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Fremont "Monty" Piercefield
"The column was made up of every imaginable military vehicle, as well as many foot soldiers. Movement was slow. The road was only wide enough for a single column of the heavier vehicles. Enemy from both sides of the road kept all of us busy protecting ourselves. Our flank forces defended us from an enemy that attacked sporadically--usually with small arms fire."
- Fremont Piercefield
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Final web work for this memoir was paid by a
I was 23 years old with prior military service between 1944 and 1947. That included about 18 months I spent in Japan on occupation duty. I returned home to the United States for discharge, and soon after I joined the Army Reserve. However, in November 1949, I rejoined the army, and in 1950, I was stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, as Operations NCO of a basic training unit. We were some of the reinforcements being sent to Japan, Needless to say, in short order I was aboard ship on my way to Japan to replace someone who had been sent to South Korea with under-strength United States units to stem the Communist tide.
Japan to Korea
Onboard ship I was wondering if this was to be the beginning of a disastrous adventure having never been involved in a combat situation before. As a Staff Sergeant, I was assigned Operations Sergeant, Headquarters, 1st Battalion (BN), 32nd Infantry Regiment (Queen’s Own). The 32nd Infantry Regiment was part of the 7th Infantry Division (Bayonet).
Our battalion, as were all battalions in the 7th Division, was as much as 50 percent under-strength. In the absence of personnel in the United States to bring us up to strength, young Korean males were recruited on the streets of Pusan and sent to Japan for us to train, equip and integrate into our units. What a culture shock for both American and Korean soldiers! A buddy system was created pairing one Korean with one GI. Neither could speak the other’s language and the rations were alien to the Koreans. Nevertheless, we trained the best we could, considering the differences. I don’t believe the Koreans fired many live rounds in training.
We soon learned that our division was being made ready for action in South Korea. Our move to South Korea was to be with a larger force. We didn’t know any of the details. I was selected to be a member of the detail to supervise loading the ship. It was called “combat loaded.” Everything we had was loaded in reverse of the order we would exit the ship. I believe we were a battalion combat team (BCT) with artillery, engineers, etc. attached. Once at sea we learned of our destination--Inchon, not that anyone cared much as many of our personnel were either seasick or had a touch of food poisoning.
n September 18, 1950, the division began landing over the beach south of Inchon. The First Marine Division had made the initial amphibious assault and we went ashore unopposed. The first night ashore was hairy as we didn’t know what to expect from the enemy or where he was. We dug in on a flat, dry field to wait for first light. During the night small arms firing was heard quite close to us. It turned out to be nervous trigger fingers and shadows. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
The next morning, the 32nd Infantry was ordered to proceed east south of the Han River. The Marines were to secure Seoul and move northeast. The Marines ran into stiff resistance at Yongdong-po and we were ordered to prepare to attack north. To accomplish this, the Marines loaned us their amphibious tractors and we moved north. South Mountain was the Regiment’s objective, and with little opposition it was secured. This put American forces to the flank and rear of the North Koreans defending Seoul and they withdrew, permitting the Marines to occupy Seoul. We re-crossed the river to the south and moved east again.
I believe it was at this time that most of us saw our first American dead. The few bodies were alongside the road and it brought the reality of war and its consequences to us. It was unnerving! At any rate, our movement to the east was stopped and the 7th Division was ordered south to Pusan for more amphibious training. Things had gone so well for us in our first action ashore that we started speculating we would be “home for Christmas”. Morale was high!
Of interest was the fact that most of our units had brought their Japanese KPs (cooks) to Korea, too. They weren’t manifested aboard ship, but went aboard dressed as GIs minus weapons. Considering the number of Koreans integrated in the units, it was easy to hide them. Later, some of the mess personnel were captured by Chinese, which contributed to the accusation that Japanese troops were involved in the fighting.
As soon as Seoul was liberated and the North Korean army was in retreat the 7th Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division were ordered to Pusan to prepare for another amphibious operation. We trained and combat loaded ships for a voyage north. We still planned to be out of Korea by Christmas.
Chosin Reservoir Campaign
The Division landed unopposed over a beach east of the city of Hungnam, from October 29 to November 9, 1950. The South Korean army had already secured the area along the coast. The 7th Division, minus my battalion, was ordered to the east and north toward the Manchurian border. Not far from where we landed our battalion became 10th Corps Reserve attached to the Marines. It was there that we enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner, our first fresh meat--turkey. After Thanksgiving we heard that the entire 10th Corps was to shift to the west to tie into the 8th army for the final thrust north.
While the 7th Division, minus us, continued movement northwest, the 1st Marine Division proceeded directly north from Hungnam to the Chosin reservoir area. The Marines were to straddle the reservoir following the road north toward China. Our battalion followed the Marines and was assigned to relieve the 5th Marine Regiment on the east side of the Reservoir. Opposition was almost nil. We had heard that the Chinese army in Manchuria was threatening the advance, but there was little, if any, evidence to support the threats.
We had no sooner occupied the 5th Marine Regiment's positions when we were advised that elements of the 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT), 7th Division, had gone into position a few miles south of us. Our battalion was attached to the 31st Regiment to await the arrival of the 32nd Regiment and to plan for more aggressive patrolling to the north.
I don’t remember being in cold weather until we arrived on the Chosin Plateau. There was snow, and the cold seemed dryer and more intense. Our winter uniforms consisted of long johns, khaki trousers under olive drab wool trousers, wool shirts and field jackets, a reversible parka shell, combat boots covered with three buckle overshoes and pile headgear. For hand protection we had wool inserts inside trigger finger cold weather mittens.
We were scheduled to begin an attack to the north on November 27. At battalion headquarters we had completed planning for the attack and went to prepare ourselves for the next morning. Just before dark the air observation reported columns of Chinese battalions moving toward our positions on the road. We reported this information to higher headquarters, but nothing was changed in our mission.
About midnight the Chinese, who had infiltrated to our north, attacked our battalion perimeter. Early in the morning I was awakened by firing, and learned that our A Company, straddling the Main Supply Route (MSR) to the north, was under heavy attack and had suffered 100 casualties, including the company commander. There were also reports that other companies on our perimeter were under heavy fire. About daylight the operations S-3 told me the enemy had infiltrated the battalion trains, and that there didn’t seem to be any of our troops on the hill to our rear (south). He ordered me to collect Trains personnel and move up onto the hill and protect the rear of the perimeter.
I assembled about twelve men, and we moved up the hill. There was no difficulty getting on to the ridgeline, so we moved east along it, hoping to connect with one of our line companies. We had not gone far when we came under machine gun fire dead ahead. We returned fire and continued to move east. The enemy ceased fire and soon we came upon a 30-caliber US machine gun in the middle of the ridgeline, aimed at us. The enemy had fled and left the machine gun and we were able to retrieve it.
About that time we were contacted and ordered to move back to the west and start south on the ridgeline parallel to the MSR. There were no personnel on the ridgeline behind or ahead of us. The battalion was to move south to link up with the 31st RCT, which we all did.
Once inside the 31st perimeter we discovered that our condition had not improved. We were part of a larger Army organization, but we were completely surrounded by the Chinese. Our battalion line companies became part of the overall perimeter. We were on the low ground and the Chinese controlled all of the high ground. Our perimeter was under attack continuously and was frequently penetrated, especially at night. Thankfully, the artillery and engineer personnel in the center of the perimeter were able to close the gaps in the line and maintain our continuity.
It was finally announced that we were not going to receive any help from the forces south of us, and the command group under Lieutenant Colonel Don Faith, who was now overall commander, decided that if we were to survive we would have to attack south.
High noon was to be the hour of attack, with our battalion leading, The 3rd Battalion, 31st RCT was to bring up the rear. Everything else would be in between the two battalions strung along the road. Our only support for the attack was the Navy and Air Force fighter-bombers. Our infantry had to control the high land to our sides. We had hardly any mechanized means to lead the infantry units. My position with the command group was not really well organized, and I found myself defending myself against the Chinese, as did almost everyone. Fortunately the weather was clear, and our aviation support was able to target the enemy on our sides without much difficulty. There did not seem to be much organization in the retreating column.
Moving south on the road proved to be cumbersome as the enemy attempted to roadblock our movements. The truck column was held up by small bridges that had been destroyed. They had trouble negotiating around them. I believe we had only two pieces of trac equipment with us to help the wheel vehicles to pass the destroyed bridges.
As darkness approached, which was early in the day, movement south increased in difficulty as the Chinese put more effort into slowing us down. The trucks contained most of our wounded, and it was hard to keep drivers behind the wheel because they were targets of the enemy riflemen. The entire column was held up by the Chinese reinforcing their roadblocks that night.
Along the road our battalion executer officer, Major Robert Jones, found himself at the head of our column, and in the darkness all had stopped moving. He recognized me and told me to get a couple of soldiers near him and become the point on the road headed to the Marine command post (CP). I remember I moved out. There was enough snow to see the ground around me. There wasn’t any enemy fire on us, so I was able to proceed at a good pace. After a while I looked behind me. I couldn’t see anyone behind us, so we went back. We discovered that the main body had not followed us south, but had turned sharply to the west and had gone out on the ice of the Chosin reservoir. I joined the column going out onto the reservoir.
Disorganized but Determined
Sometime later in the day we were challenged by the soldiers on the shoreline who first identified us and then permitted us on shore. We were a disorganized group of several hundred, including walking wounded, so this was difficult. Thank goodness there were warming tents and food to give us some relief from our hunger and the cold. Fortunately, I was able to fall asleep. After I awoke the next day, I went about the cantonment area seeking an army unit. It took a long while with all of the troops from many organizations there, but eventually I discovered remnants of my battalion. The army unit was completely disorganized, even though some NCO’s were able to maintain some order. Lieutenant Colonel Faith had been killed or was missing during the night, as had almost all of the other officers in the battalion when the assembling began. We were later informed that Faith had been killed.
The senior officer from the battalion, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, was Major Robert Jones, former adjutant, who had managed to corral a few of our battalion troops. We were able to discuss what we had remembered of the few days earlier. There weren’t enough troops available to reactivate the battalion, but he had been able to gather enough troops to create a company-size force. They were sent into Hagaru-ri perimeter. Major Jones kept me around to help him plan what the future might hold for us. We did not have an organization that could function as an independent battalion, but there were other army units in the area and he attempted to contact them to see if we could fit together.
In the meantime, the commander of the 1st Marine Division decided it was time we tried to break out of our perimeter and join forces to the south of us. Koto-ri was the next sizable town, and we knew there was an army battalion there. Getting from Hagaru-ri to Koto-ri was not well organized, and we had only one single road the vehicles could drive over. So many of the foot soldiers were busy trying to counter any attacks from the high grounds to our east and in the valley to our west they could protect us from enemy forces trying to intercept and cut off our escape route. The main route going south was made up of anyone who could get onto that route and there didn’t seem to be any formations making up any significant organization for the escape route. No one seemed to be in charge. All one had to do was to get in line and walk on the road or get in the valley and head south. Units were indistinguishable. Movement of the military forces going south was disorganized and seemed we were just following whoever was in front of us on the road.
Movement continued day and night. The night effort seemed to be disorganized and challenging. In the dark we couldn’t identify soldiers or units because Marines and Army were intermixed and everything looked alike. The enemy tried to roadblock the column, which temporarily stopped the column until the roadblock could be cleared. The enemy did not seem to want to attack in the dark with any size force.
At dawn one morning, we came up on a pumping station built into the side of the road and there were a few soldiers in there out of the weather. Other soldiers that I did not know and I joined them. It was cold, cold, cold. There was a lack of food and any kind of heating capability anywhere. Behind a door leading down there appeared faces. We captured Chinese prisoners behind the door.
The column on the road was soon stopped, and we learned that the enemy had blown open a section of the road ahead to the point that before the column could move again, the destroyed area had to be bridged. After a long wait we learned that material for the bridge had to be air-dropped to the engineers. They eventually closed the hole in the road and the column was able to move on to Koto-ri. The column was made up of every imaginable military vehicle, as well as many foot soldiers. Movement was slow. The road was only wide enough for a single column of the heavier vehicles. Enemy from both sides of the road kept all of us busy protecting ourselves. Our flank forces defended us from an enemy that attacked sporadically--usually with small arms fire.
I am not sure of the distance between Hagaru-ri and Koto-ri, but it took a couple of days for the column to go that far. You can imagine the size of the column consisting of Marine troops and Army troops comingling to head south. We assumed that Koto-ri would be a point we could stop and reorganize, but we kept moving toward Hamhung and the ocean. The Marines had the largest force and the most organized of the force, so they were in charge of getting us out of the Chosin area. South of Koto-ri we ran into Army units and more transportation that was able to take us ground pounders south to Hamhung.
A buddy and I went into the valley to a small deserted village, thinking we could get out of the cold for a short time. We entered a hut and discovered a wounded lieutenant there. His legs had been shot up and he couldn’t walk. He asked us to help him to the road where he could catch a ride on one of the vehicles heading south. We couldn’t lift him because it was too painful with his leg injuries, so he suggested we drag him across the snow and ice by slipping his arms through the slings of our rifles. And that is what we did. We got him to the road and one of the trucks picked him up. \
Eventually the column arrived at Hamhung for evacuation by sea to the Pusan area. Once in the Hamhung area, we were able to locate Army units and see that the Headquarters, 7th infantry Division had people there to help us get organized and ready for the evacuation by sea.
Regrouping at Pusan
At Pusan, 7th Division personnel helped us group into identifiable units. As the fighting was not over, the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment was revitalized. Our headquarters was reorganized, each one of our sister battalions donated a rifle company to us, a ranger company was assigned us, and we were ready for combat again.
I was NCO (S-3) again. As we reorganized I realized that of the original battalion, only three officers and 68 enlisted men were present for duty. Many had been killed, wounded and assumed missing in action. The cold temperature was as injurious as were the wounds. Lieutenant Colonel Faith, as were most of our officers, was missing--or so it was reported. It was later learned that he had been killed.
In short order the reorganized 1/32 was carried by rail north to Tanyang to outpost a Main Line of Resistance(MLR). After a few days in Tanyang, the 1/32 was ordered to attack east to try and stop enemy units moving south down the east coast to interfere with United Nations forces trying to protect the overall 8th Army. We managed to interdict some enemy forces, but because we were unable to block their movement south, we returned to Tanyang.
Korea: Following My Commission
Upon my arrival to Tanyang, I learned that I had been recommended for a commission to 2nd Lieutenant. I was ordered to Pusan for the commission, and upon my return to Tanyang I was assigned to command the 2nd platoon of B/32. Since I was a newly-commissioned officer and most of my platoon had seen combat, I was concerned about how the enlisted men would view my leadership. Once I told them of my Chosen experience, they seemed to accept me as their leader.
B/32 was on the MLR and my first task was to outpost a hilltop about 1000 meters north of the MLR to await the North Korean advance force expected to attack soon. To man the outpost I had an under-strength rifle platoon, an attached machine gun (MG) section and a 57 MM anti-tank rifle. We were connected to the MLR by a sound power phone line. Radio contact was not dependable. It was not a good communication connection.
We fortified ourselves with fox holes, barbed wire, and vegetation cut and piled in front of our perimeter. We also had artillery and heavy mortar concentrations laid around us. My command post (CP) was in the center of the outpost. This was all done prior to our first nightfall, thank goodness.
As expected, our warning trip wires alerted us of enemy detection and we prepared for contact. The enemy was not prepared to meet our heavily-defended outpost, so after a brief firefight they withdrew. We had no casualties. The enemy had several killed in action, including a battalion commander. We were ordered to reinforce our outpost and to return to the MLR before dark, which we did.
Back on the MLR we were told that the whole 8th Army was being moved south under heavy enemy pressure. All forces were under enemy fire as we moved south along a ridgeline. We could see enemy forces paralleling our withdrawal. In the process I fell, injured my leg, and was forced to be evacuated to the battalion aid station. I later returned to my platoon. It was there I was ordered to the assistant division commander, Brigadier General Robert F. Sink, where I was accepted to be his Aide De Camp.
I was General Sink's aide for several months, and then I was ordered to report to Ft. Benning, Georgia, to the Company Officer Course. I returned home to Wisconsin to reunite with my wife, Ann Randall Piercefield, and son Mike, and to make preparations for our move to Ft. Benning. I stayed in the Army until I retired in 1980, as Commander of Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, the same location where I was inducted in 1944. During my 36-year army career I served in three major wars: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. I retired as a Colonel.
After 70-plus years of marriage, my wife Ann died in 2018. Besides our son Mike Piercefield, we have a daughter, Mrs. Terry (Paige Piercefield) Falconer. We are grandparents of four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. I will be 95 on October 1, 2021.