|Back to "Memoirs" Index page|
Richard L. Carpenter
2nd Lt. 1960
Richard Louis Carpenter
San Diego, CA-
"This story is mostly told from memory of one who was there. He was ordered to forget that he was ever there in that little country called "Korea", because the top secret radar was still so new."
- John Carpenter
Written by Dick’s son, John R. Carpenter
There is always some sight, sound, smell, or taste that provokes a memory. Sometimes it is the view of a single word like "Korea." This word "Korea" is a simple word for the Hermit Kingdom. This country squeezed between mainland China and the islands of Japan has had an anguished history of foreign occupation, war, and much discord. At the end of World War Two in 1945, the southern part of Korea was occupied by American forces. Above the 38th parallel, the Russians took charge. This was to be a temporary line until elections could be held for national leadership. However, the Cold War had begun and Korea was an unknowing pivot point--a future test of will between the two new super powers. The respective governments set up by each of the occupiers were totally different. Both the people of the south and of the north had a goal of a unified country: Korea ruled by Koreans for Koreans.
In 1948, South Korea gained freedom from the Japanese. In the early days of their new-found democracy, the people had a form of independence that included a fifteen-year, one-man rule of selective dictatorship under Sigmund Rhee. At the same time, North Koreans were re-educated in the Soviet manner of "dictatorship by committee" that was then lead by a personality cult of one for the next 45-plus years.
On June 25, 1950, in the early dawn of a Sunday morning, the well-armed Democratic People's Republic of Korea invaded the unprepared southern Republic of Korea. A civil war conducted by Korean brother against Korean brother began to be waged. The U.S., through the United Nations and a twist of fate caused by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic's delegate walking out, resulted in a vote to intervene in this war of Korean brother against brother. Right or wrong, the die was cast and the word "Korea" had a sudden new meaning for tens of thousands of human beings. Bugles, human wave attacks, bug outs, retrograde actions, and trench warfare are terms that may haunt with the word "Korea."
Much of the early fighting is well-documented. The names of battles like Pusan, Chosin, Pork Chop Hill, Bloody Ridge, and the Punchbowl, to just name a few, have had many articles, papers, books, and even a few movies chronicle them. To be sure, there were many forgotten combat actions small and large in that dirty ying yang war of "Communist Aggression." Some of these actions were deliberately lost to our collective memory because of the lack of survivors or the conscious effort of those who desperately wanted to lose the memory of those agonizing horrors of modern war.
A few of these combat actions are forgotten because they never officially occurred. They were classified "Top Secret" for one reason or the other. Some may have involved excursions into mainland China or southern Russia. Some involved behind enemy line reconnaissance, sabotage, and rescue. Some involved the testing of new weapons.
Radar, for example was the World War Two wonder tool that scanned the skies for the Blitz at the beginning. By 1945, it was scanning for rolling metal monsters called tanks. In 1950, radar had learned to track smaller projectiles like artillery rounds in flight. The next practical extension of radar was in ground combat. The goal was to track enemy troops on the battlefield, and direct ground-fired weapons to intercept and destroy them.
The reality was that a modified TPS-3 type radar tracking system was tested in combat in Korea, and was almost lost to the enemy one full decade before its public appearance by the U.S. Army in 1963. Secrecy in the early 1950s was paramount. Then it was believed that the liberty and freedom of the free world was at stake from the dictatorship of the Communist Proletariat. Battlefield radar would allow a great advantage on the playing ground of the Cold War.
This story is mostly told from memory of one who was there. He was ordered to forget that he was ever there in that little country called "Korea", because the top secret radar was still so new. He has forgotten the names but not the nightmares endured. He sees the faces and knows now that they do not hold him accountable for them being dead.
They would be pleased, I think, to let others know of their efforts of Duty, Honor & Country. In telling this story, I have tried to reconcile memory with documented dates the best I could. Some of the events may not have happened in the exact order as portrayed. Anyone who has more information on these series of events is encouraged to let me know. Most of the "Lost Bastard" story is from the unpublished biography of Richard (Dick) L. Carpenter, compiled by his son, John R. Carpenter.
In January of 1953 a group of 28 American volunteer soldiers came together near Erlangen, West Germany. Erlangen is between Bamberg and Nuremberg. They were experts on crew-based weapons, and well-trained on their modified XPS radar sets. Most of them volunteered from the First and Second Battalions of the 26th Infantry Regiment (Blue Spaders), First Infantry Division (The Big Red One) in October and November of 1952. They were trained on their individual equipment. The Lieutenant came from another unit with a few radar specialists. One of the Americans was a trained medic. They were isolated in a tent complex and guards were placed around the compound. The morning after their arrival, a Signal Corps Major, and an Artillery Lieutenant briefed them on the assignment. It was Top Secret. They were not to discuss what they were doing under any circumstances with anyone outside of the unit.
The assignment was to form a test unit to explore the potential of a new anti-vehicle, anti-personnel field radar system, under combat conditions. This was later called battlefield radar. As a cover, they were assigned the equipment and weapons of an anti-aircraft (AA) battery.
The training started immediately with artillery officers and NCO's from the Division Artillery units stationed in Erlangen. They trained on the vehicles and weapons. The Major and the Lieutenant did all of the training on the radar Systems. They were all experienced soldiers, and it did not take long for them to become a cohesive unit.
The unit went into the field to set up several different defensive positions on the ridges overlooking the old German army testing range at Tanelow. There, they practiced tracking from fixed and mobile positions, American vehicles and troops training below; in addition, they cross-trained on their equipment. The wisdom of this joint training would prove invaluable in combat.
As their skills progressed, they were tested. Their unit was attacked by American "aggressor" soldiers playing day, then night, war games. They passed with flying colors. The "aggressors" were stopped cold both by day and by night. Those American "aggressor" troops attacking did not understand that if this was real, many if not most of them would have died.
This "AA" battery had a secret. They could see in the dark. Radar records the return signal from an object. The more sensitive the equipment, the less dense a target can be seen. Human bodies are made of about 98% water and are much harder to see than a vehicle. The new radar could see humans walking a skyline at about 600 yards in the dark. Matching preset range (using metal stakes at set distances) and elevation based on the ghostly images on the radar screen with the seen "enemy," gave direction and purpose to the support weapons.
This "AA" battery was to be lead by a First Lieutenant of Artillery commanding two squads mounted in four half-tracks. A Master Sergeant was next in command, and supervised two squad Sergeants. A Corporal supervised the driver, gunner, and loader in each half-track. Eight radar operators and assistants controlled four radar sets, each set assigned per vehicle. Each M-3 Infantry half-track had either a mounted quad .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine gun or a twin or "dual" 40 mm anti-aircraft mount. In addition, each track had two M1919A6 air-cooled .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine guns, spare barrels and tripods for all the machine guns, plus related gear. [NOTE: A good description of both Allied and Communist Military equipment is on the following web page: http://www.koreanwar.net/weapons.htm.] When they were proved proficient, they crated their radar and packed their duffel bags. All half-tracks and weapons were cleaned, inspected, and turned back in.
On the 1st of April 1953, April Fools Day, this group of 28 men left Germany from Rhine Main Air Force Base. The Air Force Globemaster, a four engine cargo transport, took them to America via Gander, Newfoundland. Then they went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where some of the radar equipment was updated and improved. They all received additional training with the radar units.
Leaving Fort Sill, they arrived at Fort Lewis in Washington State for functional checks. As always, the crates containing the radar were guarded 24 hours a day. On May 1, 1953, May Day, they arrived at Kimpo Airfield in South Korea, and were escorted to the northern portion of the base where they slept that night in tents. A day or two later, they were trucked with their gear to the 7th Infantry Division Headquarters. Over the next week, they drew combat gear and personal weapons, and prepared for duty on the line. There their bodies adjusted to local time. Later this group would refer to themselves as the "Lost Bastards", because they officially did not exist and could not even send or receive mail. Only for about a week, they were listed as a "Provisional AA Battery," without equipment, temporarily attached to Headquarters Company of the 7th Infantry. After that, there is no further record of them in Korea.
On 9 May 1953, they boarded two 2-1/2 ton trucks with trailers. Led by a jeep and trailer, they trucked into the highlands. They drove up the narrow, windy, dirt roads into the Republic of Korea's (ROK) Capitol Division area of operations. This was on the eastern edge of the IX Corps area of the Central Front. The Capitol Division was nicknamed the "Tiger" Division at that time after one of its Commanders who was known as "Tiger" Kim. After the cease fire it was renamed the Tiger Division.
Iron Ridge was located on the left flank of the Capital Divisions area of control, about ten kilometers from Kumhwa between roads then designated 117 and 117A. The village of Yanggok was to the north east of this east-west running ridge line. In May of 1953, it was then behind the main line of resistance. Today, it is just north of dead center of the DMZ, the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The ROK Capitol Division held road 117 to a position more than three quarters the way toward Chinese-held Kumsong from Kumwha. Road 117A was their main supply route and Iron Ridge was between these two major roads. Road 6 ran east-west, and was several miles to the south. This area was on the left side of the Kumsong Salient, a twenty to twenty-one mile bulge that pressed in toward the Chinese Army.
[NOTE: A map that shows the ROK CAP (Capital) Division front in the IX Corps area of operations is: "The Eighth
Army Front - The East Sector - 31 March 1953." Iron Ridge is not shown on this map but it is roughly located due
east of the last letter on "Triangle Hill" and due south of the last letter on "Lightning Hill" on the map. This
map shows the Kumsong Bulge that was reduced by the Chinese in July of 1953. The map is located on the following
The top of the ridge ran from about a height of 420 meters in the east to a high point of 432 meters on the west side. To the right or east of the ridge was a steep drop-off. To the northwest front was mostly a gradual drop toward the river and valley road. The west side of this ridge had more rough terrain and many blind spots. The southern part of the ridge was more gradual that the northeast front, and had a dirt track leading up to the airstrip and the two bunkers guarding the northern face. This not-quite-a-mile-long ridge western edge was a bit farther north then the eastern edge, thus it faced a little east of north.
A utility air strip was being worked on along the ridge in May. Earth-moving equipment and blasting the hard rock slowly began to level out the eastern ridge top working toward the western side of the ridge. The dark, reddish soil and rock turned toward rust when baked in the sun. By June, they moved the heavy equipment off the ridge. Ten-foot pierced steel airfield planking was brought up and stacked adjacent to the airfield and eastern bunker for the next phase of construction. This airstrip was never finished.
The Americans took over the four half-tracks that the ROK AA battery had present. The M-3 half-tracks seemed newly delivered and were identical to the equipment they had practiced on in Germany. They inventoried their gear and re-adjusted the half-tracks a little nose down behind the upper berms within of the bunker complex. The ROK soldiers manning these half-tracks were not very happy about sharing, until the Americans began to train and teach them on the new equipment. Most of the ROKs had never received anything but basic weapons instruction. Under the tutelage of the American "experts", they became quite proficient with the new toys.
The eastern bunker complex was crescent-shaped with the back toward the corner of the airfield. Its base was below the military crest, and it became a multi-level bunker. The bunker complex was about 100 yards long and about 35 yards deep in the center. On each end of the crescent horn was a quad fifty half-track with its back end facing the valleys below. In the middle about 25 yards apart were the half-tracks with the twin forties. Behind them were communication trenches and the entrance to the lower levels. This entrance was basically a covered and steep stepped hole about 20 yards behind one of the 40 mm half-tracks.
Being on a slope allowed the bunker to have several levels; the lower levels contained the original bunker, and with the rust-colored fill deepened from the leveling of the airstrip. They were deep enough to be constantly cool during the heat of the summer. The top level (level 1) was the dug-in central command and firing area, roughly centered and near the front of the bunker complex. It was about 8 feet wide by 10 feet deep. Radios, codes, and maps were central to this level. Each level below was divided into rooms with a corridor or enclosed trench toward the ridge behind. Thick firing ports, with firing steps, faced the valley for observation and for firing the ROK machine guns. This level viewed from down slope appeared to be only about three feet above the surrounding dirt. To all outwards appearances, the complexity of this bunker complex was not apparent. The "roof" or ground level was where the half-tracks and observation posts were behind and between the sandbagged berms. Only the observation posts on either end were fully enclosed with a tin roof for shade. Three 60 mm mortar pits were also on this level. All were connected with a series of communication and firing trenches.
The second level down (Level 2) was divided into rooms and used as a barracks for many of the ROK and American troops. The third level (Level 3) was a supply warehouse; this had many sacks of rice and five-gallon jerry cans of water. This level also had a kitchen where food was prepared. It was divided into many rooms. The lower levels appeared to have been cut from sandstone and extended for hundreds of feet with large timber shoring at the doors and in the passage ways. Many of the ROK soldiers lived and worked here. This level would later become their hospital.
The lowest level (Level 4) was the largest area below and was centered in the bunker complex. This level stored their ammunition and supplies. The Americans had brought a full re-supply, not knowing the supply situation. The ROKs had done the same thing for the new half-tracks. This level was the largest area below, and was centered in the bunker complex. It was comprised of a series of rooms, and was stacked almost floor to ceiling with supplies. Later, one large room on this level would become their morgue.
Much previous fighting had almost denuded the ridge area, but now new growth was struggling to hide the scars of war. ROK soldiers were sent out to clear any remaining bush or small trees growing in front of the bunker to provide clear fields of fire. Metal stakes were placed at one hundred yard intervals out in a half circle to the front of the bunker. This was done out to about 800 yards where possible. Weapons and radar were sighted in and tested based on these range markers.
There were about 105 ROK officers and soldiers from the Headquarters Company of the Capitol (Tiger) Division that were assigned to this bunker complex. They had two thirty-caliber machine guns, at least one bazooka, and three 60 mm mortars, in addition to rifles and BARs (Browning Automatic Rifles - it fired the same cartridge as the M1 Garand rifle, but in a 20-round magazine). Twenty five others were assigned to the AA battery. This placed about 130 ROKs in the bunker complex.
The Americans really did not expect any major combat action. The bunker complex was at least a mile from the MLR (Main Line of Resistance). They figured they might get shelled or have the boredom broken by an air raid or something. Radio reports indicated that the cease fire could happen any day. They became complacent because the expected Chinese offensive did not happen by the end of May. They kept watch on what they could see, and used the radar at night to report vehicle movement, patrols (friendly and enemy), and infiltrators. A few of these infiltrators turned out to be ROK deserters. These deserters were summarily executed by the ambush patrols sent out by radio. The radar worked perfectly. Combat and a change in the MLR (Main Line of Resistance or forward defensive line) would later change their status from a behind the line security and supply bunker for the air strip to a defensive forward supply dump.
The heat was oppressive but the monsoon season had not yet started in central Korea. The lack of shade bothered many of the Americans. Unlike the basic ROK soldier of the time, the Americans were not restricted from taking many of the ten-foot long pierced steel metal planks from the stacks at the end of the airstrip to use for shade. They figured that since work on the airstrip had stopped, they could borrow some of these metal planks. These were laid from the edge of the berm to the top edge of the half-track. They provided adequate shade. Later the ROK troops following their example and did the same. They probably figured they could blame the Americans later on.
The western bunker was shaped like an upside down letter "L". The short arm faced westward, while the longer arm was northward. Not much is known about the detail of this bunker complex. It did have a larger ROK unit, but it was not dug-in as deep as the eastern bunker.
Each radar unit was comprised of three pieces. The first piece was similar to a television set in shape, except it had no screen. Looking at the front of the radar unit one saw a 15 by 30 inch box with the front slightly concave (about 4 inches), with a 4 to 6-inch circular center piece made out of some type of ceramic. The front pointed at the target. It was about 20 to 22 inches deep with a rounded back, except where there were two connections for cables. It had a small, tripod stand, which was useless except in testing. Actual uses had a soldier aim or point the device along a defined circle. This was done small arc by small arc by hand, as directed by the operator observing the screen.
The second piece was used by the operator. It had an oblong green screen similar to an old oscilloscope, with three major knobs. The screen had a 2 to 3-second scan rate from left to right. The up and down lines were black until a white flash (blip) occurred. How high the flash on the screen was from the bottom helped to identify the range, and was marked by a grease pencil. Objects moving were compared to fixed and known distances. This was done by metal stakes pounded in the ground. The unit could "see" for over 1,000 yards. There was an "XPS" with a serial number on the back of the second unit where the cables connected. The first piece (the actual radar unit) connected to the main unit or second piece. Both pieces then connected to a 24-volt battery pack. Generators dismounted or on the half-tracks recharged the batteries. Gunnery was conducted by shooting predetermined azimuths and elevations. Azimuths were done by compass headings. Later, each fifty-caliber machine-gun was given gunnery stakes made out of various items that were lying around.
These radar units were the early relatives of the AN/PPS-4 and AN/TPS-33 radar devices which the U.S. Army used to track the movements of individuals and vehicles in the early to mid-1960s.
Sporadic fighting and testing of the western ROK lines occurred at the end of May and first of June. On the 10th of June 1953, they received another re-supply and word to be ready for a major Chinese offensive. This caused some more digging-in and sandbagging. The Americans and ROKs continued to borrow more steel planking for shade, then covered them with a layer of sandbags. This included covering the cabs and hoods of the half-tracks. They also finished unloading the half-tracks, draining the gasoline and oil in case they were hit. This was deemed okay for the light and sporadic artillery thrown their way. Most of the heavy fighting had been to their west and far to the east.
Because of the distance behind the MLR, they were seldom called on to give ground support fire. They did, however, develop a plunging fire technique to shoot over the heads of friendly troops. That fire was directed by an Forward Artillery Observer or FAC on the front lines. The 40 mm weapons were ideal for this, and were fired with gusto by the ROK troops. They later had reports that the ROK Army had lost about two and a half miles of frontage on the eastern side of the Kumsong Bulge, but they had mostly held the western portion of the line in over two weeks of fighting.
About June 20th the Chinese communists fired their long-range and heavy artillery (either 122mm rifled cannon or 152mm howitzer) at Iron Ridge. The heavy explosions walked up the slope and right over the eastern bunker complex toward the airstrip. High explosive rounds impacted on the bunker complex. One of the sandbagged observation posts was blown apart, along with most of the eastern-most dual 40 mm-mount and the ROK crew that was firing it. The other 40 mm-mount was hit soon after, and put out of action. The force of the explosion forced the long barrels upward on one of the mounts. There they stayed for the upcoming battle. Two Americans and several ROKs were killed. The corpses were placed in mattress covers, then taken to a room on the lowest level of the bunker where it was the coolest. One of the radar pieces was also damaged at this time.
The 40mm-mounts on the half-tracks stood much higher than the quad .50 caliber mounts. This made them harder to protect. They also could not be dismounted without special equipment. Their loss had an ironic positive and negative effect on the upcoming battle.
With the sudden artillery attack, the Americans realized that they needed to dismount the quad fifties. They did this in a hurry. The carefully laid out gunnery system which had been done the previous month was partly undone. Under pressure and by trial and error, they devised an alternate system. When needed, one soldier would crawl outside and point the radar piece toward the area of concern. By knowing where the radar was and the arc it would be turned, this gave operator a picture of what was out there. He communicated where to shoot to the gunners who had re-laid their gunnery stakes. Each fifty had at least one thirty-caliber machine-gun to support it.
The eastern bunker got a new "roof" as fast as the ten-foot steel planking from the airstrip could be taken. Labor provided by the ROKs in carrying and filling sandbags and steel planks was invaluable. All the half-tracks were covered with two layers of steel planking, with a sandbag covering. The blown-apart observation post was rebuilt and covered with a layer of steel and sandbags. New gunnery ports with firing steps for machine guns and rifles were made in the berm, and reinforced.
Fighting on the main line of resistance could be heard. Supporting artillery could be heard flying forward in support. Supplies still came in by truck. The wounded and the dead left the same way.
On the 24th, signs of strain could be seen as the ROK 26th Infantry Regiment was forced to give up ground. They fought well. The ridge line in front or to the north of Iron Ridge changed hands several times. Only a few ROK officers and their attendees realized they had important meetings to attend to in the rear. Many veteran ROK officers held their men in check and made local counter attacks. The ROK Army had come a long way forward toward a professional fighting force compared to just a year or two before. During a lull about the end of June, the ROKs fell back to semi-prepared positions about 600 yards in front of Iron Ridge. There, they began to dig in. Supporting fire from the strong points helped consolidate the new positions.
An American three-man Forward Air Controller (FAC) team arrived back at the eastern bunker about this time, and was welcomed. The FAC radios were brought in the bunker and room was made. A three-sided, sandbagged position had been made by the ROKs to protect the FAC jeep. The FAC team was part of KMAG (Korean Military Assistance Group). The eastern bunker took new purpose as a forward supply point for the 26th ROK Regiment.
As the Chinese began to settle into their new positions across the valley, someone began a set pattern of behavior. A Chinese officer, maybe of high rank, came out of his bunker and went to a slit trench to take a morning dump. An ROK sniper, who was unable to shoot at that great distance, reported this activity. The Americans were surprised and watched the morning routine with interest. The only weapon they had that was able to shoot that far out was a .50 caliber machine-gun. A corporal from the first squad drilled and tapped a 30-power sniper scope on top of the weapon. Picking a point far enough away, but at the same range of the target, he was able to zero in the weapon.
The next morning, everything was set. Binoculars and artillery scopes were trained on the spot. The breeze was next to calm. Bets were taken. The half-inch thick round was placed in the breach and locked in place. The weapon was cocked and sighted in. Sure enough the Chinese officer, ever so punctual, came out on time. As he squatted showing his pale bottom to the American and ROKs gathered to watch, the 710 grain bullet flew true, impacting dead center, and thus knocking the mooning officer head over heels. The corporal bragged about that shot all day. Other targets of opportunity were then selected, but none with such fanfare as the first.
On the last day of June, a Chinese aircraft was attacked by an American jet towards the evening. When the overshot rounds landed near and on the bunker, many thought they had been strafed. A couple of times people heard jets scream close overhead. Some said they had been strafed again; others thought it was friendly aircraft. There was a feeling of unease. Another layer of steel planks and sandbags was added to the roof. An extra layer was placed over the half-tracks. The bodies of those killed were given mattress covers and a temporary "burial" in the death room below. The wounded ROKs were taken to the rear when it was safe. The dead made their last ride when space was available. The western bunker was expanded and reinforced by the ROKs. The ROKs were seen digging new trench lines along the ridge.
The first week of July was strangely quiet. The Fourth of July came and went without celebration by the Americans. Mornings were foggy, and it became humid with almost unbroken overcast. The monsoon season had begun in the south. More covering and sand bagging of the trench lines were done. The last of the barbed wire and steel planking was placed carefully. Fighting positions facing the rear were started ... just in case. There seemed no end to their supply of empty sandbags. A partial re-supply was done about the 8th.
The first part of July had two ominous events. One was the break down of the ROK communications gear. Since the KMAG FAC team could communicate, this was deemed no major problem. Also, the runner system used throughout the war by the ROKs still worked well. The second event was much sadder. A forward machine-gun post with six people manning it had one of their own grenades detonate inside their little fighting bunker. This accident stemmed from a common practice in the bunkers. This was to pinch the end of the cotter pin closed on the safety pin that held the spoon down on the grenade. When the spoon or safety handle was loosened, the grenade would arm itself. It made a hissing sound, and then exploded in about four seconds. These cotter pins were usually splayed or spread out on the open end to prevent them from sliding out. However, there was a fear that when the grenade was needed, the soldiers would not be able to pull the safety pin (the splayed cotter pin), so they closed them. When the soldiers were cleaning and rearranging their position, one of these safety pins fell out while it was on the wooden shelf above the machine-gun. In the gloom, they could not immediately tell which grenade was active to drop it into the prepared hole for hissing grenades in the bottom of the position. Two Americans were killed outright with massive head wounds when the explosive went off at head level, setting off at least one other grenade. Two South Korean soldiers were mortally wounded, and two ROKs slightly wounded in this unfortunate accident.
The bent tubes of the 40 mm that stuck up in the air seemed to hold a fascination for the enemy, mainly in the late afternoon. They used it as an aiming point for direct fire and indirect fire weapons. Most of those rounds went over, hitting on the airstrip or flying to somewhere over the ridge. One of these rounds tumbled down the sandbag rivet for the FAC's jeep. A short time later they scored a direct hit on the jeep, causing it to burn brightly. The FAC team was royally ticked.
On July 13, 1953, the Chinese People's Volunteer Army launched its third battle of their summer campaign. They called it the, "Golden City Campaign." To the United Nations Command, the enemy was better known as the Chinese Communist Forces or CCF for short. The Americans called this summer campaign, "The Battle of the Kumsong Salient."
"On the evening of July 13, 1953, the Chinese Army launched its largest and most violent attack since the Spring Offensive of May 1951. We (ROKs) came to call it the Battle of Kumsong. The Chinese commanders threw no fewer than five of their armies into the surprise assault: the 24th, 68th, and 60th already at the front, and the 54th brought up from the rear. The 150,000 men in these units focused on a relatively narrow, twenty-mile sector of the front defended by six ROK divisions: the 6th, 8th, 3rd, and 5th from ROK II Corps, and the Capital and ROK 9th attached to the adjacent (western) U.S. IX Corps under Lt. General Reuben Jenkins." [Reference: From Pusan to Panmunjom by General Paik Sun Yup, Republic of Korea Army, retired. Published in 1992 by Brassey's (US), Inc. ISBN 0-02-881002-3. This quote is from page 236.] From west (left flank) to east, the ROK units were the 9th and the Capitol (Tiger) Divisions in the IX Corps sector, and the 6th, 8th, 3rd and 5th Divisions in the ROK II Corps sector.
The eastern and western bunker complexes of Iron Ridge were two of the 21 major strong points in the path of the Chinese juggernaut. All strong points reported they were under heavy artillery attack by the morning of the 14th. Battalion and regimental attacks were reported all along the Capitol Division front lines. All night the Division held against the onslaught, but small groups of the enemy began to sneak through the lines. The dismounted .50 caliber machine-guns of the eastern bunker joined in the fight when they were able to see the enemy. The FAC team brought down artillery on pre-planned fire missions. The loss of the two twin 40mm was felt the worst since they would have helped tremendously in defense. Some time in the confusion, the 60 mm mortars were found to be inoperative.
"The July assault by the Chinese was aimed at the ROK Capitol Division, which was holding the sector on the right flank of the IX Corps, near Kumwha, the right leg of the Iron Triangle. The Capitol Division, nearly overwhelmed by THREE (emphasis added) Chinese Divisions which broke through their lines and threatened complete envelopment, fell back in confusion." [Reference: The Korean War by Matthew B. Ridgway, General U.S. Army, retired. Hardback Published in 1967 by Doubleday & Company, Inc. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 67-11172. A paperback version published in 1986 has ISBN 0-306-80267-8. This quote is from page 224.]
In the late part of the 14th, the Chinese broke through in several places along the western side of the Capitol Division's front line. The reinforced Chinese 203rd Division of the CCF 68th did the worst damage, penetrating up to 1,000 yards through the 1st ROK Cavalry Regiment west of Iron Ridge. Further attacks caused the 1st Cavalry to disintegrate as a fighting force. The rest of the ROK Division, comprising the 26th Regiment, was ordered to fall back to the next prepared positions while under pressure from the 202nd (probably) CCF Division. As the Capitol Division was thus engaged, the 204th CCF Division attacked directly from the northeast and east at Iron Ridge. This created great disruption and confusion. A major bug out began.
"By July 14 six Chinese divisions had pressed savagely against the ROK positions in the Kumsong bulge and had practically destroyed the ROK Capitol division and much of the ROK 3rd Division (on the right side of the 20 to 21 mile bulge). Casualties on both side were extremely heavy, because it was a stand-up fight directly on the main line of resistance with direct assaults by the communists into the heart of the ROK defensive positions." [Reference: Korea: The First War We Lost by Bevin Alexander. Published first in 1986 and in 1993 by Hippocrene Books Paperback Edition. ISBN 0-7818-0065-X This quote is from page 481.] The quote continued, "In this last, sad series of battles, thousands of young men died or were maimed for mere yards of territory. UN casualties for June and July, 1953, were more than 52,000 men, mostly ROKs. Estimated casualties for communist troops in the same period were 108,000."
Confusion was felt in the eastern bunker. The Americans knew they had no real means to retreat, but began to prepare to blow up the strong point if needed. This was to prevent not only the supplies, but also the top secret radar, from falling into the hands of the Chinese Communist Forces. Their preference, of course, was to hold out until relieved. They never did hear the general retreat message to the Kumsong River line that went out over the radio from General Walker on the afternoon of the 14th of July.
ROK soldiers of the 26th Regiment began to come back in ones and twos, then in groups. All were fleeing the deadly maelstrom behind them. Some ROKs fought to the death, while others ran for their lives. Many began to take defensive positions on Iron Ridge. Many who took these positions found themselves intermixed from different units with a lack of officers. Panic began, and the Iron Ridge defensive positions began to empty. The officers in the two bunker strong points tried mightily to hold their men.
One ROK Battalion Commander stood out. Lt. Col. Kim was an English-speaking Korean who had spent time before the war at the University of Seoul. He had fought backwards to lead his men into the new fighting positions. As he put one group in place, another would be infected by the panicky tide, and flee. Finally, they ran past him, despite his threatening fists and smoking pistol. He was mad as hell.
He realized that the closest bunker complex was not bleeding men, but standing firm. He asked for and got help from the Americans to help funnel fighting men into the bunker complex. Every 15 yards out stood an American with at least an ROK NCO (noncommissioned officer). The sight of an American standing tall and calm had great effect on those willing to fight. They were the ones carrying their weapons, and they were directed into the bunker complex. The new ROKs were given bread, coffee and other food stuffs to make them feel secure. With these refreshments, they began to man the trenches and wait for the enemy to come. The bunker complex more than doubled in man power. Now there was over 250 determined men to see the situation through to the bitter end.
The first enemy came at them, thinking they would flee before their mighty numbers. They were wrong. Machine gun fire broke up the advance. Machine gun fire from the western bunker helped clear the forward slope. This was not a major attack, yet the number of still bodies on the slope below rivaled those in the eastern bunker. The Chinese were then seen swarming south along the surrounding slopes like ants. They came at the defenders in rushes here and there. For about four hours the fighting was steady, then began to taper off. Because of the additional weapons and troops willing to fight, they held their position.
That night the three radar units went up after dark. One watched the front slope of the bunker, another western slope and side, while the third one covered the rear. Machine guns were repositioned to cover the rear approaches. All worked hard to get ready for the attack they knew would come. The Chinese troops were seen by a radar unit assembling for an attack on them. The fifty caliber machine guns fired into them, and the attack fizzled out almost before it began.
The western bunker complex fell very early the next morning after heavy combat. The gun flashes had lit the western part of Iron Ridge. The sound of automatic weapons, and the screams of the dying and those about to die were heard as wave after wave of enemy soldiers from the west surged forward blowing bugles. For many hours, the western strong point held out until the firing slowly slackened. Then slow, deliberate single shots were heard after the Chinese had taken it.
At 0900 on the 15th, the Chinese fired about thirty minutes of artillery and mortars at the eastern bunker while they formed up a battle line. Then amidst great yelling and the blare of tin bugles, they advanced from the bloody western bunker toward the eastern bunker. The ROKs and the Americans allowed them to get within 400 yards before the machine guns began to methodically hose them from one end to the other. The large, fifty-caliber slugs went through more than one man when the enemy troops were in such a tight knit formation. Even the thirty-caliber slugs seemed to hit with every round, but the enemy still came on. Great gaps began to appear in the Communist battle lines. At one hundred yards the individual ROK soldiers added their individual weapons, which stopped the attack. The surviving enemy fell back quickly.
The cries of the hundreds of Chinese wounded were pitiful. Those unable to crawl back to the safety of their own lines stayed where they were. The American trained as a medic became very busy. The relatively few ROK dead were taken downstairs to the bottom level and laid on the cool floor. The ROK soldiers manning the trenches were more concerned about infiltrators than the Chinese wounded. They saw anything moving as a target.
Somewhere the Chinese had set up a loud speaker. They spoke in Chinese and Korean. They offered cigarettes and warm food, encouraging the South Koreans to lay down their weapons. Korean music was played for hours with occasional suggestions for them to surrender. The South Koreans translated for the Americans. They began to talk about the music and how they felt. The Americans and Lt. Colonel Kim became concerned about the psychological impact the loudspeakers could have on the South Korean soldiers.
For the rest of the day the Chinese were willing to lob an occasional mortar round or snipe away at ROK targets. One of the American squad sergeants was killed that day. A corporal from the first squad was made acting sergeant.
The FAC team tried to get artillery support. Unknown to them at the time, most of the Divisional and Corps artillery had retreated during the night. The organized radio network fell completely apart. Isolated units calling for help went off the air one by one. At some points, the Chinese advanced over ten miles before they were stopped. For the men holding the eastern strong point of Iron Ridge, their ordeal was just beginning.
For hours and hours, they turned the radio knobs from one known frequency to another calling, "Mayday Mayday." They waited and waited for any glimmer of outside contact. Near dark, they made contact with 8th Army Command. They were not believed at first until the FAC sergeant said something to verify who they were. With no current codes, they simply used the Army alpha code to communicate. There was no artillery support available. It was too late in the day to send out air cover. So they waited and waited for the next attack they knew would come.
That night, one of the American sergeants went out with a patrol to find where the loudspeakers were. They were found to the northeast at the bottom of a cliff. Men went out to the top of the cliff rolling a 50-gallon barrel full of gasoline. There, the sergeant set an explosive charge under it. The next time the loudspeakers came on, he fired off the charge. Flaming gasoline spewed over the cliff. The speakers went silent, along with the temptations it offered.
Just after midnight the radar began to pick up movement to the south. The Americans and the ROKs were then prepared when the Communists came running across the leveled air strip. Machine guns fired across the airstrip, mowing down dozens with each long burst of fire. Belt after belt was fired, and wave after wave of attackers kept coming. Machine gun barrels began to overheat, but most dared not take a chance to change them for cooler ones.
As the enemy slowly began to close, the defenders began firing individual weapons, throwing grenades, and taking out individual enemy soldiers in the dark. Combat of the eyeball to eyeball order is one of the most primitive types of combat. Rifles as clubs, bayonets, entrenching tools, and even bare fists are the rule at this close range. It is simply kill or be killed. It is where anything you can do to survive means living a little bit longer.
Close combat at night is where all senses become keenly aware. The sharp acidic smell of sweat with an almost overwhelming feeling of fear and dread is combined with nervously taut muscles and dirty dry eyes staring out into the murk ... waiting. Some feel like they need to void the bowels, but this is forgotten with quick rush of movement, the zing and twang with thuds all around. A face, sudden flashes of hurting light, pressure, mad swinging, awful thuds. The coppery sharp smells of blood, the slickness of sweat, or is it your blood? A ripped quilted body with black hair lying still, noise behind, turn strike, repeat… Growl, howl or grunt outrage in silence. Repeat as many times as needed. Then there is a sudden local silence that is mingled with the smell of urine and the wet smell of garlic and old fish. Moans softly at first, as if embarrassed, linger. With nostrils flared, any noise heard gets an overt reaction as you try to catch your ragged breath by a tongue that sticks in your mouth and tastes like dry earth.
The Chinese finally disappeared into the gloom. Fog began to rise like the spirits of the dead rising from the blood-soaked ground. Here and there, shots rang out at real or perceived movement. The smarter troops threw grenades instead of revealing their positions. The wounded were taken below to be bandaged the best the American medic could do with his ROK helpers. The dead were taken further below to the room of the dead. Now the bodies began to be stacked in a second row. The surviving Americans and ROK troops paused to lick their wounds. They tried to get some sleep while others stood watch with both the human and electronic eyeballs. A random mortar or artillery round occasionally was fired at the position during the rest of the night.
The next morning, the American Lieutenant called a staff meeting of just American NCOs. They met in the command bunker just to the rear of the half-track where the twin 40 mm barrels stuck up in the air. The corporal from the first squad, who was now acting sergeant, had to finish putting a fifty-caliber machine gun back together. The acting sergeant hurried up the back trench; just before he made his left turn to enter the meeting area, one of those large Russian-made shells, probably aimed at those dammed bent barrels, hit. There may have been a point along the side berm that did not have as many layers of steel and sandbags for protection. Maybe it would not have mattered. The high explosive round erupted as designed, the pressure wave expanded, taking pieces of the casing and anything else near by into a frenzied dance of death. Seven Americans died instantly, along with many ROKs in the confined area of the command bunker.
The acting sergeant was thrown backwards and mostly buried by the huge blast and shock wave. He thought he was buried alive, and screamed for help. Several ROK soldiers began to dig him out. Lt. Col. Kim later told him that the lieutenant and six other Americans were dead. For the next several hours, he was in a daze from concussion. The seven Americans, with their Korean brothers, were carried below to the death room. Another layer of violated bodies was started. Lt. Colonel Kim, his officers, and the FAC team had just gone down below after meeting with the American lieutenant; otherwise, they too, would have been killed.
The FAC team got their spare radio from below to replace the destroyed radios, and with frantic effort re-contacted 8th Army Command. Now, this single beat-up radio was their only contact with the friendly forces. Eight inch (203.2 mm) Howitzer batteries started to drop in their very distinctive rounds. Accuracy because of the extreme range of almost 10 miles was not good, but they were very, very welcomed. This 8-inch battery was probably the 424th Field Artillery, which was a Federalized National Guard Unit from Indiana. Huge explosive geysers blossomed around known enemy positions. It was a relief to have support once again.
The corporal from the first squad, who was now the acting sergeant, was called to the radio by the FAC sergeant. He identified himself to the Brigadier General on the radio, and was stunned when he received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. He was sworn in by the General, and given his first order from 8th Army Command. The order was simple. "Hold your position at all costs. Do not surrender. Do not break out." The FAC sergeant and Lt. Colonel Kim congratulated him. The new lieutenant wasn't so sure about the congratulations. It was July 16th.
The next attack came from the north that evening. Radar picked up signs of the Chinese forming up about 600 yards down slope. The FAC officer called for artillery. The heavy artillery rounds came in and burst brightly below the eastern bunker. The exploding rounds hit to one side of the Chinese line. The fire was adjusted and it clobbered the enemy line. The radar screen became unreadable due to the volume of debris thrown up. The defenders were electronically blind for several minutes. Luckily, the enemy scattered under the onslaught.
About an hour or so later, the Chinese began to form up again. There was some type of delay getting artillery. The fifty-caliber machine guns began to fire short bursts of fire. Every fifth round was a tracer. The machine gun fire began to hurt the Chinese line, but they still began to move forward up the slope. Artillery began to fall behind the Chinese. Ground clutter of thrown up debris made the radar worthless in the barrage. Tracers flying out began to overshoot the first several waves of attackers. The FAC team strained their eyes, but could not see the enemy. They asked and got the artillery to fire illumination rounds. They burst, and bright lights hung from parachute flares. In the sudden swinging glare of magnesium light, they saw the Chinese soldiers straining to get at them. The FAC began to drop the artillery rounds in front of the horde, then walked the exploding steel projectiles down the slope, chasing the fleeing enemy.
Radar warned of another attack coming over the ridge behind them in two places. Machine guns rounds reached out to touch with their deadly streaking fingers. More parachute flares dropped, staining the dark, smoky sky with glaring but inconsistent light. Rifles barked over and over. Nearby, metallic "plings" and "clacks" were heard as M1 rifle clips ejected upward and bolts flew forward when reloaded. Grenades were thrown, clashing with the sound of their solid "thumps." Enemy mortar rounds fell short and hit their own men. Confusion reigned. Communications lines were either cut or blown up. The FAC sergeant urgently called in more and more artillery all around the position, then as close as he dared. Anyone, including the wounded who were able to throw a grenade or fire a weapon, was pressed into the trenches to fight.
About a dozen or more Chinese soldiers broke through the defensive line. Anyone that stood above ground was fair game and shot. With his pistol, Lt. Colonel Kim shot at least two Chinese soldiers who had made it near the command bunker. No quarter was asked nor given. For hours the moans, screams, and plaintive begging of the Chinese wounded was heard. A survey was done and confirmed that they still held the bunker complex. Friendly wounded were collected and treated. Occasional shots were heard as the enemy patrolled the field of carnage with their own form of mercy.
The morning of the 17th was wet and gloomy with heavy fog. Bodies in the complex were moved. Friendly dead were taken below. Dead Chinese were used as additional protection with a thin layer of dirt thrown over them. No one dared to go out into "no mans land." Anything seen moving got a grenade or a bullet.
Canvas was put out to collect water from the fog and the warm, but light, rain. The radar kept watch. Humans strained their ears to hear. The radio operator reported that a counter attack was in progress. They were promised air support when the weather cleared. On each corner of the perimeter, they put out air recognition panels. Then they waited and waited. Hints of blue were seen as the sun tried to clean the fog.
Towards noon, the Chinese began to form up again on the foggy down slope. Artillery whined overhead. This was lighter stuff (probably 155 mm "Long Tom" rounds) that came in fast, furious, and accurate. After the deadly blanket of steel, the Chinese Communists left the eastern bunker mostly alone. Mortar shells danced their dance, and an occasional heavier round sought out the residents. A few well-hidden Chinese heavy machine guns began to duel with the bunker's machine guns. They fired without tracers, and their heavy slugs chewed at the sandbags. Every once in a while, the firing ports would let an enemy round whistle through; more wounded were taken below. More corpses were added like cord wood to the death sepulcher below.
Work parties came out at night to repair the damage and breath in relatively fresh air. The wounded, however, had to suffer halfway between the dead and living in stale humid air. Attempts to move fresh air around were made. The top level of the bunker, at first called the roof--then the attic, was now mostly in ruins. All of the half-tracks had been mangled by artillery. Some of the machine guns that had been blown off their sandbagged settings were rebuilt from parts and spares. Another radar piece had been damaged. This, too, had been repaired from the parts, and for the most part worked, though limited in range.
The eastern bunker began to have a charnel house smell, mixed with the unwashed bodies of men living in close proximity to each other for much too long. When the American soldiers looked at each other, they saw long-haired, bearded men. Many were surprised to see gray hair. All looked tired and stressed. The ROKs did not look much better. Water was now getting short, and a ration of one half a canteen cup per day was started.
The next afternoon brought welcome noise. A dark blue aircraft roared overhead from the south. When the defenders saw the "white stars with wings" (the national insignia for U.S. military aircraft), they yelled, "They're Ours!" Even the ROK troops were yelling and waving. Many came out of the bunker to watch the show. The FAC sergeant made contact with pilots he knew, and the "fly boys" identified the east bunker as friendly.
The FAC team directed the aircraft toward seen and unseen enemy positions. Orange-red blossoms spread across the hillside, while black oily smoke reached upward. The smell of burnt napalm and human hair came on the breeze. At times, the heat of the burning jellied gas could be felt through the firing ports, and men had to turn away. Explosions rocked the ridge as target after target was hit. For the rest of the day, the beautiful sound of American aircraft was heard. The fly boys were angels of deliverance brought by the hard working FAC sergeant. That night the radar showed the enemy lining up for another human wave attack from the west. Artillery was called and disrupted the mass of humanity. The Chinese did not form up again.
On the morning of the 18th, radar picked out movement in the fog. It appeared to be an enemy patrol about platoon size. The defenders thought it was a trick--that it might be a diversion of some kind, that it could not be a patrol that lost its way. The Chinese got closer and closer. Amazingly, the defenders could hear the Chinese talking as they approached to about fifty yards. The shadow of the fog shifted revealing the Chinese. Sudden machine gun and rifle fire startled the Chinese. Within seconds the enemy was down, most permanently. A few shots replied to the onslaught of lead. These few were targeted by several machine guns which chewed the ground and anyone there from whence the return fire came. A cease fire order was called. The fog settled back down. It was quiet once again.
There was American aircraft overhead as the fog began to burn off. Several aircraft indicated it would be a shame to leave without bombing something. The radar was still up and the FAC sergeant had an idea. He ordered the aircraft to fly a certain heading and to drop some of their ordinance when instructed into the blanketing fog below. He then asked the radar operator where the bombs had hit. On the next pass the dropped explosives were even closer to the chosen target. The best results were when the aircraft flew in formation and dropped in mass. Later, as target after target was hit, the enemy fired less and less at the bunker.
The 19th was quiet and little movement was seen. Very little sniping or any other fire was directed at the bunker. Chinese were seen moving northwards on the surrounding hills. Those seen were often targeted by aircraft or artillery. Many of the defenders tried catch-up on long-needed sleep. The radio told them relief forces would be there some time tomorrow. The word was spread. A nervous tension started among the Americans.
If the relief force came at night or during the fog, they could be accidentally fired upon. Radio contact was with 8th Army Command, and they did not have the frequency for the relief force. One of the Americans said it would be easier if they had an American flag. Someone got up and went downstairs. In a few minutes, he came back with a small American flag. It was quiet while those present touched the red, white, and blue banner. They found a pole and mounted a cross stick so it could be easily seen.
Several men went out and placed more air recognition panels so they could be seen from the south and west. The dirt track that went around the eastern edge of Iron Ridge was especially watched. This was the most likely avenue of approach. A few men went out a bit to wait. At this time 14 of the 28 Americans had died. All three of the FAC team were alive. Over half of the ROKs were killed or wounded.
On July 20, 1953, at about 0530, a lone American soldier came out of the fog along the road to the bunker. This American soldier was a point man from a company of the 17th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. This company was specifically attached to the ROK 6th Infantry Division for the relief of the cut-off "Lost Bastards."
About an hour later, Iron Ridge was now back in friendly hands. The fog lifted quickly and a bright hot sun warmed the earth. By noon the ridge to the north was secured by the ROKs. Many of the defenders of the eastern bunker came out to survey the carnage of war. Bits of clothing, rifles, other equipment, and even paper trash were scattered about. Small mounds revealed to be piles of bodies. The defenders felt out of place compared to the relatively fresh-looking troops that had come through their area. Many sat looking around almost in shock that they were alive.
The new lieutenant noted that many of the dead enemy soldiers were three high in places. The ground in places was so thick in bodies that one could not walk through them without stepping on some body part. He had seen death, but not on the scale of thousands. Human remains were scattered all around the bunker complex. It was stunning and hard to describe what he felt.
The fighting wasn't over yet. While the Chinese were in retreat, they left behind delaying forces that tried to ambush the UN forces. The FAC team left before noon when a jeep arrived for them. Several ROK doctors arrived by truck and began to treat the wounded that were carried out of the bunker. Helicopters arrived on the airstrip to evacuate wounded Americans from the 17th Regiment; then as space provided, wounded ROKs.
The grisly task of body recovery began. This was complicated by humid heat, flies, and the ripped and torn body parts. The Chinese dead were gathered together in huge piles and gasoline was poured over them. Near the end of the day, they were set on fire. The smell of burning human fat and the pungent smell of burnt human hair was everywhere. Many stared at the twisting, jerking limbs caused by the heat of the bonfires. It was an eerie sight, never to be forgotten. Dozens of funeral pyres were seen near by, and the smoke of many more stained the setting sun.
The still new lieutenant received word that transportation was being sent to retrieve the survivors and their equipment. They packed what they had and waited. A little after 1800, a jeep and a truck arrived. The 14 survivors loaded the radar and their bags. As they left, the lieutenant noted a few more broken stacks of the pierced steel planking on the other side of the airstrip. They could have used them. Very slowly, the little convoy of the surviving "Lost Bastards" made their way down the steep trail into the gloom of night and the relative safety of the rear area.
After many check points and many hours, they finally reached the northeast corner of Kimpo Airfield sometime before dawn. There, they were shown an old ammo bunker in which to sleep. They unloaded the radar and other gear, and covered it with a tarp. In the dim light, they turned toward the bunks. Fourteen bunks, made military-style with crisp white sheets, awaited them. The filthy, smelly men staggered over and collapsed on top of the bunks. Most slept until the following morning. They were guarded by an ASA (Army Security Agency) company, and for the first time in months, they completely relaxed. Unknown to them, the fighting had tapered off along with the general counter offensive.
These 14 men had not had a shower, hair cut, or fresh clothing since the first of May. Now on the 22nd day of July, they found the showers. Even though the water was cool, it was a blessed luxury. They shaved and dressed in the clean fatigues provided. The gaunt and hungry men were welcomed by the mess sergeant, who said they could have anything they wanted. Fresh milk, eggs, and wonder of wonders--fresh fruit, were eaten. They ate until they were sick and regurgitated what they had eaten. The mess sergeant laughed because he had seen it before. Many took food back with them. All of them were sick from the rich food and had to be seen by a doctor who came to examine them. They were cautioned to eat lightly and take vitamins. A quartermaster sergeant came and took their name, rank, and serial number. They were issued replacement insignia, uniforms, and other needed gear.
The ASA people took possession of the radar. They were debriefed one by one and in group. The new lieutenant signed off the final report on the 25th of July. They were reminded then and reordered not to talk about the battlefield radar. They were ordered to forget what happened.
Now more human-looking, they were given money and sent to the less-secure side of Kimpo Air Field pending the arrival of their transportation. The lieutenant was quartered in the BOQ (Bachelors Officers Quarters), and ordered not to wear his rank and insignia. He lost track of the men who began to quickly leave after the general cease fire on the 27th.
In the first week of August 1953, the lieutenant was sent stateside to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he was again debriefed in detail. Then he was ordered to forget what happened, because it was top secret. There, he was also informed that the U.S. Army had too many second lieutenants. He was discharged as an Officer and a Gentleman on August 16, 1953. He had been an officer for exactly one month.
He was encouraged to get his high school diploma and to further educate himself. He immediately enlisted as a corporal, and was soon promoted to sergeant. He was reassigned back to Bamberg, Germany, with the Blue Spaders (26th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division), and where his German wife and children lived. It took him two more secret missions and five years of effort and preparation to be chosen to attend OCS (Officer’s Candidate School) at Fort Benning, Georgia. He graduated there on 6 October 1959, becoming a second lieutenant once again.
Getting details for this story has been difficult. My father was involved in a ROK battle at the end of the Korean War cease fire - a peace treaty that has never been signed. At the time, there was not much press or interest back in the USA regarding this horrific and intense combat action. It is only recently that English translations about the Korean War, told from the South Korean perspective, are coming out. The fiftieth anniversary of the Korean War cease fire was on July 27, 2003. It got little notice due to the ongoing War on terrorism. Once again, it will be forgotten, becoming just a footnote in the history of the Cold War.
My father, after almost fifty years, still has nightmares when he starts to remember the grisly information. He went to Korea as part of a small unit of 28 men, and came out with 14. Fifty (50%) percent of the unit was killed. All of the Americans he called friends were killed. The half-track section he commanded as a corporal, and the squad (2 sections) that he had as an acting sergeant were practically wiped out because they took the brunt of the enemy attacks. My father survived despite being ordered to take command because he and Lt. Colonel Kim, who had years of combat experience, made the right decisions.
He deeply regrets that he was not able to tell the families of those Americans who died how they died for their country and for their fellow soldiers. He was ordered not to write letters home because they were never "officially" in Korea. The families were informed that their sons died while on duty, and some cover story was given. After his final debriefing and before his discharge as an Officer and a Gentleman, my father was ordered to forget what happened. For many years, he tried mightily to do so. He has never had a support group of fellow combat veterans (all his combat actions were covert), and he has never seen again those he served with in Korea. If any one knows more details of this battle and of the "Lost Bastards," please contact me. My e-mail address is email@example.com.
There is no doubt in my mind that the friendly forces on Iron Ridge survived due to the combined efforts of the ROK troops, the KMAG FAC sergeant, the artillery, the Air Force, the then top secret radar, AND those unnamed American "Lost Bastards."
Biography of Richard Louis Carpenter
Richard Louis Carpenter was a ship welder during World War II. Near the end of the war, he joined the U.S. Army as a private. He lied about his age (he was 6’2" tall) to become a welder, then used that documentation to fudge a bit to join the U.S. Army.
Following the end of World War II, he was a member of the occupation forces in Germany, and served as a guard during a portion of the Nuremberg Trials for the concentration camp oversees. He worked with a displaced people company, loading aircraft during the Berlin Airlift.
Carpenter married a German National in 1950, eloping to Switzerland. The couple had several children. He was an expert shot in all small arms and taught these skills to the new German Army and others. He served in Korea during the war with a ROK (Korean military) unit called the Capitol Division. Near the end of the Korean War, his unit was cut off and he took command, receiving a battlefield commission over the radio.
Acting Sergeant Carpenter was promoted to the rank of 2nd lieutenant, and held out against enemy forces for over a week until his command was relieved. When posted back to Germany, he reverted back to his regular rank of corporal. He was there for a while before he was again called in harm’s way. In Vietnam, he assisted in transporting refugees from the north of Vietnam at the beginning of the division of that communist aggression in Southeast Asia. He was wounded several times, one severely.
Back in Germany, he once made Munich headlines by breaking hundreds of glass windows by blowing out an anti-tank ditch outside of town. He participated with Special Forces troops also in Europe and on the Hungarian border in 1956. He then trained U.S. troops at Fort Ord, California, during their basic training . He attended Officer’s Candidate School, graduating in 1959 as a second lieutenant. He went back overseas to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. When he returned to the States, he continued training troops at Fort Jackson, SC.
Carpenter was posted back to Germany in 1964, where at the end of 1965 he retired from twenty years active duty. He moved to San Diego, CA. He continued his military involvement by joining a Special Forces Reserve unit for another ten years. He was recalled to active duty several times during the later period. His retirement includes a disability award for combat injuries.
In civilian life, Richard Carpenter worked for 25 years in county work with the San Diego County Probation Department, retiring in 1992. He lives in San Diego, California, with his second wife, Betty. His first wife, Kunigunda, died in 1990. The couple had six children, five of whom are still living. He has nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Letter from the Author
For many years I never knew my father saw combat during the Korean War. It was about ten years ago when he first mentioned it to me, and then only in passing. I was intrigued and later asked a question or two. Bits and pieces came out, and it was hard for him to talk about it. He suffered nightmares when he remembered details.
Finally, I began to take notes and began searching for back ground information. How do you search for an event that never officially happened? I knew enough from my prior military background (Army Security Agency) to approach it indirectly. I took several unique facts that he presented and looked for the details that matched. Once I found the area (I already knew the time), I studied the units that were there and looked for the parameters of such a unit.
Finally, I found reference that a group of Americans had been surrounded on a hill with elements of the Second Battalion of the ROK 26th Regiment of the ROK Capital Division in the Ninth Corps area during the designated time period. They had no unit or parent designation. There was an effort to relieve them that failed on the evening of the 14th and morning of the 15th of July 1953. They were never mentioned directly or indirectly again.
Interesting enough, details of this heroic ROK strong point - the only strong point NOT to fall in the Capital Division frontage - in the ROK history of the Battle for the Kumsong River Salient is left out. Only one strong point is mentioned as not falling, but the story is not told. This is amazing and had to be for a reason. The Korean Military's desire to keep secrets is well known.
I am getting into too many details, but I like puzzles like this. I tried the Freedom of Information Act but I did not have a code name or number for the operation. A search by the name "Carpenter" would get thousands of mentions of carpentry type notations for example. I felt a need to write the story when I realized this was one of the many forgotten incidents in a forgotten war. I also hope that someone reading the story might have more information.
I have kept certain details out of the story as a cross check for "new" information. I weeded out one person whose "details" conflicted for example.
Both my father and I can remember details of equipment and such. However, remembering names with faces is a problem. While I have partial names and where some were from, I did not include them. The parent unit most of these soldiers came from 26th Regiment (Blue Spaders!) of the 1st Infantry Division (Big Red One)) and the morning reports were damaged by water when they moved from Germany to the States, then back again. Those that saw them before indicate that many soldiers went TDY or Temporary Duty. A few are indicated as died in service. Only one of those soldiers ever returned to their parent unit. These damaged reports are in dry storage. There is no current plan to restore them. These reports hold the names of at least 24 of the 28 men who went to Korea on the Top Secret mission. I do not have the money to restore them.
I would love to find the CIA or other Intelligence Reports on this incident. It would take a dedicated researcher on site to sift through the old records for a match. This takes money which I do not have. Maybe one day ….