In June 1950, when North Korean troops poured over the 38th Parallel and swept across South Korea, Harry Truman realized that the United States had to stop the naked aggression “no matter what.” If left unchecked, he argued, the Communists would soon challenge Western defenses elsewhere in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Truman turned to General Douglas MacArthur, who just five years earlier had stood on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay to receive the Japanese surrender that ended World War II.
The 70-year-old MacArthur came up with a plan that was audacity itself. He proposed a seaborne invasion behind the Red lines at Inchon, a port on the northwest coast of South Korea just 25 miles from its capital, Seoul. “We drew up every conceivable natural and geographic handicap, and Inchon had them all,” said one of MacArthur’s military aids. Those hazards included deadly 30-foot tides, dangerous currents, and a harbor surrounded by sea walls. MacArthur’s naval chief could muster no better endorsement of the plan than it was “not impossible.” MacArthur kept his own counsel, puffing constantly on his trademark corncob pipe.
The general gathered 261 ships, and on September 15, 1950, the Marines stormed ashore at Inchon. For breathtaking boldness, the assault ranked alongside Washington’s crossing of the Delaware and Grant’s descent on Shiloh. The invasion caught the North Koreans off guard – they had considered Inchon invulnerable to attack. American troops pushed inland and within eleven days entered Seoul. South Korea’s aged president, Syngman Rhee, accepted the return of his liberated capital with tearful gratitude: “We love you,” he told MacArthur, “as the savior of our race.” The war would last nearly three more years, but the daring landing at Inchon ultimately saved millions of Koreans from a totalitarian regime.