|Back to "Memoirs" Index page|
Fred P. Frankville
Milan, Illinois -
"Hundreds of firefights, patrols and battles take place in a war. Most are just fading memories in the minds of the survivors. Those killed are registered in the casualty reports. This also will fade to the backwaters of history, and, over time, to those who are remembered on Memorial Day as the War Dead. The personal sacrifices and pain will be just…..dust in the wind."
- Fred Frankville
Running with the Dogs in Korea:
- War Breaks Out
- Third Replacement Draft
- Pohang Guerrilla Hunt
- Operation Killer
- Long March Days
- A Hero on Hill 430
- The Raid -April 10, 1951
- The Impossible is Possible
- Silver Star 49 Years Later
- Whistling on the Phone
- "Low Tech" Job
- Month of May 1951
- Objective 8
- Adventure at the Water Hole
- Last Punch Bowl Objective
- July 1951
- Kanmubong Ridge
- Poc Hogan
- 4.2 Mortars
- Going Home
- Final Reflections
Fred Frankville's Photo Album
(Click a small picture for a larger view. If you want, click the first picture, or any picture, and sit back and watch a slideshow... pictures will automatically change in 10 seconds.)
My name is Fred Frankville. I am a first generation American--one of five children born to Italian immigrants. My father left Naples, Italy in 1905 at 15 years of age and went to New York, where he moved in with a relative for a year or so. From New York he went to Milwaukee and then to Rock Island, Illinois, where he met my mother. She came to America in 1912.
The ethnic makeup of my neighborhood was mostly Belgian. There was a Belgian consulate in the next town over. My school mates and playground friends were mostly first generation Belgian Americans. It was a safe place to grow up. We were next to the Mississippi River and went swimming and fishing a lot. We were about five blocks from a city refuse center so we knew what trucks to follow to get a lot of good stuff. One day a pharmaceutical truck showed up and threw out a lot of old drugs, including several cases of Exlax. We peeled off the labels and filled our pockets.
Along came our friend, Peanuts Knoefrl. He walked and ran like he was climbing steps. He asked, "What did you find?" We said, "Hershey bars." He asked for some so we filled his pockets and Peanuts started eating the stuff with both hands. We were all walking toward the park several blocks away when Peanuts said that he had to go to the bathroom. He started to run toward home, then he hesitated for a moment and then just kept on running. Peanuts did not go to school for several days. When we saw him later, he looked like a whooping crane. He told us that he had been in the hospital and the doctor had told him that the Hershey bars were Exlax. We pleaded innocent.
Peanuts joined the Marine Corps after high school. One hot day in Korea our company was walking alongside of a road and the 5th Marines were on the road across from us. There was a guy walking toward us from the opposite side of the road and he walked like he was climbing stairs. I thought that it just had to be Peanuts--and it was. We met in the center of the road and hugged each other. I asked him if he would like a Hershey bar and he said, "Hell no!" Peanuts stayed in the Marines after the Korean War and was killed in Vietnam at DaNang.
I went to St. Joseph School in Rock Island from 1st to 8th grade. This school was run by nuns who believed in quality education under strict discipline. They came from a religious order founded in Ireland in 1830. They had BVM behind their names. This was an abbreviation of "Blessed Virgin Mary."
The nuns were meaner than junkyard dogs. They had 50 students to a class and you could hear a pin drop. We were all too scared to cause anything that would upset the teacher. The boys sat in one section of the class and the girls in the other section of the class. If a boy spoke to the girl across the aisle from him and the nun caught him, she made him carry a big ugly rag doll all day. If she caught one of the boys doing this for the second time, she not only made him carry the doll, but she let him out of class several minutes early and he had to stand outside of the building in front of the exit doors and 600 students walked by us. This made the boys hate the girls. If a girl was caught talking to a boy during class, both the girl and the boy had to go up to the head of the class, they had to put their hand out palm up, and the nun would smack both with a ruler.
After the 4th grade the girls had to wear uniforms that all looked alike. The boys all had to wear ties. If by chance one of the boys forgot to wear a tie, the nuns had a replacement tie that they would pin on him. It was a huge red bowtie made out of paper and it stuck out past the shoulders. Boys who forgot their tie had to wear this for the rest of the day. I don't know of a boy who had to wear this more than once. The first thing that I put on when I was getting dressed for school was my tie.
When the nun asked what we wanted to be when we were adults, most of the boys said they wanted to be a policeman or pilot or a fireman. I said I wanted to be a priest. I thought if I told them that, they would be gentle with me when they hit me with their ruler, but I don't think it worked.
We went home every day with an armload of books. We had about three hours worth of homework. While the kids in public school were having fun and enjoying life after the school day was over, those of us from St. Joseph's were locked in doing home work. It was very depressing.
During mid morning we had a restroom break. We all walked down the stairs and stood at attention, one pupil on each step. The girls were on the other side of the stairway, and there was a wall in the center of the stairs. The nun positioned herself to watch both sides of the steps. First we took a drink of water. Then one student at a time went to the restroom. When the student in the restroom was done, he went back up the stairs and then the next student got a drink of water and went to the restroom. This was repeated until the last student had a drink and had gone to the restroom. I was never in the restroom with another student. We also did not get a second drink of water. If we did, we would get hit with the ruler.
In 1943 the boys and girls had a contest on the blackboard. When one or the other was done with the problem, they went to their desk in a military manner. The students did not go directly to their desks. They had to go to the end of the room, turn left to the next wall, then turn left and go up the aisle to their desk--never walking in front of anyone. There was a pretty girl named Rita who looked like Shirley Temple. I had kind of a hankering for her, although she didn't know it. One day she walked behind me and for some insane reason I stuck my foot out. She tripped over it and fell flat on her face. The nun who was in the back of the room sitting on a stool with a ruler came racing up the aisle toward me. I gritted my teeth, waiting to get the hell beat out of me. Instead, she beat the kid next to me into the ground like a tent peg. I think he thought he had made a mistake on the blackboard. I was petrified. I wanted to say, "Stop. I did it", but I was too scared. For several weeks this bothered me.
On graduation day from eighth grade we had a ceremony. Monsignor Durkin gave a little speech telling us we were the leaders of tomorrow and to go to Mass and obey our parents. After this little speech we were given a stale doughnut and a weak cup of cocoa. I was still bothered about the fact that someone else took a beating for tripping Rita when I was to blame, so as a matter of conscience I went up to the nun who did the beating. Her name was Sister Mary Judette. She was lanky and had bright red eyebrows. I said, "Sister Mary Judette, remember when you beat Richard up for tripping Rita?" She said, "What about it?" I said, "Richard did not trip Rita." She asked who did and I said I did. She screamed, "You did!" and sucker punched me in the teeth. "You let someone else take the blame?" She said I was going to reform school. I said, "I am in reform school." I do believe that if the room had not been crowded with people, she would have taken another punch at me. I went to 9th grade at a public school. FREE AT LAST!
In all fairness to the nuns, they did give us a good education and gave us a sense of values that endures to this day. We were thought to speak coherently, factually, and to be prepared to prove what we say before we say it. Now people make throw-away statements and they say, "Prove me wrong." This is opposite of the way the nuns taught us. I know college graduates that would not have graduated from 8th grade at St. Joseph School. I would like to reach back in time, borrow Sister Mary Judette's ruler, and slap some of these retards along side of the head. St. Joseph School has been demolished now and on the site is the new Rock Island County Jail. If the nuns were in charge of the county jail, I know there would not be any repeat offenders in it.
I was one of three sons and all three of us served in the military. In 1940 one of my older brothers went into the Army and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After he retired from the Army he went into teaching and received a Doctorate degree in history. My oldest brother joined the Navy in 1942. I became a member of the 21st Engineer Battalion when I joined the Marine Reserve in May of 1950 in Moline, Illinois. The USMCR center was located on River Drive in Moline.
How I happened to join the Marine Corps Reserve is that a friend of mine asked me if I would like to join the Marine Corps Reserve with him. I said, "Okay. It sounds interesting." I found out later that his brother was doing some recruiting for the reserve center in Moline, Illinois. He said, "I will meet you there at the next meeting night." I went to the reserve center and signed up. My friend never did show. When I called him later, he said he would make the next meeting. He never did show up for that one either. He did join the Naval Reserve.
The Korean War started June 25, 1950. The Marine Corps was short of troops and desperate to have boots on the ground as quickly as possible in Korea when communist North Korea invaded South Korea. Reservists activated in the early days of the war in August of 1950 were sent directly to Camp Pendleton, California, skipping basic training for rudimentary field drills. They joined the ranks of the World War II veterans sent to Korea.
My records show that on August 17, 1950, our unit--the 21st Engineer Company, was transferred into Casual Company, Headquarters Battalion, Training & Replacement Command. The next day we all boarded a train at Rock Island, Illinois for Camp Pendleton, California. I didn't know what was in store for me, but I was ready for almost anything, thanks to my pre-boot camp training by the nuns at St Joseph School.
Camp Pendleton was one of the largest Marine bases in the world. The base was almost empty when we arrived. It had a fire brigade and little else. It had hundreds of barracks and other buildings, all with boarded-up windows. The water was turned off and there was five years of dust over everything. We had to turn on the water, knock the boards off the windows, wash them, scrub the decks, and light all the water heaters in all the vacant buildings.
There were armed guards at the mess hall to keep reservists out. There were no provisions to feed the thousands of reservists that arrived daily. Field stoves and picnic tables were set up to serve chow. For breakfast we got two pancakes, one orange, and coffee. For lunch we bought bread and lunchmeat at the PX. We shared with those who did not have money to buy their own lunch. For supper we got two baloney sandwiches, one apple, and coffee. I made a phone call to my brother in San Diego and asked to borrow $5.00 so I could purchase food. More mess halls were opened later.
We could not leave the base until we got assigned to a unit. One day they called us out on a parade ground where an officer with a bull horn asked for those with former military service to "stand as you are." (I stood fast.) He said, "Those who did not go to boot camp in any service fall out to the right." Those who had previous service went to Tent Camp 2. The camp actually had Quonset huts, not tents. They issued M-1 rifles to us and we spent a day or so taking the M-1 apart. We had to do it blindfolded. We then spent several days shooting the rifle at stationary and moving targets. It was a fun time.
Around November 15, 1950, we, the third replacement draft, boarded the E.T. Collins at San Diego, California. There were about 1700 of us. I thought it was an ugly ship. To me it looked like a bunch of square boxes stacked on top of each other. We had to walk by crowds of civilians that were family members and friends of departing troops.
After we boarded the ship we went down to troop bay to stow our gear. This ship was a four-stacker; that is to say, the bunks were stacked four high. I had the bottom bunk in my row. It was about a foot from the deck. After we put our gear away we all went on deck. The troops who had friends and relatives on the dock crowded the first two decks, all waving and yelling at each other. I had no one to see me off so I went up to the third deck, which was not crowded, to watch the interaction. After a while I heard my name called several times. I searched the crowd to see who could be calling my name. I saw a friend of mine who was a schoolmate from Rock Island. His name was John Dingeldine. It was a welcome surprise. He was in California with his sister to visit his brother-in-law who was a Marine Reservist who was activated and stationed at Camp Pendleton about 30 miles away. John being there to see me off is one of my fondest memories. It was the first time I had left home. I still see John.
The E.T. Collins pulled away from the dock after dark, maybe about 10 p.m. It was a moonless night and we could see the harbor lights. The song Harbor Lights was a popular song at that time. Someone had a battery-operated radio and the song playing was Harbor Lights. It was an emotional few minutes. I remember it yet and when I hear the song Harbor Lights, to this day I get a little nostalgic.
It was a 15-day voyage across the Pacific. I was sick most of the way. My friend John Fielding, who was in the bunk above me, was well enough to bring me back an orange from the mess hall every day. I crossed the Pacific, most of the way, on a dozen oranges. On Thanksgiving Day I felt better and got in the chow line. When it was my turn to be served they ran out of turkey, but the mashed potatoes, dressing and cranberry sauce were great.
A couple of days after Thanksgiving, Chinese Communist forces attacked the U.S. 8th Army, starting the longest military retreat in U.S. history. They surrounded the First Marine Division. The Marines had to fight their way to the sea destroying a Chinese Army in the process. This was one of the greatest military achievements in our military history. By destroying this Chinese Army it gave relief to the U.S. 8th Army in their fight for survival.
Those of us onboard the E.T. Collins were told that we were going directly to Korea to be replacements for the 1st Marine Division. The Marines practiced aboard ship, firing machine guns, mortars, and rifles off the fantail of the ship. We were told later that we were going to Japan instead of Korea to get cold weather equipment and clothing.
We arrived at the seaport of Kobe, Japan and went to an old World War II Japanese military base, Camp Otsu, 30 miles inland. It had a lot of stucco buildings and we were about ten to a room, but it was a snug and comfortable fit. The first day we just got adjusted and familiar with our surrounds. The next day we were given cold weather clothing (long underwear, heavy socks, gloves, parkas, fur-like hats and wood sweaters). We had no military training in Japan.
We had one afternoon to see the town, but had to be back at midnight. We boarded a train the next day and got off to a seaport where we boarded another ship and headed for Pusan, Korea. When we arrived at Pusan there was an Army military band waiting for us. One of the songs they played was, So Long, It was Good to Know You (a little gallows humor).
I arrived in Korea with the 3rd replacement draft the first week of December 1950. Upon arrival we went to the "Bean Patch." This was a very large field that was used for an assembly area for the Marine and Army divisions near the town of Masan, not far from the sea port of Pusan. There were no beans in this field when we were there, but there might have been at some previous time.
We waited there several days for the 1st Marine Division to show up. When we arrived we were lined up and assigned to infantry companies according to the first letter of our last names. If your name started with E, F, or G, you were assigned to Dog Company 7th Marines. Our MOS (military occupation specialty) made no difference in our assignment. Whether someone was formerly an aircraft mechanic, a signalman, a tank driver, engineer or artilleryman, didn't matter. Now we were all riflemen. We were assigned to tents with no cots or stoves. We just lay on the ground with our sleeping bags. Before Korea I had gone hunting with my .22 caliber rifle. In one way or another, you could say that we were all combat ready when the 3rd Replacement Draft arrived in Korea. Our combat record proves that we were the best troops in Korea.
Dog Company survivors of the horrific Chosin Reservoir campaign arrived at the Bean Patch about December 12, 1950 with 12 to 15 Marines and no officers. They looked like men who had been in combat too long--thin, tired, grateful they had survived, and proud of their accomplishments. I got to be personal friends with some of them as we served together for another six months. Jack Larson, Tom Cassis, Matt Davis and Larry Hickey got to be my personal friends.
Another of the Chosin Reservoir survivors was a machine gunner whose gun had been overrun. He played dead while a Chinese soldier took his watch and then started to take his ring. The Chinaman had trouble getting it off and was about to cut the machine gunner's finger off when a Chinese officer made him stop looting and get moving. The gunner walked back to Marine lines and was among the group of survivors. He told me that he would not go back on the line and said that if he had to, he would shoot himself in the foot--which he did. We helped him to the aid tent. The corpsmen were playing cards and did not even look up. They kept playing cards and said for us to set him in the corner next to another guy who had also shot himself in the foot.
We replacements were less than enough to fill the ranks, but the first of January 1951 we got the 4th replacement draft and that was about enough to go on line. As I remember, we had a Buck Sergeant who had been captured on Wake Island during World War II as our Company C.O. We had him for the first several weeks as our C.O. until we got officer replacements.
Of the men in the startup of the 7th Marine Regiment, 35 percent were from the Marine Reserve units. Many Reservists had not been to boot camp or had prior military service. Those who were assigned to crew-served weapons held classes and training aboard ship. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd replacement drafts had large groups of men with no prior military training, including me.
In the UN drive north from the Pusan Perimeter, the 10th North Korean Division was bypassed. They turned into a guerrilla force which caused havoc among UN forces and civilian population. They dressed like civilians and blended in with the South Korean refugees so they could receive cover from them. We watched the civilians for males of military age and had fairly good luck in finding some of them. We found radios on some of them that they were using to call mortar fire on us. We sent the found guerrillas to the rear under escort and they went to a compound for questioning and POW camp. Only adult males were captured.
The Marines received the 3rd and 4th replacement drafts and were then up to strength to go on line and eliminate this hostile force. This campaign was called the "Pohang Guerrilla Hunt." It should have been named the "freeze and starve hunt". It was a physical nightmare. There was not much combat, but physically it was a test of human endurance. It was bitterly cold and the ground was frozen rock solid. We chased North Koreans from one hilltop to another. We had to dig in frozen ground, move to the next hilltop, and do it all over again. To make matters worse, we did not eat every day and supplies did not get to us because we were always on the move. We were very cold, very tired, and always hungry. Food is fuel and in the bitter cold we were near freezing. We did not know about wind chill then. The wind was always blowing on the mountain tops and we soon became aware of what "wind chill" was.
While on a company combat patrol near Chigadong, Korea, I was in the point fire team, walking along a narrow path at the base of some very steep rock hills. A frozen creek was about five feet below the path. While walking around a sharp curve, some automatic gunfire hit the Marines behind us. The North Korean troops were disciplined in the fact that they let the point slip by and fired into the center of the column. This was where the forward observers and officers normally were. Those of us in the point dove into the frozen creek bed. Although we were banged up when we hit the ice, we survived.
One of the Marines hit and severely wounded during this action was a forward observer for artillery. Lt. Charles T. Hinman was a reservist from my reserve center, the 21st Engineer Company. Also wounded on Okinawa during World War II, Lieutenant Hinman was from my hometown of Rock Island, Illinois. He and the platoon leader were hit at the same time on February 10. Although Lieutenant Hinman was hit in his thigh and leg, he took over the platoon after the platoon leader was wounded. He directed artillery fire on the enemy position. He later received a Silver Star for his gallantry in action that day. The citation reads as follows:
"For conspicuous gallantry...in action against the enemy while serving (as a forward observer) with a Marine infantry company in Korea on February 10, 1951. While proceeding along a narrow uncovered trail on an independent mission near Chigadong, Korea, was taken under fire by deeply entrenched, well camouflaged enemy positions located on the high ground less than 100 yards from the trail. He, with complete disregard for his own personal safety, continually exposed himself to savage enemy automatic weapons fire in order to gain a better position from which to direct artillery fire against the enemy positions. When the platoon leader was seriously wounded, Lieutenant HINMAN took over the platoon and skillfully deployed them and directed their fire against the enemy forces. Though painfully wounded in the thigh and leg, Lieutenant HINMAN refused to be evacuated and continued to direct the platoon and give instructions for the placing of the artillery fire on the enemy positions. His aggressive actions and devotion to duty materially contributed to the success achieved by his company."
Night patrols were rare. The night time belonged to the opposition. Korea had no city lights to bounce off the clouds to give even the faintest illumination. The night time in Korea was black, black to blue/black on moonless nights.
We were patrolling this village in pitch blackness, hoping to find unfriendly troops. We had no luck. Because we had no flashlights, we had to go to the back of the houses, touch the ground-level chimneys, and feel for warmth. If the stack was warm, that meant that the building either currently was or recently was occupied. The houses had radiant type heat. A small fire pit was at one end of the building, the heat and smoke went through the flues under the floor out the back--cooled, and then out of a wooden board chimney at the other end of the house.
Walking around to the side of the house, I saw a red glow. It was a charcoal fire. A human form went by
the red glow toward me and I jammed my rifle into the midsection of the form. For some reason, I could not
pull the trigger. It was like someone had a hold of my fingers. The form turned out to be an old man with an
old woman next to him. They did not want to leave their home, so they had stayed behind. It was a miracle
did not shoot him. I know this old man had a sore spot in his midsection where I shoved my rifle.
One night the whole company was moving to a new location under the cover of darkness. We were humping up a rather steep trail on a moonless night when we stopped to rest. With 80-plus pounds on our back, it was difficult getting up if we were sitting on the ground with this heavy pack, so we looked for a rock to sit on or to lean against something to make getting up easier. I saw a blue-black round shape along the side of the trail that looked like a round rock. I sat on this round object and discovered that it was a round bush. I went straight down a cliff and lit on my pack and helmet. If I had not had them on, I may have been killed. I lay on my back with the wind knocked out of me for a while but I knew that I had to catch up with my group or I would be left behind. I climbed up to the trail with difficulty. My biggest worry was not to startle any of the troops and mistakenly get shot as an enemy combatant.
Late one afternoon the word was out that a large force of North Koreans was in the next village. We left in a hurry, leaving our parkas and sleeping bags and wearing just our field jackets in hopes of catching them. We crossed a mountain stream that was covered with thin ice. We broke through the ice into almost waist deep water. This stream was at the base of a hill that was 880 meters high (about 2700 feet). When we started up the hill, the temperature dropped. The wind started to blow and our clothes started to freeze to us. By the time we got to the top of the hill it was dark and the wind was at gale force. The temperature kept dropping and there was no sight of the enemy. We just sat up on that hilltop and froze. Kids tougher than nails were near tears and there was no sight of the enemy.
Several hours later a weapons company showed up with their parkas and sleeping bags. No offer was made to share a parka or sleeping bag. They could have shared at least one or the other. I became the best of buddies with a Marine named Niles Gugliano from the hill in St. Louis, Missouri. He had a .38 caliber Colt revolver with a shoulder holster. We were sitting in the cold freezing and he said to me that he was going over to one of the heavy weapons guys to see if he could trade his Colt for the use of a sleeping bag for the night. He made the trade and came over to me with the sleeping bag. He let me put my feet in it. This sleeping bag was a life saver. Niles paid a heavy price for a rental for about six hours, but it saved our feet. The next morning when we started to go back down the hill, the guys could hardly walk. Some could not walk at all. Talking with Gonsolo Garza about that night, he said that he froze his feet and is now getting a disability for frozen feet. He was one of many with frost bite. There were 1700 non-battle casualties from frost bite, 19 killed in action, and less than 200 wounded in action.
I cannot say enough good things about Niles Gugliano. While we were on this guerrilla hunt, I got the flu or something like the flu. I could hardly walk, let alone carry my 80-pound pack. Niles was a horse. He carried me and my pack up those hills and dug our foxhole by himself. He kept me alive. Niles had a girlfriend named Toni, whom he later married. She was a great Italian girl. She sent him the best food packages and he shared them with me. Niles has since passed away, but I still stay in touch with Toni. Thanks again, Toni!
We were told that we were going to go against Chinese forces at a place near Hoengsong. We heard the Army's 2nd Division troops were overrun in this area. About February 15 the Division packed up to leave Masan. This took several days and on the last day we covered up the heads (Marine/Navy term for outdoor toilets). The local farmers gathered around to dig this stuff up when we left. We had to have an armed guard to keep them away until we left the area. I was ordered to be one of the guards to keep the farmers at bay. How embarrassing could it get? The farmers were sitting on their heels with shovels and buckets. they looked like a bunch of ducks. As the Marines passed us to load onto trucks, everyone had some sarcastic and insulting remark to make: "Guard that stuff with your life." "Shoot to kill." "You make the Marines proud." "Did you have special training to get that job?" And on and on. I said to my Marine partner, "I am going over to the farmers and see if I can sell this stuff to the highest bidder." He said, "Why not? Everything has value." I went to a farmer, pointed to the stuff, and in my best pigeon English asked, "How muchie won?" They knew what I meant and broke up into a half dozen competing groups. One farmer representing one of the groups came over to me holding a wad of won that looked very impressive, so we sold it and guarded it for that group. It was a great feeling as we told the smartass, insulting Marines all the money we got for the stuff. They were in shock. The word went up and down the line that we had sold it to the farmers and that they were to stay away as we were guarding it for the new owners. I wrote home and told my folks that I was in the fertilizer business. They were very proud.
During what was known as Operation Killer, the First Marine Division was on its way to the Chungju/Hoengsong vicinity about 200 miles by rail and then by truck as part of the 10th Corps that was placed under operation control of General Moore of the IX Corps. Chinese forces had taken Hoengsong and were now in the outskirts of Wonju, a rather large city. At Taegu, we waited for transport to move us to Wonju to be integrated with other units of the IX Corps: the 24th Infantry, the First Cavalry, the 6th ROK (Republic of Korea) Division and the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade.
While waiting for our transport, we sat on our packs and watched a French army unit arrive by truck. They stopped and took a break across the road from us. A small Korean boy walked past them and a French truck driver took a hat the boy was wearing from him. It had a Marine emblem printed on the front. Marine utility hats with the emblem were in demand by UN troops. The kid tried to get his hat back, but the truck driver kept shoving him to the ground. We watched this happen a few times, then two of us walked over and took the hat away from the truck driver and gave it back to the boy. The French soldiers started milling round us and our fellow Marines started walking toward us. The French soldiers got back in their trucks and the Marines went back and sat on their packs. The boy got his hat back and was very happy, and we felt good about ourselves.
24 February 1951 - General Moore, Commanding Officer of the IX Corps, was killed in a helicopter crash. General Matthew Ridgway named General Oliver Smith as his successor, pending a permanent appointment. Only twice before in Marine Corps history had a Marine General commanded major army units. We were proud of General Smith and felt he was deserving of the command.
3 March 1951 - The 7th Marines held the high ground south of Hoengsong. We could see our objectives, Hills 536 and 222, in the distance. We took them and started to dig in for the night. The ground was frozen solid and with our light entrenching tools we knew that we would be lucky to dig a piece of dirt the size of a golf ball. The First Platoon dug in under some pine trees. They looked like evergreen tents with deep pine needles on the ground. We were upset that we were not that lucky. We were on the north slope with no cover and the wind was fierce. Before we could even get a flat spot of ground dug out, Chinese artillery started dropping on top of us. Heavy stuff and lots of it! We hugged the ground as the shells screamed in and detonated in the frozen earth. The rock hard ground slammed into our bodies and knocked the wind out of us. We hugged the ground with our elbows and hands between our bodies and the ground to cushion the shock. It was very terrifying.
I was told that the artillery barrage lasted about two hours, but to me it seemed like forever. The lush pine tree cover the First Platoon dug under was reduced to broken and splintered poles stripped of branches. Hanging in the broken trees one could see sleeping bags and parkas. The First Platoon had 44 men before the artillery fire began and when it was over it had been reduced to 14 Marines. I made a lot of promises to the Man Upstairs during the barrage. If I had just kept one of them, I would now be living in a monastery.
We found out later that the Chinese got the artillery from the Army's 15th Field Artillery and the 503rd Artillery Battalion at Hoengsong. This was very troubling to us. If the artillery units knew that they were going to be captured, they should have destroyed their weapons before the enemy had the chance to capture them. This Army artillery was used to kill Marines and soldiers a short time later.
The following information is quoted from Chapter XIV, "The Battle for Hoengsong", U.S. Army records:
"General Ridgway initially considered these high equipment losses evidence of weak leadership. General Almond was equally disturbed by the heavy loss of equipment, especially the loss of fourteen howitzers by the 15th Field Artillery Battalion and five by the 503rd, and by what he considered excessive personnel casualties among all 2nd Division units. General Ridgway said, 'The loss or abandonment to enemy of arms and equipment in usable condition is a grave offense against every member of this command. I shall hereafter deal severely with commanders found responsible and shall expect you to do likewise.'"
Dog 7 went into a rest area for a few days to receive replacements from the 5th replacement draft and rest. We dug in next to a food and ammo supply dump that had armed guards patrolling the supplies. When we spotted some boxes of ground beef across the road, two of us got between the guards and "confiscated" a 60-pound box of frozen ground beef. There were three 20-pound packs of ground beef in a box. That would be 20 pounds for each fire team in our squad. Perfect! We started to eat hamburger patties the next day with C-ration crackers. It was great! The best food we had had in a long time.
6 March 1951 - We went on line and started attacking enemy objectives. Our objectives were not defended. We got a free ride. We were now just little south and west of Hoengsong. This was to be our objective the next day. We gathered pine cones to start a small and near-smokeless fire to cook hamburgers. The weather was nice. It was just a few degrees below freezing and there was no wind.
7 March 1951 - Light snow during the night and early morning. The snow came straight down and there was no wind. With the pine trees covered with snow, it was very picturesque. We had a sack of mail to drop off to Easy Company when we passed through their positions on our way to Hoengsong, which was in the valley below us. When we got to Easy Company they were in a firefight with a heavily defended enemy position. It was a hill between the two mountain ranges blocking the approach to Hoengsong. We watched the firefight from a short distance and we could see black figures falling in the snow. Those figures were Marines.
Four Navy A1 Sky Raiders showed up and napalmed the enemy-held hill. All resistance stopped after the air attack. We proceeded up the hill with the mail. We walked by some Marine casualties covered with ponchos. If I remember correctly, I counted six bodies. The Navy A1's took all of five minutes to destroy the enemy positions at a cost of just a few gallons of gasoline. To survive in combat is a matter of luck and timing. For instance, the position that our platoon assaulted the day before was not defended. If the air assault had arrived sooner, there would have been less or no Marine casualties.
As we climbed the hill, we walked through the trenches that the napalm hit. It was like a scene out of Dante's Inferno. The Chinese defenders were turned into charcoal statues. They were killed instantly while aiming rifles toward the attacking Marines. The statues were looking down the barrels of what used to be rifles; the napalm had consumed the wood in the stock. The Chinese in the trenches were also black statues. The Chinese that were away from the trench were burned black and red with their skin rolled up. What a horrible weapon napalm is.
After we dropped off the mail and we started down the valley, my fire team was in the point. We walked toward Route 29, an elevated road that went through Hoengsong. In the distance we could see vehicles and artillery lying in different positions along the roadside. As we got closer, we also saw tanks in the ditch. As we got next to the trucks, we started seeing bodies stripped to their underwear. There were lots of bodies. We were in shock. We kept saying to each other, "How could this happen?" Tom Cassis, machine gun section leader in our platoon, said he saw 50 bodies laying in a group in their underwear. The Chinese and North Koreans had stripped the bodies of their cold weather clothing. The soldiers that surrendered were executed for the cold weather gear.
In this cold weather, the battlefield had been preserved and frozen in time. This action had taken place approximately 25 days before we arrived. The stripped bodies were laid out on the road like railroad ties in near perfect rows. It looked like a mile of bodies. Most may have been killed in combat, but it looked like many were executed. The roadway looked like corduroy with the bodies covered with light snow. Some tanks came up the road and stopped where we were standing at the head of the bodies. We milled around in shock at the massacre. Without warning, the lead tank started moving and ran over several bodies before we could stop it. The bright red flesh between the tank treads looked just like the ground beef we stole from the supply dump. We threw the hamburger away. Our appetite for it was gone!
We found out later that the American Support Force 21, which consisted of artillery and infantry with tank support, was attached to the 8th ROK Division, a command structure that required the total dependence on the ROKs for command and control. The normal command, the 2nd US Infantry, had no position in the chain of command. The Force 21 was co-mingled with the ROKs in charge. This co-mingling of US and ROK forces was an experiment from MacArthur's office and enforced by General Almond. This order was suicide for the Americans because the ROKs were completely unreliable. They had a record of bugging out without warning. The Marines always had a communication team embedded with the ROKs when they were on our flanks because they were not trustworthy. The ROKs would bug out and not tell anyone on their flanks. Marines always had a radio team to constantly check on the ROKs. The 2nd Army Division's Force 21 did not have a team embedded with the ROKs when the ROK's 8th Division, whose assignment was to protect the Americans, bugged out without telling the Americans. The Army's 2nd Division was surprised by the collapse of the 8th South Korean Division and suffered horrible losses on account of the lack of communications with and about the ROKs who just ran away and told no one.
Military authorities later tried to hide the extent of the casualties in the Hoengsong Massacre, so actual figures are somewhat jumbled. Checking army records in Chapter XIV, "The Battle of Hoengsong", between midnight February 11, 1951 and daylight on February 13, 1951, the total killed American and Dutch was shown as 2,018. The Dutch had a 100-man unit as part of Support Force 21. Of them, 99 were killed in action and one was wounded in action. In all of Dutch military history, this was the first time ever that one of their units suffered 100% casualties with 99% killed. The Army lost fourteen 105mm howitzers, six 155mm howitzers, 277 crew-served weapons, six tanks, and 280 vehicles. The ROKs lost six 105mm howitzers and 901 crew-served weapons. ROK casualties were 9,844 killed between the 3rd, 5th, and 8th ROK Divisions. American units suffering losses near Hoengsong included the 38th and 17th Infantry, 15th, 503rd, 49th, 96th and 674th Field Artillery Battalions; 82nd Anti-aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion; and the 187th Airborne RCT.
Historian/Vietnam veteran Gary Turbak was a freelance writer based in Missoula, Montana until his untimely death on August 21, 2004. He wrote an article entitled, "Massacre at Hoengsong" that appeared in the VFW Magazine in February 2001. The VFW gave me permission to reprint Turbak's article in this section of my memoir:
"The grisly scene, horrible almost beyond belief, shocked even the toughest men of the 7th Marine Regiment. Some averted their eyes. Others broke off their macho banter to talk in hushed, church-line tones. It was death that spooked them--death that hung like an eerie cloud over the narrow valley north of Hoengsong, Korea, that cold, quiet day in 1951.
In early February, with the Chinese offensive stalled, U.N. commanders prepared a counter assault across the center of the Korean peninsula. This time, however, Republic of Korea (ROK) troops were to do the bulk of the fighting--with elements of various U.S. infantry, artillery and other units supporting them. The notion of Americans supporting ROK troops was very much an experiment--one U.S. military leaders later regretted.
What U.N. commanders didn't know was that Communist forces also were launching a major offensive and had moved four Chinese and two North Korean divisions into the area north of the village of Hoengsong. On February 11, ROKs tangled with Communist forces, quickly disintegrating the planned South Korean offensive.
At one point, GIs of the supporting 15th Field Artillery (FA) Battalion (2nd Division) encamped for the night, relying on ROK infantry for protection. When the Chinese attacked in the dark, the South Koreans fled. The enemy swarmed over the U.S. position. Some 204 artillerymen ultimately died, resulting in one of the most concentrated losses of American lives in the entire war, according to Joseph Gould in Korea: The Untold Story.
Retreating ROKs streamed south past U.S. support forces, allowing the Chinese to flank American positions. Soon, the Chinese owned the narrow, twisting valley north of Hoengsong and the road that ran through it--the only escape route.
Steep hills rose up on both sides of the road, turning the valley into a shooting gallery. The Chinese relentlessly rained mortar fire down on the withdrawing and vastly outnumbered GIs. Later came the hand-to-hand fighting.
'At times,' said one battalion commander, 'U.N. troops lined up on one side of the road and tossed grenades at the enemy attacking from the other side of the road.'
During one withdrawal, forward observer (for the mortar platoon) Sgt. Charles Long of M Company, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Division, chose to remain at his position atop Hill 300. It was rapidly being overrun, so he wanted to better direct mortar fire on the Chinese. For a while, he held off the enemy with rifle fire and grenades, but his last radio message reported that he was out of ammo. He used his last words to call for 40 rounds of high explosive fire on his own position, by that time swarming with enemy soldiers. For his bravery, Long posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
American rescue forces fought their way north from Hoengsong to the besieged units only to find that a river of Chinese soldiers poured in behind them. Points secured just an hour or so earlier reverted quickly to enemy hands.
U.S. infantrymen tried to clear an escape route for the howitzers, supply trucks and other vehicles, but Chinese soldiers were everywhere. U.S. artillery fired point blank into ranks of attacking enemy, but it did little good.
As soon as the withdrawing GIs pushed through one Chinese strongpoint, they would run smack into another--while enemy forces reformed behind them. Some 2,000 Chinese troops manned one enormous roadblock. But the route south was the only way out. So the Americans continued to run this meat grinder of a gauntlet toward Hoengsong, taking heavy losses all the way.
Finally, the column of weary survivors reached Hoengsong. GIs who made it to the village joined a more general and less hazardous retreat farther south and lived to fight another day. Yet in the little valley to the north there was only death.
On March 7th, the 7th Marines re-entered the area north of Hoengsong for the first time since the rout three weeks earlier. Frozen in time--and frozen literally--the battle scene remained eerily preserved.
'Everyone looked into the valley and saw the smoke twisting toward the sky,' wrote Marine Bill Merrick in his book Tan Vat. 'The smoke came from overturned trucks and jeeps. They had burned so long only the frames remained. The area looked like an enormous graveyard with the bodies unburied. The troops lay in the road, in the rice paddies, and in the cabs of the trucks that had not caught on fire.'
Hundreds of GI bodies remained where they had fallen. 'We had to push arms, legs, and heads to the side of the road so vehicles behind us would not run over dead soldiers,' wrote Marine Rod Bennett. Some GIs had been stripped naked by enemy soldiers. One naked, dead soldier lay across the barrel of an anti-tank gun. In many trucks, dead Americans lay behind the wheel or hung out the doors. One truck contained two lifeless GIs and two dead Chinese soldiers.
'The road was blocked by a Sherman tank with one set of tracks blown off,' wrote Merrick. 'The hatch was open and the tank commander was hanging out of it. His jacket was full of holes, and blood made a big design on his back. Two GIs with their hands tied behind them had been shot in the back of the head. There were powder burns on the back of the caps they wore.'
Marines, sickened by the sight, erected a sign along the body-strewn road. It read: 'Massacre Valley, Scene of Harry S. Truman's Police Action. Nice Going, Harry!'
U.S. units suffering losses in the Hoengsong debacle included elements of the 38th and 17th Infantry; 15th, 503rd, 49th, 96th and 674th Field Artillery Battalions; 82nd Anti-aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion; and the 187th Airborne RCT.
Several outfits incurred severe battle deaths. Korean War vet Dick Ecker, using the Army's Adjutant General's Korean War Casualty File, determined the following breakdown by unit:
- 15th Field Artillery Battalion - 208 (106 KIA & 102 in captivity)
- 503rd Field Artillery Battalion - 56 (27 KIA & 39 in captivity)
- 38th Infantry Regiment - 462 (328 KIA & 134 perished in captivity)
Among the 15ths dead was its commander, Lt. Col. John Keith, and MSgt. Jimmie Holloway, both of whom died after being taken prisoner. 'Holloway was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but it was downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross,' according to the 15th historian, Dan Gillotti.
Ecker summed it up succinctly: 'It was, of course, the nature of the fatalities in this action that was the real tragedy--many of them MIA, never found and declared dead or captured and died in captivity.'
Because military authorities tried to hide the extent of the disaster, casualty figures regarding the Hoengsong massacre are extremely jumbled. But according to a Time war correspondent, 'It was part of the most horribly concentrated display of American dead since the Korean War began.'"
Paul G. McCoy was a member of the 82nd AAA, B Battery, serving in Korea at the time of the massacre at Hoengsong. His account of what he saw and experienced appears on The Patriot Files website and is reprinted below:
"On 11 February, prior to midnight, we received word that the 8th ROK Division was under severe attack by Chinese forces. This soon turned into a collapse of the ROK units. and SF-21 started a delayed effort to load vehicles and attempt our own withdrawal. Our delay was caused by the complete loss of communications with the ROK unit we were supporting and a lack of control of SF-21 by US Forces. Our withdrawal did not start until 0200 hours, 12 February. By this time, the Changbong-ni area was inundated with fleeing ROK forces being closely followed by elements of several Chinese divisions.
By the time our column started its withdrawal, it came under sporadic machine gun fire and, as the intensity of the fire increased, the movement of the column became more disparate. At this time, I was ranked out of the front seat of my jeep by Captain Joyce, who was acting as assistant to Captain Stevens, our Commanding Officer. As we were not moving, I left the jeep to move up the column to find out what was wrong. I was not certain that my actions were particularly brave, but it certainly saved my life and provided me with knowledge as to how soldiers can act when they are completely uninformed.
As I moved up the line of vehicles, I discovered that there would be a group of 5-10 vehicles with a huge gap between the lead vehicle and the rest of the column. Each lead vehicle did not have a person in the driver's seat. It wasn't that these drivers had been killed in their vehicle, for they had apparently abandoned their vehicles. My mission became a task of finding drivers to get that portion of the column moving. In one case, I found 10-15 men huddled in the rear of a truck as if the canvas top would provide protection from the rapidly increasing enemy fire. I asked them if anyone could drive and one soldier admitted he could, but didn't have a driver's license. I broke normal military procedure in order to get the column moving. I estimate that 10 percent of the vehicles in that column were without drivers and were blocking the road at a time when rapid movement would have placed them a long way down the road to Hoengsong and safety."
I finally worked my way past an M-16 which was the third vehicle in the column, and climbed on the rear deck of a tank which was not moving. The tank commander told me that he was stopped because the Lieutenant in the leading vehicle was stopping every time the tank fired its cannon. The next time the lead tank stopped, I climbed onto its rear deck and discovered that it had no commander--the gunner reported that the Lieutenant had abandoned his tank. I gave orders that they were to shoot and scoot at the same time, and not stop scooting until I ordered them to do so.
About a mile down the road, just south of Nongoi, we had outrun the enemy fire, and I directed the lead tank off the road and advised the sergeant, now tank commander, to take the lead as soon as the rest of the column caught up with us. We waited for 10 minutes, and no one came up to join us. I then ordered the sergeant to take the lead and head down the road toward Hoengsong. I stood on the rear deck of the second tank with intentions of jumping off when we reached the first US unit so I could report what was happening.
As we approached the bridge north of Haktam-ni, the steep side of hill 310 was on the left of the narrow road, and a deep gorge with a small stream was on the right. The lead tank was hit with a burst of machine gun fire from a Chinese roadblock at the bridge. The tank pulled to its left into the steep side of hill 310. The tank I was on attempted to pull around the halted tank which had every possible gun firing. As we came beside the tank, ours was hit with a rocket launcher missile. I was blown off the vehicle and inside that tank all the crew had been killed. Two survivors from the first tank joined me on the road behind the two knocked-out vehicles which now completely blocked the road approach to the bridge.
We three survivors dropped down into the gorge on the left side of the road, and headed south, parallel to the road toward Haktam-ni. We attempted three times to cross the road onto more level terrain but each time we ran into enemy forces. Finally, just north of the bridge, we ran up against a cliff which we could not climb. Again, we made a very cautious attempt to cross to the east side, but just short of the road we stopped and must have spent 10 minutes trying to figure out what a small glowing red light on the road meant to our survival. When we got near enough we discovered it was an abandoned jeep with a large radio which had not been turned off. We quickly moved across the road and started crossing the river between hills 206 and 333. When we reached the middle of the river, flares started popping over our heads. It was difficult to keep the other two men from moving while the flares were glowing.
Once on the other side of the river, we made our way to the east of hill 206, then south towards the road from Saemal. In the process, we turned the flank of an infantry company from the 3rd Battalion of the 38th Infantry, which was guarding Saemal. After a short and terrifying period of proving that we were not Chinese, we were escorted to the Battalion HQ where I reported what happened. At this point, nothing I had seen indicated a massive Chinese attack, and I could not understand why the Battalion would not immediately go to the rescue of SF-21. At this time I was informed that the road between Saemal and Hoengsong had been cut off. This information and what I had seen made me realize how critical the situation had become.
Stragglers from SF-21 started arriving about mid-morning of 12 February. I found out that D Battery now consisted of only 25 or so men, and not more than 4 or 5 of its M-16s were in operating condition. At the same time, the perimeter came under very heavy attack. About noon we started a breakout with an infantry company on each side of the road with the remaining M-16s providing support to the infantry.
On one point on the road, a Chinese mortar had zeroed in on a bottleneck which could not be avoided. My M-16 went through the impact area, but the vehicle behind me appeared reluctant to follow. So, I left my vehicle, counted the pop from the mortar, and attempted to encourage the commander to follow. However, I missed a pop, and a mortar round hit my left foot. My momentum was sufficient to propel me out of the impact area, and a bit of crawling into a ditch provided some protection, at least until the Chinese put a machine gun into position so as to be able to rake the ditch.
At that time, I suggested to several men around a corner and out of the line of fire behind a building, that it would be appropriate to haul the wounded around that corner. This they did and then administered a dose of morphine, loaded me into a jeep and the others into a 3/4 to vehicle, gave me an M-1 rifle and a bandoleer of ammunition, and headed us on our way to Hoengsong. On that trip, one Chinese grenade hit the support bars for the canvas top of my jeep--I watched it explode beside the rear wheel and then thanked God that it was only a concussion grenade. On the left side of the vehicle, an enemy soldier with a burp gun started firing at us. With only my M-1 in a jeep with a rapidly shattering windshield, I could only aim with the front of the muzzle in front of the driver's nose and wait until the jeep moved into a position so I could fire at the enemy. The last round he fired went across the driver's belly, and passed through the upper portion of my thigh. At this point, I was perched on the small fender outside the jeep, my right leg was still in good shape, when another bullet passed through my calf, then between the driver and myself, while I continued hanging on.
Soon the driver saw an M-16 ahead which was lumbering down the center of the road. The road had a sharp drop-off into the rice paddies on each side. After I asked if he thought he could pass around the M-16, we decided that the enemy fire was so heavy that we had no choice but to try. With the morphine slowing my reflexes, I did not draw my right leg into the jeep before my foot hit the rear of the M-16. The impact broke my right ankle.
My memory of what happened after that is not too reliable, but both vehicles made it into Hoengsong. Furthermore, after reading such phrases as "massacre valley", I gather that the carnage just north of Hoengsong was worse than that of the initial attack on SF-231. If so, the retreat from Saemal must have been a horrible example of a command failure by X-Corps. Many of my comrades in SF-21 were the unfortunate who died under the control of an inept ROK command structure and without access to US support and control. As some contemporary US Senators might say, "Shame on you, General Almond."
I remain one of the fortunate soldiers of SF-21."
On March 7, W/2/7 was advancing along with the rest of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines to new positions in East Central Korea near the little village of Hoengsong. We had been on the move for two or three hours on foot when we spotted some American bodies along the road out in a rice paddy. Then we saw another and another, some closer to the road. As we walked on, more bodies showed up. We had no warning. Then on the road we came upon a military truck with Army markings. Checking further, we saw four frozen bodies in the truck--all American soldiers, then more trucks and tanks. We started seeing bodies all over by the hundreds. Some of them were burned and naked. For every ten American bodies we saw there was one Chinese body. Government records show that about 700 Army personnel were killed and maybe executed in this narrow valley. Army records show that 2,018 American and Dutch were killed there February 11-13, 1951. One hundred of the victims were Dutch. Also lost in this valley were fourteen 105mm Howitzers, six 155mm Howitzers, six tanks and 280 vehicles of various types. It is believed that the Chinese forces used some of this captured equipment against us soon thereafter.
A write-up of this action was written by Gary Turbak and published in the VFW Magazine in February 2001. He wrote: "The grisly scene, horrible almost beyond belief, shocked even the toughest men of the 7th Marine Regiment. Some averted their eyes. Others broke off their macho banter to talk in hushed church-like tones."
I know about this. I was there. We had our own vehicles, trucks and tanks moving with us on the same road. We came to a place where the road dropped off sharply on one side and the other side had a rock wall. We saw bodies that were frozen on and beside the road. We had to walk alongside of our own trucks and tanks while our vehicles crushed the bodies with wheels and treads, creating a crimson carnage that repulsed the souls of everyone that witnessed it. It was the most horrifying scene that anyone can imagine. As we walked along, there was not much space between the trucks and tanks and the rock wall. We could not step without stepping on a face or arm or hand. The road was thick with this carnage and my boots were covered with blood. I could not bear to see this anymore, so I grabbed onto the shoulder of the Marine ahead of me, closed my eyes, and stumbled along with him that way for I do not know how long.
I must have blacked out because I do not remember what happened after that. W/2/7 engaged the enemy two days after we walked through the carnage and we took some casualties. I did not find this out until later because I had been evacuated to the hospital ship Repose. I woke up on the ship two days later. My body must have reached its limit and it took me out. It was too much to see. I could not take all the death and dead bodies. I could never get the blood off my boots after that. Part of that experience has stayed with me all of my life."
A list of the Army casualties in the Hoengsong/Chipyong-ni/Wonju/Chaum-ni area shows the name of every man who was killed there from February 12 through February 14, 1951. It can be found by clicking here on the Korean War Educator website.
An investigation as to the cause of the massacre was held afterward. At first, General Almond said that it was lack of leadership from the American command. Blame for the fiasco was later put on the co-mingling of ROK and US forces, and the finger pointed toward MacArthur and Almond. The two Generals were, in part, responsible for us not winning the brutal infantry war in Korea--and now (2009), North Korea has the atomic bomb.
The Korean massacre at Hoengsong was done by enemy action, but the massacre was set up by a military failure from the American high command: General MacArthur and 10th Corps Commander General Almond. Putting American forces under the command of incompetent and unreliable South Korean Army leadership was an untried experiment doomed to failure, thereby sacrificing the lives of thousands of American troops on the altar of stupidity. Generals MacArthur and Almond, however, would not admit that they were responsible for the massacre. They reversed the results of the investigation, putting the blame instead on General Choi Yong Hee, Commander of the 8th ROK Division. The Chinese forces had crushed the 8th ROK Division, then ran along both sides of elevated Route 29 to set up roadblocks and trap UN forces.
When the blame for the Hoengsong Massacre pointed back to MacArthur and Almond, they hid this atrocity from the public. During World War II, on December 16, 1944 near Malmedy, a Belgian town in the Ardennes, 81 American soldiers were murdered by German SS troops during the Battle of the Bulge. This atrocity was in every newspaper and on every radio station in the country. It was the worst single atrocity committed against American troops in Europe during World War II, and the world knew about it. Six years and two months later in Korea, on February 12 and 13, 1951, over 1500 American soldiers and 99 Dutch soldiers were killed in combat or executed, yet this massacre has been kept a secret all these years.
During the offensive in the spring and early summer of 1951, we fought Chinese soldiers wearing US Army jackets with the 2nd Division patch. We reached into the pockets of the dead Chinese soldiers wearing Army jackets and took out letters and pictures from the folks at home talking about all the plans that were in store when they returned home. It brought tears to our eyes as we read the letters and looked at the pictures. It was heart-wrenching. We wanted so much to write the friends and families of these US soldiers and say, "We killed the sob's that killed your dad, son, husband, brother or friend." We were told not to write to the folks at home because it would just create problems. We were told to turn the letters into Company officers and they would forward them to Graves Registration. To my knowledge, all of us did as we were told.
10 March 1951 - Dog 7 had three rifle platoons used as three individual combat units, each looking for unfriendly forces wherever they might be found. About midnight, 1st platoon radioed Dog 3rd platoon for assistance because they were being attacked by enemy forces. While going to help the 1st platoon, the 3rd platoon was attacked by Chinese grenadiers. This was a unit of the Chinese Army whose purpose was to throw grenades only, followed by the infantry with automatic weapons trying to punch holes in the opposing forces to get behind them and destroy them.
Sergeant Jack Larson was the Squad Leader of the squad that was hit by the grenadiers. The Chinese could not have picked a worse adversary. Sergeant Larson was calm, cool, and effective. He was seriously wounded by grenades, but in spite of his wounds, Sergeant Larson kept arranging his squad in various defensive positions that stopped the superior enemy forces. For saving his platoon, Sergeant Larson was awarded the Navy Cross. (Citation follows.)
"The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Sergeant Jack F. Larson, United States Marine Corps Reserve, for service as set forth in the following citation:
For extraordinary heroism while serving as a Squad Leader of Company D, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces south of Hongch'on, Korea, on 11 March 1951. Observing an excellent avenue of approach leading directly into the forward portion of his position while arranging the defense of newly won high ground following a bitter fight, Sergeant Larson conducted one fire team to an area covering the lane of access and, while digging in, was forced to withdraw when a hail of hostile automatic-weapons and small-arms fire rendered the site temporarily untenable. Occupying an alternate position until darkness, he returned to complete his defensive preparations despite continued enemy fire. When a large hostile force subsequently launched a vigorous assault, inflicting serious wounds on his comrades and himself, he braved intense enemy fire to remain at his post and, by skillfully manning his weapon, prevented the hostile troops from penetrating the sector and jeopardizing the entire company position. Despite severe pain from his wounds, he single-handedly withstood all enemy assaults for approximately two hours and, after the hostile assailants had been repulsed and his wounded comrades had received aid, consented to submit to treatment for his own wounds. By his inspiring leadership, indomitable fighting spirit and steadfast devotion to duty, Sergeant Larson contributed materially to the security of the company position, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
11 March 1951 - On this day north of Hoengsong, we were on a platoon combat patrol looking for unfriendly forces. Darkness was approaching and we thought we would be digging in a defensive position for the night. We got near to the top of the mountain where all the ridges ran together into a large flat area. Up from this flat area was a long trench line that covered all the ridges. We stared at the trenches for a bit and then we saw a brown wave of Chinese troops running down the hill toward the trenches. We dropped our packs and also started to run toward the same trench.
It was a race for survival. We did not want to be caught in the open with the Chinese in the trenches shooting at us. The Chinese were laying back expecting artillery fire and air attacks, then the infantry assault. We did not have any artillery or air support. When the Chinese figured this out, they came out of hiding to get to the trench. They beat us to the elevated trench line, but not by much. They had a problem deflecting their rifles down on us as we were too close to them.
Talking about this later, some Marines said they pulled rifles out of Chinese hands. Several of us got to the end of the trench line, jumped in undetected, and shot into the Chinese. They started to fall over like dominoes. They were trapped and could only run back from us, as the high and wide trench held them captive. It was such an adrenaline rush that it is hard to remember all that took place in those few minutes. Things were a blur. It was fortunate that we did not shoot one another. I remember cut-outs in the trench line where troops could seek shelter from air attacks. They started diving into the cut-outs like diving into a pool. I remember saying to myself, "I wonder where they think they are going?" It was kind of funny. The Chinese soldiers kept falling over in front of us and we kept running over them like sacks of potatoes. It seemed like when we shot into them, two or more fell over. We got to the end of the trench very quickly. Looking down the trench we could see Chinese soldiers in their brown quilted cold weather uniforms covering the bottom of the trench. It was now getting dark and we started to dig in for the night. This run through the trench line was such an adrenaline rush I could not sleep when it was my turn to do so. We could not wait for daylight to check our work.
At daybreak we walked over to the trench and to our great surprise we could see the bottom of the trench! There were bodies, but not as many as we thought. Our platoon leader, a efficient and gung ho officer, walked by us upset and agitated. He said, "Do you want to know where they are? I will tell you. At daybreak they were at the bottom of the hill walking around the Colonel's tent with their hands up trying to surrender." We could visualize this. It was hilarious and we started to laugh. He said that it was not funny. He could get court-martialed for this because the Chinese could have wiped out our command post. We did our best to stop laughing, but he just got more upset and said to us, "You have bayonets. Start using them." He said, "I want all bodies stuck with bayonets, do you hear me?" When he left, the Marine I was with said he must be kidding. He was not going to stick any gooks with his bayonet because he used his bayonet to open his jelly can. I agreed. Our platoon leader had been watching too many John Wayne movies.
In taking this trench line we had two killed and six wounded. That was not many; however, any lose of life was tragic. Considering the many Chinese troops that we engaged, this was not considered excessive. We did good work that day, but we did not get any "atta boys". Instead, we got chastised because many of the Chinese that we thought were dead had played possum and during the night went down the hill. At daybreak they were walking around the Colonel's tent trying to surrender. The Colonel was not happy and he did some butt-chewing. This was passed on to us.
17 March 1951 - We went into Division Reserve. This is good because we got to be in camp with the General. We had not been in Division Reserve before. Mostly we had been in Battalion Reserve, which had few creature comforts, and sometime we just went back to where the artillery was. We listened to outgoing artillery all night long, but it was going in the right direction.
We were in the rest area and dug in next to the Army's 92nd armored artillery battalion, whose members called themselves, "The Red Devils." They were giving us artillery support. We were next to a creek when several flatbed Army trucks pulled up. Soldiers got out and started setting up cameras, some on the flatbed trucks and some on the creek banks--with one in the water. Some jeeps showed up and in the lead jeep, wearing dark glasses, a crushed down hat and a trench coat, was General MacArthur. He was known to us as, "Back Track Mac." His jeep drove into the shallow creek and stopped for several minutes. The cameras started rolling and flashbulbs flashed. Then his jeep turned around and left with the trucks following him. A week later his picture was on the front page of Stars and Stripes. The headlines read, “General MacArthur visits the front.” The General should have been in vaudeville.
When we got to the reserve area we were told we were going to be guarding the General's compound. This compound consists of four or five tents, most with heating stovepipes out the tops. It looked nice and homey. We slept under the stars in rain or snow with nothing but ponchos for a roof. The compound had a snow-like fence around it made of strips of wood held together with wire. It was very easy to roll up and move. We soon found that one of the tents we were guarding was a food supply tent. This was like making Jesse James night watchman at the train depot. We made plans….
The plan was that the squad on duty would direct the requisition group to the food tent and point out the specials. The first night we requisitioned canned ham, bacon, butter, red raspberry jam, fresh bread, milk, apples, oranges, and fresh eggs. This was the food of dreams for a Marine infantryman, especially apples and oranges. This food was the best I had had since I arrived in Korea. We did not have field kitchens like the Army had--at least not for the Marine infantry. We had a very primitive lifestyle. In our chow line they served us warmed-up beans, corned beef hash, beef stew and canned peaches or fruit cocktail. The food was just like our C-rations, only from larger cans. The C-rations were left over from World War II. They had been frozen during winter and heated in the summer for seven or eight years. It turned this food into garbage. The chocolate bar was turned into a white powder. C-rations were our staple and we felt lucky if we had enough of them.
About mid 1951, C-rations were changed from World War II silver cans to new C-rations in an olive drab-colored can with some good stuff like chicken and rice, hamburger and potatoes with gravy, sausage patties, spaghetti with meat balls, ham and beans, and ham with lima beans. It was new and it was pretty good. Later we got field kitchens when we went into reserve and we got fresh milk, fresh fruit, and bread and butter. It was a long time coming. We all sat around a small fire eating the General's food and agreed that he had a great pantry. I personally must have eaten five or more ham and egg sandwiches on fresh bread, washing them down with milk and orange juice. This was without exception my fondest memory of my stay in Korea.
That night was my turn to be part of the "requisition team." I received orders for pancake mix and maple syrup. After dark we went up to the guard in front of the compound and gave him a password like "Jesse James" or "Cole Younger." We got a counter sign and were told that the General's cook was in the tent sleeping on a cot next to the stove. We carefully filled our orders and quietly left so as not to wake the cook.
The next morning, we were gathered around our cooking fire enjoying pancakes with real butter and maple syrup with bacon on the side, washing it down with milk, when a tall, stern-looking 1st Lieutenant and two Marines showed up. They had like-new utilities on and we looked like mutts next to them. The Lieutenant said in a commanding voice, "I am not going to ask where or how you got all this food. I am ordering you to take it back. NOW! You people could be in a lot of trouble." Someone asked, "Do we have to take all the food back?" The Lieutenant said, "I want everything that has not been opened returned," which for us was a great deal because we got to keep the leftovers. We returned the food while getting dirty looks from the two cooks. Needless to say, we lost our positions as perimeter guards for the General's compound.
24 March 1951 - After approximately six days in reserve, Dog 7 went back on line, attacking and pushing the commies back. We dug in for the night in two-man foxholes with fifty-percent watch, setting out bobby traps with two-man outposts in front of each platoon to prevent enemy infiltration. The next day we did it all over again. It was now early spring and the weather was getting warmer and the digging of foxholes was getting easier as the frost left the ground. We were occupying ground that American troops had occupied in the past. We now had pre-dug foxholes on the north slope, which saved lots of digging.
We found the perfect pre-dug foxhole; it was wide, long, and deep. We put our sleeping bags in place and started to get comfortable. The weather was getting warmer and there was a terrible stench about the place. The Chinese and North Koreans buried their dead on the ground where they fell, covering them with branches, leaves, and maybe a little dirt so we could not count their casualties. We started to police the area and found a dead Chinese soldier under some branches not far from us. We moved him downwind and went back to our dugout but the smell got worse.
My foxhole buddy was Matt Davis from South Central Texas. He was a very interesting person. Matt's family was formerly from Missouri. After the Civil War his family was on the wrong side of history, so they moved to Texas. Matt was a historian as well as a philosopher. No matter how cold, hungry and tired we were, Matt could reach back in history and compare us and our hardships with another group of soldiers long past who had it much worse than we did. He made us feel that we were part of a military tradition steeped in a thousand years of history. I said, "Someday they will be talking about us." Matt's philosophy and uncomplaining attitude lifted our spirits and helped create the bonding that combat soldiers can relate to. Matt was wounded at the Chosin Reservoir. Sometime later he was wounded for the second time. When he was released from the hospital he was offered a job out of harm's way in a rear unit that was safe and sheltered. These creature comforts were an infantryman's dream, but Matt turned this down and demanded that he be returned to Dog Company. When we asked why he came back, he said that he would not feel right if he left his unit to serve with any other group. That was called bonding. About September 1951, Matt was wounded for the third time. He was hit by machine gun fire and was gravely wounded. I helped put him on a helicopter that was taking the wounded to the rear for medical treatment. The medical corpsman who was there at the time said that Matt would be dead before he could get to the aid station. However, by some miracle Matt lived (and he lived another 47 years).
We were told we would be staying in place as currently held for several more days waiting for our flanks to catch up. We started recon patrolling in front of our positions up to the start of the next mountain range. We could tell if it was the Chinese or North Koreans who had been there because when they relieved themselves they did not bury their business. Instead, it was a gift to the local farmers to put on their fields. The Chinese used toilet paper and the North Koreans did not.
We left the commies little "gifts", such as our worst-tasting cans of C-rations. For me it was the beef stew. This World War II ration was so old it tasted like candle wax. We left a few cans of this lying about, but took one empty can, slipped a grenade in the can (which was a tight fit), and pulled the pin. The tight fit kept the spoon from flying off and arming the grenade. We then set the can straight up, bottom open. When this can was picked up, the grenade fell out and the spoon fell off, activating the grenade. The commies had about four seconds for small talk.
Back in our foxhole, the stench was getting unbearable. We got out of our dugout, started moving leaves around, and saw a small rubber tip sticking out of the floor of our foxhole. We dug around the object with our shovel and dug up a foot--then a leg with a Chinese quilted uniform on it. We had been sleeping on top of a dead Chinese soldier. I said, "Matt, we have a three-man foxhole but only two of us are keeping watch." We moved next door with a freshly dug foxhole and we threw the dirt on top of the Chinese soldier. We were victims of a stinking Chinese dirty trick.
There were other patrols of interest that seem to run together in my mind as to their timing. I know that after we took an objective we started to patrol the villages and the territory around our recently acquired property. The Marines had a fetish for patrols. We wanted to know what was out there in our front yard.
One day on patrol we came upon a village on a cloudy and cold day. The people were in a long row in front of their huts and some of the women and children were crying uncontrollably. The entire group of village people was kneeling on the bare ground. I went up to a young boy and handed him a stick of gum. The boy never saw or had gum before. He stared at it for a second or so, not knowing what it was. His mother kneeling next to him hit him for his hesitation. The boy then put the gum in his mouth, wrapper and all, and started chewing. The Chinese had told the villagers that the Americans would kill them if they came to their village. We gave them some of our meager rations and left as friends.
We patrolled the next village a few miles away and the people came out to meet us very nervous and scared. The Commies had told them the same thing about Americans. We calmed them down and asked them about several males of military age whose legs were amputated below the knees. They were sitting on some straw. They said they were Chinese soldiers that had had frozen limbs. The villagers took them in and amputated their feet and legs without anesthesia. We walked over to them and gave them our C-ration cigarettes. The Chinese soldiers knew the meaning of tough times. We left this village as friends.
On another patrol late spring/early summer 1951, we went into a farmhouse to check it over. Inside there was a women with two children who appeared to be about three years old. They looked like twins dressed in their finest clothing. The mother was also dressed in her finest clothing. They were laying in a bed under a fancy quilt with the mother in the center. All were dead--most likely from cholera. In the next room was a man who was hanging by his neck--an apparent suicide. He did not want to live without his family. This to all of us was very sad.
On about the last week in March 1951, our platoon leader asked me to be his runner. A runner carried dispatches from one unit to another under combat conditions. It could be a very necessary and dangerous job. We now have other means of communication and this job is mostly being the foxhole's buddy. I did not want this job because I was bonded with my buddies in my four-man fire team. There were three of these units per squad if it was up to full strength, and we become bonded with our buddies in the fire team. They were our family and to leave it was like leaving home.
I had to take the job of runner and some other Marine took my place in my fire team. I was not happy. On April 1st we were told that our 7th Marine Regiment was to be placed under the operational control of the Commanding General of the 1st Cavalry Division. We are now in the Army. We told our medical corpsman, Richard DeWert, that we would now have to call him "the medic", like in the Army and not "the corpsman", like in the Marines. He said that would be okay and wanted to know if we would now get cherry pie with our C-rations! This was a standing joke. The Army had civilian work parties who carried supplies to the troops on line, including food in big canisters. We said the canisters had steak and cherry pie in them. Richard said he really liked cherry pie.
On April 5th we crossed the 38th parallel, which was the dividing line between North and South Korea. It was a joint operation between Easy and Dog Companies. We took the ridge toward the south and Easy Company took the ridge toward the west, both going up to the same objective, Hill 430. This hill was a piece of ground about 1300-1400 feet high--an easy climb. The day was bright to partly cloudy. As we climbed the hill, the cloud formation turned into fog which at times made visibility very limited. Then the fog would clear and the hill would be very bright. Where the ridges meet at the top of the hill was where it was usually defended. That way all approaches could be covered by enemy gunners. My old fire team was in the point and when it reached the top, heavy machinegun fire and grenade explosions could be heard.
I was about 40 yards from the point with our platoon leader, as I was his runner. In most cases we went up the ridges almost single file because of the narrow paths on the ridges. The fog had moved in and visibility was again very limited. Bullets from the almost invisible enemy were clipping tree branches. The fog worked both ways and we could not see each other, so we got very close to each other. I had moved next to the Marines who were being sheltered by a small ridge not more than two feet high.
The machinegun fire was heavy and continuous. Along with the noise of it we could hear someone screaming obscenities like, ”You dirty sons of bitches," over and over. Suddenly the fog shifted and it was very bright. It was like a movie. I could see Richard DeWert almost falling on top of the Marine doing the cussing. The corpsman had gone to the aid of the cussing Marine, who was shot in the knees and in great pain and shock. A short way from the fallen DeWert was a bunker with the enemy machine-gunners. It had a large aperture and was covering all approaches. Corpsman DeWert had gone under enemy fire four times to aid wounded Marines during the firefight and he had been shot multiple times.
Without thinking I ran up to the bunker, slid on my knees, and shot into the faces that I could plainly see. I then checked on DeWert, who was dead. Then I went to the still cussing wounded Marine. I dragged him behind some rock formation and out of harm's way. He called me every cuss word he could think of. A tough, no nonsense corpsman by the name of Fred Hardy told this wounded Marine that if he didn't shut his dirty mouth, he was going to drag his ass back up the hill and leave him there.
We as a group charged up the hill past the now-silent bunkers and up the trail that led to a group of Chinese rifleman. These Chinese, who were protecting the bunker and shooting at us, had to be the world's worst marksmen and they bugged out before we could get to them. When we gathered up our dead and wounded, I saw Chuck Curly, one of our machine-gunners, now a stretcher bearer, lift Richard DeWert's body onto a stretcher. Water was running out of his canteen from the bullet holes in it.
I also remember the dead from my old fire team being placed on stretchers. I looked at the Marine who took my place and who was now dead. Fate had traded his life for mine. I have mixed emotions about this trade to this day. I feel some consolation in the fact that, if I had been killed, the possibility was not remote that the Chinese would have killed more Marines that day.
Checking the guns in the bunker, I found out that they were two water-cooled 30-caliber Brownings made at the Rock Island Arsenal. They had a brass tag that said, "US ARMY". Ironically, Rock Island was my hometown. The Chinese were shooting at us with weapons my friends and neighbors had made. The guns were possibly taken near Hoengsong about a month earlier when the Army's 2nd Division and supporting troops were sent to support the ROK troops, who had left and told no one. They were overrun and massacred by divisions of Chinese communists. The Easy Company commander, who was on the west ridge, radioed our platoon leader and thanked him for taking out the machine guns that had pinned down his company.
Welcome praise? Yes. Was it consolation for the sacrifices of men like Richard DeWert, my fire team buddies, the man who took my place, and others whose remains we put in body bags that day? Not at all. Men who fight, bleed and suffer the agonies of battle find no comfort in such detached deliberation. They are too involved with their vivid and tragic memories.
In August of 1951, Richard DeWert's foster mother responded to a letter sent to her by Captain Mackin. In it she wrote:
Dear Captain Mackin,
Receiving your letter was most comforting. Knowing that Richard died so honorably eases, somewhat, the pain that will always remain in our hearts. Although we are not his natural parents, being childless, we loved him more than words can describe.
He was brought up under atrocious conditions by a mother who was only concerned about herself. Richard had to fend for himself from earliest childhood. He could have gone just as bad as he was good, but God in His infinite wisdom gave him a pure heart. He came to us, we thought at the time quite by accident; but now we know different. God sent him to us so that we could shower him with the love and affection that he never had received in early childhood. He, in turn, returned that love and affection on us that we also never received from a child of our own.
We were never able to adopt him legally as his mother would never relinquish him. His and our big aim in life was for him to become twenty-one so that we could adopt him legally. It was not His will that it be so, however we will never forget Richard's memory and will always carry it in our hearts.
Knowing that you are burdened with many and tedious duties, we thank you from the bottoms of our hearts for taking the time to write us such a comforting letter.
Mrs. Albertina Roy
For some unexplained reason, HM3 DeWert received no recognition for his heroic sacrifices. To me and others this was troubling. Sometime later we got two great officer replacements, Captain Alvin Mackin and Lieutenant Lealon Wimpee. Captain Mackin was a World War II Marine Air Corps veteran and 2nd Lieutenant Wimpee was a World War II Marine infantry enlisted man who was wounded on Okinawa. He was our new platoon leader. They were like a breath of fresh air. Captain Mackin was our new Company Commander and he personally introduced himself to the entire Company. For us, this was unheard of. He was like a big brother and we bonded instantly with him.
A day or so after Lieutenant Wimpee took charge of the platoon, he asked ten of us to go with him to act as an honor guard for a ceremony honoring a forward observer who was getting a citation for valor. Lieutenant Wimpee wanted us to all be wearing utilities that matched. This was difficult as we got our clothing from a pile of laundered clothing from all branches of service. When we took a shower we just took off our dirty clothes and put them in the pile with other soiled clothes. After taking a shower we went to a clean pile of clothes and put on anything that fit. One Marine Private got to be an Army First Sergeant by just taking a shower! Mountain warfare was hard on the knees and seats of pants. The Marine Corps fought its wars on a budget. We were like Cox's Army. Our preferred article of clothing was an Australian wool sweater, but that day we swapped clothing so ten of us had matching utilities. At the ceremony, the forward observer received a citation for valor by putting himself in harm's way by being assigned to Dog Company and calling devastating mortar fire on enemy positions.
While walking back to our unit after the ceremony, I did a slow burn. I thought about our medical corpsman Richard DeWert, who died a real hero but got no recognition for his sacrifice. This living forward observer received a citation for putting himself in harm's way by being assigned to Dog 7. It seemed to me that, if being assigned to Dog 7 put him in enough harm's way to deserve a citation, all Dog Company Marines should get citations for valor for being assigned with each other. We were all in harm's way.
After I got to know Lieutenant Wimpee, I ran DeWert's action by him and asked him if it was possible for him as an officer to recommend someone for a citation, even though he had been killed some time before he (Lieutenant Wimpee) arrived. He replied in the affirmative, but wanted to know who the platoon leader was and why he had not written up the citation. I said that I could not answer that question. I then told him about Richard DeWert, who we all felt died a real hero, yet for some reason received no recognition. I also told him that I had witnesses to DeWert's action. Lieutenant Wimpee said to get the witnesses and he would write up a citation for DeWert. My two other witnesses were PFC John Alseth and PFC Robert Gentry. Both had seen DeWert when he was wounded and still trying to save Marines. The four of us sat down in the dirt and wrote up a panoramic view of Richard DeWert's final moments. Lieutenant Wimpee gave this information to Captain Mackin, and he sent it up the line, recommending that DeWert receive the Medal of Honor.
A special thanks to Charles Curley for his efforts in raising a million dollar scholarship fund at Pepperdine University in Richard DeWert's honor. Curley did this unilaterally and out of his own pocket. This gave the DeWert legacy legs. Charles Curley also started an endowment fund at Pepperdine University in Colonel Mackin's honor--again out of his own pocket. Master Chief Fred Kasper, US Navy, pulled strings and got the Navy/Marines to name the clinic at Bridgeport, California as the Richard DeWert Clinic. The Navy Hospital at Newport, Rhode Island, was also named the Richard DeWert Medical Clinic. There is also a ship, the USS DeWert FFG-45 named in his honor and there is a school, a highway, and more named in his honor. My own "claim to fame" is being the catalyst to get Richard DeWert the Medal of Honor.
Richard DeWert will receive recognition for generations to come. Those of us who served in Dog Company 7th Marines will also share in this recognition with pride. Without all concerned acting in unison to get Richard the recognition he deserved, he would have been just another dead Sailor in a box. Dog Company 7th Marines received one Medal of Honor and it was not a Marine. It was a Sailor.
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a HC, in action against enemy aggressor forces. When a fire team from the point platoon of his company was pinned down by a deadly barrage of hostile automatic weapons fired and suffered many casualties, HC Desert rushed to the assistance of 1 of the more seriously wounded and, despite a painful leg wound sustained while dragging the stricken marine to safety, steadfastly refused medical treatment for himself and immediately dashed back through the fire swept area to carry a second wounded man out of the line of fire. Undaunted by the mounting hail of devastating enemy fire, he bravely moved forward a third time and received another serious wound in the shoulder after discovering that a wounded marine had already died. Still persistent in his refusal to submit to first aid, he resolutely answered the call of a fourth stricken comrade and, while rendering medical assistance, was himself mortally wounded by a burst of enemy fire. His courageous initiative, great personal valor, and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds reflect the highest credit upon HC DeWert and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country."
Sergeant Gonzalo Garza wrote to me that if Richard DeWert did not get the Medal of Honor on April 5, 1951, the sacrifices that Dog Company made that day would be just “dust in the wind.” This is so very true. Hundreds of firefights, patrols and battles take place in a war. Most are just fading memories in the minds of the survivors. Those killed are registered in the casualty reports. This also will fade to the backwaters of history, and, over time, to those who are remembered on Memorial Day as the War Dead. The personal sacrifices and pain will be just…..Dust in the Wind.
I received a Silver Star for my own personal actions on April 5. The citation reads as follows:
SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Private First Class FREDRICK P. FRANKVILLE, United States Marine Corps Reserve, for service as set forth in the following citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving as a Rifleman of Company D, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea on 5 April 1951. When his unit was subjected to intense and accurate hostile automatic-weapons and small-arms fire from cleverly concealed bunkers, during an attack against a strongly defended enemy hill position, Private First Class FRANKVILLE fearlessly charged forward through the heavy fire to aid a wounded comrade lying in an exposed position within a few feet of the enemy and boldly delivered point-blank fire into the aperture of a hostile bunker. Despite hand grenades bursting around him, he succeeded in carrying his wounded companion to a safe position and quickly rejoined his platoon in the final assault to overrun the enemy emplacements. By his outstanding bravery, inspiring initiative and courageous devotion to duty, Private First Class FRANKVILLE contributed materially to the success of his company and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Fred Kasper, a Senior Chief Corpsman in the United States Navy, learned of the heroic efforts of fellow corpsman Richard David DeWert many years after DeWert died on the battlefield. He wrote "Angel of the Marines" in DeWert's honor.
Fred Kasper has been in the service for over 21 years, with 13 of those years serving with Marine Corps units as their “Doc”. Some highlights of his career include serving on two Presidential POW/MIA recovery missions to Vietnam and North Korea, and more recently, a one year tour in Iraq. An aspiring writer, he hopes to complete a book on Richard DeWert and Dog Company 2/7 in the next year. In April 2009 Fred Kasper was promoted to Master Chief Petty Officer, the highest enlisted rank in the U.S. Navy.
Kasper wrote the following tribute in honor of fellow corpsman Richard David DeWert:
A Corpsman's Reflection
I woke up yesterday morning with a sweat-soaked shirt,
wondering what it would be like if I had been Richard DeWert.
A hardened smile that echoed tears of pain,
A mother's neglect at leaving her child in the rain.
He went willingly with visions of heroism and pride,
To become a Hospital Corpsman in our Nations' fight.
With hopes of the future, to be a doctor someday,
A harsh taste of combat and the dreams fade away.
It was early April with Dog 2/7,
No angels of mercy were looking down from heaven.
A bitter long trek to the 38th parallel,
When they took enemy fire and his Marines began to yell.
"Everybody down, were in for a fight",
the smell of fear and death took them in to the night.
On patrol the next morning as a thick fog rolled in,
The eerie silence of what was to begin.
Suddenly the fog lifted as quickly as it came,
The platoon's being cut down by bullets in vain.
Cries for "Doc" were all that he heard,
Marines gasping for air as they said their last word.
"Don't go out there Doc, wait until it's time",
a reply was met with, "You do your job, I'll do mine."
No time for thinking they're bleeding fast,
He pulled his first Marine to safety as he felt the first blast.
His leg burning, a sharp pain indeed,
Ignored for the comfort of his Marines in need.
Dodging through bullets, a daring second trip,
He carried the injured from the enemy's tight grip.
Undaunted by his own condition, his only thought of saving lives,
Dashing automatic fire for a third grueling time.
Another sharp blast of enemy fire,
Piercing pain to his shoulder and he's beginning to tire.
Persistent in his commitment of saving these men,
Out for a fourth time to meet the enemy again.
Assuring his Marines it was going to be alright,
Machine gun fire rendered his mortal plight.
As he lay over the Marine he was to save,
A thousand angels laid feathers at his blood-soaked grave.
As for the men who witnessed such courage and compassion,
They were inspired to move quickly against the enemy's action.
Some say it was Doc who saved them all,
His selfless sacrifice in answering the call.
I woke up this morning with a calm and grace,
As I looked in the mirror and saw my face.
I realized a few things about my wondering and dismay,
About the legacy Richard DeWert has left us today.
The Hospital Corps can forever stand tall,
For this young man, so fragile, gallantly gave his all.
The Medal of Honor is what they gave,
His selfless deeds so proud and brave.
Long may you rest our brother DeWert,
No longer to bear the pain of those that are hurt.
Written by: Senior Chief Hospitalman Fred E. Kasper, USN
Any attempt to copy all or part of this poem with intent to distribute,
sell or publish without the written consent of the author is strictly prohibited.
On April 9, 1951 we were told that we were going to raid the Chinese positions on Objective 491, a hill across the valley from our position with an elevation of about 1500 feet. We asked what a "raid" was and were told that we were going to attack this position, hold it for a certain time, then vacate it and go back to our lines. We were also to bring back prisoners if possible because S2 (Intelligence) wanted some prisoners for questioning. We were told that we were going to have tanks, forward observers from artillery, mortars, and air support. It was to be a Company raid (Dog/7). With all that support we felt we could take Moscow.
This as the first time we had done a raid. To take a position and not defend it was new to us. It was easier at times to take an enemy objective and not defend it because, when defending an objective, the enemy knew our strengths, knew when we might not be dug in defensively or might be short of ammo, and knew if we might have suffered casualties. They had their reserve forces rested and ready.
At daybreak we started down the hill from our position and met tanks at the start of the valley. The platoon leader in the point platoon was 2nd Lt. Brendon O'Donnoll. Captain Mackin was Dog Company Commander. 2nd Lt. Lealon Wimpee was platoon leader of the 3rd Platoon. Dr. Ki was the interpreter, and I was a member of the 3rd platoon.
The valley had a small stream or two, which we waded across alongside of the tanks. Tank support was a mixed blessing. They gave great fire support, but they also drew enemy fire. Chinese mortars started to drop among the tanks and the infantry walking alongside. The tankers buttoned up and were protected by all the armor that they are made of, but the infantry Marines were only protected by a thin cotton utility jacket.
We left the tanks in the valley and started up Objective 491. With all of our supporting arms, the Chinese were in shock. Some of them left their foxholes and started to run. A lot of the Chinese soldiers were wearing Army field jackets that had U.S. Army 2nd Division patches on them. I wrote my brother, who was a Captain in the Army at that time, and told him that we had a field day. I told him that we took two mountain tops and killed many Chinese. "They ran into us and it was like shooting at shapes that were targets and not people. It was exciting." I also wrote that, "The Chinese don't die as hard as they used to. I truly believe they have a real fear of Marines. The prisoners say this when questioned." Now when I read that old letter, the things I said sound primitive. But that was the mind set of young gung ho Marines at that time.
When the Company machine gunners who were giving us covering fire got low on ammo, Chuck Curley volunteered to run down the hill to the tanks in the valley and ask for .30 caliber machine gun ammo. Chuck and Curtis Mason raced down the hill to the lead tank and the tankers readily gave them four cans of ammo. The pair fast-tracked it back up the hill to their machine guns and continued to give covering fire support. Captain Mackin wrote to his wife Mary about 20 men being wounded and one man killed, who he said was a great Marine. That Marine was Sgt. Robert Damon, a World War II Marine and Bronze Star recipient who was recalled to active duty for the Korean War.
Sergeant Damon had to be the most caring and righteous Marine I ever met. We all called him "Mother Damon" because he worried about all the young Marines in our company. He helped the exhausted young Marine carry his pack. He always seemed to have a swallow of water left in his canteen to give a Marine who was dying of thirst. He got the wounded down the hill in the dark. He said the right words to a troubled Marine.
Sgt. Robert Damon was killed while charging an enemy bunker. He was carrying a 1903 Springfield bolt-action sniper rifle with a ten power scope, but that was not an assault rifle. It was for sniping, and it was hard to load. For the attack on the bunker, he took out his pistol and emptied it into the aperture of the enemy bunker. The Chinese shot back and killed him. He received a Silver Star posthumously for his heroic actions.
After we secured Hill 491 we started to go through the pockets of the dead Chinese who were wearing Army field jackets. We retrieved the mail and billfolds that they had taken from Army soldiers killed at Hoengsong. I wrote about this earlier in The Battle for Hoengsong. Reading this mail later made us happy that we did what we did to get it back. We left Hill 491 at 4 p.m. with seven prisoners. None of them were wearing Army field jackets.
Robert Vincent Damon was born March 10, 1922, in Seattle, Washington. He completed his first ten years of school work in Walla Walla, Washington, then moved with his parents, Professor and Mrs. V. L. Damon, to Colville, Washington, where he finished high school. Professor Damon was a minister as well as a college professor. Robert V. Damon graduated with an AB degree from Seattle Pacific College, then continued with graduate work at the University of Washington. He had almost completed his work for his Master's Degree when he was again called to go with the Marines to Korea.
He was in defense work at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when the attack was made on December 7, 1941. After returning to Seattle the following summer, he enlisted in the Marines, although he had been granted exemption because of his plans for entering the ministry.
On December 4, 1943, he was united in marriage to Charlotte H. Anderson of Cove, Washington in San Diego, California. He left in about three weeks for Honolulu. He was in the battles of both Saipan and Tinian, then returned to Saipan until after the close of the war when he was sent to Japan with the occupation forces for a few weeks. He returned to the United States in January 1946, and he and his wife made their home in Seattle, Washington.
A fellow Marine who returned to his home in Walla Walla, Washington just a few weeks ago said when he learned of Robert's death, "It's not right; he was always the good one of the bunch. He never said any bad words, he was so clean living and good." He also said he was easy with the men under him and they liked him so well.
In a letter to personal friends he recently stated: "I participated in the two weeks campaign which pushed the enemy from Hoengsong to the high ground beyond Hoengch'on. Only the grace of God made it possible for me to carry out my duties. It is evident that I still have work to do or would not have been passed over (or around) by the enemy fire."
Robert leaves to mourn his going, his wife Charlotte, son, Robert Vincent II, age 3 1/2, Kathleen Ann, age 8 months, his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. V.L. Damon, an older sister, Mrs. Margaret Zucher of Pasadena, California, two brothers, William Burns of Walla Walla, Washington, and Albert M. of Sterling, also a host of relatives and friends.
Robert V. Damon met his wife Charlotte at Seattle Pacific College. He was getting a Master's Degree at the University of West Seattle and was 99 percent complete with his studies when he was recalled to active duty in the Marine Corps after the outbreak of the Korean War.
Sergeant Damon's widow married Laddie Mommsen in 1959. Mr. Mommsen formerly served in the Army in Africa and Italy during World War II. He adopted Robert's children and their names were changed to Robert and Kathleen Mommsen. Robert now lives in Ketchikan, Alaska, where he was at one time a bush pilot and now works on an inland ship. Kathleen Damon was born August of 1950, one month after her father left for the Korean War. She was a baby when Sergeant Damon was killed in action in Korea. Kathleen Pugerude now lives in Forest Grove, Oregon. Mr. and Mrs. Laddie Mommsen live in Lynnwood, Washington.
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving with a Marine infantry company in Korea on 10 April 1951. Serving as a guide of a rifle platoon, Sergeant Damon was moving with a squad in the platoon attack of a strongly defended enemy hill position when the unit was subjected to intense and accurate enemy automatic weapons fire from an enemy bunker, and was temporarily unable to advance. Realizing that the successful accomplishment of the platoon's mission depended on the rapid advance of the squad, he fearlessly and with complete disregard for his personal safety charged forward through the heavy enemy fire in a furious assault of the position. When he had expended all his rifle ammunition, he continued forward, courageously firing his pistol into the aperture of the bunker until he fell mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country. His great personal bravery and outstanding devotion to duty so inspired his comrades that they swept forward and rapidly secured the objective. Sergeant Damon's heroic actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
Now a retired lawyer, Perry J. Dickey was a member of the 2nd Platoon, Dog/7 on the night that Sergeant Damon was killed in action. Damon was his squad leader when they attacked the bunker together that night. He wrote the following account of the events that happened before, during, and after Damon's death:
"On April 10, 1950, Dog Company was on what I believed to be a combat patrol to locate and engage the enemy and to establish a major point of resistance rather than a rear guard action to delay our advance. We had made contact and were receiving small arm and machine gun fire from our right. Rounds were cracking in all directions and one round ricocheted off a small tree branch in front of my head, showering my face and eyes with bark and debris and then struck the man to my right, PFC Jose Flores, in the face.
At that time Sgt. Robert Damon came to my left and tapped me on the shoulder, indicating for me to follow him. Sergeant Damon and I started moving to our left and up the hill toward the enemy. We progressed forward about a hundred or more yards and I think out of sight of other company members. I was several yards behind Sergeant Damon when he shouted, "Shoot 'em!!" Sergeant Damon and an 03 Springfield sniper rifle with a scope mounted over the receiver. The rifle could hold six rounds but each round had to be loaded separately into the magazine and he wanted to withhold firing his rifle. Sergeant Damon had spotted a rifle barrel in the bushes about two yards in front of him and yelled, "Shoot 'Em!" I also saw the rifle and fired into the bush.
At this time another enemy with his rifle aimed at me appeared about ten feet in front of me but slightly to the right side. I fired at him, but my M-1 rifle went click and did not fire. Instantly I started dropping to the ground and used my left hand to slide the bolt back to clear and load another round into my rifle. I fired again with the rifle at my hip and in a crouched position and I was fortunate to hit the enemy with a shot between his eyes that blew out the top of his head.
Now hand grenades started to fall and explode all around me. I made a dive for cover as there was a tree uphill and a small rock protruding from the found. When I hit the ground I saw three hand grenades tied together and just beyond my reach a few feet uphill and to the right side of my head. I turned my head away from the grenade as they exploded. I was surprised at being alive after the grenades exploded.
I looked to my left and saw Sergeant Damon standing on top of a bunker and firing a .38 revolver into the entrance. He fired several rounds and then I think there was more than one shot, possibly a volley, from the bunker and Sergeant Damon was fatally shot in the chest at a range of a few feet. The revolver rotated on his trigger finger and dropped into the bunker. He staggered a step or two toward me and fell face down and with his head downhill. There was a tree stump about a foot high and Sergeant Damon fell with his chest on the stump, an arm on each side and with his head drooping but not touching the ground. He uttered a small gasp, a large volume of blood gushed from his mouth, and he was dead.
Sergeant Damon's body was about six feet from me and between me and the bunker entrance which was about ten feet away. I was in a blind spot for the bunker and not within the line of fire. The enemy apparently let Sergeant Damon and me progress without firing to avoid giving away their position. I had two hand grenades. I missed with the first grenade by throwing it over and past the bunker entrance. The second grenade went right into the entrance, but was promptly thrown back at me and exploded downhill.
My position was known to the enemy within the bunker, but they were afraid to stand up and fire at me. They did hold a rifle up on the outside of the entrance and fire blindly in my direction. I would return fire, attempting to hit the exposed hands and arms. The malfunction of my rifle now became a benefit as it did not eject the clip after firing the last round and I was able to quietly reload. I did not intend to storm the bunker with my single fire rifle, but I held the enemy off and contemplated possible action.
My concern was the company was on a combat patrol and probably would withdraw after establishing the main line of resistance. I thought Sergeant Damon and I might not be missed until after the company had withdrawn. Sergeant Damon and I had gone forward in the heat of combat without notice to others.
I was determined not to be taken prisoner and I believed the best course of action was to hold out until dark and try to return to the company position. After an unknown period of time, I looked downhill and saw a face staring up at me. It was Private Raymond McCallum who was a replacement that joined our unit a few days earlier. McCallum had been concerned about his conduct when first exposed to combat and I had advised him to follow me, do what he had been trained to do, and that he would be okay. McCallum complied with that advice and now was in the line of fire of the bunker about fifty yards downhill.
I motioned for him to withdraw and return with help. He understood and disappeared. Some time later PFC Gus Felt came inching up from below and to my right. Gus had grenades and was better than I in using them. Gus pulled the pin, let the spoon fly, held the grenade with a grin as I squirmed, and he threw the grenade, which went into the bunker entrance and exploded immediately. Gus and I continued up the hill where we encountered more enemy who were in disarray. Gus and I proceeded to fire at will upon the enemy who were about one hundred yards away and not returning fire. It was more like target practice than combat.
Gradually other men arrived and after some time we withdrew and started down the hill. Sergeant Damon's body was removed before I returned to the location. I did help another wounded Marine from our platoon down the hill. He was a squad leader and I do not remember his name. His left leg was injured and he was unable to walk. After getting him down the hill, I kept his rifle and destroyed my defective rifle. At that time I became the squad leader to replace Sergeant Damon, who was posthumously awarded with a Silver Star and Purple Heart."
2nd Lt. Brendan O'Donnell was patrol leader during the raid on April 10, 1951. He wrote:
"Fred, you have done a great job of communicating the information you have dug up. My recollections may bring additional info. I was the patrol leader that day. This was a Dog Company patrol and the 2nd Platoon was the lead platoon.
Damon and Perry were in my line of sight as they moved forward on the enemy. Prior to their move we were held up by mortar, machine gun and small arms fire. I was in radio contact with Captain Mackin and asked him to make sure the mortar fire was not coming from our 4.2's and requested air support. Marine/Naval support came in quickly with napalm and machine guns and opened the spur we were trying to advance up. Prior to the air strike the mortars had miraculously stopped firing. Then Damon and Perry went into action.
You have described our mission correctly. We were a company patrol, reinforced with tanks, artillery, mortars, air support and forward observers. No enemy contact had been made in a week. We were ordered to attack an identified position, capture prisoners, rout them from their position, hold it for a short time, and return before dark. After the air strike we were able to go to the top of Hill 491, which was loaded with abandoned communications equipment and paper files.
The mission was considered successfully completed--made contact with enemy, drove enemy from strategic position, captured military intelligence files, broke up communications networks, captured prisoners, killed and wounded the enemy. My patrol killed 27, wounded 35, and captured seven enemy. We had one KIA and 22 WIA. We counted their dead and wounded and left all for the enemy to handle. Some were badly burned with white phosphorus and in shock, but we had to move down 1500 feet and then climb up to our command perimeter to complete our mission. I was awarded the Silver Star medal for this mission.
I wrote to Damon's wife and family immediately following the action. A few years before the Mystic Reunion, I received a postcard with a picture of four or five men at a high elevation facing an American flag and the Marine Corps flag. They were men from the April 1951 patrol along with Bob Mommsen, Damon's son. The flags were stuck in the ground on Hill 491 where Sergeant Damon fell 52 years earlier. Bob thanked me for my letter to his family."
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as a Rifle Platoon Commander of Company D, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea on 10 April 1951. Assigned the mission of leading the company assault on a strongly defended enemy hill position to learn the enemy's disposition in the area and to capture prisoners, Second Lieutenant O'DONNELL skillfully maneuvered his platoon up the steep slope and effectively coordinated his advance with supporting arms, surprising the enemy and aiding his platoon in killing 27, wounding 35 and capturing 7 of the enemy. Although exposed at all times to withering hostile automatic weapons fire from adjacent hills, he succeeded in organizing the defense of the position. With his unit subjected to an intense mortar barrage, causing numerous casualties and destroying radio communications with his company commander, he led his remaining force forward in the assault on an adjacent ridge to relieve pressure on another element of the company which was pinned down by hostile fire. Fearlessly exposing himself to a withering cross fire of enemy automatic weapons, he led his men in a furious assault on the ridge, routing the enemy and permitting the other friendly elements to advance. By his inspiring leadership, aggressive fighting spirit and courageous initiative, Second Lieutenant O'DONNELL contributed materially to the success of the company and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
As mentioned earlier, Lealon Wimpee became our new platoon leader on April 7, 1951. Less than a month later, this great officer and the members of D-2-7 were once again in harm's way. On April 22, 1951 we walked down from our hill position and finally returned to reserve after 37 days on line. It was about 10 a.m. and we desperately needed rest. We were exhausted from constant patrols, combat, and no rest. We needed about 20 hours of sleep. We also were in need of a change of clothing. Mountain warfare wore out our clothes. The only pocket that was not torn was our breast pocket.
In a perfect world, ten days on line and five days in reserve is the norm. Asking Captain Alvin Mackin why we were kept on line so long without rest, he said it was because we didn't have enough continuous time with our regiment. Because they kept moving us from the 1st Marine Division to the 1st Cavalry Division and then back to the 1st Marine Division, we didn't build up any credits with any one unit. I didn't quite understand this, but I did understand that we desperately needed rest and a bath.
We unpacked and were starting to get out our sleeping bags when we were told to saddle up because we were moving back on line to plug a gap on our flanks. The Chinese had destroyed a ROK Division near Hwachon and we had to stop them or our main line would collapse. This was the closest we got to mutiny. Captain Mackin was a man who could get the guys going and do the impossible. With no rest we endured a fast-paced, 15-mile hike over mountains with a full pack.
We saw helicopters flying overhead--lots of them. It was the 1st Battalion 7th Marines flying to war. It was the first time ever that helicopters were used to transport troops to a combat zone. It started to rain and the rain continued as we hiked. It got dark and the rain became a rainstorm. We were walking up the mountainside slipping and sliding when someone slipped and let out an obscenity. He said that he had fallen on a stob. Someone asked what a stob was and then we all started laughing. Someone said, "You baby. You ought to be home with your mother." Then a bunch of others joined in and said they ought to be home with their mothers, too. In all of this misery this was funny.
After a while we could hear the Chinese talking close to us. They were hiking parallel to us, heading for the same high ground as us. It was crazy--the rainstorm, the Chinese going in the same direction in the dark, and them yelling at us from time to time. It was bizarre. When dawn arrived the sun came up in a big orange ball. The rain had stopped and we were on the mountain top. The mountain was hollowed out to a big room with a deep trench line all around it. About 50 yards below us was another trench line that circled around the mountain below us. It was full of Chinese troops. We had beaten them up the mountain in the rain and the dark. Thank you, Captain Alvin Mackin!
From the mountaintop of Hill 722 (about 2300 feet), we could see forever in the valley where Marine and Army vehicles, hub to hub, relied on us for protection. By beating the Chinese to the high ground in the rain and dark, Captain Mackin kept the Chinese from calling artillery and mortar fire on the troops in the valley. It also meant that we did not have to fight to get the high ground. Who controls the high ground--wins! A lot of Marines to this day are enjoying their grandchildren and the rest of their lives, thanks to Captain Alvin Mackin.
Later I asked Captain Mackin how he found this old commie defensive position with the old Japanese maps. Drawn circa 1905, those old maps were often erroneous, with mountaintops missing or out of place. Captain Mackin just shrugged is shoulders and said, "I just guessed and got lucky." How he could read the maps in the dark and rain is another story.
As I mentioned, the Chinese troops were in the trench line below us. The trench was deep and had a roof over a large part of it. In the center of the trench, a roof was next to the mountain that went almost straight down the rest of the trench, covering possible approaches. I was a squad leader and Captain Mackin told me that we were going to take the trench line below at about 10 a.m. By doing so we would protect Fox Company, which would be passing through about that time. After taking the trench we were to follow Fox Company down the valley and act as rear guard.
Lieutenant Wimpee was in radio contact with Fox Company. He told Captain Mackin that Fox Company was ahead of schedule and we would have to take the trench now! He also told me that he was going to lead the squad in the assault. We climbed out of our trench and started to walk toward the Chinese trench. Walking over that open ground toward an enemy position felt a little tingly.
As we got closer, Lieutenant Wimpee threw a grenade to the right trench toward the roof. The grenade was immediately thrown back and it exploded behind some rocks. Lieutenant Wimpee pulled the pin on a second grenade, waited a few seconds, and threw it into the same place. When it detonated, he and the Marines following him jumped into the right side of the trench. I took a fire team and jumped in the left side. The Chinese who were trying to get away from Lieutenant Wimpee and his Marines ran right into us. It was a wild few moments. The older World War II Marines used to tell us, "You haven't killed the enemy unless you get that dying quiver." I could now relate to that.
As we walked through the trench and under the roof toward Lieutenant Wimpee, we saw wounded and dead Chinese soldiers. Lieutenant Wimpee grabbed hold of one Marine by the jacket, shoved him against the wall, and started yelling at him, "When they quit, you quit. Hear me?!!" He took the Marine's rifle away, gave it to a fellow Marine, and said, "Hold this rifle and do not give it back to him until I tell you to!" There was another bunker a little way down the trail. Lieutenant Wimpee ran ahead of us and threw a grenade into it. When we checked the bunker, there were two dead Chinese inside.
Where once we had been surrounded, now the trail to the valley was clear. However, there were Chinese on our flanks firing at extreme rifle distances from the mountaintops on both sides of us. We took two prisoners onto the bunker rooftop and lit cigarettes for them for all to see. When the firing toward us stopped, we put bandages on their heads. (They had leg wounds.) We also put bandages on their arms. I said that we had better stop with the bandages as our prisoners were beginning to look like mummies. This was a PR trick that worked. We took our prisoners and followed Fox Company down the hill with no more harassing fire from our flanks.
Participants in competitive sports can relate to the words "adrenaline rush." The human body produces a rush of adrenaline during times of high emotion or high excitement. While athletes get this rush in competition, combatants experience it during combat. For those in a fight for life, this rush is a psychological condition that arises in response to terrifying or traumatic events. It occurs in that moment in time when combatants get an extra burst of energy while fighting for their life against an enemy who is out to kill them. Later I asked Lieutenant Wimpee how he could turn off all the adrenaline rush of combat so quickly. He said, "When they quit, we quit. We are Marines, not murderers." I never forgot that. I said to myself, "I am glad he did not see us when we were in combat at the other end of the trench." You do not want to do things in combat that you may be ashamed of later.
On December 7, 1998, I wrote to Colonel Alvin F. Mackin (USMC Ret.), requesting that he put Lee Wimpee up for a citation. He agreed to do so if I would write up the action and send it to him. He signed it and sent it up the line.
My letter to Colonel Mackin read as follows:
"As I remember, the following events took place April 23, 1951 while serving with D-2-7 in Korea as a fire team leader. The 7th Marines just returning to the rest area as Division reserve was recalled back on line to stop a Chinese Communist break through on our flank.
It was mid morning and we started toward the break to stop the Chinese from overrunning the UN positions. We walked all that day and into the night at a very fast and very exhausting pace. I recall walking into a very heavy thunderstorm. We were racing for the high ground to reach a strategic position ahead of the Chinese. We were in conflict with enemy forces most of the night. They were following us up the hill.
Before day break the rain stopped, we were on top of a hill that was pre-war defensive position with dug-out rooms and trenches around the top. In the valley below we could see UN vehicles and personnel gathering to withdraw to a new line of defense. We had beaten the Chinese to the high ground. I think this saved the U.N. forces in the valley from being shelled by Chinese artillery. Dog Company was under your command.
The scenario as I remember was like this. Dog Company was on top of the hill, Chinese forces were in old pre-war trenches just below Dog Company, and UN forces were in the valley. Dog Company was completely surrounded by the enemy. Dog Company was to act as rear guard for the UN forces in the valley. To do this Dog Company had to break through enemy defenses in bunkers and trenches below our position. I was in the point to engage the enemy. Lt. Lealon Wimpee, third platoon leader, advanced ahead of the point, took charge of the attacking Marines, and lead them toward enemy positions. Lt. Wimpee threw a grenade into the enemy trenches. The grenade was thrown back by the Chinese and exploded behind some rocks. Lt. Wimpee threw another grenade that went off where the trench went into the enemy bunker. Lt. Wimpee then charged the bunker with other Marines behind him, killing many of the enemy and taking prisoners. This allowed Dog Company to safely move down the hill to provide rear guard to the UN forces in the valley, thus allowing friendly forces to make a strategic withdrawal.
It is my understanding that you had recommended Lt. Wimpee for a Silver Star or a Navy Cross. Somehow this recommendation was lost. I hope this letter helps in getting Lealon Wimpee his long overdue citation that he justly earned. Lt. Wimpee is held in high regard by all those who served with him. We would be honored if you would resubmit your former recommendation for an award for this worthy Marine.
If I can be of any more help in achieving this award for Lealon Wimpee, please contact me.
Semper Fidelis, Fred Frankville"
Humility as well as bravery were common traits of this great officer. I take pride in the fact that I was instrumental in getting Lt. Colonel Lealon Wimpee the Silver Star medal 49 years after his heroic actions on Hill 722. Lieutenant Lealon Wimpee's Silver Star citation reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines east of Hill 722 in the Republic of Korea on 23 April 1951. Serving as rear guard for the battalion, Second Lieutenant WIMPEE accurately assessed the enemy preparing to ambush the withdrawing Fox Company. Seeing the gravity of the situation, he led a squad down the hill to eliminate the threat. After an exchange of grenade throwing, Second Lieutenant WIMPEE leaped into the trench and bunker with the other Marines following; the enemy position was taken with numerous Chinese killed and several prisoners taken. Second Lieutenant WIMPEE then continued the attack to the next Chinese position throwing grenades and firing into the trench and bunker, clearing all resistance. By his outstanding bravery, inspiring initiative, and courageous devotion to duty, Second Lieutenant WIMPEE saved the lives of fellow Marines; thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."
Last spring 1951 we were issued a rubber air mattress. This was a great improvement over laying on the bare ground or the pine branches we used to insulate us from the cold ground. The only problem with using the air mattress was that it raised us up about four or five inches higher in our foxholes and it was also several more pounds to weight to carry.
I remember one night while in our foxholes enjoying the comfort of our new air mattress we detected the faint odor of garlic. The Chinese and North Koreans ate garlic like popcorn and if they were close and the wind was in the right direction, we could smell them before we could see them. All up and down the line we could hear the air being let out of the air mattresses. It was a Chinese probing attack testing our defenses at several points, hoping to draw automatic weapons fire so that they could detect the locations of our machine guns and then call mortar fire on the guns. This was a tactic that usually proceeded an all-out attack. Marines were familiar with this tactic and maintained fire discipline until time of the actual assault.
We also had an outpost in front of each platoon about 50 yards out more or less, depending on the terrain. The outpost had a sound power phone linked up with each platoon and the company command center. On this particular night, Outpost Three said there was a gook patrol around their position. Someone replied back, "Shoot them." They said no because there were too many of them and they were between the outpost and our lines--which meant the men on the outpost could not return to our lines. That was when some smartass started whistling on the phone.
The outpost pulled the wires off the phone so the enemy patrol could not hear the whistling. At daybreak the outpost returned to the lines ready to fight. They wanted to know who the son-of-a-bitch was that was whistling into the phone. All the time they looked at me. We all claimed innocence.
Being a Marine rifleman was a "low tech" job. If you could throw rocks you could do what I did. From the time the 21st Engineer Battalion was activated in Moline in August of 1950 until December 23, 1951, I did not get a day off. (That was about 16 months duty with no day off.) There was no such thing as Rest and Recuperation (R&R) during those months. Instead, we lived in a Stone Age environment. Troops got dysentery and, can you believe it, worms.
The Koreans used human waste to fertilize their fields. We drank out of rivers and streams that had run off from the fields. We carried Halazone tablets that we put in our canteens 15 minutes before drinking from them. The chlorine-based tablets were supposed to sterilize the water, but I don't think the Halazone actually worked in this environment. I remember that Captain Al Mackin was evacuated to the hospital ship USS Haven for worm treatment. On 5 August 1951 he wrote the following to his wife:
"Today was a hot, sticky day which followed a terrific rain we had last nite. For the past ten days or so my stomach has been out of whack--probably a bug of some sort--or worms. You'd be surprised at some of the worm cases we do have. Many boys with nausea have vomited worms almost a foot long! Getting back to the main subject I decided to go to sickbay. I got paregoric, amphogel (?) pills, and aurenycin. It's beginning to fix me up now--at least my cramps have stopped. (Hoagie Carmichael just sang "Lime House Blues.)..."
He then wrote to his wife Mary on August 16, 1951 about the treatment he took for his affliction. His letter said:
"My Darling, it's worms! (I sound like a proud father announcing a blessed event. If I do it's because it's a relief to know now that my troubles aren't of a more serious degree.) The doc informed me of my affliction yesterday and at noon my de-worming treatment commenced. Most important it meant fasting for 24 hours, therefore I didn't eat from noon yesterday until noon today. During that time I took (under duress) three doses of Epson salts and many, many pills. Starting at midnight and throughout the day I "shot the works." Man O' man, I've worn a path from my stateroom to the head. I probably look like a man making a mad dash for a train at the station. It would be an unfortunate man who blocked my travel. Right now I feel like a toilet that's been flushed with 'Bab-bo'.
I should be out of here and on my way back to regiment within a few days. This ship leaves for Japan on about the 23rd. If I'd had Hepatitis I would certainly have been a passenger to Japan and thence to the states. Oh me, which is worse?
All I've done these days is lounge around in my pajamas and bathrobe; take morning and afternoon naps; and watch the evening movies. When I'm in the sack I listen to the radio by means of a set of bedside earphones which come with every bed. What a life! What did Sherman say? -- Oh Yes. "War is hell!!" It just occurred to me that this is the first time I've slept indoors since I've been out here. To compensate for the great fresh air of the outdoors we have air conditioning, so it's not so bad. Seriously though. I know this life is going to get on my nerves soon. There's only one thing could change the monotony of all this and that's to go home! If only there was some set date toward which I could count days and weeks it would mean something to look forward to. As it stands now however it's only a guess."
The troops were lined up every month or so and we passed a gallon jug around that held some junk called Paregoric. We each had to take two swallows. Paregoric is an opium-derived product used to treat diarrhea
While patrolling in front of Dog Company positions and beyond, we saw a huge pile of evergreen trees. It looked like a Christmas tree dump. Walking by this pile of trees I saw what looked like a bumper and a headlight. Pulling the trees aside, I saw a Russian jeep. Next to it was a truck. When we lifted the hood up on the jeep, it looked like a Model A Ford. I had a Model A at home and this was an exact copy with a four-wheel drive and a Russian body. It had a T distributor, an updraft carburetor, and a flathead four-cylinder engine. The muffler and tail pipe were from a Model A Ford. I thought to myself that I would love to drive it.
I understand that Henry Ford sent Ford tooling to Russian in the mid-thirties. The truck next to it was a copy of a 1941 Chevrolet one and a half-ton truck. It may have been a lend/lease American truck sent to Russia during World War II.
Returning from our patrol, the guys were riding around in the truck. Someone had hotwired the truck and took it for a ride with a load of Marines in back. I have pictures of it. They also captured a prisoner who was glad to come out of hiding.
For one afternoon Dog/7 had its own motor pool. Captain Mackin was not comfortable with the Marines riding around the perimeter in a Russian truck, so he took the truck and other vehicles and gave them to the regimental motor pool.
Task Force Zebra began May 18, 1951. The memoirs of Army surgeon Capt. Eric Larsen provide details about this task force. He wrote:
"In May 1951 I was assigned to Task Force Zebra, which was comprised of the 23rd Regimental Combat Team, plus additional special units.... We moved to the eastern sector of the 38th parallel to a town called Chaun-ni near Hill 1051. This narrative is about a great battle I witnessed and participated in which erupted on May 18, 1951.
On the night of May 16, the Chinese began making contact in our area. On the same night, South Korean forces began a disorderly withdrawal...in spite of orders to remain and fight. I personally witnessed their troops fleeing past my unit without weapons while our officers encouraged them to stop. The following day, May 18, a Chinese patrol got to our area (about 2 a.m.), killing two men and wounding eight others outside my aid tent. They were armed with burp guns, which caused gruesome injuries. I saw them swarm like ants down the hills toward our position. Many Chinese were killed at my aid site. Task Force Zebra was completely cut off from the rest of the UN forces as the only road out was in enemy hands. As relief was not to be forthcoming, it was decided that we would try and run the roadblock with two tank escorts in the point. My jeep with two litters was to follow the tanks. (This convoy would consist of several hundred vehicles in which 117 were trucks and jeeps and 76 were trailers.) This convoy, loaded with the wounded and soldiers, was doomed to grief. The lead tank hit a mine about a quarter mile down the road, and was pushed aside by the other tank, which was also soon disabled as well as my jeep, which was blown off the road and into a ditch.
In the confusion of the dust and the explosions, I stumbled out of the jeep and found a crater on the right side of the road and witnessed the tankers being killed as they were in the process of trying to escape the tanks. I also saw Chinese soldiers with burp guns alongside of the roads, shooting at our troops in the trucks and alongside of the trucks. This sight was horrible and depressing. I shall never forget it."
According to his memoirs, Captain Larsen was next to a river. He dove into the river and ran, waded, and swam across the river with bullets splashing the water near him. He made it to the other side and was picked up by a retreating tank. Captain Larsen lived to write his memories and to revisit Korea in September 10-17, 2003.
Dog/7 Marines was the first unit to find this massacre alongside of the road near Chaun-ni on May 22, 1951. I have seen a list of over 300 dead soldiers who were killed on May 18, 1951 in Chaun-ni. To me, this shows that the Americans were bunched up with no room to maneuver and defend themselves. The same thing happened north of Hoengsong, where Dog/7 Marines found mostly 2nd Division troops massacred alongside of Road 24. This carnage was blamed on South Korean forces who failed to protect the Americans. The sad part is, the Army top brass did not learn this lesson from what happened at Hoengsong on February 12-14, 1951. The carnage was repeated at Chaun-ni on May 18, 1951 where South Korean forces who were to defend the Americans just ran away. Where was the outrage for this failure of command?
On May 22 or 23 we walked to an area near Chauni. We were told that the 23rd RCT of the Army's 2nd Division forces had been overrun and massacred by Chinese army forces. When we got to the area where the massacre occurred, we could see trucks and jeeps alongside of the road. Some of the trucks still had bodies and it seemed like some of them were in trucks that had been torched. The 23rd RCT part of the 2nd Division was cut off when they attempted to escape by truck down a road controlled by the Chinese.
Former member of 2nd platoon, Dog/7, Perry Dickey, still has memories of the scene to this day, and has this to say about the burnt carnage:
"My memory of Massacre Valley is somewhat dim, but I do recall that in May 1951 we passed through a valley with US Army vehicles that burned and some of them still occupied with the bodies of US Army personnel. My only vivid memory is a U.S. Army six-by with about six bodies. One of them was sitting on the bench seat inside of the truck in a natural position except the body appeared to be charcoaled. The temperature was warm, but I do not remember any odor of decaying bodies or any other evidence to show when the event occurred or the passage of time. We continued to move out and did not linger to inspect the bodies or any equipment."
In early March 1951 we found hundreds of 2nd Division troops massacred alongside of their trucks north of Hoengsong. Tom Cassis, machine gun section leader in our platoon, said that he saw 50 bodies in a group in their underwear. Dog/7 Marines found hundreds of dead soldiers stripped to their underwear and executed for their cold weather clothing alongside both sides of elevated road 29. The soldiers were killed February 12, 13 and 14, 1951 in a horrible battle. Many were trapped in their trucks.
When I saw stuff like that, I thanked the Lord that I was a Marine. We had been on line for 62 days. We were dressed in rags, ate canned junk, and had dysentery, worms, and who knows what else. But we were lead by the best combat officers in the world. They suffered with us and they kept us alive.
If I were going to write a story about the Army's 2nd Division, it would be entitled, "Death by Truck." They went on line riding in trucks. They returned from being on line to a rest area by truck. They retreated by truck. Trucks caused traffic jams; traffic jams caused road blocks; trucks filled with soldiers stopped by road blocks were called targets. General Ridgway knew this. He told the Army to get rid of trucks and have the troops walk the ridge line like the Marines.
Untitled documents held in the National War Memorial of Korea indicate that credit for holding the line in face of the war's biggest attacks must go to General Ridgway. General Ridgway took over from General Walker following the latter's death in December 1950. A protege of General Patton, Walker's offensive dash contributed to the UN catastrophe in North Korea. In the mountain terrain of North Korea, the tanks had no room for maneuvers like those conducted in Europe during World War II when Patton protected his flanks by massive tank maneuvers.
The war in Europe was not won by tactics. It was won by logistics and the flat terrain to maneuver massive armored divisions. In Korea, General Walker left a 60-plus mile gap between his Eighth Army's east flank and the 10th Corps. Walker's tanks were restricted to maneuver by the lack of roads and the mountainous countryside. General Walker must share blame with Generals MacArthur and Almond for the disasters in North Korea. The troops paid the price in blood.
Ridgway, a paratrooper, insisted that troops in Korea dismount from vehicles, leave the roads, and dominate high ground. His tactics were more cautious than Walker's, but more successful.
In the early summer of 1951, Army trucks were going up to the front to pick the army troops up we were relieving. The marines humped as we did most of the time and the army rode their trucks most of the time. Sometimes the empty army trucks stopped and picked us up. At other times they did not. We knew that if they did not give us a ride it was because the trucks had beer in them for the army troops we were relieving.
One time the trucks on the road next to us were going back to the rest area with soldiers in them drinking beer and enjoying themselves. The convoy stopped and we could see the troops drinking beer and laughing . The truck that stopped next to us had a soldier who offered the marine in front of me a beer. When the marine said thanks and reached for the beer, the soldier pulled it back and said, "Screw you." (He used the other vernacular.) The marine pulled a grenade off his harness and threw the grenade in the truck. (He did not pull the pin.) The soldiers saw the grenade bouncing around in the truck and leaped out of the truck . Some were actually hurt when they hit the ground in all positions. The marines then jumped in the truck and stole their beer.
Operation Mousetrap was conceived by Army General Matthew Ridgway as part of the counter offensive called Operation Killer. Mousetrap started in early May and ended in early June 1951. During this operation, there was a battle in which a few Marines and their supporting arms destroyed a Chinese Army Regiment in one of the fiercest fire fights of the war on May 16 and 17, 1951. Maybe it should have been named "the Battle of Morae Kagae Pass." This would separate the battle from the operation. Very little is written about this fire fight. In researching Operation Mousetrap, I found the following information about the battle in Volume V, U.S. Marine Operations in Korea. This series was produced by the Historical Branch, G/3 Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, DC in 1962. The reference in Volume V to the battle that took place on May 16-17, 1951, states:
"That night Chinese forces entered the Marine zone in regimental strength where the 5th Marines and the Korean Marines had several company-sized patrol bases well north of the main line of resistance in the left and center sections respectively. To the right, Colonel Nickerson's 7th Marines had Lieutenant Colonel John T. Rooney's 1st Battalion patrolling the Chunchon Road, 2d Battalion (now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Wilbur F. Meyerhoff, formerly the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, commanding officer) manning the outpost, and Lieutenant colonel Bernard T. Kelly's 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, holding Morae Kogae Pass--a vital link on the road leading from the forward edge of the battle area back to the main front line. Well aware that whoever controlled the pass controlled the road, the Chinese made Morae Kogae a key objective. Under cover of darkness, they carefully slipped in behind the Korean Marines and headed straight for the pass, which they apparently thought was unguarded.
The assault force unexpectedly bumped into the northern sector of the 7th Marines perimeter at about 0300 and a furious fight broke out. Within minutes the 11th Marines built up a wall of fire at the same time the infantrymen initiated their final protective fires. Burning tracer rounds criss-crossed all avenues of approach and exploding shells flashed in the night as Marine artillery pinned the enemy in place from the rear while marine riflemen knocked them down from the front.
In spite of the curtain of steel surrounding the Marine positions, the quilt-coated enemy closed the position. Amid the fierce hand-to-hand fighting, First Lieutenant Victory Stoyanow led a counterattack to throw the enemy back out of Company I's lines. The critical battle for the pass did not end until daybreak when the Chinese vainly tried to pull back but were instead caught in the open by Marine artillery, mortars, and some belated air strikes.
The Chinese lost an estimated 530 men. By actual count, they left behind 112 dead, 82 prisoners, and a wealth of abandoned weapons that included recoilless rifles, mortars, machine guns, and even a 76mm antitank gun. Marine losses in this one-sided battle were seven dead and 19 wounded.
The following day, 18 May, the 1st Marine Division performed a very tricky maneuver to readjust defensive dispositions that allowed the U.S. 2d Infantry Division to move east to reinforce its right flank which was bearing the brunt of the new Chinese offensive. The 7th Marines pulled back to the No Name Line to relieve the 1st Marines which then sidestepped east to take over an area previously held by the U.S. Army's 9th Infantry Regiment and the 5th Marines swung over from the far left flank to relieve the 38th Infantry Regiment on the extreme. By noon on the 19th, all four regiments (1st Korean Marine, 7th Marines, 1st Marines, and 5th Marines) were aligned from left to right on the modified No Name Line as the enemy's offensive lost its momentum."
We replaced the Army's 32nd Regiment on line in mid-May, 1951, and then continued to walk into enemy territory with Able Company and some other support units to set a trap for Chinese forces. We walked for several miles and there was no opposition. We kept in the valley between two mountain ranges. As I remember it, we dug in with Able Company. A/7 was west and Dog/7 east. We dug end-to-end and formed a slight curved defensive line. I remember a road passing through our defensive position. As part of our defense there was a tank on the road.
After dark a battalion-size Chinese assault force hit our defensives in a narrow area about 10 p.m. This was a traditional communist tactic, hoping to overwhelm the defense by human wave tactics assaulting a platoon or less with large forces. The communists were willing to take huge losses hoping to punch through the lines.
The assault took place west of where I was dug in. The curve of our defense position gave most of us a view of the battle. Illuminating grenades, parachute flares and tracer bullets lit up the fire fight. The Chinese hit our lines where Dog and Able came together, with most toward Able Company. The Chinese were trading Chinese bodies for Marine bullets.
At daybreak the line in front of the assault was covered with Chinese bodies. I had heard maybe 750. The bodies were searched for weapons and some S-2 people (intelligence) searched for information, records, maps, etc. Then a rather large bulldozer showed up, dug a large ditch for a mass burial of the dead Chinese, and covered the bodies up once they were placed in it. Afterward, it looked like freshly-plowed ground with no sign of the carnage that had taken place. We then hiked back to our lines. Talking to Marines after the fight, they said if someone (a Marine) was hit, another would run up and took his place. The Chinese way of fighting by concentrating on a small perimeter of contact with large forces allowed the Marines on the flanks to replace the casualties in the narrow combat zone. Weather-wise it had been a terrible week or so with cold rain, mud, and misery. We were wet most of the time. There was a lot of cholera among the native population.
Perry Dickey, who was serving in Dog Company at the time we were taking part in Operation Mousetrap, remembers the following about it:
My memory of Operation Mousetrap is limited to a few outstanding events. I do not recall where we were dug in during the night as related to the location of the main battle. Also, I do not recall any significant activity at our location; however, there may have been some activity that was more or less routine with mortar, artillery and sporadic small arms fire.
I do remember a bright and sunny morning when we left our position and advanced to the location of the main battle. It was obvious there had been a major fight as there were many Chinese bodies along the way. The number of bodies increased as we advanced to the area that was the center of the activity. There were hundreds of bodies, some lying as they had fallen and others stacked awaiting burial. A marine bulldozer was excavating a large trench for a mass burial. The dead Chinese were being carried and placed into the trench as the bulldozer continued to work increasing the size of the trench. I believe that Marines were handling the dead Chinese with one Marine at the head and another Marine at the feet. Each dead Chinese was carried by two Marines and placed, not dragged, into the trench. I do not believe that Dog Company Marines were used for this burial detail.
I also remember that my squad was standing by waiting for orders to move out. The ground under my feet felt spongy and I used the toe of my foot to push and move some of the dirt. Much to my surprise, I found that I was standing on the forehead of a dead Chinese that had been buried in a very shallow grave. Apparently this dead Chinese had been buried during the battle.
Ron Klein, a Lieutenant at the time of Operation Mousetrap and now a retired Lieutenant Colonel, also has memories of it:
“I very distinctly remember this because of what I saw of the aftermath. Its purpose was, I believe, explained to us in a briefing that the Skipper, Al Mackin, would give us before any such planned move by our company and that’s where I first heard the term “Operation Mousetrap”. As he told us, intelligence had determined that the Chinese were planning a major attack in mid-May 1951 and the 10th Corps had decided to set up a false front and entice the CCF into attacking through it. Units of Battalion and Company size were to be placed on widely separated strong points and in a line at an angle to and about a mile in front of the regular Corps line which, at the time, was the No Name Line. Our Battalion was one chosen and we occupied a small hill and ridge complex. The next nearest units were a Korean Marine Corps company about a half-mile off our left flank and an army battalion the same distance away on our right. The Chinese were supposed to think they had run into our MLR (main line of resistance) and find weak spots in it and also change the direction of their attack. The trap worked perfectly. A few days after we had moved into our positions CCF attacked one night and the few troops we had in the valley to our left quickly pulled out. The CCF probed our front, found the weak spot in our left flank and went pouring through. When they got close to the main line they were taken under fire and found themselves in a cul-de-sac with fire from three sides. We also had a tank company in back of us in the valley and they added to the devastation.
We estimated they had moved an entire regiment through the fake "gap" we had created and there was little left of it in the morning. I saw enemy bodies stacked up along the road running through the valley which were so numerous that tanks with bull dozer blades mounted on their fronts were pushing the bodies into a deep gully and then covering them up. I saw a few Marines walking over the bodies and was told by someone they were looking for souvenirs--which disgusted me, but it may have been that they were searching for documents or other intelligence information. I don’t believe it was anyone from our company.
At a later date, while visiting an adjacent tank unit, I met a company officer that I had known at Quantico. In exchanging stories about some of our experiences he told me he had been with the tanks that were at our left flank during Operation Mousetrap and added these two interesting stories:
The tanks were positioned in line along the edge of a road. The lead tank was in back of a small hummock with its gun pointing forward and over a long, sharp drop-off. For some reason the tanks were not protected with infantry, probably because nobody thought the enemy would get that far into the "gap" purposely left in our false "front line". But they did, and that night the tank unit found itself immersed in a flood of Chinese. The enemy troops didn't have adequate arms to do damage to the tanks that were all buttoned up, so some tried removing the tracks from the bogie wheels. One tank was damaged when a grenade was pushed into its engine compartment. Each tank proceeded to spray its adjacent ones with its 30 caliber machine gun, swinging their turrets around as necessary. This played havoc with the Chinese, while doing no damage whatsoever to the tanks.
Most of the enemy troops that survived took off for elsewhere but a few stuck around, some under the tanks, still trying to damage the treads without success until rooted out at daybreak. In front of the lead tank, just below the crest of the hill and only a few yards in front of the muzzle of the main gun, they found a Chinese soldier dug into a shallow hole. He was completely out of his head. This poor soul had apparently worked his way toward the front of the tank just as the tank fired its 90. The blast had rolled him back down the hill and he'd valiantly crawled up again, only to be rolled back down by the next blast. Finally, giving up, he'd dug his little hole and had lain there the rest of the night while that 90 had blasted away over his head intermittently until dawn. There's no doubt that he was not only totally deaf, but probably whacked out for the rest of his life. That 90 is NOISY.
Fred, it is strange that this operation, which was highly successful, doesn’t get a mention in the official reports. I can’t find it in our 2nd Battalion’s unit diary. I believe the action took place on the night of May 16, although it could have been the 17th. In the days prior, the diaries only refer to our movements to our positions and then later our movements back to the No Name Line. I do not have the Historical Diaries of either the 7th Marines or the 1st Division. I don’t believe Brendan bothered with those because we were only interested in Dog Company. And that may explain the mystery because we were not directly engaged with the enemy.
I did find reference to it, but without the name "Mousetrap", in the “official” history - Volume IV, “The East-Central Front" of the collection “U.S. Marine Operations in Korea 1950-1953” published by the Historical Branch, G-3, HQ USMC. The information can be found on pages 123 and 124 and on Map 12."
Bud Calvin was in 1st squad, 1st platoon, Able Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment. This is what he remembers about Operation Mousetrap:
"Our company, along with Charlie Company, were pulled off the line and we were transported about ten miles or so out in front of the front lines. Three tanks and a mortar company joined us, along with a machine gun platoon. We dug in on the forward slope of a ridge line that surrounded a small valley. Our company was the northern-most part of a parameter set up around the small valley.
We had been told that our planes had spotted troop movement estimated at about 5,000 gooks headed our direction. The direction they were taking would lead them between us and the front lines. When they got to that position we were to collapse back on them, thereby the mousetrap. The problem was that they came right into the middle of our parameter on about the second or third night. Our mortars fired flares in addition to regular rounds and it developed into quite a firefight. At daylight we pulled out, heading back to our lines. Someone counted that we had killed 487 gooks that night.
We were shagging south when we learned that the 1st Cavalry Division (Army) on our division's left flank and the ROK on the division right flank had both bugged out when the gooks hit them. Our division had to drop back to try and establish a new front line. There were gooks everywhere and it took us five days and nights to get back to division.
I think it was on the second day of our getting back to our lines that our platoon was pulled out of the column and we got on the three tanks. They hauled us over to where the 1st Cavalry had left their artillery pieces (all serviceable)--105's and 155's. We had to bust the breechblocks so the gooks could not use our own weapons on us. I remember the gunners on top of the tanks firing the 50s on the hillsides surrounding us to keep the gooks off us until we finished our job of rendering the guns inoperative. As soon as we finished, we climbed back on the tanks and rejoined our column moving south.
There were probably more companies involved in Mousetrap, but being the most northern part of the parameter and then the rear guard when we headed south, I didn't see any other companies. That is how I remember Mousetrap. I know it took place in the middle of May in 1951 because after we rejoined our line and we started moving north again, I was wounded on May 29. We got clobbered really bad on that date by mortars and machine gun fire. I was in the Aid Station for five days and then rejoined my company on line. I still carry around a little mortar shrapnel today, but other than that I am in pretty good health except for my feet and legs giving a lot of trouble.
I am sure others that were in Mousetrap will remember it differently, but we did our part and that is what counts. I hope you have luck in your quest to get the straight story of Mousetrap. I know that nothing has ever been published about it in news and very, very little in books. There are pictures on the Korean War Educator that were taken by a guy named Jackson. I think he was in Charlie Company. I have a few of those pictures as he had copies made and sold them to whoever wanted them while we were in Korea."
William M. Park, who was a sergeant in Dog Company's 1st engineer Battalion, 2nd squad, 2nd platoon, recalls the following:
"I was part of the 2nd platoon under the command of Lieutenant Javis. We traveled to a location out in front of the lines. We set up probably in the middle of this location. I talked to some Marines that were setting their 60mm mortars. They explained how they set up their 60 on grid. I walked over to some tanks that were dug in and a tanker told me that the tanks were set up on artillery grid and could hit a crossroad 18 miles away. That night and the rest of the night we spent at this location. A shell was fired every ten minutes all night. I learned to go to sleep between shells and not wake or hear a shell all night.
Day 2 - I went on tank patrol. We went out toward a town and turned around. We had no contact with the enemy. As we were going out, I noticed a Chinese soldier laying on his back beside the road. I noticed his eyes were still in contact.
Day 3 - We went on tank patrol again. Still no contact with the enemy.
Day 4 - Someone else in the platoon went on tank patrol. A Chinese officer and 25 of his command surrendered.
Day 5 - We went on tank patrol and saw the dead Chinaman. This time the meat was starting to slip on his face. We went through a town and on the other side of town a mine field was set. Rip and I got off the tank and disarmed the mines. One had gone off and parts of a horse were everywhere. We got back on the tank and went in for a mile or two and came under high velocity artillery fire. The shell landed about 100-150 yards away. They never corrected their fire. We turned around and went back to the mine field. We got off and were told that the last tank would pick us up. We watched it go out of sight. We reset the mine field. One mine was tore up. I placed a hand grenade under it and pulled the pin. Rip and I started walking through town. Rip was on one side and I was on the other. When we got to the other side of town, the tankers were stopped waiting for us. We headed back to base. On arriving I reported to Lieutenant Javis that I had placed a grenade under one mine. We were told to load up and moved back south. It was close to dark when we got back. I was ordered to take my machine gun and seven other engineers up a hill on the east side of the road. We dug in on a draw and set up for the night. About 0200 we heard a fire fight on our left. The fire fight lasted all night. At dawn I saw the Marines go down the hill. I was told this was I Company, 7th Marines."
Dale Erickson, a member of the Assault Platoon, Recon Unit, Weapons 2/7 (USMC) in Korea 1950-51, recalls the following about Operation Mousetrap:
"In April and May we had Operation Mousetrap. During this period we were mostly on the move and on patrols. Our orders were to pull out of our forward positions after the Chinese poured down on us from the North, locate the enemy, and report their position. Marine units were strategically placed along the line in places that we had determined the Chinese would use to try to encircle us. At times we had skirmishes with their patrols.
Whoever planned this operation did an exceptional job anticipating what route the Chinese would use to attempt to encircle us. The 7th Marines, with tanks, artillery, mortars and air strikes, were waiting for them. When the Chinese showed up, all hell broke loose on them. At one pass that we came upon on our way out, two Marine tanks were there spaced about 200 feet apart. The two tanks had to face each other and fire on each other when the Chinese swarmed over them. The Chinese did not let up. They just kept coming in on the two tanks and the tankers just kept pouring it on them. We happened to be there just after this battle took place. We saw Chinese bodies piled up around the two tanks. In one small pocket of the action that day, there must have been 300 dead Chinese. The Marines used bulldozers to bury them.
Operation Mousetrap always fascinated me. I did lots of research on this operation and never could come up with anything. The Marines that I talked to about it also talked about the large number of enemy casualties. I saw the dozers burying the Chinese bodies by the hundreds. I saw blood running down the ditches near the place where the tanks killed hundreds. My unit took about 30 prisoners that day. We had a short fire fight with them until they threw their arms away and joined in with us walking out. All of them had new uniforms, tennis shoes and equipment with them like they had just arrived in Korea. Some of the Chinese that surrendered to us that day were very tall--some well over six feet.
Something fascinating that day was that a small Manchurian horse joined up with us. It had gaping sores on its back. The corpsmen gave us sulfa and other meds for the horse and after a while he healed up and stayed with us for several months."
Dog/7 was hiking along a dirt road behind some Korean huts with the traditional straw roofs. Up ahead we could see some smoke. Lt. Lee Wimpee started running ahead of us yelling, "Stop! Stop!" Some Marines had set several roofs afire before he could get to them and order them to stop. We took off our jackets and all of us started to beat out the flames. After a wild time, we got the fires out, but our utility jackets were a mess. I had never seen Lieutenant Wimpee upset before. He started yelling at the two fire bugs saying, "The Yankees did this to us during the Civil War and I am not going to let you people do it here." Lt. Lealon Wimpee was a true son of the South.
I remember Platoon Sgt. Herman Lawrence. He was too old for the mountains of Korea. I remember him telling me that in World War II he spent four years on a heavy cruiser. He didn't think that war would ever end. He was tall and lanky and looked a bit like the actor Robert Mitchem. He could hardly get up with his pack. If he was sitting down we had to help him get on his feet. He had to shave almost every day. He used his last swallow of water in his canteen to shave. He had a mirror with a wood frame. In this mountain-climbing environment, every once of weight counted. I would have pitched that wooden framed mirror.
We were hiking along both sides of a dirt road when several big trucks drove between our column. They almost crowded us off the road. Along came a jeep with Sergeant Lawrence riding in the back seat with a pile of newspapers stacked next to him. He gave me a big smile and a little wave, proud of the fact that he had hooked a ride on the jeep. There was the driver and another passenger in the front seat.
The jeep got by me about fifty feet or so when there was a gigantic explosion. The others and I hit the deck and I remember looking up and seeing newspapers floating down from above. The jeep had hit a land mine. The trucks that proceeded the jeep had wide wheel tracks that had straddled the mine. The jeep with its narrow track was not so lucky. We ran over to the jeep and Sergeant Lawrence was laying under it. The jeep was upside down with the back of the jeep over him. He was in shock and he pleaded, "Would some one please get this Jeep off of me?" We lifted the jeep off of him. The driver was killed and the other passenger and Sergeant Lawrence were both hurt seriously. Six Marines walking along the road near the jeep were wounded--several of them seriously. That was the last we saw of Sergeant Lawrence. He never came back to Dog/7. For him, that was a short and memorable ride.
During a mortar attack on June 10, 1951, our platoon leader Lealon Wimpee, 1st Lt. Tom Burke, and many other Marines were wounded. We were short of Marines because of this. Captain Mackin wrote to his wife Mary on June 12, 1951:
"Last Sunday (June 10th) Dog Company was ordered up a valley to attack an enemy hill from our flank. Before we jumped off I knew we were going to get clobbered. We did.... in a space of 15 minutes. I had 25 casualties, two of them serious. To boot, I lost two good officers, 1st Lt. Tom Burke, my new Exec., and 3rd platoon leader 2nd Lt. Lee Wimpee. I have lost so many men lately that I feel like an old-timer. Almost 50% of my people are bad with diarrhea or dysentery. Our combat efficiency is far below par and if we are not relieved shortly it can prove disastrous."
On June 12, 1951, Easy Company was on a recon squad patrol on Objective 8 when it was ambushed. It lost a member of the patrol in a fierce fire fight and could not retrieve the body. Captain Mackin told us (the third platoon) that we were to go on a retrieve mission on June 13 to Objective 8 and Objective 8 Able to take Objective 8 and return with the body. He said that we would be getting replacements from rear support troops, clerks, postal workers, cooks, radio repairmen, etc. in the morning.
Captain Mackin said that he was going to go with us as the platoon leader. We started down the hill and hiked toward Objective 8 about an hour away. My replacement was a nice kid about 18 years old and nervous as one can be with his first taste of combat pending. I know he had heard a lot of horror stories about combat, some of them embellished to the point of fantasy. His name was Ed and he must have asked me a dozen times, "What do I do?" He also said a dozen times, "I have never been in combat. What do I do?" I kept repeating, "I will tell you when we get there." To Ed we must have looked like junkyard dogs. We had done this stuff so many times it was like going to work like we did back home. We had good days and bad days. The thrill was gone.
We started down our hill about 9 a.m., hiking about an hour or so to get to Objective 8. My replacement Marine asked me again and again, "What do I do?" Then he would say again, "I have never done this before." I told him over and over that I would tell him when we got there.
When we got to the base of Objective 8, it was shaped like a hockey stick with the handle toward the base. The top had a hook. Able 8 looked like a giant cone and was right next to Objective 8. They were both wooded with low to medium size pine trees we could use as cover. We had not received any enemy fire that I remember. Ed asked me again what he should do. I said, "Ed, I want you to take a good look at me." He said, "Okay." Then I made him promise that he would not shoot at anyone ho looked like me. Ed promised he would not shoot me. Our machine gunners started giving us overhead fire support and I said, "Let's go."
Ed and I started walking up the hill side by side. A loud explosion on our left side knocked us over with the concussion. I asked Ed if he was hurt and he said no. We were both laying flat on the ground and had started to get up when we saw a smoking Russian grenade about six feet away and North Korean soldier moving out of sight. I put my hand on the top of Ed's helmet and shoved his head down in the dirt, along with mine. When the grenade exploded it sent splinters into the back of my hand, as well as into my hip and arm. Ed said, "I am hit." I looked at his wounds, which were like mine, and said that we were not hurt that bad so, "Let's get this over. Let's go."
We started back up the hill side by side and saw a dead NKP in his foxhole. A little ways uphill there was another dead NKP in his foxhole, thanks to our 3rd Section machine gunners. Ed kept up and did what a Marine does in combat. We were almost to the top of the hill when we came upon a wounded NKP soldier who was shot in both arms. He had a burp gun (a shoulder-fired machine gun), which he tried to lift to shoot us. He could not lift the gun on account of his wounds. We watched him for a little wile with some admiration, and then I took his Russian-made gun from him. This was good trading stock. I knew the rear echelon troops would pay or trade a lot for this trophy.
We found out later that the loud explosion that knocked us down when we were starting up the hill was friendly fire. Ed and I went to the aid station to get patched up and he asked me if he would get a Purple Heart for his wounds. When I said yes, Ed was thrilled. He said that his parents were going to be so proud. I replied that he was a hero.
In a letter to his wife Mary dated June 14, 1951, Captain Mackin said:
"I had to send a patrol out to Objective 8 out to our front and I decided to go along. The hill was occupied by gooks. We had a fight on our hands but we charged up the hill and took it. We had five casualties--three of them from a misfire of one of our own mortars."
Ed and I were two of the five casualties. The rest were from the misfired mortar round. The company records show four casualties: Edward B. Lane, Richard O. Miller, Robert S. Sullenberger, and Fred Frankville. It took us about 45 minutes to take Objective 8. Ed, a company clerk who became a temporary replacement in Dog/7 for just that one day, did good work--proof that all Marines are first riflemen. He would have a lot to talk about when he got home. Ed did not return to Dog Company after treatment at the aid station. He got his wounds taken care of and went back to his clerk's job as a hero and a celebrity.
We assaulted a rather high hill in the Punch Bowl area. I don't remember the elevation, but it was a long way up and it was very hot. Before we got to the top of the hill we were out of water. You have no idea how we suffered with thirst. When we secured an objective, the first thing we did was go for water. Each squad sent a two-man team with a five-gallon can strapped to a pack board and several canteens back down the hill the same way we came up to bring back the water. This could be a five or six hour trip.
The Marine I was to go down the hill with was Hank Blankenship from the Appalachian region back in the States. He was a good, dependable Marine like all the men were from that part of the country. The way he talked used to crack me up. He said things like, "What went with my helmet is what went with my other stuff." I said, "Hank, get your pack board, the water can and some canteens. We're going after water." He asked, "Why do we always have to get water?" I told him it was because we didn't have any rank. He said, "People with rank drink water." I told him that if we didn't go, we would get plenty of water--bread and water in the brig. When he said that was more than we were getting now, I had to agree.
I told him that we weren't going with the other guys for water. Instead, we were going straight down the hill to where two mountains ran together because there was usually water there. If not, we could turn toward the trail and go with the rest of the water team. If we found water, it would cut our time in half. We started straight down, grabbing trees and shrubs and sliding, and using a little profanity along the way. In about an hour we came into a thicket that was heavy with pine trees--and water. We took off our helmets, leaned our rifles against a pine tree, took the water can and our canteens, and waded out in that cool water. It was about ankle deep and maybe 30 feet across. I dipped my canteen cup in this cool water and must have drank three canteen cups. I also poured some water on my head.
Suddenly Hank said to me, "Fred, look over there. I looked over and across the stream about 60 feet or so away were two Chinese soldiers. They had the drop on us. They must have heard us coming for some time with all that cussing we were doing while sliding down the hill. One of the Chinese soldiers had a rifle and it was pointed toward us. The other was on his haunches with a bunch of canteens with straps on them, getting water. I was shocked and said to myself, "Where in the hell did they come from?" I was staring at the guy with the rifle, wondering why he did not shoot. All the time Hank was saying over and over, "We are dead." The Chinese soldier who had the rifle stopped aiming it at us. I said, "Hank, fill your can and canteens up, then we will go over and get our gear and leave." He said, "They'll shoot us." I said that if they were going to do hat we would have been dead when we showed up. We will get our water." We put on our gear and walked away. The pine tree cover was so thick that we disappeared quickly. I think we flew up the hill.
We got a break. It was peace at the water hole. When we got to the top of the hill, the guys lined up for a drink. We beat the other water carriers by several hours. After our squad got their canteens full, we started to loan out water by the swallow. We gave other Marines three swallows and tried to be fair because they were dying for water. When the other water carriers got back, they paid us back. I told our platoon about our adventure at the water hole. The Chinese were there first but didn't shoot us. Our platoon leader said, "They'll get another chance in the morning when we take our next objective." I will never forget those Chinese soldiers. I wondered what I would have done if the tables were turned.
Captain Mackin wrote to his wife Mary on June 20, 1951:
"In the last 12 days we have had 66 casualties--two killed and one lost both legs. The replacements and the Marines who were wounded and returning are in better health than the Marines who stayed with the company."
He also wrote that he was bitter about the conditions his men were living in and the lack of relief. It rained so hard that we were actually flooded out of our foxholes. I can relate to the conditions that Captain Mackin was writing about. We were dug in on the forward slope and the rain ran in and filled up our foxholes. We had to use our helmets as bailing buckets. The flies were unbearable. If we opened up a can of C-rations, the flies covered our spoon of food before we could eat any of it. There were millions of little green frogs with red bellies (we called them Chinese frogs) and they jumped all over the place--even on the hillsides. They jumped on us when we tried to sleep. Mother Nature was against us. If we had been in the Army, we would have been sent to Japan for two weeks after six months on line. In Japan we would be getting back to civilization. We would have a clean body and clean clothes, and we would be sitting at a table with a tablecloth, eating lobster and steak or a hamburger and a nice drink. For Marine infantry, it was not to be.
Other Marine units had R and R and lived a more human-like lifestyle. Once in March we went to a rest area near where Marine forward air controllers were stationed. We saw a tent out in the field with a stove pipe sticking out of the top. Anything with a heating stove in it created curiosity to we "ice Marines." We walked over and it was a toilet with a stove in it so they wouldn't get their butts cold. We moved in en mass. They could not use the facilities without stepping on us. Their Colonel made a deal with our CO that if we would move out of their toilet he would give us a squad tent minus the stove. We agreed and managed to steal some of their food rations like bread, milk, bacon and peanut butter. The airmen also got R and R. What a difference in the life style of Marine units.
We stayed on this ridge for a week or so waiting for the flanks to catch up. We seemed to always be waiting for the flanks to catch up after we took an objective. The mail clerk came up and said we had a crate at the bottom of the hill that was very heavy, and to take three or four guys to lug it up the hill. It was from John Fielding, a member of our squad. He had gotten very sick several weeks before and was evacuated to Japan for treatment. Before he was evacuated we had all gathered around him and put in our order for stuff that we wanted him to send us from Japan...stuff like whiskey, brandy, cans of lobster, shrimp, chocolate, boneless chicken and other delicacies.
Four of us took a pack board and went down the hill to pick up our crate of goodies. Yes, it was very heavy, but thinking about the contents gave us extra energy. It took about two hours of huffing and puffing to reach the top of the hill. We set the crate down and took out our bayonets and pried the boards off the box. We cleaned some straw off the top of our crate and looked inside. Our emotion went from jubilation to devastation. Instead of whiskey, chocolate, etc., it was a crate of Noritake china. The shipping clerk in Japan had sent our crate to John's mother and we got hers. We took the Noritake plates, ate some C-rations and canned beans off of them, and then used them for Frisbees. It was a world record--the first Frisbee game played with Noritake china in the summer of 1951 at 2700 feet on a mountain top in Korea during war time. Several days later a copter flew up the mountain side with a cargo net with supplies like water, food, ammunition and mail. The days of being a Marine Mule were mostly over. What a relief.
We heard some rifle fire to our left and Lieutenant Wimpee asked me to go with him to investigate. There was a rifle platoon from our company firing down the hillside like target practice. We found a rifleman shooting down the hillside at a Chinese soldier, and an officer with field glasses who was checking the rifleman's marksmanship--telling him things like, "Too far to the left" or "too low."
Lieutenant Wimpee got very upset. He told the officer (a first lieutenant) to stop what he was doing. They got in a heated argument. They were nose to nose and almost came to blows. Captain Mackin walked over, stopped the argument, and told Lieutenant Wimpee to take a Corpsman and go down the hill to check out the Chinese soldier. The Chinese and North Koreans often left their seriously wounded out in front of our lines for medical treatment. This enemy soldier had a piece of his skull missing. It looked like a small triangle and we could see his brain. The Corpsman put a bandage on his head, gave him a shot of something, and radioed for someone to pick him up.
Lieutenant Wimpee was made of the right stuff. His mother was a World War I French war bride and his father was an American soldier who was a member of an Alabama artillery unit using 75 millimeter guns. This three-inch, fast-firing gun was close to the front lines and was considered to be most in harm's way due to its limited range. Lieutenant Wimpee's father and mother met in a nearby village. After he married her, she moved to the United States. They lived in Alabama and had five children. Lee Wimpee's desire was always to take his mother back to France to meet her family. However, this was not meant to be. She died in the late 1950s.
The Chinese and North Koreans had limited medical facilities to care for the seriously wounded. Often times they would bring their badly wounded during the night hours and leave them in front of our lines hoping that we would treat them. I saw them leave badly burned soldiers--burnt by napalm from air attacks. They were actually burned black with their skin blistered off. I remember one Chinese soldier with half of his jaw missing. From the center of his chin to his left ear was missing. His tongue was hanging out alongside of what was left of his face. Some Marine gave him a piece of orange candy, and the wounded and disfigured enemy soldier attempted to eat it.
On June 20, 1951, Dog/7 secured its last objective in our part of the Punch Bowl campaign. It was the end of 73 days of eating c-ration canned beans, canned hash, and bad-tasting beef stew. It's a wonder we didn't have scurvy eating this junk. We got everything else living in the filth of Korea.
We were now in a reserve area near a river with a sandy beach and we all went swimming to wash the crud out of our clothes and soak layers of dirt off ourselves. We felt like we had been recycled. We had a field kitchen that served real food and all we cared to eat. We felt like we were on vacation.
The first few days in reserve we were left alone to sleep, rest, write letters, and check out our new surroundings. We found out that our neighbor in this rest area was the 9th Regiment of the 2nd Army Division. This was like finding the Mother Load. The Army had so much stuff and we were so poor it was hard to believe that we were part of the same country. We just helped ourselves to the necessities like clothing, food, machine guns, pack boards, and an occasional jeep. Captain Mackin wrote to his wife Mary:
"We are in this new area located next to the Army 9th Regiment of the 2nd Army Division. As a general rule, the Army is always loaded down with all sorts of gear that a Marine would give his eye-teeth for. Marines are noted for their "acquisition facilities" commonly known as scrounging. Naturally when they spotted a lot of gear lying around in the neighbor's yard they lost no time in requisitioning it.... They almost stole the Army blind. Three times a day I have had Army representatives come to me and report equipment that has been stolen. "Borrowed" sounds better. They are very nice about the whole thing. Fortunately we recovered all the missing gear. It embarrassed the hell out of me because they treated us royally insofar as giving chow to my people and outfitting them with clothing articles."
We also stole pack boards that were 100 percent better than the back packs we Marines used. The back packs had straps that cut into our shoulders. The pack boards we stole were distributed among the Marines before the Army knew that they were missing. We were the first Marine unit that had pack boards, courtesy of the US Army, and we kept them.
In World War I, about 32 years previous, the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments were part of the Second Army Division. The Marine Regiments made history at Belleau Wood while being part of the 2nd Division. This history lives on as one of the Marines' greatest military achievements. Major General John A. Lejeune was commanding general of the 2nd Division from mid-1918 to mid-1919. It was the first time that a Marine was to command an Army Division.
There was a Korean civilian work party at our swimming hole. They were working on some construction project when two of the Korean laborers approached us with two bottles of whiskey for sale. One of the bottles was labeled "Three Roses" and the other "Four Feathers". Back in the USA, the label was just the opposite: "Four Roses" and "Three Feathers." One of the guys bought a bottle of this stuff. He said it tasted horrible, but he kept on drinking it. He offered the rest of us a drink, but we turned him down. After a few drinks he started to get sick. After a while he started to throw up a lot. He got deathly sick. The corpsman said he was poisoned and gave him some stuff to drink. The next day he was not much better. I thought he was going to go to some hospital facility for treatment, but he started to feel a little better that night. The next day he was sitting up saying, "If I ever see that bootlegging SOB again, I am going to shoot him."
He no sooner said that when in came the friendly bootlegger, all smiles and carrying a bottle of "Three Roses." He also had a friend with him. I said, "Here comes your favorite bartender." The Marine jumped up, grabbed his M-1 rifle, and jammed it into the Korean's stomach. He took the bottle of Three Roses, twisted the cap off, and made the Korean drink it. The Korean protested, but the Marine poked the rifle into his mid section and forced him to drink. The Korean was drinking and gagging and choking. He fell down on his rear and continued to drink under the threat of death. He then started to vomit and roll on the ground. The other Korean took him under the arms and dragged him out of sight.
On July 3, 1951, Jack Benny and his troop with Earl Flynn and Marjorie Reynolds put on a show. We were all looking forward to it. There were hundreds of troops that showed up--including Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Earl Flynn got to ride a helicopter and flew all over the show. A lot of pretty women sang and made jokes with Jack Benny. It was a great performance that was very entertaining.
A few days later we gave a live fire demonstration for some Army brass--General VanFleet, General Almond, and General Thomas (USMC). There were also some civilian dignitaries present. We started training the next day with reveille at 5 a.m. We attacked a make-believe enemy in a make-believe position, then repeated the process and went to chow. At dusk we started training for night operations. The following days we repeated this process all over. We all thought that we were being trained to make night attacks, which would be something new for us because the commies attacked at night and we attack in the daylight. We made another live fire demonstration after dark for some Army and Marine brass. It was just like a Hollywood war movie for the visitors. For us, it was kinda fun.
We left our bivouac area near the Hwachon Reservoir on July 16 and moved south about 43 miles to a point on the outskirts of Hongchon. We were now "in the rear with the gear." The peace talks were going on. In the past when the commies wanted to talk peace, that meant that the war was not going well for them. When that happened, they asked for a reprieve from the war and said they wanted to talk peace. Our politicians always agreed and halted our attacks. The communists then used this time to beef up their defense. I didn't think that we should agree to peace talks while we were winning. When the talks failed like they always did, we attacked against defenses that were murder--and we paid the price.
The South Korean Marine Corps was second to none. They were so much more professional than the South Korean Army that the comparison was negligible. They were part of our 1st Marine Division and they were 100 percent reliable. I heard that the officers were Japanese World War II veterans.
From time to time we sent a US Marine liaison over to them to instruct them as to our tactics. During our time in reserve, 2nd Lt. Lealon Wimpee and Sgt. Gonzalo Garza went to pay the Korean Marines a visit and to instruct them on the latest US Marine doctrine. After they introduced themselves to the Koreans, some of the Korean officers talking Japanese to each other said some derogatory and insulting things about the Americans. Sergeant Garza went to Japanese language school during World War II and understood what they were saying. He answered the Koreans back in Japanese and returned the same derogatory insults back to them. Needless to say, they were in shock and apologetic. Lieutenant Wimpee also was surprised to know that Sergeant Garza could speak Japanese and was proud of the fact that he put the Japanese speaking officers in their place.
The Korean Marine Major was a Manchurian who only spoke Japanese and Chinese. He was talking to his troops in Japanese when off to the side he noticed a young Lieutenant standing in the rain with a bright yellow rain coat. The Major went over to the young officer, tore his rain coat off of him, and proceeded to tear it to pieces. The young Lieutenant stood ram rod straight during this abuse. The discipline in the Korean Marine Corps was severe. I personally witnessed an officer beating an enlisted man with a rifle butt and the Korean Marine stood the abuse without a whimper.
Sergeant Garza stated that the Korean Marine Corps unit that he and Lieutenant Wimpee visited was commanded by a Manchurian. This is true in part. Talking to retired Sgt. Maj. John Hernstom, whom I have known since the Korean War, he tells me the officers and radio men in the Korean Marines were all Japanese. He told me that he was assigned to the Korean Marine Corps as a forward observer for artillery for over three months.
A little history--When the Japanese invaded and conquered Manchuria in 1932, they changed the name to Manchukuo. They made Manchukuo a satellite country and gave it sovereignty under that name. This new country had several mercenary units. One of them was White Russian from World War I. The Koreans, as well, had a mercenary unit. The Japanese unit was named "Kando", a notorious group. When the Russians conquered Manchukuo in August of 1945, they returned this area to the Chinese. The White Russians went to Australia and the Japanese were deported to Japan, as well as to South Korea. There were as many as 500,000. From the Kando special unit came the first two commanders of the Korean Marines. They also brought with them their radiomen of the same Japanese ethnic make-up. They called themselves Manchurians for political reasons. We had not yet signed the peace treaty with Japan.
In discussing the ROK Marines' role in the Korean War, fellow Marine Reinhold "Ron" Klein recounted this to me:
"Just to confirm and add to your comments on the KMC, Wimpee also told me the story about the Major, the 2nd Lieutenant, and the yellow raincoat. He told me that many of their NCOs were also Japanese and that there was bad blood between the Japanese and the Koreans because of the former having occupied Korea during or before World War II.
We always admired and sometimes were in awe of the KMC. During the Chinese Spring Offense in April of '51 they were on the right flank of the 1st Marine Division, between us and the 2nd Army Division and they held the line while the 2nd had to withdraw. That, of course, happened on our left flank also when two ROK regiments bugged out leaving Able Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines to hold the line alone.
Somewhere in my Korean recollections I mention the occasion when Dog Company was on the line adjacent to a KMC unit. We were sitting on a ridge just a couple of hundred yards from another ridge in front of us. A KMC platoon had been ordered to advance and attempt to take and occupy a portion of the forward ridge while we were watching them. What we saw was almost unbelievable. They got about halfway to the top when they started getting small arms and automatic weapons fire. At this point they were on a small bare knoll and were obviously slowing down. Suddenly their platoon leader strode into the middle of the knoll and started shouting at them, which caused them to sit down in a wide circle around him. He began walking around the inside of the circle yelling at and berating his men. We couldn’t make out the words, but he was obviously unhappy with their lack of progress. All this time we could see the dirt spouting up from the bullets that were hitting all around them. How he managed to ignore them I don’t know, but when he apparently felt he had the attention of his men, he shouted a loud order that must have meant “Charge” because his whole platoon jumped to their feet and with a screeching yell ran up the hill the rest of the way and took the ridge. And we thought we were Gung Ho!"
After about three weeks in reserve, we were getting bored with all the training. We old timers didn't need it; however, the replacements fresh out of boot camp benefited by it. We used to get replacements while we were on line. I always thought that it was too much of a shock to jump into combat without any familiarizing with the men and getting a little bonding. I remember that Captain Mackin greeted the new replacements by saying, "Welcome to the family of Dog/7. I know you will all do well and we are proud to have you as the new members of our family."
One day in the chow line we got two large scoops of ice cream. This was the first ice cream that I had had in a year. We also got two cans of Lucky Lager beer. It was printed on the can that it was lucky if you lived in Seattle, Washington, where this beer was made. It was about 90 degrees in Korea, and we had no ice to cool the beer. I punched a hole in my hot beer to taste it and the beer and foam squired out and almost emptied the can of its contents. It tasted bitter and hot. I sold my other can to a guy for a dollar.
We also got a can of orange juice from the Women's Christian Temperance Union. We could almost always get as many apples and oranges as we wanted. I remember getting a half a loaf of un-sliced bread, as well as butter and jelly. We did not get any soda pop. At the time, Lieutenant Wimpee did not drink beer and he told me that he sure would like an ice cold bottle of Coke. He said it had been months since he had one. I said it was longer for me. I also told him that I had two packs of strawberry Kool Aid on me, but I didn't have any sugar for it. He volunteered to look for some. Lieutenant Wimpee later showed up with a carton full of sugar. We went to a stream of water, took the liners out of helmets, put two halazone tablets in the helmets, filled up one helmet with water, and poured the water/Kool Aid mix from one helmet to the other and had a Kool Aid party. Kool Aid never tasted better.
We pulled up roots from this location and went north again to our first reserve area after we left the front lines. It seemed that the 10th Corps Commander wanted us close to the front lines in the event that he needed us. The cease fire was still in effect, but there was no trusting the commies. People were still getting killed by land mines--ours and the Red's. We still had recon patrol to police the No Man's Land between the lines.
The 3rd platoon that I was in went out on a recon patrol one very hot day, starting out from the west end of the valley. There was a village there, but we found it unoccupied. We then walked toward the east end of the valley, which had another village about a five-mile hike from the village on the west. We went through the houses and it also seemed to be empty.
Suddenly I saw a woman run behind one of the huts. Two of us ran behind the hut and there were two women. They had seen us and had dropped to their knees in prayer fashion. They started crying, rocking back and forth with their hands clasped in a prayer mode. One of the women was old and small and the other one was young--about 19 or 20 years old. We tried to calm them down, but it seemed to make their fears worse. The old lady said something to the young woman, then the young woman got up, took off her dress, laid it down on the ground, and then laid on the dress spread eagle style. By then more Marines showed up and they stared at the two crying women--the one on the ground naked and the old one rocking back and forth.
Lieutenant Wimpee and our interpreter Lim Young Soo walked over to the now rather large group of Marines. He looked at the woman on the ground naked and the old woman kneeling and crying and praying. With a shocked look on his face he said, "What in the world is going on here?" I said that I didn't know. "That woman on the ground took one look at me and took her clothes off." The Marine standing next to me said it was his handlebar mustache that made her undress. The interpreter talked to them and they told him that they had family in the hills. They had come back to the village to get a bag of dried peas because they were starving. The Chinese told them that the Americans would rape them and kill them if they were captured. They said they wanted to live and would do whatever to stay alive. That is why the young one undressed.
When they found out that we were not going to kill them, and when we all donated most of our C-rations to them, they kissed our hands and did a lot of bowing. This time the tears in their eyes were tears of joy. Then we started joking to them, knowing they could not understand English. We said things like, "I would like to meet your folks." "I will pick you up tonight in my Bentley." "I will meet you tonight down by the rice paddy. Bring a friend, but don't bring that old one." We had fun with this patrol for days after.
Captain Mackin sent this note home to his wife about this time:
"The Division has instituted a new policy whereby any officer who serves four months in a line company is to be rotated to a (rear) job. Any man, they figure, who lasts longer is tempting fate. With respect to me, it means I have about 3 weeks to go. I'll hate to lose command of this company. They're a wonderful bunch of kids. One becomes very attached to a unit like this. I've lived with them; I've seen them fight; I've seen them hurt and die--They're like my family. In fact, when I get new replacements I gave them a little (welcome aboard) speech and ask them to become part of our family. Do you understand me? It's hard to explain in words alone."
During the first week of September 1951, Captain Mackin transferred to Heavy Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, where he was placed in charge of heavy mortars, heavy machine guns and flame throwers. He was also the weapons coordinator of supporting artillery. Lt. Lee Wimpee transferred to 81mm mortars. 2nd Lt. Clare E. Flynn, a former Navy Ensign who transferred to the Marine Corps, wanted to be the best he could be and wanted his Marines to know that he cared about them and was willing to learn from them.
I transferred to S-2 (intelligence) and was assigned to Easy Company, 7th Marines. After nine months in a line company, Marine infantrymen expected to be transferred to a rear unit out of harm's way. Two of us went down the hill and reported to a Major who had on new dungarees. He looked us over and said that we looked like a couple of tramps. I told him that we were the best dressed up there. We were dressed in rags. We had no seat in our pants, the knees of our dungarees were worn out, and our clothes were filthy dirty. He told us to take a shower and get some new utilities, new shoes, and helmet cover. This was the first time since I had been in Korea that I had a new outfit and one that was not pre-owned. It was a good feeling to look and feel clean. We checked in the next morning to get our new assignment. I was transferred to Easy Company, a sister infantry company. I think the Major disliked me. All I got out of nine months in the infantry in Dog Company was a shower and some new clothing.
I started up the hill to my new assignment at Easy/7. To say that I was unhappy would be putting it mildly. After about a four-hour walk I went to see the Company CO and check in. He was sitting on a fold-up canvas chair that looked like a director's chair. His name was Schmidt. He asked me what state I was from and I said Illinois. He said that he was also from Illinois. He was raised in Chicago and went to the University of Notre Dame. He was a big guy and seemed friendly enough. I found out later that he was a little hard on the junior officers.
Our objective was called Kanmubong Ridge. This huge ridge was located about 40 miles north of the 38th parallel and included Hills 749 and 812. (The numbers meant meters high.) The 7th Marines' objective was Hill 749, while the 1st Marines' objective was Hill 812.
Just prior to our advance, there had been a 30-day cease fire, during which the Commies had 30 days to fortify the ridge. We in the ranks knew that they had asked for a cease fire so they could fortify possible objectives. Our politicians were idiots. This was an important battle and we knew it was going to be costly. The Communists wanted to keep us from taking this ridge line because it was an invasion route to North Korea. The North Koreans were well-equipped and fought fiercely.
On September 13 we started toward our objective, walking up the ridge line toward Hill 749. All three companies of the 2nd Battalion had a piece of this hill. The ridges were devoid of vegetation because of the napalm and artillery that had plastered the ridges earlier. After a while we took a break on the ridge we were on. It was very hot and the company ahead of us stopped because of the resistance they encountered. We were all on the side of the ridge, sitting on the trail and leaning on our packs. I was looking at the ridge about 400-500 yards away, wishing I was home having a cool drink. As I stared at the opposite ridge, I could see people walking downhill on the ridge. I yelled out, "Gooks!" We all saw them jump into their foxholes. I thought someone would say, "Get on the other side of the ridge." No one did. I saw machine gunners setting up their guns on the forward slope. To me it was madness. We were sitting ducks.
The opposing ridge line lit up with yellow/green flashes the color of Russian tracers. North Koreans. Their bullets were hitting targets. The forward observer's radioman next to me was hit. I was outlined with bullets. The forward observer and I each grabbed the radioman's arms and dragged him on the other side out of harm's way. We got our wounded, got on the reverse side, and then called artillery and mortar fire in on the North Koreans. While other Marines cleaned out the North Koreans, we continued toward our objective and got in some heavy combat.
My personal story is limited in particular to my experiences as S-2 in the second battalion's E/7 and later in D/7, and to the 7th Marines in general. Without reading the excellent article, "Kanmubong Ridge: Final Marine Offensive of the Korean War" by Col. Joseph H. Alexander (USMC Ret.), I would not have known the detailed history of the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments in this battle. I can personally relate to the very steep hills that we encountered. I know about Luke the Gook's Castle because it was the last hill I looked up at when I left Korea on November 27, 1951. It went straight up and looked down on the 7th Marines. And, it was in North Korean hands. Colonel Alexander wrote:
Every time we capture one hill, remembered Major General Gerald C. Thomas USMC, there would be another a few thousand yards away that commanded it. Thomas led the First Marine Division in its final offensive action of the Korean War in September 1951. The objective was Kanmubong Ridge, a sprawling series of North Korean outposts just northwest of the ancient volcano called the Punch Bowl, located 20 miles above the 38th parallel, halfway between the Hwachon Reservoir and the Sea of Japan.
The battle for Kanmubong Ridge would rage for ten days, a sustained assault described by Marine Corps Historian Ralph Donnelly as one of the hardest offensive operations ever mounted by the 1st Marine Division. The operation would include the historic first tactical employment of Marine transport helicopters in combat. Yet for all of its valor and innovation, Kanmubong Ridge remains one of the most obscure battles in the Forgotten War. Fought for unremarkable objectives and dwarfed by the ongoing Army battles for nearby Bloody Ridge and Heartbreak Ridge, the unfamiliar name of Kanmubong warrants a re-examination on its 50th anniversary.
The battle for Kanmubong Ridge lasted for a total of ten days, but just four days for the 7th Marines. The objective for the 7th Marines was Hill 749, as objective Baker, the narrow axis of advance, would allow one battalion at a time--the 7th Marines in the lead, to attack and seize Objective Able (Hill 673) and Objective Baker (Hill 749). The 1st Marine Regiment, serving as X Corps reserve 50 miles to the South, was released from that duty and passed through the 7th Marines to seize Objective Charlie.
There had been an operation problem in late spring 1951. The 1st Marine Air Wing was separated from the Marine Division and placed under the operation control of the Fifth Air Force, dismantling of the 1st Marine Division by separating it from its close air support. This had dire consequences. The Air Force complained about using aircraft for artillery, so the air support the Marines got from the Air Force was negligible. One third of the calls for air support was not answered. If the Air Force did show, it was always late and targets were missed. At Kanmubong Ridge, facing steep hills where artillery could not reach the reserve slopes, the Marines suffered unnecessary casualties because of the lack of close air support. Napalm was needed under these conditions, but it was not provided. Artillery shells did not carry napalm.
Maj. Gen. Gerold C. Thomas wanted to land his Marines about 50 miles north. This amphibious landing, he felt, would cause few Marine casualties and have great prospects because it would destroy the right flank of the North Korean Army. He ran this by General Van Fleet, who commanded the Eighth Army. General Van Fleet was a veteran of the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach in 1944. He thought the idea had merit. General Van Fleet passed this on to Washington, but was turned down. They said it would escalate the war and might bring the Russians into the war."
The Division intelligence officer said that we were facing two North Korean divisions, both freshly rebuilt and supplied. They fought like Japs. The 1st NKP Division would defend the high ground and elements of the 45th NKP Division would help defend Hill 749. I don't know how the intelligence people got this information, but they were usually right. The Reds told their troops everything. If a few were captured, we could usually find out what they were up to.
General Thomas ordered the two regiments to attack Yoke Ridge abreast of the Korean Marines on the left and the 7th Marines on the right. He alerted the 1st and 5th Marines to be prepared to attack Kanmubong Ridge on order. General Thomas was pleased with the capture of Yoke Ridge, but it had taken five days and cost 600 casualties. The heavy expenditure of artillery ammunition had depleted my stock--9,000 shells in one day."
Hill 749 dominated the eastern end of Kanmubong Ridge. Surrounded by a river on three sides, the hills had steep slopes and vine-covered ravines that proved ideal for defense. The North Koreans knew we were coming and had prepared defensive positions for months. Some of their bunkers were carved out of solid rock. They would be a good target for napalm, but our air support was hijacked by the Air Force that wanted to use the planes for interdiction and not close troop support. The very steep inclines made climbing extremely difficult and, in some cases, near impossible without mountain climbing gear. It was like Luke the Gook's Castle.... The castle went up from a 45 percent incline to almost straight up. We couldn't capture what we couldn't climb. The steep hills proved to be man-eaters. 2/7 Marines under the command of Lt. Col. Louis C. Griffins were preparing for a night attack against the NKP defenders of Hill 673.
On the night of September 11-12, Lt. Colonel Griffin led his 2/7 Marines up a stream bed that separated Hill 749 from Hill 812. The Marines slogged up the stream in the dark and undetected. At daybreak, 2/7 came out of the early dawn and routed the NKP defenders. Across the valley, 3/7 overcame NKP defenders on Hill 680. This was done at a high cost--22 killed and 245 wounded in two days.
By nightfall of September 13, the 1st Marines arrived and we were relieved. The 7th Marines pulled back to Division reserve at Wontang. The 7th Marines put up flanking defense in case the NKP and Chinese attacked our flanks.
On the night of the 13th after we were relieved, Easy/7 hiked in the dark to our new defensive positions and we got lost. We were in no man's land in the dark between two opposing forces. If the NKP or Chinese knew about us, they would rain mortar fire on us. If the Marines thought we were the enemy, we would be history.
When we got close to the Marine defensives, Captain Schmidt, by himself, walked up to the Marine lines and several illuminating grenades lit up the night. We could see Captain Schmidt silhouetted against the light. Just one trigger-happy Marine was all it would take to kill him. To me, this was a very brave thing to do. He took responsibility for being lost and took the chance that he did because he thought he was responsible and should take the risk. Most Company Commanders would ask for volunteers or instruct a fire team to make contact.
As a member of the third platoon, Dog Company 7th Marines, my squad was assigned to a recon patrol toward enemy forces. There were nine rifle squads in a company. Patrols were made on a rotation basis. We were to seek out North Korean forces dug in on Konmubong Ridge area. Dog Company had a squad recon patrol every day on Line and it was our turn to seek out the enemy. I was the fire team leader of the point fire team of the patrol. We assumed it was going to be another routine stroll up one of the many hills in Korea.
"Captain Mackin was uncomfortable about the safety of the patrol. He told me it was the fourth time that he was instructed to send a patrol on the same route as before. He said it was conceivable the patrol would be ambushed. We were engaging North Koreans and they were more aggressive than the Chinese Army. The patrol was out of sight quickly on account of the rather heavy vegetation in the area. Shortly after the patrol was out of sight, we could hear heavy machine gun fire. The patrol was ambushed."
Pfc. Robert Weidner recalled:
"We were climbing up this particular hill single file when suddenly what sounded like a fifty caliber machine gun opened on our squad. Instinct kicked in and we all hit the deck with bullets striking all around us. PFC Matt Davis, who had been walking in front of me, ended up on the turf above me on the slope of the hill. Mike Kamenca was lying above Davis. Matt's foot was positioned on top of my helmet. All of a sudden, Matt let out a yell, he flipped over on his stomach, and started to roll down the side of the hill. I yelled at Komenca, "Matt has been hit and I'm going down after him." I called out to Kamenca for help since he was nearest to me and also Matt's good friend. The machine gun was firing at us as we slid down the hill toward Matt. Once down the hill, we found Matt and we were out of sight of the enemy gunners. I took Matt's battle dressing out of his belt and attempted to stop the bleeding where the bullets had entered. Kameca and I carried Matt to the rear and the rest of the patrol followed. We later learned that Matt was evacuated."
I was next to Captain Mackin waiting for the patrol to return and he said this was what he was afraid of. The North Koreans had set up an ambush on the patrol before the patrol got to them. We saw three Marines headed our way. They were Weidner and Komenca carrying Matt Davis. We ran out to help them. We carried Matt Davis and Evan Thomas, who was also wounded, to a helicopter that was waiting for the wounded. I looked at Matt's face as we put him on the helicopter and his gums were white--a sign he had a lot of bleeding. When the helicopter left for the medical station, the corpsman who helped with the wounded told me Matt would be dead before the helicopter got to the hospital. By some miracle, Matt lived.
Matt Davis is a warrior. He was wounded at the Chosen Reservoir and when released from the hospital demanded to get back to Dog Company. When wounded for the second time and then released from the hospital, he was assigned to a rear echelon non-combat unit with all the safety and creature comforts. He demanded to return to Dog/7 and live in the dirt with all the risks that went with combat infantry . He turned down a chance to return home on the point system. This almost cost Matt his life. The wound he got on September 6 disabled Matt. Talk about "symbolic symbolism". PFC Robert Weidner was instrumental in getting to Matt Davis and saving his life. Weidner and Kamenca risked their lives by charging through enemy machine gun fire to rescue Matt Davis and carry him to safety.
PFC Robert Miller, also a member of the patrol, is a walking miracle. He came back carrying his cartridge belt and no helmet. The machine gun crew that hit Matt Davis and Evan Thomas hit Miller's cartridge belt and tore it off his waist. A bullet also hit his helmet where the chin strap was fastened to the helmet. It ripped the helmet off his head and it rolled down the hillside. Robert Miller was the platoon clown. He liked to imitate Charlie Chaplin and walk with his feet pointed outward and his hat on sideways. This day he lost all of his humor. He was in shock that he was still alive.
On September 26, 1951, in a letter I wrote to my brother Don who was stationed at Camp Roberts, California, I told him that I was transferred to H&S Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines as an S2 agent on September 13. The new address didn't mean that I moved away. I was still in Dog/7 as well as E/7 as S/2 intelligence agent. The bad part was that most of the time I had to make every other recon patrol. I shared this duty with the other S2 agent. Most of the time there was two of us per company. The patrols in this mountainous terrain were exhausting. In the summer months the patrols were longer on account of the longer hours of daylight. As part of our duties, we counted our casualties as well as the enemy casualties. We tagged prisoners of war with a red tag, asked them a few basic questions, and many times sent them down the mountain unescorted hoping that no one shot them on their journey . We made reports to the senior S2 agent down the hill at H&S Headquarters as to the the results of the patrols and casualties and other things of interest. I have never seen or met the senior S2 agent who was my boss. We did all of our communicating by field telephone.
Most of our squad leaders were PFCs. They should have been Sergeants. Our fire team leaders were PFCs. They should have been Corporals. Our platoon right guides were Corporals. They should have been Sergeants. Our platoon sergeants had three strips. They should have had four strips. Captain Mackin and the other officers were upset about this and they brought it to the Colonel's attention. It did not seem to do much good. The rule was: One must have an accepted time in grade before he moves up to the next rank. This would be okay if it wasn't for the casualties in the line companies that moved people of lesser rank to a higher leadership position with the added responsibilities without the rank or the pay.
What Captain Mackin did to keep experienced leadership in higher slots was to use the seniority method. If a replacement came with higher rank and he had no combat experience, he would follow a leader with lesser rank. At one time I had two Corporals and a Sergeant as part of my squad and I as squad leader was a PFC. This also took place in machine gun squads. About the end of October 1951, Captain Mackin received a letter from Lieutenant General Shepherd, U.S. Marine Corps. To Captain Mackin, this letter was very upsetting. Lieutenant general was visiting Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu and he had a visit with Matt Davis. He wanted to know why Matt Davis, who was wounded three times, was still a PFC. Captain Mackin was CO of 4.2 mortars at this time. Following is the letter that he sent to Captain Mackin:
24 October 1951
Dear Captain Mackin,
I am writing you concerning Private First Class Matt M. Davis 111, 1107845/0311, USMC who passed through Tripler Army Hospital here in Honolulu late last week. Available records indicate that Private First Class Davis departed from the continental United States in October 1950, served with "D" Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines and was wounded in action on 27 November, 1950, 10 June, 1951 and for the third time 6 September, 1951, to his recent evacuation to the United States.
In the course of my conversation with this boy he told me that he had been considered for promotion to the rank of Corporal on several occasions, but that the arrival of corporal replacements within the company precluded his actual promotion. Davis impressed me as being a fine young Marine and I would like to recommend him for promotion to corporal. He mentioned that you were his commanding officer during a part of the time he served with "D" Company.
I realize that first impressions are not always correct but in view of Davis' combat service and the fact that he has been wounded three times, I would welcome your comments concerning this and whether or not he was considered for promotion to Corporal.
Very truly yours
Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr.
Lieutenant General, U.S. Marine Corps
On September 14, 1951, while dug in with E/7 on a hill near Kanmubong Ridge, Captain Alvin Mackin as the commander of Heavy Weapons Company walked through E/7 position looking for places to set up his heavy machine guns and 81mm mortars. Captain Mackin saw me and asked me what I was doing in Easy Company. I told him that I got transferred to the rear and ended up in E/7 as the S-2 agent. He said, "What a dirty deal after what you have been through. If you are going to be up here, you're coming with me." He talked to Captain Schmidt and said he would trade the Dog Company S-2 for me. Dog Company was short the 3rd platoon leader because 2nd Lieutenant Flynn had been wounded on Hill 749. 1st Lt. Tom Burke, the current Company Commander of Dog/7 was short of officers and Al Mackin was a welcome help.
When I got to Dog Company, I was back home. I went to look up by good buddy Joe McKenna. No one knew what happened to him. We checked aid stations, Mash units, Easy Med and the hospital ships. No record of Joe. He had to be up on Hill 749. We got an eight-man search party and decided to look for Joe. Al Mackin gave me permission to go. Lieutenant McKay went with us. The 5th Marines were on the trail going to Hill 749. As we walked by them, they must have asked us a hundred times who we were and what we were doing up there. We told them over and over. When we got near to the top of Hill 749, we started to search for Joe. Dick Curtin, who was with Joe when they were attacking the hill, said it was about where we were standing that they got hit with multiple grenades. We found Joe almost immediately. He was lying face down in the bushes. He had been killed instantly. There was a grenade shrapnel hole in back of his head just underneath his helmet. Joe had lain there for four days. In the heavy combat, he was missed and overlooked. We put Joe on the stretcher and took turns carrying Joe down the hill. It was sad.
Pfc. Joseph Andre McKenna was born May 5, 1931. He was a graduate of Mission High School, San Francisco, California. He was a track star in high school, joining the United States Marine Corps after graduating from high school with the Class of 1949. Two of his brothers were killed in World War II. His brother Frank was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps when he was killed over Germany in 1944. Four months later, his brother James was killed on the beach at Saipan while serving with the Marines. His brother Leo was wounded on Guadalcanal. Joe also lost an uncle who was serving with the Marines in the South Pacific.
Having lost more than one brother in combat, Joe was exempt from military service. He did not have to be in harm's way in Korea. "I don't know why he did it," said his twin sister, Mary McKenna McFadden. "Life was very quiet after that." Their father was in the Veterans Hospital in Livermore with tuberculosis when Joe was killed. What was left of the McKenna family drove to the hospital to break the news of Joe's death to him. Describing her father's agonized response, Mary said he told his wife Artemise Latulipe McKenna, "Well, Mother. I guess we didn't teach our kids to duck." Mary McKenna McFadden had ten children to make up for the three bothers and an uncle killed in combat.
In the morning hours of September 13, 1951, I had met Joe on the trail near our objective, Hill 749. This was my first day as S-2 assigned to Easy/7. Joe and I talked a little about the premonition he was having that he was going to be killed in this operation. He said that his parents would not be able to handle his death. He told me about his two brothers that were killed in World War II. I told him that being killed in combat was for other people, not for guys like us. Joe was visibly shaken. Several hours later, Joe was killed. I think of Joe often. He was a special kid--always happy, and his mother and girlfriend sent him more packages than anyone in the platoon. After he was killed, his mother continued to send cookies to the platoon.
Joe was engaged to a girl in San Francisco. His girlfriend had a girl friend who started to write to me. After a couple of weeks of letter-writing, Joe was killed. I wrote his girlfriend a letter about Joe's death and then I stopped writing to the girl who was writing to me. She wrote me several letters but we stopped corresponding. I just did not know what to say.
One of the reasons why the 7th Marines were replaced by the 1st Marines in the Kanmubong Ridge Battle was because the 7th Marines had more time on line than any regiment--some 73 days. That is why the trade was made. The 7th Marines were involved in some of the heaviest fighting at the ridge. We have two members of the 7th Marines who received the Medal of Honor posthumously. They were 2nd Lt. George H. Ramer of Item Company 3/7 and Sgt. Frederick W. Mausert III of Baker Company 1/7. The two Marines received their awards for their roles in the desperate point-blank fighting on Hills 680 and 673.
The 1st Marines that replaced the 7th Marines also had a Medal of Honor recipient--also posthumously. His name was Cpl. Joseph Vittori, Fox Company 2/1. His citation is almost unbelievable. Fox Company, receiving the brunt of an attack and not giving an inch, was sparked by the incredible performance of Browning Automatic Rifleman Joseph Vittori, who fought a single-handed battle bounding from flank to flank and mounting personal counter attacks. His courage kept the point position intact and prevented the entire battalion from collapsing. On September 14, 1951, Private First Class Edward Gomez of Easy 2/1 threw himself on a grenade to save his machine gun crew and preserve the position during a North Korean counter attack. Killed in the blast, he would receive the Medal of Honor. The Marines realized they were facing a formidable new opponent.
The 1st Marines suffered most of the casualties in the last four days. There were 850 killed or wounded. Lt. Col. Houston Stiff 2/5 took the lead against Hill 812. When supporting Air Force air attacks proved, in his words, to be exasperatingly unreliable, he clobbered the hill with every available ground weapon--artillery, tanks, recoilless rifles, rocket trucks, heavy mortars. By noon the 5th Marines overwhelmed the stunned survivors of the 1st NKP Division. To the west, an ugly granite rock called Luke the Gook's Castle was not taken because it was un-climbable. General Thomas called off all advances against the NKP forces per directive from General Van Fleet. Van Fleet said it was unprofitable to continue the bitter operation.
This marked the termination of offensive Marine operations for the rest of the war. The next 22 months it would be trench and outpost war. The longest fight for Hill 749 had enabled the Allies to add a 4,500 yard bulge in the lines, for whatever that was worth. The NKP forces likely lost 2500 killed. The 1st Marine Division's 1,950 casualties included 254 dead. Some 22,000 Americans became casualties in this type of fighting in the months August to October 1951. The losses were accorded to merely straightening the lines and not to win anything--so as not to upset the Russians. This shocked the folks back home. In a poll taken in October 1951, the public said that this was a senseless and useless war. General Thomas was bitter about the loss of so many of his men. He blamed unsatisfactory air support and not receiving permission for an amphibious operation.
The Marines left Kanmubong Ridge with a bad taste. Marine Corps Historian Ralph Donnelly wrote that Kanmubong Ridge was one of the hardest offensive operations ever mounted by the 1st Marine Division. If we had our Air Wing and if they had let General Thomas make an amphibious landing behind the Ridge, this would have been a successful operation with limited casualties. There were people in other branches of the military, as well as politicians who were in power, who would not let the Marines fight as Marines. They dismantled the greatest fighting force in the world and they had no shame.
The NKP also changed tactics. In the past when we attacked them, they would hole up in their foxholes and bunkers and fight a defensive battle--in most cases to the death. Now they would come out of their defensive positions and counter attacked. I can remember firing into groups of them. They would meet our attack head on. This was not all bad because it exposed them to our fire power. However, it did show a more aggressive form of combat. As I have already mentioned, I was in S-2 (intelligence) assigned to E/7. My job was, in part, to count the enemy dead and captured and to also count our dead and wounded. It was not a pleasant job counting our dead. Some of the dead Marines looked like high school kids. Those that were killed instantly had a wide-eyed look of shock on their faces. I remember one dead Marine who stared at me as I was checking his dog tag. After all these years I can still see him.
Late summer/early fall of 1951, Dog/7 moved up to engage enemy forces that had broken through ROK forces. We walked through refugees going in the opposite direction fleeing the Chinese. The shared road was packed with women, children, and men. After struggling to get by them and walking for a couple of miles, we found a little boy alongside of the road, screaming his head off. He was left by the refugees in their hast to get away from the fighting.
We were infantry loaded down with guns and ammo and had no means of transportation except walking, but we could not leave him there or he would die. Our great captain, Al Mackin (recently deceased), said, "Let's take him with us." We took turns carrying him. We gave him some of our C-ration candy and food and he started smiling and calmed down. He fell asleep in our arms. We took this little guy to war. We kept him in the rear of the column, put a helmet on him, and dug him in with the company headquarters. We were near a town named Poc Hogan, so that is what we named him. We later got him clothes and he was a fun kid--always happy.
Poc Hogan found his family four years after the war. When my wife Sherry and I went to Korea compliments of the Korean government in 1987, there to greet us was Poc Hogan, all grown up and very emotional. We met his wife and mother. I took a lot of pictures.
On October 10, 1951, Captain Mackin packed up his gear. He said to me that he was going to sleep in a tent with a stove on a cot and a real mess hall with a cook on duty all the time, and he is going to have bacon and eggs and toast in the morning. He told me he was going to be transferred as the CO Of a 4.2 Mortar Company. I said to him, "You lucky guy." He replied, "So are you. You are going with me. Get Poc Hogan and let's go." Captain Mackin in the last two months had gone from CO of Dog/7 to CO of Weapons Company to CO of S2 (intelligence) and now to CO of a 4.2 Mortar Company. That meant that he was going to be promoted to Major.
We hiked down the hill toward the 4.2 mortar compound about an hour away. From the hillside it looked like a hobo camp. The mortar men took the empty ammo boxes apart and made wooden shanties with the boards. There were also some squad tents and a large tent with the sides open which was the mess tent.
While Captain Mackin was introducing himself to the other officers, I took Poc Hogan and went to the mess tent. I asked the cook if he had anything like sweet rolls or pancakes. He said he had some pancake batter and in a couple of minutes Poc Hogan and I were eating pancakes with a lot of syrup. Poc Hogan thought he was in Heaven and so did I. Captain Mackin came back and joined us and told me that I was going to be his jeep driver. He said that my tent was right behind us and told me to fit Poc Hogan in wherever he would fit.
After we ate I took Poc Hogan and we walked into the tent. There twelve guys in the tent all laying on their backs on their cots. All twelve of them jumped up on their feet and then did a 180 degree turn with their backs to us. We were being shunned. I was upset and lost my temper. I said some harsh words to the whole group. One Marine said to me that he was a Sergeant and that I couldn't talk to him that way. I said, "When the Captain finds out how you have treated us, I am going to outrank you." In the middle of this heated conversation, in walked Captain Mackin. In an instant there was complete silence. Captain Mackin asked my permission to use the jeep because he and the exec wanted to drive around the area. In fact, I had I had yet to see the jeep, but I agreed that he could take it. The twelve guys in the tent were all in shock about the request. They told me that the position of jeep driver was a status position done on a seniority basis and that I had crashed the party. I said, "The Captain wants to be his own driver. Why don't you shun him?"
After that blow-up we all got to be friends. We fitted another cot in the tent for Poc Hogan and he was living in luxury. I drove the a jeep very few times because Captain Mackin liked to drive himself. The time in 4.2 was easy living. I hired myself out for outpost duty. Everyone had to take turns on outpost duty. In that area, it was a relatively safe job. No one got by the infantry that was protecting us, but every unit had outpost watch. For five dollars I would take their place. It was easy money. Five bucks was two day's pay. The word was out that nobody had to spend two Christmases in Korea, so that meant that I was a short timer.
There was a Marine who was way over six foot tall. His name was Geno Bortalotto. He got a big can of orange juice in the mail and asked me if I would like a taste of this special orange juice. I asked, "What's so special about it?" He peeled the label off the can and I could see a spot of solder on the side of the can. He said his dad owned a liquor store in New Jersey. He would empty the juice out, fill it with whiskey, and then solder the hole, put the label back, and send it to his son in Korea. A great gift that was.
The road out of the 4.2 mortar compound to the ocean went by Luke the Gook's Castle. It was a huge ugly rock that went straight up. We did not take this position because it was too steep. The North Koreans used this fortress to call artillery fire on us. The battleship USS New Jersey gave us supporting fire, firing on Luke's Castle. The 3,000-pound shells would hit the castle and the ground would quiver, but the Castle would still be there.
On November 27, 1951, we were told that some trucks would pick up the Marines going home and take them to the beach to board a ship. We were to be ready. About 10 a.m. the trucks stopped by the 4.2 Mortars and picked some of us up, including Captain Mackin. I could not believe I was leaving this place alive. I can't tell you how happy I was to get to this point. Our convoy of trucks with troops from various companies of the 2nd Battalion was on the move toward the ocean. When we got opposite Luke's Castle, the truck I was riding on stopped running. This was a bad omen. I just knew the North Koreans would call artillery or mortar fire on us and I would not make it home. The truck in front of us stopped, backed up, tied a chain to our truck, and towed us away. It was unbelievable that we received no hostile fire.
My last day in Korea was miserable. Cold and hungry--what a send off. When we got to the beach they took our cold weather gear--parkas, field jacket liners, and more, from us. It was two degrees below zero and the wind was blowing off the ocean fiercely. The LST that was to pick us up and take us to a ship anchored a ways out in the ocean ran aground about a half mile from the beach. Because the LST was grounded, they started using two LCVP boats for transport to the ship. Each one was supposed to hold about thirty troops, but we squeezed in about fifty per boat.
There was about 2,000 Marines and soldiers on the beach awaiting transport. With no cold weather clothing to protect us and a long way to the ship, we were freezing. Captain Mackin talked to the truck drivers and they all gave us some gasoline and buckets. We filled the buckets with sand, poured gasoline in the buckets of sand, and started fires. It was what kept us from freezing.
When we finally got onboard the ship, the sailors told us that we could turn right when we got below and get cleaned up--or go to the left toward the food that was set up for us. We were covered with soot from the gasoline fires and we looked like a minstrel show, but we all headed for the food. There were piles of baloney sandwiches on white bread and coffee. When I picked up my first sandwich, it was covered with my black fingerprints before I could eat it, but this did not slow me down a bit. On my next sandwich, the fingerprints were not so pronounced.
The ship that we were on headed for Kobe, Japan. We were told that we were going to the port of Kobe, then to Otsu to get physicals and our sea bags, then board another ship in a few days and head for home. The plan was to get us home before Christmas 1951. It was now November 28, so there was not much time.
When we got to Kobe we boarded a train for Otsu and an old Japanese Army base where we left our sea bags with our uniforms. We all took physicals and I did all right. Some others had a little problem with worms. After we got in uniform we got permission to leave the base. It was too late to go to Kobe so we thought we might explore Otsu.
Otsu was a small town with not much going. Another Marine and I were milling around the front gate thinking about going to town when a pedal cab pulled up. This was a little carriage pulled by a bicycle. The driver asked if we wanted a ride to town and he kept repeating the word "lipstick" over and over. We thought he was going to take us to a Geisha house. I had never been to one, but I heard they were elegant and that the women wore kimonos and had big hairdos. The Marine with me was a big guy and the carriage went down the road sideways. We went into a dark and smoky part of town where dogs were barking.
The driver stopped in front of a gated wall. The gate opened and an old lady started talking to the driver. She motioned to us to follow her, which we did. We went into the house, took off our shoes, and sat on two pillows on the floor. The old lady bowed to us and said, "Lipstick" several times. The door across the room opened up and two skinny little girls showed up covered with lipstick. They didn't have a boob on them, and they looked like little boys. The Marine next to me asked, "Which one do you want?" I said, "This is your lucky day. You can have them both." He left the room with one of them and I was alone in the room with the other girl and the old woman. I refused to go with the girl. I shook my head saying, "No, no." The old woman pointed toward the lips and said over and over, "Lipstick, lipstick." I said no. The girl started crying and the old lady started wringing her hands. I took some money out and paid them for services not rendered but the girl continued to cry.
On the way back to the base the big Marine asked me why I did not take the girl. I said I paid as much for not doing it as he had for doing it--and I would have paid more. I told him, "It's been a long time for me and when I get a woman she is going to look like one."
The next day we got to go to Kobe. We went to a big hotel ran by the U.S. Navy. It was nice and we could get the best dinner for ten cents. I had steak, shrimp and champagne. The next day we boarded the General Pope. It was a beautiful, 12,000-ton ship that was big and roomy. In World War II it was fitted out to carry 5,000 troops. Since then it had been converted to a more comfortable ship. It was used to move military families with children around the world. It had a big play area for kids with a swing set, sliding boards and a sand box. The ship was not crowded so we could sleep any place we wanted. The food was great and I did not get sea sick. It looked like I would be home for Christmas. What a great feeling! The hardest part for me in Korea had been being homesick.
My record of service shows that I arrived at the Marine base at San Francisco on December 20. My previous record shows that I left Korea on November 27. What happened to the 23 days in-between and the troop ship General Pope was not mentioned. I wonder how I got to San Francisco? Kobe, Japan or when I left Japan was not mentioned either.
The next day was even more confusing. When the pay master paid me, I was shorted six months' pay. I was not paid for over a year and I should have had this back pay on the books. "What a deal skipping boot camp" may not have been such a smart move since I was not paid for my first six months of service. I put in a claim for my pay later, but after arriving in Frisco all I wanted was enough money to buy a train ticket. I got out of Korea with what I wanted most--my butt.
I boarded a train out of San Francisco for Galesburg, Illinois early afternoon on the 21st of December. If all went as planned, I figured that I would be home on the 23rd of December. Galesburg was about 40 miles from my hometown of Rock Island, Illinois. My mother and dad and brother John were going to pick me up. About an hour out of Galesburg I started to walk back and forth from one couch to the other. I was so keyed up I could not sit down. When I got off the train my mother let out a scream and hugged and kissed me. It was the most emotional time in my life. This was my first day home in 18 months. In all that time I had only had two days liberty in Japan while being processed to come home. I really needed some time to unwind. I think I had a drink with all my old friends and some new ones. I liked waking up in my old bed, getting up when I wanted to, and not having to carry a weapon every place I went.
On January 24, 1952, I was assigned to Easy Company, 8th Marines, 2nd Division and stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I was in another infantry company and this was horrible. After a regular day of trooping and stomping, we fell out after evening chow and went on night problems through the swamps. Then we went back to the barracks by 10 p.m., got cleaned up, and had to start over at 5:30 a.m. The whole company wanted to volunteer to go to Korea but when they asked my opinion I told them, "Here they can abuse you, but they won't kill you."
I did not like the stateside Marine Corps. People were rank happy. In Korea the job you had was based on seniority and rank was secondary. In my time in the Marines you had to have so much time in grade to get promoted. The casualties were such that you had to use lower rank for higher positions. I was a squad leader and I was a PFC. PFCs were also machine gun section leaders. It was a crazy set up. In the Army, if you had the job you were also given the rank that goes with the job. Not going to boot camp made me lax on military courtesy. I got chewed a few times for not saluting. Korea was a saluting-free zone and, not thinking, I extended it to Camp Lejeune.
I was released from active duty on February 12, 1952 and went back in the reserves. When I got home I wrote a letter to the Commandant about the six months pay that I was shorted. I told him I got a Silver Star and a Purple Heart and that I had earned it. About two weeks later I got an enveloped addressed from the Commandant of the Marine Corps. In the envelope was a check but no letter. A letter would have been nice, but a check was what I wanted.
These are my memoirs of my active duty time in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War.
Secretary of Defense Johnson entered office sharing the President' s commitment to achieve further military unification and reduce budget expenditures on defense. Truman was known to approach defense budgetary request in abstract without regard to defense response requirements in the event of conflicts with potential enemies. From the beginning Johnson and Truman assumed that the United States' monopoly on the atomic bomb was adequate protection against any and all external threats.
Johnson promptly began proposing mothballing or scrapping much of the surface fleet and amphibious forces. Johnson had a conversation with Admiral Richard A. Connally, giving a revealing look at his attitudes toward the Navy and Marine Corps.
"The navy is on its way out There is no reason for having a Navy and a Marine Corps.... Army General Bradley tells me amphibious operations are a thing of the past. We will never have any more amphibious operations. That does away the Marine Corps, and the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do so that does away with the Navy."
Johnson attempted to eliminate the Marine Corps aviation, transferring its assets to other services. He also proposed to eliminate the Marines altogether in a series of budget cutbacks. Johnson ordered the Commandant of the Marine Corps be deleted from the official role of chiefs of services branches. At that time all heads of services were authorized to have a driver. As a cost-cutting measure--as well as an insult to the Marine Corps, Johnson cut the Marines out of this motor pool. Johnson also attempted to eliminate the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday.
Truman had a well-known dislike of the Marines dating back to World War I. In August 1950 he said, "The Marine Corps is the Navy's police force and will remain that as long as I am President." He said they had a propaganda machine that was almost equal to Stalin's.
Truman would live to eat these words. A short time later, his hated Marines showed the world how American Marines can fight. They showed the world at the Pusan Perimeter, at Inchon, at the Chosen Reservoir. The Eighth Army made the longest retreat in US military history. The Marines called the rush south by the US Army "the Great Bug Out." One Marine division destroyed a Chinese Army and kept the Commies off the Eighth Army's back as they retreated south. One Marine division showed the world what American boys properly led can do under extreme conditions. This operation and the drive north from Pohang in southeast Korea to Wonju and on to Hoengsong in Central Korea--then to the east coast to Kanmubong Ridge, and then across the Korean peninsula to the west coast to defend Seoul, saved the Marine Corps forever. By an act of Congress there will be three Marine divisions and supporting arms forever. Johnson resigned on September 19, 1950. President Truman apologized for insulting the Marine Corps. The Marines told Harry to take a hike. The United States Marine Corps saved Korea and the Korean War saved the United States Marine Corps. The 1st Marine Division was the SWAT team of the Korean War. It was a brutal, primitive, infantry war, and the Marines could fight well in this environment.
According to an article in the VFW Magazine dated August 2007, the 1st Marine Division "sustained the most combat deaths of any U.S. Army or Marine division in the Pacific Theater with 3,470 KIA and 14, 438 WIA." During the three-year Korean War, the total division casualties were 4,004 KIA and 25,864 WIA. From 1965 to 1969, the 1st Marine Division sustained more than 6,000 KIA in Vietnam. Eight Marines were killed in the defense of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf in 1990/91. In Somalia (December 1992 to April 27, 1993), two Marines were KIA and nine were WIA. The Marine casualty total thus far (this memoir was written in 2010) in Iraq and Afghanistan has not yet been determined because casualties are still happening. By far the Marines who served in Korea suffered the greater number of casualties in the shortest length of time.
I attended a Dog 7, Marine Corps reunion in San Diego, California on September 26, 1997. We watched Marine recruits graduating from boot camp in a beautiful ceremony. To our surprise, about 25 former members of Dog Company, 7th Marines who were in attendance were called forward. We received a certificate of graduation along with the new recruits who were now called Marines. The certificate was signed by H.P. Osman, Brigadier General, U.S. Marine Corps Commanding General, MCRD/WAR. I was honored to be among these fine young men. It took me 47 years and two months to graduate from boot camp training. You might say I was a slow learner!
About 1700 Marines served in Dog Company 7th Marines from August 1950 to July 1953. The following statistics show the magnitude of their contribution to the Korean War:
|Adams, PFC John E.||09/28/50|
|Albert, PFC Henry J. Jr.||12/08/50|
|Bannantine, 2 LT James W.||07/14/50|
|Bateman, PFC Leroy R.||12/09/51|
|Bigden, SGT Jack B.||11/03/50|
|Bosch, PFC Edward R.||05/31/52|
|Bruce, PFC John F.||12/08/51|
|Bryant, PFC Floyd G.||12/24/50|
|Caldwell, PFC Ernest T.||11/27/50|
|Colegate, PFC David T.||02/10/52|
|Collins, PFC Edmund Jr.||11/29/50|
|Cramer, PVT Glenn R.||11/27/50|
|Crow, PFC Harold M.||03/11/51|
|Damon, SGT Robert V.||04/10/51|
|Desrosier, SGT John A.||09/28/50|
|DeWert, HN3 Richard||04/05/51|
|Dewitt, SGT John F.||03/02//51|
|Didonna, PVT John||01/13/53|
|Diemer, PFC John W.||12/01/50|
|Dolan, PVT Michael J.||11/28/50|
|Dorn, PVT Conrad E.||11/28/50|
|Doucette, PFC Vernon J.||11/29/50|
|Druzianich, PFC John G.||03/02/51|
|Duhr, CPL Kenneth R.||11/28/50|
|Dunlap, SGT Albert H. Jr.||06/11/51|
|Durham, PVT Richard W.||04/05/51|
|Eichschlag, PVT Donald T.||11/28/50|
|Eismin, PFC Leonard D.||07/18/52|
|Epp, PFC William C.||11/27/50|
|Fairchild, PFC Ray P.||11/27/50|
|Falatch, PFC Anthony J.||04/05/51|
|Farley, PFC Louis G.||12/01/50|
|Fischer, CPL Ralph R.||03/02/51|
|Flores, PVT Roque I.||11/28/50|
|Flynn, CPL Walter M.||11/28/50|
|Forrester, PFC Edsel G.||11/29/50|
|Gentry, PFC John S.||11/28/50|
|Griswold, PFC Harry E.||09/28/50|
|Gross, SGT Lawrence L.||11/27/50|
|Handing, CPL Richard J.||01/13/53|
|Hardin, CPL William G.||11/03/50|
|Harris, SGT Richard E.||09/26/50|
|Hendrix, SGT Thomas C.||06/15/52|
|Henry, SGT Elton T.||11/30/50|
|Hermosillo, PFC Carlos||05/27/51|
|Hill, PFC James M.||09/11/52|
|Hoiles, PFC William H.||03/02/51|
|Icett, PFC Harold W. Jr.||09/12/51|
|Jiminez, PFC Manuel||07/05/53|
|Joachinson, PFC Edward R.K.||11/28/50|
|Johnston, PFC Harold M.||07/24/52|
|Jonas, PFC Bernard C.||06/17/51|
|Justice, PFC Herbert||01/13/53|
|Kemp, PFC Harvey D.||10/27/51|
|Kipp, SGT Kenneth R.||12/06/50|
|Knott, PFC Walter D.||11/27/50|
|Korte, PFC Joel||11/27/50|
|Lease, PFC Gene H.||09/26/50|
|Lenoir, HM3 Edward A.||03/02/51|
|Leonard, PVT Reuben||04/09/53|
|Ley, CPL Frederick A.||11/29/50|
|Luckenbill, PFC Ray F.||09/28/50|
|Mallett, PFC Robert A.||11/25/50|
|Mandich, CPL Robert S.||12/01/50|
|Matusowski, PFC Robert J.||11/28/50|
|McDonald, SGT Alton C.||11/30/50|
|McKenna, PFC Joseph A.||09/13/51|
|Melbye, PFC Roland J.||09/12/51|
|Migala, PVT Jerome P.||11/27/50|
|Mock, CPL Robert C. Jr.||09/29/50|
|Monroe, PFC Tracy W. Jr.||11/28/50|
|Neustadt, PFC Alvin||09/26/50|
|O'Neill, SSGT John||09/26/50|
|Padgett, CPL William A.||11/27/50|
|Partin, PFC Dean W.||04/25/53|
|Pearson, CPL William A.||11/28/50|
|Pieper, CPL Rolly L.||10/27/52|
|Pitts, SGT Clyde T.||12/06/50|
|Pryzgoda, SGT Dennis A. Jr.||07/20/53|
|Purcell, TSGT William P.||11/30/50|
|Rapp, PFC Paul M.||05/20/52|
|Rister, PFC Harst||06/15/52|
|Riviello, PFC Frank V.||03/02/51|
|Roderick, PFC Earl F.||09/30/52|
|Rooney, PFC Robert F.||10/27/52|
|Roos, SGT Jerry M.||07/21/53|
|Ruddle, SGT Bobby J.||04/19/53|
|Russell, PFC William R.||11/28/50|
|Schmidt, SGT Walter S.||02/08/54|
|Schneider, PFC Edward C.||11/28/50|
|Schupbach, PFC Ward||09/12/51|
|Sharpe, PFC Robert V.||11/30/50|
|Shenk, CPL Frederick B.||02/10/52|
|Shoemaker, PFC Edward L.||07/17/52|
|Shropshire, 1 LT Arthur J.||09/29/50|
|Sikes, PFC Jackie P.||11/28/50|
|Skeen, PFC Kenneth L.||07/20/53|
|Sly, CPL Donald||04/05/51|
|Smith, PFC Douglas E.||01/29/53|
|Smith, PFC Herbert L.||09/29/50|
|Smith, CPL John B.||03/28/53|
|Somsky, CPL John E. Jr.||03/28/53|
|Speaker, PFC Thomas B.||02/27/52|
|Stefanak, PFC John C.||04/09/53|
|Stewart, HM3 Charles F.||12/06/50|
|Stewart, SGT Joseph E.||12/01/50|
|Stiles, PFC Paul G.||07/20/53|
|Stiles, PFC Vernon L.||01/13/53|
|Stone, PFC Marion H.||04/05/53|
|Talarico, PFC John C.||07/26/53|
|Thevenet, OFC Delmar L.||11/28/50|
|Thompson, PFC Franklin B.||09/28/50|
|Thomson, 1 LT Thomas L. Jr.||11/28/50|
|Tovar, PFC Julian T.||03/11/51|
|Vallejo, PFC David T.||08/07/53|
|Velasquez, PFC Angelo M.||05/27/51|
|Vick, CPL John S.||12/08/51|
|Vines, PFC Thomas F. Jr.||10/22/51|
|Violette, CPL Robert J.||11/28/50|
|Wade, CPL Freeman N.||11/27/50|
|Watkins, PFC George R.||01/19/52|
|Watt, CPL Thomas F.||04/25/53|
|Weber, CPL Albert G.||09/29/50|
|Welch, PFC Willard M.||02/07/53|
|Wensley, PFC Robert G.||10/11/51|
|Whalin, SGT Granvil R.||10/16/52|
|Whatley, PFC Charles W.||04/12/51|
|Wilcox, SGT Dale R.||10/09/52|
|Woolery, CPL Clyde L. Jr.||09/28/50|
|Yelton, PFC Harold E.||03/29/53|
When I left the Marine Corps I kept track of Al Mackin, who stayed in the active Marine Reserves and rose to the rank of full Colonel. I called him every New Year's Day for over fifty years. My wife Sherry and I also visited with Colonel Mackin and his wife Mary. On one of our visits he said that he kept a correspondence doing with our old interpreter Lim Young Soo, who lives in Seoul, Korea. Lim said we should pay Korea a visit. We agreed that we should take advantage of the Korean government's offer to visit Korea for a week all expenses paid to veterans of the Korean War from a grateful Korean nation. We all agreed to visit Korea in the late summer of 1987. Al Mackin passed the word to Lim that we would meet him at the hotel we were booked to stay in and the time of our arrival. We also told him that it would be great if he could locate Poc Hogan, the little kid we picked up alongside of the road in late September 1951.
When we were walking through the airport I was in shock. The airport was out of fantasy land. It was super modern and staffed by well-dressed and polite people. We drove through Seoul on a six-lane highway by modern buildings and saw Colonel Sanders, Dunkin Donuts, and McDonalds. The country was not "rebuilt." It was brand-new. It had gone from the Stone Age to the 21st century in 35 years.
At the hotel we met Lim Young Soo and his wife, as well as Poc Hogan all grown up. It was a very emotional time. When we checked in at the hotel, we all received a book of food tickets. The value of the tickets was more than we could eat. It was good at the many hotel restaurants. There was the Parisian Room, the Venetian Room, the Chicago Room, and down in the lower level was the largest international continuous buffet, including lobster and champagne. Poc Hogan wanted us to go to his house and meet his family, including his mother who he found three years after the war ended. The Korean government made great efforts to reunite families, and Poc Hogan was lucky--he found his family. We made plans to visit Poc Hogan's farm.
The next morning we all got on a tour bus to see the sights of Seoul. It was very impressive. It looked brand-new and spotless. The Korean people were very gracious and grateful. It was an interesting time and there were statues of General MacArthur at several places. The Koreans loved this General. We kept our opinions to ourselves.
The next day we skipped the tour bus and hired a van with a driver to go to Poc Hogan's place about ten miles from our hotel. This had to be the most emotional time for Poc Hogan and his family ever. When we arrived at Poc Hogan's farm (about eight acres), we were met by his wife, who was about as nervous as a hostess could be. We also met his mother, who was very quiet and reserved. Poc Hogan was elated that this was taking place. It was the most storybook meeting. Who could imagine that something like this was taking place? About 40 years before, Dog Company 7th Marines picked up this screaming little boy alongside of a dusty road. He had been separated from his fleeing refugee family and he was alone.
The refugees were running away from the Chinese commies and Dog/7 Marines were heading toward the commies to stop them. Poc Hogan heard the sounds of combat that night and the next day. We protected him by placing him in the rear of the company as much out of harm's way as we could. He was a happy kid, grateful for any special treatment that he was shown--like receiving all the candy that we got with our C-rations. Less than a month later Captain Mackin was made CO of a 4.2 mortar company and took Poc Hogan and me with him. We went from living in the dirt to "5-star resort"--in a tent with a stove, a cot, and all the food and good stuff we wanted. The mortar people took good care of Poc Hogan. They got him books and sent him to school. Several years later he found his family.
Fast forward to 1987, we were now at Poc Hogan's farm house. It was similar to the old war-time houses except it had a tin roof instead of a straw roof. It also had electricity, a refrigerator and a television set, and a new concrete road that went by the house. We sat on the floor on cushions in front of a long table covered with multi-colored food. We only ate what we were familiar with and it was very good, especially when we washed it down with plenty of Soju, which is the Korean equivalent of our Vodka.
It was a day to remember. Many stores were told. As I said earlier, it was like a storybook. It was hard to believe that this was taking place and we were part of it. It was a war story with a happy ending. The adventures Poc Hogan had and finding his family at last would make a fine novel.
Korean War veterans gather to salute fallen commander one last time
By Lance Cpl. Benjamin Harris, Headquarters Marine Corps
January 21, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. — It's been almost 55 years since the Marines of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, left the Korean peninsula after cold days and long nights of combat. In the years since, those same Marines have gotten together, holding reunions off and on.
Meeting this time for a more solemn occasion, three Marines of “Dog Company” came together at Arlington National Cemetery January 15 to pay their final respects to their company commander, retired Col. Alvin Mackin. Mackin passed away September 24, 2009, a week after his 88th birthday.
The Cleveland native enlisted in the Marine Corps December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After completing boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Mackin was selected for an officer program.
In World War II, he served as a navigator in a B-25 Mitchell, and later served as an infantry officer in the Korean War as well as a regimental commander during the Vietnam War, before retiring in 1972. His awards included the Silver Star and the Bronze Star with a combat distinguishing device for valor.
His service in Korea, which has been claimed as the “Forgotten War,” was what the Marines in attendance remembered of him. “He was a breath of fresh air,” said Fred Frankville, a former corporal who served under Mackin. “That's what he was.”
Mackin made sure the first day he came to Dog Company that he shook the hand of every Marine under his command, said Frankville. In a time where Marines didn't know many people outside of their fire teams, this made a big impression. Frankville was so impressed that he had no issue later serving as Mackin's driver, something he said he was honored to do.
This level of contact continued long after Mackin moved on from the Marine Corps. In 1980, he got in touch with some of the Marines he served with in Korea, suggesting that they meet up at a veteran reunion the following year. Nine Marines from Dog Company attended the meeting, and a tradition was started. Mackin became one of the founding members of the Dog Seven Association, an organization dedicated to finding the rest of the Marines who served in the unit.
This was the same leadership the Marines remembered him for in Korea. Mackin had a habit of personally going out and checking the route of a patrol before sending his Marines, said Charles Curley, who served as a sergeant with Mackin. “Some people are leaders but don't know how to lead,” said Curley “He knew how to lead.” Mackin cared for everyone in the unit. As Gonzalo Garza, a former platoon sergeant under Mackin explained, “We did more for him because of his leadership.”
Jacqueline Mackin-Hartman, the oldest daughter of Mackin, said she was amazed at the pride the Marines had in serving with her father. It is a feeling that she shares. “My pride in my father continues to grow as the realization of his impact on others was so strong,” said Mackin-Hartman. “Like them, my father lived his life like a Marine, and now I am beginning to better understand what that means.”
Mackin led the way once more, as the three Marines and the families in attendance followed the procession to the grave site. After the ceremony, the Marines paused, savoring their last reunion with Col. Al Mackin, who lays forever interned at Arlington National Cemetery, and in their memories.
- Lance Cpl. Benjamin Harris, Headquarters Marine Corps
Click HERE for pictures of the funeral
Courtesy of the United States Marine Corps
Army Casualties at Hoengsong & Vicinity - February 12-14, 1951
Hoengsong, Wonju, Chipyong-ni, Chaum-ni
Obituary - Fred Frankville
|Back to "Memoirs" Index page||back to top|
© 2002-2012 Korean War Educator. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use of material is prohibited.