Abigail Tucker on “One Man’s Korean War”

Abigail Tucker
Smithsonian magazine staff writer and author of "One Man's Korean War." Molly Roberts

What drew you to this story?
John Rich is a distinguished journalist who couldn't seem to stop recording history, even in his spare time. His color pictures were meant to be personal keepsakes but they've become invaluable artifacts. His drive to ceaselessly report is impressive and very inspiring.

Did you have a favorite moment while interviewing John Rich?
John's memories of the war are impeccable and he has not lost the love of details that animated his radio and television broadcasts. It was great whenever he came up names or dates or even quotes from half a century ago. He could remember, for instance, the song the Scottish bagpipers played as they marched past him into battle.

Were there any interesting moments that didn't make it to the final draft?
John has powerful—and of course, quite vivid—memories of Iwo Jima and other World War II battles. He told me that a bullet whizzing very close by makes a sound "like tearing silk."

Did your conversation with Rich and looking at his photographs change your perceptions of the Korean War?
The color photographs made the soldiers look so much younger, like guys in a high school yearbook.

Since Korea, photography has become so widespread and so instantaneous that it's impossible to control the images that are released. What effect do you think this has had on public perceptions and reactions to warfare?
I think people have a much more certain understanding of the ugliness of war, which heightens our sense of what's at stake.

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