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SFC Frank Imparato, RA Infantry Advisor, KMAG, sharing headquarters with Colonel Walker from the 2nd Division.

Frank Imparato

Downingtown, PA -
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"There is a story to tell of one US pilot of a P-51 Mustang who radioed for help. His plane’s electrical and hydraulic system was pretty much shot up, and he was unable to lower his landing gear... His engine was practically torn out, and you could see the P-51 had cracked in half..."

- Frank Imparato

 


Dear Lynnita,

I have forwarded some information that might be of some interest. I enjoyed gathering the material since it brought back fond memories of my tour in Korea during most of 1952.

Generally, whenever you read events on Korea, it is always of the main US units. There are numerous units that serve in combat/non-combat and their experiences are not heard. Therefore, I was particularly anxious to do this, since the information explains part of what the function of soldiers of the U.S. Military Group (KMAG) was, and what they did side by side with Republic of Korea (ROK) troops in all phases of Army military unit, whether it was Infantry, Artillery, Signal Corps, etc., including US Air Force. KMAG was an integral part of the 8th Army.

There is a book written by Major Robert K. Sawyer entitled, "Military Advisors in Korea: KMAG in Peace and War." It depicts the early days of 1948 and 1949 to the early 1950s, giving the hardships both officers and enlisted men had to encounter, such as living conditions, food, climate, language barrier, etc. Korea at that time was nothing but barren land, rice paddies, no roads or transportation, no industry or cities. The book also gives a comprehensive account of advisors from the start of the Korean War, and their role with ROK units during the war period. The book should be available through Barnes and Noble.

The Barnes and Noble Link is the "Out of Print" page. Search for the book with costs approximately $24. You have to be persistent to obtain it, because it could take some time.

The following information is regarding KMAG and some of my experiences while assigned to I ROK Corps in North Korea. Please be advised that the write-up portion on KMAG was taken from Sawyer’s book.

Sincerely,

Frank A. Imparato


Background (based on Sawyer’s book):

The mid-twentieth century added new dimensions to the roles and missions long performed by the U.S. Army. The American soldier lived and worked as an ally, friend, and counselor. As a representative of the American way of life, as a persuasive advocate of his country’s modern equipment and tactical doctrine, as a partner in a global system of achieving security for the entire free world, he was called upon to demonstrate a variety of talents--patience, tact, linguistic ability, and superior professional knowledge, among others--and he had to make a supreme effort to understand people and traditions often vastly different from his own.

One of the Army’s new pioneers was the US Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea, known as "KMAG". The EM and Officers who served in KMAG during the early days of Korea came to know all of the frustrations and triumphs, the problems and partial solutions, the failures and successes of this new venture.

In an era when the U.S. Military Assistance Group are scattered all over the world, the story of one of the earliest of these groups is of more than passing interest. The U.S. Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea, or KMAG as it was known, was not only one of the first Advisory Groups to be formed, but also one of the few that had to operate both in peace and war.

The problems that KMAG had to face in Korea in organizing and developing native forces was the problem of communications between a highly skilled and competent group of personnel on the one hand, and an eager and willing, yet often uneducated and untrained people on the other; the need to establish a military language comprehensible to both teacher and pupil; and the task of forging a military instrument out of raw material at hand under conditions quite primitive by American standards.

Although officially KMAG’s history does not begin until 1 July 1949, when a group was formally established, its mission during the 1948-49 period, the seeds were planted and the area of development was laid out. KMAG’s toughest era was the first year of the war. It was the era of greatest stress and strains on the Advisory group and the ROK army, since they had to first undergo the pains of birth and growing up, as well as be tested in the crucible of war, before they were properly prepared.

A great deal of motion took place to establish a Korean government, ROK Army, Coast Guard, etc., and on 15 August 1948, the U.S. Military Government in Korea came to an end when the ROK Government took control, with Syngman Rhee as President. On January 1, 1949, the U.S. formally recognized the Republic of Korea. It was then decided that the ROK should not depend on the presence of American military forces in the country. On 10 May 1949, General MacArthur recommended remaining US units be withdrawn. Instructions were received to make preparations for withdrawal by 30 June. However, the KMAG Group was still going to stay, and it was expanded in strength to help train ROK soldiers in tactics, use of weapons, equipment and communications. KMAG also hoped to help develop a more efficient Korean military establishment. During this period many ROK changes, both government and military, took place.

KMAG advisors, consisting of officers and enlisted men, were to devote their attention to their ROK counterpart; G-1 Section: provide advice and counseling; G-2 Section: intelligence and investigations of political incidents; G-3 Section: training of ROK Army and familiarization of weapons; G-4 Section: logistics. A ROK army school system was to be established, as well as organizing military chain of command and organizational levels. In all, KMAG’s mission was to try to establish all aspects of a complete military ROK army. In addition, with regards to other branches of military, KMAG was to help South Korea establish a Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force. In late 1948 and 1949, ROK units (Divisions, Regiments, etc.) began replacing US army units along the 38th Parallel. However, the majority of these units were not up to full strength.

During this period of 1948-1949, there was always tension surrounding North and South Korea. On 25 June 1950 came a surprise when small arms fire, high explosives, and mortar shells from the North Korean border began to fall on ROK lines. Thus began the Korean War as we know it. Later on, KMAG became an integral part of the 8th Army.


Frank Imparato & KMAG:

I was involved with World War II at the age of 18. Right from high school I was sent to Camp Blanding, Florida. There, I took infantry basic training consisting of 15 weeks basic and two weeks of bivouac (simulated warfare training). At the completion of this basic training, World War II was over, and the majority of trainees were scheduled for occupation duty overseas to replace veteran troops. I was instructed to remain as an infantry instructor. Infantry basic training was eventually cut to fifteen weeks, eliminating bivouac training. I continued as an instructor for several years, until I was reassigned to Camp Pickett, Virginia. From there, I was transferred to Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland, as an instructor. I was then assigned to administrative duties until my discharge in late 1947.

In early 1948, I reenlisted in the Army, and was assigned to a Reserve unit as an instructor. Later I became a US Army recruiting sergeant. It was during my last year of my enlistment that I received orders (January 1952) to report to San Francisco, California, for debarkation to the Far East. I was considered a "Lone Rider" with my own orders since I was not attached to an Army unit. I left by troop ship, the General Wm. O. Black with approximately 2000 or more US soldiers. It took 21 days to reach Sasebo, Japan, where I was issued clothing and weapons and then flown by an AFC 131 Globe Master transport to Pusan, Korea. There, I boarded an army truck for Taegu, and was assigned quarters as an Army replacement--unit and destination still unknown.


North Korea in the area of Heart Break Ridge
and the Punch Bowl.

It was not until the 5th replacement depot that I knew I was going to North Korea, but duty and outfit still unknown. In Seoul, other GIs and I boarded a C47/C54 transport wearing parachutes. The plane also carried supplies of all kind. We were flown to K-50 airstrip, loaded on an army truck with other enlisted men and supplies, and transported to I ROK Corps. It was located somewhere around Yang Yang and Mundon-ri in the Punch Bowl sector on the East Coast of North Korea near the Sea of Japan. All of this took place within a time span of two to three days.

At the time, I ROK Corps consisted of the 3rd ROK Division (which was later replaced by the 5th ROK Division), the 11th and ROK Capitol Divisions. My title was Sergeant Major, even though my rank was SFC. The sergeant I was to replace had already left for rotation.

At the time, I ROK Corps consisted of the 3rd ROK Division (which was later replaced by the 5th ROK Division), the 11th and ROK Capitol Divisions. My title was Sergeant Major, even though my rank was SFC. The sergeant I was to replace had already left for rotation.


Taken at K-50 air strip - An F80 Shooting Star Jet USAF - shot up and could not make it back to Pusan base.

I was somewhat beside myself assigned to an all-Korean outfit rather than a US Army unit. However, that was my assignment. I was responsible for approximately 180 to 200 US military personnel consisting of motor pool, cooks, signal corps personnel, Marine spotters (used to communicate with ships on the Sea of Japan) and Air Force with their radio controlled jeeps keeping in contact with US and ROK pilots going to and from strike missions who were unable to return to their ships or base.

P-51 Mustangs, F-80 Saber Jets and Navy/Marines Corsairs were used on air strikes, and there were many incidents when pilots were in trouble as a result of small arms or artillery fire due to low level flying. Pilots in trouble were generally directed to land at an emergency air strip (K-50) by the AF radio jeep, at which time a small contingent of US and ROK personnel would aid and assist in the rescue.

There is a story to tell of one US pilot of a P-51 Mustang who radioed for help. His plane’s electrical and hydraulic system was pretty much shot up, and he was unable to lower his landing gear. He was directed to land at K-50 airstrip. He came in low and fast from a distance, skimming and thrashing through rice fields to attempt a belly landing. He finally came to rest cross wise on the air strip. His engine was practically torn out, and you could see the P-51 had cracked in half (the picture I snapped is shown here).


K-50 air strip - P-51 heavily damaged and unable to return to his home base in Pusan.

The pilot was shaken, but not hurt. There was a considerable number of aircraft damaged by small arms and artillery fire, and it was hard to believe how these pilots made it safely to an airstrip, their carrier, or an air base. This was as a common occurrence, since Air Force strikes were heavily stepped up during the 1952 period. It should be noted that ROK pilots were flying P-51 mustangs. We would see many a sortie in formation of 9 to 12 planes (groups of 3), flying over the Sea of Japan from their base in Taegu (5th Air Force). In many cases, the planes were manned by ROK pilots.

During the Spring of 1952 through the remaining months of 1952, there was a steady growth of enemy artillery fire power. Intense small arms and automatic weapons fire increased as the months went by, as did air strikes along the Kansas and Wyoming lines. I ROK Corps with its 5th and Capitol Divisions continued to encounter fierce enemy opposition (Capitol Hill and Finger Ridge Hill). It was an up and down situation from Corps to divisions and back to Corps, really a Yo-Yo affair. In all, the ROK Army must be congratulated, for in just a few short years after a heavy struggle, it did grow. The ROK troops proved that they could help to maintain South Korea independence, and they are continuing to do so.


I ROK Corps (North Korea, July 5, 1952)
President Syngman Rhee, his wife,
Gen. VanFleet, Gen. O'Daniels (1st Corps Commander), Gen Lee Hung Koon (Commander of I ROK Corps)

On several occasions, I had the privilege of being in the company of President Syngman Rhee and his wife, as well as General Van Fleet, 8th Army commander; General Wyman, US IX Corps Commander; General Ryan, US KMAG Commanding General; and General O’Daniels, 1st Corps Commander. I would always see General Lee Hung Koon, I ROK Corps Commander on a daily basis with his US counterpart, Colonel Walker, of the Second Infantry Division. A number of visits were made by all to discuss overall combat status and situations.

During the winter of 1952, it was very cold--below the low thirties--making it a problem for anything mechanical to function properly. The troops also had trouble functioning properly in the cold. To wash, shower, eat hot meals, or keep warm was not to be.

On several occasions I made a trip to a MASH unit—a sight one would never forget. However, there was one memorable time much on the lighter side. Around September or October, we KMAG EM advisors managed to buy two large orange crates of fresh shrimp from a Korean fisherman for one dollar. With the help of our mess sergeant, we had fried shrimp, along with our beer rations for the month. What a night! Shrimp and beer. Unbelievable!

Because winter was cold, rain and snow made mud like glue. After walking for a while, you began to get taller from the mud caking on the bottom of your boots. With all this, I was looking forward to R&R in Japan. Finally in late December, I went to Tokyo for my allotted one week. But I had to stay for another week as a result of President Eisenhower visiting Korea. All air traffic was suspended for safety reasons. The first week, all hell broke loose. I enjoyed myself with the hospitality and the good life. I also bought chinaware, etc., for my wife.

The second week was a lost cause. I was broke and had to stay at an Army camp in Yokohama. I did some sightseeing. I returned to Korea, and by that time it was January 1953. With the point system, my enlistment was up in the latter part of February. I was looking forward to returning to the States. As always, the more anxious you are to leave Korea, the longer the days and nights appeared to be, especially the nights. You had the feeling that something might go wrong during the remaining days as it happened to many a GI. They were stressful days, but always ones never to forget.


I ROK Corps (1952) -L to R-
KMAG Advisor, Sgt. Ski, Sgt. Kress,
celebrating going home

I returned to the States and was discharged at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, February 1953. That ended my military career, six days shy of seven years of military service. I am currently a life member of VFW Post 3460, life member of the KWVA, and life member of the NRA.

I am also a member of the Korean War Project. My hobbies include going to automobile shows with an un-restored 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and doing competitive shooting (.22 and .45 cal) in national and local matches. Previously, I was a power boater for 25 years. These are all great and exciting sports. I do pray mostly every night that I made a safe return home from Korea with a wealth of information, experiences, and memories. To all Korean veterans--KIA, MIA, POW, the able and disabled veterans, I say, "God bless them all."

– Frank Imparato

 

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