View Full Version : 1871 battle echoes

05-09-07, 05:20 AM
1871 battle echoes
South Korea seeks return of flag, on display at Naval Academy, that Marines seized after their victory
By Bradley Olson
sun reporter
Originally published May 9, 2007

The battle rates as barely a footnote in history, but the U.S. military had scored a decisive victory that would become a part of Marine Corps lore.

• The proof: a giant yellow and blue flag, used to rally a band of soldiers, "tiger hunters" and peasants in a futile effort to repel a powerful American force that sacked a Korean citadel in 1871.

The flag has been on display for decades at the Naval Academy, one of more than 100 seized from conflicts large and small.

But now South Korea, which venerates the heroism of the battle's defenders much as Americans do the defenders of the Alamo, has asked for the flag back. A delegation from the country's cultural heritage administration visited the Annapolis campus last month to make its case.

Such booty is protected by U.S. law, and returning the flag would require an act of Congress, something that appears unlikely. South Korean officials had held out hope that the academy could get around the law by providing the flag on permanent loan.

A Defense Department source familiar with last month's meetings, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the museum has no plans to provide the flag.

Reached this week by phone, two officials at the South Korean Embassy in Washington said they were unfamiliar with the details of the delegation's visit and could not comment on the discussions with the academy.

Naval Academy officials declined to discuss last month's meetings, but they appear to be well within their rights and tradition to retain the standard.

A number of laws and executive orders dating to 1814 require that any flags seized by the Navy in combat be displayed at the academy.

Such prizes are the spoils of war, often held by many countries that have long since become allies. The British are known to hold a U.S. flag dating to the American Revolution, said Jack Greene, a spokesman for the Naval Historical Center.

A 1907 Hague Convention established the international right of any country to seize from an enemy assets that will help prosecute war, Greene said.

Nevertheless, Sen. Wayne Allard, a Colorado Republican who has for years tried to secure North Korea's release of a surveillance vessel seized in 1968 after that nation's officials said it had strayed in their territorial waters, recently drafted a resolution suggesting that the flag could be returned as a bargaining chip to secure the USS Pueblo.

"This is the only commissioned ship that another foreign power holds," Allard said, adding that he had suggested the barter with North Korea at the behest of activists in Pueblo, Colo., the city for which the ship is named. "It could give [the Koreans] the opportunity to save face while they return the ship."

State Department officials have told Allard that there is "little near-term prospect of negotiating the return of the USS Pueblo," and a department spokesman said the United States has not "been directly contacted" by Korean authorities.

In recent years in South Korea, a grassroots movement has emerged that seeks to have the 15-by-15-foot banner returned.

History buffs compare it in significance to the flag, displayed at the Smithsonian, that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"Here's an object that would be of great value here in Korea, and South Korea is probably the United States' best friend in Asia, and yet the United States is holding a war prize. I just thought that really, truly belongs here in Korea," Thomas Duvernay, a professor of English and Korean history at Handong Global University in Pohang, South Korea, said in a telephone interview.

He has been a leading advocate for the flag's return.

For Korea, the hard-fought battle - during which the nation lost 350 men, compared with three American sailors and Marines - has come to symbolize a great victory, an example of a outmanned group of warriors who gave their lives, not unlike the small band of Texas fighters at the Alamo.

Despite taking the citadel, the Navy and Marine forces left Corea, as the nation was then known in English, a short time later, having failed in their mission to establish diplomatic relations with the country.

In official U.S. histories, the battle was described as an early example of military might during which Marines launched a successful amphibious assault to reassert American power six years after the devastating Civil War.

Five U.S. ships had gone to Corea seeking to open the nation to trade. At the time, the dominant U.S. interest abroad was to protect its citizens, many of them in the whaling industry.

Met by a low-level delegation, the U.S. minister to China, Frederick Ferdinand Low, asked to speak with higher-ranking diplomats with negotiating power and stated the intention of the United States to explore the coasts. He was met with silence from the Koreans.

When American ships reached Kanghwa Island west of Seoul, they were fired upon from several forts and returned fire.

Low and Rear Adm. John Rogers, a native of Havre de Grace who commanded the Asiatic squadron, waited 10 days for an apology from the Koreans. Receiving none, they launched an assault on the island garrison.

Despite being overpowered by Marines, the Koreans fought fiercely, finally resorting to throwing rocks and dirt when they were unable to reload their muskets to hold back American forces.

Pvt. Hugh Purvis, who later retired from the Marine Corps to run the Naval Academy armory for 30 years, won the Medal of Honor after "braving" enemy fire to scale the walls of a fort and capture the flag. He was one of 15 recipients of the award in the Korean expedition.

Marked with a Chinese character that stands for commanding general, the flag was a standard for Gen. Uh Je-yeon, who was killed in the battle.

Because of an 1849 executive order signed by President James K. Polk, "all flags, standards, and colors" seized by the Navy in a time of war have been sent to Annapolis "for preservation and display."

In those times, "colors" were a beacon of pride, used often to organize and rally forces in battle. Capturing them was a sign of victory. This flag was displayed for nearly a century in the academy's halls.

In 1913, Congress appropriated $30,000 for the preservation of flags in the academy's care, and Amelia Fowler, a flag restorer later hired to fix up "The Star Spangled Banner" for the Smithsonian, worked with 70 women in the Mahan Hall auditorium to sew a cable stitching on the back of the giant banner.

Duvernay, the professor at Handong Global University who has researched the 1871 incident extensively, said the United States has done Korea a great favor in preserving the flag. It is the only one of its kind in existence.

After visiting the academy in 1999 and seeing the flag rolled up in a glass display case at the museum, Duvernay began to write congressmen, the academy superintendent and two U.S. presidents. Nearly all told him that the effort was a lost cause because of U.S. laws.

"But it's something I've never given up on, and now people in Korea are getting very interested in the subject," said Duvernay, a Michigan native. "Even here in my university, student groups are starting a grassroots campaign to get the flag back."

He helped the South Korean delegation prepare for its visit last month and has orchestrated meetings in recent years between relatives of the Korean general and an American Marine who died in the 1871 battle.

"The flag was taken," he said. "So in a way, I think that a lot of the symbolism it has gained for Koreans is that part of Korea was taken."



05-09-07, 08:25 PM
I don't think we should give them doodly squat!

mark king
05-09-07, 08:28 PM
they should just shut up, and still be kissing our ass for saving them from the north.

Sgt Leprechaun
05-10-07, 09:42 AM
Note the rabble rousing 'professor' who basically started the whole thing. Loser.

We won it fair and square, so we get to keep it. This would set a baaad precedent if allowed to occur. It's not about faaaaaiirrrrness or any of that twaddle.

Molon Labe!!!!

05-10-07, 10:19 AM
Let's send the professor to Korea...consolation prize?

Sgt Leprechaun
05-10-07, 10:34 AM
Can't. He's already there. Lives there, as a matter of fact.