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The Scariest Place in the World: A Marine Returns to North Korea

The Scariest Place in the World: A Marine Returns to North Korea

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by James Brady

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Half a century after he fought there as a young lieutenant of Marines, James Brady returns to the brooding Korean ridgelines and mountains to sound Taps for a generation. It's been 15 years since Brady first wrote of Korea in The Coldest War, drawing raves from Walter Cronkite and The New York Times, which called it "a superb personal memoir of the way it


Half a century after he fought there as a young lieutenant of Marines, James Brady returns to the brooding Korean ridgelines and mountains to sound Taps for a generation. It's been 15 years since Brady first wrote of Korea in The Coldest War, drawing raves from Walter Cronkite and The New York Times, which called it "a superb personal memoir of the way it was."

In the spring of 2003 Brady and Pulitzer-winning combat photographer Eddie Adams, a couple of old Marines, "gentlemen rankers off on a spree," flew in Black Hawk choppers and trekked the Demilitarized Zone where it meanders into North Korea, interviewing four-star generals and bunking in with tough U.S. Recon troops, in Brady's words, "raw meat on the point of a sharpened stick." The two Marine veterans bond with this handful of youthful GIs confronting the loopy and nuclear saber-rattling North, in a contemporary Korea which just might become the war we have to fight next. Brady recalls that first time on bloody Hill 749, the men who died there, what happened to the Marines who lived to make it home, and experiences yet again the emotional pull of a lifelong love affair with the Corps in which they all served.

With consummate skill James Brady summons up the past and illuminates the present, be it the Korea of "the forgotten war", the Yanks who fought there long ago or today's soldiers standing wary sentinel over "the scariest place in the world". The result is uplifting, inspiring, often heart-breaking, and this new Brady memoir proves as powerful as his first.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This powerful narrative by the author of The Marines of Autum is an endearing piece of warrior's nostalgia, written with his accustomed skill by a seasoned writer. Returning to Korea, Brady revisits some of the places where he fought as a Marine platoon commander. In the opening, Brady finds his old battlefield of Hill 749 within sight of North Korean emplacements, although well-defended by a South Korean army vastly improved from what he remembers from 50-plus years ago. The rest of the narrative shifts back and forth, beginning with the author's nerve-wracking stroke to his going to Korea to write the Parade article on which this book is based. As Brady rides through Seoul with skyscrapers on every side, he remembers seeing it in 1951, when there wasn't a building taller than two stories left standing. Fellow Marines, from "the Skipper" (the company commander, the late Rhode Island governor and senator John Chaffee) on down, appear in their old age, and in their youth when they faced the Chinese with everything from artillery to bayonets. Brady, who expresses grave reservations about the Iraq War, sometimes moves from topic to topic fast enough to lose readers, but this book marks a highly admirable addition to his distinguished body of work. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Parade magazine columnist Brady (The Marines of Autumn) was a marine officer in the Korean War. In 2003, he returned to the scene of his combat experiences, now the Demilitarized Zone, and here uses the occasion to ruminate on the companions of his youth, all of whom seem to have been brilliant, destined to be famous, or tragically doomed. He also has a considerable amount to say about growing old, the pain of loss and the joy of achievement, and the changes that combat brings about in young men. Not unaware of the parallels with America's latest war, he contrasts the 37,000 American dead in his war with the thousand dead in Iraq at the time of writing. Despite the title, the book has little to say about North Korea and is more an act of looking back. Filled with a moderate degree of insight, careful disclosures about old comrades, and a healthy amount of self-deprecation, this successful journalistic memoir, sure to be widely promoted, is a very good candidate for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/04.]-Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An affecting memoir, by novelist/journalist Brady (The Marine, 2003, etc.), of service in what is still a strangely forgotten war. The Korean War followed WWII, and it had no shortage of men willing to fight it; as Brady writes, "some of us went almost eagerly and with a certain dash, having missed the 'Big War' and feeling left out." The young men who did officer training together at Quantico, Va., were a mixed bunch straight out of a WWII movie, but many had elevated pedigrees: there was Punch Sulzberger, for instance, who became publisher of the New York Times, along with future university provost Pete Soderbergh, whose son would become a movie director, and Washington Redskins quarterback Eddie LeBaron, and televangelist-in-the-making Pat Robertson. (Robertson's father was a U.S. senator, "with sufficient political muscle that his son hinted that the brass would sort of look after him, which stirred resentment among fellow officers and led to tribulations of near biblical proportions for young Lieutenant Robertson.") Off they went to war, and, fighting in the cold mountains of the two Koreas, many of them died, "raw meat on the end of a stick." That, of course, is what Marines do, and Brady cautions that you won't find many pacifists among their kind, though he has become a careful student of war and voices plain criticisms of the wars that have followed his. The present Brady, who is now in his late 70s, meets the younger one on a mission that must have been daunting: a journalistic assignment to revisit the places where he fought and where many of his friends died. His evocation of their lives and his lost youth is most moving, and so, too, are his notes on the passing of formercomrades who lived through the war: "The Quantico class of '51 wasn't doing so well," Brady mourns. "Life was closing in on us. Death was." Graceful, even elegant, and always eloquent tribute to men at arms in a war that, in a way, never ended.
From the Publisher
"James Brady has done it again. A riveting and illuminating insight into a dark corner of the world."

—Tim Russert, NBC's Meet the Press

"His evocation of their lives and his lost youth is most moving, and so, too, are his notes on the passing of former comrades... Graceful, even elegant, and always eloquent tribute to men at arms in a war that, in a way, never ended."


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The Scariest Place in the World
CHAPTER 1YOU NEVER SAW SUCH A THING, SAID GAUCHE, IMPRESSIONABLE LEFTENANT HOOPER.In the opening pages of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, a wartime detachment of Royal Marine Commandos bivouacs in the moonless night on the grounds of some vast but only glimpsed and half-suspected English country house. When the troops are roused at dawn, disoriented by the long train ride, by fatigue and the morning mists, and harried by their corporals and sergeants, Hooper, a gauche, easily impressed young leftenant from the unfashionable Midlands, hurries to wake the world-weary and Old Oxonian protagonist of the novel, Captain Charles Ryder, an older man disillusioned with the army.Atwitter about their lavish new surroundings, the provincial Hooper rhapsodizes about what he's seen so far of the strange estate, its palatial extent, its wonders and splendors, its supposed riches."'Great barrack of a place. I've just had a snoop around. Very ornate, I'd call it. And a queer thing, there's a sort of R.C. church attached. I looked in and there was a kind of service going on--just a padre and one old man. I felt very awkward ... . There's a frightful great fountain, too, in front of the steps, all rocks and sort of carved animals. You never saw such a thing,' he assures Ryder."'Yes, Hooper, I did. I've been here before ... .'"'Oh well, you know all about it. I'll go and get cleaned up.'"Ryder had been there before, we realize; he did know all about it. The great estate was called Brideshead, and it was there that Captain Ryder had been young and in love. Like Charles Ryder, I too was an aging former captain of Marines who had once gone to war, and there found love.Ours wasn't a towering and noble crusade such as World War II, but small and brutish, rather old-fashioned, on the other side of the world in the mountain snows and stinking paddies of a strange, antique Asian land, a long-ago little kingdom invaded and ransacked by marauding enemies over the millennia, and left lone and forlorn. By today's high-tech, more discriminating standards, it was a primitive war, to which half a century ago some of us went almost eagerly and with a certain dash, having missed the "Big War," and feeling left out. I fought there, in Korea both North and South, as a twenty-three-year-old infantry officer of American Marines.It was hard fighting by foot soldiers, often at hand-grenade range, against the tough little peasant army of a local warlord named Kim Il Sung, who'd learned his trade as a battalion commander in the Soviet Red Army in the Nazi war. For three years we fought Kim and his allies, the forty divisions of Chinese Communist regulars, killing plenty of them, and saving the marginally democratic country of South Korea, enabling its economic miracle.But we took our losses.In the three years of that war, from June of 1950 to July of '53, thirty-seven thousand Americans were killed, infantry soldiers and Marines mostly. Thirty-seven thousand dead in thirty-seven months. Put it in context. While this is being written in the summer of 2004, the Iraq war has been on for eighteen months and a thousand Americans have died. In Korea, a thousand of us were killed every month, month after deadly month for three years.This book is about that war and the Marines who fought it.It is also about a college kid from the Brooklyn fishing village ofSheepshead Bay and his love for the Marine Corps and the men with whom he campaigned: the classy university types, the roughnecks and the poets, the sophisticates and the hicks, the salty regulars and the freshly graduated, and what the Marines called "the Old Breed," the hard old China hands. It is about those who died, those who lived, some of them scarred forever, and the happy few who survived Korea and went on to fortune and occasionally to fame.The kid, as he was then, was a Marine rifle platoon leader, a member of an exclusive fraternity.In the entire Marine Corps of two divisions and 175,000 men, there are only 162 rifle platoons, each of them commanded by a young second lieutenant, for it is the most lethal job description in the Corps, a young man's work. After enough combat, men grow too wise to want to command a platoon. When Marines assault a beachhead or a hilltop or a fortified position, it is the rifle platoons that lead the way, that attack and smash, and sometimes break against, the enemy lines. The mortality rates are such that some of his forty-five men may never even get to meet their platoon leader before he is wounded, killed, or replaced. This is about one of those replacement lieutenants, who arrived Thanksgiving weekend of 1951 in the Taebaek Mountains of North Korea, and was given a Marine rifle platoon to lead.And it is about the place where he fought as a boy, the auld enemy he fought against, about his comrades in arms, and what happened to them after the fighting, all of this now seen through the focus of age at his house on Further Lane, where the lovely three-centuries-old beach town of East Hampton borders the ocean and where, in the night, he can hear the Atlantic combers crashing on the sand.The kid survived the war to become a newspaperman, covered the Senate during LBJ's era, came to know Jack and Bobby Kennedy, became a foreign correspondent, got to live in Paris and London, was an editor and publisher, went on television, learned about fashion, and about life, at the knee of Coco Chanel, knew Joe Heller and Truman Capote and Mailer, worked for Rupert Murdoch and had breakfast with Kate Hepburn, met the Queen, once rode in an ambulance with a badly burned Kurt Vonnegut, watched Dali havingcocktails at the Ritz, interviewed Malraux, and attended Ike's and de Gaulle's press conferences. On a Budget Day, from the press gallery of the House of Commons, he actually saw Churchill, bent and fat, deaf and very old. And at Cape Kennedy covering the Apollo 11 launch, he attended in one of those mammoth, echoing hangars a cocktail party with von Braun and Charles Lindbergh, the entire history of manned flight in the same room, the German mobbed by flatterers and Lindy in his muted gray business suit, alone and unnoticed, but graciously willing to chat when a journalist approached, bashfully, to say hello and talk a little about flying.Yet nothing he ever did in his life, except for having children and making a life as a writer of books, quite matched the intensity, the gravitas and sheer excitement of fighting in North Korea as a rifle platoon leader of Dog Company Marines under Captain John Chafee in 1951-52.It all happened a long time back when he was young, and half a century later in his seventies, listening to the sea at night, he remembers.THE SCARIEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. Copyright © 2005 by James Brady. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Meet the Author

James Brady commanded a Marine rifle platoon during the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor. He wrote weekly for Parade Magazine and for Advertising Age. He lived in Manhattan and in East Hampton, New York.

James Brady commanded a rifle platoon during the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor. He captured these experiences in his books The Scariest Place in the World, The Marine, his New York Times bestselling novels Warning of War and The Marines of Autumn, and in his highly praised memoir The Coldest War. His weekly columns for Parade magazine and Forbes.com were considered must-reads by millions. He lived in Manhattan and East Hampton, New York.

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Scariest Place in the World: A Marine Returns to North Korea 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very hard to get into. I have read many other Historical War Memoirs, some that have flowed and been easy to get into. Others that are really Herky jerky. This was one of those books that fails to really pull you in. It jumps all around giving a brief view of modern or historical information about someone, then jumps into battle information for a few pages. When the next chapter begins, you are back reading more about something else. Everyone has their own reading style. Myself, I like to read background info about people, then read about the issue (detailed info about the war), then finish up with Modern day details and what is happening.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A job well-done, with confusing streams of flashbacks, the only hitch being the misspelling of 'his Austrian wife ...' in the third paragraph from the top of page 106. Shouldn't it have read, 'Australian'?
Guest More than 1 year ago
When you read this book you get a flavor for what it was like to willingly risk your life in a conflict thousands of miles from home. Every young man should read this before they enlist in the Marines.