Today marks the 60th anniversary of the disappearance of my uncle, 1st Lt. James Carroll Hutchins, somewhere in the vicinity of Kumhwa, Korea.
Kumhwa is in the Iron Triangle, and was the scene of intense fighting in the days approaching Christmas 1951 as the Allied northern advance was slowed by Chinese and North Korean forces.
In June 1950, the North Koreans poured across the armistice line (the 38th Parallel) and drove the South Koreans all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula. General Douglas MacArthur, commanding the Allied forces under the aegis of the newly formed United Nations, drove them back and recaptured the peninsula south of the 38th Parallel. It was then he made a geopolitical blunder of epic proportions.
The Chinese had stated publicly and repeatedly that they would enter the war if United Nations forces pushed north of the 38th Parallel. MacArthur was ordered by the Commander in Chief, President Harry S Truman, not to conduct military operations north of this line without express authorization from Truman.
In violation of this order, in November 1950, MacArthur attempted to push the North Korean forces past the 38th Parallel and to the Yalu River, marking the border between North Korea and China.
MacArthur gambled that that the Chinese would not enter the war. Even if they did, MacArthur felt, the Chinese would be easily defeated. He also gambled that he could violate Truman’s direct orders with impunity. He was wrong on all three counts.
The Chinese entered the war. A stalemate resulted, one which led to the death of my uncle and which lasts to this day. On April 11, 1951, Truman fired MacArthur.
Sixty years on, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, near where my uncle was captured or killed, remains where General Matthew Ridgway massed Allied forces in April 1951. Christmastime for my family has always been a mixture of joy for the season and sadness at what was lost. I have spent the last 30 years trying to locate, and repatriate, my uncle’s remains. And the DMZ remains the most heavily fortified location in the world.
- No ‘Pyongyang Spring,” but chance for change (cnn.com)
- Dear Leader’s Unfinished Business (thedailybeast.com)
- The Learning Network Blog: Dec. 16, 1950 | President Truman Proclaims State of Emergency During Korean War (learning.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Kim Jong-il: A dozen days of mourning for the leader born under a double rainbow (telegraph.co.uk)