1st Lt. James Car­roll Hutchins

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.

Map of the DMZ and 38th Par­al­lel. Source: Wikipedia.

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.

The deaths of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will not likely change what MacArthur wrought.