A heavy rainstorm was lashing the Korean peninsula in the predawn darkness of June 25, 1950. Suddenly the black sky was illuminated by a yellowish glow from the muzzle blasts of hundreds of North Korean guns along the 38th Parallel, the dividing line between the Communist regime in the north and the democratic government of South Korea.1
Twenty minutes later the deluge of explosives lifted, and the quaint tone of bugles rang out--the signal for the massed North Korean forces to plunge across the parallel. South Korean troops were taken by total surprise. Without tanks, heavy artillery, antitank guns, or warplanes, they began to fall back. Within two hours, the retreat turned into a rout. It was every South Korean soldier for himself.
In New York, the United Nations Security Council called for an immediate end to hostilities and demanded that North Korea pull its forces back behind the 38th Parallel. Kim Il Sung, the Soviet-trained dictator of North Korea, ignored the order, and his army drove onward.
In Washington, President Harry Truman and the Joint Chiefs were gripped by a haunting specter: Was the North Korean invasion merely a strategic feint to draw U.S. attention away from Europe where the Soviet Union's powerful army might strike? If Kim Il Sung's aggression were left unchallenged, however, Josef Stalin could be emboldened to attack, Truman was convinced.
Consequently, two days after the North Korean army charged across the border, Truman, with the support of the United Nations Security Council, ordered General Douglas MacArthur in Tokyo to launch U.S. fighter planes and bombers in Japan against the Communist invaders. Then MacArthur was directed to rush troops from Japan to bolster the reeling and outgunned South Korean army.2
Less than twenty-four hours after Truman sent in U.S. ground forces, a C-54 transport plane landed at Kimpo airfield, a few miles southwest of Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Two planes were burning fiercely at the end of the runway. When the C-54 halted, out hopped four American newspaper correspondents, including Marguerite Higgins of the New York