Fayette County steps into 2024 with one less hero in our midst. Peachtree City resident Colonel Benjamin “Ben” Malcom, U.S. Army, Retired, passed away peacefully at the age of 94 on October 30, 2023.
I apologize to the family for the late recognition of Col. Malcom’s passing as I just learned this month.
Col. Malcom was a military hero in the period of the United States’ growth as the most powerful fighting force on the planet.
Germans defeated and countering the communists
During World War II, the nation needed to increase its proficiency in intelligence gathering.
On June 13, 1942, Roosevelt issued an executive order creating the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The Office of Strategic Services was the intelligence agency of the United States during World War II. The OSS was formed as an agency of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the United States Armed Forces. Other OSS functions included the use of propaganda, subversion, and post-war planning.
The OSS ceased operations on September 20, 1945, one month after World War II ended. The government then created the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and the independent Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The Korean War and Special Forces
The Cold War meant the United States and its European allies had to advance warfare to a new level, both in technology and strategy.
The war over the Korean peninsula started in 1950 and the U.S. Army hand-picked a secret weapon they wanted to deploy behind the enemy lines. That secret weapon was Monroe, Georgia farm boy, and North Georgia College graduate Lt. Ben Malcom and his band of Korean guerilla fighters dropped 150 miles behind the enemy lines.
In those days, there was no such thing as a Green Beret or a SEAL Team. Malcom was chosen as one of the trial cases to create what would eventually be our Special Forces Operations units.
In today’s world, it seems quite archaic that Malcom and others were using pigeons carrying hand-written messages on their observations behind enemy lines to communicate with the command in Seoul. The paratroopers had the birds strapped to their legs as they jumped from the plane.
Creating mayhem and saving lives
Captains and lieutenants led all the units behind the lines. Malcom led the fourth battalion called the White Tigers.
Malcom who could not speak Korean and his Korean guerilla fighters wandered into enemy territory blowing up ammunition dumps and destroying high-value targets.
The White Tigers even robbed banks. They developed a scheme to have the guerilla fighters take the stolen money back into enemy territory and distribute it among friendly civilians. The civilians would spend the money on supplies, the money was then redeposited, and the White Tigers would rob the bank again.
The Army eventually created counterfeit North Korean currency and the White Tigers flooded the area with the bills, disrupting the economy.
One exceptional benefit of Malcom’s efforts was getting downed pilots before the North Koreans could capture them. On the ground and through the air as a helicopter pilot, Malcom got to 92 downed pilots before the enemy reached them and then blew up the aircraft wreckage, leaving little behind.
Malcom’s crew was always on the move, sometimes eating off the land and stealing livestock.
As the forerunner for today’s Special Forces Operations, Malcom wrote a book titled “White Tigers, My Secret War in North Korea” about his operations during the Korean War with the CIA.
Because most of his activity was marked top secret, Malcom’s book was not able to be released for 40 years until all the files were marked declassified in 1990.
The History Channel did a one-hour documentary film on the book in 2005.
A distinguished career
Malcom also had combat tours in Vietnam. He retired from the Army in 1979.
Malcom received many awards, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Aviation Badge, Airborne Badge, and 4 awards of the Legion of Merit. He served as Garrison Commander of three U.S. Army installations: Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem, in Georgia, and Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico.
I will also remember Colonel Ben Malcom as an absolute gentleman, a patriotic man, and a joy to be around. He was very fit both mentally and physically into his 90s. He was a great example, and it was an honor to know him.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]