“What would you want if you could have any wish?” asked the photojournalist of the haggard, bloodied Marine before him. The Marine gaped at his interviewer. The photographer snapped his picture, which became the iconic Korean War image.
Finally, the soldier revealed his wish: “Give me tomorrow,” he said at last.
In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks with military historian Patrick O’Donnell, who wrote a book about the war almost a decade ago, entitled “Give Me Tomorrow,” a deeply personal look at those who served amid the extreme brutality of the Korean War. That war, fought almost 70 years ago, still echoes today.
O'Donnell tells Schechtman about the war, particularly of the horrors suffered by George Company — a group of men untrained for what they would face in the bloody Chosin Reservoir campaign. O’Donnell explains how the battle went right up to the Chinese border, and how aggressive and brutal the Chinese were in fighting alongside North Korea. He further explains how the North Korean army was in tatters, and that the Americans underestimated the possibility of a Chinese intervention. Eventually, the Chinese massed over 150,000 men near the Chosin Reservoir.
O’Donnell touches on the other epic battles of the war, and why those who came home have always been reluctant to talk about their experiences, which felt so small in the shadow of the Greatest Generation.
He explains how unprepared the US was to fight this war. How budget cuts and demilitarization after WWII left the soldiers with inferior equipment that cost many lives.
O’Donnell makes it clear that the soldiers of George Company, and particularly their performance at Chosin Reservoir, define the very essence of what we honor on Memorial Day.
Patrick O’Donnell is the author of The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier and WWI’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home (Atlantic Monthly Press, May 22, 2018).