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With Soviet forces racing south through Manchuria and into northern Korea, General MacArthur had to scrounge together American units quickly and get them to Korea. The agreement hashed out with the Russians was that the Soviets would accept the Japanese surrender north of the 38th parallel and America would accept their surrender below it, in what was designed to be a temporary arrangement until democratic elections could be held. The Koreans were ready for their independence as they had suffered four decades of oppressive Japanese occupation in which, “the use of spies, police, and the army, the Japanese governors were able to exercise a tight rein over the political scene and to curb quickly and ruthlessly any signs of nationalistic unrest” (Sawyer, 5).

MacArthur had Allied Military Government (AMG) units already established to help the Japanese people, provide civil functions, and transition the island from the American military back to Japanese control. The unanticipated surrender of Japan in Korea forced him to re-deploy AMG to Korea, despite the members not having Korean cultural training or speaking the language (Cucullu, 21). AMG was doing its best despite some mis-steps, but meanwhile the Soviets were consolidating power in the North. The 38th parallel was turned into a permanent line of division and South Korean democratic elections were condemned by the North. In 1948, US military control over South Korea was ceded and the small group of advisors were left in country became the Provisional Military Assistance Group or PMAG (Sawyer, 35).

General MacArthur had been planning a gradual withdrawal of US forces from Korea but the North was increasingly menacing. The Soviets and the communist North Koreans seemed increasingly eager to see American forces leave the peninsula, while the North claimed that South Korea belonged to them and that their government was illegitimate. President “Syngman Rhee sent a plea to President Truman, urging that the United States maintain an occupation force in Korea until the Republic of Korea (ROK) forces were capable of dealing with any internal or external threat and that the United States establish a military and naval mission to help deter aggression and civil war” (Sawyer, 36). Despite increased tensions, US military forces were withdrawn with the exception of PMAG which came to be known Military Assistance Group-Korea (KMAG) in July of 1949 with the mission of further developing the South Korean military.

In June of 1950, North Korean forces led by Kim Il Sung pushed across the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. On the other side of the world, the allied Berlin airlift was the only thing that had kept Berlin free of communists, something that was no doubt at the forefront of President Truman’s mind when he ordered the US military to prepare for the defense of South Korea. Bringing the issue before the newly formed United Nations, the permanent member nations of the United Kingdom, France, and the United States voted to oppose communist expansionism in Korea. China and both Koreas were not members of the UN at that time.

While US forces in Japan and elsewhere were being reoriented towards Korea, the South Korean and minuscule numbers of American forces already in country were pushed south to Pusan. Anti-communist Koreans had fled to small islands off the coast and were to become partisan forces. Specialized US forces deployed to Korea and linked up with the partisans and formed 8240th Army Unit which conducted Unconventional Warfare. Forming into sub-units called wolf packs, they mounted raids from indigenous sail junks on the mainland. Other special mission units trained agents in airborne operations and parachuted them behind enemy lines. None of them returned. (Det K, 3).

With the Ranger Companies and other irregular warfare and unconventional warfare units including CIA-led endeavors such as Joint Advisory Commission, Korea or JACK being stood down, modern Special Forces was activated on Fort Bragg in 1953. Throughout the remainder of the 1950’s, Special Forces teams were sent to Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Laos. The Special Forces soldiers were first deployed to Korea in 1953 not long after their creation in order to replace the disbanded 8240th AU. By 1957 many of these detachments were absorbed by the newly created 1st Special Forces Group and in 1958 the first batch of ROK Special Forces graduated after attending airborne training in Okinawa, Japan overseen by the American Green Berets. In Okinawa, the Korean troops were trained by a US Special Forces Military Training Team that split off from a detachment originally deployed to Taiwan from Fort Bragg as a part of 77th Special Forces Group.

(featured image courtesy of the US Army)

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