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Puerto Rico’s Fighting 65th U.S. Infantry: From San Juan to Chorwan W.W. Harris Presidio Press

31st May 2012 History Books 21 Comments

The late W. W. Harris commanded the 65th Infantry Regiment from 1949 to 1951 including its first year of combat in Korea.

During World War II, the all Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment had been broken up with its three battalions relegated to backwater assignments where combat was unlikely. Still smarting fromm this slight, the 65th regained a measure of respect when it soundly defeated the veteran 3rd Infantry Division during postwar maneuvers.

Puerto Rico’s Fighting 65th U.S. Infantry: From San Juan to Chorwan

Fire and Ice : The Korean War, 1950-1953

Michael J. Varhola earned a B.S. in journalism from the University of Maryland, and is a freelance editor and writer living in suburban Washington D.C. During Operation Desert Storn, he served with the 3rd Armored Division in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and thereafter helped found and run Living History magazine. Michael is the author or editor of numerous articles and books, including Everyday Life During the Civil War.

This handy “At A Glance” volume contains an exceptional amount of material on the Korean Conflict, with much information that will be new to virtually all readers, such as dissension between the U.S. and South Korea, the differing treatment of prisoners by the Chinese and North Koreans, the widespread service of Korean nationals in American units, and the important contribution made by Turkey, the British Commonwealth and other nations to the U.N. effort.
Fire and Ice : The Korean War, 1950-1953

  • 21 responses to "Puerto Rico’s Fighting 65th U.S. Infantry: From San Juan to Chorwan W.W. Harris Presidio Press"

  • Eden Danny
    3:56 on May 31st, 2012
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    I must admit it’s hard for me to be impartial about this book, since I was bursting with pride as I read the battlefield accomplishments of our boricuas. Nevertheless, I think this book has a lot going for it that objectively warrants it getting 5 stars.

    This book gives an unfiltered look at a soldier’s mind. The language is laconically military and without hints of heavy editing or ghostwriting, and its’ simplicity allows for very quick reading. The autor really holds his heart in his hand for the reader: his initial prejudice at commanding a “rum and Coca-Cola” outfit, his terror during a particularly savage artillery bombardment, his “chuckling” at the fate of a North Korean unit caught inside a railroad tunnel with the 65th’s engineers about to blow up the entrances. Or like when his commanding officer made expressions of disappointment at the performance of African American troops under his command in the Italian Front during WW2. The author did not gloss over, condemn, or justfy his comments. He just retold the conversation as it happened (he argued with the CO as to what color Puerto Rican troops actually were!).

    He also offers interesting insights into the nature of battlefield command and tactics, like the importance of a commanding officer not being too belicose, gettting caught up in the heat of battle and losing sight of the big picture, but rather maintaining a distance from where he can get keep track of the whole battle. Or the preferrability of not encircling your opponent (thereby forcing him to dig in and fight with desperation), but rather allowing him an escape route to your advantge where they may be cut to pieces as they try to stream out. Some interesting historical insights as well, like the personal animosities between the commanders of the XXth Corps and 8th Army which impeded effective coordination and allowed a breach to be exploited by the Chinese in the early stages.

    This is a book that anyone interested in military history can enjoy and learn from.

  • Janet C
    5:14 on May 31st, 2012
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    Having been to Korea and having read a great deal on the subject of this nearly forgotten conflict, I didn’t expect much from Fire and Ice. Boy, was I ever wrong! The book is crisp, fast reading and chock full of content. Provides a great read for the expert or the the novice. Lot’s of hard to find information makes this a must reference book on the subject. It’s all here: on air, land and sea. Units, weapons and tactics of both sides and our UN Allies. Then there is the fun stuff like the review of Korean War flicks. This is the best book I have found on Amazon! Enjoy…

  • splinter
    6:48 on May 31st, 2012
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    As a descendant of one of the heroes of 65th Infantry, I was intrigued on how one of their former Commanding Officers would portray them. General Harris (then Colonel) did not wish to command this outfit and he resented his appointment, then unfairly known as a laid back, disorganized, backwater posting. He tells us how these men changed his outlook from day one of assuming command. These brave men, although barely two platoons strong when he assumed command, held off the best Division that the U.S. Army had to offer on training maneuvers, and the best the North Koreans and the Chinese had during the Korean War. When asked point blank if the puertorricans would fight when the time came, Colonel Harris’ answer was just as direct: “My puertorricans will fight anyone, anywhere.” They did not dissapoint their CO, becoming the most decorated Batallion of the Korean War. One can only wonder why this Batallion was rarely ever used during World War II.

    The book has a few historical errors, all of them regarding Puerto Rico and its culture, and the narrative is sometimes repetitive. That is why I did not rate it as a 5 star book. But overall, it is an excellent military history narrative on one of the most decorated fighting units in the U.S. Army and the only Batallion to be transferred from the U.S. Army onto a National Guard when the time came to deactivate it. These men, along with every other war time hero, deserve our eternal thanks and our admiration for sacrificing their youth in order to preserve Freedom and Democracy.

  • Robbie Jewels
    8:13 on May 31st, 2012
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    This is a great book about an outstanding unit. As a “Boricua” i am proud of the deeds of the 65th, they demonstrated what they were made off and never let us down.
    On another note the 65th was not a battalion but a Regiment composed of serveral battalions(just a correction to a previous review).

  • Ant Luth
    10:38 on May 31st, 2012
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    This book is full of facts of the Korean War. It would be a good first book for someone interested in the Korean War. A plus for the book (in my opinion) was that one of the co-authors was an infantry officer that fought there during the conflict.

  • Keli Larkins
    12:26 on May 31st, 2012
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    ‘Fire & Ice’ presents the intensity and horror of the Korean conflict, while capturing the courage and spirit of the warring armies in an easy to read and reference format. As a military officer, I found ‘Fire & Ice’ to be a wonderful research guide offering a detailed overview of the timelines, campaigns, battles and personalities spanning the war. It’s now the first book I reach for whenever I have a question related to the Korean War.

  • Robert Rak
    17:00 on May 31st, 2012
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    Having never studied the Korean War I found this book to be an excellent place to start. Covering a period of time before, during and after the war, the book gives a very complete coverage of the events that occured. Discussing not only the military actions, but adding some of the political and economic environment durring the war helps get a better feel for what was going on. Overall it was an excellent book if you are interested in finding out about the Korean War.

  • Frank Fohl
    0:08 on June 1st, 2012
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    “Fire @ Ice” is an interesting collection of facts about the Korean War. I found it to be of great assistance while watching movies and reading other books about the Korean War. It does an excellent job explaining the weapons systems used, and the various stages of the Korean Conflict. It is the first book I have seen with somewhat detailed descriptions of non-US forces which served with the UN. While it doesn’t really tell a story or elaborate on the personalities involved, it fills in a lot of the little details many books about this early Cold War conflict overlook or neglect. Now whenever I see a Korean War movie listed on cable somewhere I consult with “Fire& Ice” to establish which phase of the war the movie takes place in, and to see if the forces portrayed are acurately depicted.

  • Jane M.
    1:46 on June 1st, 2012
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    “Fire & Ice – The Korean War, 1950-1953″ is a well written and meticulously researched publication. What were the major battles of the war? Which country members supported the United Nations efforts — and to what extent? Who were the key battlefield leaders for the United Nations? the Chinese forces? the North and South Korean forces? Michael Varhola provides all the answers – and more – in this outstanding reference work.

    Nearly 50 years ago as a U.S. Marine, I was medically evacuated from the small airstrip at Hagaru-ri in North Korea. The C-47 cargo plane that carried me out had Greek markings and a Greek air crew. I have always wondered about that plane and despite the numerous books that I have read on the Korean War, I have never seen a reference pertaining to Greece’s air contribution to the war — only their contribution of ground forces.But, on page 138 of “Fire & Ice,” I learned that Greece provided an air transport squadron comprised of eight C-47 cargo planes. Obviously the plane that evacuated me was one of these eight. This bit of information is but one example of the many facts contained therein.

    There are many books written about the Korean War – each with many statistics and facts. However, Mr. Vahola is the first writer to put it all in one book. Whether the reader is a Korean War buff, a serious military history researcher, a student with an interest in the Korean War, a casual reader, or like myself, a Korean veteran, this book is too good to be dismissed. “Fire & Ice” is reference material at its best.

  • Dan Moroni
    3:47 on June 1st, 2012
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    This is an unimaginative handbook of facts about the Korean War. It is not a history of the war.

  • Readit
    7:15 on June 1st, 2012
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    Fire & Ice is a most interesting and authoritative account of the Korean conflict. Conveys the full sweep of the war from confrontation.. bitter struggle.. and a fragile peace. It is endlessly fascinating.

  • joequits
    11:29 on June 1st, 2012
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    This book is great for getting a little more than a “once over lightly” on the Korean War. While it does not go into excessive details, neither does it miss any important facts. Indeed it covers some subjects, such as allied participation in the war, better than many indepth histories.

    I found the format of the book similar to man of James Dunnigan’s Dirty Little Secrets Book, so it easy to read either cover to cover, or to look up a specific topic.

    I would recommend this book to a high school teacher as a reference for teaching the history of the Korean War. I would also recommend this book as first for anyone starting to study the Korean War. If your appetite is whetted, then I would next read “This Kind of War” by Fehrenbach, followed by “The Forgotten War” by Clay Blair.

    I gave this book only 4 stars because it is not very detailed, but it certainly does not miss anything important.

  • YourMom
    15:25 on June 1st, 2012
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    As a former Sanjuanero who used to travel the 65th Infantry Highway, I always wondered about the road’s namesake unit. Well, now I know! Well told and well illustrated.

  • dsegel
    17:15 on June 1st, 2012
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    Mike Varhola has done it again. “Fire and Ice,” his reference work on the Korean War, follows his very successful guide for writers and historians, “Everyday Life During the Civil War.” “Fire and Ice” is a superb reference for teachers, veterans, war gamers, and military enthusiasts. It is an easy read for the armchair historian. Mike has packed his book with a wide variety of comments about international uniforms, unit organizations, the often overlooked naval role, military pay rates, and a section on POWs. He deftly combines his historical observations together with recently uncovered information. His list of Korean War films is most informative. As a retired Army veteran with a tour in Korea (75-76), who now teaches US History in a public high school, I highly recommend this work to my fellow teachers. It will help you bring the conflict to life for your students. For the children of veterans and the citizen, it will help you understand the grime, grit, and horror of war these men and women experienced. Great job, Mike.

  • Tim Johrer
    22:41 on June 1st, 2012
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    Fire and Ice is one of the best books I’ve found concerning the Korean War. As a high school student, I found it both interesting and easy to read. It is a straightforward book filled with useful facts, maps, and illustrations. Fire and Ice actually made me want to voluntarily write a report. Not many books can do that.

  • Michelle Dunn
    1:31 on June 2nd, 2012
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    Whether you’re simply curious about the Korean War, knowledgeable on the subject but looking for new details, or desperately researching a paper due in two days, FIRE AND ICE has what you need. Don’t let the scholarly foreword by Col. Jessup scare you away, author Michael Varhola’s style is extremely easy and free-flowing.

    Varhola presents, in orderly fashion, clear descriptions of war on the ground, in the air, and at sea; battlefields; details of the military forces in the conflict; and weapons, vehicles, uniforms, insignia, and various equipment. All of the above includes black & white photographs, maps, and diagrams. A chapter on “Warlords and Statesmen” gives miniature biographies and actions of the leaders involved. Chronologies of the war are given in both the chapter “Armistice Negotiations” and in an appendix covering the war as a whole. The grim chapter on POWs deals not only with the atrocities of the time but also follows the continuing governmental conflicts over war crimes to the present day. A final chapter covers the Korean War as presented in books, on film, and online. An appendix explains military terms and acronyms, and for those who like their information boiled down into bite-sized pieces, there is a facts and figures appendix, plus the previously mentioned chronology.

    If you want or need to know about the Korean War, this book is a splendid gateway.

  • Jason Jones
    5:52 on June 2nd, 2012
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    I found this book in a Fort Gordon, Georgia library as I was searching for a book to write a book report on. The book report was a requirement for the Signal Officer Basic course that I was enrolled in. It was back in June 2000, and I was a lieutenant in the US Army. I was pleasantly surprised and emotionally moved by this book. I must say that it continues to be one of my favorite books of all time. This is the book review I wrote back then for this book:

    In this book the then Col Harris recounts his experience as commander of the 65th U.S. Infantry. He writes of the entire experience with this regiment. The reader can get a clear understanding of the author’s feelings as he retells the experience as vividly as if it had happened just a few days ago. He takes the reader from 1949 when he was first assigned as commander of the 65th U.S. Infantry Regiment at Fort Brooke, Puerto Rico to the end of his commanding Chorwan, Korea 1951. He vividly describes his lack of knowledge, misconceptions as well as curiosity as to what he expected from the Puerto Rican soldiers. This book is organized as a journal and the reader feels as if Harris himself is telling you the story of how he felt back then and he then comes back and mentions how wrong he was to feel this way. This book written twenty-five years after the Korean War, is Harris’ way of giving recognition and informing others of his unforgettable positive experience with the 65th Infantry Division.

    One of the best lessons learned from this book is that one shouldn’t judge others just by stereotypes. Col. Harris expected to be met by this “rum and coca-cola army” and in return he was impressed by the fierce combat skills that the soldiers of the 65th displayed during their initial training exercise Operation Portex: the Vieques Maneuver. During this training exercise the 65th proved themselves as a well trained, skillful organization. It was during this training exercise that Harris started to get a taste of what these soldiers were capable of. As a result of becoming well known for their distinction as they “beat” 3rd Division, a few months later they received orders that would send them to a war that was being fought in Korea. Official records indicate that soldiers from the 65th were responsible for 2,086 POWS captured, 5,905 enemies killed during the Korean War. Four soldiers from the 65th were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and 127 soldiers were awarded the Silver Star. Soldiers who participated in this war were documented as saying that what motivated them to do such a great job was in order to bring recognition to the Puerto Rican soldier and through their valiant performance, they were able to break that stereotype. Commanding Generals kept sending the 65th on these outrageous suicide missions and they always returned victorious taking down every enemy position and bunker in an incredibly valiant way. These were the same commanding generals who didn’t trust the capability of the 65th. These brave soldiers were able to prove them wrong.

    Another lesson learned from this book is that a good soldier gives it his or her best. The soldiers of the 65th were effective in combat in temperatures that they had never experienced. At times they were in temperatures of up to forty degrees below zero and they still were ready for battle. They always stood their ground and responded with fierce battle. No matter what the mission was, they ensured that the mission was met with success in battle.

    The reason why I selected this book is more of a personal one. I am a Puerto Rican soldier, and during my experience in the military, I have sometimes been approached by senior officers as well as NCOs who when find out where I am from seem to mention the bravery of the warriors of the 65th during the Korean War. I knew that many Puerto Rican soldiers had served in that war, but I was unaware of the important role that they played during combat. In movies I have also often heard that Puerto Ricans make the best infantrymen. After reading this book I understand where this concept came from. As a Puerto Rican soldier I feel that it is my responsibility to educate myself as to what my forefathers did and how they placed their mark and recognition in history. By educating myself I can also educate other lieutenants who will have Puerto Rican soldiers in their platoons and later on under their command. I have noticed that many still have the misconception and lack of knowledge as to how Puerto Ricans are. This book is a good example of how BG Harris came to realize that limited knowledge of the English language as well as having a different culture doesn’t stop a soldier from supporting the democratic principles of the United States. Harris was also able to understand that no ethnic group has greater pride in itself and its heritage than the Puerto Ricans. This explains the constant display of our flag. It is not that we think less of the American flag, but on our island, both flags are displayed side by side. I would definitely recommend this book, it took me through an emotional journey as I submerged myself in the experience. This book is a must not only for every Puerto Rican soldier, so they can recognize where they are coming from, but to every soldier who will eventually have a Puerto Rican soldier in their chain of command. I believe it is important for all of us to understand where we are all coming from. This is an excellent book that tells the history of the “Borinqueneer.”

    2LT, SC
    SOBC 03-00

  • Mike Ayer
    12:50 on June 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Fire and Ice is one of those books that just flows. It doesn’t seem like you have read the book so quickly. It is a fine introduction to the Korean War. However, it has enough interesting and unusual facts contained that the Korean War expert will still pick up new things.

  • Gurteed
    16:55 on June 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    I realize I’m not in agreement with all the other reviews here, but I just wanted to throw my $0.02 in. The impression I got from reading the other reviews was that this book would read something like Churchill’s “Second World War” series: sort of a narrative or story covering the war. Instead, for the most part, this book is a reference book. It’s got tons of information in it, but it’s organized into battles within time periods. It’s hard to explain. I was looking for something that said we did x because of y which resulted in these battles. Then, we did x’ which led to some other battles. Instead it said something like in year x we fought battles a, b, and c. In year y, we fought battles d, e, and f. All the information is there, but the “story” part of the “history” feels lacking.

    If you’re studying the Korean War, I do agree that this is an excellent book. But, for a more “entertaining” study, I’d try something else (what that would be, I don’t know).

  • Robbzilla
    19:00 on June 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This book exemplifies the spirit of the Puerto Rican soldier. Always willing to give their biggest effort in order to get the job done. It showed the valor and courage of this men. Is a book that every Puerto Rican serving in the Armed Forces should read and feel proud of the men before them.

  • Jack Jackson
    23:22 on June 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Fire & Ice is, indubitably, one of the best books ever written about the 1950-53 conflict in Korea and definitely the best of the last 10 years. As a non-U.S. reader, I am often amused/annoyed at the wholly American slant given to what are, in actuality, international events. Although written by an American, this comprehensive overview of the war avoids this pitfall and contains information on the Commonwealth forces and their role in the war (along with information about the South Korean and other Allied contingents that fought in the conflict). A worthwhile read for anyone interested in the Korean war. Bully!

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