The Scariest Place in the World: A Marine Returns to North Korea

The Scariest Place in the World: A Marine Returns to North Korea

by James Brady

Paperback(First Edition)

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"This powerful narrative is an endearing piece of warrior's nostalgia, written with the accustomed skill by a seasoned writer."

—-Publishers Weekly

"Graceful, even elegant, and always eloquent tribute to men at arms in a war that, in a way, never ended."

—-Kirkus Reviews

"James Brady has done it again. A riveting and illuminating insight into a dark corner of the world."

—-Tim Russert, NBC's Meet the Press

Half a century after he fought there as a young lieutenant of Marines, James Brady returns to the brooding Korean ridgelines and mountains to sound taps for a generation. It's been fifteen years since Brady first wrote of Korea in The Coldest War, drawing raves from Walter Cronkite and The New York Times, which called it "a superb personal memoir of the way it was."

In the spring of 2003, Brady and Pulitzer Prize–winning combat photographer Eddie Adams flew in Black Hawk choppers and trekked the Demilitarized Zone where it meanders into North Korea, interviewing four-star generals and bunking in with tough U.S. recon troops, in Brady's words, "raw meat on the point of a sharpened stick." Brady recalls that first time on bloody Hill 749, the men who died there, what happened to the Marines who lived to make it home, and experiences yet again the emotional pull of a lifelong love affair with the Corps in which they all served.

Brady summons up the past and illuminates the present, be it the Korea of "the forgotten war," the Yanks who fought there long ago, or today's soldiers standing wary sentinel over "the scariest place in the world." The result is uplifting, inspiring, often heartbreaking, and this new Brady memoir proves as powerful as his first.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312332433
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/04/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

James Brady commanded a rifle platoon during the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor. His weekly columns for Parade magazine and were considered must-reads by millions. He lived in Manhattan and in East Hampton, New York.

Read an Excerpt

The Scariest Place in the World



In the opening pages of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, a wartime detachment of Royal Marine Commandos bivouacs in the moonless night on the grounds of some vast but only glimpsed and half-suspected English country house. When the troops are roused at dawn, disoriented by the long train ride, by fatigue and the morning mists, and harried by their corporals and sergeants, Hooper, a gauche, easily impressed young leftenant from the unfashionable Midlands, hurries to wake the world-weary and Old Oxonian protagonist of the novel, Captain Charles Ryder, an older man disillusioned with the army.

Atwitter about their lavish new surroundings, the provincial Hooper rhapsodizes about what he's seen so far of the strange estate, its palatial extent, its wonders and splendors, its supposed riches.

"'Great barrack of a place. I've just had a snoop around. Very ornate, I'd call it. And a queer thing, there's a sort of R.C. church attached. I looked in and there was a kind of service going on—just a padre and one old man. I felt very awkward ... . There's a frightful great fountain, too, in front of the steps, all rocks and sort of carved animals. You never saw such a thing,' he assures Ryder.

"'Yes, Hooper, I did. I've been here before ... .'

"'Oh well, you know all about it. I'll go and get cleaned up.'"

Ryder had been there before, we realize; he did know all about it. The great estate was called Brideshead, and it was there that Captain Ryder had been young and in love.

Like Charles Ryder, I too was an aging former captain of Marines who had once gone to war, and there found love.

Ours wasn't a towering and noble crusade such as World War II, but small and brutish, rather old-fashioned, on the other side of the world in the mountain snows and stinking paddies of a strange, antique Asian land, a long-ago little kingdom invaded and ransacked by marauding enemies over the millennia, and left lone and forlorn. By today's high-tech, more discriminating standards, it was a primitive war, to which half a century ago some of us went almost eagerly and with a certain dash, having missed the "Big War," and feeling left out. I fought there, in Korea both North and South, as a twenty-three-year-old infantry officer of American Marines.

It was hard fighting by foot soldiers, often at hand-grenade range, against the tough little peasant army of a local warlord named Kim Il Sung, who'd learned his trade as a battalion commander in the Soviet Red Army in the Nazi war. For three years we fought Kim and his allies, the forty divisions of Chinese Communist regulars, killing plenty of them, and saving the marginally democratic country of South Korea, enabling its economic miracle.

But we took our losses.

In the three years of that war, from June of 1950 to July of '53, thirty-seven thousand Americans were killed, infantry soldiers and Marines mostly. Thirty-seven thousand dead in thirty-seven months. Put it in context. While this is being written in the summer of 2004, the Iraq war has been on for eighteen months and a thousand Americans have died. In Korea, a thousand of us were killed every month, month after deadly month for three years.

This book is about that war and the Marines who fought it.

It is also about a college kid from the Brooklyn fishing village ofSheepshead Bay and his love for the Marine Corps and the men with whom he campaigned: the classy university types, the roughnecks and the poets, the sophisticates and the hicks, the salty regulars and the freshly graduated, and what the Marines called "the Old Breed," the hard old China hands. It is about those who died, those who lived, some of them scarred forever, and the happy few who survived Korea and went on to fortune and occasionally to fame.

The kid, as he was then, was a Marine rifle platoon leader, a member of an exclusive fraternity.

In the entire Marine Corps of two divisions and 175,000 men, there are only 162 rifle platoons, each of them commanded by a young second lieutenant, for it is the most lethal job description in the Corps, a young man's work. After enough combat, men grow too wise to want to command a platoon. When Marines assault a beachhead or a hilltop or a fortified position, it is the rifle platoons that lead the way, that attack and smash, and sometimes break against, the enemy lines. The mortality rates are such that some of his forty-five men may never even get to meet their platoon leader before he is wounded, killed, or replaced. This is about one of those replacement lieutenants, who arrived Thanksgiving weekend of 1951 in the Taebaek Mountains of North Korea, and was given a Marine rifle platoon to lead.

And it is about the place where he fought as a boy, the auld enemy he fought against, about his comrades in arms, and what happened to them after the fighting, all of this now seen through the focus of age at his house on Further Lane, where the lovely three-centuries-old beach town of East Hampton borders the ocean and where, in the night, he can hear the Atlantic combers crashing on the sand.

The kid survived the war to become a newspaperman, covered the Senate during LBJ's era, came to know Jack and Bobby Kennedy, became a foreign correspondent, got to live in Paris and London, was an editor and publisher, went on television, learned about fashion, and about life, at the knee of Coco Chanel, knew Joe Heller and Truman Capote and Mailer, worked for Rupert Murdoch and had breakfast with Kate Hepburn, met the Queen, once rode in an ambulance with a badly burned Kurt Vonnegut, watched Dali havingcocktails at the Ritz, interviewed Malraux, and attended Ike's and de Gaulle's press conferences. On a Budget Day, from the press gallery of the House of Commons, he actually saw Churchill, bent and fat, deaf and very old. And at Cape Kennedy covering the Apollo 11 launch, he attended in one of those mammoth, echoing hangars a cocktail party with von Braun and Charles Lindbergh, the entire history of manned flight in the same room, the German mobbed by flatterers and Lindy in his muted gray business suit, alone and unnoticed, but graciously willing to chat when a journalist approached, bashfully, to say hello and talk a little about flying.

Yet nothing he ever did in his life, except for having children and making a life as a writer of books, quite matched the intensity, the gravitas and sheer excitement of fighting in North Korea as a rifle platoon leader of Dog Company Marines under Captain John Chafee in 1951-52.

It all happened a long time back when he was young, and half a century later in his seventies, listening to the sea at night, he remembers.

THE SCARIEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. Copyright © 2005 by James Brady. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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