Don Bradway of Garwood, Idaho, was only 3 and never really knew his father, Capt. Judson Jack Bradway, a U.S. Marine Corps pilot who lost his life during the Korean War in 1951.
President Harry S. Truman called the war a “police action.” Others called it “The Forgotten War.”
It was Sept. 20 and Capt. Bradway was sent on a “search and destroy” mission north of the 38th parallel into North Korean territory. He took off from Gimhae Air Base (K-1) near Pusan in the southeast corner of South Korea in the early hours of the morning while it was still dark.
He headed for the Suan area in North Korea, some 300 miles away. It was a dangerous mission and he knew it.
He never returned.
His son tells what happened:
“My father…was a pilot in the United States Marine Corps and flew a F4U Corsair fighter-bomber. He was making a low-level bombing run against a North Korean truck convoy and probably took anti-aircraft fire.
“The Navy airplane dropping flares over the combat area (to illuminate targets) observed sparks coming from my father’s airplane, heard him report, ‘I’m on fire! I’m on fire!’ over the radio and then see his plane hit the ground and explode.”
That was the last time anyone heard his voice.
Don told about what he learned after talking with one of Capt. Bradway’s squadron mates years later: “There was no way my father could have survived the crash because these missions were flown at very low levels and he wouldn’t have survived, even if he could have bailed out.”
Why was there a Korean War?
Connecting the dots that led to the Korean War started in Berlin on July 17, 1945, when new President Truman, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill (replaced two weeks later by Clement Attlee) and Soviet Union Premier Joseph Stalin met at the Potsdam Conference.
World War II was over in Europe, but not in the Pacific. The Big Three focused on what to do with Germany — its post-war economics, trial of war criminals, national borders, Allied occupation zones and other matters.
Quietly, with little public notice, they also plotted what they would do when the war against Japan ended.
Included was the plan to split the Korean Peninsula at the 38th parallel, with the Soviets temporarily controlling the north, and U.S. the south.
While at Potsdam, Truman learned about a successful atomic bomb test in Alamogordo, New Mexico. He told Churchill, but only alluded to a “new weapon” to Stalin.
America and Britain made a mistake at Potsdam by pushing the Soviets to jump into the war against Japan. They weren’t needed.
The U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, and two days later the Soviets declared war on Japan, and invaded northern Korea the next day. A few days later after another atom bomb destroyed Nagasaki, Japan surrendered.
What happened next was a huge reward to the USSR for essentially doing nothing.
It brought communism to the Korean Peninsula, and took over South Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands from Japan. (Japan still claims several islands in the Kuril chain but the Russians have steadfastly refused to return them.) It also strengthened its communist ties with China and increased its influence in the Far East.
U.S. forces began occupying southern Korea on Sept. 8, 1945, setting up a government headed by Syngman Rhee, and training the fledgling Republic of Korea Army (ROK Army).
The occupation of Korea by both powers was supposed to be temporary, with the Koreans to decide their own future later.
The Soviets and Chinese, however, had other plans.
Korea had been under Imperial Japan’s authority since 1910 — the south being primarily agricultural and north industrial — built by Japan.
The Soviets steadfastly blocked any plans to reunify Korea, and set up a communist regime with Kim Il-sung as its first president. His grandson, Kim Jong-un, rules today.
Stalin, with his World War II-trained generals and Kim Il-sung immediately plotted to take over the rest of the Korean Peninsula — a plan the Soviet dictator opposed at first. Later he changed his mind however and began providing weapons and training.
Then in 1949, the Chinese entered the scene when Mao Zedong took over China and sent back 20,000 Koreans who had fought with the Chinese communists.
Stalin didn’t think the U.S. would support the South if North Korea invaded.
In April 1950, Kim Il-sung visited Moscow and Stalin gave him the green light to attack. At 4:40 a.m. on June 25, about 135,000 North Korean troops surged across the 38th parallel while also unleashing insurgents already deep in South Korea.
Facing the onslaught were 98,000 newly organized South Korean forces.
On that day, the United Nations demanded a cease fire. The order was ignored, and two days later the U.N. voted to send in troops, with 21 countries volunteering.
The U.S. contributed 88 percent of the military personnel, and five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur was appointed supreme commander.
Within three days, Seoul had been captured by the communists, and by mid-September, U.S., ROK and Allied force were pushed back almost to the end of the peninsula in what became known as the “Pusan Perimeter” — where the North Koreans were finally stopped.
MacArthur launched a massive surprise amphibious landing at Inchon west of Seoul and north of the communist forces mired in the south. The Allies retook Seoul and its Kimpo Airport, which they could use to stage aerial attacks from close range rather than from aircraft carriers or Japan.
Historian Spencer C. Tucker called the Inchon landings “a brilliant success, almost flawlessly executed,” and praised MacArthur for “brilliant generalship and military genius.”
The Chinese joined the fray the following month, sending 180,000 troops across the Yalu River, pushing the U.N. forces back until mid-1951.
By spring of 1951, Truman and MacArthur had clashed enough times over how to run the war that Truman fired him and Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway took over command of U.N. forces in the war.
MacArthur returned to the U.S. and made his famous farewell speech to Congress, saying “Old soldiers never die — they just fade away.”
Then with Ridgeway at the helm, the tide of battle changed and the Allies pushed the enemy back across the 38th parallel, where the rest of the war became a stalemate.
In addition to the Pusan Perimeter and Inchon, the Korean War will also be remembered for other historic battles: Heartbreak Ridge, Pork Chop Hill and the Chosin Reservoir — called “the Frozen Chosin” by U.S. Marines fighting in the coldest Korean winter in 100 years.
While Captain Jack Bradway and others were bombing and strafing ground targets, U.S. F-86 Sabre jets (and other planes) were dog-fighting Russian-made and piloted planes — mostly MiG-15s. Later, less skilled Chinese and North Korean pilots replaced the Soviets.
The fighting in the Korean War stopped on July 27, 1953. An armistice was signed and “peace talks” began between the two sides at Panmunjom on the demilitarized zone (DMZ) near Seoul. Those talks continue to this day with nothing accomplished.
Technically, the war is still on — and there’s still no peace.
Nearly 40,000 members of the U.S. military continue to guard South Korea, while north of the DMZ, the North Koreans have the atomic bomb, long-range missiles, one of the world’s largest armies ready to pounce, and an unstable grandson of the North’s founder, whose threats continue to keep the rest of the world on edge.
The U.S. suffered nearly 170,000 casualties during the Korean War, with 33,652 killed in action. South Korean casualties were nearly a million; and the enemy more than 1.5 million — of which 900,000 were Chinese.
“I am very proud of my father,” Capt. Bradway’s son, Don, said. “He died defending an ally of the United States. He gave his life so that others could live in freedom and — knowing how the citizens of the Republic of Korea have prospered in their free country — I know his death was not in vain… but I still miss him, terribly.”
Don hopes one day, when North Korea joins the rest of the world community and it’s safe to go there, his dad’s remains will be found and brought back to be buried in America soil…
With the thanks of a grateful nation.
• • •
Contact Syd Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Same plane as Pappy’s…
Captain Jack Bradway’s F4U Corsair was the same type of aircraft flown by Idaho Medal of Honor recipient Greg “Pappy” Boyington, born in Coeur d’Alene and immortalized in the TV series “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” (1976-78) starring Robert Conrad.
North Korean power today…
According to Newsweek, North Korea has a military of 1.19 million in uniform and another 7.7 million reservists. They are armed with an astonishing 3,500 battle tanks, 72 submarines, 302 helicopters, 563 combat aircraft and 21,100 artillery pieces.
More about Korean War…
• Movies about the Korean War: “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Pork Chop Hill” and “Birthday Boy.”
• North Koreans born after the war on average are two inches shorter than South Koreans.
• The Korean War was called a “Police Action” because President Truman never asked Congress for a formal declaration of war.
• MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units were used for the first time in the Korean War — bringing medical help closer to the front lines.
Choppers to the rescue…
Though helicopters were in limited use during World War II, they played a huge role in the Korean War and in conflicts ever since. Carrying the wounded to MASH units near the front lines, helicopters reduced the fatality rate for the seriously wounded in Korea to 2.5 percent — compared to 4.5 in World War II.