On Duty with the Marine Security Detachment at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul on June 25, 1950
By Fred Lash, from an interview with George V. Lampman
In June of 1950, Sergeant George V. Lampman, USMC was a member of the Marine Security Guard (MSG) Detachment at the newly established U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Korea. The detachment numbered 20 Marines in all.
George was at the U.S. Embassy when, on June 25, 1950, North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea.
Backtracking a bit, these 20 Marines who would eventually serve in the first MSG detachment at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Korea were selected from approximately 70 Marines, mostly veterans of World War II.
They reported to Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia on November 10, 1948 and were trained for several weeks by State Department security officers in Washington, DC, then taken to a local clothing store to be fitted for civilian clothes (suits, overcoats, hats, shirts, etc.).
George should know—he is the only living member of that 20-Marine MSG detachment. The reason they had to be outfitted with civilian attire is that they would not be able to wear Marine Corps uniforms where they would be going. They were also ordered not to tell anyone where they were to be assigned.
The 20 Marines arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul on January 9, 1949. It is interesting to note that they arrived in Korea without uniforms, military identification cards, or dog tags. On November 10th of that same year, the detachment held its first Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Seoul, with more than 300 guests.
Next came routine security duties and time passed rather quickly—until Sunday, June 25, 1950, when at 8:45 a.m., the MSG learned that North Korean forces had crossed the 38th Parallel at approximately 4:00 a.m.
The following is an account by CWO George V. Lampman, USMC (Retired) of the actions and events that occurred on the 25th, 26th, and 27th of June 1950.
On Sunday, June 25th, I was the Embassy Security Officer and had the midnight to 8:00 a.m. watch. About 4:30 a.m., I started getting telephone calls from various people asking me what was going on in the north and what had I heard. Even newspaper reporters were asking the same questions and I just told them that I did not know anything. I and other two Marines who were on watch with me went back to our quarters. However, we were not there long when our “room boy” came into our room, woke us up, and told me that I was wanted on the phone right away. I went down to the phone and spoke with Paul Dupre who relieved me and said, “George, get all the guys, bring any weapons you have, and get down here right away. We are sending a Jeep to pick you up.” As we were driving down a main street and some aircraft were flying extremely low over us. Gus said, “Look at those damn P-51s and how close to us they are flying. It’s very dangerous.” We had recently heard that the first class of the Korean Air Force had graduated from flight school, and we thought these new pilots were just showing off. As we continued down the street, it became clear that these planes were not our P-51s but instead were Russian Yaks, flown by North Korean pilots. We found out later that the Yak has the same silhouette as American P-51s. The Yak started strafing us, and we had to do a lot of dodging and stopping quite often to get protection behind the stone pillars of government buildings.
Finally, we made it to the Embassy and our NCOIC (noncommissioned officer in charge) told us there were pre-prepared evacuation orders that we had never heard about. At that point, we learned that we were among the lead people in these evacuation orders. However, the orders were up-to-date and extremely precise, telling us exactly where to go, what to do, and when to do it.
After we received our instructions and knew what we had to do, we drove to all the quarters in the city occupied by embassy staff personnel, advising them of the evacuation plans. The evacuation went quite smoothly, considering the circumstances. The personnel were all driven in busses to the port of Incheon, southwest of Seoul where there was a fertilizer ship on which everyone boarded. The Seventh Fleet escorted this ship to Japan.
After they were all evacuated, we still had work to do. The Ambassador directed us to destroy all the communications equipment in the embassy. All we did was to go from floor to floor, grabbing all the telephones and throwing them out of windows. Now, it was Monday and we began wondering just how remaining personnel would be evacuated.
The embassy had inherited all the 24th Corps’ vehicles, and they were in our embassy motor pool. We took a couple of M-1 rifles, a couple cases of armor piercing ammunition, and destroyed perhaps two hundred jeeps and other vehicles. We devised a system to make this operation go more smoothly. One guy would open the hood and another guy would then fire two or three rounds into the flywheel. That way, the North Koreans would not be able to cannibalize them. We did all of that in about three to four hours.
We then continued to destroy classified and sensitive material. The Army Attaché’s office had tons of training manuals marked “Restricted,” and all that fell into the category of burning. There was so much burning of various documents that the furnaces became overloaded, and we needed to erect a burning bin in the parking area made from chain link fencing. With the use of lots of gasoline, we were able to get everything destroyed.
After that, I was given the task of getting the two code machines to the sidewalk in front of the embassy. We got everyone back to safety, hooked up the code machines to Jeep batteries, and then put an electrical charge into them. Within about 10 to 15 minutes, we had two football-size lumps of molten metal.
After finishing with the code machines, we drove to the airfield at Kimpo. There were very few transport aircraft available for the evacuation since General MacArthur was using them to bring in the 24th Division. Task Force Smith was at Osan, with a reinforced company of the 24th.
The last planes for evacuating embassy personnel and U.S. citizens had supposedly landed while we were still shaking the bushes to locate ambassadors of other countries who we could evacuate. We found most of them; however, there were so many people they overloaded the planes.
After what we were led to believe was the last plane had departed, four or five of us got ready to drive our Jeeps to anywhere south of Seoul. Just as we were departing Kimpo, someone let us know that there was to be one more plane coming in. It was a C-54 that was being flown to Suwon from Inosuke in Japan. When the pilot reached Suwon, he was informed that there were more people at Kimpo to evacuate, including several Marines, so he headed there. Meanwhile, while we waited for this plane to land, more people arrived and wanted to board the plane. The crew chief said the plane was grossly overloaded; however, everyone got aboard. I never knew how many people a C-54 was supposed to carry, but there were approximately 110 aboard.
As we were taxiing down the runway, I heard the pilot tell the crew chief, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get this SOB off the ground, so we better open the doors and throw anything out that’s not nailed down.” The Marines assisted in tossing lots of stuff out the doors—life rafts, weapons, cargo boxes—and we were just barely able to lift off.
I was responsible for the Great Seal of the United States that was used at the embassy for passports. Because of International Law, the Great Seal of the U.S. was not to go into another country. My instructions from the embassy security officer were to throw the seal out the window of the aircraft after we were over the Straits of Tsushima. I got the crew chief to open the navigator’s window, and I threw it out of the plane.
We landed at Inosuke, Japan, where the Air Force wives had set up a nice reception for us with refreshments. A few days later, 19 of us (MSG detachment) were assigned to different posts at embassies throughout the Pacific area. Later, after we retook Seoul in September, six of us would be recalled to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. We would be together again until the Chinese Communists invaded South Korea later that same year—but that’s a different story.
About The Author:
Fred Lash works with Military Historical Tours Inc. They are the finest, custom-designed tour program for Veterans, Family Members, Historians, Educators or Students. For 30 years they have followed the vision of providing opportunities to visit battlefields of past conflicts.
See this and other stories of our Veterans in KDVA’s “I Know a Korean War Veteran Campaign” webpage at https://kdva.vet/i-know-a-korean-war-veteran-campaign/.