USS BEGOR (APD-127)
The Role of USS BEGOR (APD-127) in Clandestine Operations in North Korea, 1950–51
By Jack Cremeans
This is the first time that the Begor Association has published a work
of this size or one that addresses a subject of such weight. And if size
and weight were not enough to make this a Must Read, consider that this
story is about your ship and her connection to the murky world of Special
Operations; ops which were heavily classified when the Begor crew plied
the North Korean coast by dark of night, launching and recovering
American and Korean men who risked their lives to undermine the enemy.
We who bring you the USS BEGOR Newsletter and Website are proud to present
this historical work, told in the first person by an American like you,
who went to war to protect his Nation, because that's what citizens do.
You'll learn a little of Jack's beginnings in the Prologue and a little
about Jack post-CIA in the Epilogue. Those of you attending the Baltimore
Reunion (October, 2006) had the pleasure of meeting him at the Banquet and
hearing his remarks after dinner. Everybody else can see photos of him
mingling with the crew (see the Baltimore Reunion page update post-reunion)!
To the men who served in "The Gray Ghost of the Korean Coast:"I was really pleased to find your website and I enjoyed reading through it. I have very fond memories of the Begor when I was engaged in paramilitary operations for the CIA in Korea, back in 1950-51. I thought, "I wonder if the guys who supported our ops ever learned what we were doing when we snuck off in our boats and rafts, with UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) frogmen and Korean guerrillas?"
Since these operations are now declassified and you can now find them described in detail on the Internet (if you know what terms to search on), I decided to write my view of the story and connect it to your fine ship. I do this so you will know how much your support was needed and how much it is appreciated still.
I'll tell the story in three chapters, starting with the formation of the team, our mission and my team's first operation launched from USS Begor. In the second chapter, I'll describe our air ops. Apart from the incursions through the surf, the airdrops were the only way we supported the Korean guerillas. Though Begor had no role in the air operations, that part of the story will help Begor sailors understand what our objectives were and how we accomplished them. In other words, chapters one and two together will give you the Big Picture. The last chapter is about the team's return to Begor for our second sea-borne op. Just as we were totally "green" at the start of the first cruise, we came aboard as seasoned paramilitaries for the second. Even so, there were always circumstances unforeseen and with them the opportunity for triumph or tragedy.
I'm going to start my story here, with an explanation of how I, a naïve, unsuspecting youth, a babe-in-the-woods, came to be a "hardened war-fighter" in Korea.
I graduated from Williams College in 1950, five days before the North Koreans invaded South Korea. I had accepted a job with a seed company in Baltimore (my home town), but got a phone call revoking the offer because I was 1-A. [For those too young to know Selective Service jargon, that meant "ripe for the draft."] The CIA called a few days later to offer me a job. I had turned them down a few months before, but they thought the war might have changed my mind. It was not just the war: being unemployed and less than welcome at home (I had a new step-mother) had helped change my mind.
About eighty Koreans were being trained to be radio operators. Dutch Kramer was an outstanding natural leader and he soon had assigned us all jobs. I taught a first aid class (I earned a merit badge in Boy Scouts) and was assistant-to-the-chief of the rifle range-I had been on a rifle team briefly.
My most important skill was that I had learned to type and could put two or three sentences together...fast. I wrote the monthly report to Tokyo and Washington. We had three former Presbyterian missionaries who acted as interpreters. All things considered, we ran a good camp and a good school. Later, in the field, the radio operators did very well indeed.
Early one morning in late February or early March, Dutch called my friend Charlie Gillis and me to the office and told us to pack our gear, we were going to Korea. We had been issued Army fatigue uniforms and we had had a couple of days on the firing range learning to use a Colt 45 semi-automatic. A few hours later the three of us were on a plane and late that night we were driven to an island, connected to a causeway just south of Pusan. We had been issued sleeping bags and some c-rations. Charlie and I were the first (U.S. or Korean) to spend the night at Yong Do since the ROKA (Republic of Korea Army) had cleared it. Dutch went back to Pusan to arrange the transportation of Captain Hahn and his "boys," the Korean members of our team.
I was never told why I was selected to go to Korea-there were at least 50 other paramilitaries who stayed in Washington, many of them combat veterans of WWII. Nor did Dutch ever say why he chose Charlie and me to go with him to Yong Do. (I asked him, but he evaded the question.) I suspect the agency sent us to be "dogsbodies" [drivers, messengers, errand boys]. I think Dutch took me with him to Yong Do because he hated writing memos or reports and he knew I could do that for him.
CHAPTER ONE - First USS Begor Operations PeriodI wasn't a Begor crewmember, but I am well acquainted with APD 127, as I went on two sea-borne operations with the ship, landing, I think, about 200 guerrillas in North Korea.
I should preface this tale with two caveats: this happened 55 years ago and is all from my memory — diaries, logs, notes, etc., were strictly forbidden. Also, the Agency had a strong "need-to-know" rule; I'm sure there are many things I was not told, some of which may be important background to the activities I witnessed.
I was a very junior Case Officer (paramilitary), GS-5, in Japan in late 1950 and in Korea from March to December 1951. (I was promoted to GS-7 in the late spring of 1951.) My Commanding Officer was Major V.R. "Dutch" Kramer, USMC. Our mission was to start a Guerilla movement in North Korea. We began with about 700 North Koreans (of military age) who had fled south from Hungnam. Many of them were lumbermen from the mountains of North Korea and knew the territory well. Also, some of them were resisting the Communists in North Korea before the war and knew each other from then.
We started with Dutch, myself and another paramilitary, Charlie Gillis. There were about ten GS-5 paramilitaries in Japan and Korea in 1950-51; all of us were sent after about six weeks of training. The key Korean was an ex-NKPA (North Korean People's Army) captain. Capt. Hahn hated the Communists and proved himself over and over again to be totally reliable and very capable. In the later months, several additional paramilitaries and military officers were assigned to the "Blossom" project (that was its code name), but there were never more than seven of us as long as I was there. We did everything from planning operations, writing reports, loading and driving trucks, flying over North Korea, etc. Most of this was on-the-job training, since the very brief schooling we had was given by veterans of the OSS. We knew a lot about operating in occupied France, but damn little about Guerrilla operations in the Far East — but then nobody did.
Most of the training of the Koreans was done by Captain Hahn and his number two, "Commander" Che. (In the book, "The History of the Yong-Do Partisan Unit," the author refers to him as "Commander Choe." I worked with him daily for about 4 months and he called himself "Che," pronounced "CHAY." I think the title, "commander," was honorary: he had been in the lumber business before the war.) The Americans taught various specialized skills. For example, I taught demolition and first aid — good combination, don't you think?
A few days later, Dutch and I visited the Begor again; bearing gifts (several bottles of Old Grand Dad and a trophy NKPD burp gun (7.6 mm submachine gun) from the CIA stock of enemy weapons. I don't know what the official transactions between CIA Washington and the U.S. Navy were, but I think that's how the whole thing got started.
We went on two operations with the Begor. In April 1951, we first landed a group of Koreans at Yo Do, where a FEAF TAG (CIA) unit was already in place (the Americans were a retired Army Col. and my friend Dudley Burris. Later, we landed about 75 guerillas in three batches of 25 each: one group south of Wonson and the others considerably north. We had picked the spots based on the local knowledge of the Koreans themselves. The spots were: 1. Very close to heavy forests, where they could hide, and 2. Near where the guys had lived and could hope to get local support.
We began the first operation by loading the men aboard the Begor off Yong Do. We then did a "practice" landing: disembarkation to Higgins boats, then into rubber boats and to shore, all assisted by the men of UDT #3 who were on the Begor. The practice landing took place on the beach of "our" island, Yong Do, which was just south of Pusan.
We then re-embarked, steamed to Yo Do, just opposite Wonson, and stood off shore out of sight near our spot south of Wonson. All landings took place at night, of course. Before the first landing, the ship got a message announcing an "amphibious demonstration" south of Wonson.
As I understand it, the idea was to shell beaches and churn the waters with landing craft so that the enemy would think a landing was taking place. The hope was to draw units of the Chinese army and the NKPA to the coast, thereby relieving the U.S. units on the MLR (Main Line of Resistance).
Just what we needed! More troops on the coast looking for invaders. We (the CIA contingent) wanted to call the landings in that area off, but ended up combining two of the planned four. Our Koreans were very upset about this, because they wanted to land at places they knew and where they thought they could find family members to help them. But in the end they went. We could hear the shelling to the North but the actual landing went off without a hitch.
The next night we landed another group (or perhaps two, I don't remember). These landings also went very smoothly. The sea was calm; there were no lights, etc., on shore. All parties did their jobs according to plan.
It was amazing to me then and I still marvel today that a complex operation like this was accomplished with very little advanced training or practice. It's hard to imagine a more disparate bunch of people working together. The "blue water" Navy people, the "frogmen," the CIA paramilitaries who had zero training in this kind of thing, and, most important, a large group of Koreans from the backwoods of a Third World country who, for the most part, didn't understand a word of English. Our interpreter refused to get off "the big boat" on the grounds that he was a civilian, but fortunately hand signals proved to be enough.
After those landings, we turned back towards Pusan. The trip back aboard Begor was not without excitement. I was sound asleep in the Chiefs' quarters when there was a tremendous explosion that almost threw me out of my bunk. All the lights went out and the ship stopped dead in the water. After a few seconds, the General Quarters horn went off and the sailors around Charlie and me grabbed their gear and ran to their stations.
What little I knew about GQ I had learned at the movies. Charlie and I had no GQ battle station, but we figured we'd be a lot happier on deck, so we each grabbed a life preserver and groped our way up the ladder. In a few minutes, the lights came back on, the ship's screws started turning again and we were told to go back to our bunks. We learned later that a depth charge had been dropped "a little closer than planned."
The following morning we arrived at the dock in Pusan and went our separate ways. There was a second cruise — more on that later.
When we got back to our headquarters, we found that two radio operators (from separate groups) had reported in. The southern group had run into an NKPD patrol and only five of them had stuck together and gotten through. But they were being pursued. We heard from that group two more times, then silence. (Months later, one of these men worked his way south and through both the NKPA and the UN forces to return to us. We learned from him that this small group of men stuck together and escaped, but their radio was damaged and so communications were cut.)
The Guerrilla group code named "Clown," which landed far north of Wonson, made it all the way to their planned destination with the loss of one man. Clown became the nucleus of a very large Guerrilla unit (sometimes referred to as "White Tiger"). Dutch later performed his magic with the USAF and we got air support from Special Air Missions (SAM) based in Taigu. They flew unarmed C-47's. We dropped another 100+ men and many, many canisters with rice, ammunition, etc., over the summer. I personally flew twenty-three missions with SAM and I think there were at least that many more with other jumpmasters. These guerrillas conducted several successful missions and provided a lot of intelligence. Clown was the jewel in the crown of CIA paramilitary operations in Korea.
The men of USS Begor and of UDT 3 were wonderful. Especially since Charlie and I were civilians and didn't fit the usual model for shipboard life. The Captain, LCDR Kuntze, was nonplussed by this. He thought we should be either officers or enlisted men, period. (It didn't help any that, at the very moment he and the Executive Officer arrived at our camp on Yong Do, I was driving a 6x6 2½-ton truck. We had to pick up supplies from an Army depot and only Americans could enter. There were only Dutch, Charlie and I and it was my turn.) In the end, the Captain ruled that we could eat and drink coffee in the Ward Room, but should sleep in the Chiefs' quarters. A truly "Solomonic" decision!
Also, just for the record, the Koreans who were trained and sent to North Korea were brave and honorable men! I sent many of them over the side or out the door of airplanes and, very sadly, most of them were killed or captured, either immediately or in the years that followed, but not one of them ever hesitated. Also, there were many opportunities for them to betray us. For example, we flew dozens of times at low altitudes over designated drop zones: one well-placed anti-aircraft or heavy machine gun could easily have brought us down. Any one of those men could have deserted to the Communists and probably would have been rewarded. To the best of my knowledge, that never happened with the "Yong Do Partisans," although it did with other groups.
We had no losses while I was there, but did lose two planes and three paramilitaries (plus the aircrews) in the year that followed.
CHAPTER TWO - Air Operations(The following concerns the USS Begor only indirectly, but knowing a little about our adventures in the air will help to understand why we wanted the second cruise on the Begor and why project Blossom was a success.)
The guerrilla unit landed on the first Begor "cruise" was very successful. We gave it the code name "Clown" and the Koreans called it "White Tiger." We re-supplied that unit by air and dropped many additional guerrillas by parachute. We also started four additional units in northeast Korea by air.
There was no "master plan" that called for airdrops after the first unit was established; but it soon became apparent that we had to resupply and reinforce Clown and it had to be done quickly. Airdrops seemed the only option. Dutch, Charlie and I had no experience or training for this! We asked for help, but nothing was immediately available from the Agency.
Dutch was a master at getting help from other units and services. He found Special Air Missions, a C-47 squadron commanded by Major Jim Nabors in Taigu and the USAF was soon "on board" and eager to help. They suggested we "borrow" an Army paratrooper master sergeant they had worked with who was an expert in all aspects of dropping men and supplies.
Dutch got the Army to lend the sergeant to us for 2 weeks. Our original idea was to get CIA Washington to ask the Army to assign him to us on a long-term basis, but we soon realized this was not going to work. We wanted to drop 10 or 12 canisters of "beans and bullets" today, 18 men tomorrow and maybe a little more next week. Of course, the men were non-English speaking Koreans who had never seen an airplane up close and had no training - at least none recognized by the Army. Also, we wanted to drop both men and supplies near the tops of mountains on clearings the size of a football field, or maybe a little smaller. And we had to make the first drop in a week or our boys would go hungry. So let's do it!
Our sergeant knew all about dropping battalions, if not divisions. He told us our idea was impossible, amateurish and not Army. (We already knew it was amateurish!) It took a minimum of four weeks to make trained soldiers into paratroopers and drop zones had to be carefully prepared with trained "guides" on the ground in advance. Night drops were difficult even for highly trained commandos. So let's do it my way, or not at all.
He searched the maps of North Korea for flat areas where a proper drop zone could be set up and found one near a large town thirty miles west of Clown's location. (I think he proposed a strip 500 by 1000 ft as a reasonable minimum.) We replied that this was impossible, unthinkable and entirely too Army.
After several hours of talking past each other, he agreed to participate in one flight, insane though it was, provided we would drop only canisters. Charlie and I went along to be shown how idiotic our ideas were. (The Agency had forbidden Dutch to fly, on the grounds that his loss would end Blossom.) We flew at night and arranged by radio for our guys to light two fires ten feet apart when they heard the sound of a plane. Major Nabors himself flew and he was to flash the green light next to the door when he saw the fires and the red light when we should push out the canisters, or was it vice versa? The sergeant packed the canisters and hooked up the static lines inside the plane. The fires came up as planned and we flew over at about 1200 feet and, on the pilot's signal, dropped nine canisters.
On the ground, our guys found one canister immediately and located three more after searching for two days. The others were never found. This proved the point to the sergeant's satisfaction and he returned to base.
We thought we could do better and so did Jim Nabors. The sergeant had demonstrated how easy it was to push things out: we just had to improve our timing. After all, it was just like dropping a bomb. If the thing landed on target it was good, if it didn't, it wasn't. Nabors said he would fly over the drop zone at 800 feet - just enough for the chutes to open. We said we should drop no more than three canisters on each pass and wait until we could see the fires right under the airplane. From then on, we made our 'goods' flights with two jumpmasters (Charlie and I in the early days.) One of us actually lay on the deck and stuck his head out. We flew with the large cargo door removed and we didn't push until the fires were directly below.
It worked! Our guys recovered about 90% of the canisters dropped and we dropped many truckloads of stuff over the summer. The Yong Do guys recruited locals and we armed and fed them!
A few weeks later, Hap Dashiel arrived from stateside. He had been in our class in Washington, but had finished the course (we hadn't) and had gone to jump school at Fort Brag. We also got a fourth paramilitary (Jack Clark) and from that point on the four of us flew every night the moon and the weather permitted. (The pilots couldn't find the sites without some moonlight.)
We also began to vary the signals, notifying the people on the ground the night before to build fires in the shape of triangles, boxes, straight lines, "T's," etc. Eventually, we quit using the triangle, because this signal began to pop up all over the northeast corner of North Korea every time we flew.
Still later a Navy LTSG George Atchison joined us. George wanted to set up a unit to raid targets close to shore and spent most of his time working out the details. The e-book, "The Secret History of the Young Do Partisan Unit" describes some of these raids. George had a wonderful sense of humor and was a great addition to our group. George also made some of our resupply flights and Dave Means, a paramilitary from a psychological warfare project, made flights as well.
I'm not certain, but I think we made about fifty flights from June to September 1951. I personally flew twenty-three times. Occasionally, we could see tracers coming up as we flew and three or four times someone pointed out a bullet hole in one of the planes, but that was it. We were very, very lucky. After I was safely back home, we lost one plane with its entire crew and a CAT plane went down over China. The two paramilitaries aboard, Fectow and Downey, were captured and spent 10 plus years in prison in China. Nixon got them released during the "ping pong diplomacy" trip.
I did have one bit of excitement: I made it a habit to drop to the deck and look out the back after each pass. You could see the chutes going down and see whether they hit the target. It was a beautiful sight in the moonlight: you could see the fires, the chutes open and descending, and, sometimes, even people on the ground!
One night, I dropped to the deck, looked out, and, to my horror, saw the last chute caught on the horizontal stabilizer! The pilot immediately gunned the engines and banked to the left and up. Then, thanks be to God, the chute slipped off and we were on our way. We finished the last pass and were at altitude over the Sea of Japan when the pilot walked back to Charlie and me. He said, very casually, "Hey, y'all, we almost landed back there." At that, all three of us burst into raucous laughter!
We got wonderful support from SAM and the Air Force in general. Everything we did was top secret and we were very careful not to let anyone know what we were doing unless it was absolutely necessary. But as the summer went on, it became clear that almost every pilot in Korea knew about Clown. I know of no case where our guys rescued a pilot, but they loved the idea that the partisans were there. They all imagined that if shot down they would walk to Clown and be safe.
Altogether, the Yong Do guerrillas raised a lot of hell in North Korea. They raided police stations, blew up bridges, and ambushed NKPA patrols. They also provided some useful intelligence. The downside was that a lot of our good friends were killed and a few were captured, tortured and hanged. The worst for me, personally, was that Che was killed leading an attack. He was a close friend and I admired his courage and especially his leadership.
I want to say once more that the Yong Do Koreans were magnificent. I was jumpmaster for 5 or 6 "people flights" and I never had a Korean "freeze in the door." They were brave and honorable men. It was common for GI's in Korea to say that Koreans were thieves, etc. I'm sure some were: many of them would have starved otherwise. I lived for twelve months surrounded by Koreans. I left cameras, money and other valuables out in the open in my unguarded tent and never had anything stolen nor did any of my friends. I also enjoyed working and socializing with them. They worked hard, played hard and laughed easily and often. I think of them still.
And I also remember, my Begor shipmates, that while the air missions did not concern Begor directly, the entire Clown operation started with a vital assist from the USS Begor.
CHAPTER THREE - Second USS Begor Operations Period(N.B. My memory of some of the details of this cruise, especially those of operations from the small boats when away from the ship, differ from the details as reported in the Begor action reports. I think probably someone who stayed on board wrote the action report and therefore did not himself witness the events nearer the shore. J.C.)
A second operation from USS Begor was planned for late June or early July 1951. Dutch wanted to land more guerrillas by sea and the Begor was ready and willing to help. The planning for an important element of that trip came about because of another interaction with the Begor and UDT 3.
We had trained some of our North Koreans in the use of explosives, but we were lucky we didn't do ourselves serious damage. I had had all of one day of "lecture hall" training using C-3 with caps and fuses and I was the instructor!
Radio communications with our units were very limited. Nightly contact was scheduled with each of our groups, but we didn't always get through and messages were severely limited by the process and the format. Each message had to be coded and encoded four times: From Korean to 2-digit telegraph code; then encoded using a codebook; then sent by a fellow sitting in the middle of the woods with a suitcase radio and a hand-generator; then received and decoded by our radio operator back into the Korean telegraphic code; then transcribed to Korean; then translated into English!
This was very laborious: consequently, messages were very short and infrequent. We didn't really know if we were dropping the right supplies and we often didn't understand the reports we received. It was a miracle we were able to organize the air drops — we never had a flight come back without making contact via signal fires, et al.
Dutch came up with a very bold solution that I thought was harebrained and dangerous, but he loved it:
Two of the guerrilla groups were instructed to send reliable men to designated spots on the beach where they would be picked up and "debriefed." We airdropped signal lights and watches so they'd be on time. (These were the two "exfiltrators" referred to in the Begor action reports.)
The harebrained part was that Dutch himself was to meet them. We trusted our Koreans, but had one been captured with a signaling device, they would surely have been tortured. Then, armed with knowledge of when and where the meeting was to take place, the NKPA could easily capture Dutch and that would have been disastrous for the project, to say nothing of what it would have meant for him.
Even worse, Dutch admitted he was a poor swimmer. He had no training in swimming to a particular point on the beach or in finding the boat out beyond the surf line when it was over. Dutch insisted it would be OK, because Ken and a UDT chief would be with him and they would handle that part. But I noticed that Dutch made it a point not to tell his superiors about it until it was over.
Dutch and Ken worked out the plan. The Higgins boat would wait just outside the surf line with engines off, look for and verify the signal from shore, and then Ken and his sidekick would swim in with Dutch. They would find the exfiltrator, and the four would swim back. The Korean would probably not be able to swim, but the two UDT men would be able to get him back to the boat. This plan was tried on the night of June 30 and early morning of July 1, 1951. It was probably the most gut-wrenching night of my life.
On the afternoon of June 30, a briefing was held on board. Dutch and I, LCDR Chase and about 20 UDT and ship's company were present. In addition, a full commander and his aide (I believe the CDR was LCDR Chase's superior) were also present. At the end, a box of waterproof signaling flashlights, I think designed expressly for the UDT, was set out. There were not enough for all the UDT men and so several dime store penlights were also there along with several packs of condoms—the idea was that the flashlights would be tied inside a condom to make them waterproof. Dutch was the last to pick up a flashlight and, of course, got a penlight and condom. I urged him to ask for a better light, but he wouldn't complain. Ken would have a light and that was enough.
That night, just as we were boarding the Higgins boat, LCDR Chase, his commander and the aide came over to Dutch. I was standing next to Dutch, where I could hear. LCDR Chase told Dutch there was a small change in plan, the Commander's aide, LT Doe (mercifully, I have forgotten his name) and a chief from headquarters UDT would go with him to the beach. I was very upset by this and tried to persuade Dutch to insist on going with Ken, but he refused. He said this is a Navy operation and he wouldn't interfere.
But he did say to me, very emphatically, "I'm not swimming back on my own. If I don't get back, be sure they send someone for me!
Exactly on time, there was a signal from the beach-the right color and the correct pattern of dots and dashes. The color was important because there were always a few white lights on shore and some of them blinked as people walked by, etc. Of course, Dutch had a white light.
In all, four UDT teams swam to separate locations on the beach. As Dutch and his escort left the boat, I could see them for maybe 100 yards before they were lost in the darkness. Even at that short distance, I could see that the aide and his sidekick were already far ahead. I knew then that they didn't understand their job or even the objective.
The beach was very wide and there were several huts or sheds along the edge. There were lights in 2 or 3 places and we could hear noises, but no shouting or shooting. At one point, I think we heard a truck start up and drive off. Hours went by, or so it seemed, and the UDT teams came back one at a time; all of them exhilarated with their adventure. The aide's team came back without Dutch!
I went to him immediately and asked, "Where's Dutch?"
He said, "I don't know. He must have decided to stay and look around." He seemed surprised that I would ask him.
I was now in panic mode. It was obvious that the aide didn't understand the object of the exercise and had paid little or no attention to Dutch.
I went to LCDR Chase and told him that Dutch wouldn't come back on his own. Chase told me, without conviction, not to worry he would turn up soon and if not, he had a light and he could signal. I told him, with feeling, that he did indeed have a light and a condom, too! One-by-one, everyone on the boat realized that Dutch was missing.
Finally, I noticed an unusual white light right at the edge of the beach. It would be quite bright for a moment, and then begin to dim, then quit entirely. After a minute or two, it would go through the routine again. It was Dutch and his dime store penlight! He couldn't flash the dots and dashes and could barely get the thing to turn on.
I went back to LCDR Chase and pointed out the light. At the same time, Ken came up; he said nothing, but Chase said to him, "There he is. Go get him."
Dutch had several quirks. He never explained it, at least not to me, but he never carried a sidearm. When we went through Pusan at night or to any possibly dangerous spot, he would check that the rest of us were armed, but he never was.
He wasn't armed that night, or at least not conventionally, when he went over the side. He was carrying a phosphorous grenade! His theory was that he wouldn't be able to hit anything with a pistol in the dark, but if he threw the grenade and covered his eyes, his attacker would be blinded and he could slip away unharmed.
In the event, this proved to be a fortuitous choice. A few minutes after Ken left the boat, Dutch set off the grenade on the beach. Suddenly we could all see where he was. I was watching intensely when it happened and in the phosphorescent flash I saw him crouching with his back turned toward the exploding grenade.
About 10 minutes later, the three swimmers were back.
It had been a harrowing experience for Dutch. He had landed about 100 yards down the beach from the flashing signal, but could not see it once there. The exfiltrator flashed for 30 minutes as instructed, then left. So they never made contact. Meanwhile, his intended escort swam back to the boat and Dutch was alone on the beach. The switch on the penlight was defective and he could make it work only by pressing down on it with all his strength. In the process, he cut the thumbs of both hands very badly. Eventually he set off the phosphorous grenade and Ken picked him up quickly.
With 20-20 hindsight, we made two almost fatal mistakes.
The first was not to emphasize to all participants in the briefing that the object of the operation was to pick up the exfiltrator, i.e., to get Major Kramer to him and get the 2 of them back.
The second was to instruct the exfiltrator to flash his light for 30 minutes then leave. That just wasn't enough time to swim to the beach and find the man.
. . . .
The next night, the Begor proceeded north and about 50 Guerrillas were landed without incident. If I recall correctly, all of these men made it to their destination — an already established guerrilla unit.
The next day we landed supplies on Yo Do
The night of July 3, another pickup of an "exfiltrator" was scheduled at another spot further north. Again, the proper light and signal appeared on time. The beach was very narrow at that point and the sea calm, so we could see the light and its reflection on the water. Before the pickup could be made, however, we got a message from the Begor that there was a radar blip a short distance to the north of us. The Captain insisted that we investigate this "vessel" before anyone attempted to land.
This may have been a lucky break for us because 10 or 15 minutes after the signal was first seen, shots were heard from on shore, the light went out and there was shouting, etc., on the beach. Our man was apparently killed or captured and we might have gotten into a firefight had we proceeded according to plan.
In the meantime, the boat I was in moved cautiously towards the "enemy vessel." It turned out to be a very small — 15 feet max — "wiggle boat." The Koreans do not use two opposing oars as we do. They had a single "bent" oar mounted on a steel pivot on the stern that they rocked and rotated back and forth like a fish's tail so the boat moves in an undulating motion — hence "wiggle boat." This particular boat was in desperate condition, with rotten planks and water in the bottom.
Inside were four terrified fishermen dressed in rags. This was reported to the ship along with the suggestion that we simply let them go. The Captain would have none of it and told us to tow the "captured vessel" back to the ship.
It was obvious that the boat might sink before we got there, so it was decided that the fisherman should be transferred to the Higgins boat. I was the only American who knew any Korean. (Actually all I knew were a few phrases like: "Good evening," "Come here," "Please sit down," etc.) None of my words worked, however, and the fishermen lay trembling in the bottom of the boat.
The ranking officer told one UDT sailor to get in the boat and get those guys out. The sailor seemed almost as scared as the fishermen and he sat on the edge of the Higgins boat with his pistol cocked. When he jumped in the boat, the pistol went off, shooting a hole in the bottom. This sent the fishermen into greater spasms of fear.
Eventually they were dragged, pushed and lifted into the bigger boat, a towline was attached and the engines revved, diesel fumes filled the air, but we barely moved. The wiggle boat was anchored! The poor sailor had to get back in the boat where he found and cut seven or eight lines — some were trotlines and at least one was the anchor line.
When we got back to the ship, the Captain met us at the rail and said, to me, "You'll get some good information from these men. "
This first step in the "interrogation" was for me to check the very good Japanese Army map of the area. It showed the village right on the very narrow beach with a fairly large mountain right behind it. On the other side of the mountain was a single-track railroad. Next to the railroad on the map was the inscription, "Blt. 1911."
With an interpreter, I questioned each man separately. The interpreter had great difficultly understanding them; he was a South Korean and the captives spoke a northern dialect. There was one very old man, two who were 40 or 50, and one relatively young man about 25. I began by asking who they thought we were. The young man said we were "UN forces." The rest said we were South Koreans. I asked if they had heard of Americans. They had, but knew nothing about them except they were very rich. (The Korean characters for American were rice and man.)
I asked each of them if they had seen the railroad. Two of them had never seen it; the young man had seen it and had been on a train once. He had done so while in the army — he admitted he was a NKPA deserter. The old man said, with great pride, that he had seen it. He, his father and his brothers had walked over the mountain to watch the first train go by in 1911. He hadn't been back; why bother, he'd seen it and it was a long walk.
These poor men were skin and bones, dressed in rags. Their fishing equipment was primitive and they had caught no fish that night. It's very sad that these men were separated from their families, probably forever, and their wives and children were made even worse off than before.
7 or 8 AM finished the interrogation. I went back to the fantail, thinking I would find the boat. It wasn't there. A Chief standing hereby told me it was being towed. He and I went back and found the towline in the wake. When the chief pulled it up we found a piece of the bow still tied on.
On the 4th of July, the Begor pulled up just opposite Sonjin, a small port city in northeast Korea. The Begor had permission to fire 21 rounds at the port facilities. Twenty-one shells were fired plus two more. I was told those extras came out of the "inventory shrinkage allowance."
There was a very large, modern looking warehouse at the edge of the beach. I thought it was the target—so did the rest of the sightseers gawking on the deck. But it was standing untouched when we left.
We later dropped the "prisoners" off at Yo do and landed about fifty more guerrillas that night without incident.
(The Begor action report says that the ship returned to Yong Do, where more guerrillas were picked up and another landing made on a second trip, but I have no memory of that. It could be that the moon was out at that point so air operations were scheduled and I stayed to fly.)
I did not go aboard the Begor again, but I have very good memories of the ship, its crew and UDT 3. Not everything went like clockwork, but the end result was truly an amazing accomplishment: a fairly large and effective guerrilla force behind enemy lines "made from scratch." It couldn't have been done without the USS Begor and its crew.
EPILOGUEIt does seem incredible that the CIA would send a bunch of college boys to set up a guerilla operation, but the original legislation setting up the CIA was passed in 1947 and it only provided for "intelligence gathering." Legislation permitting "dirty tricks" (guerilla operations, sabotage, etc.) was not passed until late 1949. The new directorate within CIA was barely formed when the war started. My guess is that they had no idea we would be involved in guerilla operations.
One of the effects of this rush to get somebody (anybody) to Korea was that our "cover story" was laughable. We were in the middle of a war, requisitioning machine guns from Army depots, asking for help from career Navy ships, persuading tough paratroopers to help us, and our official identification said we were "Administrative Assistants, Historical Research Unit V." Were there 4 others somewhere?
That we did as much as we did is a great credit to Dutch (and Capt. Hahn.) And we were very, very lucky. In the first year none of us were killed, wounded or captured. Those participating in later years were not so lucky.
By the end of September we had moved all the remaining Koreans under Capt. Hahn to North Korea except for those destined for Lt. Atchison's "sea raiders." Also, the agency finally brought in some people who had airdrop training and experience. These two milestones changed the nature of the Blossom project.
In October Dutch returned to the states to brief "some very important people." He expected to be back in 3 weeks. George continued training the "sea raiders" and I kept the rest of Yong Do going. But then I came down with very serious intestinal flu or perhaps dysentery. When I got my health back, I was told that Dutch was not coming back. I heard later he was trying to get a combat command with the USMC.
I was offered a job in Seoul and I jumped at the chance. I only spent a couple of months there, but in the process got to visit every combat Division on the MLR. It was exciting, but I rotated back to the states in December in time for Christmas.
When I returned to the states the second time I wanted very much to get out of the intelligence racket. So I volunteered for special training as a Machine Accounting officer, USAF-speak for IBM machines. This put me on the ground floor of the computer revolution and I spent most of my career in computers.
I got out of the USAF in 1956 as an aged First Lieutenant. Actually, I never did decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was the first computer programmer Procter & Gamble ever hired. I went on to work for a series of computer services companies several of which went bankrupt, but in those days I could move to another one the next day at an increased salary. I got tired of this rat race, went back to school, got a Ph.D. in Mathematical Economics and went to work for the Commerce Department in Washington. I retired as Director of the Office of Business Analysis in 1994. When I retired, we moved to a small farm in central Maryland. We recently moved again—I got too old for the farm—to a town house community in the same area. These days, I tell anyone that asks that I'm the largest manufacturer of birdhouses in Glenwood—it's true
My wife Janet and I have been married 54 years. We have two children and five grandchildren.
Page Last Updated: 07/16/09