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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Blue House Raid: American Infantry and the Korean DMZ Conflict by Robert Perron takes us back to 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War when elsewhere in Asia the American military was also pulling duty as assistants to the South Korean Army, patrolling and keeping intact the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. When Private Lorne Boyle arrived in Korea on the end of a three-year enlistment in the US Army, he found himself posted to the pointy end of DMZ deployment as part of the Second Infantry Division. Arriving in the depths of winter, Boyle was soon to discover Korea was a very different and much colder place than his home back on the chicken farm in Alabama. Identified early on as a leader, Boyle quickly becomes appointed acting Sergeant of his own infantry team that would patrol the Demarcation line of the ceasefire with the North, as well as the frozen fields and hills of the no-man’s land that was the DMZ. Three days on, one day off soon became a regular routine, with the one day off being spent by Boyle and most of his comrades at the nearby village and with the willing young Korean prostitutes, who worked to survive but also in the faint hope of capturing a GI’s heart and returning to the States as a soldier’s wife. Meanwhile, just across the DMZ, a crack team of North Korean soldiers is training for an audacious raid, one that will go down in history – attack the Blue House (The South Korean President’s residence) and cut off the head of President Park Chung-hee. Inevitably, American GIs, North Korean Chosŏn soldiers, and the South Korean civilians of the nearby villages to the DMZ are heading for conflict.
The Blue House Raid is a very readable military conflict book, with a strong plot, believable characters, and a backstory based on actual events. There was indeed an attempted attack by the North Koreans on the Blue House and author Robert Perron skilfully weaves his fictional account around the recorded events that occurred. What I particularly liked about this story was the general lack of gore and blood in the narrative. Instead, the focus was on the individuals involved in all three areas of the story; the Chosŏn soldiers, the American GIs, and the “comfort girls” or prostitutes. Giving the perspective of the North Koreans, their planning, motivations and giving a human face to the people that are so often only seen through the lens of their fanatical leaders was an inspired touch and it was even possible to feel sorrow and empathy for these young men indoctrinated with both fear and reward. I also particularly enjoyed getting to understand the girls that serviced the GIs and trying to understand what had driven these young women to do this job and to do it willingly. This is a character-driven story and the author does an excellent job in drawing these characters out. His knowledge and understanding of the conditions on the ground were doubtless underpinned by the thirteen months he himself served on the Korean peninsula. Whether this was autobiographical in any way, I have no idea but what came through loud and clear was the author’s command of the situation, the technical aspects of the weaponry and equipment, plus the differing motivations of the various combatants. I thoroughly enjoyed this easy read and can highly recommend it.