Iconic Photos of Marilyn Monroe Entertaining American Troops in Korea

Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

Following the signing of the armistice during the Korean War, the Korean Peninsula entered into a period of uncertainty. While negotiations occurred, the UN forces remained in the region to keep the peace. The majority of troops were weary from fighting and the poor weather conditions, and thus welcomed those who’d been tasked with entertaining them. This included Hollywood starlet, Marilyn Monroe.

Troops were still stationed in Korea after the armistice was signed

Marilyn Monroe holding a baseball bat while standing between Ernest and Manuel Abril
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Despite the armistice being signed in July 1953, there were still hundreds of thousands of American troops still stationed in the Korean Peninsula. Given they were still deployed overseas, they were in desperate need of some morale-boosting activity, with many beginning to really miss their loved ones back in the United States.

Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were going to honeymoon in Tokyo

Marilyn Monroe riding in a military Jeep while troops stand along the side of the road
Photo Credit: Alfred Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Marilyn Monroe and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio married in San Francisco in January 1954, signaling the beginning of a tumultuous union that saw the duo become a power couple in Hollywood.

Shortly after, the pair set off for their honeymoon in Tokyo, Japan, where the star athlete was scheduled to attend a host of baseball clinics.

‘How would you like to visit Korea for a few days?’

Marilyn Monroe waving at a crowd of troops who are waiting for her by a doorway
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As their aircraft began its descent into Tokyo, Japan on February 1, 1954, Marilyn Monroe was approached by Maj. Gen. Charles W. Christenberry, assistant chief of staff at the US Army’s Far East Command. He asked the starlet, “How would you like to visit Korea for a few days and entertain American troops currently stationed in Seoul as part of the UN occupation?”

Marilyn Monroe jumped at the chance to entertain American troops

Marilyn Monroe standing onstage in front of a group of soldiers
Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Marilyn Monroe jumped at the opportunity. She’d wished to repay those soldiers who’d written letters to Hollywood Studios to plead for her appearance in more prominent roles. Thus, while Joe DiMaggio went about their trip as planned, she took a solo detour to the Korean peninsula.

Fast-tracked rehearsals

Marilyn Monroe looking behind her while surrounded by troops
Photo Credit: USMC Archives / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

Marilyn Monroe received her clearance papers on February 8, 1954, officially becoming a USO entertainer. As the arrangement had been made on such short notice, rehearsals were fast-tracked. They occurred at the Osaka Military Hospital in Japan, where she teamed up with Cpl. Al Guastafeste, a US Army pianist from Long Island, and his musical group, Anything Goes.

Marilyn Monroe was modest during rehearsals

Al Guastafeste staring at a laughing Marilyn Monroe
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The starlet was relatively modest during rehearsals, according to Al Guastafeste.

“She was Marilyn Monroe, but she didn’t seem to realize it,” he later recalled. “If I made a mistake, she said she was sorry. When she made a mistake, she apologized.”

Meeting American troops who were recovering in hospital

Stanley Closter feeding Marilyn Monroe a piece of cake while other American troops watch on
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Marily Monroe also took the time to meet with those recovering at the hospital. She’d signed former-prisoner of war (POW) Cpl. Donald L. Wakehouse’s cast, and even lay on the floor to smile at Pvt. Albert Evans, who’d been suspended upside down over his hospital bed after breaking his back in a Jeep accident.

Departing for Seoul

Marilyn Monroe standing behind a large tarp
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On February 16, 1954, after being vaccinated against yellow fever and cholera, Marilyn Monroe and her crew left Tokyo. After arriving in Seoul, they set out for the 1st Marine Division camp in the mountains, traveling over the thousands of US Marines crowding below.

Throngs of American troops greeted Marilyn Monroe in Korea

Marilyn Monroe waving from the window of a helicopter
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Excitement was paramount regarding Marilyn Monroe’s arrival in Korea, as shown by this excerpt from Stars & Stripes:

“Whoops of joy filled the air as Marilyn Monroe waves an exuberant hello as she prepares to debark from the plane that carried her to Seoul. Professionals and non-professionals snapped cameras fast and furiously when the [blonde] heat wave struck the shimmering pose […] Later, throngs of troops with pounding hearts watched as the platinum bombshell began to whirl away to the 7th Division on her first chopper ride.”

Marilyn Monroe happily greeted American troops

Marilyn Monroe standing with six military police personnel
Photo Credits: Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Despite the risk to her safety, Marilyn Monroe went so far as to ask two soldiers to hold her feet while she lay on her stomach, at which point she leaned out of the door of the helicopter and blew kisses at the men below. Not only did this show her excitement about being in Korea, but also showed she cared about and appreciated their service.

Marilyn Monroe performed for 100,000 troops in Korea

Marilyn Monroe speaking with the Kasper twins
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Over the course of four days, Marilyn Monroe performed 10 shows for an estimated 100,000 troops. She started each by singing “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), then segued into George Gershwin’s “Do It Again.”

Awe-struck by Marilyn Monroe’s performances

Marilyn Monroe holding up a piece of paper while standing beside James C. Callahan
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“Marilyn came out dressed in a heavy parka,” recalled Don Loraine, a GI present at one of Marilyn Monroe’s shows. “She started to sing, suddenly stopped, and said, ‘That’s not what you came to see,’ and took off the parka. She was dressed in a low-cut purple cocktail dress. She was so beautiful, we all went wild, and, I might add, it was colder than hell that day.

“She brought a lot of joy to a group of combat-weary Marines and I, for one, will never forget her.”

A riot threatened to break out

Marilyn Monroe standing with the members of Anything Goes
Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

One show was delayed and those in the audience threatened to riot. As such, the opening acts were canceled to allow Marilyn Monroe to hit the stage sooner, much to the delight of the troops there.

At another show at the USO’s stage in the Cheorwon Valley, the men laid claim to front-row seats, some seven hours before the starlet was due to perform.

‘I only felt happy. I felt at home’

Marilyn Monroe riding in a military Jeep with Robert Hobaboom and other American troops
Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

Speaking about one of the shows, Marilyn Monroe said:

“There were seventeen thousand soldiers in front of me, yelling at the top of their lungs. I stood there smiling at them. It had started snowing, but I felt warm, as if I were standing in the bright sun. I’ve always been frightened by larger audiences, but standing in the snowfall, facing these shouting soldiers, I felt no fear for the first time.

“I only felt happy. I felt at home. That is what I’ve always wanted, I guess.”

Marilyn Monroe used the trip to help overcome her stage fright

American troops standing around Marilyn Monroe
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While Marilyn Monroe was in Korea to entertain the troops, she also viewed the trip as a way for her to overcome her stage fright, which had plagued her for as long as she could remember. Even though she was a sought-after star, she couldn’t shake her nerves when on-stage, and her USO trip was a way for her to face her fears head-on.

‘My greatest experience with any kind of audience’

Marilyn Monroe smiling at Donald L. Wakehouse, who is sitting in a wheelchair
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It appears performing for the troops was exactly what Marilyn Monroe needed to overcome her stage fright, with her telling the audience after her last show, which happened to be for the 45th Infantry Division:

“This is my first experience with a live audience, and my greatest experience with any kind of audience. It’s been the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ll never forget my honeymoon – with the 45th Division.”

Lies were told to ensure troops could watch Marilyn Monroe perform

Marilyn Monroe sitting in a helicopter
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Given the tense climate in the Korean Peninsula, the majority of the men in the region were still tasked with military duties. They couldn’t just stop what they were doing because Marilyn Monroe was visiting. That didn’t stop them, however, from telling lies to ensure they got to see her perform at least once.

Delaying an important flight

Marilyn Monroe staring out into a crowd of American troops
Photo Credit: Cpl. Welshman / US Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Among those to tell a little white lie was Ted Sherman’s transport pilot.

“I was with a group of Navy guys who happened to be at Daegu Air Force Base when we heard Marilyn would entertain there that night,” Sherman later recalled. “We convinced our transport pilot to find something wrong with our R4D transport, so we could delay the return flight to our ship in Tokyo Bay for that one night.”

A successful trip

Marilyn Monroe surrounded by three prominent Korean individuals
Monroe upon her arrival at K-2 Airfield. (Photo Credit: PhotoQuest / Getty Images)

Marilyn Monroe’s trip was a resounding success, despite the fact she came down with bronchial pneumonia, due to the harsh weather conditions. Not only did she lift the spirits of those serving abroad, but also found self-confidence.

Marilyn Monroe left a lasting impression in Korea

Marilyn Monroe surrounded by American troops
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force / National Museum of the United States Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Ted Cieszynski, a photographer for the public information office of the Army Corps of Engineers, said of Marilyn Monroe’s visit:

“She gave us the feeling she really wanted to be there. Of all the performers who came to us in Korea – and there was a half dozen or so – she was the best. She showed no nervousness and wasn’t anything like a dumb blonde. When a few of us photographers were allowed to climb up on the stage after her show, she was pleasant and cooperative and told us how glad she was to be with us. She took her time, speaking with each of us about our families and our hometowns and our civilian jobs.

“It was bitter cold, but she was in no hurry to leave. Marilyn was a great entertainer. She made thousands of GIs feel like she really cared.”

Marilyn Monroe was ecstatic upon her return to Tokyo

Marilyn Monroe standing onstage in front of a group of American troops
Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

Following her visit to Korea, Marilyn Monroe journeyed back to Tokyo, where Joe DiMaggio still was. She was ecstatic about how the trip had gone, exclaiming to her new husband, “It was so wonderful, Joe. You never heard such cheering.”

DiMaggio responded in a less-than-kind way, saying, “Yes, I have.”

Joe DiMaggio had ill-feelings about Marilyn Monroe’s trip

Marilyn Monroe performing for a crowd of American troops
Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

Why was Joe DiMaggio so cold with his new wife? It’s alleged he was unhappy that, upon their arrival in Japan prior to her trip to Korea, more fans flocked to see her than him.

Marilyn Monroe wasn’t the only star to perform in Korea

Marilyn Monroe standing beside a helicopter
Photo Credit: PhotoQuest / Getty Images

More from us: Seven American Soldiers Have Defected to North Korea Since the Korean War

Marilyn Monroe wasn’t the only Hollywood star to perform in Korea. Throughout the conflict, a number of big names traveled to the region with the USO, including Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Errol Flynn and Bob Hope, all of whom did what they could to ensure troop morale remained high.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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