5. Editorial Note
In early March 1964 former Korean Prime Minister Kim Hyon-chol informed Ambassador Berger that the Republic of Korea might be willing to provide 3 or 4,000 troops to assist the United States and South Vietnam “in carrying war to North Vietnam.” The proposal did not reflect the official position of the Korean Government; nevertheless, once informed of it by Ambassador Berger, Foreign Minister Chong Il-kwon appeared to support Korean participation in the war and suggested ways in which prohibitions hindering Korean troops from serving abroad could be overcome. The Ambassador cautioned that the ramifications of such an action must be thoroughly considered and raised the potential negative impact Korean involvement in Vietnam [Page 16] could have on negotiations with Japan. (Telegram 1128 from Seoul, March 7; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66,POL 7 KOR S)
In the following weeks contacts between Korea and South Vietnam increased. Kim Chong-pil, head of the Democratic Republican Party, traveled to Saigon in mid-March, and in early April a special Vietnamese military mission came to Korea to examine Korean military training and its governmental transformation from military to civilian rule. The Vietnamese diplomatic presence in Korea increased with additional embassy personnel. (Telegrams 1180, March 19, and 1276, April 9, both from Seoul; both ibid.)
In circular telegram 2043, May 1, the Department of State informed U.S. Ambassadors of President Johnson and Secretary Rusk’s “conviction that it is important for more nations of the Free World to ‘show their flags’ in Viet Nam” in order to create a unified stand against communism in Southeast Asia. Accordingly, the U.S. Government appealed to the Republic of Korea and other free world governments to contribute to the defeat of the Communist regime in North Vietnam by furnishing men, material, and other forms of support to the resources already devoted to that struggle by the United States. (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S) After being informed of the U.S. position the Korean Foreign Minister indicated he would seek Cabinet-level approval for supplying a field-hospital unit to Vietnam and raised the possibility of Korea also sending signal corps support as well. (Telegram 1436 from Seoul, May 8; ibid., DEF 19–2 KOR S-VIET S) The Embassy in Saigon advised that it would welcome Korean “advisers and selected military personnel who would share in the really dangerous work” and suggested using some of them “for the type of work where our men are getting killed and wounded. “(Telegram 2162 from Saigon, May 9; ibid.) The Department of State concurred, notifying the Embassy in Seoul to “urge ROK contribution of special-forces advisors (in addition to field-hospital unit and signal-corps support earlier mentioned).” (Telegram 1030 to Seoul, May 12; ibid.)
In June the United States and Korea agreed that the latter would send one field-hospital unit and 10 karate instructors to Vietnam as soon as the Korean Government received an official request from the Government of Vietnam. The Department of State instructed the Embassy in Seoul to urge the Korean Government “to assume as much of costs as possible” but noted that the United States was “prepared to underwrite whatever is needed to have ROK participate in Viet Nam in this fashion.” (Telegrams 2378 to Saigon and 1186 to Seoul, June 24, and telegram 5 from Seoul, July 2; all ibid., DEF 19 KOR S–VIET S) The Embassy in Seoul also reported that the Korean Government was “still interested in supplying combat troops,” and was apparently “at [Page 17] a loss to understand” why the United States was not “soliciting direct military participation.” (Telegram 1748 from Seoul, June 30; ibid.) In reply the Department of State explained that combat forces had not been requested by Vietnam and that the inherent nature of guerrilla warfare made use of ground forces, particularly those from a third country, inappropriate and unsuitable. (Telegram 12 to Seoul, July 3; ibid.)
On September 5 the United States and Korean Commands in Vietnam signed an agreement defining the terms and procedures applicable to Korean involvement in Vietnam. (Airgram A–455 from Saigon, December 14; ibid.) After those arrangements had been finalized, a Korean surgical-hospital unit, consisting of 34 officers and 96 enlisted men, and a team of karate instructors, consisting of 10 officers, departed for Vietnam on September 11. (Telegram 235 from Seoul, September 10; ibid., POL 27 VIET S)
Additional documentation covering discussions between the United States and Korea on this issue during 1964 is ibid. and DEF 19–2 KOR S-VIET S.