Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview..
Washington, D. C.
December 7, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Mr. Ambassador, in the previous interviews you granted to the Truman Library, you talked some about the evacuation of American civilians from Seoul on Sunday, June the 25th and the next day on the 26th. There had been an account of that written by T.R. Fehrenbach in a book called This Kind of War. The subtitle of that book is "A Study in Unpreparedness." Would you indulge me and allow me to read a page out of that book and then would you react to what this man says, because there may be some points which you'd like to
correct. He says that:
At four o'clock on Sunday afternoon Ambassador John J. Muccio went on the air over embassy radio station, WVTP, to reassure the American colony. He stated that there was no reason for anyone to be afraid and that the ROK Army had already contained the Communist offensive. There was to be no evacuation. But KMAG officers, who were getting frantic reports by telephone from the length of the 38th parallel, were hardly so sanguine. They began to argue with the ambassador, who was still in command. At least the women and children should be flown out, many of them said.
All afternoon and far into the night, an argument raged. Ambassador Muccio cannot be blamed for his attitude. A diplomat, he was suddenly in command during a military disaster, with no instructions from home, no clear-cut policy, no idea of the course the United States should follow. Muccio felt he must continue to show confidence, and at the same time he sincerely believed that the United States would not become involved, at least not directly.
At midnight, Muccio suddenly yielded to the pleading for evacuation. But he would not listen to a plan for removal of American civilians by air; Communist planes were in the air, and if one of them should shoot down a plane loaded with refugees it would become an international incident.
There was a small Norwegian ship at Inch'on, and all the 682 women and children would have
- to sail for Japan aboard this. The Norwegian ship carried a full load of fertilizer, and it had accommodations for only twelve passengers.
On this point Ambassador Muccio, a tall, dark, bespectacled man, given to wearing bow ties, was adamant. Generally, too, he was set against any evacuation, since he felt that even if the Inmun Gun should by some miracle capture Seoul, the Americans there would be granted diplomatic immunity by the Communists. The British, who had recognized Red China, also planned to keep their diplomatic staff in Seoul.
The British, some of whom would not live to see England again, also did not fully understand the nature of the Communist foe.
Radio station WVTP ordered all dependent American women and children to assemble at certain designated locations to be picked up by embassy buses for the trip to Inch'on. From there the tiny, freighter Reinholt would take them to Kokura, Japan.
Three days later, when the Reinholt docked, fifty of its passengers had to be removed to hospitals by stretcher. Exposure, lack of food, crowding, and the horrible odor of commercial fertilizer had prostrated the majority. But at that the women and children were lucky.
That's a lot to read, but I wonder if you might care to comment on any parts of that, particularly
the business about arguments raging between you and your staff on the subject of evacuation.
MUCCIO: One thing, we had an evacuation plan which had been coordinated and drawn up jointly by the Embassy, and CINCFE. There was never any question in my mind about evacuating. It was a question of the timing of the evacuation and the best method of getting the Americans and other non-Koreans, out.
Sunday night it was decided to assemble the women and children at Ascom City, which was an Army installation about two-thirds of the way between Seoul and Inchon and at the same time quite close to the road leading south through Suwon, Taejon and Taegu. So it was a good place to have the women and children, because they would be close to Kimpo in case we used air. It would be close to the road to Pusan if it was
decided to go out through Pusan. And it was very close, right next door, to Inchon.
MCKINZIE: You were not, then, opposed to the use of air?
MUCCIO: Not opposed to any of the various means that we had discussed and had in our plans for evacuation. It was just a question of timing. If we started running, as pointed out earlier, if we had moved too early, there would have been no resistance whatsoever on the part of the South Koreans. It was a question of staying there and encouraging the entire Korean military forces to face up to the Communists onslaught without, at the same time, our being caught.
I was baffled when I got a telegram out of Washington indicating that they thought I had already decided to stay on in Seoul, which was never my intention, never. But I couldn't go
around saying we were about to evacuate, but approved plans. The thing I was particularly proud of was that we evacuated all the American civilians and military plus the United Nations personnel, all diplomatic personnel who wanted to leave; all of whom left without a bloody nose in the whole operation.
I was particularly relieved when I found that the women and children had been placed on board this Norwegian freighter. Now, it was not luxury accommodations. It wasn't a cruise ship, but it was the best available. When I got word back that all the women and children were on board that freighter and that the freighter had pulled out that same night, I was very, very relieved to know that they were on their way.
Later that same evening we sent word to CINCFE that we wanted an airlift in the morning to take all the remaining female members of the staff of
the mission and of AID and USIA and KMAG, who to a man (or to a woman), all decided to stay on. They didn't want to leave. I had previously given them the opportunity to volunteer and had told them I would feel relieved if as many as possible would go.
Towards midnight that night we got word that the Communists were approaching Seoul. I thereupon ordered the evacuation of all females and wired Tokyo to have a sufficient number of planes available to remove all the women--I've forgotten the exact number. Three or four hours later, as the situation worsened, we increased the number of planes requested to include all men in addition to the females, except for four that were to stay behind with my deputy, Drumright, and four that stayed behind with me. We had decided that we would make our way down south through the interior to maintain contact with the Korean Government and
the Korean military. Let me repeat, there was never any intention on my part of staying on in Seoul when the Communists got there.
MCKINZIE: Is Fehrenbach correct in his statement that you did not expect the United States to become involved?
MUCCIO: U.S. policy since 1947 was against getting involved militarily.
MCKINZIE: I wonder if you could amplify what you previously said about the effect of President [Syngman] Rhee's evacuation on Seoul? You have indicated that he left on the night of the 26th; that he had two trains which were used.
MUCCIO: Well, it was Tuesday morning, the 27th around 4 o'clock in the morning that I received word that Rhee and most of the Korean Government had already left.
MCKINZIE: Did you notice any appreciable affect upon
the morale of the South Korean troops when the government left Seoul?
MUCCIO: Oh, by that time the Communists were, on one side, right at the gates of Seoul.
MCKINZIE: I guess the bluntest way I can ask the question is: When the government withdrew from Seoul, did that cause the South Koreans to flee in disarray?
MUCCIO: Now we're getting involved in matters that are inexplicable unless you spend months. There was considerable fighting still going on in the Haeju Peninsula, there was fighting around Changnyong, Kaeson was overwhelmed, but the fact is that some elements of the Communist forces were right at the gates of Seoul when he finally left, but we had everything in readiness to get out of the way.
MCKINZIE: Maybe this isn't a fair question. Did you feel that once Rhee left Seoul that he had any
real control over his own military forces?
MUCCIO: Well, you have to bear in mind that the United States during military government days devoted no time at all towards developing the ROK militarily. They did concentrate on a police force aimed towards maintaining internal security, but very little was done in training and organizing military; an army or navy. It wasn't until the evacuation of the last U.S.