As Marines climbed aboard their landing craft at Inchon, one woman, a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, went with them. She was the only female to land at Red Beach on September 15, 1950. She covered the invasion with up-close, graphic, and oftentimes tragic stories of courage and self-sacrifice.
From Inchon to Seoul to Chosin and finally Hungnam, the 30-year-old journalist spent six months in Korea. Her name is Marguerite “Maggie” Higgins.
A Woman In A "Man's Profession"
Born in 1920 in Hong Kong, Marguerite was destined for a life of adventure and travel. Her father, an Irish-American who had served as a World War I pilot and married a French woman, settled in Hong Kong for business reasons. The couple’s first and only child, Marguerite, was born a year later. By the age of twelve, Marguerite, or Maggie as she was affectionately called, spoke fluent French and Chinese.
She graduated from UC-Berkeley in 1941 and later earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. She was soon working for the New York Herald Tribune where she hoped to persuade her boss to send her to Europe.
By 1944, her perseverance had paid off. Despite being a woman in a "man’s profession," she was sent to Germany and joined a US Army unit fighting its way to Berlin. She was one of two American reporters to enter Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945, as American GI’s liberated its prisoners. What she saw made a lasting impact on her. During her time covering the war, she witnessed some of the most historic events of the 20th century.
Five years later she was reporting from the front lines of Korea. Ms. Higgins, the Tribune’s Tokyo bureau chief at the time, was sent to Seoul just two days after North Korea’s invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950. The most memorable and demanding period of her life had begun.Maggie Eats, Sleeps, And Fights Like The Rest Of Us Maggie spent the next six months on the war-ravaged Korean peninsula, reporting on nearly every major US military operation. Her ability to endure sleepless nights, minimal food, and constant danger earned her the respect of the GI's she met. One Army officer remarked, “We’ve learned Maggie will eat, sleep, and fight like the rest of us, and that’s a ticket to our outfit any day.”
The feeling was mutual. Ms. Higgins' deep respect and admiration for the young men struggling to fight and win a war many Americans were not interested in made her a tireless advocate of the common infantryman, or “grunt,” on the ground. She became their greatest champion and was determined to tell their remarkable, heroic, and often heartbreaking stories.
She became so attached to the men on the front lines that she frequently risked her life to tell the “real” story of the war, the story of the average soldier and Marine. Many of her colleagues said she was reckless and foolhardy, but regardless of the criticism, she never relented.
With The Marines At Red Beach
In one of the most dangerous moments of her life, she landed with the Marines at Red Beach, a “rough, vertical pile of stones,” and climbed over a seawall with “improvised landing ladders topped with steel hooks.” Within seconds, North Korean troops were pounding the Marines with “small arms and mortar fire,” even throwing “hand grenades down at us as we crouched in trenches.” Despite the danger, Maggie was with “her” Marines and felt confident.She would stay with the First Marine Division through the liberation of Seoul and later join them at Chosin.
Her front-page Herald Tribune articles were read by millions, and her uncensored, often disturbing stories of refugees and GI’s dying in Korea, a country many Americans had little interest in, shocked the nation. Within months of returning to the States, she became the first woman to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for international journalism.
Higgins' time in Korea proved she was a war correspondent as good as any man.
On this, the 68th anniversary of the Inchon Landing, we pay tribute to Maguerite Higgins, a courageous reporter who risked her life at Red Beach, and throughout the Korean peninsula, to tell the stories of the young men who fought, sacrificed, and died to keep Korea free.
We will always remember.
Story by Ned Forney