Valleys of Death: A Memoir of the Korean War

Valleys of Death

 

From time to time I read books and some I find noteworthy. This is one of the books.

The Korean War is sometimes called the “Forgotten War.” The numbers are staggering: 36,940 American dead, 92,134 wounded, 3,737 MIAs and 4,439 POWs. Behind every one of the numbers is a story. Valleys of Death is Bill Richardson’s personal story of the Korean War.

Bill Richardson was too young for the Second World War, but by 1950 already had had four years in the Army and was due to be discharged. The only thing was that he didn’t want out of the Army and he had to fight to re-enlist. This is were he begins his saga.

As corporal he was given leadership responsibilities as a weapons platoon NCO or non-commissioned officer. Getting ready for war, Richardson soon comes to the conclusion that readiness on the part of the Army for this war was lacking.

From training onward, Richardson takes charge. Soon, perhaps too soon, he and his men are in Korea. The war has been in progress for several months and the North had the initial advantage. This would soon change as Richardson and his men fight hill to hill, hills with names like Hill 570, Hill 314, 401, 307 and many others. Here both enemy and friends fell under the North’s relentless, fanatical “human assault” attacks. By October 1950, his battalion suffered 465 casualties since its arrival in August.

By Fall, Richardson finds himself north of the 38th parallel in Pyongyang. Luck changes quickly for Richardson when the Chinese Army adds 200,000 of their regulars to the mix.

Richardson’s position is overrun by the Chinese. He regroups, fights back numerous assaults and attempts a breakout. Capture is followed by a death march and then a death camp. Richardson is now officially listed as Missing in Action. Richardson stays alive by sheer willpower as 30 to 40 prisoners die everyday because of the horrid conditions. “Starvation, lice, beatings.” After several years things start to improve and then the war ends.

Takeaways

One life lesson Richardson discovered was that “suffering is part of the human experience and can be overcome. A good lesson and one that I’d learned through experience.”

Key to Richardson’s survival was inculcating a personal will to survive. Richardson saw strong men give up and heroes emerge from unexpected quarters.

Keep taking calculated risks and prepare for opportunity. Richardson escaped when he could and made other plans to escape should the opportunity present itself.

Never give up.

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover (December 7, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0425236730
Available as a Kindle download.

The Korean War should be remain etched in our memory and Richardson’s story helps us to remember.