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James C. Neely
"He called it as he saw it."
- Andy Andersen, Editor, 987th AFA BN Newsletter
Click HERE for a Korea Photo Album, courtesy of John Engel
The unexpected attack by the North Korean Volunteer People’s Army (NKVP) in June of 1950, had almost overrun the peninsula. Only a heroic stand on the Pusan Perimeter at the southern tip of the country had prevented complete capitulation. This army, trained and guided by skilled Russian Communist advisors, equipped with tanks and artillery, had invaded, over-run, and routed the army of the Republic of Korea (known by United States troops as "R.O.K.s").
The contrast between north and south regions was purely political in nature. Korea is a peninsula across the Sea of Japan, and its western-side borders the Chinese Sea. It is mountainous in the northern part, with a spiny mountainous ridge running south the entire peninsula. The mountains gradually emerge into broad valleys below the 37th Parallel with rivers that emerged from the mountains. Above the 38th Parallel in the center of the peninsula, a flat plateau forms an area known as "The Iron Triangle." A railroad formerly ran from Seoul, the capital of South Korea, northeast to Chorwon. From Chorwon a connection-railroad went to Kumwha.
Vast reservoirs had been build under the Japanese rule of the peninsula, wrenched from Russia after the Russian-Japanese War of 1905. German engineers had built a magnificent rail system, with many tunnels and bridges through the mountainous part. The north had been mostly industrialized, with power furnished by the reservoirs. The south had been mainly farmlands, growing suburb rice crops on the paddies there, utilizing the small streams, and fertilizing mainly by human excrement. As General Ridgeway stated in his book about the Korean campaign, ‘the whole southern area smelled of human dung’.
The Japanese had used it mainly as an adjunct to their expansive manufacturing area, Manchuria, after World War II. Manchuria was incorporated into the Chinese area controlled by the Chinese Communists under General Mao Tze Tsung. Under mutual agreement, the Soviet Union of Socialistic Republics--the Russians--increased their sphere with the acquisition, adding to their arctic shoreline.
General Douglas MacArthur's brilliant landing of the X Corps at Inchon had thwarted the North Korean plans for control of the peninsula. The Eighth Army, under Gen. Walton Walker, continued up the peninsula and also sent North Koreans reeling northward and back across the 38th Parallel. Walker and his army continued pursuit into North Korea, rapidly destroying the NKVP forces and threatening complete annihilation of the puppet-state’s existence.
As stated in histories: General MacArthur’s intentions were simple: Capture Korea, utilize the Nationalist Chinese Army of General Chiang-Kai-Shek (a former ally of the United States), and thus bring China into the United States sphere of influence and power it once had been, and destroy Communism in Asia.
Comment about General MacArthur’s ambitious plans and politics will be discussed at the end of this story. But for now, let’s just say that he disagreed with President Truman’s policies. MacArthur had also incurred a difference of opinion in the United States Army officer’s corps that resulted in petty behavior on both sides of the problem. The difference was never resolved. As a result of this, [even] the Vietnam War [was effected and] resulted in chaos and failure [as well], and left things mainly as they were [just like] when the Korean War began – unresolved and festering.
[KWE Note: Text in brackets added for clarity]
One other thing I’d like to mention before closing upon this subject: When the next great crisis erupts, what will our policy toward Military Service become? Universal? Favoritism and outright evasion of responsibility of the 1960-1970 era? A Volunteer Army cannot, and will not, solve it.
General Ridgeway replaced General Walker in November 1950, and the former Airborne Corps Commander realized that low morale and poor training had undermined his chances of success. So he instilled new programs, new training, and new attitudes in Eighth Army, and with additional reinforcements from the States, set out to reconstitute the Eighth Army’s lackadaisical attitude, its poor esprit de corps, and its sloppy behavior.
In the period December through March 1950-51, Eighth Army had pushed the Chinese 6th Route Army and the NKPV forces back into the mountains above Seoul, and had even managed to recapture Seoul itself. This was vital, because other than the port of Pusan at the bottom of the peninsula, there was no other means of supply and troop replacement. Seoul’s capture meant much easier logistics for the United Nations troops now manning the lines, the French, Dutch, Turks, Greeks, Ethiopians, and the British Commonwealth Division, who had furnished support in the action with their Australian and New Zealand forces, along with other United Nations troops.
Although the thirty-five foot tides were irksome, the port of Inchon, just below Seoul, saw supplies pour into the Eight’s Logistics Command warehouses. The fuel problem was solved by having tankers lie outside the port, away from the break waters, unloading oil and gasoline by having these petroleum items pumped into anchored barges. These held up pipelines that sent the needed fuels to shore where it could be stored, and later disseminated by trucks and containers to the front. This was a lesson well-learned from the Normandy Landing in France in 1944.
Encouraged by these successes, General Ridgeway now planned a series of defensive lines across the peninsula. They were reinforced lines (with civilian help) that defending troops could fall back upon, regroup, and counter attack. This was something that had been sadly lacking in the panicky rout of the 1950 R.O.K. soldiers and Eighth Army before the halt at the Pusan Perimeter.
These lines across the peninsula were designed to halt, impede, or stop the Chinese and NKPV armies in their expected Spring Offensive. Civilians furnished by the government of South Korea built tank traps, barricades, roadblocks, and performed other assigned, physically laborious chores. Meanwhile, General Ridgeway instituted a rigorous retraining and re-equipping of the ROK army. It was an Army drafted from civilian life, just like the American Universal Draft System. It was corrupt and vernal, unreliable and untrustworthy. The Eight Army troops found it difficult (if not impossible) to rely upon the ROK army in crisis. The President of South Korea, Sygman Rhee, had appointed all of his favorites to key positions in the army, and it had been the standard corrupt and badly led army that had defected at critical moments, almost losing the country.
General Ridgeway warned Sygman Rhee of these disastrous practices, and Rhee promised to do better. Although the South Korean Army was retrained and re-equipped, its main problem was in leadership. Only a few units had leaders and the usual corrupt and scurry practices of Asiatic soldiers went on uncorrected.
General Ridgeway’s plans were additionally interrupted by the death of the IX Corps commander, General Moore, killed in a jeep accident in March. As a replacement, he sent General William Hoge. Hoge was a corps commander himself, having served along with General Ridgeway during the Ruhr drive that led to the capture of the Hindenburg Bridge at Remagen, Germany, below Cologne, and thus led to the lucky river crossing that speeded the end of the war. Both were Corps Commanders under General Hodge’s First Army.
As his assistant (artillery general), Ridgeway asked for, and got his second choice, General Gilmore. (His first choice was already installed in the Army War College.) Both Gilmore and Hoge were flown in from the States, and thus had no prior knowledge of the terrain, tactics, or troops they were to command.
During the cold winter of 1950-51, fighting had consisted of small skirmishes and maneuvering. It was generally realized that the Spring Offensive to be launched at the first vestiges of decent weather by the Chinese Army and the KKPV Army would be another attempt to recapture Seoul. The Chinese propaganda radio had boasted about this all winter long in its daily tirades and lies. Static means of defense, such as mines, barbed wire, and roadblocks had already been emplaced. But the tantalizing question as to where the Chinese would strike first remained. General Ridgeway knew that the Chinese Army now consisted of about 235,000. He also knew that their main effort would be launched from the region of the "Iron Triangle." But would it begin down the western slopes and the river valley of the Han, or would it begin (as it had before) above Chunchon, in the central part that led to Seoul, which was south west about 60 miles?
The 6th ROK Infantry Division was supposed to maintain contact with its boundary-sharing divisions: beginning with the 24th Infantry Division, then the 1st Cavalry Division, both of these units being part of I Corps. The winter began with a bulge in the defense line north of Seoul. This bulge was caused by the failure of the previous occupying troops to regain Chunchon. This salient formed above Wonju by the Chinese and NKPV Armies was a direct threat to a massive attack in that sector that would drive southwest into Seoul once more, just as the enemy forces had attacked in June, 1951.
General Ridgeway noticed this bulge, and decided in January to launch a probing attack above Chunchon that would not only eliminate that bulge below the 38th Parallel, but also reveal the intent and probable path of the coming Spring Offensive. Before his operation was put into effect, however, General Ridgeway was summoned to Tokyo, where he was informed that he was to replace General Douglas MacArthur as Commander, FEACOM, of the United States Army. His orders to Japan were issued on April 12, 1951, and could not have come at a more unpropitious time. He had always been a "hands-on General" and wanted to be in Korea, at IX Corps Headquarters, when the proposed two divisional "Reconnaissance in Force" began. This not only blocked his personal appearance, but due to procedural process and total grasp of his new command, General Ridgeway was forced to permit the attack without being there to oversee it in person.
He managed to visit IX Corps before this attack began, but couldn’t be present when it progressed because of his FEACOM duties in Japan. So many things happened that should not have happened. Some problems that happened were warped, covered over and concealed otherwise they would have resulted in severe consequences for the persons responsible. General Ridgeway was much like MacArthur in that aspect. He showed no mercy where incompetence and blunders were concerned. He was blunt and honest.
The weather proved to be just right for the planned attack. It was clear and cool, and the night promised a full moon. The area around Chunchon had already been occupied by the elements of the First Marine Division--the Seventh Regiment, plus the Korean Marine Regiment (as good as any U.S. Marines).
U.S. forces had taken the town of Hwachon, now just a crossroads of rubble and ruined mud huts. The 987th Armored Field Artillery was assigned by IX Corps to support the 6th ROK Infantry Division in its mission to attack the town of Sachang-ni, a hamlet just south of the Iron Triangle. Chorwan, Kumwha, and Pyongyang were held by the Chinese and North Korean armies.
Lt. Col. Burke Denison, battalion commander of the 987th AFA, was a battle veteran of World War II South Pacific campaigns. He had been part of the 37th Infantry Division (Ohio National Guard), as were many of his officers and non-commissioned officers. These terrible, bloody, costly, and horrific early war years (1942-1944) against a superior Japanese Navy and an army that was fanatically murderous, had made him a cautious commander. Ambush, jungle terrain, disease, supply shortages, and no hope of relief had made a pragmatist of him.
Denison and his Liaison Officer, Captain Ray Eible, traversed the proposed route of march of the 987th going on a reconnaissance up the road toward Sanchang-ni, the object of the 6th ROK Infantry Division in the two-division attack. It was on April 21st. They traveled west from Hwachon, on the left rear of the Hwachon Reservoir towards a road that led north to Sanchang-ni.
It was a narrow one-way road marked "Jeep Trail Only" by engineer troops the year before. It was built up along a river gorge that had been blasted by dynamite along the side of the north bank. Where the road was too narrow to traverse, it was reinforced by logs. It went about three miles west until it came to a small plateau where trucks could be turned around. This was termed "The Turnaround" by the men of the 987th as they described the road. From the Turnaround, the road traversed even steeper river gorge sides with sharp turns, until it reached a narrow gap about five miles further up in the gorge. Trees grew sparsely along the steep sides of the valley. At this gap, the road turned north, entering a widening plateau from which artillery could be fired. The position was approximately two miles behind the 6th ROK Infantry Division, and made support of the 6th possible by the 987th.
The members of the 987th were unaware--but discovered later—that another unit was in direct support of the 6th ROK. It was a six-gun towed howitzer unit of the Eighth Army and IX Corps. This howitzer unit was actually the 2nd Rocket Field Artillery Battery, but it had been assigned to use 105MM howitzers in lieu of the rockets on which they had been trained to fight.
Lt. Colonel Denison was not pleased with his assignment. He could not effectively fire laterally from Hwachon to adequately support the 6th ROKs, while at the same time provide support for the 7th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division as they attacked up the left side of the giant Hwachon Reservoir. The 92nd Field Artillery Battalion, a 155MM, self-propelled unit, had a range of around 20,000 yards and could not support the 6th ROK from their present position just south of Chunchon. Chunchon was seven miles from Hwachon.
As ordered, however, Denison obeyed IX Corps and started out with his battalion for Hwachon. He went north to the Mejim bridge ford. The Mejim bridge was a railroad bridge built high above the river by German engineers years before the war, but it had been blown by the retreating Eighth Army as it went back to Chunchon in 1950. Since that time, bridge parts had been ordered by engineer troops to rebuild the bridge, but they had not yet arrived.
Here the Chinese and NKPV Armies had constructed a ford across the river to enable them to transport supplies as they attacked and advanced down the peninsula in 1950. Thousands of soldiers each dropped a stone in the river until a crossing was made. Most were unable to be seen by high-flying bombers, but they were very effective. The Pukhan River ford was good.
Eight Army, in turn, in support of the First Marines and the 6th ROK Infantry Division, utilized this ford as they attacked north to Chunchon and then to Hwachon. The road from Seoul to Wonju southwest of the capitol had been made a "super highway" for Korea. It was two-lane with wide shoulders, well-graveled, and drained with culverts. It was used to supply troops clear across the peninsula. From Wonju (in the center of the peninsula) up to Chunchon, the road was in excellent condition. It served as the main supply route for IX Corps and X Corps clear to the east coast. Until it reached the Mejin Bridge area, it could be easily maintained, not like most of the other roads in Korea that turned into impassable, muddy tracks because of the heavy rains and the severe winter weather conditions. In winter and in spring, road conditions played a big part in operations.
The 987th Battalion reached Hwachon by noon, and traversed into the east/west road. Because of the extremely difficult job of getting self-propelled guns up a one-way, narrow road, it was determined that half of the battalion, plus the operational part of the Headquarters battery (Fire Direction, Radio, and Wire Sections) would go on up. The other half of the battalion (nine guns), was left in support of the Seventh Marine Regiment’s attack up the left side of the Hwachon Reservoir. The rest of the First Marine Division was attacking up the right side of the reservoir. The 7th Marines also had the Korean Marine Regiment with them. This unit was equipped and trained by the US Marines, and was almost as good as its parent unit.
After the last of his half battalion passed the plateau, Lt. Col. Denison called a halt at noon at the turnaround. It was there that jeeps transporting Brigadier General Gilmer, the Artillery Commander of IX Corps, plus Lt. Col. Leon Lavoie, reached Lt. Col. Denison. General Gilmore, was impatient and anxious to know why the 987th wasn’t up the road and in place, ready to fire.
Lt. Col. Denison was not happy. His column had been held up at Hwachon by trucks from the 6th ROK Infantry Division as they passed the battalion. Infantry columns always have military priority when traffic conditions occur. Several northbound 6th ROK trucks had held up our column. Among these trucks were vehicles crammed full of furniture, comforts, and personnel for the officers. To our chagrin and dismay, there were also two loads of Korean Red Cross Maids (our equivalent to the Red Cross Girls back in Seoul who drove around in station wagons and entertained the officers.) Waiting for "Sheebie-Sheebie" entertainers for the 6th ROK Infantry was not our idea of critical traffic that demanded priority.
Lt Col Denison protested the placing of his battalion’s guns in a dangerous area, on a one-way road up, with the 6th ROK Infantry Division having priority of traffic. He pointedly remarked that there was only one way in and one way out, a distinct breach of artillery rules of engagement. If something difficult should happen and a retreat become necessary, the 987th would be hopelessly trapped on the road. They would be unable to fire, move, or operate.
Lt. Col. Lavoie had been in Korea, and had seen action. General Gilmore turned to Lavoie and asked him to combine the 987th Battalion together with the 92nd Field Artillery Battalion to form a field artillery group. Lavoie was to be its commander. Lavoie then turned to Lt. Col. Denison and ORDERED Denison to take this battalion on up into the position. It was a complete evasion of responsibility on General Gilmore’s part, and a slap in the face (mentally) for Lt. Col. Denison. This was an example of the contempt that a Regular Army officer could show for a National Guardsman. I witnessed it.
Lt. Col. Denison said nothing. He waited until the command column got back on the road to Hwachon, then went on with our column toward Sanchong-ni. It was tough, dangerous, and hard labor horsing those self-propelled monsters up that narrow gorge road. The gun treads sometimes hung out into space. The gun crews struggled with pick and shovel to dig away at gorge walls enough to ensure passage. It was absolutely heroic. We knew that if anything were to happen, we would be trapped. But we went ahead until we reached the junction north, where we turned into a plateau. It was from this plateau that we could set up and fire our guns.
Amazingly enough, despite this arduous trip up the gorge road, the battalion got into position quickly. With a minimum of confusion we formed into a hedgehog position, with the guns spread around in a circular pattern and the Fire Direction Section operating from a tent erected in the middle. All communications were installed, and we had telephone contact with Captain Eibel at the 6th ROK Infantry Division Headquarters and our Forward Observers from the gun batteries. Lieutenant Pontius (B Battery) and Beazel (A Battery) observed fires.
1530 Hours: We began firing immediately, as targets were called in by the Forward Observer. It was getting down to rapid fire. The remainder of the unit personnel--cooks, truck drivers, wire men, radio operators, and the rest, got ready for a bivouac.
1600 Hours: A call from Captain Eibel, the Liaison Officer, stating that the Chinese had broken through the ROK front, alerted the battalion. Immediately, the battalion began to dig in, preparing for the worst—an attack on the battalion itself.
1630 Hours: Last call from Captain Eibel. The 6th ROK Infantry had broken and ran. Front line infantry was now running through 6th ROK Headquarters. Eibel’s telephone was being taken by a ROK soldier. The 6th ROK was putting up no resistance at all. ROK soldiers, some with weapons and some without, started streaming back into our area, refusing to stand and fight, panicky. We stop an ROK Infantry Major with a briefcase. He listened to our pleas, but ignored us.
1700 Hours: Situation hopeless. Ammunition gone. Only small arms weapons at hand. Several jeeps departed, unofficially. The "B" Battery Commander Captain Walters, the Battalion Communications Officer Captain Tom Herzog, and Lt. Col. Denison’s jeep go, presumably to try to get help. IX Corps ignored our distress. No answers. All communications to the rear temporarily disconnected as we broke station. March order. Most ROK Infantry was now gone, abandoning us. Only a few stragglers were left.
1800 Hours: Column on the road and moving toward the Gap. Ambulance and medics lead, followed by HQ and Fire Direction Crew, and then the various communications sections, wire and radio. Now in charge was M/Sgt. John Suma, communications sergeant. It was growing dark. We got out into the river gorge road east bound, hoping to get back to infantry cover and safety. Some men were disgruntled and disgusted by defection of some officers, but on the whole, morale is good.
1900 Hours: The column was halted in the dark. There was confusion at the head. We went up to see what the problem was. In the dark and confusion, a ROK Infantry truck headed towards the 6th ROK former position carrying small arms ammunition. It did flips over on the road, landing on its side part way on the road, blocking the egress. The ROK driver was excited and panicky, and he lost control. The truck began to burn, thereby endangering everyone. The Medical Captain, Bill Stires, was leading the column. He was apparently unable to reach the ROK truck in time to stop its erratic course. Some wonder if this road blockage was planned. At any rate, we are trapped neatly, unable to move forward or backward, in a long column on a road that lead back to Hwachon and safety, but we were unable to get there.
2000 Hours: I reported the event to Captain Ray Kommel, Commander of Headquarters Battery. He reported it to Major James Snedeker, who was about halfway down the column. We managed to get through on our radio contact. Our HQ radio SCR-500 was in contact with our Hwachon men, left behind when the battalion was divided. They had been unable to contact the 92nd FA Battalion or IX Corps, although they were trying desperately.
2030 Hours: A message came from the rear. Contact was made between the Hwachon unit, 987th Battalion, to IX Corps Army. IX Corps was now aware that the 6th ROK Infantry Division had panicked and run away. They were streaming down into Chunchon. IX Corps orders: Stand by your guns. Do NOT abandon your guns. Help is on the way.
2100 Hours: Officers on the road conferred. Position untenable – Guns cannot maneuver to fire. 6th ROK Infantry ran through our position, refusing to stand and fight. What next?
2130 Hours: Artillery fire from our previous position. Then brightness. Then nothing.
2200 Hours: Stragglers from the 2nd Rocket Field Artillery Battery, Negro cannonries, straggled through us. They stated that they had fought until all ammunition was expended, then they destroyed their howitzers before their position was overran. Six 105mm Howitzers, towed, now were definitely lost. Major Bell, commanding officer, and two enlisted men went through us. We didn’t even know they were positioned ahead of us. What a hell of a way to run a Corps Artillery Group.
2300 Hours: Captain Ray Kommel, HQ Battery C.O., ordered me to take two men back (but over the hills, off the road). 1000 yards to establish a listening post. At this time, we were expected to stand by our guns and not abandon them. These were the only messages received from the rear. Corporal Phil Gibbs, who manned the SCR-600, was so disgusted (as we all were), that he wanted to shoot the radio out and leave. He knew we couldn’t, like we all did, but it was disgusting.
2305 Hours: I took two men, Sgt. Fred Eby, a cook and veteran of World War II, and Pfc. Arthur Rhine, a driver, to accompany me "up the hill." We started out climbing up the rocky hills. It was real rough going. The pine trees were sparse and a bright moon was shining on us. After about 200 yards of climbing, I saw that this was going to be hard on Sergeant Eby, who is a big man and a little out of condition. I hadn’t noticed in the dark when he volunteered to come. He was not a young man. He was over forty. We paused to get our breath, and then I ordered the Sergeant to leave us and go back, not wanting to be hindered when we made our report back. He didn’t want to go; he was a gutsy man. But he obeyed.
2400 Hours: We reached approximately where our gun position had been set up. I could see the command tent in the moonlight, which was quite bright by now. I suspicion (from what I had learned from veterans of Korea combat) that the troops were still looting the former 6th ROK Infantry positions and the 2nd Rocket Field Artillery’s location—a gratuity granted to them by their leaders. We crouched behind some rocks on a hill slope facing north and watched, some ten feet apart.
Then we saw them. Little gray quilted figures with caps. They moved in bunches, like grapes. I alerted Pfc. Rhine, and we silently moved out. We had agreed that he was to leave first, then I would count to one hundred and follow. If one were to be caught, the other might get through. We saw no reconnaissance patrols, but after a while as we traveled back, I heard a sharp rifle crack and my heart leaped into my mouth. But it was too far away laterally and came from the road, so I continued on toward the unit.
0130 Hours: We approached our road position. I caught up with Pfc. Rhine, and we started down the steep slope to the road together. Suddenly, ALL HELL broke loose. Tracers from the vehicles on the road and machine gun bursts cracked loudly. Tracers bounced around us as I yelled the password, "Hoboken" as someone shouted to cease fire. Cursing and swearing I slid down the hill, scared silly. Killed by my own people didn’t appeal to me at all. Sgt. Fred Adams was the man who stopped the firing. Some twit on a halftrack panicked and opened fire and the rest had taken up his alert. It was the usual foul up in tight places. Fright does it.
0230 Hours: My return might have triggered an attack, but it didn’t. The pounding of the machine guns and the crack of our carbines, plus the erratic behavior of tracer fire would give anyone the shivering fits. Every tracer seemed like it was coming directly at you. But Captain Eibel and our two forward observers from the firing batteries had straggled out behind us, and they were safe. Desperate now, we call back to obtain covering fire to set up an artillery fire screen to protect us and delay Chinese advance. Captain Kommel asks for ranging rounds via radio. There were no losses so far.
0245 Hours: First ranging rounds came in. These burst directly in the gorge over our position, threatening to cover us all with White Phosphorous. The rounds are liable to set fire to our vehicles. In a hastily called conference, Major Snedeker and Capt. Ray Kommel decided that we had better not ask for any more fire support from the 92nd Field Artillery Battalion, wherever they happen to be. It was too dangerous. We reported back to Hwachon, requesting cease fire. Meanwhile, on personal reconnaissance, M/Sgt. Suma went down into the gorge, where he met Major Bell from the 2nd Rocket Field Artillery Battery and two enlisted men. They scouted along the river below us and east about two hundred yards toward Hwachon. They planned to present a road block if the Chinese come. They had grenades ready and waiting.
One shell from the 92nd landed so close to them that they gave up hope. They abandoned their plan, and made their way back along the river gorge, where Sergeant Suma met the Hwachon-half of the battalion. He reported that the tank retriever situation was hopeless, and joined our enlisted men. They got out. Major Bell and his two enlisted men left Hwachon for IX Corps Headquarters somewhere near Wonju. I was not to meet Major Bell again until I arrived to serve a tour of duty in the 467th Comical [sic] Mortar Battalion headquarters at Camp Atterbury. He remembered me and our outfit, and he appointed me S-3, Plans and Operations Officer of the battalion. He told me that he appointed me because of my Korean duty. We prepared a unit for Korea, and he was in command of it.
0300 Hours: Capt. Eibel at the rear of the column was fired upon from above the road by a Chinese enemy. He sought safety behind a vehicle. At another hasty conference it was decided that our position was hopeless, that we should evacuate the enlisted men, and that the remaining officers should destroy the nine guns. It was a bitter decision, but Major James Snedeker, Battalion S-3, decided it was for the best. Although we’d been promised help all night, it hadn’t been forthcoming. Being captured with our howitzers didn’t appeal to us. Nobody wanted to make this position an Alamo.
0330 Hours: I was ordered by Major Snedeker to lead the enlisted men out of this road and to safety. The officers were to remain behind, spike the howitzers with thermite grenades, and heave the howitzers over the cliff to the river below. I left with the enlisted men.
0430 Hours: The enlisted men and I reached the turnaround, where we rested and then went on. About a mile further toward Hwachon, we met a "Rescue Column" led by Major Kenneth Lentz, the battalion executive officer. It was he who had been urging us to stand by our guns. Lt. Colley Wilson was at the head of the rescue column, followed in the rear by Major Lentz. I explained to the major that we had been ordered out by Major Snedeker, but he paid that no attention, stating that he was leading the men up to get the guns out. I had no faith in this man, as I will explain later. But I couldn’t refuse an order, so I went with the column.
0530 Hours: The rescue column stopped three times, then was abandoned. I was at the head with Lieutenant Wilson. He became provoked at Major Lentz’s obvious uncertainty and resented the major hanging back at the tail end of the column. Finally, while stopped at the turnaround, Lieutenant Wilson spoke out to the Major, irked at his behavior. "Major Lentz," he said angrily, "It was you who organized this expedition to go back up and get the guns out. Now either lead this column up there, or let’s stop this foolishness and go back." The major didn’t say anything. He just allowed us to turn back. The men were obviously relieved. They turned around and went back. Worried and wondering, I stayed behind at the turnaround, then went on up toward the guns myself. As I walked about a mile, I heard guttural talk. It didn’t sound to me to be English, so I paused and waited. It was a machine gun crew of Chinese, and I could see them digging in to form a road block position in the moonlight. I quietly and quickly made my way back toward Hwachon.
0630 Hours: Three stragglers from the 6th ROK Infantry Division came up to me before I was aware of their presence. I was carrying the Thompson 45 caliber machine gun (Chicago-Piano) that belonged to Corporal Gibbs. I waited, not wanting them behind me. They made the standard signals of asking for a cigarette, so I held my finger on the trigger with one hand, while I fished for my cigarette pack in my breast pocket. My pack had four cigarettes left. I tossed them the pack. I had another in my pants pocket. In combat (I had learned) you carry everything needed for two or three days. They lit the cigarettes, aggravating me to no end, for a favorite habit of the ROK stragglers is killing and looting if no one is around to see them do it. I didn’t care for their standard practice, ascribed to in their Asiatic handbook. They would kill Yankees too. Angry, I smacked the slide on my Thompson impatiently, and waved its muzzle toward them and then toward Chunchon. "Cudda, Cudda Chunchon," I barked. They got the hint and took off down the road and ahead of me. Then I started on toward Hwachon.
0745 Hours: I reached the outpost line of resistance. Two spider-type foxhole covers rose up on either side of the road, and two sets of oriental eyeballs stared at me impassively. For a moment then, I thought my fun and games were over. The hair on the back of my head stood out. I realized that these were the outposts of the Korean Marine unit, and I stuffed my heart back into my mouth once more, exhaling some 100 pounds of relief. I spoke the standard, "Harram Ne Geek – Saram Ne Ka" (I am an American soldier), and walked past them fingers crossed. I was correct. They were the Korean Marines.
0800 Hours: I walked into headquarters battery position, and saw Capt. Ray Kommel squatting in a ruined corner of a building. I walked up to him. He looked sullen. I knew him and his moods well because we had been fellow instrument sergeants in the 135th F.A. back in the States in 1941. I told him I had just come out, and that I didn’t know what had happened to the officers. Evidently I had missed them (because he was the only one here), and stated that I had heard the Chinese digging in beyond the turnaround. He looked at me impassively, then said quietly, turning his head to indicate the column of men and jeeps parked along the road toward Sanehong-ni. "You’d better report that to Major Lents." Then he said, "He’s leading a column of seven jeeps up in there to rescue those vehicles. We told him they were already over the side, but he refused to listen."
I didn’t want to speak to Major Lentz, but I had to report. I walked over to the jeeps, and talked for a moment to 1st Lt. Jack Ricketts, Executive officer of "A" Battery. I told him that I had just come out of the road at 0900, and that I was sure the Chinese were up beyond the turnaround. Again, I was told to speak to Major Lentz. I reached Lentz just as he was about to get into the lead jeep. I informed him about the Chinese being up beyond the turnaround. He listened, nodded, and they drove off, followed by the other six jeeps. The lead jeep was driven by a sergeant from "B" Battery.
Later in the day of April 23rd, the rescue column came back to Hwachon. They were minus the seven jeeps. The column had been ambushed just beyond the turnaround, and the Sergeant driving Major Lentz’s jeep had been killed. Major Lentz was hobbling, having taken a bullet through the heel of his combat boot. Everyone was angry.
We were still supporting the 7th Marines, who were still in a "sticky" situation. I was trying to get a perimeter set up to encircle the remnants of the battalion. There was an embankment along the south side of the Hwachon-Sansong-ni road where we could dig foxholes. The half tracks and vehicles with mounted machine guns could rake the flat ground and the road. They could provide fire on the flank towards the west, too. We set up another tent for night fires, and the Fire Direction crew was installed in it along with battalion staff. The medical tent was set up near the command tent. Somehow, the Fire Direction Crew had been able to salvage the slide rules and necessary drafting equipment to enable them to fire in direct fires. We knew that night fire would be a priority. All the remaining vehicles were parked in an ovular circle with the guns ensconced in their usual hedge hog position around the Command Tent. Communications Sergeant John Suma was installing communications nets, both with radio and telephone.
In the meantime, I gathered together the information I was able to glean about the previous night’s fiasco. It appeared that when our distress call was sent back to Hwachon, a battalion tank retriever was sent up the Hwachon Sanchong-ni road to attempt to extricate the guns if possible. By then it was dark back in the other battalion half at Hwachon. The retriever started up the road, but the road caved in, sending the tank retriever off to the side, dangerously canted, and hanging precariously on the caved-in road. In desperation, 1st Sgt. Charley Morganstern, a WWII veteran, jumped up on the battalion DC-4 bulldozer, used to create revetments and cover for guns and vehicles. He took it up the road and tried with some success in pushing the retriever enough to incorporate a passage over the retriever, enabling some of the vehicles to escape. But the battalion was unable to extricate the nine guns, so the officers ran these over the cliff into the river gorge, preventing the Chinese from utilizing these as captured artillery pieces.
When or if the IX Corps was notified that the 6th ROK Infantry Division had panicked and ran, I have no knowledge. I do know that we notified everyone possible by that radio net of the fact that the ROK troops had run through us at 1800 hours. We were left alone, with no infantry, from that time on and until we returned to Hwachon at 0600 hours on Monday, the 23rd of April. We had dutifully kept contact with the rear. We had expected help from IX Corps, located down near Wonju. We also wanted to inform the IX Corps staff about the particulars of the disaster, for we all realized by then that the entire area that supposed to be held by the 6th ROK Infantry Division was exposed at that point. The flank of the First Marine Division was also exposed, and there were no reserves to commit until dawn from Wonju, a distance of approximately 25 miles from Chunchon. Moreover, as the fighting intensified in the Marine sector, along the west side of the Hwachon Reservoir, the mass of the attack indicated that this was a major Chinese offensive, involving more than one Chinese army division.
The Marines had their hands full in their sector, and when informed of possible Chinese flanking them, they sent out a patrol to reconnoiter. The patrol became enveloped, so they sent a company. The company became involved, and it ended at dawn with Marines facing and fighting Chinese on two fronts. By dawn with our battalion serving as a strong point and utilizing our firepower to its best advantage, the situation had developed into a real battle fiercely fought, with possible disaster on the United Nations front because of a gap in the defense line twenty miles wide.
Now that we were in the valley at Hwachon-ri, and had firmly established our perimeter, the 92nd Field Artillery Battalion came up the road from Chunchon. It passed us, went along our flank, and settled down for the night. We had warned the 92nd (or so I was told by Major Snedeker) that they had warned Lt. Col. Lavoie that they, the 92nd, should dig in – that a Chinese attack was expected. Evidently, he ignored our warning. His battalion went down the Hwachon-Sanchong-ni road a piece, and settled in for the night with no defenses at all.
Along about 0200 Hours, the Chinese hit. First came the winks of carbine fire from the hills to the north of us. Next they charged our position in human waves, bugles blowing, using whistles and flares to signal commands. Our 105’s opened up on the hills point blank, pouring out a murderous fire on the Chinese trenches in the hills. In the clear night, we could see bodies flying through the air as the howitzers produced the steady crump – crump – crump of rapid fire from their nine guns.
Then the machine guns opened up, and we began using our carbines. The dismounted machine gun manned by Sergeant Suma on one point chattered away, tracers flying out everywhere as our mounted machine guns and the carbines winked treacherously in the dark. I could see waves of Chinese rush to cross the road, then falter. They were mowed down like ripe wheat by our machine guns as the big guns kept up the vicious thunder of their rounds.
Suddenly a voice called for a "Cease-Fire." The Marines had called in asking us to cease firing. They still had troops in the area and thought they could be in harms way. They quickly found out that their Marines were on the other side of the mountain, shooting at every poor devil who ran from our fire. They ordered us to resume firing on the hills again. Meanwhile, our men on the perimeter were busy repelling the waves of Chinese infantry trying to cross the road and penetrate our perimeter.
Andy Anderson’s Note: "The British were on the left flank of the 6th ROK Infantry Division and the 1st Marines were on the right. I have a feeling that this gentleman was not happy with the 92nd FAB and IX’s 5th Artillery Group leaders."
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