The best books on the Korean War from someone who served there

James N. Butcher Author Of Korea: Traces of a Forgotten War
By James N. Butcher

Who am I?

James Neal Butcher is a professor emeritus of the Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota. At age 17, he enlisted in the US Army during the Korean War. He served 2 years in a parachute infantry division (82nd Airborne). He volunteered for service in the Korean War and served one year as an infantry soldier in the 17th Infantry Regiment during the war including the battles for Jane Russell Hill in October 1952 and Pork Chop Hill in April 1953. In 2013 he published a memoir of his early life and his military experience Korea: Traces of a forgotten war. 

I wrote...

Korea: Traces of a Forgotten War

By James N. Butcher,

Book cover of Korea: Traces of a Forgotten War

What is my book about?

The Korean War is often referred to as the forgotten war. In his book, Professor James N. Butcher relives his experiences as an infantryman with Fox Company of the 17th Infantry Regiment, during the final year of the Korean War (1952-1953). In a graphic portrayal of living conditions on the front, Butcher describes combat actions that occurred in two major battles of this period the Battle for Jane Russell Hill (a part of Triangle Ridge) and the First Battle of Pork Chop Hill and makes a strong case for why we as Americans need to remember what happened there and why.

The books I picked & why

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The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

By David Halberstam,

Book cover of The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

Why this book?

This is an interesting early description of events occurring during the beginning days of the Korean War.  The author also addressed the prominent battle at Chipyongni three months later.  The book also covers the entrance of the Chinese into the war to support North Koreans. He focuses upon the extremely cold temperatures-- dropping to a minus forty degrees. He also provides a perspective on the reasons and causes of the Korean War.

The Korean War

By Max Hastings,

Book cover of The Korean War

Why this book?

Max Hasting’s book described the early days of the war, for example the actions of Task Force Smith. He provides a valuable perspective on the Korean War that includes an interesting balanced account of a war that is still considered by many to be controversial. Hastings considers the perspectives of all sides of the Korean conflict and examines the various motivations of their respective actions, such as the U.S. decision to send troops to Korea in September 1945, and to send them back in June 1950, to the Chinese decision to send their own troops into Korea in the fall of 1950.  He also provides a perspective on the important decision to participate in the signing of the armistice in July 1953.

The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951: A Nonconformist History of Our Times

By I.F. Stone,

Book cover of The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951: A Nonconformist History of Our Times

Why this book?

The Hidden History of the Korean War by I. F. Stone was originally published in 1952 during the Korean War and republished in 1970 at a time in which the US was engaging in the Vietnam War. This controversial book provides viewpoints that are not widely accepted historically. The author raises questions about the origin of the Korean War and makes the case that the United States government manipulated the United Nations and was critical that the U.S. military and South Korean governments extended the war by undermining the efforts to complete the peace talks.

The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat

By Bob Drury, Tom Clavin,

Book cover of The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat

Why this book?

Shortly after the beginning of the Korean War in 1950, the First Marine Division was fighting the North Korean army in the north of the Korean Peninsula. In the fall of 1950, the Chinese suddenly entered the war and the First Division Marines became surrounded and vastly outnumbered by Chinese soldiers near the Chosin Reservoir. The only way they could survive was to fight their way south through a narrow valley. Fox Company led by Captain William Barber fought a long cold struggle against the surrounding Chinese. During the relentless violence, three-quarters of Fox’s Marines were killed, wounded, or captured. Just when it looked like they would be overrun, Lt. Colonel Raymond Davis, who is fighting south from Chosin, volunteers to lead a daring mission that will seek to cut a hole in the Chinese lines and relieve the men of Fox.

American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880 - 1964

By William Manchester,

Book cover of American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880 - 1964

Why this book?

Manchester’s biography of Douglas MacArthur provides a sympathetic but generally evenhanded characterization of MacArthur’s personality and life contributions.  He provides a detailed background of MacArthur’s military history and his capability of managing complex administrative duties in a complex world.  He acknowledged MacArthur’s skill and bravery in challenging circumstances.  In balance of his descriptions of MacArthur, he also noted complex circumstances in which he was difficult to deal with and sometimes suspicious and mistrustful of others. In his characterization of MacArthur as “Julius Caesar” he characterized MacArthur as having great intellect, brilliant strategic generalship, and political ambition as well as compassion. 

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