/ Published May 07, 2014
Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War’s Greatest Untold Story—The Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company by Patrick K. O’Donnell. Da Capo Press, 2010, 288 pp.
In the early morning hours of 25 June 1950, the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) struck across North Korea’s border with South Korea, rapidly destroying organized resistance in its path. President Harry S. Truman viewed this act as the opening salvo of a broader Soviet-led offensive and so ordered immediate American intervention. Gen Douglas MacArthur directed the US Eighth Army to Korea from occupation duties in Japan to stop the NKPA’s momentum, envisioning it as a fixing force coupled with an amphibious envelopment to turn the NKPA flank at Inchon. Patrick K. O’Donnell’s Give Me Tomorrow is the story of George Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, from the envelopment at Inchon to disaster at the Chosin Reservoir.
Despite a dearth of Korean War literature relative to World War II and the Vietnam War, the body of work on this often overlooked but extremely important conflict continues to grow. Give Me Tomorrow is a popular history book that reads quickly and entertains, eschewing deep analysis and broad context. O’Donnell ties together interviews and familiar secondary sources to construct his narrative in a similar fashion to Donald Knox’s two-volume set The Korean War: An Oral History (Harcourt Brace, 1985, 1988) but with much less contextual research and discussion than that classic example of oral combat history. Give Me Tomorrow is closer to Bill Sloan’s recent book The Darkest Summer (Simon & Schuster, 2009), reflecting the bias against US Army leadership in the Korean War inherent in the secondary sources used by both authors but without Sloan’s polemics. O’Donnell displays his writing background with generous amounts of foreshadowing to bridge his chapters within a decidedly teleological work, but he very effectively brings to life the memories and experiences of a heroic group of veterans.
Give Me Tomorrow briefly introduces the Korean War, George Company’s origins, and the movement to Inchon in three short chapters. Veterans and readers of popular war history will find George Company’s bonding and team formation a familiar story. The men came from across the United States and, under the hard leadership of 1st Sgt Rocco Zullo, had their disparate backgrounds and experiences forged into a common purpose. Over the next six chapters, O’Donnell describes the lnchon landing and liberation of Seoul, narrating these momentous events in just 75 pages, a feat that reflects engaging storytelling in favor of broader context. These chapters do not provide enough of the operational and strategic contexts to overcome the understandably myopic viewpoints of individual veterans. A better sense of how the sacrifices, experiences, and even deaths of these Marines connected to the bigger picture would make the book that much more poignant.
The Inchon landing and subsequent liberation of Seoul cut NKPA supply lines, helping Eighth Army break out from the Pusan perimeter. George Company assisted in mopping up resistance in Seoul as Eighth Army rapidly advanced to the 38th parallel. President Truman authorized MacArthur to cross the parallel, an act that brought China into the war. MacArthur planned a two-pronged attack with Eighth Army on the west side of the north-south-running Taebaek Mountains and the US X Corps on the east. X Corps, to which George Company belonged, reloaded its transports and prepared for a second amphibious assault at Wonsan on North Korea’s east coast. MacArthur demanded speed of action, but the terrain of North Korea slowed movement, strung units out, and ultimately left many of them isolated beyond the range of mutual support.
The great bulk of Give Me Tomorrow concentrates on George Company at the Chosin Reservoir, a part of X Corps’s attack towards the Yalu River. Chinese Communist forces infiltrated large numbers of troops into North Korea and lured Eighth Army and X Corps into extending their supply lines to the point where the Chinese technique of double envelopment and encirclement was favorable, given a superior number of troops. After a bitter fight against the Chinese, the terrain, and the harsh winter weather, the 1st Marines successfully broke out of Chinese encirclement to reach Hungnam where they and the other remnants of X Corps evacuated North Korea. The description of Chosin in Give Me Tomorrow reflects the official Marine Corps history’s narrative of the Marines fighting in isolation because Army units disintegrated under pressure from the Chinese Communist forces. This illustrates one of the limitations of oral history and the responsibility of the historian. Official reports, award citations, and unit histories shape how a veteran remembers battlefield events. Historians must treat recollections as truth for the participant while carefully balancing them with contextual research. In this case, the US Army’s 7th and 3rd Infantry Divisions and the US Air Force played key roles in allowing the Marines to evacuate—an important aspect of the fight that George Company veterans would not necessarily know from their vantage points.
The greatest strength of the book lies in describing combat from the veteran’s point of view. Seeing friends die, living the chaos and confusion of combat, and struggling to make sense of it all—even years after these events took place—are important aspects in understanding any war from a participant’s perspective. O’Donnell is at his best weaving together past and present and helping the reader understand that a combat veteran never really leaves that experience behind; it lives with him or her forever, for better or worse. This lesson is particularly timely as thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans attempt to reintegrate into a society that increasingly does not understand war.
On the whole, Give Me Tomorrow is a well-told story of one company of men at war. O’Donnell is a gifted writer and storyteller, engaging his readers with a fast-paced narrative that threads together the tragic yet heroic experiences of men who shared the boredom, excitement, and consequences of war. Scholars will find little that is new here except the previously unrecorded experiences of George Company veterans, but O’Donnell’s intended audience of general readers and military history enthusiasts will undoubtedly enjoy this addition to Korean War literature.
Maj David Glenn Williams, USA
Army Logistics University
Fort Lee, Virginia
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."