Book Review: Mayday Over Wichita

by Abigail Pfeiffer on October 30, 2013

DW Carter - Mayday Over Wichita

Recently I had the pleasure of reviewing a book for a classmate of mine from Norwich University. One year out of graduate school, and David Carter has published his first book….and the Norwich Family is very proud! It is so great to see former classmates from Norwich making a name for themselves in the history field.

Carter’s book, “Mayday Over Wichita: The Worst Military Aviation Disaster in Kansas History” is currently available on Amazon in print or kindle version.

I wrote my review of Carter’s book and posted it to Amazon. Since Google does not appreciate duplicate content, I decided not to post my review here. Please click here to read my review of “Mayday Over Wichita” on Amazon.

Carter has been busy since the book release with book signings and other promotional events. Click here to watch an interview of Carter by a local Kansas TV station. If you want to learn more about the book, you can watch the book trailer on Youtube.

To keep up with Carter and news about the book, you can visit his Facebook page.

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Disappointed by the History Channel….yet again

by Abigail Pfeiffer on June 6, 2013

History Channel meme

Well, it appears that the History Channel has learned nothing from my scathing post about them a few years ago and the many comments backing up my position. Clearly they are not listening to their plethora of viewers (I would say fans, but at this point I would not claim to be a fan) who are BEGGING for them to quit with the shitty reality TV. At the very least, all we want is for them to honor important dates in history. Is that too much to ask? That does not include a Pawn Stars marathon on D-Day and Memorial Day.

Please join me in being majorly pissed off at the History Channel.  Yeah History Channel, we are looking at you and not liking what we are seeing.

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New Documentary About Vietnam War MIA

by Abigail Pfeiffer on April 30, 2013

Today a new documentary concerning an American MIA soldier from the Vietnam War is being premiered at the “Hot Docs” film festival in Toronto. The film focuses on Special Forces Green Beret Master Sgt. John Robertson. Robertson was listed as KIA after being shot down in Laos in 1968 during a classified mission. The film follows Tom Faunce, a Vietnam Veteran, as he attempts to prove Robertson’s identity. Robertson allegedly does not speak English anymore and has lived in Vietnam for the last 44 years. After the film’s release in Toronto, it will be released to American audiences in Washington D.C.

The subject of American soldiers left behind in Vietnam and Korea has proven to be a provocative issue, one that is not easily proven or dis proven. There have been countless sightings of American soldiers in Vietnam, Korea, and the Soviet Union. I recently read a memoir, Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor, in which the author indicated that he saw elderly American’s in the camp, which the reader can assume are POWs left behind during the Korean War.

Since this film is not yet released in the United States, I cannot comment on whether I believe that Robertson is actually Sgt. John Robertson. On one hand, it is hard to believe that the United States government knowingly left POWs behind, but it is possible that they did or they unknowingly left men behind who they presumed were KIA. The trailer for the film is below. Will you be watching?

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Medal of Honor to be given to Korean War POW

by Abigail Pfeiffer on March 14, 2013

Photo of Emil Kapaun as a First Lieutenant. Photo courtesy of http://www.army.mil

This week, the White House and President Obama announced that the Medal Of Honor, the highest award given for bravery during war, will be given posthumously  to Father Emil Joseph Kapaun for his bravery during battle at Unsan, North Korea and at his subsequent time in a North Korean POW camp.

Kapaun was captured in November 1950 at Unsan, North Korea. During this battle, several battalions of the 8th Cavalry Division were overrun by Chinese soldiers, and Kapaun’s courageous acts helping the wounded endeared him to the enlisted men and officers alike. In an article for the Wichita Eagle, Roy Wenzl wrote: “GIs saw Kapaun running from foxhole to foxhole, dragging wounded out, saying prayers over the dying, hearing confessions amid gunfire, ripping open shirts to look at wounds. Men screamed at him to escape, but he ignored them.”

Lt. Walt Mayo witnessed Kapaun run 300 yards outside the defensive perimeter to bring the wounded soldiers into the perimeter. During the battle, Kapaun focused on giving aid and comfort to the wounded along with the company doctors. The Chinese fired mortar rounds into the dugout that held the wounded, and eventually Kapaun decided to surrender and “appeal to Chinese humanity.”

Becoming a POW is never a positive scenario, but to be a POW of the Chinese and North Koreans in 1950-1951 was the worst of luck. The majority of prisoners who died in Communist POW camps during the Korean War died between 1950-1951. Mainly this was due to the intentional starvation of the prisoners.

During the freezing march to the prisoner camp,  Kapaun carried men who were too weak or wounded to walk. In addition, he encouraged others who were strong enough to carry the weaker men, who would be shot if they failed to keep up with the march. He earned the respect of the soldiers who recognized his strength and compassion.

While at the camp, Kapaun led men in stealing food, because he understood that in their situation it was “steal or starve.” When the death rates began increasing and men were dying from exposure and malnutrition, they could still count on Kapaun to offer hope and whatever help he could possibly give. He dug latrines, mediated disagreements between POWs, gave away his own food and clothing, and worked to increase camp morale.

One of the men who was in the POW camp with Kapaun noted that: “The miracle of Father Kapaun was not just that he patched leaky buckets

Capt. Kapaun (right),helps another soldier carry an exhausted troop off the battlefield early in the Korean War. Photo courtesy of www.army.mil

or stole food. It was that he rallied men to embrace life when life looked hopeless. When starvation inspired betrayals, Kapaun inspired brotherhood.”

Sadly, in spring 1951, Father Kapaun succumbed to a blood clot and died in May 1951 while still incarcerated as a POW. In death, he still inspired the men in camp to carry on and survive and he, and his legacy, have not been forgotten.

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Book Review: In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation

by Abigail Pfeiffer on January 23, 2013

In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans who Fought the Korean War by Melinda Pash

November, 2012. 349 pages, includes index and bibliography, $35.00

Published by NYU Press

In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation

American historical scholarship has often neglected the Korean War and the service people who served in Korea. Melinda Pash introduced us to these men and women in her book In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans who Fought the Korean War. This book is not a military history of the Korean War, so the reader will not find in depth analysis of the Inchon landing or the Chosin Reservoir. Instead, Pash focused on the people who answered the call to service in America’s first military action after WWII.  She concentrated on the upbringing of the Korean War veterans, their training, wartime experiences, attitudes, and post-war lives. As time progresses, this “generation is passing and with it the opportunity to give a face to those who served and to understand the impact that this war had on veterans and on the world to which they returned.”

After WWII, Americans were eager to move on with their lives.  The men and women who came home from Europe and the Pacific started families, went to college, secured jobs, and tried to put the war behind them. Five short years after the conclusion of WWII, North Korea invaded South Korea and the United States was officially involved in their first conflict of the Cold War. However, after WWII, the United States government downsized the military so who was going to fight this war? Many men and women voluntarily enlisted instead of waiting to be drafted, for many reasons, including financial need, family military heritage, and increased recruitment efforts by military. In addition, many men who were too young to serve in WWII found the Korean War their opportunity to serve their country.  Many other men were drafted, nearly half a million a year throughout the duration of the war.

The next step for the new inductees was basic training for their respective service branch. American military leaders were shorthanded in Korea and men were sent to Korea immediately after basic training, instead of the previous policy of stateside assignments or advanced training prior to shipping overseas. When soldiers and military nurses first arrived in Korea, they found a country that many  “often took a dim view of the land Uncle Sam called them to defend.” Some of the early soldiers to arrive in Korea expected to be home by Christmas, but as the months dragged on, it became clear that little to no progress was being made.

Over 7,000 American servicemen became prisoners of war in Korea. Pash dedicated a chapter to the Korean War POW experience. The Korean War POW experience was anything but pleasant and the American POWs experienced extremely high death rates while imprisoned. The men who spent the war in North Korean and Chinese prison camps came home to a government that questioned their loyalty and to a public that “overwhelmingly found the chilly novelty of brainwashing and tales of collaboration infinitely more interesting than POW denials that Chinese indoctrination had succeeded. “ They were accused of high rates of collaboration with the enemy and their courage as soldiers was doubted.

Pash described the racial and gender changes that took place in the 1950’s military. The United States military was in the very early stages of racial integration at the outbreak of the Korean War. While legally the military was integrated, segregation still was common, and black men who were posted at Southern bases found themselves subject to local Jim Crow laws when they left base. But when black and white soldiers served together in Korea., most learned to coexist peacefully. It was difficult for some black soldiers to come back home after their tour was completed to a society that still viewed them as inferior. Women also served in Korea, some in front line MASH units, and they experienced their own discrimination. Women veterans of Korea often found it difficult to gain the same benefits from the military since they were not men or considered head of a household.

For the men and women who survived Korea and made it home, many found a much different homecoming than the soldiers of WWII experienced.  When Korean War veterans arrived home in the United States, they found “no bands, no cheering crowds, and no tickertape parade.”  This is not to say that communities did not welcome their veterans home at all, however, as the war continued, public interest waned. The veterans who returned home dealt with lingering emotions from the war, going to college, getting acclimated to home, and moving on with their lives.

A decade following the armistice of the Korean War, American found herself in another Cold War conflict, this time in Vietnam.  The war in Vietnam lasted three times as long as the Korean War and has produced a large amount of historical scholarship. Sadly, the Korean War, sandwiched between WWII and Vietnam, has decidedly lacked in historical scholarship in comparison. With the generation of veterans from the Korean War aging, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that only 2.5 million Korean War era survivors would still be alive, and none under the age of 70. It is crucial that historians document the stories of these men and women before their generation is completely gone.

I would recommend this book for a general audience with an interest in the Korean War and its veterans, as well as for historians of this era. Military historians will find this book useful, however, war and society historians will find it more useful than military historians who focus on strategy and tactics.

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