Oral History Interview with
Special Representative of the President to Korea, 1948-49;
Ambassador to Korea, 1949-52;
John J. Muccio
Envoy Extraordinary to Iceland, 1954.
Washington, D. C.
February 10, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional
Muccio Oral History Transcripts | List
of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee
but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember
that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview..
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced
for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission
of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened January, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Muccio Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Ambassador John J. Muccio
Washington, D. C.
February 10, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: All right, Ambassador, to get under way, would you give me a little
of your personal background; where were you born and raised, where were
you educated and what are a few of the many, many positions and posts
that you have held?
MUCCIO: I was born in Italy, 1900, March 1900, and brought to the United
States when I was five months old. My father was already here. And I went
to one grade school, one high school, one college, and had one job for
forty-two years of my life, and that was in the Foreign Service as a Consular
Assistant, this was in the Consular Service before the Consular and Diplomatic
Services were joined under the Rogers Act of 1924. It wasn't until '35
that I had experience
in the diplomatic side of the Service and that was
in La Paz, Bolivia. I spent most of my time in the Service between the
Far East and Latin America. Finally retired in 1962.
Do you think that is enough?
HESS: That's fine. Now moving into the Truman administration, you were
a member of the American Mission to Germany from May of '45 until 1947, correct?
HESS: Would you outline a few of the duties that you had while a member
of that mission, some of the problems that may have arisen, some of the
methods that you may have used in solving those problems?
MUCCIO: Before getting into that I'd like to mention that the first time
I saw President Truman face to face was at Potsdam in July 1945. He had
been President of the United States for a few weeks only. He was playing
international poker with two outstanding experts, "Uncle Joe" [Joseph]
Stalin and [Winston S.] Churchill. Potsdam at that time was hot, soggy,
stenchy, full of mosquitoes and flies. And Truman very clearly was ill
at ease, having only been President a short time and having so many crucial
issues thrown at him, and having
to rely on James Byrnes, who was Secretary
of State, as his principal adviser.
The next time I saw the President face to face was in July 1948, just
prior to taking off for Korea as Ambassador. Truman had just come back
from Florida. He had a wonderful tan, was very exuberant, brightly dressed,
he looked like a completely different person from the one I had seen at
Potsdam. And mind you, that was before he was elected on his own, which
came up . . .
HESS: The following November.
Do you recall if when you saw him in July of '48 if this was before or
after the convention, the Democratic convention in Philadelphia of that
MUCCIO: I'd have to--I don't recall exactly. But after he was elected
on his own, the man . . .
HESS: One question about James Byrnes who was the Secretary of State
at the time of the Potsdam Conference. There are those that say that Mr.
Truman appointed Mr. Byrnes as a consolation prize because Mr. Byrnes
had also been in the running for the vice-presidential nomination in 1944
for Mr. Roosevelt's
fourth term, and since he did not get it and Mr. Truman
did, that upon the death of Mr. Roosevelt Mr. Truman appointed Byrnes
to the highest spot in the Cabinet as more or less a consolation prize
because he was not the top man. Have you ever heard anything on that?
MUCCIO: Well, I've read accounts of that in several places, but there
are much better authorities on that than I.
HESS: How effective was James Byrnes as Secretary of State?
MUCCIO: I'd prefer to let that sort of thing go by because I was never
in Washington at that particular time. I was in the field most
of the time. And my opinion of the man at that particular time is not
HESS: Okay. All right, moving back to your duties as a member of the
American Mission to Germany?
MUCCIO: I was on Bob Murphy's staff during my two year stay in Germany,
May of '45 until April of '47.
HESS: Do you recall any particular problems that came up, your duties
there at that time?
MUCCIO: Well, can we later talk about--I mean there were
like denazification, so damn complex and controversial. You had the U.S.
Control Commission, which was part of the Allied Control Council bogged
down from the outset. I think if we get into a lot of these things it
will be an interminable interview. Could we try to focus on . . .
HESS: All right. All right, would you like to focus on the matters on
MUCCIO: Why, I think we'd better . . .
HESS: All right.
MUCCIO: . . . move up.
HESS: All right, moving into matters pertaining to Korea, you were appointed,
I believe, as Special Representative of the President to Korea in August
of '48, is that correct?
HESS: Do you have an observation on why you were selected for this
MUCCIO: Well, I'd been with the Service a good long time. I was
still a bachelor and in rugged good health. Undoubtedly the experiences
that I had had in Shanghai and elsewhere in China, Germany and Panama,
was a key factor. All involved active international situations with a
heavy United States military presence. My
long association with the U.S.
military had an influence in my selection.
HESS: What were the first problems that you were presented with
when you arrived at your new post in Korea?
MUCCIO: Well, the Government of Korea was inaugurated August 15,
1948. U.S. military government and all of its ramifications still intact.
My immediate concern was the transfer of all the functions of military
government to the new government set up by the Koreans, under the direction
of President [Syngman] Rhee. We transferred the police force, the whole
police establishment, on the llth of September of 1948. And between that
and December 12th, when we finally transferred the bank account to the
new authorities, there was a constant transfer of responsibility from
U.S. Military Government authorities to their new Korean counterparts.
It was very intricate.
One interesting and complicating factor that plagued me during
this period was the struggle between the Koreans that had come to the
fore under U.S. Military Government and these appointed by the new government.
The former came forward from 1945 to 1948, and later as the United States
authorities set up what
was called the interim government, when Koreans
were placed in authority with Americans as advisers. These Koreans who
first worked with the Americans were sneeringly referred to by other Koreans
as the "interpreter government." We must admit that their ability to understand
and know some English had had a great deal to do with their selection.
Rhee did a thorough job of ignoring practically to a man those
that had come to the fore during military government days. He set up his
own hierarchy. And there's no love lost between the first group who considered
themselves indispensable and the Koreans who were about to take
over. That was the basic problem we faced at that particular time.
HESS: And you were appointed as the first United States Ambassador
to Korea the following year in 1949.
MUCCIO: Yes, right.
HESS: During this period of time, the number of U.S. troops in
Korea was being reduced, is that correct?
MUCCIO: Well, that raises the intriguing problem of the evolution
of the U.S. position in Korea. The early days 1945 to 1947 are known better
to other individuals. From '48 on, it might be of interest to recall, the U.S.
military, principally General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower, Army Chief
of Staff, and General Douglas MacArthur, CINCFE [Commander in Chief, Far
East) were first to raise the question as to the validity of our position
in Korea, and that militarily, it was better to get out of Korea. And,
in the summer of 1947, it was one of the very first U.S. international
problems handled under the new mechanism of the National Security Council.
And the Korean position was elaborated and set forth in the National Security
Council and issued by President Truman, I forget the exact date, but it
was in August, July or August 1947. We threw the problem, after one last
try with dealing directly with the Russians, into the agenda of the General
Assembly of the United Nations meeting in the fall of 1947. Our resolution
was passed-by the United Nations, and since that time there has been a
United Nations presence in Korea, since the end of that General Assembly
in 1947. There still is a UN presence there.
HESS: At this particular time in history which of the officials
of the State Department did you work with the closest? Was Dean Rusk Assistant
State for Far Eastern Affairs at that time?
MUCCIO: Walt [W. Walton] Butterworth was Assistant Secretary for
Far Eastern Affairs. He was appointed Ambassador to Sweden, and Dean Rusk
was placed in charge of the Far Eastern...
HESS: Did those men give you the necessary assistance and aid that
an Ambassador would need; the man on the spot in Korea?
MUCCIO: They gave me excellent direction and support. I was told
when I left Washington after numerous conferences at State and with the
defense establishment and intelligence agencies, that this was the first
time that the transfer of military government functions to a civilian
agency had taken place after World War II. I would undoubtedly face problems
they didn't have ready answers to, but for me to use my judgment and they'd
back me up to the hilt. And I must say that they gave me superb backing.
HESS: As an official of the State Department, did you have any
particular problems with some of the United States military commanders,
officials of the Defense Department who may not have seen eye-to-eye on
some of the things that you thought should take place in the switch over
of the powers?
MUCCIO: Well, there were a few. A good example was the visit in
late '48 of the Secretary of the Army, accompanied by General [Albert
C.] Wedemeyer. I escorted the two to President Rhee and they presented
to President Rhee U.S. thinking about the Korean situation with stress
on Korean needs in defense matters.
When they reported in Washington, they proceeded on the assumption
that Rhee had agreed to this U.S. proposal. My report was to the
effect that Rhee had said, "Yes, yes, yes," to all of the things that
we offered Rhee for his military needs, but that he had never said, "Yes,"
and he never said, "No," to the suggestion that the time had come for
the withdrawal of the U.S. military forces.
HESS: Was Kenneth Royall Secretary of the Army at that time?
MUCCIO: Royall was Secretary of the Army. And the Secretary, General
Wedemeyer, and I went and spent a long time with Rhee on this one problem.
I was summoned back to Washington, over night, to discuss compatibility
of my reports with what the Secretary of the Army and General Wedemeyer
;HESS: How was the problem of your reports solved? Did you get together
with General Wedemeyer and...
MUCCIO: It was decided during my visit to Washington to defer a
bit proceeding with the general plan, and nothing was to be said about
it until after I had had a chance to work over some of the issues with
President Rhee. Under the elongated schedule the final U.S. armed military
unit left Korea on June 29, 1949, at which time we set up and left behind,
a 500 man unit, KMAG, Korean Military Advisory Group, to help organize
and train the Koreans.
HESS: Did you have any particular difficulty of presenting the
United States' view to President Rhee at this time, of removing the troops?
MUCCIO: Well, President Rhee, at that particular time, was devoting
most of his considerable talents towards forcing us to keep U.S. military
presence in Korea and very little time to establishing his own governmental
apparatus, and thinking of leadership and progress for his own people.
He was more interested in keeping the United States tied up there.
HESS: And yet we removed our troops at that time, correct?
HESS: Did you have any particular difficulty explaining why we
were removing our troops to him, or what did he say to you?
MUCCIO: The Wedemeyer plan was for our military to be out of Korea
by the 31st of March, 1949. I urged Washington not to say anything about
this until I had a chance to work on Rhee. When I got back to Korea the
first thing I did was start pointing out to Rhee the wonderful progress
(and they were making good progress), the new Korean constabulary was making.
HESS: Developing their own forces.
MUCCIO: Developing their own forces. Soon Rhee got up several times
and publicly said that his boys were doing mighty well and could take
care of the situation. Once he publicly committed himself that way, then
I started working on him on, "Well, it's about time we get our forces
out of the way." He didn't like that a damn bit but could not back out.
HESS: He began to backtrack a little bit.
MUCCIO: Well, backtrack, and he sparked demonstrations all over
Korea, which were similar to what is going on in Vietnam today. Both misused
U.S. presence to their full ability, but when time came for us to get out of the
way--you are capable of running your own show--then they look
at it with an entirely different light.
HESS: Before we move on, since we have mentioned President Rhee, just
what kind of a man was President Rhee?
MUCCIO: Rhee was very intelligent person, who for forty-five years
worked on one specific objective, and that was the Korean independence.
He became the symbol of the struggle against Japan and the struggle for
independence, as such. He was known to all Koreans. That was his political strength.
Rhee was a very determined willful person. He had fought in what
really amounted to a guerrilla operation so long that when he finally
ended up as the duly elected President of Korea, he was so old by that
time that he could not change from his guerrilla, revolutionary instincts
to being a duly recognized head of state.
When he was in his logical frame of mind, he had an excellent
historical prospective. He understood the very complex world setup to
a very high degree. But when he got emotional, then he reverted to his
longstanding instincts of self survival of himself as an individual, as
a leader of this independence move, and
the survival of his people. But
self-survival came first always. And with the experience he had had he
was very distrustful, inordinately so. He didn't trust anyone.
I doubt whether he trusted himself. He was a very complex personality,
but a man who thought well and worked well under stress and he expressed
himself in English, orally and in writing, beautifully. He prided himself
in being a Jeffersonian Democrat. His rhetoric in this respect spellbound
most American visitors. I think he should have changed that over to a
Rhee Autocrat. He is not...
HESS: Was he an Autocrat?
MUCCIO: Oh, absolutely! Willful, very obstinate. A lot of people
thought that his wife had tremendous influence on him. I don't think she
had directly. He had gotten to the stage where he couldn't read very much
and didn't handle the paper work, and she also, before the fight broke
out, had control of what non-Koreans got in to see him.
HESS: Even yourself?
MUCCIO: Well, I never had much trouble in that regard.
HESS: Her control started somewhat lower than the Ambassadorial
level, is that right?
MUCCIO: Well, she had very little control on what Koreans got in
to see him, but as far as non-Korean she had a great deal to say. Besides,
she handled the paper work and his office staff.
HESS: And the appointments schedule.
HESS: All right, now there had been a decision made to exclude
Korea from the sphere of American strategic concern.
HESS: And I believe that that was initiated by the Army Chief of
Staff in 1947?
HESS: That was before your association with Korea started.
MUCCIO: Yes. I was out in the Far East at that time as an inspector
in the Foreign Service.
HESS: What was your personal opinion about that decision, do you
believe that Korea should have been excluded from our sphere of concern,
our sphere of strategic concern, as this was called?
MUCCIO: I think Acheson's speech of January 1950 . . .
HESS: January the 12th of 1950.
MUCCIO: . . . was not correctly presented to the American people.
This was not a new position on the part of the United States. It
was a position taken . . .
HESS: Three years before.
MUCCIO: . . . three years prior to that. The 1950 congressional
campaign the whole impact was that what Acheson said was new. And if you
read the pertinent paragraph in that speech you will note that what he
had--what he presented was that the United States unilaterally would have
to fight any aggression committed against the periphery of Asia. And then
he goes on to bring out that in case of aggression beyond that it was
a problem for the United Nations, not for the United States unilaterally.
And that's exactly what happened in Korea. It certainly was not any new policy.
HESS: All right. Moving on just a bit, when did you first suspect
that there might be an invasion from North Korea into South Korea, when
did it look likely to you?
MUCCIO: Well . . .
HESS: Was this a longstanding thing?
MUCCIO: When I arrived in Korea in August 19th, 19 . . .
MUCCIO: . . . '48, we still had a U.S. military liaison group at
Pyongyang, the Russians had a liaison group in Seoul. There was a weekly
train run from Seoul to Pyongyang with mail and the 38th parallel was
open. There was a great deal of traffic in persons and goods across that
38th parallel. By the end of '48, after the South Korean Government was
set up, a veritable stone wall was erected at the 38th parallel.
Now we removed our forces, the U.S. forces, and the whole front
area was taken over by the new Korean constabulary. Naturally there were
constant incidents between the South Koreans and the North Koreans. And
the U.S. forces were very seldom involved except they were in the background.
But there were constant skirmishes.
As an illustration when ECA [Economic Cooperation Administration]
took over from the military, Eric Biddle and his group out of Washington
were there setting up the ECA representation in Korea and the takeover
from the military. And just prior to the departure of this group President
and Mrs. Rhee had a tea for them. And
while we were in the Blue House,
the presidential residence, Lee Bum Suk, who at that time was Prime Minister
and Minister of Defense and head of the National Youth Corps, came in
joyfully exhaulting that his boys had just taken over Haeju, which is
just beyond the 38th parallel opposite Kaesong. That was his news that
his boys had entered Haeju, he didn't go on to say that practically every
one of them were killed on the spot. But that's the sort of thing that
was going on from both sides, it wasn't exclusively from the North south,
there was a certain amount of it . . .
HESS: From the South north also.
MUCCIO: That's why it was so difficult to determine what was going
on on the 38th parallel between 1948 and 1950. Neither side was coming clean.
HESS: All right, moving a little closer to the latter part of June,
just what do you recall about events say in May and the early part of
June 1950? What were conditions like in Korea at that time?
MUCCIO: Well, we . . .
HESS: I believe there was a diplomatic mission that came out from
the United States for one?
MUCCIO: Well, in the spring of 1950 our intelligence reported the
arrival of certain military hardware, Yaks, and a few Ilyushins, a few
tanks. Also the return of two elements of North Koreans that had been
with the Chinese Communists, returned as units. That part of our intelligence
was good. Now there had been constant posturing, bluffing, of one kind or other.
HESS: Saber rattling.
MUCCIO: Particularly from the north, during this whole period from
the end of '47 until the spring of 1950. We knew of the military material
build-up in the north, but it was hard to determine whether this was additional
posturing or whether they actually had some action in mind, and if so
just whet. That's where the uncertainty was. The South Koreans were pressing
us for additional material, additional backing. The U.S. was interested
in not having a vacuum develop in South Korea so the Communists could
just walk in, but at the same time we were in the dilemma of how much
we could back South Korea without having them, especially when they were
in the hands of men like Rhee and Lee Bum Suk, of building up their potentials
so that they would in turn move north.
Fortunately, when the clash came it was very clear-cut that the
south was not in a position to move north and that it was definitely overt
Communist aggression. That was the interpretation of what had been accepted
by the Free World from the discussions in the General Assembly of the
United Nations. And that's what makes the Korean case so distinct from
the Vietnam case where the question as to the basic issues involved has been confused.
HESS: One brief question about the intelligence reports that you
mentioned. Where were you getting your intelligence information; were
these South Korean spies that were in the north at the time?
MUCCIO: Oh, mainly from the numerous U.S. agencies involved.
As far as happenings along the border, we had better intelligence than
old man Rhee had, because we had advisory personnel with each Korean military
unit along the front. And they had their own radio communication with
KMAG headquarters and that's why when the blow came I could keep Rhee
informed. He was getting so much diverse, confused intelligence in the
first few days, he didn't know--his picture of what was going on was not
at all clear.
HESS: Can you tell me about . . .
MUCCIO: Pardon me, would you like a cup of coffee?
While we're at this point Mr. Ambassador, let me ask you about
the success or failure of the ECA in Korea at this time. Now this had
been set up after Mr. Truman's point 4 message and just tell me a little
bit about the workings of ECA and perhaps your part in developing that function.
MUCCIO: It's very difficult to cover briefly what went on in Korea
from the time of our arrival in September of '45 up to 1950. But when
we first arrived there, the Korean attitude was that American "overlords"
had merely replaced Japanese overlords. There was practically no cooperation,
no response from the Koreans. They figured that we were there, we had
to feed them, we had to take care of them. And that's what made General
[John R.] Hodge's job so frustrating.
There were very few Americans available that understood Korean,
or understood the Koreans themselves. And Rhee appeared on the scene and
he held himself forth to General Hodge as the leader of the Korean people.
And Hodge felt that the Korean people should
have a chance to select the
person that they really wanted to lead them. And the strain between General
Hodge and Dr. Rhee led to acute antipathy. Rhee thought he had enough
influence in Washington to have General Hodge removed, and came to Washington
for that purpose in 1947. And the irony of it was that Rhee came to the
fore through quite an open, fair election. But he was never able to get
Hodge out of his skin until I arrived and took over as the senior U.S. representative.
And my first aim was to make clear to President Rhee and his whole
hierarchy that they were responsible for what was being done in Korea,
and it was no longer the United States running the show. And the Koreans
were very slow in really seriously taking on the task of developing a
defense force, a defense capability.
The whole aim, until the final unit of American armed forces left in
June 29, 1949, was to keep us there militarily. But once that final unit
left the Koreans did more for themselves in the one year from June 1949
until 1950, than they had done for themselves in all the four previous
years. And I include both military preparation for defense, and political and
economic development in that statement. In 1949 they had such a good
rice crop for instance that they were able to sell to Japan, who were
always fond of Korean rice and were prepared to pay a premium for it.
They had gotten to know how good the Korean rice was from the period that
Japan ran Korea.
HESS: From the time they were over there taking it away from them?
MUCCIO: And in the winter of '49-'50 Korea actually sold Japan
a hundred thousand tons of rice.
HESS: Was this the first year that they had exported rice?
MUCCIO: Well, since before the war, yes. Prior to the war, of course,
the Japanese took a lot of the rice and sent millet and other cheap grains
HESS: After the ECA was established did Mr. Paul Hoffman visit Korea
to get things moving, to get things underway?
MUCCIO: He came initially for a few days in November 1948. I don't
recall Paul Hoffman coming back here in person thereafter.
HESS: And Mr. Biddle was the man who was in charge of ECA was he?
MUCCIO: He was sent out from Washington to help organize
and take over from the military.
HESS: Did he have a difficult task to perform?
MUCCIO: Washington sent a team of experts out representing the
Bureau of the Budget, Defense, ECA, USIS, and State. The latter Glenn
Wolfe from State, was in overall charge of setting up the American Mission
We took over from the military everything from beauty parlors,
shoe repair shops, undertaking facilities, the whole gamut of military
life. As time went on we eliminated as many of those functions as possible.
HESS: Do you think that ECA was a success in Korea, at least until the
time of the invasion?
MUCCIO: Outstandingly successful. As an example: You may recall
that a good deal of the power for South Korea came from the north. In
the spring of 1948 the U.N. was denied permission to go into the north.
The United Nations decided to go ahead and have the elections in that
part of Korea available. When the meeting of the "four Kims" failed to
find a compromise, the north pulled the switch cutting off all power to
the south. This was calamitous. However, the ECA turned to--I don't recall
the exact name--the U.S.
power association. A group of electric power
experts were sent out there and by repairing standby plants, bringing
in a couple of power barges, and by improving the grid system of South
Korea, they managed to stumble along as they repaired other facilities.
The ECA did an outstanding job.
HESS: You mentioned the four Kims, who are they?
MUCCIO: That happened before I arrived. In April or May of 1948
two Kims from the South got together with two Kims from the north and
that's always referred to as the "four Kims" meeting.
HESS: Was there someone who was in charge of the ECA mission in
Korea, was there an individual appointed to that position?
MUCCIO: Arthur Bunce, B-u-n-c-e, was head of it, Al Loren and Owen
Jones were the two deputies. They did an outstanding job and they were
particularly helpful in making their experience and background available
to the U.S. military when the military came back into Korea in the summer of 1950.
HESS: Were there times when Mr. Bunce and his associates called
on you for assistance? Did you have a smooth working relationship in other words?
MUCCIO: We had--and it was the first time--a unified American mission
was tried anywhere, AMIK (American Mission in Korea), included KMAG, USIA,
ECA as well as the normal Embassy unit with one JAS (Joint Administrative Service).
HESS: Now were all these . . .
MUCCIO: And I was definitely responsible for U.S. operations in
Korea at the time.
HESS: As senior man you were the top man there.
MUCCIO: In fact, when they were setting up the mission the question
came up as to whether or not I should have the cap of being the director
of ECA as well as Ambassador, but I didn't feel that that was essential
as it was clear-cut in the whole setup of the mission that I was responsible
for all U.S. official activities in Korea at the time.
Of course, once the military came back as a fighting situation
then the question of the exact position of the U.S. Ambassador vis-a-vis
the commanding officer responsible for U.S. military operation is a very
subtle and very indefinite subdivision. Delimitation, is a better word,
HESS: Were there times that that subtle differences cause you difficulty?
MUCCIO: No, no material difficulties, no. I mean now and then members
of my staff would come back and say, "Well, the Eighth Army says so and so."
And I would ask, "Who did you talk to at the Eighth Army?" And
ask them, the member of my staff if so and so really had a definite decision
on the part of the military or whether that was his interpretation of
what position was. That sort of thing was going on all the time, but nothing
HESS: Did you feel that if you had been called on to be head of ECA at
this time that that would have been one too many irons in the fire, one
too many demands on your time? Did you need someone to head ECA at that time?
MUCCIO: Well, we did have.
HESS: Yes, that's what I mean, but then when they were discussing . . .
MUCCIO: I was consulted--I was asked by Paul Hoffman which
one of four names mentioned I'd prefer as head of ECA before this man was appointed.
HESS: Who were the others under consideration, do you recall
at this time?
MUCCIO: Oh, certainly I recall. Three of them are still alive.
The only one that's not alive is the man that got the job.
HESS: All right, okay.
All right, in moving back from matters of ECA to the military situation
and to the situation in Korea, we were discussing the general atmosphere,
the general conditions in Korea in the spring, in May and June of 1950
before the invasion, what else do you recall about those perilous and
interesting times? I believe Mr. John Foster Dulles came over on a mission,
is that correct?
MUCCIO: Well, in November-December of 1949, in a few weeks five
congressional groups came out to take a look at what was going on in Korea.
About the same time Ambassador-at-Large Philip Jessup, accompanied by
his lovely wife and secretary, Miss Vernice Anderson, spent some five
days in Korea. And in June of 1950, just a week before the fight broke
out, John Foster Dulles, at that time in charge of negotiations with the
Japanese on the administrative agreement, spent four days in Korea.
HESS: Was his main job at that time working out the ins and outs
on the Japanese peace treaty?
MUCCIO: Not treaty--I was trying to think of the exact term, it was--well,
anyway, it was what resulted in our next step in relation to the Japanese
at that time.
HESS: And you have a picture on your wall of Mr. Dulles during that trip.
MUCCIO: During the Dulles visit there were two interesting things.
One was his visit to the 38th parallel where pictures were taken, just
looking over the certain military installations there...
HESS: Looking over a cannon in that photograph.
MUCCIO: …which later were used by the Communists at the upcoming
meeting of the General Assembly that fall as confirming that the south
had gotten the okay from the United States to attack the north.
HESS: After he had been over there to check the armament.
MUCCIO: And the other interesting thing of the Dulles visit was
his talk to the National Assembly, to the effect that you go ahead and
make up your own mind as to what you want to do, but if you do do the
right thing, the United States will take a much better
position than if
you don't. That was the gist of his talks to the National Assembly. I
never saw the text of his talk prior to the delivery.
HESS: All right, moving into the day of the invasion, where were
you when you first received information that something was seriously amiss?
This was the latter part of June of 1950.
MUCCIO: The morning of the 25th of June, I got a call from my deputy,
[Everett Francis] Drumright, just about 8 o'clock, telling me that in
the past hour KMAG headquarters had been receiving reports from the several
units along the front of an onslaught across the 38th parallel. He said
he had held up calling me until he could get a better indication of what
was really going on. (We had had so many reports of that kind in the two
years prior, that it was hard to determine if these were just forays across
the 38th parallel or whether it was something beyond that.) And I said,
"Well, I'll meet you at the office right away."
I walked over, it was about a five minute walk from the residence
to the chancery, which at that time was in the Bando Building. On the
way over about 8:30,
I ran into Bill James of the UP. He apparently had
had a restless night and was heading toward his office. And he said, "What
are you doing stirring at this time of the morning?" It was Sunday morning.
And I said, "Oh, we've had some disturbing reports from activities
on the 38th parallel, you might want to look into them."
And went up and Drum and I drafted a telegraphic report to Washington,
which was very carefully worded because we were not too--it was not too
clear yet just what was going on. But that was the first flash to Washington,
which left the Embassy there just after 9:00 on the morning of the 25th
(Korean time). Of course that whole day, Sunday, was filled with all kinds
In reflection, I've been unable--not been able-to understand why
the Communists didn't get into Seoul that same night, because they had
such preponderance of armor and mobility, and they had control in the
air, and the south had no defense against air of any kind. And it's hard
to understand why it took the Communists over three days to do, three
and a half days, to do what they should have done really in that many hours.
I think there's a combination of factors there. One was unexpected
firmness of the South Koreans, not a single unit gave up. The second was
that there was a torrential rain that morning which impeded their air
and also the movement of their tanks. I think that what the Communists
had in mind was to rush into Seoul, capture the government, and then they'd
be able to present to the world that Rhee and his government had no support
from the people of Korea, and the whole issue would be settled right then
and there before the UN or the Free World could do anything. And that,
I think, is why when the Communists finally came into Seoul on Wednesday
morning it took them another six or seven days before they crossed the
Han River, and even longer than that getting organized to start their
trek down the spine of the peninsula. Of course, that's my personal reflection
at this time, and there are many, many, many interpretations of why they
didn't make a go of it at the time.
HESS: Soon after the invasion, President Rhee moved his government to Taegu.
MUCCIO: Well, that's jumping a bit there. During the first day
I went up to see Rhee repeatedly to make available to him the intelligence
that I had been
receiving, mainly from these KKAG units who were working
with the Korean military units along the whole front and down the east
coast. And AMIK also had ECA and USIA people who had had contacts with
a lot of the Koreans and a mass of material coming in. The intelligence
or military developments were mainly from KMAG sources. And I imagine
Rhee had probably a hundred times more channels of intelligence flowing
in to him to such an extent that it was probably too confusing to enable
him to appraise and analyze. What we received at the Embassy was a lot
clearer than what President Rhee was getting. This very first day I spent
quite a bit of time going up to see him on developments.
That evening, well, it was about 9 o'clock, Shin Sung Mo, who was
acting Prime Minister and Minister of Defense came by and said the President
would like to see me.
And when I arrived at the Blue Mansion, President Rhee, in the
presence of Shin Sung Mo, said the Cabinet had just had a meeting and
decided that it would be disastrous for the Korean cause to have him fall
into the hands of the Communists and that their defense
capabilities were such they had better move on out of Seoul.
I was jarred to hear this. I very carefully reminded Rhee what
I had been pointing to him in the course of the day, that his military
was doing a superb job in facing up to this onslaught; no single unit
had given in. Some of them had been overwhelmed it was true, and scattered.
I agreed with him that the last thing in the world I wanted to
do was to fall into the hands of the Communists. We faced a delicate question
of timing--of staying on as long as we could to bolster up the forces,
the South Korean forces, and at the same time not be caught by the enemy.
HESS: What did he say when you presented that view?
MUCCIO: Well, we talked for over an hour and he was so insistent
that it was not good for Korea if he be taken by the Communists, and I
kept countering that I didn't feel that we had yet gotten to that desperate
point and that the moment his forces heard that he had left and that his
government had left Seoul, there wouldn't be any government and there
wouldn't be any forces, organized forces, left.
After an hour or so I finally got up and I said, "Mr. President,
you make up your own mind, but I'm staying here." I put it that bluntly.
The next morning the first thing I did was go up and see him again
and I kept seeing him all that day posting him on developments--that was
Monday. Rhee had two trains set up Monday night. These pulled out about
4 o'clock, between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning, and I didn't know until
after they had left that they had actually gone.
HESS: They didn't inform you?
MUCCIO: No. Between the two of us--I think maybe this should not
be made public.
HESS: We can close it.
MUCCIO: His failure to do so was one thing that I had over Rhee
that stood me in good stead the next few months, that he had left Seoul
before I did.
HESS: Back to the day of invasion . . .
MUCCIO: While we're on that, let me recall that during the next
few months, if not for the next year, the collaboration, both Rhee and
particularly Mrs. Rhee, gave me was very, very spontaneous and very wholehearted,
i.e. during the period when they were still
worried about their future.
Mrs. Rhee and I developed, more or less unconsciously, a little
procedural understanding. She would get on the phone and call (and she
didn't have to say anything on the phone), the call itself was just a
tip-off to me that he was about to do something that she thought was not
advisable. I would then find some excuse for dropping in on the old man.
And if I sat there long enough he he'd come out with what he had in mind.
She did this repeatedly during those very crucial days.
As I mentioned earlier, even though the President was already pretty
well along in years he had a phenomenal stamina for a man that age, but
he had his better spells and less stalwart spells, and she was very sensitive
to that. That's the sort of thing that I don't know how far it is advisable
for us to get into.
HESS: As far as you would like, and we can close it if you think that
it is something of a extra sensitive nature. Because this is what oral
history is; the gaining something that we will not gain in any other manner.
It's quite good.
One question back on the day of the invasion.
How soon was it after the
information that was provided you showed that it was definitely a full-fledged
invasion, that you or someone in the Embassy got in touch with General
MacArthur? Did you do this or was this done through the Army?
MUCCIO: All the messages sent by me into Washington were repeated to CINCFE.
HESS: That's the Supreme Commander in the Far East.
MUCCIO: Commander in Chief.
HESS: Commander in Chief, Far East.
MUCCIO: On that particular point, when we left Seoul, the first
few messages I sent in were in under what we call one-time pads, and at
the tail end of each one of these messages, because it could only be deciphered
in Washington in the State Department, I had "Repeat CINCFE." I understand
that when the first few messages passed through Tokyo enroute to Washington
[General Charles A.] Willoughby tried to break them down and held them
up while he was trying to do that.
HESS: So they went through Tokyo?
HESS: And he delayed them?
HESS: And they could not be deciphered in Tokyo?
HESS: He knew this?
MUCCIO: I don't know whether you know the principles of "one-time"
or not. I could tell you, but perhaps I had better not.
HESS: All right, were there representatives of General MacArthur
in Seoul at that time?
MUCCIO: Well KMAG.
HESS: Who was in charge of that?
MUCCIO: Well, unfortunately Lynn Roberts, Brigadier General Lynn
Roberts, was on his way home, he was to be replaced. [Colonel] Sterling
Wright, KMAG Chief of Staff, went over to Japan for the weekend to get
his family on transport there. So, Sterling Wright returned immediately
by special plane to Seoul, and got back there Sunday night.
HESS: All right, Mr. Ambassador, how long after the invasion was
it that you left Seoul and what were some of the problems you encountered
in moving the Embassy?
MUCCIO: Fortunately we had a plan of evacuation that had been worked
up and coordinated with CINCFE.
Sunday was a very confused day and we were mainly
spent in trying
to find out what was really going on at the front. But by nightfall Sunday
it had become evident that it was just a question of time.
HESS: By that time you could see it was a full-scale invasion.
MUCCIO: Oh yes. Well, that became very evident because as we got
word Sunday morning that they had not only attacked along the whole 38th
parallel, but they made two landings on the east coast and that certainly
couldn't be dismissed.
But my first thought was the women and children. About midnight
Sunday night we sent word for them to be ready to move. In the
meantime we were checking on vessels that might be available in Pusan
or Inchon. Well, whether to take them down to Pusan by bus and car or
by train, or what to do with them. And fortunately about half way to Inchon,
on the spur of the road that goes to Inchon and cuts out through Suwon
and Taejon and Taegu to Pusan, we had a military depot called Ascom City,
where certain remnants of military government days and some KMAG facilities
were still in existence. So we decided to gather all the women and children
the first thing in the morning and
get them down to Ascom so that we could
move them to Inchon--or to Pusan--once we determined the best route.
Well, Monday night about 7 o'clock I got word that all 385 or 387,
I forget the exact number, women and children were already on board the
vessel in the harbor at Inchon, and on the way to Japan. I never felt
so relieved at any time as when I got that word.
Early that evening, we decided--CINCFE of course had been alerted
under the evacuation program, to ask for enough planes the next morning
to take all the gals on the staff of the American Mission (that included
KMAG, ECA, USIA as well as the chancery, any of the United Nations females).
By midnight the situation had deteriorated so fast that we decided to
call for additional planes to take care of all male members of the staff
of the several entities, including the Diplomatic Corp s (five countries
were represented there), and the United Nations Commission. It was decided
that I would stay on with four, and Drumright would stay on with four
other members of the Embassy staff, and we would move south as the Korean
Government did and not be in Seoul when the Communists came in.
The last bus left the Bando Building with the personnel being evacuated
at about 11:00 in the morning. I had not been back at the residence since
Sunday morning when I left following Drumright's message. I went by the
residence, opened up the food and liquor lockers, and told the servants
to help themselves and not to be found there at the residence. And I took
my personal car with Sam Berry, Don MacDonald and Major Holland from KMAG,
who had handled the evacuation. I told my chauffeur, Chung, to take the
official limousine and put his family in it and whatever supplies he needed
and drive south.
I went into the residence and I picked up my cigars and I told
Sergeant Edwards, who was my right-hand man, to get a case of Scotch and
I packed a bag with some clean socks, and underwear, a hat and a few shirts,
and started down to KMAG headquarters, got there about noon.
KMAG headquarters was attached to the Korean army headquarters.
There I caught up with the Minister of Defense, Shin Sung Mo, and the
chief of staff of the Korean forces, "Fat' Chai, and the whole senior
hierarchy, military hierarchy, and the KMAG officers
who had not yet left
and were awaiting transportation to come back from the airport for them.
And at these headquarters was that beloved Bishop Patrick J. Byrne
the Apostolic Delegate to Seoul. By the way, I forgot to mention that
early that morning I personally went to see the Delegate, the Chinese,
the French, British Ambassador and the UN Commission and told them what
I had decided to do, and why I had decided. And the British, Holt, Vivyan
Holt, and Peruche the French charge', both decided that they were going
to stay there, that they had no instructions. And I pointed out that I
had no instructions but I just didn't see anything to be gained by remaining
as a guest" of the Communists, that I wasn't going to leave the country,
I was just going to move down through the countryside.
The Apostolic Delegate, Bishop Byrne, also decided to stay with
his American assistant Booth. Bishop Byrne, of course, died a few weeks
later on the trek when the Communists decided to take all these political
There had been several passes by Yaks, and spraying of certain
areas of Seoul by the Communists' air
force including Korean army headquarters
just on the outskirts of the city of Seoul while we were there. Twice
we took refuge under desks. Since there was also a lot of talk going on
about blowing up the bridges across the Han, Colonel Wright and I decided
we had better get across the Han as soon as possible.
I left Korean military headquarters with the four that were going
with me about 4 o'clock, and had an understanding with General Wright
that we would meet at a certain schoolhouse, a school compound just beyond
the bridge across the Han, and that if anything came up that made it inadvisable
for us to wait for them there we would meet at Suwon.
Well, the bridge was already jammed with refugees streaming across
the Han heading south. And when we got across the Han road repairs caused
a serious jam-up. Here a Yak came along pursued by two F-80s. Major Holland
suggested that we hug the embankment of the river. Just then a volley
of machinegun fire from an F-80 went right over our heads. I turned to
Major Holland and asked, "What do we do now?"
"Oh, that was friendly fire," he assured me.
And I said, "Well, I'm not going to give a damn
whether it is friendly or not, let's get out of here."
HESS: He didn't think the friendly fire counted?
MUCCIO: So, we went straight on to Suwon, and finally got to Suwon
about 6:00. And here was some thirty-five, forty KMAG officers and men
still on the edge of the strip waiting for planes to come in from Tokyo
to evacuate them. Now from the final plane off came Major General John
Church. He had started out from Tokyo as head of a survey group, with
seven or eight officers, and while he was still in the air his instructions
were changed. He became ADCOM, Advanced Commander. He turned to me and
wanted to know where General Wright was, wanted to get in touch with him.
And I told him I had just left him about an hour and a half earlier in
Seoul and we had an understanding to meet in the schoolhouse or down at
Suwon. And I said, "He should be here any minute."
And as time went on he wanted to know what was I going to do that
night, I had already sent Don MacDonald, my second secretary, out to find
a place to bunk down for the night, and suggested that he check in at
the agricultural school where we had some ECA agricultural experts and
I knew had left that morning.
By the time we got up to the agricultural school the skies opened
up raining "cats and dogs." And we had no sooner gotten out of our car
and looking these bungalows over as to how we were going to take care
of all of the Americans who had gathered there, and the chauffeur of Ben
Lim, who was the Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, came up and said
that General MacArthur was on the phone and that he wanted to talk to
me. And if it had been anyone else I would have considered him a phony
of some kind, because I didn't know of any possible telephone connection
from Suwon to Tokyo. I turned to General Church and I said, "If it is
General MacArthur he'll probably want to talk to you. How about going along?
So, the two of us drove up to the Post Office in the center of
Suwon. The power was off and the only lights in there were a couple of
candles. It was a very eerie feeling to go there and see an old French
style telephone and as I picked up the receiver a female voice said, "Mr. Ambassador?"
And I said, "Yes, yes, but," I said, "who and where are you?"
And she said, "Goddamn it, they all left and I'm
still here at
the switchboard." This was the international switch. And this was a Korean
woman who was brought up in the Hawaiian Islands who because of her command
of Korean and English had been become the senior telephone operator of
this when the services were installed.
HESS: In Seoul.
MUCCIO: As background: That morning Maria Park Lee had telephoned
me and said, "You know I'm not an American citizen, but my daughter is."
I replied, "You come down here with what you and your young daughter
can carry and report to Major Holland." I explained to him that she was
to be included in the evacuation. Naturally I was terribly surprised when
I picked up that receiver and found that she was still at the switchboard.
And she said, "Just a minute, the General is on."
And it wasn't General MacArthur, it was General [Edward M.] Almond,
the Chief of Staff, MacArthur had already left the headquarters. And that's
when I heard that General MacArthur wanted to come over in person and
"get a feel of the situation," on Thursday and he wanted suggestions as
to where to come to.
HESS: What was your suggestion?
MUCCIO: Well we were there at Suwon where there was a plausible
airstrip. But Rhee and his Cabinet were already down at Taejon. And I
flew down to Taejon the next afternoon, Wednesday afternoon, and came
back to Suwon, Rhee in one L-5 and I in another L-5, early Thursday morning
where we met MacArthur. That was on the 29th of June.
HESS: What do you recall about that meeting? What was it decided
should be done and could be done at that time?
MUCCIO: General MacArthur spent the day talking in succession with
President Rhee, myself, the American and Korean military and going up
for a fleeting view of the Han River. Before leaving he told me he had
decided to report to Washington that what was needed were some regular
U.S. armed units to firm up the Koreans--"Say, some two divisions." He
actually sent his report and request for two divisions while in flight
back to Tokyo from Suwon. The Air Force had already been committed originally
to furnish an umbrella for the evacuation. (By the way, during the evacuation
one of these F-80s came over Seoul. I didn't know what their instructions
were at the time, but a couple of Yaks appeared on the scene
and the F-80
just pulled away. Well, he had no business coming up to Seoul I found
out later and he had been a little beyond his instructions and that's
why he got out of the way and I just was baffled as to why an American
F-80 would pull away from Yaks.)
HESS: How far down the peninsula by this time had our forces been
pushed, the few forces that we had in Korea?
MUCCIO: We had no armed forces in Korea at the time except KMAG--five
hundred officers and men, training and helping organize the Korean forces.
U.S. armed forces didn't come in until that initial battalion arrived--I
think it was the 5th of July. They came up the (I'm forgetting my military
terms), main line from Pusan, stopped in Taegu, where General Dean was,
and went right on. They got up as far as Osan where they were deployed
to meet the Communist forces coming down.
That was just about ten days from the time the Communists had smashed
across the 38th parallel before there was any direct confrontation between
Americans and North Koreans.
HESS: Where did you stay during that time?
MUCCIO: Well, the first night I bunked in Suwon, the next night
I was in Taejon, came back with President Rhee for the day with General
MacArthur, and flew back--no we didn't, we went back by car. General MacArthur
turned around to me and said, 'How did you get up here?"
And I said, "We came up in two L-5s." He turned around to Colonel
[Anthony] Story, his air pilot, and said, "Is the Beechcraft still here?
Why don't you send them down in the Beechcraft?"
And President Rhee and I got into the Beechcraft that had just
landed, stopped momentarily, motors on, just long enough for us to get
in and we hadn't even got our seat belts on when it took off. Halfway,
down the runway it jerked into a quick turn around. The crew came back
opened the door and shouted, 'Jump for it, take cover." A Yak had come
down at us. And after the Yaks left, the pilot turned around to Rhee and
myself and said, "You better stay here,"--we were stretched out in a rice
paddy by then--"until I see what condition the plane's in."
He came back after a spell saying he could not say how long it
would take to get off. Having left
my personal car up on the edge of the
strip since the previous day, I suggested to Rhee that we might drive
down. He assented readily. I drove down from Suwon down to Taejon.
HESS: As you probably learned later, Mr. Truman was at his home
in Independence when he received word from Secretary Acheson of the invasion,
that was on Saturday, Independence time, and he flew back on Sunday and
held a meeting at Blair House with his top advisers, both that Sunday
evening and the next evening, on Monday. When were you first informed
of the decisions that had been reached by that group as to what actions
the United States was going to take dealing with the invasion?
MUCCIO: Well, during the evacuation the first F-80s that came there
were under instructions to not do anything except see that the evacuation
was not impeded. Then you had decision to give all-out materiel assistance
to the Korean forces, South Korean forces, including air support. Then
the next step was for permission to move air support, or interdiction,
into the north.
HESS: North of the 38th parallel.
MUCCIO: North of the 38th parallel. And those three successive
steps, you have to keep in mind, took place before ground forces were committed.
I'd been home in late May to report on the buildup
in the north,
and Rhee had put considerable effort in selling the idea that they needed
more backing, including defense against air attacks. And the Koreans had
gotten word that we were cannibalizing P-51s in Japan and they wanted
to know why they couldn't get some P-51s. That was one thing that I raised
in these talks back in Washington. And at one of the OCB meetings General
Davis represented the Army--no, General [Lyman L.] Lemnitzer represented
the Army, Davis represented the Air Force.
Anyway, when I raised this question of P-51s, the defense representatives
said that they were not interested in the defense of Korea and they would
not give any additional support unless State got a change in the NSC [National
Security Council] policy position, vis-a-vis Korea. And it had already
been decided that State would move in that direction and I pointed out
at this meeting that all of these planes would be cannibalized before
the NSC policy position could possibly be changed. I asked General Davis
if he couldn't send word to General [George E.] Stratemeyer to put some
aside. Davis replied, "I cannot instruct General Stratemeyer to do that,
but if he sees fit to put a few of these planes aside until the last
it would be all right with us." He said, "You can, when you get back to
Tokyo, just mention it."
When I went in to see General Stratemeyer he said, "Fine, I agree
with you, but you know who's boss around here."
HESS: Meaning General MacArthur?
MUCCIO: Yes. So, I said, "Well, I'll go up and see what we can
do there." And I went upstairs to see General MacArthur. I left General
MacArthur with the impression that he agreed to this suggestion that twenty
or thirty P-51s be put aside and not cannibalized until Washington had
a chance to change the NSC 7-1.
I waited a week, and ten days, and finally queried General MacArthur
and got word back, "I shall not lift a finger until instructed."
That was just about two weeks before the fight broke out. When
the fight did break out, we decided to give them some P-51s. Some Korean
pilots who had had experience flying with the Chinese and with the Japanese,
were sent over to Japan to be checked out on the P-51s. And they came
back with some American and Australian pilot volunteers. That was the
beginning of the air effort in Korea.
HESS: How many planes did they bring back that had not been cannibalized,
do you recall? A somewhat smaller number than might have been had the General acted?
MUCCIO: Well, I'm not sure. I know that there were eleven Korean
pilots checked out and in addition to those planes, our own boys and the
Australian boys were flying P-51s, and later on, also F-80s. We turned
over to the Koreans a certain number of P-51s at that time.
HESS: And when Mr. Truman and his advisers decided to act as they
did in the defense of Korea, of course, the action was taken through the
MUCCIO: Well, some of the U.S.-U.N. action was taken more or less
simultaneously, let's put it that way. I think we made a very definite
effort and I think Truman and Acheson should be commended for that in
giving as much UN flavor as possible to the operation that was underway
there. But we were moving along there so fast that whether the left hand
was able to follow the right is a question.
HESS: What was their reasoning at that time to work through the United Nations?
MUCCIO: Well, the United Nations had been seized with the Korean
problem since '47 when the U.S. had thrown it in the UN lap. UNCURK [United
Nations Commission for Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea] was still
on site in Korea when the Communists crossed the 38th parallel. And one
very fortunate development was that we'd reported from Korea that more
and more of the problems that the United Nations Commission was looking
into was the question of the buildup of armed forces, and suggested that
the representatives of the seven countries on this committee needed military
advisers. And Australia was first, Australia, and I think Canada was first
to get their men actually in place in Korea. This military advisory group
had been along the front for about a week and came back to Seoul that
Saturday eve. It was most fortuitous that they were able to report, and
this had a very, very important bearing on the discussions that came up
in the General Assembly of the United Nations that fall. They were able
to report that they had seen no evidence of any kind of an offensive buildup
in South Korea. This had a hell of a lot more impact on the so-called neutral nations
of the General Assembly than any report that the United
States might have made.
HESS: Now that bears on the subject that there was quite a bit
of talk at the time and still today, as you mentioned previously about
John Foster Dulles, the question of just who invaded whom.
What other examples, or false examples actually, did the north
give to say that they were the ones that had been invaded, or that they
were not the invaders? What evidence did they try to put out other than
the photograph of John Foster Dulles?
MUCCIO: It's so far back I'd have to refresh my memory a bit. It's hard
to realize that this is over twenty years ago now.
HESS: Quite awhile back isn't it?
HESS: All right, what other recollections come to mind dealing
with July of 1950?
MUCCIO: Well, I'd like to digress a bit to mention one thing that
I was preoccupied about. Our boys came into Korea in the depth of summer,
and would be fighting in those rice paddies under very unsanitary conditions
(this was certainly a forerunner
of what we are facing in Vietnam today.)
I think the medical record of our operations in Korea are of the highest
order, and very, very commendable. I'd lived in China for many years and
I knew of how difficult it is to keep sanitation and health conditions
plausible. Tokyo and the medical authorities did a magnificent job. For
instance they started a program and the Koreans got a lot of men to vaccinate
and inoculate all refugees at checkpoints as these refugees moved south,
all of them. Tokyo sent over, because there was no refrigerating facilities
available to South Korea at the time, sent over first 25,000 units for
vaccination and inoculation of typhoid and smallpox, a day. And then they
stepped it up to 50,000 a day and as the South Koreans got into position.
And they took steps about chemically treating water, for instance, in
the few places where they could get water. And I think it's a marvel that
no epidemic of any kind broke out that summer with these hundreds of thousands
of refugees moving, and our own forces moving in the other direction.
And then we went on to the magnificent medical
facilities for our
wounded and the wounded of our allies. We had various international medical
teams. The U.S. military medical units, South Korean, and various hospital
ships on either side of the peninsula so that the seriously wounded could
be lifted by helicopter right out of there. And I think that the number
of lives saved through those facilities is phenomenal. It's something
that I don't think has ever been adequately conveyed to the American people
and the people of the world.
HESS: What are your observations on the support given to President
Rhee's government by the people of South Korea? You have mentioned previously
that the North Koreans may well have had the intention of swooping into
Seoul, capturing the government and then saying, "He is really just a
puppet, he really does not have the support of the people." Well they
did not capture the President, but they made things pretty hot
in South Korea for a time.
MUCCIO: Some of the things that baffled me, for instance, when
we started to move into Korea you had equipment, vehicles, and ammunition
and armaments dumped off at
Pusan and put on the trains and all moved
up the M.L.R. While we were still in Taejon, the railway yards, one of
the most important in Korea, were jammed with gasoline, ammunition, all
kinds of equipment. Why the hell the Communists didn't blow that up I
don't know. Why didn't they blow up Taegu and Pusan? Why didn't they blow
up some of those railway bridges? And it's something that I've given a
great deal of thought to and I've never been able to come up with any
definite conclusion. There is one thing I do know is that Kim Tai Son,
who was head of the metropolitan police in the Seoul area, in February
and later on April, broke up two chains of North Korean spies and saboteurs.
Now, it could be that these losses had not been reported back to Pyongyang
or the reports of the distrust that the Korean people allegedly had for
their own government were misunderstood and misanalyzed up north, or possibly
a combination of both of those factors. But time and again I just couldn't
understand why the hell the North Koreans didn't block one or two of the
tunnels and one or two of the bridges between Seoul and Pusan.
HESS: Do you think that they were waiting for an uprising
among the South Koreans?
MUCCIO: I think that they were so sure of themselves and that the
South Korean authorities were so corrupt and so rotten that they hadn't
done anything. I think the bounceback of the Korean military, for instance,
from that punch that they received there in June and early July and then
had their forces reorganized and get back in there and start fighting,
is really something phenomenal.
HESS: Let me make a very brief comparison of what we are facing
in Vietnam today with what we faced in Korea. In Vietnam we are really
fighting two enemies, so it would seem. The forces from the north plus
rebel elements from the south.
MUCCIO: From the south, yes.
HESS: Now, in the Korean fighting we were fighting mainly, until
the Chinese came in, forces from the north. Was there any evidence of
South Korean Communists at that time?
MUCCIO: Oh, sure there was a certain amount of that, yes, all the
time. We had in Korea this self-styled Moscow Communist Cho Bong-Am. He
was a member of the National Assembly, he was an anathema to Syngman Rhee. There
were several others in the National Assembly that Rhee kept accusing
of being in contact with the north. That goes way back to '45 and during
the war of course, was accentuated.
HESS: But when the fighting started these people didn't take up
arms against our forces?
MUCCIO: There was a minimal amount of that. For instance . . .
HESS: Whereas with the Viet Cong in Vietnam today it's a maximum effort.
MUCCIO: Yes. Because such groups had been in existence in Vietnam
organized during World War II. It was in existence when the French tried
to knock out Ho Chi Minh, which they never...
HESS: Never did.
MUCCIO: ...were able to do. And that organization is longstanding
in Vietnam. And in Korea the...
HESS: It hadn't developed.
MUCCIO: Everyone was against the Japanese for instance. Then the
Russians and the Americans came in and initially the South Koreans felt
that the Americans were just replacing the overlordship of the Japanese.
HESS: We have already mentioned today that at one point our policy was
not to move north of the 38th parallel. And taking just an excerpt from
Dean Acheson's book Present at the Creation, one of the points
where you are mentioned in the book, he says that:
On July 13 the problem was further complicated by President
Syngman Rhee's announcement that Korean forces would not stop at the parallel
and the reply of the U.S. Army spokesman that U.S. forces would stop there
and would compel South Korean troops to do likewise. I hastily cabled
Ambassador Muccio to do all that he could to stop such public statements
and discussion, which prejudiced the position of the United States.
Was this a thorn in your side at this time?
MUCCIO: Well was that July 13th, 1950?
HESS: July the 13th, 1950, when obviously at this time Syngman Rhee,
President Rhee, announced that his forces would not stop at the parallel.
And Dean Acheson advised you to do all you could to stop such public statements
on the part of President Rhee. Was that quite a problem for you at that time?
MUCCIO: Well, we had recurring problems with old man Rhee. We just couldn't
shut him up. The Koreans, when we finally--see we--our last military unit
left June 29, 1949.
HESS: What was the feeling at that time when the military units left?
MUCCIO: Well, in that fall the Chinese Communists took control of all
mainland China. The Koreans were down in the depths of despair. The whole
idea, and this cropped up again, when the Chinese Communists came into
the fight, "Well, if the Nationalists can't stop the Chinese Communists
what chance do we have?" And it became psychological. And I recommended
a "show of flag" and that's when the St. Paul and two destroyers
came up and visited Pusan and Inchon.
Well, the Admiral invited Rhee and the Cabinet, the diplomatic corps
and pressmen ' . down on board. And at the end of the luncheon the Admiral
asked Rhee if he wouldn't like to welcome the complement of the ship over
the loudspeaker system. Well, Rhee started out very nicely on how much
he appreciated his visit and all that, and he gradually warmed himself
up and right over this loudspeaker system on the St. Paul he declared
war against the Communists throughout the world. I mean that's the sort
of thing that kept cropping up with Rhee regularly.
HESS: He'd get carried away with himself, would he?
MUCCIO: Yeah, that's what I had in mind when I mentioned that when he
was in his logical moments he had a wonderful historical perspective,
but when he got emotional he reverted to the old guerrilla, the old revolutionary.
HESS: Is that a more or less an oriental frame of mind, or is that common
with the oriental people?
MUCCIO: I think it's common with age. Please bear that in mind when you
go through this. Rhee was at least ten years older than I--well, fifteen
years older than I.
HESS: Well, back to the days of the invasion, shortly after the invasion
Mr. Truman announced that the Seventh Fleet was going to protect Formosa
from an invasion by the Communists from the mainland, and also was going
to prevent the Nationalists on Formosa from invading the mainland. What
is your view, do you think that the Nationalist Chinese troops should
have been used in some manner, whether that manner be an invasion of the
mainland in 1950, or used in Korea, as Chiang Kai-Shek offered them several
times, for use with the United Nations forces in Korea. Should those troops
have been used?
MUCCIO: In the first place, I don't think they would fight any better
than they fought on the mainland. If they wouldn't fight for their own
patrimony, why the hell would you expect them to fight for the Koreans.
And then the Chinese historically have been anathemas to all of these
surrounding countries. They're scared of the Chinese more than they are
of the so-called Communists. Whether they--I'm a little mixed up here,
but they are just as scared of the Chinese, irrespective of whether they
are Nationalist or Communists.
HESS: On that point, just speaking from historical context, do the Korean
people have a greater antipathy for the Chinese or the Japanese?
MUCCIO: Oh the Japanese, but it is much more recent.
HESS: Is it about equal though do you suppose?
MUCCIO: When was it, the Chinese-Japanese war, when was that, 1895?
HESS: I don't recall.
MUCCIO: Then the Japanese knocked the Chinese out of
Korea, and it was
about ten years later when they knocked the Russians out of Korea.
HESS: Some historians have pointed out that even if Chiang's forces had
never left the Island of Taiwan, not been used in Korea, but if Mr. Truman
had not made this pronouncement that we are going to keep the Communists
in China, we're going to keep Chiang on Taiwan, that it would have made
a threat towards the southern coast of China. And China would have had
to have held some of their forces on the coast opposite Taiwan as a deterrent
to this possible threat of Chiang's. But when Mr. Truman said we will
move the Seventh Fleet in here and we will not allow these people this
way and we will not allow Chiang to invade the mainland, it freed Chinese
troops in China to eventually come around into Korea. What is your view of that?
MUCCIO: I think the Chinese, under the Communists, proved during the
Korean fighting, that in certain types of fighting they were very well-organized
and very well disciplined and very well-controlled, which Chiang Kai-Shek
was unable to do with very, very many Chinese.
HESS: Well, it's 12:30, we've been going at it quite a while and I would
like for you to go over the statement
on Wake Island before we got into that.
We've got a good many things to discuss from this point on until the
Inchon invasion on September the 15th, and then the very important conference
on October the 15th. The entry of the Chinese Communists into the war
in the latter part of October and early part of November, conditions between
then and April. Relationship between President Truman and General MacArthur,
and then the dismissal of General MacArthur in April of '51. So, let's
leave that until another time and then call this a day. Would that be
MUCCIO: That's fine.
HESS: All right.
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