Oral History Interview with
Special Representative of the President to Korea, 1948-49;
Ambassador to Korea, 1949-52;
John J. Muccio
Envoy Extraordinary to Iceland, 1954.
Washington, D. C.
February 10, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional
Muccio Oral History Transcripts | List
of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee
but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember
that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview..
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced
for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission
of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened January, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Muccio Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Ambassador John J. Muccio
Washington, D. C.
February 10, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: All right, Ambassador, to get under way, would you give me a little
of your personal background; where were you born and raised, where were
you educated and what are a few of the many, many positions and posts
that you have held?
MUCCIO: I was born in Italy, 1900, March 1900, and brought to the United
States when I was five months old. My father was already here. And I went
to one grade school, one high school, one college, and had one job for
forty-two years of my life, and that was in the Foreign Service as a Consular
Assistant, this was in the Consular Service before the Consular and Diplomatic
Services were joined under the Rogers Act of 1924. It wasn't until '35
that I had experience
in the diplomatic side of the Service and that was
in La Paz, Bolivia. I spent most of my time in the Service between the
Far East and Latin America. Finally retired in 1962.
Do you think that is enough?
HESS: That's fine. Now moving into the Truman administration, you were
a member of the American Mission to Germany from May of '45 until 1947, correct?
HESS: Would you outline a few of the duties that you had while a member
of that mission, some of the problems that may have arisen, some of the
methods that you may have used in solving those problems?
MUCCIO: Before getting into that I'd like to mention that the first time
I saw President Truman face to face was at Potsdam in July 1945. He had
been President of the United States for a few weeks only. He was playing
international poker with two outstanding experts, "Uncle Joe" [Joseph]
Stalin and [Winston S.] Churchill. Potsdam at that time was hot, soggy,
stenchy, full of mosquitoes and flies. And Truman very clearly was ill
at ease, having only been President a short time and having so many crucial
issues thrown at him, and having
to rely on James Byrnes, who was Secretary
of State, as his principal adviser.
The next time I saw the President face to face was in July 1948, just
prior to taking off for Korea as Ambassador. Truman had just come back
from Florida. He had a wonderful tan, was very exuberant, brightly dressed,
he looked like a completely different person from the one I had seen at
Potsdam. And mind you, that was before he was elected on his own, which
came up . . .
HESS: The following November.
Do you recall if when you saw him in July of '48 if this was before or
after the convention, the Democratic convention in Philadelphia of that
MUCCIO: I'd have to--I don't recall exactly. But after he was elected
on his own, the man . . .
HESS: One question about James Byrnes who was the Secretary of State
at the time of the Potsdam Conference. There are those that say that Mr.
Truman appointed Mr. Byrnes as a consolation prize because Mr. Byrnes
had also been in the running for the vice-presidential nomination in 1944
for Mr. Roosevelt's
fourth term, and since he did not get it and Mr. Truman
did, that upon the death of Mr. Roosevelt Mr. Truman appointed Byrnes
to the highest spot in the Cabinet as more or less a consolation prize
because he was not the top man. Have you ever heard anything on that?
MUCCIO: Well, I've read accounts of that in several places, but there
are much better authorities on that than I.
HESS: How effective was James Byrnes as Secretary of State?
MUCCIO: I'd prefer to let that sort of thing go by because I was never
in Washington at that particular time. I was in the field most
of the time. And my opinion of the man at that particular time is not
HESS: Okay. All right, moving back to your duties as a member of the
American Mission to Germany?
MUCCIO: I was on Bob Murphy's staff during my two year stay in Germany,
May of '45 until April of '47.
HESS: Do you recall any particular problems that came up, your duties
there at that time?
MUCCIO: Well, can we later talk about--I mean there were
like denazification, so damn complex and controversial. You had the U.S.
Control Commission, which was part of the Allied Control Council bogged
down from the outset. I think if we get into a lot of these things it
will be an interminable interview. Could we try to focus on . . .
HESS: All right. All right, would you like to focus on the matters on
MUCCIO: Why, I think we'd better . . .
HESS: All right.
MUCCIO: . . . move up.
HESS: All right, moving into matters pertaining to Korea, you were appointed,
I believe, as Special Representative of the President to Korea in August
of '48, is that correct?
HESS: Do you have an observation on why you were selected for this
MUCCIO: Well, I'd been with the Service a good long time. I was
still a bachelor and in rugged good health. Undoubtedly the experiences
that I had had in Shanghai and elsewhere in China, Germany and Panama,
was a key factor. All involved active international situations with a
heavy United States military presence. My
long association with the U.S.
military had an influence in my selection.
HESS: What were the first problems that you were presented with
when you arrived at your new post in Korea?
MUCCIO: Well, the Government of Korea was inaugurated August 15,
1948. U.S. military government and all of its ramifications still intact.
My immediate concern was the transfer of all the functions of military
government to the new government set up by the Koreans, under the direction
of President [Syngman] Rhee. We transferred the police force, the whole
police establishment, on the llth of September of 1948. And between that
and December 12th, when we finally transferred the bank account to the
new authorities, there was a constant transfer of responsibility from
U.S. Military Government authorities to their new Korean counterparts.
It was very intricate.
One interesting and complicating factor that plagued me during
this period was the struggle between the Koreans that had come to the
fore under U.S. Military Government and these appointed by the new government.
The former came forward from 1945 to 1948, and later as the United States
authorities set up what
was called the interim government, when Koreans
were placed in authority with Americans as advisers. These Koreans who
first worked with the Americans were sneeringly referred to by other Koreans
as the "interpreter government." We must admit that their ability to understand
and know some English had had a great deal to do with their selection.
Rhee did a thorough job of ignoring practically to a man those
that had come to the fore during military government days. He set up his
own hierarchy. And there's no love lost between the first group who considered
themselves indispensable and the Koreans who were about to take
over. That was the basic problem we faced at that particular time.
HESS: And you were appointed as the first United States Ambassador
to Korea the following year in 1949.
MUCCIO: Yes, right.
HESS: During this period of time, the number of U.S. troops in
Korea was being reduced, is that correct?
MUCCIO: Well, that raises the intriguing problem of the evolution
of the U.S. position in Korea. The early days 1945 to 1947 are known better
to other individuals. From '48 on, it might be of interest to recall, the U.S.
military, principally General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower, Army Chief
of Staff, and General Douglas MacArthur, CINCFE [Commander in Chief, Far
East) were first to raise the question as to the validity of our position
in Korea, and that militarily, it was better to get out of Korea. And,
in the summer of 1947, it was one of the very first U.S. international
problems handled under the new mechanism of the National Security Council.
And the Korean position was elaborated and set forth in the National Security
Council and issued by President Truman, I forget the exact date, but it
was in August, July or August 1947. We threw the problem, after one last
try with dealing directly with the Russians, into the agenda of the General
Assembly of the United Nations meeting in the fall of 1947. Our resolution
was passed-by the United Nations, and since that time there has been a
United Nations presence in Korea, since the end of that General Assembly
in 1947. There still is a UN presence there.
HESS: At this particular time in history which of the officials
of the State Department did you work with the closest? Was Dean Rusk Assistant
State for Far Eastern Affairs at that time?
MUCCIO: Walt [W. Walton] Butterworth was Assistant Secretary for
Far Eastern Affairs. He was appointed Ambassador to Sweden, and Dean Rusk
was placed in charge of the Far Eastern...
HESS: Did those men give you the necessary assistance and aid that
an Ambassador would need; the man on the spot in Korea?
MUCCIO: They gave me excellent direction and support. I was told
when I left Washington after numerous conferences at State and with the
defense establishment and intelligence agencies, that this was the first
time that the transfer of military government functions to a civilian
agency had taken place after World War II. I would undoubtedly face problems
they didn't have ready answers to, but for me to use my judgment and they'd
back me up to the hilt. And I must say that they gave me superb backing.
HESS: As an official of the State Department, did you have any
particular problems with some of the United States military commanders,
officials of the Defense Department who may not have seen eye-to-eye on
some of the things that you thought should take place in the switch over
of the powers?
MUCCIO: Well, there were a few. A good example was the visit in
late '48 of the Secretary of the Army, accompanied by General [Albert
C.] Wedemeyer. I escorted the two to President Rhee and they presented
to President Rhee U.S. thinking about the Korean situation with stress
on Korean needs in defense matters.
When they reported in Washington, they proceeded on the assumption
that Rhee had agreed to this U.S. proposal. My report was to the
effect that Rhee had said, "Yes, yes, yes," to all of the things that
we offered Rhee for his military needs, but that he had never said, "Yes,"
and he never said, "No," to the suggestion that the time had come for
the withdrawal of the U.S. military forces.
HESS: Was Kenneth Royall Secretary of the Army at that time?
MUCCIO: Royall was Secretary of the Army. And the Secretary, General
Wedemeyer, and I went and spent a long time with Rhee on this one problem.
I was summoned back to Washington, over night, to discuss compatibility
of my reports with what the Secretary of the Army and General Wedemeyer
;HESS: How was the problem of your reports solved? Did you get together
with General Wedemeyer and...
MUCCIO: It was decided during my visit to Washington to defer a
bit proceeding with the general plan, and nothing was to be said about
it until after I had had a chance to work over some of the issues with
President Rhee. Under the elongated schedule the final U.S. armed military
unit left Korea on June 29, 1949, at which time we set up and left behind,
a 500 man unit, KMAG, Korean Military Advisory Group, to help organize
and train the Koreans.
HESS: Did you have any particular difficulty of presenting the
United States' view to President Rhee at this time, of removing the troops?
MUCCIO: Well, President Rhee, at that particular time, was devoting
most of his considerable talents towards forcing us to keep U.S. military
presence in Korea and very little time to establishing his own governmental
apparatus, and thinking of leadership and progress for his own people.
He was more interested in keeping the United States tied up there.
HESS: And yet we removed our troops at that time, correct?
HESS: Did you have any particular difficulty explaining why we
were removing our troops to him, or what did he say to you?
MUCCIO: The Wedemeyer plan was for our military to be out of Korea
by the 31st of March, 1949. I urged Washington not to say anything about
this until I had a chance to work on Rhee. When I got back to Korea the
first thing I did was start pointing out to Rhee the wonderful progress
(and they were making good progress), the new Korean constabulary was making.
HESS: Developing their own forces.
MUCCIO: Developing their own forces. Soon Rhee got up several times
and publicly said that his boys were doing mighty well and could take
care of the situation. Once he publicly committed himself that way, then
I started working on him on, "Well, it's about time we get our forces
out of the way." He didn't like that a damn bit but could not back out.
HESS: He began to backtrack a little bit.
MUCCIO: Well, backtrack, and he sparked demonstrations all over
Korea, which were similar to what is going on in Vietnam today. Both misused
U.S. presence to their full ability, but when time came for us to get out of the
way--you are capable of running your own show--then they look
at it with an entirely different light.
HESS: Before we move on, since we have mentioned President Rhee, just
what kind of a man was President Rhee?
MUCCIO: Rhee was very intelligent person, who for forty-five years
worked on one specific objective, and that was the Korean independence.
He became the symbol of the struggle against Japan and the struggle for
independence, as such. He was known to all Koreans. That was his political strength.
Rhee was a very determined willful person. He had fought in what
really amounted to a guerrilla operation so long that when he finally
ended up as the duly elected President of Korea, he was so old by that
time that he could not change from his guerrilla, revolutionary instincts
to being a duly recognized head of state.
When he was in his logical frame of mind, he had an excellent
historical prospective. He understood the very complex world setup to
a very high degree. But when he got emotional, then he reverted to his
longstanding instincts of self survival of himself as an individual, as
a leader of this independence move, and
the survival of his people. But
self-survival came first always. And with the experience he had had he
was very distrustful, inordinately so. He didn't trust anyone.
I doubt whether he trusted himself. He was a very complex personality,
but a man who thought well and worked well under stress and he expressed
himself in English, orally and in writing, beautifully. He prided himself
in being a Jeffersonian Democrat. His rhetoric in this respect spellbound
most American visitors. I think he should have changed that over to a
Rhee Autocrat. He is not...
HESS: Was he an Autocrat?
MUCCIO: Oh, absolutely! Willful, very obstinate. A lot of people
thought that his wife had tremendous influence on him. I don't think she
had directly. He had gotten to the stage where he couldn't read very much
and didn't handle the paper work, and she also, before the fight broke
out, had control of what non-Koreans got in to see him.
HESS: Even yourself?
MUCCIO: Well, I never had much trouble in that regard.
HESS: Her control started somewhat lower than the Ambassadorial
level, is that right?
MUCCIO: Well, she had very little control on what Koreans got in
to see him, but as far as non-Korean she had a great deal to say. Besides,
she handled the paper work and his office staff.
HESS: And the appointments schedule.
HESS: All right, now there had been a decision made to exclude
Korea from the sphere of American strategic concern.
HESS: And I believe that that was initiated by the Army Chief of
Staff in 1947?
HESS: That was before your association with Korea started.
MUCCIO: Yes. I was out in the Far East at that time as an inspector
in the Foreign Service.
HESS: What was your personal opinion about that decision, do you
believe that Korea should have been excluded from our sphere of concern,
our sphere of strategic concern, as this was called?
MUCCIO: I think Acheson's speech of January 1950 . . .
HESS: January the 12th of 1950.
MUCCIO: . . . was not correctly presented to the American people.
This was not a new position on the part of the United States. It
was a position taken . . .
HESS: Three years before.
MUCCIO: . . . three years prior to that. The 1950 congressional
campaign the whole impact was that what Acheson said was new. And if you
read the pertinent paragraph in that speech you will note that what he
had--what he presented was that the United States unilaterally would have
to fight any aggression committed against the periphery of Asia. And then
he goes on to bring out that in case of aggression beyond that it was
a problem for the United Nations, not for the United States unilaterally.
And that's exactly what happened in Korea. It certainly was not any new policy.
HESS: All right. Moving on just a bit, when did you first suspect
that there might be an invasion from North Korea into South Korea, when
did it look likely to you?
MUCCIO: Well . . .
HESS: Was this a longstanding thing?
MUCCIO: When I arrived in Korea in August 19th, 19 . . .
MUCCIO: . . . '48, we still had a U.S. military liaison group at
Pyongyang, the Russians had a liaison group in Seoul. There was a weekly
train run from Seoul to Pyongyang with mail and the 38th parallel was
open. There was a great deal of traffic in persons and goods across that
38th parallel. By the end of '48, after the South Korean Government was
set up, a veritable stone wall was erected at the 38th parallel.
Now we removed our forces, the U.S. forces, and the whole front
area was taken over by the new Korean constabulary. Naturally there were
constant incidents between the South Koreans and the North Koreans. And
the U.S. forces were very seldom involved except they were in the background.
But there were constant skirmishes.
As an illustration when ECA [Economic Cooperation Administration]
took over from the military, Eric Biddle and his group out of Washington
were there setting up the ECA representation in Korea and the takeover
from the military. And just prior to the departure of this group President
and Mrs. Rhee had a tea for them. And
while we were in the Blue House,
the presidential residence, Lee Bum Suk, who at that time was Prime Minister
and Minister of Defense and head of the National Youth Corps, came in
joyfully exhaulting that his boys had just taken over Haeju, which is
just beyond the 38th parallel opposite Kaesong. That was his news that
his boys had entered Haeju, he didn't go on to say that practically every
one of them were killed on the spot. But that's the sort of thing that
was going on from both sides, it wasn't exclusively from the North south,
there was a certain amount of it . . .
HESS: From the South north also.
MUCCIO: That's why it was so difficult to determine what was going
on on the 38th parallel between 1948 and 1950. Neither side was coming clean.
HESS: All right, moving a little closer to the latter part of June,
just what do you recall about events say in May and the early part of
June 1950? What were conditions like in Korea at that time?
MUCCIO: Well, we . . .
HESS: I believe there was a diplomatic mission that came out from
the United States for one?
MUCCIO: Well, in the spring of 1950 our intelligence reported the
arrival of certain military hardware, Yaks, and a few Ilyushins, a few
tanks. Also the return of two elements of North Koreans that had been
with the Chinese Communists, returned as units. That part of our intelligence
was good. Now there had been constant posturing, bluffing, of one kind or other.
HESS: Saber rattling.
MUCCIO: Particularly from the north, during this whole period from
the end of '47 until the spring of 1950. We knew of the military material
build-up in the north, but it was hard to determine whether this was additional
posturing or whether they actually had some action in mind, and if so
just whet. That's where the uncertainty was. The South Koreans were pressing
us for additional material, additional backing. The U.S. was interested
in not having a vacuum develop in South Korea so the Communists could
just walk in, but at the same time we were in the dilemma of how much
we could back South Korea without having them, especially when they were
in the hands of men like Rhee and Lee Bum Suk, of building up their potentials
so that they would in turn move north.
Fortunately, when the clash came it was very clear-cut that the
south was not in a position to move north and that it was definitely overt
Communist aggression. That was the interpretation of what had been accepted
by the Free World from the discussions in the General Assembly of the
United Nations. And that's what makes the Korean case so distinct from
the Vietnam case where the question as to the basic issues involved has been confused.
HESS: One brief question about the intelligence reports that you
mentioned. Where were you getting your intelligence information; were
these South Korean spies that were in the north at the time?
MUCCIO: Oh, mainly from the numerous U.S. agencies involved.
As far as happenings along the border, we had better intelligence than
old man Rhee had, because we had advisory personnel with each Korean military
unit along the front. And they had their own radio communication with
KMAG headquarters and that's why when the blow came I could keep Rhee
informed. He was getting so much diverse, confused intelligence in the
first few days, he didn't know--his picture of what was going on was not
at all clear.
HESS: Can you tell me about . . .
MUCCIO: Pardon me, would you like a cup of coffee?
While we're at this point Mr. Ambassador, let me ask you about
the success or failure of the ECA in Korea at this time. Now this had
been set up after Mr. Truman's point 4 message and just tell me a little
bit about the workings of ECA and perhaps your part in developing that function.
MUCCIO: It's very difficult to cover briefly what went on in Korea
from the time of our arrival in September of '45 up to 1950. But when
we first arrived there, the Korean attitude was that American "overlords"
had merely replaced Japanese overlords. There was practically no cooperation,
no response from the Koreans. They figured that we were there, we had
to feed them, we had to take care of them. And that's what made General
[John R.] Hodge's job so frustrating.
There were very few Americans available that understood Korean,
or understood the Koreans themselves. And Rhee appeared on the scene and
he held himself forth to General Hodge as the leader of the Korean people.
And Hodge felt that the Korean people should
have a chance to select the
person that they really wanted to lead them. And the strain between General
Hodge and Dr. Rhee led to acute antipathy. Rhee thought he had enough
influence in Washington to have General Hodge removed, and came to Washington
for that purpose in 1947. And the irony of it was that Rhee came to the
fore through quite an open, fair election. But he was never able to get
Hodge out of his skin until I arrived and took over as the senior U.S. representative.
And my first aim was to make clear to President Rhee and his whole
hierarchy that they were responsible for what was being done in Korea,
and it was no longer the United States running the show. And the Koreans
were very slow in really seriously taking on the task of developing a
defense force, a defense capability.
The whole aim, until the final unit of American armed forces left in
June 29, 1949, was to keep us there militarily. But once that final unit
left the Koreans did more for themselves in the one year from June 1949
until 1950, than they had done for themselves in all the four previous
years. And I include both military preparation for defense, and political and
economic development in that statement. In 1949 they had such a good
rice crop for instance that they were able to sell to Japan, who were
always fond of Korean rice and were prepared to pay a premium for it.
They had gotten to know how good the Korean rice was from the period that
Japan ran Korea.
HESS: From the time they were over there taking it away from them?
MUCCIO: And in the winter of '49-'50 Korea actually sold Japan
a hundred thousand tons of rice.
HESS: Was this the first year that they had exported rice?
MUCCIO: Well, since before the war, yes. Prior to the war, of course,
the Japanese took a lot of the rice and sent millet and other cheap grains
HESS: After the ECA was established did Mr. Paul Hoffman visit Korea
to get things moving, to get things underway?
MUCCIO: He came initially for a few days in November 1948. I don't
recall Paul Hoffman coming back here in person thereafter.
HESS: And Mr. Biddle was the man who was in charge of ECA was he?
MUCCIO: He was sent out from Washington to help organize
and take over from the military.
HESS: Did he have a difficult task to perform?
MUCCIO: Washington sent a team of experts out representing the
Bureau of the Budget, Defense, ECA, USIS, and State. The latter Glenn
Wolfe from State, was in overall charge of setting up the American Mission
We took over from the military everything from beauty parlors,
shoe repair shops, undertaking facilities, the whole gamut of military
life. As time went on we eliminated as many of those functions as possible.
HESS: Do you think that ECA was a success in Korea, at least until the
time of the invasion?
MUCCIO: Outstandingly successful. As an example: You may recall
that a good deal of the power for South Korea came from the north. In
the spring of 1948 the U.N. was denied permission to go into the north.
The United Nations decided to go ahead and have the elections in that
part of Korea available. When the meeting of the "four Kims" failed to
find a compromise, the north pulled the switch cutting off all power to
the south. This was calamitous. However, the ECA turned to--I don't recall
the exact name--the U.S.
power association. A group of electric power
experts were sent out there and by repairing standby plants, bringing
in a couple of power barges, and by improving the grid system of South
Korea, they managed to stumble along as they repaired other facilities.
The ECA did an outstanding job.
HESS: You mentioned the four Kims, who are they?
MUCCIO: That happened before I arrived. In April or May of 1948
two Kims from the South got together with two Kims from the north and
that's always referred to as the "four Kims" meeting.
HESS: Was there someone who was in charge of the ECA mission in
Korea, was there an individual appointed to that position?
MUCCIO: Arthur Bunce, B-u-n-c-e, was head of it, Al Loren and Owen
Jones were the two deputies. They did an outstanding job and they were
particularly helpful in making their experience and background available
to the U.S. military when the military came back into Korea in the summer of 1950.
HESS: Were there times when Mr. Bunce and his associates called
on you for assistance? Did you have a smooth working relationship in other words?
MUCCIO: We had--and it was the first time--a unified American mission
was tried anywhere, AMIK (American Mission in Korea), included KMAG, USIA,
ECA as well as the normal Embassy unit with one JAS (Joint Administrative Service).
HESS: Now were all these . . .
MUCCIO: And I was definitely responsible for U.S. operations in
Korea at the time.
HESS: As senior man you were the top man there.
MUCCIO: In fact, when they were setting up the mission the question
came up as to whether or not I should have the cap of being the director
of ECA as well as Ambassador, but I didn't feel that that was essential
as it was clear-cut in the whole setup of the mission that I was responsible
for all U.S. official activities in Korea at the time.
Of course, once the military came back as a fighting situation
then the question of the exact position of the U.S. Ambassador vis-a-vis
the commanding officer responsible for U.S. military operation is a very
subtle and very indefinite subdivision. Delimitation, is a better word,
HESS: Were there times that that subtle differences cause you difficulty?
MUCCIO: No, no material difficulties, no. I mean now and then members
of my staff would come back and say, "Well, the Eighth Army says so and so."
And I would ask, "Who did you talk to at the Eighth Army?" And
ask them, the member of my staff if so and so really had a definite decision
on the part of the military or whether that was his interpretation of
what position was. That sort of thing was going on all the time, but nothing
HESS: Did you feel that if you had been called on to be head of ECA at
this time that that would have been one too many irons in the fire, one
too many demands on your time? Did you need someone to head ECA at that time?
MUCCIO: Well, we did have.
HESS: Yes, that's what I mean, but then when they were discussing . . .
MUCCIO: I was consulted--I was asked by Paul Hoffman which
one of four names mentioned I'd prefer as head of ECA before this man was appointed.
HESS: Who were the others under consideration, do you recall
at this time?
MUCCIO: Oh, certainly I recall. Three of them are still alive.
The only one that's not alive is the man that got the job.
HESS: All right, okay.
All right, in moving back from matters of ECA to the military situation
and to the situation in Korea, we were discussing the general atmosphere,
the general conditions in Korea in the spring, in May and June of 1950
before the invasion, what else do you recall about those perilous and
interesting times? I believe Mr. John Foster Dulles came over on a mission,
is that correct?
MUCCIO: Well, in November-December of 1949, in a few weeks five
congressional groups came out to take a look at what was going on in Korea.
About the same time Ambassador-at-Large Philip Jessup, accompanied by
his lovely wife and secretary, Miss Vernice Anderson, spent some five
days in Korea. And in June of 1950, just a week before the fight broke
out, John Foster Dulles, at that time in charge of negotiations with the
Japanese on the administrative agreement, spent four days in Korea.
HESS: Was his main job at that time working out the ins and outs
on the Japanese peace treaty?
MUCCIO: Not treaty--I was trying to think of the exact term, it was--well,
anyway, it was what resulted in our next step in relation to the Japanese
at that time.
HESS: And you have a picture on your wall of Mr. Dulles during that trip.
MUCCIO: During the Dulles visit there were two interesting things.
One was his visit to the 38th parallel where pictures were taken, just
looking over the certain military installations there...
HESS: Looking over a cannon in that photograph.
which later were used by the Communists at the upcoming
meeting of the General Assembly that fall as confirming that the south
had gotten the okay from the United States to attack the north.
HESS: After he had been over there to check the armament.
MUCCIO: And the other interesting thing of the Dulles visit was
his talk to the National Assembly, to the effect that you go ahead and
make up your own mind as to what you want to do, but if you do do the
right thing, the United States will take a much better
position than if
you don't. That was the gist of his talks to the National Assembly. I
never saw the text of his talk prior to the delivery.
HESS: All right, moving into the day of the invasion, where were
you when you first received information that something was seriously amiss?
This was the latter part of June of 1950.
MUCCIO: The morning of the 25th of June, I got a call from my deputy,
[Everett Francis] Drumright, just about 8 o'clock, telling me that in
the past hour KMAG headquarters had been receiving reports from the several
units along the front of an onslaught across the 38th parallel. He said
he had held up calling me until he could get a better indication of what
was really going on. (We had had so many reports of that kind in the two
years prior, that it was hard to determine if these were just forays across
the 38th parallel or whether it was something beyond that.) And I said,
"Well, I'll meet you at the office right away."
I walked over, it was about a five minute walk from the residence
to the chancery, which at that time was in the Bando Building. On the
way over about 8:30,
I ran into Bill James of the UP. He apparently had
had a restless night and was heading toward his office. And he said, "What
are you doing stirring at this time of the morning?" It was Sunday morning.
And I said, "Oh, we've had some disturbing reports from activities
on the 38th parallel, you might want to look into them."
And went up and Drum and I drafted a telegraphic report to Washington,
which was very carefully worded because we were not too--it was not too
clear yet just what was going on. But that was the first flash to Washington,
which left the Embassy there just after 9:00 on the morning of the 25th
(Korean time). Of course that whole day, Sunday, was filled with all kinds
In reflection, I've been unable--not been able-to understand why
the Communists didn't get into Seoul that same night, because they had
such preponderance of armor and mobility, and they had control in the
air, and the south had no defense against air of any kind. And it's hard
to understand why it took the Communists over three days to do, three
and a half days, to do what they should have done really in that many hours.
I think there's a combination of factors there. One was unexpected
firmness of the South Koreans, not a single unit gave up. The second was
that there was a torrential rain that morning which impeded their air
and also the movement of their tanks. I think that what the Communists
had in mind was to rush into Seoul, capture the government, and then they'd
be able to present to the world that Rhee and his government had no support
from the people of Korea, and the whole issue would be settled right then
and there before the UN or the Free World could do anything. And that,
I think, is why when the Communists finally came into Seoul on Wednesday
morning it took them another six or seven days before they crossed the
Han River, and even longer than that getting organized to start their
trek down the spine of the peninsula. Of course, that's my personal reflection
at this time, and there are many, many, many interpretations of why they
didn't make a go of it at the time.
HESS: Soon after the invasion, President Rhee moved his government to Taegu.