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A New Look At The Korean War

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, Korea continues to be a global hot spot.

In his new novel, "The Marine," author and columnist James Brady revisits the turbulent period of what he calls the "forgotten war," a war that took 37,000 American lives.

Brady visited The Saturday Early Show to discuss his book.

The protagonist of "The Marine," James "Ollie" Cromwell, was raised on Park Avenue, son to a lawyer, and educated in private schools. He studied hard and hit hard, his toughness developed from fighting with the German and Irish kids on Manhattan's Upper East Side. His affluent upbringing led him to college at Notre Dame, just after the famed Knute Rockne years, in 1933.

When his four years at Notre Dame ended, Ollie came to a crossroads, as most young men do at that time in their lives. His father asked him about his future. Brady writes in the book:

"I'd like to see you go to law school after South Bend. You've got the grades. But that's your call, Jim. I badgered you into football, and it didn't work out very well. So you'll get no pressure on law school. Have you thought what else you might do?"

Ollie had expected the question and assumed it would come sooner or later. And he had thought about it for a long time now, back to Regis High, where the Jesuits started him off right away in freshman Latin on Julius Caesar's "Gallic War." They followed up with other tales, some in Latin, others in English, of Rome's famed Tenth Legion, of their epic fights against Gauls and Belgians, and especially of Vercingetorix, noblest of the barbarians and a favorite of young Cromwell. It was Vercingetorix who got the boy to ponder soldiering, who set him on a path to boot camps where soldiers were made. What the "noblest of barbarians" didn't do, a close perusal in history class of "Lee's Lieutenants" did. And when he began Greek, Ollie realized that he preferred the Spartans, rude fellows who were forever waging war, to the Athenians, philosophers and aesthetes.

"Yessir," Ollie said now in the smokey Berlin dive; he had been thinking ahead. "Not many jobs out there waiting, not in hard times. I thought instead of three years at law school, I might go in the service for three or four years. No war on right now that involves us, and I can just wait out the Depression. Then try whatever comes along with my newfound maturity and store of globe-trotting adventures." All this offhandedly, poking fun at himself.

So it was settled and Cromwell joined the Marines, eventually ending up as a Marine detachment aboard the Navy cruiser "Juneau," in San Diego. It was where he would meet the famous Evans Carlson, and become part of the famed "Raiders" unit. And it eventually led him through two of the biggest wars in American history, World War II and Korea.

(To read more from the excerpt, click here.)

James Brady discussed his book in a phone interview with The Saturday Early Show. The following is a transcript from that interview.

How much of this story is fact, how much is fiction?
All of the stuff about the war itself is true. The main characters like Douglas MacArthur and the Marine generals - that's all true. Colonel Crowmwell is a composite of many Marines that I've known over the years and worked under.

How do you write for a man like MacArthur?
Well two ways. One, I was a Marine officer in Korea in 1951 and 1952. I was very young, a Second Lieutenant. A lot of the older officers fought under MacArthur in World War II, and a lot in the beginning Korea. I got a lot information from them sitting around having a lot of casual conversations, having a drink, sitting around a fire. I (also) went back and read the famous biography of MacArthur, and read a lot of war books.

You describe in great detail the defeats the U.S. was receiving at the start of the Korean War.
It was a disaster. They were considering pulling out. It was as if we went into Iraq then 10 days later said pull out the boys, we're going back to Kuwait. It was a desperate affair, it was a terrible first 100 days of the war.

What turned the war around?
It was two things. The North Koreans ran out of steam and ahead of their supply lines. Second, fresh Marine reinforcement. The army was fat and out of shape after World War II. Finally we got fresh soldiers in there.

You also write about the rifts between the different branches of the military?
I play on that. It's true in real life those frictions and rivalries exist and some of them are very very bitter.

Tell me about your other projects besides novel writing?
I write celebrity interviews for Parade Magazine every Sunday. And I live out in East Hampton. I have a house on the ocean. I have a very nice life, I'm a very fortunate guy. I go kayaking and canooing. I have two kids and three grandchildren.

You have worked as a gossip reporter?
I created Page Six of the New York Post. I was working for Rupert Murdoch. I had been the publisher for Women's Wear Daily and Harper's Bazaar.

How does a Marine end up doing gossip?
(LAUGHTER) It ain't easy, kiddo. I was a professional journalist all my life. When Rupert Murdoch came to America, he hired me to be one of his executives. I did a lot of different things. That was what I did, and I had a hell of a time doing it. Then CBS hired me and I did celebrity interviews for six years for Channel 2 [WCBS-TV].

"The Marine" excerpt reprinted by permission from St. Martin's Press