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As the conflict grew in intensity, and deaths of United Nations personnel increased, it became necessary for each combat division to establish and operate its own cemetery, pending the arrival of graves registration companies from the zone of interior to assume this responsibility. However, the town of Taejon was shortly thereafter seized by the enemy, and the cemetery, with its forty-six interments, had to be abandoned.
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Other temporary cemeteries were established at Kwan-ui, Kum-chon, and Sindong; these also passed to control of the enemy when United Nations forces withdrew to the Pusan perimeter. It was during the period when divisions operated their own cemeteries that difficulties were encountered which extended to the utmost the capacity of the few personnel engaged in caring for the dead. Combat troops could hardly be spared to dig graves, and it was almost impossible to obtain civilian labor, due to the abandonment of towns and villages by fleeing refugees anxious to escape from the battle area.
Tents were set up as mortuaries to receive and hold bodies until graves could be dug and records prepared. Yet in spite of adverse conditions, the remains of the United Nations dead were interred with that dignity and solemnity which circumstances permitted. With the withdrawal of United Nations forces to the Pusan perimeter, other temporary United Nations cemeteries were established.
Meanwhile the Quartermaster, Far East Command, formulated policies for the care, interment, and recording of all United Nations deceased. To implement these policies the Graves Registration Division, Quartermaster Section, EUSAK, prepared and published directives establishing definite procedures for handling remains and personal effects. Minus a platoon which was left in Japan, this unit moved to Korea Pusan on September 12, , and promptly assumed control of the temporary cemeteries at Miryang, Masan, and Taegu.
This action released division personnel who were badly needed to evacuate the dead from battlefield areas. The th Graves Registration Company was placed under the operational control of the Graves Registration Division, Quartermaster, EUSAK, thereby ensuring a direct channel for carrying out all policies in caring for remains and the cemeteries in which they were interred. The platoon-that remained in Japan was attached to the X Corps, which was preparing for an amphibious operation at Inchon.
The platoon disembarked at Inchon, and shortly after the initial combat units drove inward from that port, it promptly initiated action to recover the dead. Subsequently the platoon, jointly with graves registration personnel of the lst Marine Division, opened the temporary United Nations military cemetery at Inchon, on September 8, The successful operation at Inchon and the simultaneous break-out from the Pusan perimeter made necessary the establishment of forward collecting points to ensure the expeditious return of remains to the established temporary cemeteries. Search and recovery operations in areas recaptured from the enemy were started immediately, and remains were funneled through collecting points to the cemeteries.
This action simplified the identification of many remains which would have otherwise decomposed or deteriorated to an extent which would make identification extremely difficult. Elements of the th Graves Registration Company followed the divisions as they progressed northward. Continuous liaison permitted the rapid transfer of decedents to the established cemeteries, thereby making unnecessary the opening of additional cemeteries in the captured areas.
To comprehend fully the accomplishments of graves registration personnel during the initial phases of the Korean conflict it is necessary for the reader to visualize conditions existing in Korea during those trying days in Means of communication, so vital to successful operations, were totally inadequate, since the limited facilities were reserved principally for tactical troops. Railways were utilized entirely for the logistical support of combat troops.
Highways, as we know them in the United States, are connecting the nonexistent in Korea. The best roads connecting the towns and villages are little more than widened trails, in most places not wide enough for two-way vehicular traffic. The surface condition of roads was so bad that the movement of vehicles was estimated in hours per mile rather than miles per hour.
Rice paddies, with their soggy surfaces, blanket the valleys, making travel in the lower areas equally difficult. This terrain, appraised from a tactical standpoint, is eminently suited for defense. Korea is a land where, in general, the oxcart is more practical than the motor vehicle, and massed human labor more suitable than machinery.
It was on the ridges and sides of the mountain and in the rice paddies of the valleys that the battles were fought and men died. The removal of the dead to distant United Nations military cemeteries was a difficult and laborious undertaking. Such remains as could not be moved because of the exigencies of battle were hastily interred in foxholes, shell holes, or any area of soft earth which permitted a quick burial. These isolated graves were not always marked, and, even in cases where crude markers were erected, many were lost through the action of the elements or destroyed in battle. Still other markers were removed by natives or the enemy.
All this made the search and recovery activities of graves registration personnel an exacting and demanding task. The search was not limited to men known to have been killed in action. Lists of men reported missing in action at places only designated by grid coordinates were furnished the search teams. The remains of hundreds of such casualties were recovered, due to the untiring efforts of the men in the American Graves Registration Service.
After consolidating the gains made through the Inchon landing and the breakout from the Pusan perimeter, the next phase of tactical operations was directed northward toward the Manchurian border. As United Nations troops crossed the 38th Parallel, on or about October 2, , it became necessary to reassign graves registration units to service the combat divisions moving northward.
The platoon of the th, which had participated in the Inchon landing, was relieved of responsibility for operating the Inchon cemetery and attached to the X Corps. The Inchon cemetery was, in the meantime, placed in the temporary custody of the 3rd Logistical Command, who maintained it until relieved by the th Graves Registration Company, which arrived in Korea on November 25, Another amphibious operation by United Nations forces occurred on October 26, at Wonsan, and resulted in the capture of that town by the X Corps.
Elements of a platoon of the th Graves Registration Company, which participated in the initial landing, promptly established a temporary cemetery on the side of a small hill adjacent to the town.
The subsequent advance northward from Wonsan by fast-moving divisions of the X Corps made it necessary to establish additional cemeteries far north of Wonsan. The 7th Infantry Division established a cemetery at Pukchon on November 5, , and the platoon of the th Graves Registration Company attached to the X Corps, jointly with the lst Marine Division, established a cemetery at Hungnam on the same date. Simultaneously with the X Corps landing at Wonsan, the Eighth Army pressed northward from the 38th parallel. The swift advance of Eighth Army troops also made necessary the establishment of temporary cemeteries in the western sector of North Korea.
The 1st Cavalry Division opened a cemetery at Pyongyang on October 22, Another cemetery was established at Suchon, on the same date, jointly by the th Airborne Regimental Combat Team and the 24th Infantry Division. The entry into Korea of a vast horde of Chinese troops to reinforce the disintegrating North Korean armies halted the forward movement of United Nations forces and made urgent their withdrawal to locations where strong defensive positions could be established. The movement of the X Corps to Hungnam and the evacuation of its personnel and equipment by United Nations naval units from that port has long since been recorded as an epic of the Korean conflict.
All temporary cemeteries in the area of withdrawal fell under communist control, including the cemetery at Hungnam, located in the outskirts of that city. During the siege of Hungnam it became necessary to establish a cemetery near the beach. The withdrawal of the Eighth Army to positions south of the 38th parallel resulted in the loss of control of the cemeteries at Pyongyang and Suchon.
It was during the withdrawal of the Eighth Army southward that a decision of major importance was made with respect to cemeteries still under control of United Nations forces. Acting upon the recommendation of the Quartermaster, Far East, the Supreme Commander, United Nations Forces, directed the evacuation of all United Nations temporary military cemeteries.
The remains of all United States deceased were to be prepared for shipment to Japan, and the deceased of Allied nations were to be concentrated in a centralized United Nations military cemetery.
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Plans were promptly formulated by the Graves Registration Division, Quartermaster Section, EUSAK, for an immediate evacuation of the Inchon cemetery, which was in the direct path of advancing communist forces. A platoon of the th Graves Registration Company was assigned the task of evacuating this cemetery, which held the remains of United Nations soldiers.
Included among these dead were remains disinterred from Kaesong, the first cemetery evacuated in the face of the communist advance. Time was all-important since the communists were on the outskirts of Seoul. Frozen ground, the difficulty in obtaining laborers from among the refugees fleeing to the south, and the procurement of supplies and transportation, were the chief obstacles to be overcome.
Working under these difficult conditions, the disinterment operations of Inchon cemetery began on Christmas morning Laborers were obtained with the cooperation of the local labor office and Korean police. The promise of a rice bonus aided in securing sufficient labor personnel. Supplies such as picks, shovels, wrapping materials, and shipping tags were secured from the closest available sources. The exhumation by plot, row, and grave, with men of the platoon verifying the remains of each disinterred and noting any discrepancies on prepared reports, was the first step in this unusual operation.
The second step included the wrapping, tagging, and evacuation of the disinterred to an improvised mortuary at the port of Inchon. The last step provided for the preparation of the shipping list and the loading of remains aboard a vessel hastily secured for this purpose. The operation was completed successfully by the evening of December 28, , at which time the loaded vessel departed from the Port of Inchon.
This unique achievement was accomplished only through the dogged efforts of graves registration personnel determined to prevent additional remains from falling into enemy hands.