Sandboxx: Letters in the Forgotten War – Memories of Mail on the Front Line in Korea

From an interview with my father for Sandboxx News 

What are your memories of mail while you were deployed?

I remember the lack of mail hurt some of my Marines. That’s a tough thing when everyone else is receiving mail, and there’s none for you. The guys who didn’t get any were stoic, and they didn’t show that it bothered them. They just turned around and hoped to get some another day, I guess. It was my job to lead them and look after them; I could make sure they had almost anything else they needed. But there was nothing I could do for a guy who hadn’t gotten a letter from home. I’d give those men anything, but I couldn’t give them that. 

I was trying to concentrate on my responsibility for Marines in combat. When I had time to think, I thought a lot about my wife and my hopes for our family. But I knew that if I didn’t concentrate on the job, I would never get to fulfill those hopes. 

Continue reading at Sandboxx.

Frozen Chosin, the View from Quantico – “Make Peace or Die” Excerpt

An excerpt from my father’s memoir —Make Peace or Die: A Life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares —in which he asks to be sent to war.

In November, 1951, Charles U. Daly was at Quantico training to lead a Marine rifle platoon and thinking the Korean War would be over before he got a chance to fight in it. Then “Frozen Chosin” happened…

The Boat Leaves Wednesday

June 1950–February 1951

“In war, as in prostitution, amateurs are often better than professionals.”

—Napoleon Bonaparte


On June 25, 1950, we got our national emergency.

At dawn that morning, the (North) Korean People’s Army surged over the 38th parallel into the South. This action was immediately condemned by an emergency session of the UN Security Council, a vote from which the Soviets abstained.

The Korean peninsula had been divided since the end of World War II under an agreement between the US and USSR with no consideration of the will of the Korean people. Before that, from 1910–1945, Korea was a colony of the Japanese Empire and suffered unimaginable atrocities ranging from forced labor and sex slavery to medical experimentation on human subjects. After World War II, North Korea was run by Kim Il Sung, who had been a charismatic resistance fighter during Japanese occupation. He used Soviet and Chinese subsidies to model a state on Stalin’s Russia, labor camps and all. The South, no bastion of democracy, was run by a corrupt and brutal puppet government that took America’s backing as license to pillage and deprive its people and massacre political opponents. The United States had adopted an official noninterference policy that gave the North reason to believe their invasion would be uncontested by South Korea’s mightiest ally.[i]

On June 30, five days after the North’s invasion of the South began, Truman sent American troops to support the South Koreans. On July 7, the UN passed Resolution 84, requesting member nations to join a “police action” on the Korean peninsula. Sixteen nations joined in, including ones with modest armies like Ethiopia and Turkey. General MacArthur, who had been serving as de facto emperor of Japan since the war’s end, was given command of UN forces. Unfortunately for the South Koreans, MacArthur’s army of the occupation were not the same men who won the Second World War. Many were drunk and fat from half a decade of soft living as occupiers. In Korea, they were beaten back, almost off the peninsula, by Kim Il-Sung’s peasant fighters, making their last stand outside the port of Pusan. The outcome looked bleak.

On September 15, MacArthur ordered the Marines under his command to make an amphibious landing at the port of Incheon, near Seoul. The plan was to retake the capital and cut across the middle of the peninsula, thus trapping all North Korean troops in the south and taking the pressure off Pusan. It worked. The Communist invaders were killed, captured, or pushed back over the original border.

Roughly two weeks after the Incheon landing, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had warned that China would intervene if American and other UN troops moved north of the 38th parallel. On October 7, MacArthur ordered his forces to do just that. China soon began secretly sending “volunteers” into North Korea and strengthening their own border defenses along the Yalu River. Around the same time, MacArthur met with President Truman and assured him that the Chinese would not intervene.

Mary and I knew little of Korea’s history. Neither of us knew or cared about America’s blundered diplomacy and intelligence failures that had left Korea in a national security blind spot. Our interest increased sharply when North Korea invaded the South. Mary’s attention skyrocketed when I reminded her of my standby orders and speculated that this skirmish qualified as a national emergency. My call to duty came shortly after Truman committed troops to the UN’s response to North Korea’s assault. I went to our local post office where a Navy corpsman was giving the Marine physicals. I’ve always had low blood pressure. When the doc double-checked it, he wanted to turn me away. I had already taken leave from work and had gotten excited about going to war. I told him I’d be right back, went and ran up and down a few flights of stairs, and returned somewhat breathless for a re-exam. The corpsman said something to the effect of, “Hey pal, if you’re dumb enough to go, I’m dumb enough to send you.”

While I checked into Quantico, Mary found a cabin with a wood-burning stove in the pines near Lake Jackson, an elongated puddle at the western edge of the vast Marine base. By day and night, our new nest was often rocked by explosions from the artillery range. The sounds of freedom disturbed Mary, but we enjoyed the seclusion. On chilly autumn nights, when training didn’t have me fumbling around land navigation courses in the dark woods, I would sit by the fire or lie in bed with Mary and talk dreams about the arrival of our baby. Unspoken was the consolation that she was pregnant and would at least have our child in the event that my absence became permanent.

Up until that point, my military training had consisted of PLC, that summer camp at Quantico in 1948. Before deploying to Korea, I would receive additional training in the first-ever class of the Special Basic School. Those eleven weeks were consumed by seasoned Marines vainly trying to teach Second Lieutenant Daly to read maps and lead riflemen. Not that I was going to need any of the skills I was learning; it looked as though the war would be over before we got our platoons.

In early November 1950, MacArthur ordered a drive all the way up to the Chinese border. He made the infamous promise that his victorious troops would be home for Christmas. All the Dalys were happy to hear this news. At this point, I was still at Quantico, and it looked as though the war would end before my classmates and I deployed. Then, on November 26, the Chinese launched an immense surprise attack, routing all UN forces from coast to coast and trapping the US Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, outnumbering them by upwards of four-to-one. The action that followed became known as “Frozen Chosin.” The Marines held their positions with little support, totally cut off from the unprotected supply lines that MacArthur had stretched thin behind them. They fought in near-arctic conditions. Their canned rations froze. Their weapons froze. Their limbs froze. Men froze to death. In some instances, frozen enemy dead were stacked in front of Marine fighting positions and used as sandbags.

Needless to say, any Marine who survived Chosin became legend. It borders on absurd to think that I, a twenty-three-year-old lieutenant, would soon be giving orders to men who had fought their way out of that cold hell. One such man I would go on to command was Gunther Dohse, a German immigrant who was one of just sixteen men in a rifle company of 200-plus to walk out of Chosin, already a recipient of the Silver Star and Purple Heart when I met him.


After training, each Marine is assigned an MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty. The MOS for an infantry officer is 0301. After Chosin, we at the Basic School took to calling it 03-oh-shit! By year’s end, 1950, the situation in Korea was so grim that Truman was seriously considering removing all US forces from the peninsula. By New Year’s 1951, the second wave of the Chinese offensive had pushed the UN coalition south of the 38th parallel, forcing them to surrender Seoul for the second time. My Special Basic Class graduated around the time the Division broke out from their encirclement at Chosin. It was one of the Corps’ finest hours. But for us, it meant the war was just getting started. We had to fill out requests for next duty assignments. Most of us would be given orders to Korea, but most made their first choice something other than infantry. Only five lieutenants in my training company requested to lead a rifle platoon, and I was one of them. My orders were to report to Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, California, before shipping out across the Pacific.

I said goodbye to my parents in Bethesda. Dad gave me a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, saying that a personal weapon had been of comfort in the trenches.

He kissed me goodbye and hugged me. I can’t recall him doing either before. The family’s war history must have been on his mind as it was on mine. All through my deployment, my mother would garden nervously and dig holes in the yard.

Mary and I planned to drive west in our 1949 Ford, but Mary was having trouble riding with the pregnancy, so she followed by train.

Rents were high in California, but a Basic School classmate, Angus Deming, and I found a house near the beach in Carlsbad. After moving into what would have been a dream home in other circumstances, Angus and I drove north to Camp Pendleton. Checking in, I explained to the weathered sergeant on duty that we had just arrived and gave the young wives’ bit and asked for an added week’s leave.

“The boat leaves Diego on Wednesday.”

[i] David Douglas Duncan, This is War! A Photo-Narrative of the Korean War.

Make Peace or Die: A life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares is available through Amazon and Indiebound, or you can ask your local bookstore to order it. 

An early draft was featured on Jocko Podcast episode 196

Make Peace or Die Featured in the Cape Cod Chronicle

By: Debra Lawless

“One rainy Sunday a couple of years ago, Christine Daly of Chatham was sorting through a century-old box of photos of her husband’s family in Ireland when she made an astonishing discovery.

Beneath the “piles and piles” of photos, she found a “big old tattered Manilla folder” marked “WH.” In it were 200 or 300 typed four-by-six index cards. She immediately knew what they were — a kind of journal her husband, Charles U. “Chuck” Daly, had typed each evening during the dark months he worked in Lyndon Johnson’s White House after John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Chuck well remembered typing the cards over the course of a year or so, but he had assumed he had thrown them out or that they had been lost during a half century of moves. When Christine found the cards, the couple’s son, Charlie, a freelance writer, was already back living at home and interviewing Chuck for his riveting memoir, “Make Peace Or Die: A Life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares” (Houndstooth Press, 2020). The cards proved to be a “an absolute treasure trove,” Charlie says.”

Continue reading 

Make Peace or Die: A life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares is available through Amazon and Indiebound, or you can ask your local bookstore to order it. This week, the Kindle eBook is on sale for $0.99. 

An early draft was featured on Jocko Podcast episode 196

Dad on Jocko – Ep. 196 “Make Peace or Die”

Last year, Jocko Willink featured a conversation with my father and an early draft of Make Peace or Die on episode 196 of his podcast.

Dad describes the experience in the epilogue :

In the summer of 2019, I sat down with retired Navy SEAL and bestselling author Jocko Willink, as a guest on his podcast. He read from my manuscript and we talked about my life and about war. A chilling moment was when he read the line about the time I asked my father when the memories of war will fade.

I said that they don’t fade.

Jocko replied, “No, they don’t.”

I spent a long time preparing for the podcast to avoid rambling or choking up, which I did anyway. Nothing could have prepared me for the response from his listeners. The podcast was accessed over fifty thousand times on YouTube. Hundreds of comments came in from all over the world. Listeners emailed, they Tweeted. The deputy chief of our local police department, where Jocko’s Extreme Ownership is required reading, came to my door one day to shake my hand and give me a mug with the department crest on it. I was astonished by how many young people are interested in the history of the Korean War. They haven’t forgotten. One listener, a Korean Marine, thanked me for saving his country.

Another listener wrote: “My father was in the Korean War and he never talked about it. Now I know why.”

Thank you, Jocko, for sharing my father’s story with the world and for your dedication to our veterans, active-duty military, first responders, and their families.

Jocko Podcast 196 w/ Charles Daly: Make Peace or Die. Service, Leadership, and Nightmares.

Join the conversation on Twitter/Instagram:@jockowillink @echocharles0:00:00 – Opening0:06:15 – Charles U. Daly3:37:29 – Final thoughts and take-aways.4:40:5…

Make Peace or Die: A life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares is available through Amazon and Indiebound, or you can ask your local bookstore to order it. This week, the Kindle eBook is on sale for $0.99. 

An early draft was featured on Jocko Podcast episode 196

Dad’s trip to the Marine Corps Museum

When I tell people my dad was in the Korean war, they often say, “You mean Vietnam?” (or even the Gulf War.) And when I tell them that his father fought in  WWI they think I’m really confused… My father and his father only talked about war one time. Dad wanted to know if the memories of combat will ever fade. His father told him they will but never completely.


“They (The Marines) can teach you how to kill, but no one can teach how to get over killing.”


Half a century later, when I was growing up, my dad and I talked about his war memories a lot. He didn’t really have a choice. I was obsessed with history as a kid (still am) and  I had so many questions. Questions about his bad arm. Questions about his medals and the weapons in his study. He told me some of his funnier stories, like the time he heard movement in a bush while on patrol and emptied an entire magazine from his carbine into the bush, only to have a pheasant fly out unscathed. He talked about the stuff he could talk about.


It was only this year when we started working together on his memoir, that he talked about the stuff he doesn’t talk about. Those interviews were slow going. Sometimes we’d just do ten or fifteen minutes before it was too much for him. Other times, we’d be out for breakfast and he’d bring up a long-buried experience in graphic detail, talking faster than I could write.


Marine Corps Museum

One of the challenges of working on this project, so far, has been balancing the war stories with the rest of his life. He was in Korea for a little less than four months, but that time takes up a huge chunk of what we’ve drafted up to this point. The project started as 300 pages of notes he had taken over the years thinking he might want to write a book someday. About 160 of those pages were about the war.


This would be fine if war had been the only interesting thing he’d done with his life, but dad had an extraordinary post-war career that included working in JFK’s West Wing, serving as vice president of the University of Chicago and then Harvard, serving as chair of the Joyce Foundation, running the JFK Library, and spending the first years of “retirement” reporting on AIDS in South Africa–like a kid fresh out of journalism school. His self-effacing explanation for this is “Plenty of people can’t hold down a job…”


In spite of all this, it was a struggle to get the details out of him when it came to his life after the war. It’s as if his war memories are in high definition, and the rest is black and white. He left the war, but the war never left him. It was impossible to draft his life story and compartmentalize the Korea stuff. It returns again and again in the text.


Before the war, he had a middle-management position, importing molasses–where he likely where he would have stayed if it hadn’t been for the things he saw and did in Korea. He devoted the subsequent years–which he never expected to have–doing things that felt worthwhile. He had to. He was living not just for himself, but for the guys who didn’t come home. Guys who would never have to worry about high-quality problems like getting bored in a corporate job.


He was sent to Korea in the 5th Replacement Draft, in February 1951, and took part in some of the bloodiest fighting in that war. One Marine Corps general who was there put it like this:


“I have long ago given up telling people what I saw them (the Marines) do on so many occasions. Nobody believes me, nor would I believe anyone else telling the same story of other troops.”

–Maj Gen W.S Brown, USMC


Dad received a Silver Star–for leading a bayonet charge on a heavily defended hill and overrunning an enemy command post–and a Purple Heart, after being shot in the arm. The bullet left him with nerve damage in his elbow that feels something like a constant “funny bone.”


This Veteran’s Day, he and I went to the Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. Quantico is where he became a Marine, attending the first-ever Special Basic School, which had been created after WWII to give officers more thorough training than they’d had in previous wars.


Chosin korean war marine corps museum
Korean Era USMC winter uniform. Cotton in Arctic conditions.


The Korean war exhibit starts with a history video explaining how the war started and why the U.S got involved. The backstory here is given more attention than in the WWII or War on Terror exhibits. Korea is, after all, “the forgotten war.”


Chosin korean war marine corps museumChosin korean war marine corps museum

Since the focus is on Marine involvement in the conflict, the largest section of the exhibit is dedicated to the Battle of Chosin (also known as “Frozen Chosin.”) There’s a large refrigerated room containing a life-sized recreation of a Marine fighting position on an icy hillside.  It’s not as cold as Chosin must have been, but they’ve done their best to take you out of a climate-controlled museum in Virginia. As we walked through the exhibit, dad remembered out loud about living in those hills (he arrived after Chosin, but it was still winter. Still freezing.)


He remembers a guy getting hit in a situation just like the one that’s been depicted in the exhibit with wax figures.


Chosin korean war marine corps museum david douglas duncChosin korean war marine corps museum david douglas duncan photographer

(PHOTOS BY David Douglas Duncan)

It’s an awkward compliment to the realism and accuracy of the museum that it upsets and overwhelms a combat veteran. One exhibit that stopped dad in his tracks was a recreation of a corpsman treating a badly wounded Marine.


He paused to catch his breath,  blinked away tears, and said, “That’s a tough one… The guy’s not going to make it.”

korean war marine corps museum corpsman wounded

Elsewhere, they have a miniature bugle on display. After reading the description of what it is, dad shook his head and laughed.  It was one of the bugles the Chinese used to rally their troops for “human wave” attacks. When the Marines could hear bugles on every hill around them, they knew that they were completely surrounded and that the enemy was closing in. It amused him to see that instrument under glass on American soil.


Chosin korean war marine corps museum chinese bugle


Composing himself after one the tough moments, he said he liked the way they included the tough stuff. “You can’t put the reality of combat in a museum,” he said, “but at least here they show you the ugly side and it’s not all ‘hoo-rah’ recruitment bullshit.”


In our interviews, I asked him what he’d say to any young person thinking of joining the Marines. He quoted a friend of his who’s a retired Marine Corps General: “They can teach you how to kill, but no one can teach you how to get over killing.” That said, he also said he would probably still go if given a do-over. 


During his yearlong stay in a Navy hospital, having his arm reconstructed, he asked a buddy, who lost a leg and part of one hand, the same question:


“if you could go back, knowing exactly what would happen to you, would you do it again?” 


“Yes.” He said


Chosin korean war marine corps museum

Something else on display in the museum is the deep and sincere bond between individual Marines. Dad wore his Silver Star lapel pin that day, something people in their world notice immediately. The response was intense.


Walking out, a fireplug of a guy, who looks exactly how you expect a Marine to look, grabbed dad’s good hand with all his might, looked him in the eye, said “Semper Fi, Devil Dog,” and kept walking. A visiting Army Special Operations helicopter pilot wordlessly pressed a challenge coin from his unit into dad’s palm.


By the way dad bantered with the two privates guarding the door, you’d think they were old friends of his. “We really mean all that, ‘Semper Fi’ shit,” he tells me.


dan daly come on you sons of bitches do you want to live forever quote mug marine corps museum


In the gift shop, he bought a few more Globe & Anchor bumper stickers for his car. Growing up, our car always had one of these stickers on the back windshield. There is a practical reason for this, besides displaying his membership in the world’s largest fraternity: he says the stickers are handy if you get pulled over because half the State Troopers served in the Marines.


I bought him a mug with a quote printed on it from Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Daniel Daly (no relation) who yelled to his Marines before they charged the Germans at the Battle of Belleaeu Wood in WWI:


“Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”


The next morning, he read the quote aloud, in a grumpy voice, while his tea was steeping.