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Brady’s War, Revisited

June 2024
1min read

A marine returns to the place where he and his brothers fought and died

First glance, James Brady might seem to have had a life of fir enviable privilege. He has lived in Paris as bureau chief for Women’s Wear Daily and edited New York magazine. Brady currently writes a widely popular column in Advertising Age and another in Parade and is the squire of a handsome house in East Hampton, where he writes about the local populace in amusing mystery novels. But there was a significant interruption in this sunny career: as a young Marine lieutenant he commanded a rifle platoon during the bitter winter fighting on the high ridgelines of Korea. Years ago he wrote a fine memoir about his service called The Coldest War . Now he revisits the subject quite literally in a very different but equally strong book, The Scariest Place in the World: A Marine Returns to North Korea (Thomas Duane Books, 288 pages, $24.95). Fifty years after the fighting, Parade sent him back to the scene of his old battles, and his account of his return is part history, part memoir, part travelogue, and part meditation on the passing of time and the inevitable disappointments of trying to retrieve the past.

Brady describes the long-ago fighting that, once the lines had settled, was strangely like that of the First World War: a static, grisly business of raids and counterraids through barbed wire. It was an unequal fight—we had 6 divisions in Korea, while Mao had 40—and Brady describes it with unsparing vividness. His assessments have pith and bite (“MacArthur was an old man and crazy, but he was still a great soldier, and ambitious”) and can be highly unsentimental (“Behind us, a Chinese shell touched off some of our stored ammo and killed a couple of 11th Marines artillerymen. Which was unfortunate, but you haven’t seen the day Marine infantrymen mourn gunners”). Brady’s book—which flashes with glints of real poetry—is, finally, an intensely moving elegy for the generation of men he served alongside a lifetime ago.

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