lieutenants as Mister. Marines did not re-up or reenlist, they shipped over. And there are so many other terms that I love — and still use — because they comprise a special language unlike the Army-speak and help to define Marines as soldiers of the sea, the formation we were established and designed to be. Much of that salty, colorful language has disappeared in a more modern Marine Corps and it saddens me.
And finally, to those hidebound Leatherneck readers who might insist that the Corps would never send a man into combat without benefit of molding and shaping at boot camp, I beg to differ loudly. One of my close friends, former Corporal Barry Jones, now deceased, was a rifleman with the 7th Marines in Korea and he never set foot on a grinder at Parris Island or San Diego. He introduced me to several others who had the same experience — or lack of it — before they found themselves in combat in Korea.
That’s it for this briefing. Any questions? No? Very well, carry on. Read. Enjoy.
To read more, click HERE.
About the Author: Marine officer Dale A. Dye rose through the ranks to retire as a captain after 21 years of service in war and peace. Following retirement from active duty in 1984, and upset with Hollywood’s treatment of the American military, he went to Hollywood and established Warriors, Inc., the preeminent military training and advisory service to the entertainment industry. Dye has worked on more than 50 movies and TV shows, including several Oscar-and Emmy-winning productions. His current project, No Better Place To Die, — for which he is the writer and director — is a World War II drama about the airborne Normandy landings on D-Day. Tom Hanks has signed on to both act in and executive-produce the film.