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Marilyn Monroe in Korea (1954)

In February 1954, actress Marilyn Monroe travelled to Korea to entertain the American troops stationed over there.

Marilyn was asked if she wanted to do a solo show or entertain as part of a ten-man package show which had been performing in Okinawa. She elected to be part of the troupe and was flown to Korea on February 16, dressed in drab combat boots, pants, and shirt.

She carried a little make-up bag and a purple dress cut low. She described it as “a cocktail party dress or something like that. After all, I hadn’t expected this. I didn’t bring the right clothes.”

But the 13,000 Marines who watched Marilyn sing had no gripes at all. They swarmed all over the stage, snapping their cameras left and right. After she finished her act, Marilyn said, “I’ve never seen so many men in my life. I’m just sorry Joe couldn’t come along but previous commitments wouldn’t allow a change in the schedule.”

Said one Marine officer, “You were swell, absolutely swell. We’ve had them all but this crowd by far outdraws the best ever.”

Marilyn had been flown by helicopter from Seoul to the 1st Marine Division, “and while I was scared, I tried not to show it.” Before she started her act on the Korean front, Marilyn announced that she could neither sing nor dance very well, but all she had to do was breathe and she provoked tremendous cheers from the 1st Marine and 3rd and 7th Army Divisions.

The 40th Division, which consists of many California regiments, really broke the record. While the troupes preliminary acts were in progress at the 40th Division theatre, 10,000 soldiers pushed and elbowed forward in an effort to get closer to the stage.

When it looked as if they would break through the military police line, Marilyn was told “to be ready for anything” while the regimental commander, Colonel John Kelly, went out front and temporarily halted the show. “You’re here to have a good time” he shouted. And there’s no sense in anyone’s getting hurt.”

When the show resumed and Marilyn came out wearing the tight purple dress, the crowd surged forward and thousands of soldiers attempted to climb on the backs of their buddies.

Over the course of four days, Monroe took a whirlwind tour of American military bases, putting on 10 shows for an estimated 100,000 very excited servicemen.

When she finally finished at Taegu, she was dead tired but happy. “You know,” she told an officer, “I never felt like a movie star before – really in my heart – before I came to Korea. this is the high point of everything.”

“Now I’m flying back to the most important thing in my life – Joe. And I want to start a family. A family comes before a career.”

Back in Japan with Joe Di Maggio, Marilyn told her husband, “I’m so glad I went to Korea, Joe. I’ll never, never forget that experience so long as I live.” A man of few words, Joe took his wife in his arms and nodded understandingly. But he must have wondered how much longer he would have to share his bride with the world.

“I never thought I had an effect on people until I was in Korea. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
Marilyn Monroe. February 1954