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'From the Cockpit' : Coming of Age in the Korean War

Kenneth 'Tex' Atkinson, Commander, U.S. Navy (retired), received his wings in July 1949. He was commissioned an Ensign in October of that year and served as a carrier pilot until 1960, when he transferred to the Naval Reserve. From then until his retirement from the Navy, he flew in a Patrol Squadron in New Orleans, retiring as a Squadron Skipper in 1968. He made five carrier tours, flying over 100 combat missions in Korea and holds an assortment of awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. Atkinson spent most of his early years in and around central Texas; hence the nickname, 'Tex'. This book is a combination of his first-hand experiences as a Naval Aviator and personal memoirs of growing up in the 1930s and 1940s. A personal tale of love, life, war, and family told simply and honestly with a writing style that takes you from tears to laughter and back again. Each word draws you closer, and soon you are turning pages, seeing the world through the eyes of a boy who became a man during the Korean War.

To read more, visit Tex Atkinson's Web Site by clicking here

Extract of - 'From the Cockpit' : Coming of Age in the Korean War

If the Korean War had played on Broadway, it would have been one of the great flops of all time. The opening date of June 25, 1950, was remarkably bad timing-only five years after the end of World War II. The millions who fought and survived that pandemonium were desperately trying to build a new life and forget the chaos from which millions had not survived. Korea? Whoever heard of the place?

So when President Harry Truman ordered American troops to Korea via the United Nations, the majority of our nation read the headlines, muttered something like 'Old Harry! He's got his dander up again', and went back to the business at hand. Some were completing their education, using their GI-Bill benefits. Others were starting a new family. Companies that had stashed profits during the war were expanding. Other new companies were starting. Fresh technology was bursting at the seams, eager to be developed: plastics, rayon, Tucker and Kaiser-Fraiser automobiles, jet airplanes, something called TV, and new sophisticated calculators that would grow up to be computers. And hanging like a dark cloud over all was the beginning of a New Age called 'Atomic'.

Few, if any, were interested in a new war. But despite the bad timing the show opened. It played for three years, killed over 50,000 of our fighting men and closed quietly where it started-along a man-made line called the 38th parallel.

The war was fought by United Nations forces, by North and South Koreans, and by Chinese and Russians. The preponderance of the United Nations' forces was US military men. Many were veterans from World War II who had remained in the service. But most were young draftees; and still others were reservists recalled from civilian life.

In name, our forces were about the same as we have today. The Army sent several divisions. The Navy was there with carriers and battleships, with destroyers and tankers and hospital ships. The same Marines who made beach landings in the Pacific just a few years before would make landings in Korea. The flying branch of the Army-called the Army Air Force by the end of World War II-now dropped the Army label and became the US Air Force.

All would see action and all would suffer casualties. But not many would write about their experiences. Libraries today have few books on the subject of the Korean War. Public knowledge of the war has come in the main from the entertainment media-the TV series M*A*S*H, and a James Michener book and movie titled The Bridges at Toko Ri. I do not recall an episode of M*A*S*H that mentioned Navy Carrier Pilots.

My entry into the war was on December 5, 1950, when I made my first combat flight. The mission was close air support near the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. An estimated 100,000 Chinese surrounded fewer than 20,000 US Marine and Army troops in the mountains of northeast Korea. Seventy miles down a narrow mountain road was the only way out. Night and day the high ground atop steep cliffs had to be cleared of tough, hard-fighting Chinese soldiers. In the areas of most intense combat, five-to-one odds and higher favored the bad guys. Fifty-mile-an-hour winds, snow storms, temperatures of minus 30 at night, little if any sleep, bugles and whistles in the dark, frozen bodies stacked and used as sand bags-usually theirs, sometimes ours-all were a constant reminder of sudden or slow death. Either could be waiting at the next bend in the road.

Our squadron and many others flew every hour of every day that weather would permit, and sometimes when it did not. Waiting at the end of the trail was the harbor of Hungnam. Air controllers in battle-scarred buildings fired smoke flares to target our bombs only one city block from tired men fighting to make that last mile to waiting ships. Evacuation was completed on Christmas Eve.

Good men died trying to escape the Chosin. A lot of them. Their deaths did settle one matter : No doubt remained that China had entered the United Nations Peace Action.

On June 23, 1952, I flew 'section' (the third aircraft in a division of four) with Art Downing, Carrier Air Group Commander (CAG) of Air Group Two. CAG led three air groups, each containing three divisions of AD dive-bombers plus jet cover, from three carriers. This was the largest assemblage of carrier aircraft for combat since World War II. Our target was the Suiho hydroelectric plant, only 35 miles from a huge concentration of soviet Mig-15 fighters based at Antung airfield. Suiho was the largest of the North Korean hydroelectric plants. Many historians now agree that protection of these vital sources of power was one of China's primary concerns in Korea. Their destruction in June of 1952 brought darkness to large parts of Manchuria and North Korea. The armistice was signed in 1953.

 

Korean War


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