INT: Everybody that I've spoken to about the Korean War says what a brutal war, what a cruel war it was. Can I ask you just to speculate a bit about your feelings at the time, rather than retrospect, your feelings at the time about the Korean people. Did you find them particularly vicious or cruel in the way they saw the war?

ES: I had heard about the Koreans during and after World War II. We had had a little contact with them in World War II. The Japanese used them as labour troops and about the only prisoners that we took in the islands were Koreans. Very few Japanese surrendered. Usually they were badly wounded. When I got to China, several Korean factions were fighting each other in Tiensin and Peking and I didn't quite understand that and so what the old China hands told me were that the Koreans were the Irish of the Orient, that they were always fighting each other. Also, many of the gangsters were Koreans. I think the Marines had an advantage over possibly some of the army, some of the marine generals as opposed to some of the army generals, is that the Marines have had long experience in the Orient. Our old officers had served there in China before the war. They had fought the Japanese, they'd been involved in various occupation duties, they understood the Oriental mind quite well. Many of the army troops and the army generals -- not all, but many of them -- brought European ideas to the battlefield and as a consequence got roughly handled. The Koreans dealt with their prisoners very harshly. I remember north of Seoul after we had fought through the town and reinstated President Rhee and all those things, we were holding a line north of Seoul and we had to take this hill (cough) and my company started up this hill and they got to the crest and they sort of wavered at the crest and I didn't know what was wrong 'cos I didn't hear any gunfire and one of the lieutenants radioed me and said "William Six -- that would be my call sign -- you'd better get up here." So I got to the crest of the hill and there was a long trench and it was filled with bodies -- Korean civilians. Men, women and children by the hundreds filled that trench. (pause) And we ask our Korean interpreters, our (unintelligible), "what's all this about?". Well, they were Christians or they were friends of the Americans and so the North Koreans marched them out of the city and killed them. And we held that position for a day or so.. (pause) It still affects me. And these people came out of the city to find their relatives and some of them were carrying crosses.. (pause) and I thought about Gethsemane and what a terrible thing this was and how incomprehensible it was. And that sort of thing happened all over the place. Forty percent of the Americans who were taken prisoner died in the POW camps and I had some very good friends, primarily aviators, who were taken prisoner and who survived the experience. (pause) This.. it was terrible. (pause) By our standards, the South Koreans were harsh and cruel people. They didn't understand us. They thought we were soft. (pause) I once led our battalion into a village, Ma-Juni, where we were to relieve a South Korean battalion and there had.. been a fight in the village the day before and we were very sceptical of this because we didn't think that at that point that the South Koreans fought very hard or fought very well. But as we went up this mountain road, this was west of Wansan, I heard gunfire and I thought to myself - well, I didn't think to myself, I spoke out loud - 'well, it looks like there really is some sort of a fight going on up there. Let's be careful'. And so we entered the village and there was a row of prisoners there kneeling with their hands (sound level drops) tied behind their back (sound level resumes) and the South Korean battalion commander was ordering their execution. They were going down shooting - bang, bang, bang, bang - as I arrived. Now the prisoners were in civilian clothes and my interpreter, who happened to be a Chinese - raised in Korea but he spoke Chinese, Korean and fairly decent English - the English name that we gave him was Dick Lee, his name was Lee and we called him Dick Lee, so I asked "what's going on?" and so he asked. "Well, these were the enemy, these were the N

INT: Was.. that an experience - not that specific story - but the idea of it being difficult to distinguish between civilians and military, that soldiers would slip into civilian clothes, peasant clothes. Was that something that.. was a problem in fact?

ES: (overlap) We had South Korean counter-intelligence corps teams attached to us. One of their jobs was to separate the North Koreans from the peasants and their tests were very simple. They would see a male of military age, usually moving along the road through a road block, and they would pull open his shirt and if there was sunburned "V", that was an indication that he had been wearing a uniform shirt and they would make him kick off his shoes - most of them wore sort of rubber shoes - and if he had calluses on his feet, that was an indication he'd been wearing army shoes and that's all the identification they needed. And their way of interrogating was to beat the prisoner up. They would flog them on occasion with flails made out of twisted barbed wire, or baseball bats, and we weren't supposed to interfere with that and we weren't supposed to watch it and it was very hard for the average young American boy to see that kind of thing. But we were soft. We didn't understand the kind of a war it was or what kind of an enemy it was.

INT: Overall, did you feel that there was a different attitude to life and to death amongst the Orientals than the Europeans, the Americans?

ES: Well, it's probably not politically correct for me to say so but I think that the Orientaldid view life and death differently than they and we would. Also, this might have been a limited war from our viewpoint but it was total war from their viewpoint. We had drawn a boundary around Korea and President Truman said there's an upper limit that we will not exceed in forces and so on. Well, that was not very meaningful to either the South Koreans or North Koreans who were in a life.. literally a life and death struggle. Incidentally, we thought the North Koreans were much tougher than the Chinese. The North Koreans fought much more fiercely than the Chinese, maybe for some of the same reasons.

INT: Right, let's.. cut there for a second.


INT: What impact did General Ridgeway's take-over of command have on the morale of the United Nations forces?

ES: General Walton Walker was killed in a vehicular accident on the 23rd of December. Immediately, General Ridgeway, Matthew Ridgeway, who was here in Washington, was sent out to take his place. Ridgeway had a tremendous World War II reputation. He had commanded the 82nd Airborne and then the 18th Airborne corps. He was a fighting general. He was known for wearing a hand grenade on his harness and I had to break my marines of that habit because a lot of marines got hurt by having a loose grenade. But he came out, he arrived out at Christmas time and the spirit of the men literally turned the 8th Army around. Eighth Army was in fragments. It was scattered all over the peninsula. He got us all lined up again and then began a very deliberate shoulder-to-shoulder offensive and we moved back up north. His first big operation was called Operation Ripper. The next one was called Operation Killer or maybe it was Killer that came first and then Ripper, but they were shoulder-to-shoulder offensives and we liked that way of fighting and not this running helter-skelter all over the peninsula as we had done before. He visited virtually all the units. I remember when he visited our battalion. we liked him. He would be my nomination for the best fighting American army general of the 20th century. He only had the command of the 8th Army for 4 months but in that time, he turned the 8th Army into one of the best expeditionary forces that the United States ever sent overseas. The defeatism and the bug-out fever and so forth that had afflicted the 8th Army before was eradicated and the 8th Army had become a first-class fighting outfit.