Alumnus and veteran of Korean War shares insights on Korea situation
DAHLONEGA (April 12, 2013) — U.S. Army Col. (retired) Ben Malcom, a 1950 graduate of then-North Georgia College and a Korean War veteran, believes it's not a matter of whether recent saber-rattling by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will turn into action, but when.
"We're quite concerned about what's going to happen in North Korea," Malcom said, noting that two of North Korea's top military advisers have disappeared recently, possibly due to a failed coup attempt. "North Korea has attacked South Korea more than 100 times since 1953. They've sent agents in to try to kill the president of South Korea on three occasions and on one occasion they killed his wife."
Malcom, who regularly speaks at the Army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C. and at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, recently spoke to a military history class at the University of North Georgia taught by history and journalism instructor Ron Martz. .
As was the case with his father, Kim Jong Il, the United States is keeping close tabs on Kim Jong Un, his family and his top advisers.
"Kim Jong Il died in December 2011 and Kim Jong Il's third son, Kim Jong Un, has taken over and is still running that country," Malcom said. "His first son, Kim Jong Nam, was supposed to get that job but he made a serious mistake in 2002 and went into Japan with a fake passport to visit Disneyland of all places, and got locked up."At UNG, Malcom talked about the current situation on the Korean peninsula and his experiences in the Korean War, which started only a few months after Malcom graduated and commissioned into the U.S. Army. Malcom was just completing training when he was told he would be going to Korea.
"We fought on that DMZ for 27 months, and we had another top-secret war going on behind the lines during that period of time that I was involved in," he said.
Malcom spent 29 years in the U.S. Army and is credited with laying the foundation for today's U.S. Army Special Forces. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had been disbanded after World War II, Malcom told students, so the work of clandestine operations fell to his unit.
During the war, Malcom led a unit of some 800 North Korean defectors calling themselves the White Tigers in numerous missions designed to disrupt enemy operations. Missions included robbing banks, counterfeiting North Korean money, disabling communications and transportation, and urging enemy soldiers and pilots to defect.
"We robbed their banks and we robbed their pay officers," Malcom said. "We distributed that money to our paratroopers, and jumped them back into North Korea. They would take that money with them and give it to their families and friends and spend it on the open market."
Paengnyong-do, a small island located off the west coast of North Korea that was home base for Malcom's operations is still under U.S. control. Though only 300 people were on the island when he was assigned there, the population has swelled to some 5,000 in the years since the Korean War, Malcom said, as North Korean refugees sought a safe haven.
The missions were kept secret for 40 years, until Malcom and Martz started working on a book chronicling Malcom’s experiences, "White Tigers, My Secret War in North Korea." The book has been translated into Korean, and The History Channel, Voice of America and a South Korean television station have done broadcasts about Malcom and the White Tigers.
At the close of his presentation for the UNG history class, Malcom showed photos of various Korean War souvenirs that he has donated to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in North Carolina.