Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The History of Motorcycles in the Korean War

By Mel Raskinski

While the motorcycle is a taken for granted vehicle on the road these days, its role as a vehicle in war is often overlooked. In this article, the role of the motorcycle is explored in the context of the Korean War and the important role which it played during this conflict.

Motorcycle manufacturers have a long history of stepping up to the plate and delivering when their country is in need. During WWI and WWII, manufacturers such as Indian, Harley Davidson and Triumph provided machines to the military which were equipped to the exact specifications of the Pentagon. In fact, Harley Davidson produced over 90,000 machines for the U.S. military during WWII alone!

Early in the Korean War (August 1950), at least 45 motorcycles were destroyed during an abortive attempt to retreat. No, these weren't Harleys that were captured - they were North Korean motorcycles captured by the U.S. 25th Division, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. In fact, the newly formed North Korean Army (aided and trained by the Soviets and Chinese) had among its 90,000 men an entire motorcycle reconnaissance regiment. On this particular day, however,
the motorcycles met their match in the Corsairs that swooped down on them with their 20mm guns and rocket attacks.

On the North Korean side, the North Korean Army (NKA) used motorcycles equipped with saddlebags extensively. When the NKA took over Seoul in July of 1950, the 12th Motorcycle Regiment secured key crossroads at Ch'ungju that helped secure the central region and allow the NKA to capture the city. On the allied side, the 17th Motorcycle regiment assisted in routing
the NKA out of Seoul a short time later.

The main shift that took place during the Korean War was the replacement of the motorcycle by the Jeep in the U.S. Army. The motorcycle had apparently been replaced as the preferred vehicle for difficult terrain. The introduction of the Jeep was part of a comprehensive program the U.S. Introduced to replace aging vehicles from WWI (among which were the motorcycle and sidecars). While newer motorcycles were certainly used during the Korean War (as noted above), the Jeep replaced it in numerous areas where it had formerly known prominence.

Perhaps the real history of the Korean War and the motorcycle is one that will not be found by browsing through the history books or looking up dry numbers such as how many motorcycles were used in this or that raid for this or that purpose. The real history - the human history, may be summed up in the story of Mark Nozzolillo and his Honda Shadow. This is a picture of Mark's father, Vince.

Vince is a veteran of the Korean War who lost a friend on the battlefield in August of 1950. So shocked to see his buddy's body being carried out, the young man (then 20 years old) turned to his first sergeant and clung to him in an almost fetal position, sobbing uncontrollably. Nozzolillo himself said he "just went nuts" when he saw the sight. His son took the old photograph (first published in 1955) and had it airbrushed to the gas tank of his Honda.

The story here is one of the tragedies of war that we must all remember, and the tribute a father paid to his son. That this tribute was paid on airbrushed motorcycle is something all motorcycle enthusiasts can be proud of. It's a memory that Mark will have every time he rides his bike.

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