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Marco Yazzie Begay

Native American Indian -
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"When the Chinese attacked, artillery came first.  Closer and closer, the artillery rained down on us, making the ground shake, just like an earthquake.  Then there was the sound of the bugle and drums, and the screaming of Chinese soldiers as they attacked.  "

- Marco Begay


[The following short memoir was submitted to the KWE by Marco Begay's family in his honor.  Mr. Begay was a Navajo Indian from Chilocco, Oklahoma, whose nickname was "Chief."   He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in Korea, and the citation is shown in both this short memoir and on the Silver Star Citations page of the KWE.  Marco died August 20, 1998.]

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Marco Begay was born in Ganado, Arizona, where he was raised on the Navajo Indian reservation.  He attended St. Michael's Catholic grade school and later joined the U.S. Army Infantry in 1946.  He was sent overseas to Germany and was stationed with Fox Company, 26th Regiment, Light Weapons Assault crewman (MOS 1745).  While in Germany, he guarded Nazi prisoners of war at the Nuremberg trials.  In 1949 he was discharged from the Army, and he returned home to Arizona.

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In 1950, he was recalled back into the service for the Korean War.  He served in C Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division from August 24, 1950 to October 4, 1951.  He received the Silver Star on 20 May 1951 for action in the vicinity of Hangye, Korea; a Purple Heart on August 24, 1951 on Bloody Ridge; combat infantryman's badge; Korean Service Medal with three bronze stars; and three presidential unit citations for -- (1) the Battle of Twin Tunnels, (2) Chipyong-ni, where he was surrounded by five Chinese Divisions February 13-15, 1951, and (3) Hongchon.  He also received two Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations, one for the Naktong River line and the other for Korea 1950-52 (23rd Infantry cited).

Following five years in the Army he worked for the Santa Fe Railroad to repair railroad tracks between Barstow, California and Las Vegas, Nevada.  He used his G.I. Bill to attend the National Trade School in downtown Los Angeles.  After learning the trade of machinist, he was hired by the Douglas Aircraft Company, in Santa Monica, California, where he was involved in the building of military aircraft and commercial jetliners.  He also worked on missiles and the Saturn rocket booster, which was used to put a man on the moon.  He was a member of the team that built the SKYLAB Space Station.

When the McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica closed in the early 1970s, he transferred to the McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company in Huntington Beach, California.  While working there, he helped make C-17 cargo jet parts, F-15 fighter jet parts, Space Station parts, and Delta rocket boosters.  He retired from McDonnell Douglas after working there for 38 years.

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Personal Experiences from the Korean War

On the ship going to Korea, I saw the soldiers throwing money overboard.  I walked up to one of the soldiers ad said, "Why are you throwing your money away?"  He said, "It's bad luck to take money into battle."  I wished I had a net that night, to catch all of that money going into the ocean.

When we arrived in Korea, some of the soldiers got tired of eating the same C-rations, and began to throw them away on the ground.  A buddy of mine and I were at the end of the line marching to our positions.  We began to pick up the discarded C-rations and put them in our backpacks.  Soon after that, we were in a firefight.  After the firefight was over, we were eating our C-rations in a foxhole.  Some of the troops didn't have any food to eat.  When someone found out that we had the food that had been thrown away, we had to pass out the food to the rest of the troops to keep them from going hungry.

Walking by a campsite, some soldiers found some corn in a cornfield.  They removed the cornhusks and put the corn in the fire.  I said, "You are burning the corn!"  I told them to leave the husks on the corn while it was cooking, to avoid burning the corn.  We would also save bacon grease, in case we found some eggs to cook.  If we found some guy who had a jeep or a truck, we would put the C-rations on the exhaust to have a hot meal.

When the 187th RCT Airborne dropped inside North Korea, we fought the enemy all night long to reach them.  After that we hooked up to relieve them.  I met one Airborne soldier who said, "Hey Chief, is this how your people killed the white people?" as he cut off the head of a Chinese soldier.  He said, "I'm going to take this head home with me."  I said, "You're one crazy white man!" as he put the head inside his bag.

Once, a new replacement soldier was approaching the front line.  He kept saying, "Where's the front line, where's the front line?"  He walked up past a small rise, and was shot dead by sniper fire.  One soldier shot himself in the foot as he was getting out of a truck, just to get out of the war.

During one of the firefights, a soldier took a bullet to the helmet, so he removed the helmet from his head to take a look, and was shot in the head.  During the winter of 1951, one soldier left his boots outside of the foxhole he was in, so that he could freeze his feet to get out of the war.

When the Chinese attacked, artillery came first.  Closer and closer, the artillery rained down on us, making the ground shake, just like an earthquake.  Then there was the sound of the bugle and drums, and the screaming of Chinese soldiers as they attacked.  It was so cold that a water-cooled machine gun froze up because the tank was filled with water.

There was one red-headed kid that was so scared inside the foxhole that he didn't want to shoot back at the Chinese.  I said, "I'm going to grab my hand grenade and blow you up!", so the red-headed kid got up and started firing back at the enemy.

Some of the fighting was hand-to-hand combat.  One soldier was loading a bazooka, and he fired the bazooka so fast, he didn't have time to move his hand out of the way.  The exhaust of the bazooka took off his hand, so I tied off his wrist to stop the bleeding.

In the end, the Air Force saved our lives.  They used fighters, fighter-bombers and cargo planes to airdrop ammo, food, and supplies.  I called them angels coming down from heaven to help us in need.

One time, a few of the soldiers found a small abandoned house for us to use as a place to sleep for the night.  They used coal or charcoal to warm the house, but they didn't realize that it would create carbon monoxide (an odorless, poisonous gas).  The next thing that happened, I was up in heaven, with nothing but white clouds everywhere.  I started to walk up to the gates, and an angel spoke to me.  He said, "You're too young to die!  It's not your time to die, so we must send you back."  I stepped back, and I fell through the white clouds, spinning all the way down.  As I hit the ground, I woke up; and I sat up and started to throw up.  A blanket covered my body, and I was between the dead soldiers next to me.  One soldier said, "Hey Chief, put some food inside of you, and let's get back to the war!"

Walking up a hill one day, someone dropped a smoke grenade on the ground.  I picked it up, and pulled the pin on the grenade and threw it back down the hill.  Next thing, I hear a soldier screaming, "The Chinese are attacking!"  The soldier was bathing down below.  My punishment for throwing the smoke grenade was to fill all the canteens up with water for the troops.

After the Korean War, the nightmares never stopped.  You never forget all the Chinese soldiers you have killed.  The war will never end until the day you die.  When I am sleeping, the Chinese soldiers surround my bed looking down at me.  One of the Chinese soldiers put his hand out to me.  I said to myself, "If I shake his hand I will die in my sleep."  In another nightmare, I cut down three Chinese soldiers running in front of me, and one of the soldiers said, "Why did you kill us?  We're not dead yet!"

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Silver Star Citation


Corporal MARCO Y. BEGAY, ER18147454, (then Private First Class), Infantry, United States Army, Company "C", 23d Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy on 20 May 1951, in the vicinity of Hangye, Korea.  On that date he was a member of a machine gun squad, assisting in the defense of his unit's perimeter against a numerically superior enemy force.  As the enemy attack neared his squad's position, he arose and engaged the enemy with hand grenades and carbine fire.  Although subjected to intense enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire, he remained in his exposed position until the wounded were removed.  He then recovered his machine gun and placed neutralizing fire on the attackers, allowing the other members of his platoon to prepare a new position from which the enemy attack was successfully repelled.  The gallant conduct displayed by Corporal BEGAY on this occasion reflects great credit on himself and the military service.  Entered Federal service from New Jersey.

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Presidential Unit Citation

In the name of the President of the United States as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction the 23d Regimental Combat Team, 2d Infantry Division, comprised of the following units:

23d Infantry Regiment
37th Field Artillery Battalion
French Infantry Battalion
"B" Battery, 82d AAA Battalion
"B" Battery, 503d Field Artillery Battalion
"B" Company, 2d Engineer Battalion
2d Clearing Platoon, Clearing Company, 2d Medical Battalion
1st Infantry Ranger Company

is cited for extraordinary heroism in combat near Chipyong-ni, Korea, during the period 13 through 15 February 1951.  Those units, comprising a regimental combat team, were disposed in a defensive perimeter around Chipyong-ni with the hazardous mission of holding this important communications center and denying the enemy its extensive road net.  On 13 February, hordes of Chinese Communist troops launched many determined attacks from every quarter, strongly supported by heavy mortar and artillery fire.  Prearranged fire with artillery, tanks and mortars hurled back those fanatical assaults until the morning of 14 February when the enemy separated the 23d Regimental Combat Team from supporting units to the south, entirely surrounded it, and made re-supply possible only by air drop.  Because of the encircling force, estimated to be four Chinese communist divisions, the Chipyong-ni perimeter rapidly developed into a "stand-or-die" defense.  Fierce hand-to-hand combat engaged the two forces in the evening of the second day of the siege and only one company remained in reserve.  With ammunition stocks running low, this one remaining unit was committed on 15 February and waves of attacking Chinese communists again were stormed.  Shortly after noon of 15 February, radio contact was established with a relief force and friendly tanks broke through the enemy encirclement and forced his withdrawal.  The dogged determination, gallantry and indominatable spirit displayed by the 23d Regimental Combat Team when completely surrounded and cut off, the destruction of attacking Chinese communist hordes which enabled the United Nations Forces to maintain their front, resume the offensive, and the steadfast and stubborn refusal to allow a fanatical and numerically superior force to dislodge them are in keeping with the finest traditions of the United States Army and reflect great credit on all members of the units who participated in this historical combat action.

For forty-eight hours five full Communist divisions and elements of a sixth were hurled at the 23d Infantry.  The 23d Regiment had again stood in the face of all that the armies of China could muster.  Despite overwhelming odds and sickening casualties it had held fast.  The enemy had been broken.



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