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Secrets of Inchon: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Covert Mission of the Korean War

Secrets of Inchon: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Covert Mission of the Korean War

5.0 1
by Eugene Franklin Clark, Thomas J. Fleming, Thomas Fleming (Epilogue by)

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This first-hand account of a crucial, but little-known, covert mission of the Korean War offers a revealing and remarkable story of wartime courage-from the very man who led the mission.

According to his colleagues, Commander Eugene Franklin Clark had "the nerves of a burglar and the flair of a Barbary Coast Pirate." And in August 1950, when General MacArthur


This first-hand account of a crucial, but little-known, covert mission of the Korean War offers a revealing and remarkable story of wartime courage-from the very man who led the mission.

According to his colleagues, Commander Eugene Franklin Clark had "the nerves of a burglar and the flair of a Barbary Coast Pirate." And in August 1950, when General MacArthur made the unpopular decision to invade Inchon-a move considered by many to be tactical suicide-he sent in Clark to find out what they needed to know.

Editorial Reviews

It was the kind of discovery that most historians can only dream about. After publishing an article about the Inchon Korean War campaign, author Thomas Fleming was contacted by the widow of Eugene Franklin Clark, who had led a crucial but little-known covert mission before the battle. Instead of offering a few secondhand memories, Mrs. Clark offered Fleming an original manuscript, a first-person chronicle that Clark had written and then placed in a safe-deposit box. Clark's account of his compromised foray behind enemy lines pulses with excitement. It justifies a WWII colleague's admiring description of him: "He had the nerves of a burglar and the flair of a Barbary Coast pirate."
Publishers Weekly
Prolific historian Fleming (The Officers' Wives, etc.) was researching an article on Inchon when he interviewed the widow of Clark, a naval officer on General MacArthur's intelligence staff who died in 1998, about his role in intelligence gathering for the amphibious landing at Inchon Harbor an operation that turned the tide of the Korean War. She in turn produced the manuscript of this book from a safe deposit box, and the result is this workmanlike yet compelling memoir, written in the early '50s, soon after Clark's return. Clark volunteered for a mission that eventually included a naval skirmish between Korean junks, a commando raid on a communist-held island to capture prisoners and free imprisoned civilians, an infantry engagement with communist infiltrators, and Clark's takeover of a harbor lighthouse to light the fleet's way for the eventual invasion. Sympathetic observations on Korean culture are augmented by misconceptions, and extensive descriptions of tactics and reconstructed dialogue can be wearing. Yet this is a self-effacing account that openly acknowledges mistakes and misgivings, and Clark, who studied law at Princeton, learned Japanese and was eventually awarded the Silver Star, an oak leaf cluster and the Navy Cross, has considerable powers of observation that are apparent throughout. The use of "covert" in the subtitle is a bit puzzling, since the North Koreans were aware of Clark's presence in Inchon Harbor the entire time he was there, but this is a solid memoir of an important Korean War battle.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Chicago Sun Times
exceedingly engaging...
Library Journal
In 1950, as the North Koreans overwhelmed South Korea, American Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered an amphibious landing at the port city of Inchon and then a march to Seoul, the South Korean capital. Before the invasion, he needed information on enemy troop movements, weapons placement, and local residents' attitudes toward UN forces. He assigned Lieutenant Clark the task of intelligence gathering. With two South Korean army officers, Clark landed on an island near Inchon harbor and organized a makeshift guerrilla force with anti-Communist fishermen and local villagers. For two weeks, he and his men gathered intelligence, conducted night raids, and prepared the way for the invasion. Clark, who was later awarded the Silver Star for his part in the campaign, wrote this account shortly after the war as a testimony for his family. Novelist and historian Thomas Fleming (The New Dealer's War), who wrote the introduction and epilog, was given the manuscript when he met Clark's family while researching the battle. Clark's account, which had sat in a safe deposit box for nearly half a century, reads like a novel and holds the reader right to the end. This firsthand account of a crucial yet unsung operation of the war is highly recommended for public and academic libraries. Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Rip-roaring first-person narrative of an espionage mission that may well have saved 100,000 American lives during the Korean War. Driven to a salient on the southern coast of Korea following a 1950 invasion of Communist forces from the north, Douglas MacArthur's army was in imminent danger of encirclement and annihilation. MacArthur proposed a daring campaign by which American forces would land at Inchon, a coastal city west of Seoul, and relieve the captured capital. When his generals protested that the chances for success were appallingly small, MacArthur calmly replied that if the Americans thought it was impossible, so would the North Koreans. "That gave us the key element in any attack, large or small-surprise," writes Clark, who in 1950 was a naval lieutenant. Problem was, very little was known about the tides, islands, and underwater obstacles of the thin channel that led to the projected landing zone. It was up to Clark and a team of Korean intelligence experts to infiltrate the area, gather this information, and convey it to MacArthur. So they did, against all odds and with thousands of North Koreans breathing down their necks. Having recruited the support of the locals, they were even able to employ a lighthouse to show the American armada the way. The military-memoir genre is often overstuffed with poorly written, self-serving accounts, but Clark's is neither; he tells his story exceedingly well and with uncommon modesty, reserving praise for his comrades. Clark, who died in 1998, wrote this account for his family, and the unpublished manuscript lay in a safe-deposit box for half a century until it came to the attention of historian Thomas Fleming, who shepherded it topublication and provides an introduction. A solid work of military history by an authentic hero who illuminates the opening days of a now little-remembered conflict.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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5.92(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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The Untold Story of the Most Daring Covert Mission of the Korean War

By Commander Eugene Franklin Clark, USN


Copyright © 2002 The Franklin-Clark Family Trust.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 039914871X

Chapter One

On August 26, 1950, I was summoned to the office of Captain Edward Pearce, USN, in the Dai Ichi Insurance Building in downtown Tokyo, overlooking Emperor Hirohito's imperial palace. For the past year, I had been serving under Captain Pearce on General Douglas MacArthur's staff.

    "Gene," Eddie Pearce said in his gruff deadpan way, "I believe we've cooked up a little rumble you're going to like."

    The twinkle in Pearce's gray eyes intrigued me. So did the eager expectation on the face of the other man in Pearce's office, Major General Holmes E. Dager. He had been one of General George S. Patton's tank commanders during World War II. Between them, these two guys had seen a lot of bullets and shells fly in that global struggle. Now a new war had exploded in Korea. I sensed they were about to invite me to sample some excitement in this fracas.

    I said nothing, while Eddie Pearce shifted in his chair and leaned toward me. "We're going to make an amphibious landing at Inchon on 15 September, and General MacArthur says it's essential we obtain more timely and accurate information on everything in and around the place—at once."

    "How would you like to try to get us that information?" General Dager asked.

    On June 24, 1950, Communist North Korea had invaded South Korea with fourteen well-trained divisions. They quickly captured the capital, Seoul, and smashed the lightly armed Republic of Korea army with a lavish use of artillery and tanks. President Harry S. Truman had ordered General MacArthur to send American soldiers to resist this act of naked aggression.

    The green GIs, mostly draftees in combat for the first time, had been driven back to a precarious perimeter around the port of Pusan, on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. They were clinging to this enclave, under ferocious North Korean attack. Many people in General Headquarters thought it was only a matter of time before we faced an American Dunkerque. In Washington, D.C., shudders ran through the White House at the possibility that if the North Koreans succeeded in spreading Communism at the point of a gun, the Russians might try something similar in Europe. There was also a very visible threat to Japan, where President Truman had done his utmost to exclude Communist influence. The tip of Korea was only about ninety miles from Kyushu, Japan's southernmost island.

    I was devoted to Captain Pearce. The white-haired Annapolis man had accepted me without the slightest hint of the condescension often displayed by some naval academy graduates toward "mustangs"—officers appointed from the enlisted ranks during World War II. That was how I had won my commission. A yeoman, I had risen from seaman to chief petty officer—the highest rank an enlisted man can achieve. But I disliked captaining what I sometimes called an "LMD"—a Large Mahogany Desk—and applied for a commission to get myself into the war zone.

    I was not completely surprised by Eddie Pearce's proposition. Since the war in Korea began, I had been working in the Geographic Branch of General MacArthur's staff, gathering information about tides, terrain, and landing facilities at various ports along both coasts of South Korea. I had participated in amphibious operations during World War II, notably on Okinawa, the last big battle of the Pacific war, and knew what was needed to make a successful landing on an enemy-held shore. I and other members of my research team had scoured every possible source, from old Japanese studies to aerial photography taken during World War II—and had come up with very little that was reliable about either Korean coast. Major General Charles Willoughby, MacArthur's intelligence chief, had expressed grave dissatisfaction with our reports.

    My experience as an amphibian also enabled me to grasp why a landing at Inchon required absolutely reliable information. The port was on Korea's west coast, 180 miles north of the Pusan perimeter. If anything went wrong at Inchon, the American attackers would be in serious danger of being flung back into the sea with horrendous casualties. The fighting men around Pusan were too far away to give them any support. From my preliminary research, I already knew that the approach to Inchon was complicated by tides that rose and fell twenty-nine feet in a twenty-four-hour period—leaving miles of mudflats, some extending six thousand yards from the shoreline at low water.

    "I know we've gone to the limit in researching this matter," I said. "So I take it that a little personal look-see trip is in order. Is that correct, Captain?"

    "That's right, Gene," Pearce said. "It's going to require a reconnaissance of the Inchon area by someone qualified to observe and transmit back to Tokyo the information we currently lack. I believe you're the man for the job."

    "I'd certainly like to take a crack at it," I said—simultaneously trying to visualize what this rumble might involve. I had an uneasy feeling it was not going to be a pleasure trip. At thirty-nine, I was getting a little old for the commando game. But I preferred excitement to desk work. I had had a pretty good taste of action on Okinawa and nearby islands, dealing with Japanese troops who were inclined to stage a final banzai charge rather than surrender. After the war, I had enjoyed some highly clandestine operations along the China coast, trying to help the Nationalist Chinese in their losing struggle with the Communists.

    "I told General Willoughby you'd be ready to tackle the job," Captain Pearce said, visibly pleased. "You will report to General Dager until the completion of this mission, as of now."

    "Aye aye, sir!" I said.

    In the elevator, General Dager told me to get him a list of what I would need for the expedition by the following morning. With it should be a target date for my departure to the vicinity of Inchon.

    Back in my office, I sat down at my desk and lit my pipe. Below me spread the peaceful, exquisitely beautiful grounds of the Japanese imperial palace. It was hard to believe that men were fighting and dying around Pusan while I gazed down at this oasis of serenity. Struggling to concentrate, I called in my secretary, Florence Truitt, and told her to start pulling information from the files about Communist strength around Inchon. I began gathering data about the people on the islands neighboring the port. One of these islands would be the most likely place for me to set up this operation.

    After an hour or two of note-taking and listing what I needed in the way of food, guns, and ammunition, I became dismayed at the length of the dossier I was compiling and decided to go home to think the whole thing over for twenty-four hours.

    In our house on the outskirts of Tokyo, I found my wife, Enid, my daughter, Genine, twelve, and my son, Roger, nine, waiting to join me for dinner. With a pang, I realized I could not tell Enid where I was going. All I could say was that the U.S. Navy had done it again, they were shipping me to northern Japan on another confidential assignment. I loved Enid deeply. We had met in high school and married so quickly, I decided not to bother graduating. I also regarded her as one of the most patient women alive.

    After the years of separation inflicted by World War II, I had hoped we would be reunited in occupied Japan. But the Navy repeatedly interfered in this happy dream by altering my orders with no warning. At first I captained LST 865, which operated out of Yokosuka, the big naval base on Tokyo Harbor, on runs up the China coast. But I was forced to surrender this, my first ship command, to the Philippine Naval Patrol, which soon beached her on an unwelcoming shore and left her there to rust.

    Next I briefly captained the attack transport USS Errol. But I lost this ship, too, when the Navy ordered me to Guam to serve as chief interpreter in the war crimes trials of Japan's wartime leaders. Finally I was shifted back to General MacArthur's staff in Tokyo, where we endured a waiting list for decent quarters. Even when we finally got a steam-heated house in a Tokyo suburb, I was frequently away in the north of Japan, interrogating Japanese prisoners repatriated from Communist Russia. Through it all, Enid never lost her good cheer. She was a truly wonderful wife, and I tried to let her know it now and then.

    It was not easy to tell Enid a white lie about my new assignment. I made it sound like some unfinished business in the repatriation centers in the north. I told myself the fib was far better than having her toss and turn all night for the next three weeks, wondering whether her husband would come back in one piece from this jaunt into Communist-held waters.

    The next morning, I kissed her and the kids goodbye and returned to Tokyo to begin putting together the men and equipment we would need for our rumble. I began with the men. I flew to Taegu, Korea, another town inside the Pusan perimeter, and recruited a bilingual Korean Navy lieutenant, Youn Joung, and a former Korean counterintelligence officer, Colonel Ke In-Ju. Both had served on General MacArthur's staff before the war broke out. I had a pretty good personal estimate of their qualifications, and they had gotten gold-plated praise from several men whose opinions I respected.

    While I was in the vicinity, I decided to take a look at how the Korean "police action," as President Harry Truman called it, was being fought. I found an old army buddy I knew from Okinawa, and we jeeped to the front lines. We watched while a company of infantry got ready to assault North Koreans dug into high ground just ahead of them. American artillery was plastering the enemy with phosphorus shells, a weapon we had learned they feared and detested. The North Koreans responded with mortar shells, which began kicking up a lot of dirt on the road just behind us. My friend suggested it might be a good idea to put some distance between ourselves and this firefight, since we were armed only with pistols—and the NKPA (North Korean People's Army) had an unpleasant habit of executing prisoners of war.

    At my friend's quarters, I got the lowdown on Taegu. The town was being overwhelmed by a horde of civilian refugees. I had taken a concentrated course in sanitation when I trained to become part of the military government of Okinawa, and I saw at a glance the place was ripe for outbreaks of typhus, typhoid, and the other diseases that breed in filth. Later in the day, my pal took me to an area where the Americans were trying to put young Koreans through a forced-draft course in soldiering. It was located on one of the local heights, and I could see from the elevation much of the battle line of the American perimeter. I heard the rumble of artillery to the north, where the Communists were trying to cross the Naktong River, the last natural barrier before Pusan. This infantryman's-eye view of the war underscored the importance of the Inchon landing. There was little doubt that the American situation in Korea was precarious to the point of desperation.

    By this time I had learned what was happening behind the scenes at the Dai Ichi Building and in the corridors of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. It underlined the word desperation in my mind and put a few question marks after it. General MacArthur's decision to invade Inchon was a daring gamble in a half dozen ways. He was withdrawing badly needed troops such as the Marine brigade from the Pusan perimeter and combining them with reinforcements arriving from the United States and Europe. This strike force was supposed to drive inland from Inchon to seize South Korea's capital, Seoul, and sever the North Korean army's supply lines.

    It was brilliant strategy—but the devil was in the hairy tactical details of this risky venture, code-named CHROMITE. General J. Lawton Collins, the U.S. Army's chief of staff, and Admiral Forrest Sherman, the Chief of Naval Operations, had flown to Tokyo to talk MacArthur out of it. At an historic briefing session in the Dai Ichi Building, Navy and Army planners had been more than a little pessimistic about attacking Inchon. At the end of the session, after scarcely a voice had been raised in favor of the proposal, Rear Admiral James H. Doyle, the man in command of the amphibious side of the operation, said: "General, I have not been asked nor have I volunteered my opinion about this landing. If I were asked, however, the best I can say is Inchon is not impossible."

    Through this negative barrage, MacArthur sat in silence, puffing on his pipe. After the last man had spoken, the general remained silent for another full minute. Then he rose and gave a speech that for sheer eloquence has probably never been equaled in American military annals. He told the assembled admirals and generals that the very arguments they had used against Inchon were the prime reason why he wanted to execute CHROMITE. If the Americans thought it was close to impossible, so did the North Koreans, and that gave us the key element in any attack, large or small—surprise.

    MacArthur ended with a peroration that was soon echoing through the Dai Ichi Building. He said the prestige of the Western world was hanging in the balance in Korea. The Orient's millions were watching the outcome. Communism had elected to launch its march to global domination here in Asia. In Europe, we were able to fight Communism with words. Here, we had no choice but to do it with deeds. Inchon was a deed that would resound throughout the civilized world—and save 100,000 American lives.

    General Collins was reduced to surly silence and Admiral Sherman became a believer. They flew back to Washington, D.C., where, with great reluctance, the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave Inchon their approval. To cover their rears, they asked President Truman to give his explicit permission for the operation. The ex-artilleryman from World War I said it was a plan worthy of a great captain and gave us the green light.

    Back in Tokyo from my flying trip to Korea, I told Captain Pearce we were almost ready to shove off. He handed me secret orders that introduced me to Rear Admiral Sir William Andrewes of the Royal Navy, who was in command of the naval forces blockading the west coast of Korea. Soon my two Korean lieutenants and I were in Sasebo, a port on the East China Sea in Kyushu. There Admiral Andrewes presided aboard his flagship, HMS Ladybird.

    Before I presented my orders to the admiral, I had a final, extremely important chore to perform. I had to turn my list of weapons and supplies into reality. I had waited until the brink of departure because I had learned an old shipmate, Lieutenant Commander Russell Q. "Shorty" June, was the executive officer of the Sasebo Naval Base. I thought I had a better chance of getting everything I wanted from Shorty. Was I ever right. Laying my requirements before him, I explained that my mission was secret in nature—and urgent. Without another word, he grabbed the phone and called his supply officer, directing him to give me everything I asked for and if he didn't have it to get it from the local Army outfit.

    Having placed this wheel in motion, I hopped over to the BOQ (Bachelor Officers' Quarters), took a quick shave, and called in Youn and Ke for a conference. I asked them to put their heads together and come up with an answer to how much native (Korean) food we should bring and whatever other items of gear they thought we might need. They told me rice and dried fish should be at the top of such a list—especially rice. The Reds were requisitioning every available grain of rice in South Korea to feed their invasion army. From there I headed for Admiral Andrewes's flagship, tied up alongside the wharf.

    I had had the privilege of meeting Sir William and his chief of staff, Captain James, at a dinner party aboard his then flagship, HMS Belfast, at Yokusaka the previous May. It was at that party Enid was first introduced to the British sleeper, pink gin. In consequence, my reception by Sir William and Captain James was somewhat more than cordial. After I had broken out my secret orders and they had been thoroughly digested, the admiral queried Captain James about available transportation.


Excerpted from THE SECRETS OF INCHON by Commander Eugene Franklin Clark, USN. Copyright © 2002 by The Franklin-Clark Family Trust. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Commander Eugene Franklin Clark, USN retired from the Navy in 1966. He lived in California and Nevada for the rest of his life.

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Secrets of Inchon: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Covert Mission of the Korean War 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just an incredible first hand account of the Korean war. A remarkable tale of men and war that reads like good fiction, rivaling Col Hans van Luck's 'Panzer Commander'.