Ahhh…Yes, North Korea

North Korea is back in the news these days with a sentencing of some 24 year old liberal who tried to defect to North Korea. The NK sentenced him to 6 years hard labor. As Snowden discovered — and Kim Philby before him — no one likes a traitor. Spies are another subject — there is a certain respect for those who risk their lives.

My first experience with the NK, was when I was 17 years old.

In days of set piece war, more casualties are caused by artillery than bullets. Artillery is best at killing, troops are best at gaining and holding real estate.

In our case, Wonsan Harbor was a harbor deep into NK territory. (280 miles deep at that time) The tiny islands in the harbor were held by the US Marines, and if the ship in the harbor was driven, out the Marines would be instantly overrun.

The NK had large guns on tracks hidden behind huge steel doors in the mountain overlooking the harbor, and the NK would run the guns out, bombard both the Marines and the resident ship. The Navy had usual 5″ guns, which while powerful, were slow firing, giving the NK guns plenty of time to get the range right.

(Every week we had a squad of the Marines come aboard by rubber boat for a fe nights of hot chow and a warm bunk. I was with one of them when we started getting incoming and he freaked out. I said he got shelled on his island and he said with fear, “Yes, but there I can dig a home — here there is no place to hide!)

We were a tiny ship (a WWII, DDE) but the secret was we had the first 3” dual mounts — each gun firing one 12 pound shell a second. Rather than fire, spot, range, fire spot…our mounts could start somewhere and just “walk” the results directly into the gun position before the NK could get the doors shut. The NK also had their train tracks repaired just seconds before a train came out of the mountain range, and at full speed it would taunt the “Station Ship” with steam whistle blaring as it rocketed south. Our 3″ mount got it first time — it took days to clear the mess, which we interrupted…afterward it ran silent…but we still got it half the time.

Our ship (USS Obannon, DDE-450, luckiest ship in WWII), won both South Korean and United States Presidential Unit Citations for just two weeks of work. The USS New Jersey relieved us and fired a nine gun (16″) salute to us — damn near sank us with the wave it generated! (I subsequently served aboard the New Jersey as a Midshipman, and was in charge of one of those 16″ guns. It was Awesome! it could throw a 2,000 pound warhead 25 miles, and it would then penetrate 16 inches of steel or 16 FEET of concrete!)

In short, each of us has an old-time war experiences — unfortunately I can’t even talk about my submarine work or submarine work in general…just one thing I can mention: When former submariner and shipmate, CDR. L. M. Bucher and his crew were captured by the NK, in his first letter to his wife he wrote, “Find Hemphill. Take his advice on all matters.”

He knew me. On his return I wrote his speeches and traveled the US with him as his bodyguard. (There is a reason.)

But that is another story.

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