Remembering Korea: Dark Horse Six

As the final 50th anniversaries of the events of the Korean War come to an end in July, interested readers can get an unofficial take on the war’s first year from one of the key senior officers involved. Col. Robert D. Taplett, USMC (Ret.), commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment, has written his combat memoirs. Dark Horse Six: A Memoir of the Korean War 1950-1951 (Phillips Publications, 2002) may or may not turn up at the local chain bookstore, but it records a precious part of the history of the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. military, and the United States of America herself.

Why did he write the memoir now? “People have been pestering me at reunions to write it,” Taplett told this reviewer. “What my troops want is a description of what they did.”

Dark Horse Six is an unpretentious narrative of the actions taken by Taplett and his impressions during his battalion’s fighting in the Forgotten War, from plugging holes in the Pusan Perimeter in the desperate early months of the war to the high-risk amphibious assault at Inchon to breaking out of Chosin Reservoir after the 1st Marine Division was surrounded by nine Chinese divisions. Taplett’s 3/5 was one of the cornerstone combat units in the war: At more than one crucial point, its failure could easily have meant the loss of South Korea to the invading Communist North Koreans and their Communist Chinese allies.

The war began in typical style, with American politicians signaling to America’s enemies that she was weak and unwilling to fight. “The post-World War II frantic demobilization had left the U.S. Marine Corps a skeleton force of less than 70,000 personnel, equipped with war-weary weapons and supporting equipment,” Taplett writes (p. 17). And, wrote Col. Brooke Nihart, USMC (Ret.) in his introduction to the book, Secretary of State Dean Acheson had announced in a Jan. 12, 1950 speech “that neither Korea nor Taiwan were within the United States’ defense perimeter” (p. ix).

But America was not weak and she did fight. Taplett’s 3/5 formed part of the famous “Fire Brigade” that rushed from one section of the Pusan Perimeter to another, bolstering the Army in its efforts to preserve the small 60-mile-by-30-mile part of Korea still under South Korean control. The Marine colonel did not think much of the U.S. Army in Korea at the time. “After our entry into Korea, we discovered the lack of combat training and effectiveness of the Army units and their leaders after [their] occupation duty in Japan,” writes Taplett in one of his gentler comments.

He describes 3/5’s role in the incredible story of the Chosin Reservoir battle, during which the 1st Marine Division escaped from encircling Chinese divisions in extremely cold weather, taking their dead and wounded with them instead of leaving them behind as they made a fighting retreat. Taplett’s unit made the assault crossing of the Han River, helped take the capital of Seoul, and made a Recon in Force to the 38th parallel.

Taplett’s faith gave him strength. Just after receiving a dangerous assignment for 3/5 during Chosin Reservoir, Taplett confessed to Fr. Bernie Hickey. “As we walked south through the snow, he heard my confession,” Taplett writes. “I’ll never forget his consoling words of penance. In his quiet, soothing voice he said, ‘Tap, when the fighting down the Main Supply Route looks the darkest, just say, “Lord, not my will but thy will be done”. . .and it will make a difference and everything will be OK’” (p. 221). Taplett does not fail to describe the intense suffering, and in many cases death, that his men experienced in fighting to keep Communism out of a country thousands of miles away from home. It can be said without exaggeration that these are the sort of men that made America great, and are the sort that America’s cultural revolutionaries want to do away with today. And the New York Times reports that now, “Many young South Koreans sincerely believe what North Korea has taught for decades: that American troops arrived here in 1950 and split the nation in two.”

Certainly not all young Koreans recall the Korean War in a Stalinist, Big Lie manner. A former Marine wrote a letter to Leatherneck (November 2002) about a 1996 business trip to Seoul, where a young Korean engineer came up to him: “In his imperfect English, he said, ‘Mr. Rod, I want you to know that we appreciate your being here before.’ I explained to him that I had been there after the official end of combat, but he told me that did not matter. He said, ‘We know you gave a year of your life to help us, and we remember.’” So did Col. Robert Taplett.


Dark Horse Six can be ordered from Phillips Publications, P.O. Box 168, Williamstown, N.J. 08094 (609-567-0695; fax: 609-561-4967), $29.95 plus $4 S&H.