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Bill Clune

Yountville, CA-
Korean War Veteran of the United States National Guard

"In summary, the 955th FA Battalion was a fast firing, lucky, disciplined outfit."

- Bill Clune

 


The recent photo above is of Bill Clune.  Clune was in C Battery, then Air Section, then A Battery, and finally back to C Battery during his tour of duty in Korea with the 955th. He was in Korea from November of 1950 to March of 1951. This sketch history of the 955th Field Artillery Battalion places emphasis on C Battery during the period Fall 1950 to Winter 1952 in Korea. The history was written by Bill Clune, Yountville, CA.

955th Field Artillery Battalion (Nighthawk)

The 955th National Guard unit was organized as a Corps Artillery Battalion with a headquarters, headquarters battery, three firing batteries (A, B, C), and a service battery. Headquartered in the Brooklyn National Guard Armory, it was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Delancy of the New York Sheriff’s Department. It was a stripped down unit with two 155mm M1A1 towed howitzers per battery and cadre level manning.

The battalion moved to Fort Drum, New York, for summer camp in July of 1950. While on return to Brooklyn, the word was passed that the battalion had been federalized for eventual service in Korea. It was to pack up and move to North Fort Lewis, Washington, where it arrived the last of August or early September. The men of the 955th were assigned to barracks on the northwest side, next to the 204th Field Artillery Battalion. The 204th was a 155mm gun (self-propelled) outfit from Utah. C Battery 955th traded juice for their coffee after ration breakdown. The Mormons didn’t drink coffee, and the "New Yawk" Irish and Italians didn’t drink juice. (Recycling already in that age!) The battalion gathered its equipment and did some training on the Fort Lewis ranges during September, October, November, and December. If it was a live fire shoot with the howitzers, then everybody was a cannoneer

In November, four outside officers were assigned. They were Lt. Robert Hankins, Baker Battery; Lt. Luther B. "Luke" Aull, Baker Battery; Lt. William Clune, Charlie Battery; and Lieutenant Connors, Headquarters Battery. I (Bill Clune) reported to Captain William Morrison, and was indoctrinated by the first sergeant, Charlie Koop. Lieutenant Stellabotte was Charlie Battery’s Assistant Executive and motor officer. I think Lieutenant Loomis was the executive officer. My additional duties included mess officer. I was instructed to sign everything, and let the mess sergeant, Lucky Luciano, and his crew--DeAngelo, DeAmarra, and Sabatelli--alone. We had one gig from our food service inspection, in that we used too much ground coffee to make coffee. (Recycling coffee from next door did us in.)

December was a month of training, with two to twenty men available for classes, depending on post, battalion, and battery details. Men and officers went back to Ft. Sill for training, and a few went home on Christmas leave. The battalion did do a few artillery shoots before it had to drop everything to get in rifle range firing. We were alerted for overseas shipment—and then we weren’t—and then we were. On the 18th of December 1950, we were assigned to FECOM (Far Eastern Command) with movement date of 15 January 1951. Needless to say, the first part of January was hectic. We lost our battery administrative warrant Mike deMeglio, to Madigan Hospital when he got an ulcer on his leg at Fort Lewis. We would go over to the hospital with stacks of files, letters and stuff, and, while lying in his hospital bed, deMeglio would go through them and tell us what to do.

On the 15th of January 1951, the post engineers came around and locked us out of the barracks and the orderly room at 8 a.m. (Boy, what fast service.) We stood around in the wet, in a puddle, until the phone rang in the orderly room. Someone slid the window open and answered the phone. Bad news. The ship was out in a storm and would have to make a delayed landing. We were to be ready at 3 p.m. So we looked at one another and then climbed in through the window. A few of us made ourselves comfortable. Since we now had keys to the day room, we unlocked that for the cannoneers. We went next door and asked the 300th Field Artillery Battalion to feed us, and they did. Sergeant Peterson locked himself in a closet and couldn’t get out. We lay around and gave him advice on how to get out--kick the door down, use a billy club, and other assorted unhelpful advice—until someone got up and unlocked the door for him. We answered the phone. Captain Kraft was looking for Captain Morrison—or was it Captain Morrison looking for Captain Kraft? Finally, it was Colonel Delancy telling us to load up at 5. It was snowing heavily.

At five p.m., we loaded up in Greyhound busses and took a trip up Highway 99 to Pier 39 in Seattle. There, we loaded aboard the USS A.E. Anderson, APA 111. We loaded on and ate by 09:30 and got bedded down. We were seasick for three days, and then near Midway it was pleasant. The battery commander and the first sergeant held interviews with the really new men aboard, and tried to come up with their assignment. "Have you ever seen a howitzer fire before?" "I saw one in basic training a month ago." "Good. You’re in the fifth gun section. Send in the next man." The next man had never seen a howitzer before and was reasonably smart, so he ended up in the wire section. Anybody that was a mechanic—even a shade tree mechanic—ended up in the motor pool. Sturdy looking farm boys got assigned to the Ammunition Section, like Captain Daly and Louis C. Perry, another warrant officer, who died Dec. 4, 1951. And so it went. I think Daly was our administrative warrant officer at the time.

The Navy had assigned some nurses from a hospital unit in San Francisco to Yokohama. On the trip over, the Navy had a problem keeping the nurses secure. The Navy used some very tough Marines to patrol their section of the ship. They went overboard with guarding the afterdeck at the evening movie show. There were no nurses there. One obstreperous Marine ran into difficulty keeping order, and fell to the main deck a bit worn. The Marines had not run into a fully organized unit, and found out we could run our own show of keeping order among the ranks. They let us post that guard from then on.

We docked at Yokohama and offloaded the hospital unit on or about the 1st of February 1951. Then we whipped around Japan and docked at Pusan around 8:00 in the evening on or about the second. We walked off the nice warm ship and loaded into trucks. We went about two miles and bedded down in Hileah Park, where we froze. Two blankets and a cot weren’t enough. Well, the battery was finally going to war.

We were officially assigned to the IX Corps (ninth corps), and somewhere got the telephone call sign of Nighthawk. We fiddled around Pusan for a day or two, and when we got enough equipment--mess hall cooking stuff, tents, and a few vehicles—we were moved lock, stock, and barrel out into the boonies in a creek bed nearby, where we froze in our pup tents for two days. We made daily forays back into Pusan to the docks to pick up our boxes, gear, vehicles, and finally our six howitzers. There were four new ones we had never seen before. We talked our way into a salvage ordnance depot, and drove away with M-2 carbines, extra M-1 rifles still in Cosmoline preservative oil, machine guns, BARs, and other goodies.

Then there was the night it rained and the wind blew, and everyone was out pounding stakes back into the ground to keep the tents from blowing over. Then, the creek rose and we were worried about being flooded out. Someone got our ammunition track out with big wide tracks, and practically made a new channel in the swollen creek. Impressive. Good driver, too. There was the day when we marched or walked or strolled a few miles west and found a suitable hill. We set up some targets, zeroed in our rifles, then played with our new 30-caliber machine guns. A farmer had left his smelly manure wagon (we called it a honey wagon) on the side of the hill, and shortly, everyone took a revenge shot at it. It was pretty well broke up when we marched away.

There was a National Guard officer revolt on the 16th of February. The battalion executive officer, operations officer, and all the battery commanders were not happy with the way the battalion commander was doing things. They refused to carry out his orders. The inspector general came down and interviewed various guardsmen to find out what was going on. When they asked Bill Hogarty, executive officer of A battery, who he was for, he replied, "I’m for A battery," saluted, and sat down. They let him stay in A battery, too. The inspector general decided that the unit was intrinsically all right, but that the officers needed to be separated. The Army in its infinite wisdom reassigned all the revolting officers to a different division. They reassigned the battalion executive officer, Major Walsh, to somewhere in the rear, and sent the battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Delancy, off to the 1st Cavalry Division. I don’t know where operations officer Major Costello was sent.

They sent good Lt. Colonel Knowlton down to us with two majors to help out. Major Farthing had stepped on someone’s toes, but he knew every artillery position for miles around the front lines. Later on, in the gloom of early morning, he would stop his jeep, point with his pipe, and tell our battery commander that there was a position to the right and that battalion headquarters would be up or down the road a bit, flanked by the other two batteries. The other new major was Operations Officer, S-3, and was third generation Army. I forget his name. I didn’t think he would fly, but he knew his gunnery.

We had battery commanders sent up to the staff and staff officers sent down to the batteries. C battery got Captain Engledow, who had been adjutant back at Ft. Lewis. The battery executive officer was Lieutenant Ray. Assistant executive was Lieutenant Stellabotte. I was somewhere down at the bottom of the officer ranks as Reconnaissance Officer.

Captain Engledow was forty years old, and had been a first sergeant of a firing battery. He gave the National Guard unit a dose of Regular Army salts. The unit survived, but was not happy about it. Old Captain Tractorend got into it with Lieutenant Rey, who asked for reassignment. The fine Sicilian hand of politics reared its head. Lieutenant Rey was assigned as battalion forward observer, replacing Lieutenant Crooke, who was assigned to B battery as Recon Officer, replacing Lieutenant Hankins, who was sent to C battery as battery executive officer replacing Lieutenant Rey.

On about the 5th of March, in the city of Tognae, north of Pusan, we got the word that we would have about a week to find the rest of our equipment, and then go and take a battalion test. This was a process whereby an artillery problem was presented to the battalion. It had to move, shoot, and communicate. The staff sections (S-1, S-2, and S-4) bluffed through somehow. The operations officer (S-3) and his section had to figure out data to shoot after a forward observer called for artillery fire. Then they had to send it to the guns down in the firing batteries. The batteries caught hell for any sloppy work, and everyone else was complimented. Usually every battery had to move and set up shop again. Things were timed and everyone was a bit tense. Live rounds were fired for real.

We moved out of our creek bed and into some terraced chunks of winter wheat land just off the main road. From there we ran out on two hills and practiced shooting into bandit or Red territory—one hill today and the other then next day. The Recon Officer was called upon to set up an observation post most of the time. He would lug a SCR 619 crystal controlled radio up the hill. The heaviest load was the battery case that went with the radio. Two or three of the detail section came along and we would play at being forward observers. (It was not our usual job since Corps Artillery batteries didn’t have forward observers.) The battalion air section used L-5 airplanes, and then used the new L-19 Cessna planes when we took the test. The new planes were much improvement over the L-5’s. We learned about shooting with air observers all the time as almost normal.

It was decided that the battery would learn about grenades. The recon officer was selected as safety officer. He would kneel by the member who was to throw the grenade. They had found a gully with a cliff, and the drill was for the member to pull the pin, let the hinge go, and throw the grenade into the gully. All went well until the cooks came up. They were nervous, but managed to throw their grenades into the gully. Then came the cook’s helper. He was thin and scrawny and very nervous. He pulled the pin all right and let the handle go, but he held on to the grenade, finally dropping it on the ground next to his feet. The safety officer picked it up and threw it over the cliff just as it went off. Nobody got hurt, but we all had to take a ten-minute break to get over our near miss.

The last personnel change during my time in Korea occurred on the 26th of March. The battery got a new commander, Captain "Mad Sam" Costello. A reservist with a few years experience, he knew headquarters battery and fire direction center work. He was stocky, and when it got hot he would take his shirt off until someone from battalion stopped and told him to put it back on. Grudgingly, he would—and then holler at the men of the battery to get their shirts back on, too.

Somewhere around the 31st of March, we got ready for the battalion test, but it was rain-delayed until 7:45 on the second of April. Finishing up at noon on April 3rd, we were told to get ready to move to the docks at Masan and load on an LST ship. HQ and HQ Battery loaded into the first LST (Landing Ship); A Battery and part of Service Battery got the second LST; B Battery and part of Service got the third LST; and Charlie Battery and the rest of Service got the fourth LST. It arrived late. A Japanese crew ran the ship, which was full of burnt out Korean Army trucks and North Korean POWS—wounded, sick, dirty, and probably lousey. After they were unloaded, the battery raised hell because it was so smelly and dirty. The Japanese crew came and poured water on everything. We sprayed the hold with DDT, and began loading. It was more than six hours before we could leave Pusan. The boat still stunk, but not as much as before.

We were at sea for three days—the 6th and 7th of April—probably docking at Inchon on the 8th. We rendezvoused with the battalion in a schoolyard, changed radio frequencies, ate breakfast, and got some sack time. Then we went as far as Ascom City (which was not far) because they had phones to the higher headquarters, I’m guessing. There, we gassed up.

That morning, we went through Seoul not long after it had been retaken. There were wire lines down and big concrete blocks in the road. We cut northeast of the city and then took a road that went up to the 38th parallel between two mountains that ran northwest toward Chorwan. When we arrived at the 38th parallel, C Battery was just below the line. Battalion headquarters and Headquarters Battery were just above the line, and A and B Batteries were somewhere to the east. I think we registered right away, around 6:00 p.m. on the 8th of April 1951. Our mission orders were a bit unusual. We were (1) attached, in direct support (2) to give reinforcing fire, and (3) in general support of the 24th Infantry Division Artillery. Artillery units were generally given one or two of these missions, but rarely all three. In essence, Corps Artillery gave us away to the 24th Division. Most unusual!

This was all right until they decided to mount an attack northward, and called upon us to furnish three forward observers. I was one; Luke Aull was another. We ended up in a tent with three waiting infantry officers. The operations section hadn’t decided how to run the attack—up the hill, two companies abreast, one behind or vice versa, try a right hook, or what. One of the infantry company captains asked another what he had been doing two weeks before, and the reply was, "I was mowing my lawn in Cleveland." They were all newly arrived reserve force captains with World War II experience.

Very shortly, we—the battalion—were detached, so they could no longer call upon us to furnish forward observers. We left the scratch attack planning much relieved, and went back to our batteries. We fired about 400 rounds from the next to the parallel position, and then moved northwest to an east/west gully. We already had a reputation of being a fast-firing outfit, although our old radios made it difficult for the air observers to find us. We fired out of there for a short period, and then moved out of the pass into a flat, open area and set up shop in the late afternoon. We were fairly close to the front lines--maybe one or two miles from it. We fired quite a bit during the evening, and even got a few high angle missions, and some shorter-range green bag missions. Generally, the 17th Field Artillery had the green bags--a 200mm, 7 inch gun. The 955th had 6.2 inch white bag projectiles.

It got dark, and we continued firing until about midnight, when a lull developed. We could see a searchlight and two machine guns dueling from one hill across a gully to another, but we had no way of being permitted to fire at the enemy machine gun. The searchlight went out, and then dawn came. The infantry started marching down the road towards us. (I didn’t know that this was a bad sign.) They kept marching, and eventually came even and passed us. There were two companies of men with two jeeps, eventually joined by three other jeeps. We were now the front line, but we didn’t know it until we got close station, march order (CSMO). The outfit was groggy and slow, but we eventually got out on the road where the colonel chewed us out. He told us there was a Chinese regiment up on the hill to our right. The air section had been hit earlier in the night. The pilots took off in the dark and flew to another strip. Two of our men ran a three-quarter ton truck with a ring mounted machine gun into position and fired at the probing force until they changed their minds. We had a Chinese division on our right up on the hill. We went down the road to our gully position and set up shop hurriedly. We began firing out of there, staying until about three p.m. and CSMO quickly with everything loose going on the three Diamond T trucks in the ammo section. Captain Sam helped to lug ammunition along with everyone else. We were learning how to bug out.

We went back to our original position. We watched a tank back into a house with a thatched roof. Everything collapsed on the tank. It’s a worrisome thing when tankers do that—instant camouflage. We started firing again. We dipped into the basic load of ammunition, which was about 600+ rounds. We sent the ammo trucks off to find the ammunition depot. We shot from there for a while and then moved down the road about four miles and set up on a small ridge perpendicular to the road. It got dark, and we fired a fair amount of ammo. Finally, about ten p.m., we ran out of ammo. We tried to get battalion fire direction center (FDC) to let us fire the last rounds with no fuses. Just then, the ammunition trucks arrived! Cooks, drivers, medics, and all carried ammunition to the guns. We fired some more, and around dawn we closed station and moved out in a hurry. The recon officer was in a jeep with a trailer, and the detail section had the entire perimeter defense unit—about twenty men—in it. They stayed in the trailer until we caught up with the convoy. We were the last battery of our unit out.

The infantry was screening the road and their artillery battalion was firing like mad. "Left five zero, fire for effect." Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. "Left five zero repeat fire for effect." More bangs. ‘Drop five zero fire for effect. Right five zero. Correction. Left five zero, fire for effect." Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, and bang. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, and bang. "Correction on the way." It was "close de do, Willy, here come de bubble. Now."

As tanks guarded, we moved slowly down the road. The fast firing battalion was the Triple Nickel—the 555th Field Artillery Battalion. Part of it got cut off by the Chinese about then and lost about thirty vehicles. We called the area ‘Doughboy Corner’ from then on. About a dozen tanks went up and only three came back. Russian T-34 tanks fired at American tanks and knocked the American tanks out. August 22, 1951, the Chinese cut up the 555 and our infantry. Cut them to pieces. When the Chinese came through the 955 fired directly into them. The Chinese took 105mms from the 555. then the 955 retreated. A lot of GIs were killed. Tom Cacciola remembers helping load the dead guys. "We wired up the arms and legs of dead guys and loaded the dead on the truck," he said.

We went about four miles and into a rice paddy, and started firing. We stayed there that day and part of the next. Then about three p.m. we closed station in fifteen minutes and rolled out to the main road. There, we sat and sat and sat some more. Then we waited. When we left our rice paddy, the Korean farmer came out and turned water into it. War or no war, it was planting time.

The infantry walked down the road toward us again, got closer, and then passed us. A tank down the road about four miles was stuck crosswise in the road, and the engineers were trying to get it out. A little later, around 4:30 p.m., two tanks barreled down the road to us and took up a position to the right and left of the road. They started firing. (This is another bad sign.) We started moving, and the long column moved down the road until it reached the roadblock. They separated the heavy vehicles, guns, trucks, and held them up to let the lighter vehicles go through. We rolled down to the Han River, passing the British and the Belgians setting up behind the road jam.

The battalion was in about three or four serials, and we yacked on the radio to one another as to where to go until we all got together more or less under a railroad overpass. We waited for our howitzers to come through. We ate chow and waited. Around dark, our howitzers came through and we continued to roll. We got pretty well together and continued to roll in two serials—those that hadn’t fallen off the road, and those that did and had to be pulled out. We rolled and rolled, rode and rode, until we got way up into the Turk sector. We moved very slowly from one Turkish perimeter guard to the next. You could smell them about a hundred yards away—unwashed, garlic, and strong tobacco smells. We were in a streambed and circled up with the battalion around dawn. Around 9 a.m., we uncurled and went back half the distance we had come.

Around noon we were at the northwestern edge of Seoul. There we coiled up in the temple area and tomb of one of the Korean kings. There were statues of camels, lions, and horses facing each other across a walkway to a temple. I think we got one of the caretaker’s houses, where we tried out the Korean floor heating system. We slept very warm because we built a GI fire, not a Korean fire, in the floor flue fireplace. Still, with a warm floor, Sergeant Fillicelli woke up with a very sore back. He had slept on a grenade all night long!

In the morning, we moved northwest back to the Han River and set up shop. I think Division Artillery found out about us because we began shooting for air observers as a general rule from then on. We moved again into a valley and I think we stayed there a week or so. Our little bulldozer built gun pits for us. Lt. Bob Hankins, our executive officer, tried dry cleaning his field jacket with gasoline, and the red lead gave it a definite reddish tinge. We had missions with powder without flash reducer strips. The shells came out with a noisy bang and lots of fire at the muzzle. It was decided not to fire them at night. I’m not sure but that they were World War II powder bags. They had low serial numbers. We had lots of powder from a hundred different powder lots. It was hard to get a lot of only one number to use for registrations.

We had one mission with a ground forward observer. He had an attack coming at him, and he got our shells landing on their front lines. They would just about get organized again, and he would call our battery to shoot on them again. Finally, his unit was leaving the hill so he had us set up to hit his hill in fifteen minutes; then the gully behind his hill in ten minutes; and then the hill above the gully in five minutes. As he huffed and puffed, he reported that it worked like clockwork.

We were ordered out of our nicely prepared position and were to go back to the Han. It was to be a night occupation of position, using very few lights only when necessary, and being very quiet. We moved into the new position and got ready to lay the battery (get it pointing in the right direction). Hank Hankins gave the command, "Battery adjust, aiming point this instrument." The command was relayed quietly to the guns and the gunners were to look for us in their sights—a flashlight with a cross in the lens over the aiming circle. Just then, a searchlight battery accidentally turned on their lights behind us. We had broad daylight! We were lit up for a split second. Word went out to the searchlight group and within 2-3 minutes the lights went out. The night occupation turned into a daylight occupation. As was their wont, the battalion fire direction control would have us point to the left; B Battery point to the center; and A Battery point to the right, with just a little overlap between batteries.

The next morning, the lowly Recon Officer was given a half battery. He took three guns, an ammo truck, a three/quarter ton with radios, and his jeep and went up to the front lines near our old position before the road jam. It was nice. We had our own FDC (Fire Direction Center) and no battalion to bother us. The air observers checked in, and Sergeant Tyford’s gun section got three rounds in the air before the first one landed during the registration—a normal occurrence. Then we shot at whatever the air observers found in the way of targets—a couple of guns and maybe 300 Chicoms [Chinese communists]. The battery sent up supper, and we continued to shoot. Finally, at sundown we quit, and closed station. – Oops, one more juicy target. We opened station again and shot up 45 rounds in six minutes. The lieutenant gave CSMO and tilt; one gun still had a round in the chamber, and couldn’t get the breech closed. The section was busy getting a ramming staff ready to punch the round out from the front end, and the lieutenant and the gunner were busy trying to clean up a week’s worth of burnt carbon on the breechblock threads. We finally got the breech to close.

With that, we fired one round at 800 mils (45 degrees) with full charge seven. I shot a shell into the air and it fell to the ground, I know not where (but it was maximum range). We packed up and moved out smartly. We got back into the battery at midnight. At three o’clock, the Recon officer was roused out and sent up to set up an observation post for a bunch of tankers. Called Task Force Plumley, they were located a mile or so in the dark up on a sand spit in the Han River. The Recon officer was lucky and bumped into Captain Plumley’s tank in the dark, hung around his command post all night, and the next day at dusk, he was relieved by another forward observer from another outfit.

The lieutenant was back in the battery for a day, which we think was the second of May, and then sent back out to the tankers. An unusual thing had occurred. As the 24th Division had pulled back, and the Third Division on the left had pulled back, the sand spit stuck out like a big sore thumb, unoccupied between them. That’s why the tankers were suddenly pulled out and sent there with the Divisional Reconnaissance Company and a chewed up Ranger Company to plug the gap. Charlie Battery was pointed in their direction, and was the nearest artillery unit, so we provided the forward observer. even though it has been said that corps artillery batteries do not have forward observers--well, hardly ever. It was a scratch operation, and since 24th Division Artillery didn’t want to move a 105 howitzer battery and furnish a forward observer to support Task Force Plumley, they let the unusual set up alone. Our 155 battery supported the tankers.

The battery observation post was set up on a riverbank about a quarter of a mile away from the tanker command post and could see everything in front. We laid wire to Captain Plumley’s command post, and then sat back and checked into the battalion. (They laid wire to us—for a change) every half-hour for a while, until they got tired of it. We were there for two weeks.

We suddenly had visitors. The brass in Corps Artillery, Division Artilleries, and Divisions just had to come out and see this set up. We saw a lot of stars, usually around eleven o’clock on nice days. If it was raining, forget it. The brass also decided we needed more stuff, so they sent us half the quad fifty half-tracks in the division--twelve, I think. Then the engineers came and built a double apron barbed wire fence in front of us. We felt very secure.

One night, a piece of paper started flapping on the fence, and the Recon men fired a machine gun at it. The fighting 69th Infantry Regiment of the Third Division fired at everything on our left every night. The 24th Infantry Regiment on our right was a little better, but not the recon company. They never fired at night. Well, hardly ever. This night they did.

Captain Plumley decided to test all systems, and he called for final protective fire. The quad fifties fired interlocking fire, four 50-caliber machine guns at a time. I think the tankers fired, and the good captain asked us to fire an illuminating round. Illuminating rounds were scarce but we managed to get one—the last one the battalion would let us fire—right over the sand spit over the fence. The other three illuminated over to the right, out in front, and then over the river. Seeing no enemy at all, we stopped getting firing data ready for the battalion fire direction control. But it was a regular Fourth of July mad moment for a while. Very pretty, too.

A vignette occurred the next day or so. Captain Plumley was persuaded to send three or four tanks down a road on our right across the Han River. Lieutenant Rey, our battalion observer, was sent along inside one of the tanks as Forward Observer. They went a little way, and Lieutenant Rey fired one or two missions. Then his tank ran into a hot bed of Chinese. They were crawling on the top of his tank. The other tanks were shooting machine guns at each other to keep the Chinese off, and then they took off. His tank could hardly move. Well, being a good artillery man, the lieutenant decided to drop some artillery in on top of his tank, which was not able to move very fast. He called for Fuse Victor Tango (an electronic time fuse which would burst about ten or fifteen yards above his tank). Our good former Captain Engledow was in the fire direction center, and was trying to talk Lieutenant Rey out of it. But Lieutenant Rey was hollering for it. Finally Captain Engledow gave the command, and I think B Battery got to fire it--not once, but several times. The tank made it back to the front line and had a few dings and scratches, but the Chinese had managed to mess up the engine. A couple of days later, Captain Plumley signed the requisition for a new tank in octet – eight pages. The US Army moves on paper.

Shortly afterward, the entire Eighth Army started to move back north. The bug-out was finished. The Chinese had run out of food. I was assigned to the Air Section as an Aerial Observer on or about the 18th of May. Our battalion was reinforcing, and in general support of, the 24th Infantry Division. We flew off the division’s air strip. The battalion followed the division up the Han River towards Kumwha town, and Hill (actually, mountain) 1062 meters {3,484 feet} in the IX (Ninth Corps) area.

It wasn’t very long before we were relieved from working with the 24th Division and reverted to IX Corps Artillery control. No big deal, except we no longer flew off the division strip, but moved a short distance to the corps airstrip. About this time, Corps Artillery decided to shoot harassing and interdiction fires at night. So we shot for the air observers by day and then the H&Is (harassment and interdiction) at night. These missions would come to the battalion fire direction control, be sorted out, and then sent down to the batteries. There were such missions as fire two rounds thirty minutes apart at these coordinates from midnight to dawn, or battery one round at this coordinate, at three o’clock AM. {Yes Sir, I shot some rounds into the air, they fell to the ground I knew not where. On time too. Lots of them.}

On June 1st we changed Corps from IX to I (pronounced ‘eye’) Corps and moved out of the Han River valley and back on one of the roads towards Chorwon town. It was flat land with a big mountain ridge that ran south from Chorwon. The air strip was at the south end at a town called Uijongbu. The battalion was on either side of the mountain for the rest of the summer. I visited Charlie Battery some time late summer. Their position was defined as minefield to the front, minefield to the left, and an undefined minefield to the rear. I’m not sure, but I think the battery was right next to the soon-to-be demilitarized zone.

We also were down to one gun; the five others were in Ordnance to be repaired or given new tubes or new recoil systems. We were also shooting for the 1st Cavalry Division. Lieutenant Colonel Delancy was the Division Artillery Operations Officer, and the battalion worked for him indirectly. We were not too happy about that. He had said that he would kill us all back in Pusan in March, and that had started the revolt.

When they calibrated the battalion way back in the spring, A Battery got the new and longer shooting guns. B Battery got the medium, and Charlie Battery got the short shooters. They were the ones to wear out early on. C Battery tried to tell the 1st Cavalry Division Artillery folks that we were short of gun tubes, but they paid no attention. So when a mission would come down, C Battery fire direction control would tell the one gun to act like a battery and fire six rounds. Weird, but it kept the ammo count straight. The battery fired the 4000th round about this time. Ammunition re-supply wasn’t difficult. They had loaded a train with ammunition and sent it up the rails towards Chorwon. It fell off the tracks about two thirds of the way up from Seoul, and that was the ammo depot from then on.

While observing, the usual thing that happened first was to register the battalion on a pre-planned point on the map, usually a road junction. The air observer would get two white phosphorous rounds fired; the first was always 500 yards beyond the second round. This told the air observer where the gun target line was. He would then tell the battalion fire direction control how far to move the high explosive round to the gun target line; then move the next round up or down the line by two hundred yards; then move it again one hundred until he had the HE round within 50 yards of the pre-planned registration point. It was "bracketed".

Then the observer said, "Drop 50, fire for effect." The base piece would get a quadrant setting to place on the tube and fire three rounds at that setting. This was where the chief of the gun section would work his crew to get the coordination necessary to have three rounds in the air before the first one landed. C Battery could do it most of the time. The observer would report where those three rounds landed, such as "Over, line; over 15 right; short, 5 left." The Fire Direction Center would mull this report over, change the commands to the registering gun, and it would then fire three more rounds. Based on these six rounds, enough to satisfy dispersion, FDC would figure a correct setting for the base piece to hit the target, and then with corrections, have settings for the other two batteries that did not register. Once the registration was over--about fifteen minutes later--the air observer could go and find targets to shoot at using map coordinates, and be assured that the first rounds would be in the ball park rather than somewhere in the county.

One time, the battery was on a hillside south of Chorwon, when it was told to move out into the flat, rice lands beyond Chorwon for a longer-range shoot. The air observer watched them go into position and get set up, guns all pointing to the north, when a gully washer of a rainstorm came in. Very shortly, the rice paddy was full of water, and the shoot was called off. Everything was stuck in the mud, and it took a gun track vehicle hooked on to another gun track vehicle to start moving one gun out of the muck, and get it up on the road, which wasn’t as muddy as the rice paddy. Well, it took the rest of the day to get the battery out of that rice paddy, up on the road, and hooked up to the right vehicle for each gun. They then went home to their mountain position, and wrestled the guns back into position, all pointing north again. It was still raining because the monsoon had struck us. They tell the story of Sergeant Tyford coming back into the section tent, tripping over something, and falling flat on his face into a little gully full of water that ran down the middle of the tent. He rose up from the mud, and snarled, "Now, I’m really happy."

Later on, the battalion was switched to IX Corps again, but was reinforcing the fires of the 25th Division Artillery. Their position started out in a riverbed that was nice and sandy. First Sergeant Charlie Koop called it "Happy Valley." When you crossed the front lines further north, beside Hill (actually, a mountain) 1062, it was then "Death Valley." They were there for quite awhile. I think this was the time that Representative Anna Rosenburg came to visit us, and was all over the Battalion. C Battery called that position "the one that Anna visited us".

Once the 25th Division tried to push up the hill, and lo, an enemy mortar battery emerged from hiding. Some twelve mortars or so went into firing position, and the air observer had a ball shooting them down, one at a time, after their crews had bugged out. For some reason, C Battery and the rest of the battalion had to move out of their positions to make way for one of the 25th Division Artillery battalions. And we got a doozy of a position. Number six piece was way up on a ridge, and number one piece was way down at the bottom. There must have been at least a hundred yards difference in elevation between our battery front. Each gun had special corrections so that our shells all landed together as if we were on flat ground. We were in pine trees and could look down on the Turk’s rear position. They had pretty inspections and pass in review formations for the reserve company. It was a tough outfit.

Charlie Koop had enough time once to get all the rocks lined up on the paths in the battery position and painted red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. The battery also had enough time to get their mail straightened out so that all the packages from Brooklyn arrived, and Lucky Luciano and his cooks could think about cooking lasagna again. I think they had amassed enough material, pasta and cheese, to cook lasagna twice before. They had started a custom that we would not eat the leftovers in the same position, believing that if we did, we would have to move before the next meal. Who’s superstitious?!

Captain Mad Sam gave the word, "Go ahead, and cook it up for the noon meal," and so they did. Suddenly, I Corps wanted us back, and we had to leave IX Corps that afternoon. We didn’t move very far, but we went right up to the front lines. The Turkish Battalion was up on the hill in front of us, and we were in a wide spot between. We had our second helping of lasagna for supper.

I don’t remember where the other firing batteries were, but I think they were close to Chorwon. There was supposed to be another attack up Hill 707 in front of us. We stayed there for about a week, but I don’t remember firing anything from that position. We got the guns all cleaned up and the gun tracks maintained, and even re-sorted some of the basic load of ammunition. The ammunition racks on the gun tracks were difficult to load and unload. Each HE round weighed about 96 pounds and a white phosphorus round weighed 115 pounds or so. Powder canisters were much lighter—twenty pounds or so.

We left that position secured by the Turks and went out into the flat even with Chorwon, about three miles away. Winter was upon us. It rained, sleeted, snowed and then the whole stuff froze. Captain Sam was visited by the Personnel Officer and told that he had to take some of the Hispanic replacement men arriving in the battalion. Heretofore, he requested they be assigned to other batteries. He agreed, but said they had to have the name of "Martinez" and they would be assigned to the 5th gun section. He was asked why was that. He replied that if he had fifteen men assigned to the 5th gun section he could bellow, "Martinez," and have a whole gun section at attention.

The mess section helped them to adjust to C Battery. When they came through the mess tent, they were issued a small bottle of hot sauce so that they could season their food as they wanted it. Hot sauce came in a box with about 24 small bottles. The cooks would use one a month or so when they seasoned for the Italian or the Irish cannoneers, and this was a way of taking care of the surplus.

The battalion moved in close to Chorwon and hid out in a series of gullies on the southeast side. Everyone had a hard time getting into position as the tracks slid on the frozen road. We eventually had grousers [small pieces of iron] welded perpendicular on the tracks to keep the tracks from sliding sideward. We laughed at a tank company that didn’t have them on their tracks and slid into the ditches right or left when they had to move to another position. The battalion was in support of the 9th ROK (Republic of Korea) Division. The 40th Division from Texas and the 45th from Oklahoma were further to the southeast of Chorwon.

We were to prepare positions in case of a ‘fall back’ at a place called ‘No Name.’ When Corps issued their overlays with various phase line names, such as Lincoln, Jefferson, Adams, somehow this phase line ended up without a name. So, it was called ‘No Name." C Battery sent a truck and cannoneers to work on the position. They had to cut some trees down--little bitsy Korean pine trees. Well, they cut the trees, and had started loading them into the truck when a grenade attached to one of the trees as a booby trap went off, killing one of the new men in the battery. He was the first fatality for the battery.


This group of photographs captures scenes associated with C Battery of the 955th Field Artillery Battalion in Korea in 1951.  The photographs were taken in the summer in the Happy Valley river bottom.  They were snapped by the battalion dentist and developed in November of 1951. The gun pits were well dug in.


As time went on, our gun tubes were getting old. C Battery had changed tubes so that they had four long shooters in the battery. An old one finally blew up in January, but we were lucky. It didn’t kill anyone. Battery A had the first one to blow up. It knocked the crew of three men flat, and then the breechblock came tumbling to a stop in front of the Section Tent. Someone fell over it, scratched his leg, and was trampled by the rest of the section running in the dark to get to their gun. In November, when rotation of personnel had started, and A Battery had new men on the guns, there was another mishap with the No. 6 Gun. One of them, not familiar with the difference between an eight-inch howitzer powder bag, managed to stuff it into the 155 howitzer and finally get the breech closed. The gun fired and stood the overpressure. The projective left the tube, and went out into enemy territory. But the recoil mechanisms couldn’t take the extra push, and quit with the tube in full recoil, out of battery. It looked very pathetic. Three men were wounded. Afterwards, there was an investigation into the accident. It was discovered that the crew was dead tired at the time, and the sergeant was asleep because he was also dead tired. They were firing in the rain in the dark when the gun blew up in three pieces.

The 9th ROK Division generally liked us, although we did fire a bunch of short rounds into one of their companies. Then there was a time when there was a Chinese attack in the night, and most of the ROKs on a hill walked off of it. We fired quite a bunch of ammunition—hosed the area—and the next day the regiment was able to walk back up the hill without a scratch. Around 300 of the Chinese were scratched.

Late in January, they tried again. They used whistles, bells, bugles, fireworks in the night, mortars, and some artillery for a change. Two rounds fell into C Battery area, and hit two of our new men. The ROKs held, and we fired almost a basic load of ammunition into the area that the enemy rounds had come from during the next two days--sort of a salute for our casualties.

C Battery then had a little problem with ammo re-supply. When we came over, the battery had three Diamond T trucks for the Ammunition Section. As they wore out, they were replaced with two and a half ton GMC trucks, which were now worn down to the nub. Battery A and Service Battery loaned us two trucks to help move ammunition for a day. Shortly, we were issued three Diamond T trucks for the ammo section. Sergeant Know, C Battery Ammo Section Sergeant, had been a prisoner of war in Korea. He finally did smile a bit because now he had a vehicle that could carry 125 rounds of HE with no sweat.

Late January, the last of the National Guardsmen cannoneers had rotated, their places were taken by new men. We lost Captain Mad Sam, who was busy his last week trying to explain to the incoming Battery Commander, Captain Zuber, where all the 50-foot iron link tow cables had been broken up. C Battery had finally solved the problem of the lost pair of binoculars—missing in Brooklyn. They went down with the airplane lost to combat over in I Corps. (Man, that plane was loaded with stuff, but we couldn’t have 50-foot chains aboard—there wasn’t any room.)

We lost Colonel Knowlton to rotation in July, and the Battalion Executive Officer, Major Morgan took over. He liked inspections and forward observers out in battery observation posts, and a host of other things. One of his ideas was to have a battalion school shoot as if we were back training in the Fort Sill Artillery School. Out in front of Chorwon on the front lines was a railway cut that ran east and west. At Major Morgan's request, chairs were set up in a row, the Battery Commander scope was set up, and there were blackboards right and left on top of this cut. All non-useful officers and a few NCOs were to attend and shoot at supposed targets out in the open rice paddy land. C Battery’s Recon Officer came out and saw all the jeeps parked in a row behind the cut. He had his driver park the jeep way to the right, near some tanks that were trying to hide out behind the railroad revetment. He and his driver walked behind the revetment and then up to the chairs and took their place on the far right.

The good Major assigned the first problem. "Take as a reference point the pass in the hills to the immediate front, go left two hundred mils, and down from the skyline to a red colored draw with a road crossing a stream. That is the base point at coordinates 123 456." I think we got one round on the way, when the Chinese artillery round hit in front of the revetment about three hundred yards out. We presented such a juicy target they couldn’t keep from firing at us. I think the Russian advisor even laughed about it.

"Incoming. Take cover!" Not exactly mass confusion, but close. The good major did remember he had airplane observers up, and got them to go looking for the Chinese artillery, which immediately closed down and pulled back into their tunnels. C Battery Recon officer ran back to the jeep, got bawled out by the tankers for being so stupid, and he and his driver took off for the battery—one of the first out of the tangle of jeeps behind the revetment. Discretion IS the better part of valor.

Despite the fact that Corp Artillery Batteries did not have forward observers, Major Morgan required each battery to establish an observation post up with the 9th ROK Division front lines. The battery detail sections had more to worry about, being sent up on the hill amidst those strange Koreans. By mid February, all the guardsmen had rotated or were very short timers and didn’t have to go.

In summary, the 955th FA Battalion was a fast firing, lucky, disciplined outfit. They were truly Nighthawks. Guardsmen, Reservists, and Regulars showed what an artillery unit could do in combat. They could be proud of their fighting record.

Lt. Bob Hankins stayed on as Executive Officer of B Battery, and eventually got promoted to captain, which gave him a jump on his trip to Brigadier General, USA. Lt. Bill Clune rotated home and eventually wound up retiring from the Army as a Lt. Colonel 20 some years later. Lieutenant Stellabotte and Warrant Officer Fillicelli were in the 280mm Gun outfit at Baumholder, Germany. First Sergeant Koop made Captain and was in Schweinfurt, Germany, with a Third Division Artillery Battalion in the 60s.


Readers' Comments

Posted 7/09/06:

I just read the memoir of Bill Clune.  Very informative.  My father, Capt. Lawrence ("Larry") R. Daly (O-1177356) was a battery commander for the 955.  One of the older World War II artillery veterans, I think he commanded "A" battery, but I'm not positive about that. Could have been "B" or "C" batteries.  One of the administrative warrant officers in the battalion was his brother Francis ("Frank") Daly. Both were from NYNG 14th Regiment and were sent to Korea as two of the original members of the 955th.  There was also Sgt. John J. Richards, a motor sergeant in that same battalion (my maternal uncle) and Sgt. Edward Richards, another maternal uncle.  Quite the "family affair."  All departed now.  I also, but barely, remember Lt. Artie Stellabotte, a family friend (mentioned by Bill Clune more than once).  I think he was my father's battery executive officer at one time or another.

Realizing I'm not an eyewitness, but considering the repeated conversations with numerous family members over the years, including those with all the participants mentioned above, I am compelled to type this note. Overall, my compliments on this study. Well done! - Regards, Dennis Daly

 

 

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