What is amazing is that this Secret War took place nearly 60 years ago in Korea. Ben Malcom advised the 8240th Army Unit Guerrilla Division and chronicled his experiences in White Tigers: My Secret War in North Korea.
His book is the untold story of the U.S. Army’s role in guerrilla warfare during the Korean War. As an Army first Lieutenant, Ben Malcom was personally selected to go behind enemy lines for the sole purposes of recruiting, training and leading North Korean partisans in their war against the Chinese and North Korean forces.
He writes how he won the guerrillas’ trust and, with little support from Far East Command, mounted a series of covert operations that combined sabotage with intelligence-gathering.
They call it the Forgotten War.
For some Americans, the only awareness of the Korean War comes from late-night re-runs of M*A*S*H. But for the 35 men and women who meet for lunch every other month at a Toco Hills restaurant, the memories of that three-year conflict are still sharp.
Members of the General Raymond Davis chapter of the Veterans of the Korean War will gather several times over the next few days to mark the 60th anniversary of the war’s onset. They’ll also use every opportunity to educate the public about a period of American history that’s often overlooked between the pain of World War II and Vietnam.
“The Korean War is not forgotten to us or our families,” said retired Maj. Bob McCubbins, 79, who was stationed in Korea in 1953. As the Atlanta chapter president, he oversees a roster of 92 veterans, few of whom are physically able to attend the bi-monthly meetings.
“Some of our members are now in their 90s. Most of us are in our early 80s,” he said. “But we all remember.”
The 60th anniversary has sparked a new interest in this slice of history, McCubbins added.
“We have been approached by everyone imaginable to get our history down,” he said. “We’re passing on just like the World War II vets, so it’s important to do that now. At our last meeting, someone just walked in and started talking to us. Schools and professors want to hear our stories. And we have really good stories.”
One local veteran compiled his stories in a 1997 book called “The White Tigers.” Retired Col. Ben Malcom, 81, served in Korea in 1952 in a precursor of the Army’s Special Forces, working in coordination with the CIA. His job was so clandestine that it wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when details of his assignments were declassified, that he was allowed to put his memoirs into a 270-page tome.
“The whole operation was top secret,” Malcom said. “When I arrived in Korea, there were 10,000 Koreans fighting behind the lines and they required Americans to provide supplies and equipment. They threw me onto an island 150 miles northwest of Seoul where I got in a boat and met up with some of those Korean units called the White Tigers. We conducted raids and had some interesting operations.”
During one of his most memorable exploits, Malcom led 120 Koreans deep into a mountain lair to destroy an enemy communications center.
“We sailed 150 miles behind the lines on junks,” he said, still speaking in a crisp, military staccato.
“When we pulled out, the beach was under heavy fire, but we got out. We even had 10 civilians who were trying to get out climb into our boat with six oxen.”
Malcom started keeping notes of his experiences as soon as he left Korea, even though he wasn’t permitted to discuss any of the particulars.
“Special Forces weren’t even recognized by Army at that time,” the Fayetteville resident said. “It took a while before people knew I earned a Silver and a Bronze star for being behind the lines with the CIA.” A career military man, Malcom left Korea, did a stint in Vietnam and served as commander of Fort
McPherson in Atlanta before retiring in 1979. He frequently recounts “my secret war in North Korea” with young Special Forces trainees at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and any other civic or educational organization that wants to learn more about an oft-overlooked era.
“I think it became a forgotten war because most Americans didn’t know where Korea was,” said Malcom. “It wasn’t considered an area of vital interest. It didn’t get a lot of support or publicity in the States. And it only lasted for three years, compared to Vietnam.”
Malcom also points to the war’s smaller scale and scope as other contributors for its being forgotten between two more dramatic conflicts.
“World War II was ‘the big war,’” he said. “We thought there wouldn’t be any more wars again. But then there was Korea … and Vietnam.”
With various commemorative events taking place over the next few days, Malcom sees interest in the Korean War continuing to grow.
“This anniversary has definitely raised awareness,” he said. “We’re getting a lot more calls about it. I can give a talk for two hours, but even now, I have to use maps to show where [Korea] is located. There are still people who haven’t learned about it.”
Korean War: 60th Anniversary Events
These public events will be staged around the metro area to mark the 60th Anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War:
The National Museum of Patriotism, 275 Baker Street, presents “Freedom Works,”