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Reinhold R. "Ron" Klein
Bradenton, FL -
"A lot of time in the infantry is spent sitting around waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Then comes the inevitable order, "Saddle up", and you have to move your weary bones, settle your pack well on your back, grab your weapon, and hoist yourself to your feet. Then it's one foot in front of the other for the next untold number of miles."
- Reinhold Klein
These recollections were compiled in order that my children and grandchildren will have some understanding of a defining period of my life. They, therefore, contain historical notes and descriptions of organizations and equipment that would bore people of my generation, but are necessary for the kids to understand an organization and series of events they know little about.
Unfortunately, these written memories are devoid of much detail. For inexplicable reasons, some things are remembered more clearly than others. I am sure that the events as remembered actually occurred as portrayed, but they have been dimmed by the passage of time. Names, in particular, are missing in many cases. To this day I regret not having kept a diary (although this was specifically forbidden by regulations in the event of capture) and carried a camera. The mystery remains - why did I remember so much that was often trivial and unimportant? Have other more significant memories been blanked out? I don’t know. The “little gray cells” likely no longer work as well as they did.
I joined the Marine Corps in 1944 and, following boot camp and some additional training, was selected for the Navy’s V-12 program. In 1946 I was discharged with the rank of Private First Class. Late in 1950 I was called back to service as a Second Lieutenant and, after a short, special officer training course, was sent to Korea. I returned to the States in early 1952 and was released to the Reserves, from which I retired in 1972.
Lt.Col. Reinhold “Ron” Klein, USMCR (Ret)
Korea: An Introduction
The Korean "Police Action" has rightfully been called the "Forgotten War". During its 35-month course, America had six million men and women populating its armed forces. Total combat casualties were almost equal to all 12 years of the Vietnam conflict. During the Korean War, we suffered 54,246 killed worldwide (of those 37,651 were KIA in Korea), 103,284 wounded, 8,177 MIA and 7,000 POWs, of which 51 percent died while in captivity. In 1990 there were 8,177 MIA-POWs still unaccounted for compared to 2,348 in the Vietnam War.
It was unusual in a number of respects. Following so closely after the end of World War II caused many of the servicemen of that war to be called back into serving in Korea. One of the squad leaders in my Dog Company platoon had been a prisoner of the Japanese for six months, being captured during the Okinawa campaign toward the end of the war. It took all of the intervening years to bring his health back, although he complained that his stomach had been ruined for life. One could reasonably expect, therefore, that these veterans were bitter over being thrown into another conflict. Many were, especially the reservists who had started families and business in the interim and were now suddenly torn away from that life. However, the veterans who were sent to Korea that were "regulars" had no reason to complain--they had chosen their profession. Unfortunately, there were very many more of us than of them.
We Marine reserves were especially upset because we had been led to believe that the regulars, both officer and enlisted, would be used for combat and the reserves for support activities. In a briefing by a General on my reporting to Quantico for the 2nd Special Basic Course, he said the Marine Corps considered Korea a "fine training ground" for its regular officers. This statement had two bothersome aspects. Since when was a combat zone to be considered a training area and, if his statement contained an element of truth, why did reserve officers compose most of those in Korea below the rank of Lieutenant Colonel?
On one occasion while I was with Dog Company and we were in a reserve position, our Battalion Commander had a "dinner" in a mess tent to which all Battalion officers were invited in order to welcome our new executive officer, a Major. Following a typical Marine mess kitchen dinner, a lukewarm and unidentifiable stew and watery mashed potatoes, the Major stood up, grabbed his coffee-filled canteen cup, and gave a toast and a little speech. He mentioned that he was glad to see all of us regular officers in charge of the troops since he was a regular himself and that he didn't think much of the abilities of the reserve officers. Our Battalion commander, a Lieutenant Colonel, tried to stop him in mid-talk by tugging on his sleeve, but the Major continued to blather on along the same lines. Finally the Colonel could get a word in and said, "I might mention to the Major that all of our Battalion officers, including myself, and excepting only one 2nd Lieutenant, are reservists." From the experiences that followed, I don't think that "regular" ever forgave us.
The war's other uniqueness was that it was the first real United Nations action. Although the United States bore the brunt of the load in terms of troops and equipment, many UN nations contributed help. Some of those that fought with us were:
In addition, the ROKs (Republic of Korea Army) fielded three corps that included a couple of KMC (Korean Marine Corps) regiments.
The war started on June 25, 1950 when a North Korean Army crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea. On June 27, the UN met in emergency session and voted to help South Korea. The US Seventh Fleet was immediately dispatched to provide naval and air support to the ROK defenders. The FEAF (Far East Air Force) based in Japan began flying bombing sorties against North Korean military targets. On July 2, elements of the US Army's 24th Division were transported from Japan to Pusan. First contact between U.S. troops and the NKPA (North Korean People's Army) was made on July 5.
In the meantime, the ROKs lost their capitol, Seoul, and were driven back to the "Pusan Perimeter". Elements of the US Army's 25th Division arrived in Pusan on July 12, and the 24th, 25th and 1st Cavalry Divisions of the 8th US Army arrived on the 15th, together with the 5th Marine Regiment plus the 1st Marine Brigade. As the UN forces grew, they began a slow but relentless driving back of the NKPA. The culminating blow to the enemy came on September 15 when the newly-formed US 10th Corps, composed of the 1st Marine Division and the 7th Army Division, made their landing at Inchon. The landing, led by the Marines, was a huge success resulting in major withdrawals by the NKPA and eventual recapture of Seoul. The drive northward continued with the furthest northward position being reached by the 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir in November.
The reservoir wrote a new chapter in the history of the Marine Corps. On November 27th, China entered the war without warning by sending troops across the Yalu River into North Korea. At or near the reservoir were the 7th Marines (my Regiment) under Colonel Homer Litzenberg (known to us affectionately as "Litz the Blitz"), the 5th Marines under Col. Raymond Murray, and elements of the Army's 7th Division. Strung out southward along the road were the towns of Chinhung, Koto and Hagaru, each about 10 miles apart and each containing one of Colonel Chesty Puller's 1st Marine battalions. This allied force of 15,000 was attacked by 120,000 Chinese in ten divisions who had been ordered to annihilate them "to the last man". The temperature ranged below zero every day and blizzards were constant.
Historians have termed Chosin the most savage battle of modern warfare. They compare it to Tarawa, the bloodiest battle of World War II in terms of the ratio of casualties to Americans engaged--which, in that case were also Marines.
A comparison of the two battles:
In addition to the above casualty figures, the Marines at Chosin suffered over 3,000 cases of severe frostbite from the -30 degree temperatures.
The 1st Marine Division received a Presidential Unit Citation, the first time an entire division has ever received one, for "decisively defeating seven enemy divisions, together with elements of three others." A total of 13 Congressional Medals of Honor and 70 Navy Crosses were awarded, the most ever awarded for a single battle in United States history.
At the height of the battle, Chesty Puller was asked by a correspondent if he was worried because the battalion he was with was entirely surrounded. Chesty replied, “Worried? Hell no! We've finally got the enemy where we want him and can now attack in all directions!"
Most remarkable, in the retreat from the reservoir to Hagaru and from there to the coast city of Hungnam from which they were finally evacuated, the Marines brought most of their weapons and equipment, all of their wounded and most of their dead with them. The initial news of their being surrounded and subject to annihilation by the surprise attack of the overwhelming number of Chinese left America in a state of shock similar to the period immediately following Pearl Harbor. But, the breakout from the reservoir and ultimate evacuation from Hungnam, leaving tremendous numbers of Chinese casualties in their wake, all accomplished under the worst conditions imaginable, wiped the nation's initial humiliation clean. At the end, when they were leaving Hungnam, the Marines and the remaining Army troops were under the guns of the CCF which held the surrounding hills and were getting some sniper fire. But this, for some inexplicable reason, stopped and the CCF troops allowed the rest of the evacuation to proceed without interference. In fact, the CCF troops even released some of the American wounded and let them join the last of the evacuation that was accomplished by airlift.
One of the Marines in my platoon who survived that battle told me that when he arrived back at Pyongyang where the 1st Division was to be reformed, he asked where Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines was located. Someone pointed to a twelve-man squad tent and he asked if that was the location of the company command post. His guide told him that, no, it was the entire company. There were six members left. During our later reunions I found that the six were MSgt. Ralph Cherry, Sgt. Ogle "Duke" Singleton, PFC Thomas Cassis, PFC Robert Martin, PFC Goldie Givens, and PFC Robert Van Zant.
At that time the 1st Division was part of the X Corps that was led by General Edward "Ned" Almond, a General who was thoroughly disliked by the Marines and the feeling appeared to be mutual. Our division commander was General Oliver P. Smith. Because of Almond's poor tactics, Smith let it be known that he would never again serve under Almond. The Division was subsequently assigned to another Corps. Later, after I had joined them, the Division found themselves again under Almond. Before doing so, the Marine Corps had to first transfer Smith back to the States.
At the time I joined the Division, the UN forces had fought their way almost all the way back up to the 38th Parallel. In the meantime, history had been made in another way by Truman's firing of MacArthur, the Supreme Commander in the Far East. General Matthew Ridgway was put in charge and, since the Marines never liked MacArthur too much either (probably because he always managed to get more publicity), Ridgway was much more acceptable to them.
I think it’s important to remember that many of the men who fought in Korea had also been in combat not too long before in World War II. My two and a half years as an enlisted man in the Marines following my joining them in 1944 had not resulted in combat exposure, but I had lived with hardened veterans while at Parris Island, Camp Lejeune, and in the V-12 program at Muhlenberg and Colgate. One couldn't help but appreciate what they had been through. Those soldiers, sailors and Marines that had served during World War II had done so with no known end in sight. Some had spent years overseas never knowing when they would see their homes again. They had lived under the most difficult and dangerous conditions, and rarely complained. Now many were again "in harm's way". The extent to which service was required was a major difference between World War II and the following Korean and Vietnam conflicts. In the latter two, a tour of service was for a prescribed time, usually one year, the end of which was something to always look forward to.
As what happened during Vietnam, our reception at home was not a big hero's welcome either. I distinctly remember the day after getting back to the States. I recall going down the elevator at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco and having the "civilians" shrink away from us. The fact that we looked like assassins in our ill-fitting greens and that we sported handlebar mustaches may have had something to do with it.
In spite of its being "forgotten", many modern historians are beginning to think of the Korean War as a pivotal conflict between democracy and communism. Although considered initially as a military defeat or, at best, a stalemate similar to Vietnam, some are starting to view it as a victory. The Reader's Digest has called those that fought there "veterans of a forgotten victory." When the 1991 PBS documentary, "Korea: The Unknown War" painted a morally muddy picture of US involvement in Korea, there was considerable reaction. Richard Whelan wrote in "Drawing the Line: The Korean War" that, "It demonstrated that the U.S. could after all, oppose localized communist aggression without that response escalating uncontrollably into nuclear war." Columnist Harry Summers wrote that the war "marked acknowledgement by the Kremlin that communism could no longer be spread by direct force of arms." General Joseph Stilwell said, "We stayed the course and provided a shield behind which the citizens of South Korea have created what is virtually a miracle."
At the time, sitting in a hole on some hill known only by a number on a dirty, wrinkled map, either shivering or sweating, depending on the season, and frightened of what would come next, I remember thinking to myself, "What the hell are we doing here?" Forty years later, seeing what has happened to the communist monster, I am finally beginning to understand why.
The remainder of my remembrances of Korea will have to be told in a series of vignettes--more in a "stream of consciousness" manner. Unfortunately, although I can remember some events with great clarity, my memory is devoid of such details as locations, dates and names. It is only since I've been attending some of the Company's reunions that it has been jogged with additional details, especially some of the names of the individuals involved.
I'll never forgive myself for not keeping a diary or for carrying a small camera, but at the time it just didn't seem important to do so. I did have a small notebook in which I kept the names of my NCOs, but I have not been able to find it. Someday it will turn up in some obscure carton in the attic.
My Korean experience began with my receipt of a second "Greetings" from Uncle Sam, only this one took the form of a set of orders from Headquarters Marine Corps which I received at 3 p.m. on 20 September 1950. I can tell what time it was because I had to return a card acknowledging receipt of the orders and recording my response.
The orders said I was being assigned to “extended active duty for a period in excess of thirty days". I'm sorry now that I can't remember my reaction. That reserves were being called up was not a secret. Some entire organized units had already been activated but, other than for the Marine Corps, and the latter only for officers, I don't believe many inactive reservists had been recalled on an individual basis.
Remembering my later feelings of bitterness, I must have been upset. On the other hand, I was living a pretty miserable existence in a scrungy, single room at the downtown Brooklyn YMCA and was not yet a totally loyal Employers Mutual's employee having, as a matter of fact, looked at some other jobs. The good side was that I really liked working at E.M., and had met Jane in the meantime. So I approached the forthcoming adventure with mixed emotions.
My reporting date was 7 November and the intervening period gave me time to get my affairs in order which really didn't take a lot of doing. The companies promised to keep a job open for me, which they had to do by law, and I transferred my few personal possessions to my parents in Rifton, New York. I also made a trip to Peekskill and severed relations with Pat Smith, who I had been dating before meeting Jane. I then spent as much time as I could running between New York City, Rifton, and Albany. I had a basic set of uniforms from my earlier attendance at Quantico, one big, soft-sided suitcase (which we still have), and my car. I was very mobile.
On the 7th I reported to the medical officer of the New York City US Marine Corps recruit depot, took my physical, had my orders endorsed, and headed for Quantico where I reported to the CO of the Special Training Regiment. Later that month I received a letter from Headquarters Marine Corps advising me of a defect or disability which they discovered during the physical--defective vision. How perceptive! I was now wearing glasses all the time and thought that surely some benefit could come from this that would make my life easier or at least safer, but that did not result--either then or later.
On my reporting to Quantico at 1315 on November 8, I was assigned to a platoon of the 2nd Battalion, Special Training Regiment. Our quarters were in one of the large brick barracks directly next to the FBI school. We were told in no uncertain terms that, although we were all officers from 2nd Lieutenant to a few Captains, we would be treated no different than the regular officer candidates. Senior members of the units were assigned as platoon and company officers for administrative and movement purposes, but we all lived together in regular squad bays with no difference between ranks. Although the food was better and we did occasionally have some time off, our treatment was only one step removed from boot camp.
The only difference from a boot camp barracks was that we had no upper bunks and every two officers were separated from the next pair by a couple of standing metal lockers so there was a modicum of privacy. Under our bunks we kept our locker boxes with personal possessions and clothing items. In the lockers we kept our 782 gear (cartridge belt, canteen, etc.) and field clothing. Our packs hung on the end of the bunk. We had no regular weapons issued to us, but would be given them dependent on our assignment for the day. We were able to draw some clothing from the quartermaster such as underwear and field boots, but all other uniform items had to be paid for. We also had a daily ration expense withdrawn from our pay. It was at this point that I learned what separates the enlisted men from the officers. We got a little more pay, but ended up with less because we had to pay for everything. We even had a part of our pay withdrawn for our "Quarters" and for sheets and pillowcases.
Many of our instructors were officers, but we also had a number of NCOs. The latter were usually courteous, but could get their message across quite succinctly by such quaint remarks as, “Would the Lieutenant please pay attention and not show his stupidity by dropping that mortar shell?"
One nice thing was the number of old friends that were back together. The Marine Corps is a relatively small organization, particularly as to its officer corps, and one can constantly run into people you know or someone who knows someone you know. At this special training course, this was even more in evidence because they had called back so many who had been in the various V-12 programs. Most of them were quite bitter. They had gotten well-started on families, careers and businesses and had this progress abruptly cut short. But even so, as time went on they saw the job being laid out for them and the esprit started to show itself again.
The course lasted not quite four months and, although described to us as a "refresher", it was really a condensed regular Officer Candidate School (OCS) course. Such a course normally took nine months. We had the same curriculum, only the total time was shortened. This meant very busy days, long hours, and very little time off. When we weren't in the classroom or in the field, we had to be studying, cleaning gear, etc.
Although they tried to be as thorough as possible, some things had to be sloughed over and that hurt us later on. Also, it seemed to us that we weren't getting enough up-to-date information from the experiences being learned in Korea. I don't remember us having a single instructor who had field experience there.
Much of what happened remains a blur, but I'll try to recount some of the more interesting things that I remember.
The one thing we learned better than anything else was how to change clothes quickly. We sometimes changed clothes six or more times a day as we went from classroom to field and back again--and always with just a few minutes to do so. We double-timed back from a class to the barracks and then were told to fall back out in three minutes in complete field gear, including full pack. The pack was supposed to contain what we would actually carry in the field, excluding rations, that is--a change of dungarees, socks, personal gear, etc. But some of the fellows wised up and filled their packs with empty cardboard boxes of the right size because they also had to look nice and square when packed and the empty boxes made them very light. But Lord help them if they got caught. There were a lot of jokes made about our beating the North Koreans in a clothes-changing contest.
Getting together with my old friend Don Clark again was a pleasant surprise. It shouldn't have been, remembering how fate had thrown us together during World War II, yet there he was again. We had not kept in touch in the interim and he had gotten married and moved right along as a teacher. This time, however, he was not in my platoon, but we still saw each other frequently.
Another surprise was that we had two black 2nd Lieutenants in the class. That was the first time any of us had seen a black officer and the first concern we had was over how they would make out giving orders to white enlisted men, especially if the latter were southerners. The Marine Corps at that time, as was true during World War II also, had a very high percentage of white southerners in it. Although the draft had increased the number of black enlisted, they were still not in such numbers as they are now.
The two couldn't have been more different. One was a quiet, studious and very easy to get along with type and the other a loud, opinionated boor. We couldn't get into a conversation with the latter without it leading to a lecture from him on role of blacks in the service, industry, labor, politics, etc., etc. Needless to say, this turned people off and they tried to avoid him, which only made matters worse. It's interesting to find what happened to them in Korea. One turned out to be a fine officer, the other not. I'll let the reader guess which was which.
We also had a Chinese Lieutenant, Lieutenant Ching. He was American-born and a real regular guy. We wondered how he might be used in Korea because of his appearance and the off chance that someone might mistake him for an enemy. We were convinced that he would be given some rear echelon administrative job. At one point during the course of our training, we were asked if anyone would like to volunteer for some very top-secret work that would require some special training. We immediately assumed it would require work behind enemy lines and some of the guys did volunteer, including Ching. He wasn't accepted and ended up as a line officer like most of the rest of us. I later heard he did very well and had no trouble with the problem we had surmised.
Among the many interesting things that happened during this tour, one stands out in my mind. We very often had field exercises in which we assumed certain roles assigned to us to get experience in varying levels of responsibility. On this particular day, I was just a BAR (Browning automatic rifle) man in a rifle squad. Lieutenant Ching was a squad leader of a thirteen-man rifle squad in our platoon. We were the lead platoon with three squads in column. I was in the middle squad and Ching had the rearmost one. While moving through some deep woods, our point came under sporadic rifle fire. Everybody was, of course, using blanks, but it still sounded very realistic. The "enemy" was made up of regular Marines stationed at Quantico for that purpose. I should point out that these "enemy" troops were all enlisted and got great enjoyment out of doing anything possible to make us officers or aspiring-to-be officers look foolish--and too often succeeded.
Our acting platoon leader called for Ching and my squad leader to meet him while also trying to find out what was going on at the point. I was near where they met, so I could hear everything they said. While the Platoon Leader was talking to the two squad leaders, we heard a machine gun start firing (not one of ours), and the squad leader of the lead squad showed up to report that they had apparently run into at least a squad or possibly more that appeared to be in prepared positions. The Platoon Leader told the lead squad to spread out and return the enemy fire, but not move further forward. He then told Ching to take his squad in a sweep to the left and see if he could envelope the enemy's flank.
Our instructors were observing everything and keeping notes. Ching crawled back to his squad and moved them as ordered. It was only a few moments later when all hell broke loose on our left. First we heard at least three, and probably more, "enemy" machine guns open up, and then we heard Ching's squad firing back, a loud yell of "Charge!", then screaming and shouting and what sounded like a herd of elephants. Shortly after this the instructors called our platoon together and while we sat in a large circle around them, they critiqued our behavior. Everything we did was fine until we came to Ching's actions. The chief instructor said, “Lieutenant Ching, whatever possessed you to lead your squad in a charge against a numerically superior enemy and in the face of four machine guns?" Ching answered, "Sir. I had my orders to envelope the enemy's flank and I did just that". The instructor responded with, "Ching, if I ordered you to go down this road and pick up everything you see standing on it and bring it back to me and you saw an M16 tank standing on the road, would you pick it up and bring it back to me?" "Nnnn-no sir, I couldn't", answered Ching. "That's right"' said the instructor, "You would go get another Marine to help you."
One of the exercises, which were held at night, had me in the role of company messenger. The company commander told me to bring a message to one of the platoon leaders. It was pitch black with no moon and I did a lot of stumbling around before I found where the platoon was dug in. One of its members pointed toward where the platoon leader was. I crawled forward until I saw a figure crouched in front of me, whereupon I delivered my lengthy message. It wasn't until after I got no reaction or response at all that I realized I had been talking to a tree stump. When I told that story later in the barracks, some of the old V-12 crowd reminded me that it fit in with my nickname of "Spook".
In addition to exercises, we also had many demonstrations. All were done by the resident troops and, of course, they always did everything perfectly. Generally the instructors were excellent. I remember one who demonstrated demolitions. In one of his classroom lectures he wired a plastic explosive block with a fuse, pulled the fuse, and threw the block into the audience. Simultaneously, one of his assistants set off a cherry bomb in a pail in back of the classroom. Utter panic fails to adequately describe the result.
When we asked him how he could be sure a charge would be adequate to accomplish a certain job such as cutting a bridge girder even after having made the necessary calculations, he said he always used the "B'Jesus" factor. He would always double the size of the required charge and then say, “That’ll do it, b'Jesus!"
One exercise that impressed me was their way of showing how effective controlled rifle fire could be when done properly. They lined 13 of us up at the edge of a field, the equivalent of a rifle squad, and gave us each one clip (eight rounds) of ammunition for our M1 Garand rifles that were our standard weapons. We were then told to take the prone position about ten yards apart and fire our clip on order in the manner we had been taught, that is, in a sector which resembled a fan with each rifleman's sector overlapping the one next to him. From two to three hundred yards in front of us began a line of shrubs and bushes that blended into the edge of the woods. We were also told that there were 13 targets of various kinds hidden amongst the shrubs and trees.
After firing our clip we went forward and found the targets. Some were low silhouettes simulating enemy soldiers lying prone. Others were kneeling, and some were even standing behind trees. Twelve of the targets had been hit--a number of them more than once. And we had never seen them! That's when I also learned that an 8" to 10" tree was little protection. Our .30 caliber slugs had gone clear through such trees and hit the targets in back of them.
The training cadre was excellent. Even though they gave us a bad time in the field, they always treated us with respect. Maybe this was because we did have a large number of trainees who had spent considerable time in service during World War II--some in combat, and most as enlisted men. It was fun to see their reaction the first time we fell out in dress greens and the "trainees" had all their ribbons on. The instructors and their assistants had not been exposed to so much experience, having previously dealt only with young reservists straight out of college.
The limitations of my own experience were most aptly demonstrated by my proficiency with the .45 caliber automatic pistol. The first time I fired it the range officer, an old, crusty warrant officer, said to me, “Lieutenant, you have the distinction of just having fired the lowest score that has ever been fired on the Quantico pistol range!" But I improved rapidly. The second time I could proudly announce to the old warrant that I had a pinwheel. That’s a shot directly through the center of the bull’s eye. What I didn't tell him was that the target I showed him had been folded up in the wooden target box at the base of the target holder and one of my rounds had gone through the box.
Overall I didn't do badly for a skinny (140 pounds), scared second lieutenant. I qualified in the Browning automatic rifle and the Garand M1, and shot Marksman with the carbine and .45 caliber pistol. We had also done familiarization firing with the .30 caliber machine guns, heavy and light, and with the 60 and 81mm mortars. We had thrown both practice and a few real hand grenades, fired a bazooka, and taken a turn at firing a fifty caliber tank machine gun. My final grades were 90 for academics and 80 for tactics. I finished 33 in a class that had about 150 altogether.
Halfway through our course the class that preceded us, the 1st Special Basic Class, finished and got their orders at the end of the normal workday on a Friday. As we had been told, the Marine Corps was following through on their promise to use the reserves in support and stateside jobs so the regulars could go to Korea and satisfy their craving for combat and gain valuable experience. The orders for the members of this class had them going to supply depots, cooks and baker’s schools, laundry platoons, training slots, etc.
Hah! On Saturday morning they were ordered not to leave the base but await changed orders. Some had already left and had to be tracked down later. The new orders arrived mid-morning and were all for immediate transfer to Korea into combat positions. That class went wild. We were told that those who were left literally tore their barracks apart, but I heard later that wasn't true. But I do know that they were upset. Many had wives and families living off base and did not even have time to arrange for their returning home.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps at the time was General Vandegrift. His son was a 2d Lieutenant in that class and had received a similar change of orders. He got into a public phone booth that morning with a couple of friends and called his dad to tell him what had happened and ask him if something could be done. We were told that the rest of his side of the conversation was, "....but Dad!......but Dad!....Okay, Dad. Never mind! Aye, Aye Sir!" This was just about the time the 1st Marine Division was decimated at Chosin Reservoir and they desperately needed to rebuild it with many replacements.
This 1st class had one other terrible thing happen to them. Shortly after our course started, they had an 81 mm mortar round land short, killing two and injuring six of their members. I can still see the two caskets sitting on the railroad platform at the Quantico station waiting for the train to take them home under Marine guard. Remembering that a mortar can deliver a shell very short of the target served me well at a later date.
I can't remember very much about my free time. We were allowed some time off and I remember some trips home for weekends. On one of these I offered a ride to a friend as far as Philadelphia. When we got there he invited me to his house for dinner. This was a real Italian family and I don't believe I ever after saw as much food consumed as I did that day. His mother, an overly-large lady, kept telling me to "eat, eat" but after the first four or five courses, I just couldn't. On this trip my lights went out as we were driving through Washington DC. I pulled into an all-night service station expecting to get stuck there for the weekend, but seeing two Marines with little free time they took me ahead of everyone else and in half an hour I was on my way with a replaced alternator.
Another trip found me in the middle of New Jersey about 2 a.m. and dead tired. The only motel with space was a very luxurious one. I believe they wanted $12 for a single, which was very expensive for those days, but I was so tired I didn't care. It was a beautiful room with a fireplace, but I checked out at 6 a.m. to be on my way.
It was while I was at Quantico that Jane and I were engaged. She had come down for a weekend and stayed at the Hospitality House. I proposed to her while sitting in the car in the parking lot in back of that house. Some years ago we drove through Quantico and looked for the Hospitality House, but it was gone. I was told it had burned down.
I think it might have been on that weekend that I found Jane would never be able to be a service wife. We went to the movie on the base and while looking for a seat in the balcony before the start of the film, she walked down to the first row and wanted to sit down. I stopped her, pointed to a sign that said "Field Grade Officers only", and told her that we would have to sit in one of the rows further back, even though the balcony was almost completely empty. In a voice which I'm sure could be heard throughout the theater she said, “What do you mean, I can't sit here!"
One Saturday I was invited to visit Jane’s sister Harriett, who was stationed as a nurse at Fort Belvoir. I was a little leery meeting my girlfriend’s sister, so I brought a friend along, Bob Dunkerly, from V-12 days. Harriet entertained us in her quarters, which impressed us. I think she was a 1st Lieutenant at the time and outranked us. After our second drink, she told us that we couldn't have any more. Shortly after that, we headed back. On the drive to the base, Bob couldn’t stop commenting on a nurse telling two "tough" Marine officers that they couldn't have anything more to drink.
Right after the graduation ceremony on February 12, 1951, I got my orders to report to the CG, Marine Barracks, Camp Pendleton, California, by no later than March 5th. I was one of the fortunate ones who were given a little extra time off. Some, like Don Clark, were ordered directly to Korea or to other training commands. Don was sent to an Army artillery school and from there was flown directly to Pusan.
From Dago to Pusan
The time between my detachment at Quantico and reporting at Pendleton was spent in Rifton, New York, with my parents and in Albany with Jane. I left for California on the morning of March 5 by plane to Los Angeles. From there it was a slow and miserable bus ride to Oceanside, California, the town on US 101 outside the main gate of Camp Pendleton. Then I took a cab into the base and checked in with the Provost Marshall at midnight. My few personal possessions I left at Rifton and my car I left with Jane.
After checking in and while waiting for a jeep and driver to take me to the BOQ, another Lieutenant who had come into the office for something and had heard me checking in took me aside and asked me if I was to be quartered in building FF. When I told him I was, he strongly suggested I ask the driver to take me around the back of that building and let me sneak in the back door. Apparently Gen. Chesty Puller and a few of his staff had set themselves up in the front hall of building FF to meet all new transient officers reporting in to draft them into the new 3rd Brigade he had been asked to form.
I pointed out that I had orders that specified otherwise, but he told me that made no never mind to old Chesty He would rewrite them to suit himself. Knowing his reputation, I had to believe him. This was after the Chosin Reservoir from which Chesty had helped extricate the 1st Division. At this point in his career he could do no wrong, and I'm sure no little second lieutenant's complaint that he had been kidnapped was going to save him. Later, of course, Chesty's rambunctiousness had him fall out of favor and he died, after a period of retirement, a disillusioned man. I did sneak in the back door and, sure enough, I could hear him and his staff at the front entrance. By next morning he was gone. The next day I reported to the CG, Training and Replacement Command and was given orders as a platoon leader in the 7th Replacement Draft.
I think we were there a couple of weeks, which were spent forming the Draft organization and preparing our equipment for embarkation. We did have one training session where we worked with a tank platoon wandering around the bare hills of Camp Pendleton. I was impressed with the maneuverability and awesome power of the main battle tank that was being used. The fact that it couldn't survive without the immediate and constant protection of the infantry gave me some tense moments later that year. As usual, our days were 16 hours of work with no time for any relaxation. The 1st Division had to move back up to the line, but was still greatly undermanned. Many replacements had been flown over, but the bulk was to come by sea with additional equipment. That was our job and, in addition to getting the troops organized and equipment readied for shipment, we had to help the Draft headquarters staff complete the embarkation plan--a complicated document specifying details of organization, billeting, equipment storage, order of embarkation and debarkation, ad infinitum.
The day we were to leave for San Diego (Dago) we had to check out of the base. I had very little time to do it, so I hired a cab from nearby Oceanside to drive me around all of the facilities--laundry, PX, Commissary, Supply Depot, Hospital, BOQ, etcetera, etcetera--each of which had to sign off on my checkout sheet. It took about two hours, but was well worth it. I also had picked out an engagement ring at the PX and arranged to have it sent to Jane. Then it was onto the buses with the troops for Dago.
At San Diego we immediately boarded our troopship, the USS Thomas Jefferson. Her official designation was APA 30 (Assault Personnel and Armor Carrier). She had been a President liner in her youth before World War I, but had been converted to a troop carrier and survived the war in that guise. Most recently she had been used as a navy "dependent" ship, one used to move the dependent families of navy personnel as necessary. Consequently, she was in very good shape and nicely appointed.
We were to go over in a two-ship convoy with the other being an old LST (Landing Ship, Tank), also from World War II days. The latter was a bit smaller and did not have nearly as nice the accommodations the Jefferson had. We couldn't understand why the troop commander, a Colonel, chose to make the LST his headquarters ship, but that's what he did. The fact that the LST was heavily-loaded and sailed low in the water while ours was empty except for the troops and consequently ran very high in the water didn't sink in to us until the weather got a little rough. In fact, even in calm water the Jefferson did a lot of rolling and seasickness plagued our troops for the entire fifteen-day voyage.
It didn't take long to embark and we left that same afternoon. One of the Second Lieutenants who had joined our company at Pendleton failed to report on board. We heard a rumor that he had his wife with him and she had talked him into jumping ship. I never did hear any more about him but since jumping ship was a serious offense, I can only assume he chose to spend some time at Leavenworth instead of facing Korea.
Our organization for the replacement draft was just like a regular battalion with platoons and companies. However, it was only a temporary organization to make it possible to efficiently move that many people. I was in Able Company and four of us, all Lieutenants, were in a stateroom on the first deck--really very nice accommodations. Just outside our door we had a small lounge with easy chairs and a sofa. The sofa sat facing the bow of the ship and directly opposite it was a large inclinometer--a device that indicated by a downward hanging arrow how far the ship was listing from side to side. One of the Lieutenants in our room sat for hours and days staring at that arrow and moaning loud "Ohs!" as the arrow swung to and fro between its furthest readings. He also frequently ran to the head to throw up. I lived on Dramamine for the whole trip, which the Battalion doctor dispensed with no hesitation. I only felt sick one day. What I couldn't understand is why that poor Lieutenant didn't avail himself of the medicine instead of suffering as he did.
The first night out of Dago I would guess that 90 percent of the troops got sick. I could understand why. Even though the weather was not bad, their living conditions were such that they couldn't escape the domino effect that always happens when one person in a group becomes seasick. Although there was plenty of room on board the rest of the ship, the troop decks were jammed. Their pipe bunks were stacked six high with what looked like only about 12 inches between them. In a small hammock hanging next to them, they had to keep all their personal and combat gear. It's impossible to describe what those decks looked and smelled like the first morning.
After our troop commander, a Major, finished his inspection, he gave the order for all Marines to secure all bunks by lashing them against the bulkheads and to muster on deck with all their gear. Then working parties were sent below decks to flush out the compartments with fire hoses. We did the same thing every morning. The Navy crew couldn't believe their eyes. They told us that this was the first time this particular crew had carried Marines. Previously they always had army troops on board and the latter had never cleaned the troop compartments out for the entire fifteen-day trip.
Doing what we did together with calisthenics every morning I think had a lot to do with keeping the seasickness to a minimum and having our troops in excellent shape when we arrived. I can't imagine what condition the army troops must have been in when they finally got to Korea.
We had a full training agenda, so kept very busy. Every day we had to take our platoons through the training schedule, including weapons, tactics, in-country briefing, first aid, etcetera, etcetera. All the training was done by the company officers and that meant a lot of preparation work on our part. The one element I felt we should have had was someone who could give us first hand information on the North Koreans and Chinese that we were going to be facing. Unfortunately, that kind of information we had to get from written material, which didn't serve near as well.
The training, plus daily exercising and work details of various sorts, kept us from getting bored. The food was excellent. The men took turns eating in a couple of messes that couldn't take everyone at the same time. The officers ate in a separate mess in which we were served by Filipino stewards.
This was our first exposure to Navy life and we were all appalled by the line of demarcation between the officers and enlisted on board ship. The Marine officer in the field, especially at the company level, lives, eats, and sleeps with his men. In the Navy onboard ship, the officer lived in luxury while the enlisted accommodations and living conditions were barely adequate. It's hard to understand why there aren't more mutinies.
There was little contact between us and the Navy officers. What there was was civil but cool. It was obvious we were a necessary evil on board their nice ship. The parts of the ship we could occupy were clearly delineated and we were told in no uncertain terms to keep our butts out of all other areas. One day another Marine and I climbed partway up a ladder that led to one of the flying bridges. We didn't see the Captain standing up there, but he spotted us and said something to one of his officers standing next to him. That "gentleman" yelled at us to get our asses off that ladder, get back on deck, never try coming up that ladder again, and to notify all the other troops accordingly. We later heard that the wooden railings of the ladder had recently been varnished and the Captain didn't want them soiled!
Our officers were given one short tour of the ship in the early days of the trip. We were not shown the bridge, but pretty much everything else. What I couldn't understand was why the ship was entirely empty other than for the troops, which probably numbered about 400-500. There was nothing in her cavernous holds except for a few military trucks and jeeps. Nor did we load anything additional during our stop at Kobe. With all the stuff that was being shipped and airlifted to Korea, it didn't make sense to not use this trip for additional cargo. We never got an explanation.
Other than for one unfortunate circumstance that I'll cover later, the trip was uneventful. I remember only one or two days of bad weather that increased the incidence of seasickness somewhat and gave me my only day of squeamishness. We never saw the LST, the other ship in our "convoy", until a day or so out of Kobe when we could spot her on the horizon in back of us.
The two weeks spent on board were of great benefit to me because it was my first real experience at troop leading. Before this everything had been make-believe with other officers at Quantico. But now I had my own platoon and was responsible for 41 people. My first experience with dealing with the different personalities, especially among the NCOs, was enlightening if a little scary. Most of them had considerably more experience than I. The troops were all pretty green, just out of advanced infantry training, but some of the NCOs already had quite a few years in the Corps and a couple had seen combat in World War II.
I remember some difficulty with one of the men who had allegedly malingered and feigned seasickness to get out of some work. My Platoon Sergeant tried to give him extra calisthenics following our regular morning workout, but he then complained of some other ailments and was sent to sickbay. The ship's doctor said he couldn't find anything wrong with him. Although I was never told exactly what happened, and didn't want to know, I understand the Platoon Sergeant and/or possibly the man's squad leader took him aside that night and "explained" things. He looked a little worse for wear the next morning and worked the hardest of anyone at our calisthenics. We never had another bit of trouble with him. Those were the types of problems I didn't know how to deal with, other than the process of bringing formal charges against someone, but I found that the NCOs usually handled those things on their own. The problem could become serious, however, if I ended up with an NCO who himself was difficult to deal with, something I had to learn to cope with later on.
Our stop at Kobe, Japan on the thirteenth day was interesting, to say the least. Not because we were now in a foreign country, the first time for most of the troops except for those who had previous overseas service, but because of what we had to do.
It was a gray, overcast day when we pulled in to Kobe harbor early in the morning. There was no one to greet us except for a few Japanese dockworkers. For some unknown reason we had been ordered to dress in our greens that morning. After breakfast the men were told to carry their sea bags to the dock, change into dungarees, and then leave all their personal things together with all other items of clothing in their sea bags except for one change of clean dungarees and two of underwear and socks. The only other thing they could return on board with was their toilet gear and a limited number of personal items such as writing paper, cigarettes, etc.
This meant they would have to change in the open on the dock and carry their allowed items back on board loose. One of our Sergeants asked one of the Navy officers if there was any prescribed uniform for reporting back on board and was told there wasn't. Without telling anyone, he took all the necessary items out of his sea bag and carried the partially-emptied one out to the dock. As everyone changed from greens into dungarees on the dock, he only undressed and stayed in his underwear. When everyone was done repacking their sea bags, they were left lying in rows on the dock. (All this was accomplished while the men were in platoon and company formations.) They then marched back on board, our Sergeant amongst them, still in his underwear. The look on the Navy Officer-of-the-Day's face was something to appreciate when the Sergeant stepped off the gangplank and gave the required snappy salute to the ensign (flag) at the stern and the OOD standing at the rail. We understand the Captain saw this too and was not at all pleased, but there was nothing they could do. Since this whole Chinese fire drill had been dreamed up by the Navy and, we understood, had been objected to by our troop commander, the fact that one Marine at least had been able to show the Navy what he thought of their stupidity made our day.
Our officer locker boxes were then also repacked on board and carried out to the dock. At least we didn't have to suffer the indignity of undressing before all the curious Japanese by-standers. The sea bags and locker boxes were then removed to a storage warehouse from which they would be returned to us on our way home if we were so fortunate as to get home again in one piece.
We were then told that, even though we would be at the dock until the following morning, there would be no liberty ashore. One of the reasons for this, we heard, was because we now did not have our green uniforms and it would not be proper uniform etiquette to have us wander around in our dungarees and boondockers (combat boots). This was followed with the word that only the officers could go ashore. What now had been grumbling only turned into serious complaining and we agreed that the men were being treated very unfairly. I'm sure the greatest concern on the part of the Navy was that we would lose half the men if we let them go ashore. Our troop commander finally got the Captain to agree to at least a little time ashore for the men and the order finally came down that we were to assemble in company formation on the dock. This we did right after lunch and we then marched in formation the few short blocks it took to get into the center of the town. There, at exactly 2 p.m., the men were told they had until 4 p.m. to do what they wished. They were then dismissed under the wondering eyes of a flock of Japanese civilian onlookers. After the two hours was over they were to fall back into formation at the center of the square. What happened then boggles the imagination.
We officers wandered around for those two hours just trying to make sure that no-one got into too much trouble. Looking into the numerous bars in the area and a number of other places, the purposes of which were also soon obvious, had us realize that a Marine can do more in two hours than most others in a week. At the end of the two hours we were waiting in the square at the center of town, watching the troops collect and fall into formation. At 4 p.m. the formations were complete and there was not a single person missing! They were then marched back to the ship and boarded, albeit some of them having difficulty walking a straight line. The Navy officers couldn't believe it when they saw we were all back at the appointed time.
While in town we had noticed that our troop commander and his staff were in a local bar and they had not returned with us, the company officers. We didn't know what to make of this so just dismissed the troops on board and gave them no further assignments for the day. A little later we received a message from the Colonel that all company officers were to be given shore leave until midnight and we were to join him at the bar. At first we thought it unfair to the enlisted men to have this happen, but then realized that they were in no condition to really complain, much less even notice. We all went into town, met the staff, had something to eat, and then all drowned our sorrows. I don't remember ever leaving that same bar until shortly before midnight, when we all staggered back to the ship together and poured ourselves on board.
That was what we saw of Japan. Early in the morning I woke to hear the engines going and the movement of the ship as we left the dock. At reveille it was 'up and at 'em' for exercises on the deck and we were back to our normal routine. Two days later we steamed into Pusan harbor.
Accidents, Friendly Fire and Other Hazards
This is a break in the narrative to explain a hard fact of military life to the uninitiated. Soldiering is dangerous business, even in peacetime. Of course, in combat this is obvious. When you are under orders to kill someone and they are trying to do the same to you, somebody is going to get hurt. Hopefully it’s not you and the Corps tries its best to prevent that from happening. As one of our drill instructors in boot camp used to yell at us, "Let the other bastard die for his country. We train you to live for yours."
Unfortunately, it’s not always an enemy that does the damage. I mentioned that during our training at Quantico the class before us had a tragedy when two Marines were killed and six injured due to a "short" mortar round. The services do their best to prevent such incidences, but it must be understood and appreciated that when you mix dangerous weapons and materials with untrained soldiers the chance of accidental injuries are very high.
When the environment of war or combat is added, the rate of accidents increases greatly, even among highly trained troops. I once read somewhere that the number of Marines, sailors and soldiers killed and injured from accidents and "friendly” fire was greater in Korea than those casualties that were the result of combat. From my observations and experiences, I can easily believe this.
Going back to Korea, as our training became more realistic, so did the casualties increase. On the cruise to Kobe, about the second or third day at sea we four Lieutenants were in our cabin, which was on the first boat deck and had portholes looking out over the deck. Suddenly we heard a klaxon and the words over the loudspeaker, “Battle stations. Battle stations! This is a drill!" One of our instructions after boarding had been that if we were to hear such an announcement the Marine troops were to stay out of the Navy's way by remaining in their cabins or troop compartments. Or, if caught on deck, to stay inboard of the railings and take shelter under the lifeboats.
As the drill started we opened our cabin door so we could hear the entire goings on. Orders were flying fast and furious. We heard Navy officers and petty officers shouting and running about and over the loudspeaker we heard such things as, "Enemy aircraft on the port quarter, range 10,000, altitude 5,000". "Damage party to the foredeck." "Captain is a casualty, Exec assuming command." And other similarly exciting things. We also heard the ship's guns commence firing. I don't remember the kind of armaments they had--nothing very big, but I do remember the twin 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns that were located forward and aft on both sides of the ship. Then we heard shouts of "Corpsman" and sailors running down the passageway past our cabin. We all stuck our heads through the door and watched them running past us with stretchers on which lay Marines covered with red colored bandages. "Boy!" we thought, "The Navy sure gets realistic and puts on a show worthy of a Hollywood production."
After they secured from the drill we found that those Marines were real casualties. The aft guns had to traverse through an arc that went behind two wire stays or cables that ran to the top of the kingposts. The latter are those short masts on freighters that are used as cranes for loading and unloading. The gun crews are to unfasten these two wires and lash them back to the kingposts so the gun has a clear field of fire. The crew on the port side had lashed only one wire back, leaving the other still attached. As the gun traversed while it was being fired, one of its 20mm shells hit that wire about four or five feet from the muzzle and detonated. The gun crew was protected because they were crouched behind an armored shield. However, there were a number of Marines stretched out under a lifeboat behind the gun and shrapnel hit six of them. All except one had relatively minor wounds and were fully recovered by the time we got to Pusan. One had a serious head wound and was airlifted back to the States right after we arrived at Kobe. We heard later he pulled through okay.
When you're constantly fooling around with weapons and explosives, even the slightest mistake can result in tragedy. Two incidences that stand out occurred later at reserve summer camp sessions. The first was at Quantico during one of my two-week stints as a reserve officer. We were training with tanks and were being given familiarization rides. A 2nd Lieutenant of our group was riding in the tank commander’s seat and stood up to look out of the hatch which was open. He then lowered himself back down holding on to the rim of the hatch with one hand. Just then the tank went over a bad bump and the hatch cover swung shut slamming down on his hand. The cover weighed about 500 pounds. We later discovered that the latch which was supposed to keep the hatch from shutting was defective. Fortunately, there was a Navy medical seminar being given at Quantico and the Navy's leading orthopedic surgeon happened to be attending. He took over and literally rebuilt that Lieutenant's hand. I can still see him sitting in the club with a squash racquet wired to his wrist. The racquet had no strings and his hand was inside the frame. Wires ran from the tip of each finger to the frame. I understand he had to live with that for months, but they saved his hand.
Another incident occurred when we took our reserve company from Albany to Parris Island. One of the training sessions was to teach the troops the proper way to get from the deck of a transport ship down to landing craft maneuvered alongside. This required us to go to the top of a platform about 50 feet high and, with full pack, gear and weapons, climb down a rope landing net. Imagine yourself standing at the very edge of a five-story high roof with a 60-pound pack on your back, helmet on, rifle in a sling over your shoulder. Then turn around so your back is to the edge, feel with your feet for the first rope cross piece, grab the vertical ropes that are lying flat in front of you, and then let yourself backwards over the edge. It's more than scary, it's terrifying. I was already beginning to develop some fear of heights at that time and it took everything I had to do it. Being Company Commander, I had no choice.
Those of our young reservists who showed special signs of fear were sent down with an NCO on each side of them. One young kid at first refused to go, but finally did. We had a Sergeant on each side of him and he had just about gotten over the edge when he suddenly fainted. Luckily, the Sergeants on either side were holding him by the arms so he didn't fall. They carefully lowered him to the ground and we moved him under a shady tree while the corpsman looked at him. When after a short wait he hadn't regained consciousness, we sent him to the base hospital by the ever-present ambulance. After the day's training I went to the hospital to find out how he was. I was told that a doctor wanted to speak to me and I was led to the office of a young Navy Lieutenant who informed me that he was a psychiatrist! He told me that our young Marine had regained consciousness, but was completely paralyzed. He could move nothing but his eyes and eyelids. He further explained that his condition was caused by the mental reaction he had to the stress of climbing from the tower and that the doctor would have to work on snapping him out of that mental block. All I could think of was what was I going to tell the kid's parents when we returned to Albany without him.
The doctor put my mind somewhat at ease by saying, "I can get him back to normal in a few days--at least I'm pretty sure of doing so before you head back. What we're going to do is make him very mad at us by treating him without sympathy and providing him with the bare necessities. The nurses will be instructed to purposely ignore him and this will make him so mad at us his anger will override his subconscious block so he can show reaction to his poor treatment." The doctor had done some looking into the boy's background, talked to some of his friends, etc., and had found that he had been abnormally pampered. This was his first time away from home and in general he was poorly prepared to cope with what others might consider normal stress. Three days later he was back with his unit. Shortly after we returned to Albany, we arranged to have him given a medical discharge.
Something that doctor told me always stuck with me from that experience. The Navy and the other services also were having a great deal of the same type of problem with the kids of that and later generations. That would be the kids born during the post-war baby boom. I saw many manifestations of that later during the course of my reserve activities in the earlier years of the Vietnam War. I think that's why so many of the veterans from that affair seem to have so many "problems".
But, getting back to Korea, the day we were preparing to leave Pusan for our field assignments we were issued live ammunition. Still in our replacement draft organization, our company was en route march from the supply depot to our tent area when we heard a shot and saw one of the men lying on the ground. Before anything could be done for him he died from a shot through his throat. The Marine in front of him, a BAR man (armed with a Browning automatic rifle), had loaded a magazine in his weapon and cocked it before slinging it over his shoulder, failing to put the safety on. While walking he had casually rested his thumb in the trigger guard of the BAR and it had fired, hitting the Marine directly in back of him. That was my first direct experience with an "accidental discharge" which resulted in a death or serious injury. It was not nice and there would be many more.
From Pusan to the Perimeter
Our arrival at the dock in Pusan was on a gray, drizzly day. Not a good portend but, even so, we were glad to finally get off the ship after 15 days. There was one good note. The 1st Division's band greeted us with the "Marine's Hymn" and a few other marches while we formed up on the dock and boarded trucks for a short ride to the tent city we were to be bivouacked in while waiting assignment.
This bivouac was on the outskirts of the city, but still immediately adjacent to a built-up area with stores, residences and the like right next to us. The only thing that I remember about our short stay there is that shortly after arriving I asked for the location of the head and, on locating it found, to my horror, that it was a large tent erected right next to a busy sidewalk with all four sides rolled up. Marines were sitting on the long, wooden plank seats reading magazines and doing their "business" without paying any attention to the civilian traffic that was passing directly in front of them just a few feet away. I think it took me three days to finally use the facility, and by that time I was in agony. Although never getting completely comfortable with such exposure, I had gotten used to using the outdoors that I had to when "in the field". But in front of civilians--women and children yet, no way!
We were in Pusan for just a few days while the draft was split up and sent to its various assigned units. I was asked to report to the adjutant’s office where I was ordered to take a convoy of three trucks to the 7th Marine Regiment the following morning at 2 a.m. While there I asked the adjutant if my wearing glasses that had a substantial correction would affect my being assigned as a front line officer. He replied not to worry, that the regiment would surely find some job I could do. I also heard the cheerful news that the enemy forces now consisted of 200,000 North Korean People's Army (NKPA) troops, plus 275,000 Communist Chinese Forces (CCF). Our side, the 8th Army that included the 1st Marine Division, numbered 150,000 augmented by three corps of Republic of Korea (ROK) troops which were not considered very effective.
I was given a list of the men I was to be in charge of and a map that had the regimental headquarters location on it and was told to pick up a unit of ammunition (one day's supply for our personal weapon) and a box of C-rations. This was my first exposure to the Korean maps we had to use and which were very poor, being based on surveys that were made by the Japanese in the 1920's and 30's. At 2 a.m. I formed the troops that had reported to me with a couple NCOs a few minutes before into three groups and had them board the trucks. It was pouring rain, pitch black, and very cold. I was miserable--wet, cold and terrified, and about to shepherd three trucks of strangers into a strange, wild land to face Lord knows what dangers.
As I sat for a minute next to the driver of the lead truck, I remember thinking to myself, "What am I doing here? I’ve never done anything like this before. How am I going to get it done?” The panic started to build. Then something happened I'll very clearly remember for the rest of my life. I looked out of the window over which the rain was streaming, out into the blackness, and suddenly I saw the only object that was visible--a cross. Nearby was a small chapel that had a little floodlight on its roof directed at the cross. I remember feeling a great calm come over me and thinking that I really shouldn't be worrying because God would take care of everything and whatever was to be, was to be. I turned to the driver and said, "Let's go." I should explain that I’ve never been, then or now, a religious person. But, although I never lost my fear while in Korea, I never again felt that same measure of paralyzing panic.
While in a combat zone, a soldier lives with constant fear. It is with him every day, all day and all night and never goes away but it is suppressed and held down while he goes on with his job. It may increase or lessen, dependent on the situation he's in, but it never leaves him. This is what leads to what is commonly called shell shock or combat fatigue and may show its effects sooner or later depending on the individual's nature.
Stages of Fear
I developed a theory of its effects on us in Korea that I felt caused us to react somewhat differently from those in previous wars. In Korea our stay was limited. We knew we would be there for only a specified time and then be rotated home. In World Wars I and II, there was no such time limit that a soldier could depend on and his exposure to danger could go on and on. I don't know how some of them were able to stand being under combat conditions for years with no end in sight. My theory is that a Korean combatant reacted differently at three stages of his tour of duty. These stages could be divided into even thirds.
For the first third, as he was honing the skills of a soldier in the field he was thoroughly and evidently scared--didn't duck when he should and did when there was no call to do so. Then he reached the second third of his stay. During this he became professional. Now he knew what he was doing and how to do it. His reactions were instinctive and he showed little reaction to the sight of blood and gore. He seemed to have no fear but, believe me, it was still there. It just didn't surface.
I remember our company being located in a small valley which straddled a stream. We had just moved in during the morning and my platoon had positions on each side of the stream. The stream was easily fordable without even getting one's feet wet by stepping from stone to stone. It was a beautiful, sunny summer day and I was leisurely crossing the stream when, while I was in the exact middle, a sniper took a shot at me. I remember hearing the snap and whirr of the bullet and feeling the wind as it passed my head, all before hearing the shot itself. The newer members of my platoon were trying to dig themselves into mother earth with their fingernails (the first third), the veterans immediately formed an ad hoc fire team to find the sniper (the second third). I continued my leisurely stroll knowing the sniper wouldn't fire a second time and give away his position. On reaching the other side, I hunkered down next to one of the men in my platoon who was having difficulty breathing for having his face pressed so tightly in the dirt. I told him that it was okay and that he could get up now. "Jeez, Lieutenant!" he said, "Aren't you scared?" I said "No, not now because he missed. But I could almost taste that one." He said, "Jeez! When I get home I'm going to write a book and you're going to be in it." I was second third too. We never found the sniper.
It is during this second stage that troops sometimes "go Asiatic". They lose the veneer of civilization and become killing machines, almost seeming to develop a liking for combat--today's "Rambo". We had one Marine in our company who fancied himself an Indian. With shaven head, in camouflage makeup, and armed only with a knife, he would crawl around in front of our lines at night looking for "gooks". Another from my platoon proudly showed me a small glass jar in which he was keeping the ears that he had cut off a North Korean corpse. These are the things that second stagers who have "gone Asiatic" do.
Then comes the final stage. The trooper now has just two or three months to go on his tour and realizes that, having survived so far, he must take extra precautions to make it to the end of the tour. Now he becomes overly cautious, stays in his hole and doesn't return fire, is reluctant to expose himself, and responds slowly to orders to advance. As he gets closer and closer to his time to be rotated, he becomes more of a liability than an asset.
Liaison to ROK Regiment
We left Pusan and headed out into the countryside. It didn't take very long for me to find out that the map was very inaccurate. We spent the morning trying to work our way north to where I thought the regiment might be and finally ran across an army artillery unit that was encamped by the side of the road. I left the truck to get directions and found their CO and Exec in a nicely-furnished tent, well dug-in and sandbagged. They even had a refrigerator with cold beer. I thought to myself, "Boy, this combat life isn't so bad after all," not knowing that I would never be able to enjoy such luxury. They gave me some good directions and we eventually found the regimental headquarters where I reported to the adjutant. He took two of the trucks and their troops from me and told me to take the remainder to the 2nd Battalion headquarters the next day. In the meantime, we could pitch our shelter halves nearby and avail ourselves of their mess facilities.
The next morning, following the adjutant's directions as marked on my map, I got us lost only a minimum of times and finally found 2nd Battalion's Headquarters. What was worrisome was that, starting the night before, we could hear artillery fire in the distance and all day we were getting closer to it. Coming up to the Headquarters, we passed gun positions that were actually firing missions. When I reported to the Battalion Adjutant, he quickly reassigned the troops I had left to their various companies. He told me that they had nothing for me at the moment, but to keep myself handy and readily available. Before an hour had passed he called me in and said the Battalion Commander had decided they wanted an officer to be a liaison to the ROK regiment that was tied in to the 2nd Battalion's left flank. I was to leave immediately with a radioman and an interpreter and find my way to the headquarters of the 7th ROK Regiment which was located on a mountain top to our left front. On arrival I was to establish radio communications with the 2nd Battalion and arrange for re-supply of rations and radio batteries for ourselves. I was given a new map with the headquarters of the ROK Regiment supposedly marked on it, as well as the position of our Fox Company, which was our left flank unit.
After a hearty lunch in the Battalion mess and picking up extra rations and batteries for our radio, we started out. One 18-year old PFC radioman whose name I don't remember, but who I believe was from somewhere in Iowa, a middle-aged Korean man who I swear couldn't speak more than six words of English, and one very scared 2nd Lieutenant who had no idea where he was going or what he was supposed to do, all headed out into a wild, unknown, and mountainous countryside which was being violently fought over.
It was during the course of this day that I got a good introduction into the type of terrain and environment I would be in for the rest of the year. At the time I joined the 1st Marine Division, they were positioned about 20 miles from North Korea’s east coast and some distance north of the 38th parallel. The terrain was mountainous, although not precipitously so. At this point the hills were from 600 to 1000 meters in height with connecting ridges running in all directions. Between the ridges were valleys of varying widths, sometimes as wide as a mile or two with a river or stream running through them, most of them fordable. Others could be very narrow. Many of the valleys contained small, abandoned villages or individual homesteads and many rice paddies. Where there were signs of previous occupancy, we frequently also found burial mounds containing the remains of deceased families of past years.
The last paved road I had seen was in Pusan. Here the roads were dirt or gravel. Where they had to cross over ridges and the sides of the hills, they did so in numerous switchbacks that often had steep, unprotected drop-offs. Where there were no rice paddies, I would describe the remaining ground as hardscrabble–-rocky, gravelly, dry, and with scrub growth. Many narrower valleys were filled with high grass that was often higher than our heads. This made for difficult passage because we couldn’t see where we were going. These were great places to set up ambushes--or to be ambushed in, depending how our luck was running that day.
The hills were covered with trees except where a particular hill had been fought over and artillery had pretty well denuded it. Trying to climb a hill could be difficult because most were quite steep. It was also very easy to lose one’s way because of the proliferation of hills and ridges. Quite often a troop commander would think he had gotten to the top of an objective, only to find out that he was a ridge or hill or two away. Since our goal was to always control the “high ground”, we were constantly climbing up or down, which led to our calling ourselves “ridge runners”. We had to continually remind our new replacements to “stay off the ridge” so they wouldn’t make silhouette targets of themselves.
The 6th ROK Company
Although I was with the ROKs only about two weeks, the experience was so unusual that it deserves its own segment. After wandering over hill and dale for hours, we could not find the headquarters of the 7th ROK Regiment. I was rapidly getting more worried as time went on because we couldn't find anybody. I wasn't at all confident that we hadn't passed through the lines and were wandering around in enemy territory. Finally we ran across a couple of ROK soldiers who, with sign language and the few words our interpreter knew, gave us their opinion that what we were looking for was located at the very top of a high mountain far to our left front. I couldn't believe that a regimental headquarters would be located on the tip of a mountain, but who knew what Korean troops would do.
It didn't look like we would make the top before nightfall, so we headed directly forward and started climbing to a high ridge that connected the mountain at our left with another somewhat lower one on our right. We got to the top of the ridge shortly before dark and suddenly had some oriental soldiers pop up about 20 feet in front of us. My first thought was that they were North Koreans, but then I noticed they were grinning at us and asking us to join them. They had recognized us as Marines, but trying to communicate with them was almost impossible, even with the little bit of help our old interpreter could offer. I tried to find an officer without success but again, with much sign language, including many welcoming grins and laughs, I was able with some difficulty to determine from what appeared to be one of their NCOs that (1) the regimental headquarters we were looking for was about 20 miles in back of us (not on the mountain peak as had been indicated on the map) and (2) the unit we had run into was indeed from that regiment and was in fact the 6th ROK Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th ROK Regiment, 6th ROK Division and (3) they were the infantry unit that was tied into our battalion's Fox Company. I was on the front line!!
By now it was getting dark so I called our Battalion S-3 (Operations Officer) and told him where I was. I apologized for having failed miserably in locating the Regimental Headquarters, but tried to explain that he should realize the location marked on my map was all wrong. Before I could get to my very well thought out recommendation that my little team should immediately retire to the valley in back of us and in the morning head back to the ROK headquarters, he let me know that what I had accomplished was just great and that, as a matter of fact, I would be much more effective and helpful to them if I stayed right where I was and acted as liaison between the ROK Company and our Fox Company because that was where all the important action was anyway. I was to make contact with the Fox 6 (Commanding Officer) as soon as possible and offer my services in that regard.
Woe is me. Talk about being in it up to your ears. Here I was virtually alone among strange, oriental soldiers with whom I couldn't communicate and whose friendly behavior towards me I wasn't at all confident about. Okay, I did have another Marine with me and that was about equivalent to an army squad, but from his behavior I knew he was just as scared as I was.
I managed to reach the Fox 6 by radio and introduce myself. He suggested waiting until morning for me to follow the ridge to his position, and we arranged for our re-supply to be handled through his supply Sergeant. Then the radioman and I dug a two-man hole just below the crest of the ridge on the reverse slope and erected our two shelter halves over it. After that we turned in for a very restless night.
The next morning, after cleaning up and eating a cold breakfast, my radioman and I started out along the ridge toward Fox. On the way we met a very young and very cheerful ROK Second Lieutenant who knew a smattering of English and who identified himself as the Executive Officer of the 6th ROK Company. He said his company commander was hunkered down in an abandoned house to the rear and I shouldn't bother with him, but have all my dealings with the 2nd Lieutenant. He appeared happy to see us and agreed it was a good idea that I would act as a liaison with the Marine rifle company to his right. I later found out his CO was living with a concubine in a hut a mile or so behind the line. Never once as long as I was with them did he show up at his company. That kind of leadership says a lot for what happened to that company not much later.
After our visit with the ROK Lieutenant, I told my radioman I was going to try and find Fox Company and that it might be a good idea for him to look over the ROK Company’s position while I was gone. I continued down the ridge until I came to what was the end of the ROK positions. Only after going a few hundred yards more did I finally run into the first Fox Company Marine. It was then that I first realized the ROKs were not tied in with our Marines, but that there was a very wide gap between them. Toward the center of the Fox Company line I found their Command Post (CP) and their CO. He was very happy to see me and said I would be of great help to them. He said that he found it difficult to communicate and deal with the ROKs and that they were constantly having patrols from both organizations running into each other and mistaking each other for enemy troops with less than happy results. His line was stretched thin and he couldn't extend it further, already having to leave too much distance between foxholes. Although the ROKs obviously had sufficient manpower, he had not been able to get them to close the gap between his company and theirs.
After settling the arrangements for re-supply, which consisted of my radioman or me meeting one of their Marines every second morning at their furthest left flank position to pick up rations and fresh batteries, and having his radioman establish a procedure where he could exchange daily passwords and any changes in shackle codes with mine, I returned to my position. A shackle code is one that replaces numbers with letters so map coordinates can be disguised when referred to over the radio. They were supposed to be changed daily, but rarely were. We sometimes used the same code for a week or more.
While I was gone, my radioman had reconnoitered the ROK positions preparatory to giving me a tour of them and we met back at our hole about the same time. To our dismay, we found that our packs had been rifled and all of our personal possessions were gone--writing paper, pens, soap, toothbrushes--and our C-rations. The only things left were our sleeping bags and a few items of clothing. I was furious and got nowhere with any of those ROKs that had their holes nearby. Finally I found their Lieutenant and found him very apologetic and sympathetic. He insisted that his troops would not have stolen from us, but that he would look into it.
I went on my tour with the radioman and about two hours later when we got back to our hole we found every one of our missing items neatly lined up along its edge. Not a single thing was missing. I looked up the Lieutenant again and thanked him, but he wouldn't tell me how he had found the thieves or who they were. Relying on his lack of English, he simply kept insisting his men would not do anything like that. In retrospect, I think it might have been our interpreter, although he also denied it. Since he was of no use to us anyway (the ROK Lieutenant knew more English than he did), I took him with me to Fox on my next visit and turned him over to them. They had no use for him either and sent him back to our Battalion Headquarters.
My main purpose for being there was tested the next day when Fox 6 called me with the information that one of his patrols was a mile or so in front of his position and had spotted troops to their left. They wanted to know if they were friendlies or not. I told him to wait while I checked, then ran down the ROK Lieutenant and asked him if he had a patrol out front. I carefully pointed out on the map where the Fox patrol had seen the troops. He gave me a vigorous no, saying that his patrol was much further to the west and nowhere near ours. He said that the troops Fox had spotted were obviously unfriendlies. I got back on the radio and told Fox 6 his patrol had unfriendlies in sight and could fire on them. There. I was performing my liaison work beautifully and coordinating the actions of two companies in combat. In a few minutes I took great pleasure on hearing small arms and automatic weapons fire to our right front. Quite a lively little fire fight appeared to be developing.
I hardly had time to rest on my self-imposed laurels when I suddenly saw the Lieutenant running toward me at full tilt, loudly shouting and violently gesturing. As he got closer I heard, “Hey! Marine - stop shoot, stop shoot." My response was, "Oh shit!" I quickly got Fox 6 on the radio and told him his troops were firing on a ROK patrol which was returning their fire. After a few choice words to me, I heard him calling his patrol. The firing slowed and then died completely in a few minutes. In the meantime, the Lieutenant was having some kind of a conniption fit that I first took to be supreme anger. Then suddenly I realized he was laughing so hard he can hardly talk. Finally he got out, “Hey! Marine shoot at ROK, ROK shoot at Marine. Funny. Funny." By this time most of the troops around him were also rolling on the ground with laughter. I didn't think it was at all funny and finally got across to him that what happened was exactly what I was there to prevent. Ultimately, it took me a few days to get my point across and have him cooperate to better effect. The next day I visited Fox 6 and explained what happened. He didn't hold it against me, having learned long before how difficult it was to deal with the ROKs. Fortunately no one on either side was hurt, which didn't say much for the shooting skills of either.
During the rest of my stay with the ROKs I managed to avoid a recurrence, but we did have a number of close calls. Although there was never any major contact with North Korean or Chinese forces, there were numerous clashes between enemy patrols and those from our side. Only one other unusual thing happened before I left their position. One afternoon the Lieutenant informed me that his patrol had brought in a Chinese prisoner for interrogation. I became concerned that I was going to be exposed to watching his treatment by them, visualizing him being tied to a tree while they did horrible things to him before finally shooting him. My only knowledge of how these people treated each other was based on the horror stories I had heard of what the North Korean soldiers did to captured South Koreans.
I didn't know what to do, so I went back to my hole with the idea of crawling into my sleeping bag and maybe being overlooked by the Lieutenant when he started his interrogation. He had indicated that I might want to take part. When I got to my hole, lo and behold, I found the prisoner sitting a few feet away in a circle of ROKs. They were all eating their fish and seaweed or whatever that stuff was. (I always saw them cutting off square bricks of a greenish hue.) The prisoner was wearing a Marine dungaree top and was carrying one of our M-1 rifles. They hadn't even disarmed him! I gathered that they considered him a pretty nice guy and that he had been a chef for the Chinese troops. I found out later that any time we captured anyone they were always chefs, clerks, or other forms of noncombatants--never machine gunners, etc.
The prisoner hung around for a few days, never tied up or even under guard, and then they finally sent him to the rear to their Battalion Headquarters, which is what they should have done immediately. All that time he carried the M-1 and, as far as I know, he probably still has it. They never did question him and I was never able to find out how he had gotten his hands on our equipment.
At the end of two weeks of exasperating and nerve-racking exposure to these strange people, our Battalion 3 finally called and ordered us back to Battalion Headquarters for reassignment. The Division was about to move forward and they didn't think I would be much use to them in a mobile situation. The radioman and I said goodbye to the Lieutenant and headed off the hill with no regrets. We couldn't wait to get back among fellow Marines again to feel at least some measure of safety. It was a good thing, too, because the return to the 2nd Battalion saved my life. Three days later the 6th ROK Company was totally destroyed. But that's the next segment.
After leaving the ROKs I reported to the 2nd Battalion S-2 (Adjutant, Personnel Officer) for my next assignment. I should have known what was going to happen because, on completing the Special Basic course at Quantico, we were all assigned our basic Military Occupational Specialty Number (MO). Mine was 0301 Infantry. As soon as we had some actual combat experience it was changed to 0302 and was better known in the Corps as "Oh Three Oh Shit." I was about to have mine changed--whether I liked it or not. Interestingly, after you were away from combat for a certain length of time it reverted to 0301 because they felt you were beginning to lose certain skills. Mine reverted to 0301 about a year after I returned to the States and that is what it still is. Some officers had secondary specialties and a second number such as interpreter, etc., but most of us didn't.
The two weeks with the ROKs helped to break me into infantry life. I knew I could survive living in a hole in the ground and with just a few necessities carried in a pack on my back, even in circumstances where I had to co-exist with people I couldn't communicate with and whose behavior was completely foreign to me. The little I had seen of combat, admittedly all from a distance, hadn't bothered me. I suspect that the formative years I had spent in Canarsie and Brooklyn, New York had inured me in some degree to the results of violence. Leaving the uncertainties of the ROKs and having Marines around me again was a great relief. But I still had one big fear. How was I going to be accepted as an officer and how would my men respond to me, a twenty-five year old, skinny (145 pounds), four-eyed kid who couldn't chin himself four times in a row if his life depended on it?
And these men were tough, combat experienced Marines, for God's sake, some of whom had even been in bar room brawls. I had been in two fights when I was in my early teens. In the first I had promptly been knocked out. The second was just a few minutes of exchanged uncoordinated flurries of punches before both of us called “Uncle”. Well, I would find out soon enough.
The Battalion adjutant told me to report to Dog Company as soon as possible and that Dog's CO would have a new assignment for me, very probably as a supernumerary to tag along with him and learn the business. Hah! Some of the Dog people were in the Battalion perimeter, so I headed out with them. By the time we got to the company position it was dark, but with their help I found the Command Post (CP). The Dog 6 (commanding officer) was Captain Al Mackin and his 5 (executive officer) was 1st Lt. Dick Humphries. I'll have more to say about both of them later. Both were in the CP foxhole and seemed pleased to see me. My first impression of them was also good. In fact, I was a little in awe of Humphries because on the way up the mountain my Dog Company guides had regaled me with stories of their recent activities and Humphries was something of a local hero.
Mackin told me I would immediately be taking over the 1st Platoon from George Flood, who was being moved to the 60 mm mortars. Worse yet, tomorrow was my platoon's turn to send out a patrol. We were to start out at sun-up and he suggested I use a reinforced squad. Although nothing specific was said, it was obvious to me that I was, of course, expected to lead the patrol. Captain Mackin must have been something of a mind reader--either that or he saw the concern on my face as I thought of the talent I had developed for getting lost while in training at Quantico, for he handed me a somewhat beat-up map showing evidence of frequent folding and refolding. On it he quickly penciled in the general location of Dog Company and put an X on the hill which was to be the patrol objective. The Korean maps that were made available to us, by the way, were terrible. They were based on old Japanese aerial surveys of very small scale and contained many errors.
But first I had to find my platoon. The company was strung out along a high ridge and it took me a while in the dark. I finally got enough directions from people I was stumbling over to find the platoon sergeant of the 1st Platoon, Platoon Sergeant Flynn. He got the squad leaders together and we hunkered down under his shelter-half while, with the help of a candle, I showed them the map the skipper had given me to use the next morning. It was the 2nd squad's turn to go on patrol so Sergeant Flynn suggested that I pick them and also reinforce them with one light machine gun section and one 60mm mortar squad which he would make the arrangements for. Then he found a vacant hole for me, gave me the very gratifying news that he would go along with us in the morning, and left me to set up my shelter-half and settle down for a very restless night-- in the morning I was leading a rifle unit into combat!
Marine Corps Organization
A digression here to explain the Marine Corps organization at that time and also the connotation of what is a Platoon leader. The latter first. The lowest officer position in the Corps, aside from warrant officers who usually perform specialist work, is platoon leader or platoon commander, almost always a second or first lieutenant. Prior to the early months in Korea this position had been titled the traditional platoon "leader". However, the Marine Corps had suffered so many casualties among their lieutenants, the highest percentage of any position--enlisted or commissioned--that the Corps decided to change the name to platoon "commander". By this they hoped to get the point across that these lieutenants didn't always have to be in front of everybody else and were expected to command their troops in addition to "leading" them. Those of us who had that job thought the distinction was merely academic. We used to tell newly-arrived second lieutenants, half-jokingly, that the life expectancy of a new lieutenant in Korea was about sixteen seconds.
As to organization, the basic Marine combat unit is the rifleman. Every Marine is taught to be a rifleman. Be he General or private, aviator or engineer, he is first and foremost a rifleman. Regardless of position or job he is expected to maintain his proficiency with a rifle for his entire career. All Marines have to periodically qualify with basic infantry weapons so they can be prepared to use them when necessary. This has served them well in dire circumstances when rear units not normally expected to be in combat have found themselves fighting at close hand or when reserves were desperately needed. It is my firm opinion that this concept is one of the two that separates us from the other services. The other is the effectiveness of the training received by all Marines as illustrated by the statement of my drill instructor at Parris Island in 1944, "Let the other bastard die for his country. We train you to live for yours!"
Then there is closeness between Marines that seems to be lacking in other services. Being the smallest of the services, a Marine begins to make more and more friends within the Corps. As they are moved from post to station they will run into people they know or those that know others they are friendly with. This crosses ranks and in the process officers develop an appreciation for enlisted and vice versa to the extent that, even though military etiquette requires the maintenance of an appearance of separation, a respect and concern each for the other becomes a fact of life.
It is these attributes that result in the "esprit de corps" so frequently mentioned as the basis for the Corp's effectiveness and which, in my opinion, is that which separates them from the other services and makes them unique. The Navy's Seals and the Army's Special Response Forces may be hot shot, super trained but they only represent a very small percentage of their total service. The Marine Corps is unique in its entirety.
Between the end of World War II and Korea the Corps conducted a detailed study of how commanders behave under the stress of combat. From that came the finding that any individual, regardless of competence, can only be expected to handle three maneuver elements effectively when under fire. If he has to be responsible for more, then he needs staff help. This caused the Corps to build its entire organization on the base of three:
The rifle company, at about 240-250 men, is the smallest Marine Corps combat unit that can operate on a fairly self-sufficient basis for a short period of time. It can be augmented with a variety of support components dependent on its mission.
These unit compositions as based on their "Table of Organization" were, of course, the ideal. Under the stress and results of combat, they could change drastically with lieutenants leading companies, sergeants at the head of platoons and corporals or even PFCs in charge of squads.
Today's organizations are not very different, but the new weapons being used have made the Marine unit, from fire team to rifle company, an even more awesome combat effective organization. For example, the fire team now has a "grenadier" armed with an M16A2 rifle which has a 30-round magazine and a 40mm grenade launcher mounted under the barrel. The grenades have a range of 375 yards and a killing radius of 10 yards. Two other fire team members are armed with the 5.36 mm M16A2. This rifle is accurate to 500-800 meters and, when fired on automatic, has a three round compensator so the magazine can't be emptied by holding the trigger down. The fourth Marine carries a SAW (Special Assault Weapon) that also fires the 5.36mm round, but is fully automatic and replaces the old Browning automatic rifle.
The sidearm now is the 9mm Beretta, and the machine guns are the much more effective M60s. Also to be found in each rifle company are six SMAWs (Shoulder Mounted Assault Weapon) made in Israel. These use tracers in a 9mm spotting rifle to aim their 20-pound explosive rounds at the target.
But, regardless of the new weapons, the base of three is still followed. Three companies make up a battalion, three battalions a regiment and three regiments a division. These larger units have many more supporting units within them and, of course, much larger staffs to help their commanders. The Battalion is the first unit size to have a staff which is modeled after the German General Staff developed by the Prussian General von Clauswitz, and which is still used by most modern armies except for the Russians. The Battalion has an S-6 (commanding officer), an S-5 (executive officer), an S-4 (supply or logistics officer) an S-3 (operations officer), an S-2 (intelligence officer) and an S-1 (personnel officer or adjutant). At the regiment and division levels, these numbers are prefaced with a G, i.e., the G-2 is division intelligence officer.
Back to Dog Company
At sun-up the next morning, Platoon Sergeant Flynn got the 2nd Squad together and also one light machine gun section and one 60mm mortar squad. I had my map and a borrowed pair of binoculars. From somewhere we got an assault ration for each of us and off we went. We headed down the side of the mountain toward the valley in front of us with a morning fog making everything look eerie. We hadn't gone 500 yards when I got my first lesson in "practical" leadership. Sergeant Flynn caught up with me and said, "Hey, Lieutenant. How about slowing down a little. Remember we've got some guys carrying machine guns and one carrying a mortar base plate." And there I was merrily skipping down the hillside with my little carbine slung over one shoulder. I had not realized the loads some of the men had to cope with--a 60mm mortar base plate weighed about 40 pounds.
I apologized to the Sergeant and from thereon we went at a more leisurely pace. I let him suggest when we should stop for rest breaks since he had a much better feel for how much the troops could take even when taking turns carrying some of the heavier stuff.
In this fashion we went about a mile across the valley to our front and then climbed the next ridgeline, finally reaching our objective, a hill top about a mile and a half in front of the line. We had seen nothing along the way and so reported by radio. By this time it was noon and we spread out over the hill and opened our rations. In the process, one of the squads found some abandoned bunkers on the reverse slope of the hill and in them we found a field telephone with Russian manufacturing marks and a bunch of Chinese concussion grenades.
The assault ration consisted of two small, flat cans in a cardboard box. One can contained two hard, bland biscuits, a piece of chocolate, some matches and some other small stuff, the details of which I don't remember. The second was filled with one of a small variety of meat pastes. They tasted better than they looked and made quite an edible "sandwich" when spread on the biscuits. These rations were only issued to serve as one meal in a mobile situation such as we were in. For drink we had the water in our canteen, obtained either from water containers or, if those were not available, from whatever stream that looked clear. The latter was hopefully made potable by the addition of disinfectant tablets provided in our rations. There was also usually a packet of dried coffee or cocoa, if we wanted to heat up the water, and I think there was some form of Kool-Aid.
After finishing my ration I decided to take a stroll further along the ridge and had only gone fifty yards or so when I got my second lesson. I suddenly noticed a Marine on each side of me, one to my rear and one had slipped around in front of me. Unbeknownst to me, the platoon sergeant had ordered one of the fire teams to "protect that rookie Lieutenant".
We finally did see some troops moving on another ridge to our left front, but they were a long distance away and we couldn't identify them. I checked in with the skipper by radio, reported the troop movement, and asked if we were to do anything else. He told us nothing more was necessary--we had successfully completed our patrol and could head back. We took a different route back that necessitated our going along a very narrow mountain trail with a cliff to the left and a steep drop-off to the right. We were walking single file with me in the lead and the platoon sergeant directly behind me when suddenly there was an ear splitting explosion below the edge of the cliff to our right. We all hit the deck, although there was hardly room to lie down. I looked back at the sergeant and, although thoroughly shaken and scared, managed to calmly ask, "What the hell was that?" I couldn't understand why he had a big grin.
He stood up, brushed himself off, and said, “Sorry, Lieutenant. Didn't mean to scare you, but I dropped one of those gook concussion grenades over the side and it must have gone off." I suddenly knew he was testing me, but I didn't know how to react so I just said the first thing that came to mind, "Oh well, other than scaring the hell out of me, no harm done. Let's move out." After we became friends, he told me that he had set off the grenade on purpose just to see if I would go bananas or, worse yet, take him to task. For me, this was the first exposure to the most difficult task of the commander--earning his troop's respect. I must have passed because I never had a problem with this or succeeding commands.
We got back to our lines without difficulty by late afternoon. I reported to the CO and he called for a company officer's meeting that gave me a chance to meet the others. In addition to Humphries, there was Brendan O'Donnell with the 2nd Platoon, Lieutenant Walsh of the machineguns, Pierce with the 60mm mortars (George Flood had not yet taken over), and Lealon Wimpee of the 3rd Platoon, who is a good friend to this day. I also met, for the first time, Corporal Jiminez, the skipper's radioman, who was later killed. Al or Skipper, which is what I'll call Captain Mackin from now on, told us that we would be moving out in the morning from our present position known as the Kansas Line to the Quantico Line, which was at the Hwachon reservoir.
Another digression while I introduce you to the "Skipper". Al Mackin had been in Marine aviation, I believe as a navigator, during World War II and had stayed in the reserve. On being called back, he was sent directly to Korea. When the Division realized he had no recent infantry training, they ordered him back to Quantico to the 1st Special Basic course. He tells the story about getting back as far as Kobe, Japan with only the dungarees on his back and trying to find his locker box. Finally he traced it to a large warehouse and the NCO in charge took him inside, pointed to the thousands of sea bags and locker boxes piled to the ceiling, and wished him luck. Al looked down and there, a few feet away, he saw his box with his name stenciled on it!
When he returned to Korea he was given Dog Company. He quickly showed himself to be a very competent officer and gained the respect of his men. At the time I joined them, there wasn't a man in the company who didn't like Al and was ready to follow the "Skipper" anywhere. A few days before I joined them, Al had a bad experience that left him bitter about what we were doing in Korea and the "politics” behind the things that were happening.
Dog Company had been ordered to go on a "combat" patrol with the objective of reaching the hill designated as Hill 45. There are two usual types of patrols. One is a reconnaissance patrol through which the unit tries to gather information about the terrain and the enemy. This type is to stay out of a fight and, in fact, try to keep from being discovered if possible. It can fight to protect itself, but it should avoid combat otherwise. A combat patrol is to look for a fight, to take prisoners if possible, and, if given an objective, to try and take it. That is the doctrine we had been taught at Quantico.
When Dog began climbing the hill that was to be their objective, they started getting heavy small arms and automatic weapons fire. Al maneuvered the company well and, although beginning to take casualties, assaulted the enemy positions and, after a short but very hard fight, overran them and secured the hill. In the process, the company suffered numerous casualties, including a number of KIAs. One of those killed was Navy corpsman Richard DeWert, who was given the Medal of Honor for that action.
I was told that after returning from the patrol, Al was criticized by the Battalion CO for having taken too many casualties. He was informed that his had been a "limited" combat patrol which was supposed to look for a fight--kind of, try to take an objective--kind of, but try not to take any casualties. Congress wanted the UN troops to put up a good fight and teach the North Koreans and Chinese a lesson, but for them to sustain as few injuries as possible so people back home wouldn't get too upset. This was a hard and unnecessary way to learn about the war's "politics".
It was during this action that Dick Humphries became a legend to the rest of the company. One of the squads had gotten pinned down in attempting an envelopment. Dick went forward, located the squad, and got them moving again. He then led them in the final assault. With a carbine under each arm, he ran across the top of the hill firing at anything that moved. Suddenly a Chinese soldier popped up in front of him, aimed his rifle directly at his chest, and pulled the trigger. The rifle didn't fire. Dick threw a hand grenade in the enemy's face and killed him. Later they checked the enemy's rifle and found it had a round in the chamber, but the round was defective and hadn't fired.
Back to Dog Company and my further introduction to the "forgotten" war. The next morning we started moving the company out to the Quantico Line which, if I remember correctly, was some 25 to 30 miles in front of us. We didn't know it, but we were headed for one of the hardest-fought battles of the Korean War and I was to get my next test. Being accepted was one thing. Not being fazed by the results of violence was another. But what I would do when being shot at, that was a question not yet answered.
During the next few days I learned why the Marines in Korea referred to themselves as ridge runners. As I mentioned earlier, the section of the country we were in was, to put it mildly, mountainous. They were not real high mountains, but respectably-sized hills--one after the other. The closest comparison I can make would be the foothills of the Adirondacks starting at about Glens Fall, New York. The weather, too, was similar to New York's. Even though the 38th Parallel runs somewhere through Virginia and we were just north of it in Korea, the weather seemed to me to be generally wetter and cooler. In any event, other than for an occasional valley, I don't think there was a flat spot to be found anywhere within 500 miles. Our slow advance northward was typical of what the remainder of my tour would be like.
We either followed valleys that ran in our northward direction, or crossed those that were horizontal to our direction of movement. In the former case, we walked the ridges on either side of the valley, rarely going down into the valley itself since it would be too exposed. Running the ridges had us going up and down saddles from one peak to the next. Although we were constantly admonishing the troops to stay off the skyline, it was difficult to enforce because it was so much easier walking along the crest of the ridge than along the side just below it. Walking along the side had us constantly at an angle, which was hard on the legs and feet. Also, sometimes the sides were so steep that one slid down three feet for every one forward. If the valleys crossed our path, we had to climb down into them, then most often cross a stream or small river and then climb back up to the next ridge. And so on, ad infinitum.
Keep in mind that everything we needed in order to live was carried on our backs--plus weapons and ammunition and often extra gear such as radios. At this time we didn't yet have pack boards, but still used the regulation issued field pack, a monstrous invention with straps and pockets that created an unbalanced load and with unpadded shoulder straps which cut and bruised. Mine represented a typical pack and contained a change of skivvies and socks, a few basic toiletries, some personal gear like writing materials, paperbacks, cigarettes, usually one day's C-rations, extra jellied heat cans, a shelter half (one half of a two-man pup tent), a poncho, an inflatable air mattress, and a mountain sleeping bag. The latter consisted of an outer waterproofed shell and an inner liner which was a sturdy, down-filled sleeping bag. This bag was warm enough so we could lay it directly on snow and be perfectly comfortable. It was also extra generous in size so we could get in it fully-clothed, including wearing our boots. When the weather became warm we turned the liner in for a wool one made of blanket-like material which then served us until the following late fall.
Some carried an extra change of dungarees (I did), but many didn't. They waited until we got to a place and time when our dirty ones could be exchanged for clean ones--often a wait of a few weeks. In addition, we carried a helmet and helmet liner, our issued weapon (mine was a .30 caliber carbine), a personal weapon if we wished (mine was a 9mm Luger), a bayonet for our weapon or K-Bar ( a type of hunting knife), a field jacket (it was still cold in late April), gloves (actually leather gloves with a separate wool liner), a "unit" of ammunition (supposedly enough to last us for one day's fighting) in an ammo belt, at least one canteen, a mess kit, an entrenching tool (a small, collapsible shovel), a first aid kit and rifle cleaning equipment. An officer might also have binoculars and a map case. All in all, the typical Marine carried about 40 to 50 pounds around wherever he went, and that's not counting any other special weapons, ammunition, hand grenades, radios, etcetera, that he might have to lug.
The only time we dropped our packs was during breaks, at the end of the day's advance, or if we were taken under fire and had to assault a position. At the end of a day's advance, we moved our troops into defensive positions and everyone dug in, either into single or two-man foxholes. If we stayed in one place for more than one day, the entire day was taken up with improving the positions--deepening the foxholes, improving gun emplacements, clearing fields of fire, putting out booby traps and flares and, if there long enough, building bunkers.
The terrain we covered had been fought over at least once before--and sometimes twice, depending on the area we were in. Consequently, it frequently had holes, bunkers, and, sometimes, even trenches already on the ridges. Our tactics required that we dig in on the forward slope of a hill while the CCF and NKPA more frequently dug in just below the ridge on the reverse slope. This was probably dictated for them because of the heavier firepower we had, especially in artillery. Since their reverse slope was our forward slope, we frequently used their abandoned holes for our position
It was sometime during this advance that I saw my first enemy dead. One of the old, collapsed bunkers we came across had a mummified NKPA soldier in it. The only impression I remember of this is that I was surprised by the little impression it made on me. I couldn't help recognizing my own mortality as I lay in my hole that night, but did not feel any other significant emotion, repulsion, or other. After a full day of climbing hills, then digging in and eating a cold can of ham and beans, one usually slept pretty well, even after such an experience.
So that is the way our days went from about April 19 to the 22nd as we moved north from the Kansas Line to the Quantico Line. Our units saw no enemy, but we occasionally heard that others to our flanks had run-ins with them. On Sunday the 27th, we finally reached our objective--a very high ridge overlooking a wide valley through which flowed the Pukhan river. We were in our positions by mid-afternoon and at dusk saw some enemy soldiers come out of the trees on the ridge in front of us, go down to the river, and get water. They were out of effective small arms range and there weren't enough of them to call for artillery, so we just sat and watched them through the binoculars. Far to our right in the distance we could see the Hwachon Reservoir. We learned later that a unit of the Korean Marine Corps had taken the reservoir and the town of Hwachon. US Marine engineers tried to jam open the sluice gates so the valley in front of us could be flooded, but found they weren't able to accomplish that.
Closing the Gap
At this point it might be well to set the scene for what happened next. The line that we were in consisted, from the left to the right: first the 2nd Battalion, 7th ROK Regiment, and the 6th ROK Division. This is the unit I had been with as liaison officer before joining Dog. I always thought it a strange coincidence that I had moved from the 2nd Battalion 7th ROK Regiment to the 2nd Battalion 7th USMC Regiment. Then came the 7th Marines with Able, Baker and Charlie Companies of the 1st Battalion on the left, Dog, Easy and Fox of the 2nd Battalion on the right, and the 3rd Battalion in reserve directly to our rear. On our right flank we were tied in with the 5th Marines. On their right flank was a ROK Marine regiment that had been attached to our division, and on their right was the 2nd Army Division. The 1st Marines were in division reserve.
We were not aware that, during the day, a large gap had developed between Able Company and the 7th ROK Regiment. This gap was over a mile wide and, although our IX Corps commander, General Hoge, repeatedly asked the ROK commander (a 28-year old Colonel) to close the gap, it was not accomplished. Also, we did not know that the Turkish Brigade had captured an officer and some enlisted who revealed that the CCF was poised for a major attack. Higher headquarters had all been warned, but we on the line just considered it another day. We set our usual 25 percent watch for the night (one out of every four Marines stayed awake).
At 10 p.m., Sunday, the 22nd of April, the CCF attacked along a 40-mile front with nine armies composed of 27 divisions for the start of the Korean War's largest battle. We had small probing attacks from our front, but there was nothing that seemed major. My platoon did not have to fire a shot. Some of the others in the company were doing some firing, but most of it we attributed to nerves because we were not getting any direct fire ourselves. One of our Marines swore he saw monkeys swinging through the trees toward him and let off a few clips before his squad leader calmed him down. However, on both sides of us the firing was increasing in tempo. As the night wore on the activities to both our flanks increased in intensity, with artillery fire from both sides lighting up the night. We knew there was a major battle going on, but still had not seen any immediate effect on us.
At sunup we could still hear firing on both sides of us, but had no word on what was happening. Shortly before noon we got the order to saddle up and begin moving to the rear. It was only then that we learned the horrible news of a major attack by the CCF and that our left flank had collapsed. The CCF had probed during the night for the weak points in our lines where unit flanks meet. They had especially probed to locate the Marine units and specifically where we were tied in to other units because they wanted to avoid us. They had found the weak points--the ROK unit on our left and its wide gap and the 2nd Army Division to our right--and they hit those two points with everything they had.
The two ROK Regiments on our left flank simply "bugged out". One, the farthest left one, retreated six miles, and the closer one to us fell back twelve miles. A ROK Regiment in reserve was ordered to counterattack and instead "fled to the rear in confusion". In the process, our 1st Battalion's Able Company was badly mauled because they were our furthest left flank unit. The company was overrun six times without being driven off the ridge. The company commander finally called down artillery fire on his own position. They were still in position at daybreak, but had suffered serious casualties. One story described the company first sergeant, who was a huge fellow, as standing on the ridge and bodily throwing the Chinese off it as they reached the crest.
When the ROKs collapsed, they exposed three artillery units that had been supporting them. The New Zealand artillery battalion was able to withdraw in good order with all their weapons. The US 987th Field Artillery Battalion was a "green" army unit in the field, and while attempting to pull back they had trouble moving their guns and trucks and finally left them. This lost us 15 self-propelled 105mm Howitzers, 60 vehicles, and important radio and fire direction equipment. The following day as we moved through their area, we saw some of this equipment and an army Major wandering around with tears in his eyes. We heard him muttering, over and over, "How could they do this?" Later, we heard the unit had given as their reason that the road wasn't able to take their movement. We couldn't understand this--the road looked fine to us. They must have had to use it to get there in the first place and, after all, it was self-propelled equipment and designed for off-road use. That incident, plus a number of other similar later ones, left me very bitter and disappointed with the US Army, something I didn't get over for many years until I later worked with them in the reserves.
The history books say that on our right flank the 2nd Army Division was faced by NKPA troops who "were not as fierce fighters as the CCF" and didn't attack as strongly, which enabled the army troops to beat them off. My recollections differ with this in two respects. First, any time we faced NKPA troops they fought much harder than the Chinese. This was understandable to us since they were fighting for their own land. Furthermore, we were told that elements of the 2nd Army Division on the flank of the Korean Marine Corps unit that was on our right had also "bugged out" and left that flank partially exposed. According to that then, the Marines (and I include the KMCs because we considered them Marines too) had both flanks exposed and were in immediate danger of being surrounded.
Throughout the morning we still had minimum pressure from our front, although we could see lots of enemy troop activity. Shortly before noon we got the word to start pulling back. The Division was going to move its left flank to the rear and bend it back so we would be facing the enemy again. In military tactics language, this is called "refusing" the flank. The badly-damaged 1st Battalion was to be moved in back of us and our battalion, the 2nd, was to move to the left and rear, going down a wide valley for approximately 10 miles to new positions on the Kansas Line which we had left from just a couple of days before. Easy Company led the way, then Dog, and then Fox. As we moved southward down the valley, we were exposed to the enemy troops who were on the ridges now to our right. During the entire day we got sporadic small arms and automatic weapons fire from them, although they were practically out of range. We were also brought under some artillery fire, but it was not heavy and I don't remember us having any casualties. We, in turn, called air strikes and artillery fire on the ridges, and that had the effect of enabling us to pass through the valley with minimum trouble.
By early evening we were in our positions back on the Kansas Line. Our battalion was now the left flank of the Division. We were on a "T" shaped ridge with the top of the "T" facing north. Easy Company occupied the top of the "T" and our company was strung out along its vertical part. Fox Company was in the valley to the east of us on our right--a very poor position, and on the other side of that valley further eastward was part of the 5th Marines.
The vertical part of the "T" consisted of four small hills about 400 to 500 yards apart. My platoon, the 1st, occupied the first hill and the slope forward toward the ridge Easy Company was on. The second hill in back of us was occupied by the 2nd Platoon. Company Headquarters was on the ridge between the second and third hill, and Wimpee's 3rd Platoon was strung out from there back to the first hill. From the rear of the first hill the ridge ran down in a long slope to a wide, flat valley made up almost entirely of rice paddies. Immediately to my platoon's left over a distance of some 200 yards was a narrow, steep ravine that paralleled the upright of the "T". On its other side was another long, parallel ridge at about the same elevation as ours.
There were many existing holes on these ridges and after getting my platoon in position, the Platoon Sgt. and I picked a large, square hole directly on top of the hill as our CP. The hole was quite deep, so we knew we would have good cover. Most of the platoon was placed on the left slope of the ridge toward the ravine because we had been told that Fox was on our right, although we were not tied into them. Because we were so strung out, we couldn't tie into Easy either, so we had to leave a gap between our furthest forward hole and the most rearward of Easy's, a gap of about 200 yards. That's how we were situated as it got dark.
The Platoon Sergeant and I took turns checking the line until about midnight, but then both of us crawled into our sleeping bags. I think the whole company was on a 50 percent watch (one-half of all troops were awake at all times), but we knew we would only be sleeping in snatches. About four in the morning all hell broke loose. I remember looking straight up and seeing tracers going across the top of the hole. They looked like they were just missing the top by inches and we were both afraid to move. After a closer look, we realized they were clearing the ridge by a good three or four feet, so we could crawl out of the hole and check to see what was going on. The tracers were coming from both sides of us--the ridge to our left and the valley to our right. We also could hear heavy fire being exchanged to our front. We checked our men and found the ones on the left returning fire at the ridge, but we couldn't do anything to our right because we assumed Fox Company was still there. I also went forward to check the gap between us and Easy, but there was nothing there. I continued on to Easy's positions and the Marines in the center of their line showed me where they were getting fire from their front.
As dawn broke we could see that the ridge to our left was crawling with enemy troops. We also got the word that Fox Company had to be pulled back because of the poor positions they were in and we now had enemy troops in the valley to our right also. I moved two fire teams from one squad to the right side of the ridge so we would have some needed protection there. During the course of the morning, Sergeant Flynn and I kept monitoring the troops' firing at the ridge to the left and directing it where it would do the most good. By then we were getting very little return fire from the ridge and the fire from the valley had also almost entirely stopped. It seemed to us that the main CCF infantry force on our left had already passed us and what we were now seeing on the ridge were mostly freight bearers.
At one point in mid-morning I checked on one of my platoon's fire team leaders who was alone in a hole which was on a little finger jutting out from our ridge and was therefore the closest to the ridge on the left. I found him calmly sniping at and picking off the enemy troops or carriers, whatever they were, one at a time like in a shooting gallery. Even though I appreciated that our good positions and that the steepness of the slope and its heavy underbrush would make any such attempt very difficult, I was afraid of and fully expected an enemy assault from our left. During a lull in the firing, he and I suddenly heard someone coming up the slope through the brush toward us. We hunkered down in the hole, hardly daring to breathe as the noise kept coming closer. Suddenly a pheasant walked out of the brush just a few yards away. We were so relieved we didn't shoot at him and he flew away with a whirr as soon as he became aware of us.
A little later the Skipper informed us that we should expect Easy Company to be pulled back and pass through us. They started coming down the ridge toward us, moving back in single file through our platoon and then the rest of our company all the way down into the valley in our rear. As they passed through us, they told me that the enemy troops were massing at the base of the top of the "T" and were blowing bugles announcing their assault. There was now nothing between us and them except a short piece of empty ridge. Just about then I got the word that Dog Company, less my platoon, was to be pulled off the ridges and moved to the rear also. My platoon was to remain there and cover the withdrawal. "No way," I said to myself!
I went back to the Company CP and told Al and Dick Humphries that I didn't think it was a good idea to pull the company back and leave just the 1st Platoon on the hill. With enemy heavily massed on both sides and in front of us, we wouldn't stand a chance, especially if they were to also work their way between us and the rest of the Company, which was to be expected. Al informed me that the order as he had it from Battalion Headquarters was for my platoon to remain on the hill. I repeated my objection and suggested an alternative, which would be to pull my platoon off the hill at the same time as the company moved and that I would protect the withdrawal from the rear. In other words, the company would come off the ridge in the same order as they were situated--3rd Platoon first, then Company CP, 2nd Platoon, and finally 1st Platoon.
After some more discussion with Mackin and Humphries, they finally agreed that leaving the platoon alone on the ridge would probably lose them the entire platoon and that we would follow my suggestion. I don't know if he ever cleared that with Battalion Headquarters. Al immediately gave the order for the company to begin moving south down the ridge, but they had barely gotten started when Wimpee's 3rd Platoon started getting fire from some bunkers straddling our escape route. After Easy had completed their pass through, enemy troops had infiltrated across the ridge and occupied some empty bunkers to our rear. We were surrounded!
Fortunately, there weren't many enemy and Wimpee was able to push his way through with a short, sharp firefight. At one point he crawled within throwing range of one of the bunkers and tried throwing a grenade into the firing slit, only to see the grenade thrown or bounce right back out. The story later was that the Chinese had put chicken wire across the slit for just that purpose, but Wimpee told me that wasn't true.
In the meantime, I ran back to my platoon and brought with me our artillery forward observer (FO), 2nd Lieutenant Fox, who was attached to our Battalion. When we got to my old position, we moved forward down the slope toward the ridge making the top of the "T". We didn't get far. When we started getting small arms and automatic weapons fire, we realized that the ridge was already occupied by CCF. We crawled back to just below the crest of the first hill and kept watching for them to start coming down the saddle toward us. By then Wimpee had cleared out the enemy in his path and we got the word to start pulling the whole company out.
With that Lieutenant Fox and I could see enemy troops running toward us from Easy's old positions and he called for artillery fire, adjusting it until it was hitting the ridge in front of us by barely 50 to 100 yards. We then pulled back to the second hill and hunkered down, watching the crest of the hill we had just left. In a little while the enemy troops started coming over it and he called more artillery fire when they again got close to us. We continued the same process for hills three and four, all the time just keeping 100 to 200 yards ahead of the enemy. I stuck with him because I was fascinated watching him perform like a virtuoso. Lieutenant Fox was having a ball. His fire orders were perfectly timed and the rounds hit directly on and around each hill and partially down the ridges on both sides. The targets were so close to each other that he wasn't even taking time to have the battery fire adjust rounds. Instead, he was just estimating the adjustments and having them fire for effect at the same time. I have no idea how many casualties the enemy suffered, but we must have given them their fill because by the time we passed through the area, Wimpee had to fight his way through. They had given up trying to follow us. By then the two of us were pretty much alone, so we ran like hell to catch up with the rest of the company.
As we came off the hill into the valley to our rear, Lieutenant Fox gave the ridge a few more salvos. Then everything went eerily silent. We still had a considerable distance to go over open rice paddies, but received no more enemy fire. After about half a mile we suddenly saw friendly Marines waving at us in foxholes strung across the valley. They were part of the 5th Marines that had been pulled back to start forming a new line. A few minutes later we passed through them with a great sigh of relief.
Although I don't remember this (possibly because I was some distance from the rest of the company), at one of our reunions I was told that, as the leading members of the company approached the 5th Marines, someone started to sing the Marine's Hymn. It was picked up by the entire company as they walked through our lines. Unbeknownst to me, some days later Skipper Al submitted a recommendation for a Silver Star for my day's activities. As is not uncommon in the Corps, higher echelons had cooler heads and the Battalion reduced it to a Bronze Star and the Regiment to a Navy Commendation Medal with "V" for valor. I didn't even think that was deserved because I had simply done what I was supposed to do. It was just another day at the office. And, to be frank, I thought both Lieutenant Fox and I kind of enjoyed it.
Dog One - On the Line
The remainder of my time as platoon leader was spent in what I have decided was typical wartime combat fashion--long periods of interminable boredom separated by short moments of sheer terror. The saying, “Hurry up and wait", is absolutely true when it comes to the service. It holds for activities in the field, too. A lot of time in the infantry is spent sitting around waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Then comes the inevitable order, "Saddle up", and you have to move your weary bones, settle your pack well on your back, grab your weapon, and hoist yourself to your feet. Then it's one foot in front of the other for the next untold number of miles. In Korea this process was somewhat more difficult because all of the directions were either uphill or downhill. An officer's lot is a little worse because, in addition, he has to run back and forth to the CP, walk ahead to check directions or get into a better position to see the front and flanks, chase down his subordinates, check on the troops, etc., etc.--and, worry a lot.
One beneficial effect is that you quickly get into superb physical condition. This was especially brought home to us whenever we got new replacements. They simply couldn't keep up with us for a couple of weeks. I remember one occasion when I went down the hill to the Battalion Headquarters which was some distance in the valley behind us to pick up a new batch of replacements, including one second lieutenant who was going to replace me as the 60mm mortar section leader. On our return, when we got to the base of the hill where Dog was dug in, I headed up the slope at my normal pace, only to find in just a few hundred feet that the whole replacement contingent was falling far behind. When I went back to see what was holding them up, it looked to me like they were all at the point of collapse. Even after all their superb training back in the States, they just weren't ready for those hills. It seemed to take forever to get them to the top at a slow pace and with innumerable rest stops.
Most people new to climbing make the mistake of walking on their toes, which quickly tires them, hurts the legs, and gives them cramps. They hadn't learned to walk with their feet flat on the ground, even when on a steep slope. And then they were simply not in as good a state of physical condition as we who had been running the ridges were.
** On long marches you go into a kind of trance where you pay little or no attention to anything around you and just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. That degree of concentration is sometimes given up and I've seen Marines walking along while sound asleep. Once we are in that state, walking along a trail that was on the side of a wooded slope. As I looked up from watching the heels of the Marine in front of me, I saw others further ahead taking a step to the left to pass by a small, uprooted bush that was lying in the middle of the trail. They were all too tired to bend down and pick it up or even just kick it aside, so it was step to the left, one step forward, and step back to the right on to the trail. I was annoyed and thought to myself, "What the hell is wrong with them. Can't they take a second to pull that damn bush out of the way?” When I got to it, I reached down, grabbed a branch, and, with one motion, threw it aside--and froze. Lying under it in the middle of the trail was a Russian-made grenade with a string tied to the ring on its pin. For a second I stood still looking at it, and then I realized that the pin hadn't been pulled and the string wasn't attached to the bush. Someone from the CCF either didn't know what they were doing or was too rushed to finish the job. I picked up the grenade, made sure the pin was secure, and took it along for later disposal. Another close one?
Of course, since I stopped, the line in back of me behaved like an accordion and bunched up with those Marines who were half in a coma, bumping into each other and resulting in various uncalled-for observations. "Hey, what the hell. Why'd you stop you ----?" And from some NCO further back, “Keep your ass moving up there." An aside on march "discipline" as it’s taught in training, when required of alert troops on good terrain, it works fine. They keep the required distance between them, remain reasonably quiet, and can keep up a steady pace. However, when they're dog-tired and crossing rough terrain, it’s a different story. Then the column is constantly bunching up or stretching out. There is little talking because everyone is too tired but clanking equipment makes a racket with no one attempting to keep it from doing so.
During these undulations, believe it or not, stopping was worse than having to hurry to catch up. When you're stopped there is an urge to sit down, lean back, and let your pack rest on the ground. That's a great relief when a break is ordered, but when unscheduled you don't know if you have to move forward again in a minute or if you're going to be standing for ten. It's a tough decision because once you're down, it’s very, very hard to get up again.
A few minutes after the incident with the bush, my head brushed against a low branch and my helmet was knocked off. It merrily bounced and rolled down the slope and there was nothing I could do but go after it, stumbling and slipping and sliding on my butt. I kept praying for it to please stop rolling because I knew I was going to have to climb all the way back up. The thought crossed my mind that I should just forget it, but an infantryman never gives up his helmet--although it was a pain-in-the neck until you got used to wearing it all the time. I think it acted as a security blanket. Finally it stopped, but by then I was out of sight and hearing of the column and it was very quiet. I didn't relish the climb back, but who knew what else was in those woods? Childhood fears came back and I climbed with newfound vigor to get back to my other security blanket --the Marines around me.
** The furthest distance I remember going by walking without other transportation was 30 miles in a forced march. Toward its end we had to follow a switchback road a couple of miles up the side of a mountain. There were vehicles and tanks all along the column, and with the road being very narrow it was difficult walking alongside. If we walked on the left there was minimal room between the cliff and the equipment, while on the right there was just as little space before a steep drop-off.
As the road constantly varied in width, there was a tendency for the troops to move from one side to the other that frequently put them in front of and between the moving equipment. That must have bothered whoever was leading us, so later in the day he led the whole infantry column across the switchbacks in a straight line. This meant we had to constantly be climbing down one slope and up the next. Then on getting to the road again, cross through the traffic and down and up again. This sheer torture went on for hours and we were all ready to kill whoever was responsible.
During this march one of the tanks in the column went too far to the right and started to slip off the edge of the road. It stopped half suspended in air. We stopped and watched while its crew, except for the driver, stood on the rear of the tank ready to jump off. It seemed forever that the tank teetered over empty space while the driver gunned the engine in reverse. Finally the tracks caught enough for the tank to slowly move back from the edge.
** I found that I was not immune to making goofs. The company was ordered to occupy the top of a mountain and my platoon was picked as point. We had the company interpreter with us, together with a Korean "guide" who was supposed to know all the local terrain. As we came in sight of our objective, I saw that it consisted of two mountaintops separated by a deep saddle. The trail we were on forked with the left one headed toward the top of the one to the left that my map showed me to be the one that was our objective. The interpreter and guide started yammering away and the guide kept shaking his head at me and pointing toward the right fork. I showed him the mountaintop to the left and the trail to the left but he kept pointing at the trail to the right and the mountaintop to the left. Finally I get the message. He was trying to tell me that for us to get to the left mountaintop we had to take the right fork.
In the meantime, the message came forward, "What's the hold up. Keep moving, it'll be dark soon." Skipper Al was getting impatient. Although still not convinced, I made the decision to believe the guide and we started down the right fork. Once we were in the trees, we couldn't see the mountains and we climbed until we got to the top. Guess what. You got it. We were on the wrong mountain! Skipper Al was ready to kill me and I was ready to kill the guide, but he took off. The interpreter professed complete ignorance of what happened. There was nothing we could do except clamber down the saddle and climb up the other side to get to the right mountain. By that time it had gotten dark and everybody in the company was mad at me.
** We are walking single file along the edge of a rice paddy. A number of old telephone wires were laying on the ground along the paddy's edge, some of them suspended on grass and small bushes. My dungaree pants slid along on of the wires and the resulting sound was exactly like that made by "incoming" artillery. Without a second's hesitation, I and the men immediately in front and in back of me were diving into the muck of the paddy. Everybody else nearby stopped and looked at us as if we had lost our marbles.
One didn't dive into Korean rice paddies for no good reason, considering that they were frequently fertilized with what they politely called "night soil". We were not even complimented for exhibiting how finely our reflexes had been honed. And that exhibited another of the few benefits gained from our tour. We all developed fantastic reflexes--the slightest unusual sound or unidentified movement and we were flat on the deck, an often life-saving reaction.
** We had moved to a ridge directly in front of an army artillery unit. As we were digging in some of the artillerymen came up to see what we were doing. One of them asked me if we might have a replacement bulb for their movie projector. The request did not make us happy--we hadn't seen a movie since we got off the ship. My answer, and the reaction of the Marines within earshot, caused the soldiers to hurriedly hustle back down to the rear.
As I was placing my men I find we were very spread out and, even though Al had attached one machine gun section with its two LMGs to me, we still had one very bad avenue of approach into our position which was not adequately covered even with the added positioning of a couple of BARs. The squad leader responsible for that position asked me if another light machine gun would help and I told him it sure would. Just before dark he showed up with one. I didn't ask where he got it from, but we put it to good use. In the morning when we were ready to leave, I told the squad leader to put the MG back where he got it from, even though he wanted to keep it and carry it along in his squad. But he realized it was a lot of extra weight and brought it back. The artillery unit hadn't even missed it.
** We were sitting on top of a high mountain and to our right I saw a wide valley with a road running through it. Through my binoculars I could see some of our engineers with mine detectors, walking along the road probing for and removing anti-tank mines. Way out in front of them by a mile or so I could see CCF troops putting anti-tank mines in. I couldn't think of a better way to see the futility of warfare illustrated.
** Plodding along a road with vehicles and tanks we heard a loud thump in back of us and saw a cloud of dust. One of our tanks had detonated a mine, but was undamaged. Early on, the tankers learned to weld pieces of iron rails across the bottom escape hatch of the tank so it wouldn't blow in under such a circumstance. Other than being rattled, the Marines walking on either side were not hurt, since the tank took the brunt of the blast.
A short while later we heard another louder bang and the sky was suddenly full of sheets of paper drifting down. As we came around the bend in front of us, we saw the smoldering hulk of a jeep at the side of the road. The driver was sitting in the middle of the road with most of his clothes blown or burnt off. A corpsman was attending to him, but he was laughing, just happy to be alive. The jeep was carrying boxes of reports and it, too, had run over a mine.
** Shortly before dark we put out our night defensive devices, including grenade booby traps, flares, empty tin cans on wire and Bouncing Betty's. The latter was a type of anti-personnel device that consisted of a grenade that was in a short tube which was buried in the ground. When the device was tripped, the grenade was blown into the air to a height of about six feet and then detonated, causing havoc at man height in a good-sized circle.
During the night we heard a bang, but nothing else happened. In the morning we saw that one of the Bouncing Betty's had been tripped--apparently by a dog from a nearby village. The dog was not hurt, but he sure got the shit scared out of him because there was a streak of it along the path he took off on.
** One of my Sergeants said he had never been so frightened in his life. He awakened early, just as it was beginning to get light. Looking out of his hole on top of the hill he could see where we had stacked the C-ration boxes the night before. Some had been opened and he could just barely make out a person's arm and hand extended over the cartons and dipping into them. He quietly woke up his buddy next to him and they got their weapons ready to blast away at what was obviously an enemy infiltrator. A minute later, a fox walked out from behind the cartons. It was his tail the Sergeant had seen over the boxes.
** I detailed one of the fire teams to keep a constant phone watch on the wire that had been strung to the company CP. The man listening on the phone suddenly turned white as a ghost and yelled, “Lieutenant, the CP's been overrun." He told me that all he could hear at the other end was gook talk. I grabbed the phone and listened. Sure enough, all I could hear was some unintelligible gabble in what was obviously Chinese or Korean. Finally I heard another voice and was able to talk to the man on watch at the other end. He told me that one of the other platoons had captured a North Korean soldier, but since it had gotten dark in the meantime, they didn't want to send him back to the Battalion Headquarters with an escort until morning. What to do with him in the meantime? They didn't want to tie him up, so they ended up putting him in one of the empty mailbags they had and locking the opening around his neck so only his head stuck out. However, to also benefit from any intelligence he might have, they wanted to have him interrogated as soon as possible. The conversation we had heard was the interpreter at Headquarters interviewing the prisoner over the phone.
** We rarely brought charges against troops that failed to obey or otherwise misbehaved. For one thing, except for when actually under fire, which demanded strict discipline, at other times discipline was greatly relaxed. For another, there were too many ways in which to give other forms of punishment. Once we had a Marine fall asleep while manning a listening post at night. These were positions some distance in front of the line and their occupants, either one man alone or at most two, were to do nothing but stay awake and listen. If they heard anything suspicious, they were to notify their squad by the wire phone provided them and quickly and quietly return back to their mainline position.
The squad leaders usually checked the posts a couple of times during the night and it was during one of these checks that his Sergeant found the Marine asleep. In the morning he took him to the Skipper. It was a serious offense and the youngster could have been sent back for court martial. Since we needed every warm body, Al used a different approach. He ordered him to go back out to the listening post the next night, but this time armed only with a bayonet.
The second night, the Sergeant checked the posts and again found the same Marine asleep. Back he went to the Skipper in the morning. Al told the Sergeant there was only one thing left to try and gave him specific instructions. At dusk the Sergeant led the Marine back out to his listening post. When they got to the hole and the Marine got into it, the Sergeant took a grenade off his belt, pulled the pin, put it in the Marine's hand, folded his fingers around the spoon so it couldn't fly off, said, "Now hold on to that until morning", then walked off. The Sergeant checked a few times and always found the Marine awake. In the morning the poor kid was still sitting there wide awake with bloodshot eyes, his hand white and frozen around the grenade. He never again fell asleep on guard duty.
** We were always happiest when we could chuckle at some aspect of the army. On one occasion I was asked to go back and make contact with an army artillery unit that was to support us, passing on to them our intentions, map coordinates, etc. I found the unit in a valley, nicely dug-in with tents set up and all the comforts of home. A soldier directed me to the Battery Commander's tent. I knocked on the post that framed the doorway and asked permission to enter. Inside were the CO, a Major, and his exec. Other than for two neatly made up cots, there were only two chairs, which they occupied, leaving nothing else to sit on. I was tired, having come quite a distance over tough terrain.
They looked at me with some distaste and I probably was something of a sight. Not having bathed in who knows how many days or weeks, in filthy dungarees, a large handlebar moustache, my bayonet strapped to my right boot top, a Luger in a holster strapped to my leg with a leather thong, my carbine hung upside-down over my shoulder so I could swing it quickly into action by the sling, and some grenades hung by their spoons over my cartridge belt. They kept me standing while I gave them the information I had and showed them our map locations. Then they asked a bunch of needless questions and made a great show of calling their gun position by phone, giving them the coordinates, etc. I was getting tired of standing, but didn't want to sit on one of the cots--nor had I been invited to. They also didn't appreciate that I had walked a number of miles alone through unoccupied territory that could be infested with infiltrators. Finally I got disgusted and went down into a gook squat, a position we ridge runners had become very comfortable with. As I squatted, one of my grenades hit my leg, pulled out of the belt and rolled across the floor toward the two officers.
They both turned white, jumped up, and retreated to the rear of the tent. I calmly stood up, retrieved my grenade and asked them if there was anything else they needed me for. They quickly agreed they needed nothing more from me and assured me that we could count on them for excellent support. I'm sure as a further incentive to get me out of their nice home as soon as possible, they told me that, since it was lunch time, I would be welcome to go to their mess. I left feeling that I had had some dignity restored. I found their mess, but when I saw their fancy setup I knew I would look out of place. I went on to their enlisted mess and scrounged a hot meal there instead. They never knew I was anything more than just another scrungy looking Marine.
** Another time, while Dog was trailing the Battalion and not in immediate contact with the enemy, the company took a break and one of the other platoon leaders and I wandered over to the army unit on our right flank. We stumbled into what was apparently a forward CP located in a small, narrow ravine perpendicular to the valley that paralleled our advance. There were all kinds of officers running around from Colonel on down and they had a bunch of large map boards, heavily marked up with crayons, set up on vertical easels. They appeared to be having some kind of crisis because there was a lot of shouting and yelling over phones and radios. We squatted nearby and listened, and, after a while, began to get the picture. They had their lead Battalion about a mile on the road in front of them when the CCF suddenly came down off the ridges on either side into the gap and cut the Battalion off. The army staff that we were watching was trying to decide what to do and didn't seem to be making much headway. They had some supporting tanks with them and part of the problem seemed to be caused by the commander of the attached tank unit being reluctant to commit his force because he felt they would be too exposed.
The army Colonel spotted us squatting off to the side and sent a Captain over to bring us to him. He asked us for the situation and disposition of our units and then described theirs. Suddenly he asked if we had any ideas. We told him it looked to us like his only alternative was to call for air strikes on the ridges on each side of the road and then send a unit "hey diddle, diddle, straight up the middle" to push through to the surrounded Battalion and extricate them. We suggested that if done quickly, with determination, and using the tanks supported by infantry, they should bring about a good and inexpensive result. That seemed to satisfy him except he was a little uncertain about which unit he should send diddling down the road. Then, to our shock, he asked us if we thought our Company might be willing to try going up the valley. We told him that we couldn't talk for our skipper and, in any event, didn't think that could be accomplished without his clearing such a request through channels which would take much too long and just worsen things for his forward Battalion. Then, before he could think of other things to involve us, we excused ourselves and got out of there shaking our heads all the way back to our platoons. Who had ever heard of a Colonel asking advice from two 2nd Lieutenants? I never did hear what happened to them.
** Completely opposite from the army and the ROKs were the KMCs (Korean Marine Corps). This organization, separately trained by members of the US Marine Corps, was led by officers and non-coms that were heavily populated by volunteer Japanese mercenaries. The Japanese hated the Chinese and many had volunteered to fight them in Korea. We saw many examples of their discipline and courage under fire. Before joining Dog, Wimpee had spent some time with them and told of one occasion when a company formation of KMCs was standing at attention in the pouring rain. None of them except one Lieutenant platoon leader was wearing ponchos or raincoats. The company commander ordered that Lieutenant front and center. He chewed him out for some minutes, then slapped him hard across the face and barked an order. The Lieutenant pulled his poncho off and dropped it in the mud, saluted, did a smart about face, and marched back to his platoon.
Once one of their companies was operating on my platoon's left flank. There was a small hill in front of us that they had been ordered to take while we were sitting on top of a hill to their right. They were so close I didn't need to use binoculars to watch them in action.
After forming into a skirmish line, they started up the hill under fire all the way from the enemy entrenched on top. About halfway up, the leading platoon stopped its advance as it came to a large, cleared knoll. The Platoon leader gathered the platoon into a loose circle while he paraded around inside the circle shouting and ranting at them, pointing out all the things they were doing wrong. All this time there were bullets hitting around them--we could see the spurts of dirt where they were hitting. When he was satisfied, he yelled some more orders, and they again formed into a skirmish line and charged up the hill. They ran over the enemy positions without stopping and the hill was secured in minutes.
** On the enemy side, as I mentioned earlier, I thought the NKPA were good fighters. Even courageous charges often couldn't flush them out of well dug-in positions. After assaulting and securing one of our objectives, we found it had been occupied by a single NKPA squad. Our entire company tried for a whole day to reach its top, but that squad refused to be budged. It wasn't until we had called for air-delivered napalm that we were able to get to the top. I remember being impressed at the time by how well a small but determined force could repulse superior numbers.
On that occasion it was their automatic weapons fire that held us up. They also threw hundreds of grenades, but we learned not to be overly concerned with them. The enemy used three kinds of grenades. One was the Russian-made fragmentation grenade that was very similar in appearance, size and effectiveness to ours. Another was a concussion grenade which looked a lot like the World War I German "potato masher". It made a very loud bang which could rattle our brains if we were within 10 to 15 yards of it, but had limited other effect since its body was a tin can and therefore didn't scatter a lot of deadly fragments as did the first type. The third kind, and the one most frequently encountered, was a small cast iron grenade mounted on a stick. The stick was hollow and running through it was a string that was attached to a simple match-type detonator in the grenade. The gooks took four of these grenades with the sticks between their fingers and the strings hanging down. They then pulled all four strings at once. As the matches were pulled out, they lit and started the fuse to the detonator burning. Then they would throw all four grenades at once.
One day I watched the platoon in front of us start up a hill when the North Koreans started throwing those grenades by the handfuls. I could see the Marines assaulting the hill and as the grenades were landing around them, they calmly kicked them out of range, where they went off with a bang but seemingly had little other effect. The Marines looked like they were dancing up the hill through strings of popping fire crackers.
** Time for a story about our Regimental Commander, Colonel Litzenberger, affectionately known to us as "Litz the Blitz". We were moving through the 10th Corps zone (General Almond's) in trucks, in the process of relocating the Division from the eastern to the central part of Korea. We were on the route along a mountain road when the column came to a halt. I was in the second truck, so I could see what was happening. A KMC supply truck carrying fresh meat was disabled and the KMCs in it, realizing that they were blocking our way, were desperately trying to move the truck so it could be pushed over the edge of the cliff to our right. The Marines in our column's first truck all got out to help. I saw somebody come walking from the back of the column and recognized the steel gray crew cut. It was Litz. He stopped next to our truck, put his hands on his hips, and quietly watched as the Marines and KMCs were trying to bodily lift that truck and push it out of the way. Then we heard a siren, and a jeep came roaring up next to us.
It stopped with a screech of brakes and out jumped an army Lieutenant who had been sitting next to the driver. Both wore chromed helmets and belt buckles and both were wearing white gloves. The Lieutenant ran up and stopped directly in back of Litz, who had not yet turned around. While the Lieutenant was running up, we heard the Lieutenant shout, "All right. What's going on here? And you, you old s.o.b., what are you standing there with your hands on your hips for?" I could see the back of Litz's neck getting bright red as he slowly turned to look at the Lieutenant. There was dead silence. The Lieutenant suddenly saw the eagles on Litz's collar and started to stammer something, but Litz beat him to it. Then we heard some of the most innovative swearing I have ever heard in my life. Litz's face was red as a beet, he was so furious. He went on for about five minutes and never repeated himself while the Lieutenant slowly melted into the dust.
** One day an older ROK came up to the Company CP and had a talk with Al. He was carrying a large radio and a fairly good-sized pack. Being small like most Koreans, he looked like he was overloaded. He hung around the CP until dark and then walked out through our line. I asked Al who he was and found out that he was a ROK officer and a "line crosser". He would work his way through the CCF or NKPA lines, find a good hiding spot from which he could observe their activities, and then for a week or two, as long as his supplies and batteries lasted, would radio back his observations. I was in awe of the lonely and dangerous job that poor guy had. We moved the next day, so I never did find out whether he made it back okay.
The Koreans were exceptionally hardy and strong. They could walk for hours carrying large loads and never seemed to tire. I never saw a fat Korean--all were lean and muscular. We used labor battalions to help us move larger equipment and carry bulk supplies. These were Korean civilian volunteers who were paid, but not very much. They usually traveled in the rear of the Division and we could requisition them as needed. During one move of the Battalion, they had a platoon or more of them carrying all the Battalion gear across a high ridge. I saw one old gent who looked to be seventy if he was a day, although he might only have been in his forties, carrying a complete pyramidal tent balanced on his head. That tent made a package about three feet square and must have easily weighed 150 to 200 pounds. He walked up that hill without a stumble and wasn't even breathing hard when he got to the top.
** Sometimes it seemed to us that life wasn't very fair. On one occasion we had to move through the French Infantry Brigade and relieve them. As we got to their forward rifle company, the one we were replacing on the line, we found a large mess tent erected in a small gully directly toward their rear. As we came closer, we smelled the most delicious aroma. This was their bakery and they were in the process of baking the day's supply of croissants! We were told that the French never traveled anywhere without their bakery!
** Our holes are dug into the side of a steep hill which hardly had any vegetation. I was in my hole with the shelter half pitched over me like a lean-to when it started to pour. The rain came down in sheets, and pretty soon it was running down the hill like a flood. It came into my hole on the uphill side and began to fill it. I looked out and saw all the Marines starting to leave their holes, so I joined them. We stood in the pouring rain, not moving or talking, each thinking our own miserable thoughts. When it finally stopped, we pulled our soaked sleeping bags out of our flooded holes, spread them on top of the mud, and crawled in, hoping to get a little sleep before we had to saddle up again.
** I was sitting on a hill with my back against a tree and the platoon spread out around me. The unit in front of us was in a firefight and we were waiting for them to push through whatever opposition they were facing. We could hear rifles and automatic weapons banging away at each other and the occasional crump of a grenade. Suddenly there was a whine, a pop, and something hit my boot. I reached down and picked up the core of a .30 caliber slug, and just as quickly dropped it because it was too hot to hold. It had ricocheted off the tree in front of me, losing its velocity and copper jacket in the process. I still have it.
** In one position we were in, we could see across the valley to an opposing hill where the NKPA had dug in bunkers and trenches. The regiment sent a sniper up to us and I sat with him in my platoon's position. We could see one enemy soldier who kept looking over the rim of the trench he was in--popping up and down like a jack-in-the-box. The sniper was armed with an M-1, but he showed me how it had been customized and fitted with a scope. He sighted in on the enemy and the next time his head popped up, he fired. Through my binoculars I could see a puff of dust a few inches to the right of the enemy's head at the very edge of the trench. The head disappeared. The sniper made an adjustment on his scope and sighted back in at the same point. The head popped up and the sniper fired. The head disappeared and didn't pop up again. A short while later we assaulted the hill and the NKPAs took off. We found the one we had seen in the trench with a bullet through his neck. For the fun of it, we calculated the distance the sniper had fired and came up with 900 yards! At 500 yards a 12-inch bull’s-eye looked like a pin point. My estimation of a sniper's usefulness and skill went up a 1000 percent.
** One of the few times we were transported by truck convoy we stopped for a break near where a couple of captured CCFs were sitting on the ground. They were both horribly burned on the face and neck, but otherwise seemed to be in good spirits. On questioning them how they came to being so burned, they told us with grins that one of their friends had picked up a captured rocket launcher and fired it. Not knowing how the weapon operated, they had stood directly behind it to be out of the way. The rocket exhaust hit them right in the face, then their unit had left them by the side of the road. They thought it was pretty funny, but from their appearance I didn't think they would survive.
** While moving the Company forward, we stopped for a rest at the mouth of a narrow, deep, and heavily-wooded gully. I was sitting on the ground resting my back against the gully wall while some of my platoon walked into the gully to relieve themselves. I heard one yell, "Hey, Lieutenant, come here." While he was relieving himself he had parted the bush in front of him and found himself staring at the side of a truck. About this time we heard some movement further in the brush and all hit the deck with our weapons ready. The movement continued and we heard jabbering when two CCF stepped out of the brush no more than 10 to 15 yards away from us with their hands over their heads.
I sent a squad to thoroughly search the entire gully and they found two more CCF who also immediately surrendered. The truck, which was hitched to an antiaircraft gun on a trailer, was so well-camouflaged that we couldn't see it while standing right next to it. We removed the camouflage and drove the truck out of the gully with its trailer attached. It was interesting to see that the truck was an exact copy of a Chevrolet even down to the location and appearance of the instrument panel, except that the labels were in Cyrillic Russian.
Just about this time the Marine who had been sitting next to me before this noticed a glint of metal in a deep fissure in the rock wall he was leaning against. He reached in and touched a large metal object. Clearing the brush away, he had to call for help to lift out a complete, huge 90mm mortar. A further search of the area discovered no additional goodies, so we threw the mortar in the back of the truck and I reported our prisoners and our find to the skipper. He told us to bring them along as we moved forward again.
A short while later, while crossing a wide valley, we ran across a team of Marines lead by a Major. They were looking for enemy equipment. He spotted the truck, came running over, and asked me where and how we had found it. He then identified himself as being on the 1st Marine Division staff intelligence unit charged with the collecting of all enemy artifacts and equipment. He didn't care about the prisoners, but he ordered me to turn the truck and trailer over to him. I felt I had no choice but to obey the orders of a senior officer, so I complied.
The next morning I was ordered to go back to the 7th Marines CP and report to our new Regimental Commander, Colonel Nickerson. By then Litz had been transferred back to the States and we had a new Regimental commander whose name I have forgotten. I went with a feeling of anticipation because I thought the Colonel was going to congratulate me on our capture of enemy troops and equipment. He asked me about the incident of the truck and I explained what I had done. He then proceeded to royally chew me out. He didn't care about the antiaircraft gun or the mortar, but he had badly wanted that truck because we were always in need of more transportation than was assigned to us. My excuse that I had been ordered to turn the truck over made no impression and the Colonel told me I should have told the Major to go to Hell. It's an unfair world for junior officers!
** For the first couple of months on the line we found that the enemy always used their artillery the same way. They would fire three rounds and then quit--never more. We attributed this to their being very short of artillery ammunition. Unfortunately, we began to rely on this pattern. We heard the first round come in and hit the deck, then waited for the next two. After they detonated, we got up and continued our advance. One day they fooled us and I had the closest brush with death I had had up to then.
We were advancing along a river that ran through a wide valley. Fox Company was in front and my platoon was directly behind their rearmost element. Company Headquarters followed my platoon and the rest of the company was strung behind.
Our destination was a ridge to our left on the other side of the river and the Fox point was looking for a decent ford. On finding one, they started crossing the river. It was only about a foot or two deep at that point, although running fast and quite wide. The ground was very hard, with mostly rock and pebbles. Finally it was our turn to slosh through the ice-cold water. I was leading the platoon and had just made it to the other side with most of my platoon on shore and the rest of the company stretched across the river when I heard the first round of enemy artillery coming in. We all hit the deck, those in the river either running forward or back to the nearest shore. The first round was followed by a second and then, a few minutes later, a third. I stood up, looked around, and saw that we had no casualties. From the sound and the craters, it looked to me like the enemy was using 75mm Howitzers. Others picked themselves up and we had started moving again when I heard the next salvo coming in.
I remember that as I fell to the ground and tried to dig myself into the rocks and pebbles with my fingernails, the front edge of my helmet hit the ground and the helmet tipped off my head and rolled forward, leaving my head exposed. I reached forward with my left hand, grabbed the helmet by the rim, and held it in front of my head. Shells were landing all around us, some within 10 to 15 yards, and I kept shifting the helmet in the direction of the nearest shell. The barrage seemed to go on for hours, although it must have lasted only ten minutes or so. It was obvious now that the first three rounds had been used to register their fire on the ford, and they were now firing for effect. They had us pinpointed perfectly.
The firing finally slowed down and then stopped. In the following hush, I looked around and saw that the whole area was pockmarked with craters. The Fox Company Marine ten yards directly in front of me was dead and there were other casualties scattered all around. The corpsmen got busy and I ordered the platoon forward toward a narrow ravine cut into the hills, leading to the ridge we were to get to. We ran into the ravine carrying what casualties we could and bunched up against the rear elements of Fox Company to make room for the rest of our Company to get across the river. We also wanted to get under cover quickly because we expected another barrage at any second.
So there we were, two companies bunched up in that little ravine. At just that instant there was an unbelievably loud roar and some 500 Marines who had minutes before gone through a terrible ordeal were convinced they had just all been killed. One of our Navy close air support jets had chosen that moment to use the ravine as an approach to his target somewhere out in the valley. He passed over our heads by no more than a hundred feet.
Our casualties were amazingly light from that ordeal. The figure of about 40 comes to mind for both companies, with most of these being Dog's. The tactics used by us when under artillery fire was completely different from those of the communists. Americans were trained to hit the deck. This seemed to work pretty well, because most of a shell's blast was directed upward and outward. If we were at or below ground level, we had a fairly good chance of surviving. That's why calling our own artillery fire down on ourselves when we were in prepared positions was a pretty good way to save our unit from annihilation when overrun. The enemy was above ground and taking the heaviest casualties. The communists were trained to keep moving instead, apparently for the reason they felt we couldn't adjust our fire fast enough so they could run out of the target area. Of course, much of this theory didn't work if the weapons used were such as proximity shells. They could deliver airbursts or were set to explode on immediate contact instead of when already partially into the ground, thereby resulting in "grass cutters" which threw their shrapnel along the surface.
Shortly after this incident, Captain Al informed me that I had had sufficient time as a rifle platoon leader and he was transferring me to the rear by giving me the 60mm mortar section. Big Deal. I was now 50 yards further back. At the same time, he reassigned Wimpee from the 3rd Platoon to be the MG platoon leader. 1st Lieutenant Chaffee replaced me as 1st Platoon leader. Chaffee was later to become Secretary of the Navy and a Senator from Connecticut.
Dog One - Spring and Summer
Before getting into my experience with the mortars in late summer and fall, some more fragments come to mind. A Marine unit in the field usually found itself in one of four conditions. They were either "on the line"--that is, in a position to be in contact with enemy forces--in "reserve", on detached duty, or moving from one of these conditions to the other. While in Korea I was only on detached duty once, and it was very interesting indeed.
While the rest of our Battalion went into reserve, I was asked to take my platoon some ten or fifteen miles to the rear and guard an unidentified installation. The further back, the happier we were, so I was more than ready to do whatever they wanted. A couple of army trucks picked us up and took us to the top of a high mountain. Its crest had been cleared of all trees and contained a large concrete block building that only had its roof above ground. An army captain was waiting for us and told me that we were to form a perimeter around the crest of the mountain. There were prepared positions for us to occupy and we would be supplied with any necessities by the army.
There was one dirt road into the area, but no fence. We were expected to keep everyone out except the army units bringing in supplies on a daily basis. Our main assignment was to ensure that no enemy infiltrators could get at the building, but we were to stay away from the building itself and have no contact with its occupants. We rarely saw movement around the building for the week we were there, but every once in a while what appeared to be civilians in long white coats came out of one of the doors that were in dug-out recesses around the building, and stood there visiting and smoking cigarettes. Apparently smoking was not allowed inside.
It was great for my platoon because we had nothing else to do but rest and get caught up with personal stuff--writing letters, reading, doing laundry, cleaning weapons, etc., and, of course, the inevitable poker game. The weather was great and the nights were peaceful except for the occasional drone of high flying aircraft passing overhead.
The captain had told me that we would be relieved at the end of the week by another unit--possibly army, ROK, or even one of the other UN forces--and this rotated the responsibility in fair fashion. He had not told me what we were supposed to be guarding. Late one afternoon one of the occupants came out alone in his long white coat and stood outside grabbing a smoke. I was standing not far away and worked up the nerve to walk up to him and introduce myself. After some small talk he told me that he wasn't supposed to say anything, but felt that since we were protecting him and his cohorts, the least he could do was to tell us a little about what they were doing there. He was a civilian scientist working for the Air Force.
Every night that the weather permitted, the Air Force sent B29 bombers over North Korea to bomb selected targets. These bombers apparently came from great distances--Japan or even Okinawa. They were instructed to pass directly over this mountain as they did so, the scientists and engineers in the building would take control of the bombers and fly them to their targets, drop their bombs, and then return them to a position over the mountain. In the interim, their crews did nothing. Everything was done by long distance radio control. The whole procedure was to improve their capability to fly and fight aircraft by only radio control at long distances. Amazingly, that was 1951. I wonder what they can do today!
Fragments- In Reserve
Part of our time we were "in reserve". Depending on what size unit was going into reserve usually determined how far back we were going, how long we would be allowed to "rest", and how elaborate our reserve facilities were to be.
To my recollection we were never in company reserve. Usually our assigned positions were so spread out that we had to use the entire company on the line. And even in those instances when a platoon might be at the company's rear, it was only a matter of 50 or 100 yards and certainly not for the purpose of resting up. When the 2nd Battalion went into regimental reserve we might be a mile or so behind the line. We then set up a Battalion perimeter and, in essence, be ready for combat on a moment's notice. We also patrolled to our flanks and rear since there was always considerable unoccupied ground between the next major unit and us. But it was still restful to be off the line.
The best was when the whole regiment went into division reserve. Then we were a good distance from the front lines and usually set up more as a camp, still using our shelter halves as tents, but not set up in a perimeter. I can only remember us being in division reserve once, and I don't ever remember the entire division being in Corps reserve.
** Our Battalion was in reserve and we had set up a perimeter because there was at least one mile between us and the next unit, a Battalion of the 5th Marines. We had been repeatedly warned to watch out for enemy troops that had infiltrated and were attacking units behind the lines. The first night we heard firing down the road. In the morning we learned that a supply truck was fired on by a light machine gun just a few hundred yards from our perimeter and the occupants were casualties. Naturally, we were nervous and on edge.
Our Chaplain was a Catholic priest, Father Peters. Actually we didn't have our own chaplain. These were only assigned one to a regiment and visited the battalions as they could to hold services but, for some reason, Father Peters took a particular liking to the 2nd Battalion and always traveled with us. Father Peters told us that he was going to go over to the adjacent Battalion of the 5th Marines and visit another chaplain who was a friend of his and have a snort or two. We told him, "For God's sake, to be careful, make sure to get back before dark, and memorize the password." Well, it got dark and no Father Peters. Late that night our perimeter heard a voice shouting in the distance on and off. As the voice got nearer, they realized it was someone who was apparently feeling no pain and who had forgotten the password. He was stopping every 50 yards or so and shouting at the top of his voice, "Have no fear, Father Peters is here." He crossed that dangerous terrain in the dark and through our lines with nary a scratch. The next day, one of our fellows woke up just before dawn and saw some movement near a low embankment in the middle of our perimeter. When it got light, he and a friend went over and, after a little poking around, found two armed NKPA soldiers in a hole under the edge of the embankment. They had been there the entire time. We set up around them. They were terrified, were afraid to move with us all around them, and were badly starved.
* * Remember the Major I mentioned who didn't like reserves? In one of our Battalion reserve positions he decided that there should be an "Officer’s Country" in the middle of the perimeter. This was an open space with the Battalion Headquarters tents set up in a square instead of their usual CP formation, which was more spread out with no formal configuration, making maximum use of the terrain. All of the company officers were to set up their shelter halves around the square, too, while the NCOs and remaining enlisted were to man the perimeter and stay out of "Officer's Country." None of us liked this and couldn't understand why the Colonel allowed it, but I guess he had been having so many arguments with the Major that he just didn't want to fight with him over this.
When we got our mail, one of the Battalion staff officers received a large package from his wife which contained a number of tin cans filled with premixed martinis. He invited some of the officers to his tent and we proceeded to have a grand party. It doesn't take many canteen cups of warm martinis to have the desired effect and before long the party got pretty well out of hand. Between the singing and shouting, I'm sure we could be heard in Hanoi. The Major finally came in and told us to knock it off and to remember we were in enemy territory, etc., etc. With that the party broke up and we all stumbled off to our little pup tents. About two in the morning there was a loud shriek. We heard someone screaming, "The gooks are here. They're choking me. Help. Help." We all rushed to the sound and found one of the officers tangled in his sleeping bag. He had had a nightmare.
The Major also had rushed out of his tent in his bare feet. One of our officers had earlier decided not to bother going to the latrine that had been laboriously dug for the use of the officers. Guess who stepped into what? There was a loud roar. And then, in the ensuing silence we heard the Major yell, "All right, who shit in officer country?" He never found out.
** Once we went into Battalion reserve after having spent 78 days on the line without a hot meal, subsisting entirely on C or K rations. Our Battalion doctor told us that, to the best of his knowledge, this was a record for a military unit going without fresh food. When we got into the reserve area, the Regiment had set up a mess tent and the cooks were broiling steaks and making mashed potatoes. We were told we could have only one steak, but as much of the rest of the fresh food as we wanted, including the milk. It was raining and we had not yet put up our shelter halves, so we went through the chow line and then tried to find somewhere in the open to eat off the metal mess trays we had been given. There was no place to sit down since everything was muddy. I ended up with some others standing against a rail fence with the tray precariously balanced on the top rail. The Marine next to me tried to cut his steak, but the tray slipped and everything fell in the mud. I thought he was going to cry. I told him he should get back in line and ask the cook for another steak, which he did. The cook had sympathy for him and a minute later he was back with an entirely new dinner. Again he balanced the tray and, as he tried to cut the steak, the tray flipped. This time he caught the tray but the steak landed in the mud again. For a minute he stood there looking down at the steak, rain dripping off his helmet, then bent down, picked it up, wiped the mud off it by rubbing it against his dungaree pants, sat down in the mud, and finished his dinner.
The next day we were all sicker than dogs with stomach cramps and diarrhea. Our Battalion doctor, Captain Noor, declared the Battalion only 25 percent combat efficient for the next few days. Our stomachs just hadn’t been ready for fresh food.
Noor was something of a character. He fancied himself a tough infantry man and always walked around with a Thompson sub-machine gun. We never did find out where he had gotten it, but saw him practice with it a few times. Nobody wanted to be around him when he showed signs of using it. We were afraid he would cause more casualties than he was there to help.
Medical personnel, who were all Navy, were supposed to be non-combatants and protected by the Geneva Conventions. The corpsman attached to my platoon carried a .38 Special revolver loaded with tracer bullets. I wasn't aware they made tracers for that caliber and have never seen any since, but whenever we got into a fire fight, and as long as he didn't have any call on his medical skills, I could see him firing the pistol with the tracers clearly arching to the enemy positions. Gung Ho!
** We were encamped next to an army unit and had just been served our evening meal. As usual, I waited until the platoon was served and then I got at the end of the line, got my stuff, and then sat down on the side of a hill and joined them. When we were done, I went back, got a canteen cup of coffee, and joined a fellow platoon leader to chat. We noticed that there were two of the army enlisted a little further up the hill watching us. They finally came down, asked us if we are officers, and then asked if they could talk to us. We told them to sit down, offered them a cup of coffee, and one of us went to get it for them. They sat there speechless, staring at us. Finally one got up the nerve to ask if we always waited until our troops were fed before we got our own food and if we always ate with them.
We told them that we didn't always eat with them, but we always made sure they were fed first and joined them if the situation permitted. They were flabbergasted! They told us that their officers never waited for the troops to eat first and never, ever ate with them. In fact, in most instances, they said, their units set up special mess tents for their officers. I think they began to realize why Marines are different. In one reserve area we were in, we saw those mess tents. They had tablecloths and napkins! Unbelievable.
** One of our most notable reserve times was while the whole regiment was in Division reserve. We were part of the 10th Corps and were moved back into what was the 10th Corps Headquarters area. We never saw such installations before. Everyone lived in squad tents or even regular buildings. There were huge motor pools, mess facilities, and other amenities we hadn't seen since the States.
We were assigned an area to camp in and set up our shelter halves in carefully spaced rows. After getting settled, the troops scattered to explore the surroundings. Shortly after, some of my platoon came running up and said they had found a huge hot shower installation. We grabbed whatever we had that would serve as towels and ran off with them. They led us to a number of large, inter-connected tents. One was used as a dressing room and the rest were equipped with hot water lines and shower heads.
There didn't seem to be anyone else around, so we quickly undressed and ran under the showers. After a while the place started to fill up with other men and when we had enough, we went back to the dressing tent and started to put our dungarees back on. By this time the tent was pretty full of army personnel who looked askance at us, especially when they noticed that most of us didn't have any officer insignia on our collars. It was only then that I noticed they were all officers. Not long after we got back to the company area, the word came down that the Marines were not to use the shower facilities which were for the use of only the 10th Corps officers.
We never wore our officer insignia. It was too nice a tip-off to enemy snipers. One of my NCOs had occasion to be sent back to a major supply point. He saw that they had a goodly supply of field boots, but realized he couldn't get a new pair, which he sorely needed, unless he could pull some rank. He found a safety pin and stuck it, wrong side up, through his collar. The supply sergeant mistook the pin for the underside of Lieutenant's or Captain's bars and gave him a new pair without further question.
The first morning in that Division reserve area we started getting all kinds of flack from the army. One of their squad tents was missing, as was a generator, two hundred pack boards, a weapons carrier and a 6X6 truck. Dog was mostly suspected because we were closest to the army units. In walking through the company area, we found the marks of something heavy that had been dragged through the dirt. In the pup tent the marks led to, we found the huge, bundled-up squad tent. One of our men had stolen it the night before and even had the gall to ask some soldiers to help load it on their truck and deliver it to our area.
We didn't find the generator right away, but the following day an army Captain parked his jeep in front of the skipper's tent and complained again about the still missing items. Al got the 1st Sergeant to investigate and found that some of our fellows had stolen the generator so "the skipper could have electric lights". They had buried it! We got them to dig it up and agreed to return it to the army. When the Captain went out to leave, he found that his jeep was gone. To the best of my knowledge, he never got it back. We had nothing to do with the weapons carrier or the truck, but we heard that our Regimental Headquarters had two new units with very wet paint. In the meantime, most of the men in our company admired their new packboards. These were a great improvement over our old field packs and the Skipper just plain refused to acknowledge that we had them. The army finally gave up trying to get them back.
Some of the men attached their field packs to the board, but most of us trashed the field packs and simply used waterproof bags to pack our stuff in, attaching these to the board with line. This made for a much more comfortable pack, allowed us to get in and out of the bags quickly, and even provided for a place to hook our weapon's sling so we didn't have to carry it over our shoulder. Some of our guys got their hands on some parachute quick release snaps and attached them to the straps of their packboards so they could drop the entire pack with a flick of the wrist.
Marines are the worst (or best, depending on your point of view) scroungers in the world, primarily because they rarely have the nicer things in life given to them. They have excellent weapons and get the basics for living in the field, but beyond that, they live on hand-offs and what they can scrounge. All of our supply sources at the time filtered to us through the Navy, and they naturally kept all of the best for themselves. Needless to say, the army liked to have us around when there was shooting, but preferred we stay as far away from them as possible at other times.
** I can only remember two times that we were in a position to see some entertainment. Once, I believe, was when we were in Corps reserve at the same time of my last remarks. A USO tour starring Jack Benny and Errol Flynn was to put on a show in the 10th Corps area and we were allowed to go. It was a great show and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I couldn't get over how big Flynn was and that he was heavily freckled. Most of the humor was very raunchy, which went over well, of course, but I was a little surprised at one exchange between Benny and Flynn when they both acted the parts of gays.
Another time we were near some other unit which was able to show movies at night. We saw one, the original version of "The Thing". It was very scary and I had trouble sleeping that night. There were a bunch of Koreans from a nearby village also watching it and I remember wondering what they thought it was all about.
** While in reserve my Platoon Sergeant and I were walking through the platoon area when he suddenly stopped and sniffed the air like a bird dog. I then also smelled a pungent odor. We followed the scent to one of the pup tents and found one of our men totally stoned. Hidden in his pack he had a cigar box filled with dried marijuana. We hauled the poor guy in front of the Skipper, who called the Regimental provost marshal and had the kid taken away. Two days later the Skipper called me in and said, "I've been ordered to report to the Regimental CO, Litz the Blitz. I'm scared to death not knowing what he wants me for." After hitchhiking back to the Regiment C.P., I finally got in to see the Colonel. He wanted to know all about my finding the kid with the Mary Jane. Then he politely chewed me out for having blown the investigation they were in the middle of, which was to try and locate and break up a Division-wide dope ring. Apparently we weren't supposed to arrest anyone, only watch them. How was I supposed to know? But you don't ask a Colonel that kind of question, so I slinked back to the company chastened, but also a little put out.
** I had one other run-in with Litz. In one of our reserve positions we were told to get ready for an inspection by the Regimental CO. We cleaned up as best we could and the whole Battalion was lined up in company formations when Litz and his staff showed up. When they reached Dog Company, an aide of Litz', a Major, came up to my platoon. I called the platoon to attention, reported to the Major, and then joined him as he inspected the first two ranks. He then thanked me, saluted, and walked over to the next platoon. I went front and center and gave my platoon “At ease." As they all relaxed, I looked back at the last rank and saw a silver-haired officer scowling at me. It was Litz and all the troops in the last rank that he was in the process of inspecting had also gone at ease. He apparently had finished with the previous platoon and had walked over to my last rank to help the Major finish with mine. I quickly called the platoon to attention and ran back to meet him as he finished. I fully expected a blast, but he just said, "Looks good", gave me a curt salute, and marched off.
** When ordered back to the line from reserve, we usually set aside time to test fire our weapons. One cardinal rule was to never, ever fire our weapon if the muzzle was plugged or blocked for some reason. Numerous training films had brought that home to us in gory detail. One showed a sentry who had rested his rifle muzzle down in the mud suddenly having to use it against an advancing enemy. The rifle blew up with dire results to the Marine. Someone had discovered that the top to a Chapstick fit perfectly over the muzzle of a carbine and kept dirt and moisture from getting in. I always had one over mine. During one test firing session, I aimed at our makeshift target and squeezed the trigger, only to realize in that instant that I had failed to remove the Chapstick cap. Instant panic. I expected to see a white flash and a blown-up barrel, but nothing happened. The cap must have blown off ahead of the bullet.
A good part of our time while on the line, and even occasionally when in reserve, was spent on patrols. All military units, particularly ground forces, patrolled constantly. It is still the best way to gather intelligence on the enemy's strength and disposition. As I mentioned earlier, a reconnaissance patrol is primarily to gather intelligence. A combat patrol is looking for a fight. The latter may be used to test enemy defensives, set up ambushes, or try to capture enemy personnel or destroy installations. All sized units sent out patrols. A company might send out a squad, a platoon, or a reinforced platoon. A Battalion might use a platoon, a company, a reinforced company, and so on. Patrols might last a few hours or days.
Shortly before I joined Dog Company, they and the entire 7th Marines had been on a patrol for the 1st Marine Division. I believe it was called the Pohang patrol. We newcomers to the Company were regaled with many of the adventures the rest had had on that patrol. Following are a few of my own most memorable patrol activities.
Fragments - Patrolling
** On one of my first platoon-size patrols I was to get to the top of a mountain in front of our lines, then proceed to the valley in front of it, meet up with a motorized patrol just before dark, and ride back with them into the perimeter. When we got into the valley to our front, we found ourselves in heavy brush and grass that was over our heads. We couldn't see a thing and quickly got lost. Compass headings were nice things to utilize, but of little help when you are looking for a narrow foot trail that is supposed to lead to the top of the mountain. As usual, our map was totally inadequate. Even searching for some distance to either side after we reached the foot of the mountain failed to locate the trail. The rise in front of us looked very steep and would obviously make for a difficult climb.
But, time was passing, and I knew that if we missed our rendezvous we would be stuck out in front of the lines for the night, a totally unacceptable situation as far as I was concerned. In desperation, I started climbing up the side of the mountain, trail or no trail. The going was so rough that we had to pull ourselves hand-over-hand onto narrow ledges barely wide enough for our feet. At one point I pulled myself up to a ledge, only to find myself looking right into the eyes of a large viper who was coiled and ready to strike no more than a foot from my face.
I froze and couldn't move. Sergeant Flynn, who had moved up next to me, saw my dilemma, slid his M1 off his shoulder, and in one fast sweep of the butt smashed the viper against the cliff. How he found room to do that without falling backwards off the hill, I'll never know. My look of gratitude was sufficient and we continued on. Another close one.
After hours of backbreaking labor we finally got to the top. We could now see the crossroad where we were to meet the other patrol, and their trucks were just pulling up. Time was short. It was beginning to get dark and we still had a good mile or more to go--all down hill. From then on, it was a race. Fear of falling seemed to be forgotten. We ran, slipped, slid on our butts, and occasionally rolled. As we got closer to the bottom, we yelled, "Hey, wait for us." It was far short of a good military maneuver, but we got to the rendezvous on time, thoroughly bushed and all in one piece. I struggled to understand what we were supposed to accomplish and had to conclude with the trite, "Ours not to reason why, etc." Then again, I reached the conclusion a pilot friend of mine used to voice, "Any landing you walk away from is a good landing" and paraphrased it to, "Any patrol you come back from with all your troops unhurt is a good patrol."
** On another patrol I was leading the platoon through a valley covered with shoulder high grass. We had been warned that enemy troops were seen in the valley, so we were being especially cautious. One of the fire team leaders was with me at point and, with weapons unlocked (safety off) and at port arms, we were trying to move as silently as possible. I gave no oral orders, but directed everybody by hand signals. Suddenly, without warning, we flushed a couple of pheasants from practically under our feet. We were so surprised we just froze--we didn't even hit the deck. For a minute we stood stock still looking at each other, then the reaction set in and we didn't know whether to laugh or cry with relief. The rest of the patrol was uneventful.
** Personally, I liked to work with tanks, although some of my friends did not because they felt they attracted too much attention--which they assuredly did. On one occasion, however, I had second thoughts. Tanks never went out alone. They were very vulnerable to infantry attack, so they always moved with their own infantry around them. I was asked to protect two tanks on a patrol with my platoon. For the start of the patrol we clambered aboard the tanks and got a ride until we thought we were far enough out to start running into enemy activity. Then we fanned out to both sides and to their rear as the tanks moved ahead. By mid-afternoon we had gotten as far out in front as our orders had specified and were on a small dirt road in a narrow valley. The following tank tried to back up and turn around when it suddenly threw a tread.
A tank cannot move with a tread off its driving and bogie wheels, so we were faced with a dilemma. On calling the Regiment, we were informed that a repair vehicle (another tank especially equipped to make repairs) was not available and the two tank crews would have to try and make their own repairs. Also, specific orders were given to me that, under no circumstances was I to leave the tanks and come back with the platoon alone. The tankers were also told they could not abandon the damaged tank and return with only the good one, which would have been unfeasible in any event since the damaged one blocked the good one.
Darkness was only a couple of hours away and there we were, stuck out in nowhere about five miles from our lines. Neither we nor the tankers relished this. I ordered the platoon to take positions in a perimeter around the tanks, trying to make as best use as I could of the very unsuitable terrain we were in. Not knowing how long we might be there, we also started to dig foxholes while the eight tankers got to work on the tank. I don't think I ever saw people work so hard and fast. To add to the problem, it was a hot and muggy day.
From somewhere attached to one of the tanks they got a huge crescent wrench. It was about six feet long and made to fit over the large nuts that held the driving wheels in position. They tried to get the nuts loosened without success. We got as many of our strongest men under the wrench handle to help, but nothing worked. Then they positioned the wrench so the handle formed a slight upward angle with the ground, backed the other tank up to it so its rear deck just fit below the handle, and very slowly and carefully backed the tank so it pushed the handle up. That did the trick. Then, working with huge leverage bars, occasionally again using the other tank to push or pull things as necessary, they horsed the tread back onto its wheels.
It was just getting dark when they finished. We piled on the tanks and took off like rabbits. With a great sigh of relief from all of us, we made it back to our lines without trouble, having warned them we were coming through, even though it was pitch black by then.
** Many strange things happen in combat, and one of the strangest happened to me while on a patrol with my platoon for the purpose of having our company make contact with elements of the 1st Marine Regiment so our lines could be tied in at our flanks. The regimental boundary was to be near the crest of a high hill, and my making contact with the leading elements of the 1st was to be on a narrow trail on the forward slope of that hill. By the time we got near that location it had gotten dark. There was no moon and it was very difficult to see more than a few feet in front of us. I was leading the platoon, moving carefully along a trail which had a steep drop-off to the left and a cliff to the right. Suddenly I heard something moving in front of me. I stopped and stood still while I and the Marines behind me waited with pounding pulses for what was coming.
As the noise of footsteps got closer, I said in a loud whisper, "Who's there?" After a moment's silence, an answering whisper said, "Is that you, Spook?" It was the platoon leader of the 1st Marine's lead element, an old friend of mine from Colgate whom I hadn't seen in years. He had no knowledge of my being in Korea, much less on that hill at that time, and could think of no logical reason why he thought it was me. In the darkness he couldn't have possibly recognized me. Spook, by the way was a nickname I got saddled with at Colgate, but that's another story.
** Another weird occurrence. We were walking along a narrow trail with heavy brush and trees on either side of us. I had one rifleman out in front of me by about ten yards. He was walking upright with rifle at port arms. I kept my eyes glued on him so I wouldn't miss any signal from him at the first sign of trouble. Suddenly I felt something against my chest. I stopped and looked down to see a wire pressing against my middle. The squad leader who was right behind me came up to see why I had stopped. Without moving a muscle, I looked to the left and right and could see the wire disappearing into the underbrush on both sides. The Sergeant carefully followed the wire to the right and found it wrapped around a tree. Then he followed it to the left and, only about ten feet in from the trail he found a Chinese grenade taped to a sapling with the wire attached to its pin. The pin was partially pulled out and only a slight twitch would have removed it the rest of the way. He carefully pushed the pin back in and removed the grenade.
If I had moved another inch, the grenade would have detonated. I wondered about two mysteries. How had I been able to feel the very slight pressure that wire had presented and, even stranger, how did the rifleman in front of me get past that wire? I could swear he did not duck under anything, nor would he have been able to step over it. The first mystery, I explained to myself, was simply due to a very efficient guardian angel. As for the second, although we had heard no noise, the only possible explanation was for a Chinese soldier to have been hiding in the brush waiting until the point man had passed, and then pulling the wire taut and sneaking away. Another close one.
** The patrol that scared me the most occurred toward the end of my tour as 1st Platoon leader. The order for this one came down from Division and was therefore supposedly of special importance. I was asked to take my platoon, augmented with two light machine gun squads and one 60mm mortar section, to a small village a considerable distance in front of the lines. I was also given an interpreter and a ROK officer who I later found out was an intelligence officer. All these orders were given to me the night before and the skipper told me we should also expect a journalist to accompany us. The objective of the patrol was to look for any enemy activity on the way and in and around the village itself, and also to search for enemy sympathizers among the villagers. It wasn't until I looked at the map and the proposed patrol route that I realized what was being asked of us. We were going to have to go almost two miles out front, then three miles to our right, which would put us in front of the line occupied by the 101st Airborne.
Then it came out that it was the army and not us that was interested in that village. I objected to the skipper --let the army do their own patrolling. Why should our troops be put in a position where they would be not only out of range of our own supporting arms, but also out of radio range while this village they were so interested in was directly in front of and much closer to them? The S3 told us we had no say in the matter and that's why I had been asked to take along the MGs and the mortar. Big deal!
In the morning the correspondent hadn't shown up, obviously and smartly choosing digression over valor, but the ROK people were on time, so we took off. I had made up my mind that regardless of all the baggage we were carrying, we were going to make it there and back before dark. When we got to about a mile from the village, we found we had to go up a very tortuous ravine and climb a considerable distance nearly up to the top of the mountain where the village was located. The road up the ravine had a number of switchbacks. I became concerned that we would have to return by the same route and could easily be cut off if someone occupied one of the bends and then ambushed us as we returned. At the first switchback, I dropped off a MG squad and a fire team. At the next bend I did the same, then a rifle squad at the next, and finally the mortar section and one fire team. I had no idea if this was a recommended tactic because nothing in the manual or our training had prepared us for anything like this. The people I dropped off had mixed feelings. They were happy they didn't have to climb further, but they were leery of being left alone. I felt it important to protect an avenue of escape for ourselves because we weren't going to get any help from anybody, least of all the army unit we were now in front of.
When we got to where the ravine opened up and we could see the village, I had less than half of the platoon left. As we came in sight of the village we saw some scurrying figures at its far end. By the time we came to the first hut, there was utter silence. We went through the entire village and couldn't see a soul. I sent some of the men into the huts and they also found no one, although there were signs that they had been occupied.
I was getting more and more nervous and had the remainder of the platoon take up defensive positions. Just about then one of the men pointed to the top of the mountain and there, silhouetted against the sky, we saw a number of horsemen. We had been warned that the Chinese frequently used mounted troops. When they saw us, they quickly disappeared over the ridge.
We still hadn't seen anyone when one of my men noticed a cave a couple of hundred yards beyond the village. We stood in front of its entrance while the interpreter yelled into it. A few minutes later, an elderly man came out. The ROK officer and interpreter talked to him for a while and explained to us that he was the mayor. He said that the villagers had mistaken us for Chinese troops and had all hidden in the cave. He went back in and brought out all of the villagers, which numbered about 100.
While the ROKs interrogated the villagers, my men began searching the huts for anything suspicious. They couldn't find anything. The ROKs and the village elders got into a loud and prolonged argument and I couldn't tell what was going on. Finally the ROK officer lined up all of the men of the village and walked along questioning every one. He picked out about half a dozen men and said he wanted to take them back with us because they were all too young to be just village residents. When I objected, he pointed out that men of this young an age could only be found in the army and, since they were not ROKs there was a good chance they were NKPA soldiers on leave. The villagers raised a hue and cry, but the officer stuck to his guns. Then he and I got in another argument. He told me he had informed the mayor he was going to have us set fire to one of the houses as punishment for harboring enemy troops. This made no sense to me, but nothing I said would change his mind. If I didn't do it he would himself.
Finally I had a couple of Marines set fire to the last house on the trail leading back down. As we were entering the ravine, we looked back to see the house well on fire. Suddenly the whole top of the house exploded. Exploding ammunition was flying all over the place. Apparently a good-sized cache of ammo had been hidden under the roof. The ROK officer's superior look of, "I told you so", made me mad enough to deny his request that we return and burn the whole village down. It was getting too late and we were now in an even more precarious position. The rest of the trip back we hustled to get out of there, expecting any moment to be attacked from the ridges on both sides of us. We made it back without a problem, picking up the troops we had left along the way, and with all of our "prisoners". I never did hear what happened to them.
Shortly after this incident, Captain Al informed me that I had spent sufficient time as a rifle platoon leader and had earned a well-deserved transfer "to the rear". He was going to let me have the 60mm mortar section. Wow, I was going to be at least 50 yards further in back of the rest of the company--at least when we were not being used as line troops anyway. I hated giving up the platoon, but also welcomed having a new experience. At the same time, he reassigned Wimpee from the 3rd platoon to the Machine Gun platoon. It was my impression that 1st Lieutenant Chaffee replaced me as 1st Platoon leader. This is the Chaffee who later became Secretary of the Navy and a Senator from Connecticut. At a reunion some years ago, I was told that Chaffee joined the company at a somewhat later date.
The 60s - Summer
Even though I was still in a forward rifle company, I felt my assignment to the 60s increased my chances of survival by a smidgeon, which was better than nothing. Wimpee's situation was also slightly improved. The machine guns were utilized differently from the mortars. They usually moved as a unit and were kept together as much as possible. When deployed, their squads were often attached to the platoon they were supporting and their platoon leader stayed with the company commander and acted as his advisor.
Remember the black officer I mentioned who trained with us in Quantico and who was so obnoxious? On arrival in Korea, he was assigned a MG platoon in a rifle company in the 1st Marines. While in a defense position with his foxhole to the rear of the company, they were attacked and he panicked. Thinking the company line had been overrun, he started throwing grenades in front of him. The company was still in position and a couple of Marines were wounded by his grenades. Because of the touchiness of trying to do anything to him, his CO permanently attached the MG squads to the rifle platoons. This left nothing for the Lieutenant to do except follow the CO around. They continued this way until they were able to quietly transfer him to some innocuous job elsewhere in the Regiment. Later I heard that the other black officer that was with us in the 2nd Special Basic course did an excellent job as a rifle platoon leader and was decorated before coming home.
I had received some training in the 60mm mortar at Quantico, but now I had to learn all its finer points. I became a confirmed mortar man and to this day consider it one of the best weapons available to the company commander. The 60mm mortar is the company commander's "weapon of opportunity"--his artillery. It is highly portable, quickly emplaced and ready to fire, remarkably accurate when trained (aimed) by a good gunner, and can do great damage to enemy troops and materiel.
The weapon is in three parts - the mortar tube, which is a steel cylinder closed at one end in which is the firing pin; a base plate into which the tube fits with a ball joint; and a bipod which holds the tube erect. The bipod has bubble levels and vertical and horizontal gears for adjusting the attitude of the tube. The ammunition consists of a finned shell that looks like a small aerial bomb. It comes loaded with either High Explosive (HE) or white phosphorous (WP), better known as Willie Peter. The nose fuse detonates the shell on impact. (Larger mortars such as the 81mm and 4.2 inch can use proximity fuses for air bursts but not the 60.) The fuse is kept in a safe position by a pin that rides horizontally through the nose of the shell. The pin is kept stationary by a second pin that can be pulled out by the assistant gunner who loads the shells.
The gun is first pointed in the general direction of its intended target, and then leveled. If the target can be seen, the gunner can fire directly at the target. However, since the shell has a very high trajectory, it is mostly fired from a defilade position. This is what makes its use so devastating. It can reach from defilade, where it can't be hit except by another mortar, to defilade where the enemy has taken cover. When so used, the gunner puts out aiming stakes 20 or 30 feet in front of the gun using compass headings to do so and sights on those. The firing orders are given by the Platoon Leader in terms of compass heading and range. The Lieutenant gets these from actually sighting on the target that necessitates his being on top of the hill and not behind it where the guns are. However, anyone in the company can give targets to the section by using map coordinates.
A sequence of using the mortar went something like this. The 1st Platoon sends a squad size patrol, designated Dog One Able, to their front. Their objective is a low hill about 500 yards away. They reach the hill and, using their radio, call back to their platoon leader to tell him so, also advising him that they see and hear movement in a gully 200 yards in front of them. The platoon leader decides to ask for mortar support. I'm lying right next to him, having expected that the patrol might need some help. I talk to the Sergeant patrol leader and confirm that I'm about to give him support and get his exact location. We can see the hill he's on, but not the gully.
I find the hill on my map on which I've also marked our gun positions that are about 100 yards in back of us at the base of the ridge we're on. I draw a line from the guns to the hill and then on to where I think the gully is. I measure the distance from the map and determine the heading. We can hear small arms fire and the patrol leader reports that they are being fired on from the gully and are returning the fire. I then call my section Sergeant who's with the guns:
At the gun position, the Sergeant repeats my order out loud so all three guns can hear it. The gunner for Gun 1 has his gun sighted on one aiming stick that is directly north of him. He traverses the gun so his sight shows he has moved it to 081 degrees, at the same time making sure his vertical and horizontal bubbles remain level. The assistant gunner has checked his firing tables and determined that for 700 yards of range the gun has to be at a certain elevation (vertical angle), which he passes on to the gunner who makes the necessary correction. The assistant gunner also sees that the firing table requires the use of one increment for a White Phosphorous shell to reach that distance. The mortar shell has a built-in propellant charge in the base that will cause it to go a predetermined distance at a certain elevation. If that charge isn't enough, he can add increments that are small charges in plastic packets that can be clipped between the fins of the shell. The Sergeant is watching all of this carefully and double-checking the aiming of the gun and preparation of the shell.
During these exchanges we've never used the word "fire" to prevent anyone from misunderstanding and firing prematurely. This applies to all supporting weapons. Friendly troops have been unnecessarily hurt because an inexperienced trooper has said, "Fire at my command".
The other two guns are repeating everything Gun 1 is doing. All of this only takes a couple of minutes and the Sergeant then calls me back:
The assistant gunner for Gun 1 has taken the safety pin out of the shell and is holding it with his thumb over the internal safety pin. As he hears the Sergeant repeat my order, "Fire", he puts the rear of the shell, fins down, into the muzzle of the tube. He then lets his hands slide down with it until the safety pin reaches the inside of the tube, then lets the shell fall the rest of the way at the same time continuing his downward sliding of the hands so they are clear of the tube. When the shell hits the bottom of the tube, the firing pin detonates the propellant that also ignites the "increment" and the shell blasts out of the tube. As the shell rides up the tube, the safety pin rides along until it clears the muzzle when the pin is free and pops out of the side. The shell is now armed and on its way. The mortar makes a very distinctive "Poop" when fired--one recognized by all infantrymen, friend and enemy, and sure to bring a cringe and immediate reaction to "hit the deck" when heard. It can also be heard as it’s whistling down toward you. Since its muzzle velocity is quite low, the gun positions can see the shell as it climbs to the top of its trajectory.
As soon as I hear the Sergeant repeat my fire order, I advise the patrol leader:
The patrol leader listens for the shell and watches where it hits, then reports back:
I plot where the shell hit and repeat the adjustment, keeping in mind that the report from the patrol leader was from his viewpoint--which might not be the same as from mine:
Since I've allowed the gun to act "when ready", my fire order is proper.
This continues until One Able reports, "On target." Usually it only takes a few ranging rounds to get on the target, then I order whatever I feel is necessary to accomplish the mission:
All three guns have now fired three rounds each and a total of nine high explosive shells land in a pattern in the gully. The patrol leader calls back to report that the enemy firing has stopped and that he's going to have the patrol move forward. A short time later he again reports. They have found two dead CCF and one wounded, also some food stores and evidence of an enemy platoon having been located there but that has now left. He says he doesn't need any more mortar support and I call the guns, tell them "good job" and that they can secure for now.
Whenever we move to a new position and dig in, whether for the night or more than one day, Al and I get together and plan where he wants the mortars to fire in case we're hit. Likely avenues of approach are identified and, after situating my guns in a defilade position, I have them fire a round or two to register these "barrage" zones. Then I give each of the zones a number. If our support fire is needed at night, the skipper just has to ask for the number he wants hit and my gunners lay in on that target and start firing. We can also be asked to fire interdictory missions. A pre-selected target, such as a cross roads, is picked, and we fire single rounds at it, one every fifteen to thirty minutes, all night long, varying the time between rounds so the enemy never knows when to expect the target to be hit next.
The first time I fired the 60s in anger, I got into trouble with one of our platoon leaders. We were advancing along a series of hills when we spotted some enemy troops moving in the valley to our right. One of our rifle platoon leaders asked Al for permission to take a fire team and chase the enemy down. As he went into the valley, I was sitting next to Al on top of the hill watching what was going on. My mortar section was directly behind me taking a break. We could see the Lieutenant and his fire team moving toward the trees where the enemy had disappeared. Suddenly we saw a squad of enemy troops appear out of the trees in back of the Lieutenant. Our guys next to us started yelling at the Lieutenant, but he couldn't hear us. Another group of enemy popped out of the woods on the left of the Lieutenant and started setting up a machine gun.
The position that the enemy MG was being set up in was well-selected behind a small, low ridge that would protect it from small arms fire from where we were located on top of the hill. I turned to Al and said, "We've got to do something about that MG. Should I use a mortar?" He agreed and I quickly had one gunner set up his mortar on top of the hill next to us, sight directly at the enemy, guess at the range, and fire an HE round-–all of which took a little more than a minute. The shell landed within 20 yards of the gun. The enemy picked up the gun and ran back into the trees. They had not been able to fire a shot.
Then, without waiting for any further instructions, I had the gunner shift his aim to the enemy squad and poop out three rounds at them. As those shells landed near them, they, too, took off for their rear. In the meantime, we could see that our Lieutenant was thoroughly confused on what was happening and started heading back to us with his fire team. I had the gunner fire a few more rounds into the trees where the first group of enemy disappeared, with unknown results.
When the Lieutenant got back to us a few minutes later, puffing and panting from his climb up the hill, he came right to me and started giving me hell. He said he had the situation under control and was ready to do battle when my indiscriminate and uncalled for mortar fire scared all the enemy away. He finally calmed down when others explained to him about the MG which he had not seen and which could have done him dirt if our mortar man hadn't been as fast as he was in dropping a round on it.
One of the slightly more difficult days for us started on a nice summer morning. We were ordered forward in order--Fox, Easy and Dog--to take a large hill to our front. The hill had two ridges running westward from its top making a "V" shape. To get to the hill, we had to advance through a wide, open valley, following a hard, gravel road along its eastern edge. When we came to where the first ridge came down to the valley floor, Fox Company peeled off and started climbing the ridge. Easy continued forward, headed for the second ridge, which necessitated crossing a small, flat valley that separated the two ridges by about a quarter mile and consisted of a series of rice paddies and no other cover.
As we followed Easy, Dog was strung out along the road with my mortar section about in the middle of the company. I was leading the section with my second squad directly behind me and had just reached where the first ridge met the road and where it ended in a small embankment about shoulder high that the road cut off and bent around. As I started around that bend, I suddenly felt a terrific blast of air go by me, heard a loud "Whoomp", was showered with dirt and stones, and then heard a sharp "Crack". This happened again immediately with the same results, but by that time I was already in mid-air, diving toward a shallow ditch which bordered the left side of the road. Then there was a terrific bang and again a shower of dirt and rocks directly in back of me.
One or more Chinese recoilless 75mm guns had fired three rounds at us at point blank range from the second ridge. The first round had missed my head by inches, hit just over the edge of the embankment about five feet from my shoulder, and had not gone off! The second round hit about two feet further up and was also a dud. The third hit the road about 25 yards in back of me and detonated. Four of the men in the 2nd squad were wounded, one rather seriously, and the mortar tube one was carrying had been hit by shrapnel and badly damaged.
The recoilless did not fire again, but we then started to get small arms fire from the ridge. Easy kept advancing and finally started up the ridge as we hunkered down trying to use the edges of the rice paddies as cover. While we were waiting to move up, I saw Wimpee coming back toward us with his arm in a sling. He had been hit in the upper arm and was leading a number of walking wounded back to the Battalion aid station. A few minutes later, I saw Dog 2 start up the ridge with its platoon leader in front. He had a huge, white bandage over one ear, having had a rifle bullet go cleanly through the lobe of his ear. I remember thinking at the time how funny he looked and what a good target he made. A short time later, he, too, was being led back with a bullet wound in his shoulder. Easy finally began to make some progress up the ridge and we trailed along behind.
When all of us got onto the ridge, it was starting to get dark. Easy 6 called Al and told him they had secured the objective and Battalion 6 told us to dig in for the night. I picked out a beautiful small grassy hollow on the reverse slope of the ridge for my gun positions and started setting up my remaining two guns, but Al called me and said I should move up to the crest and use my section as riflemen. I gave him an argument, pointing out that he was not making proper use of his mortars. However, he insisted because the company was too strung out and he didn't have enough troops to cover his assigned section of the ridge.
With some grumbling, I moved my men to the top of the ridge and started putting them into position as best as I could because by then it was dark. When done, I picked a position for myself right on the crest near a big pine tree and started digging my hole. The ground was very hard and gravelly. To make matters worse, I got about six inches down and hit a huge root. No amount of chopping at it with the dull edge of my little shovel would get it out and I was too tired to continue, so I just threw my sleeping bag across it and tried to get comfortable in a very shallow foxhole draped across a tree root.
About 11 p.m. all hell broke loose. We started getting small arms fire from the top of the hill to our right where Easy was supposed to be. Worse yet, we started getting artillery fire on the ridge. For some reason, the artillery shells were just clearing the ridge and landing in back of us. I could hear them swishing through the leaves and pine boughs over our heads. I had opened my entrenching tool and was desperately trying to dig myself deeper into the hole while still lying in it. Not only was that impossible because of the position I was in, there was still that damn root I couldn't get past. Any second I expected one of two things to happen. Either the Chinese gunners were going to get the range and the shells would start hitting the top of the ridge we were on or one or more of the shells would hit the heavier branches or trunks of the trees I was under and go off right over me. I finally gave up trying to dig further and just tried to make myself as small as possible. The barrage was not followed up with an assault. It finally slowed and then stopped in an hour or so, but I'm sure nobody got any sleep. I know I didn't.
At sun-up we were ordered to pass through Easy and continue going up the ridge to take the top of the hill. Easy had reached a knob on the ridge the night before and, thinking they had reached the top, they stopped. But the top was still some two hundred yards further up the hill and that's where some of the enemy was still emplaced. We were pretty pissed that we now had to finish the job Easy was supposed to have done and there were some choice comments made as we passed through them, but their mistake was understandable with the way our maps were. What made us mad was that now it was up to us to finish the job. Why not them? Of course, they had suffered a few casualties, but so had we earlier in the day.
Just before we started our move up the ridge, I walked back to the beautiful little glade immediately to our rear where I had argued to emplace my guns. It was gone. In its place was a churned-up mess with shell crater on top of shell crater. That's where a lot of the artillery had landed during the night. I took Al back to show him and then thanked him for not listening to me the night before.
After a short and not very difficult firefight, Dog's lead platoon took the crest. Apparently the CCF took off after we came to the crest. When I got there, some of our riflemen were still shooting at some fleeing enemy. But there were no dead or wounded on the hill. There was some equipment left, including a strange-looking 20mm gun and its shells. It had a metal shoulder stock. One of our Sergeants, against the advice of his buddies, put the weapon to his shoulder while in the prone position and fired a round, He screamed in pain and we now had a Sergeant with a broken shoulder. We decided it was a type of anti-tank gun that was intended to be fired by resting the stock against a tree. The Sergeant had made the same mistake Marines had made during World War II when they first ran across the so-called "knee mortar" the Japanese were using. This small mortar, about 40mm I believe, had a curved base plate that looked like it could sit on a person's knee. When fired like that, it invariably broke the gunner's leg. It wasn't until Japanese documents were captured that it was realized the mortar was to be placed on a fallen tree trunk when fired.
Later that day we were ordered off the hill and into Regimental reserve. Our company had not suffered serious casualties--I think only about 10 or 15 wounded, with no one killed. I don't remember that Easy or Fox had very many either, but we were all bushed and the walk back through the valley was with blank stares and more shuffle than walk. Our new Battalion Commander was standing at a crossroad watching us as we shuffled past him. Next to him was our new Exec, Major Kurziel. I remember wondering what the new CO was crying about, because there were definitely tears running down his cheeks. He turned to say something to Kurziel and when he turned back I saw a look of disbelief pass over Kurziel's face. Apparently our Battalion CO had made some comment about how badly his poor boys had suffered. I found out later that he was one of those regular officers the Marine Corps had gotten into the habit of sending over for a few months at a time so they could get some "battle experience". He had never had a real field command before. Kurziel, on the other hand, had come up through the infantry ranks. The Battalion CO apparently thought "his battalion" had been badly mauled. To Kurziel and the rest of us, it was just another workday.
I had one other run-in with a Chinese 75mm recoilless rifle. My mortars were emplaced in a small valley, the opening of which was partially facing to our front, so we weren't all that well-protected. We had dug three gun pits for the mortars in the floor of the valley and our foxholes were dug in along both hillsides. My hole was about 100 feet up the hill and I had set my shelter half like a lean-to on the uphill side. I was lying in the hole reading a pocketbook and the gunner and assistant gunner of the middle gun were sitting together on the edge of the gun pit with their legs dangling in the pit.
Without warning, there was a loud explosion, immediately followed by the sharp crack that a recoilless rifle makes. I looked up at my shelter half and could see sunlight coming through a number of holes that had not been there a second ago. To be frank, it looked like a sieve. I waited for the next round, but when nothing happened in the next few minutes I crawled out of the hole and ran down to the gun pits.
There was a large crater immediately next to the middle pit across from where the two Marines were sitting. They were like statues, frozen in a state of paralyzed shock, but not a scratch on them. The blast of the shell had picked the two of them up, moved them to the other end of the pit, and set them down again. Although not a single piece of shrapnel had touched them, some had hit the mortar in the pit and completely wrecked it. Up until that moment, I hadn't believed in miracles.
Since their gun was wrecked anyway, I sent them back to the Battalion CP for the day and night on a made-up errand, part of which was to scrounge me up a new shelter half, so they could get over their shock. When they returned, they were back to normal and everybody complimented them on the effectiveness of their guardian angels.
At one time while in Regimental reserve, we were told that Syngman Rhee, the President of South Korea, was going to visit our Battalion and we were to give him a demonstration. Marines love to put on demonstrations and we went into it wholeheartedly. The Regimental CO suggested that we demonstrate a Marine rifle company assault on a fortified position. We first looked around the available terrain and found a nice small, loaf-shaped hill fronted by a large open area which had some rice paddies leading partly up the side of the hill. Our plan was to have two platoons set up a firebase along the edge of the rice paddies and the third one to assault the enemy’s flank. The first thing Al wanted us to do was to have Wimpee emplace his MGs at the edge of the first rice paddy so they could put fire all along the crest of the hill. Then he wanted me to set up my mortars about 300 yards in back of Wimpee and lay in some barrages across the top of the hill.
The idea was for two rifle platoons to move onto the paddies and begin taking the "enemy" position on top of the hill under fire, and then Wimpee would move his machine guns up and add to the holocaust. While this entire racket was going on, the other platoon would move into position on one flank. Just before their assault, I was to fire for effect on top of the hill with a combination of Willie Peter and HE. The enveloping platoon would move up their respective ridge under the cover of all this support and, when in proper position, we would lift our fires and they would make the final assault with much screaming and shooting, hopefully, not shooting at each other in the process.
The first dry run was with the troops only to see how it would work. It looked okay, so Al asked Wimpee and me to get our firing positions in place and sight in on our targets. What happened next can best be described by the following excerpt:
Exactly when the argument started is not known. However, the way it ended was witnessed by many. It must have begun sometime after Klein took over the 60s in the summer. Ever since Wimpee had taken over the machine guns, he had developed the same love for them that Klein had for the mortars. Wimpee was always touting the MG as the best weapon in the world, while Klein was saying the 60s were the Company Commander’s artillery and his most importing supporting arm. That, of course, was not to be tolerated by Wimpee--and so it started.
The debate continued without either side gaining, when Klein finally proposed a solution. “Wimpee,” he said in desperation, “Here’s what we’ll do. You pick the terrain--maybe a small valley--and we’ll start a thousand yards apart. You can have a light machine gun with two boxes of ammo and I’ll carry a 60mm mortar and a dozen rounds of ammo and we can maneuver as we please. I’ll betcha I get you before you get me.”
Nothing much happened after that until some rear echelon pogue at Division Headquarters came up with the cockamamie idea of having us put on a demonstration for Syngman Rhee. The 2nd Battalion was in reserve and we were chosen. Guess who Colonel Griffin picked. You got it--good old Dog. The place selected for the demo was an open area that had a little hill at one end suitable for serving as bleachers for the VIPs. A couple of hundred yard away, a larger one at the other end was to be the “objective”. Terraced upward from the base of the objective were a couple of rice paddies. We were to demonstrate a rifle company in the offense. The plan was for one platoon to assault the hill while the rest of the company supported them. Klein’s three mortars were to lay down a barrage across the crest of the hill just before the assault. Wimpee decided to place his machine gun squad along the base of the hill at the edge of some rice paddies.
It was a gray and overcast day when they started to set up. Klein had the three mortars zeroed in on their aiming sticks and then walked forward until he was about halfway to the objective. Wimpee was at the edge of the first rice paddy, hunkered down with one of the machine gunners below the edge of the paddy sighting in the gun, the barrel of which just barely cleared the lip of the slightly elevated paddy. It had rained that morning and the paddy was covered with a thin sheet of water.
Now, for those readers who haven’t been there, it is necessary to describe one facet of Korean agriculture in more detail. Lacking the access to chemical fertilizers that our farmers have, the Korean villager fertilized his rice fields using products of nature. Furthermore, not having the animal resources we have, the only remaining source available to him was human. The resultant product was, for some unknown reason, labeled “night soil”, an odiferous muck that could be smelled a mile away.
So the stage was set. Klein called his mortar section, gave them the distance to the objective on his walkie-talkie, and asked for only gun one to fire one round of HE at the crest of the hill. All three mortars adjusted their elevation which, due to the short range they had to deal with, put them in an almost vertical position. When gun one said, “Ready”, Klein ordered “Fire” and the distinctive “poop” of the mortar signaled that the round was wobbling its way skyward. It was a well-kept secret among mortar men that they rarely knew where the first round was going. Once it arrived at its destination, then the next rounds could be properly adjusted to bring them on the target. But that first one? Even an expert mortar man usually held his breath hoping for the best.
There stood Klein, his binoculars trained on the hill, holding his breath, when he heard a low, whistling noise--a noise one shouldn’t hear unless they are the target. Screaming, “Short round, short round, hit the deck”, Klein dove into the wet and muddy grass in front of him. Then he heard a loud FLUMP as the 60mm shell landed somewhere between him and the hill. Klein stood up and looked at the edge of the rice paddy where a cloud of smoke was dissipating. “Oh, my God” he said. That was the spot occupied by Wimpee and the machine gunner. All was silent as everyone who observed this waited for the smoke to clear. Then two figures could be seen rising from where they had ducked behind the rice paddy ledge. That shell had hit just a few feet in front of the gun’s muzzle, throwing up a fountain of--you got it--night soil. One of the figures started walking toward Klein who, by then, had been running forward. As they came close together, the approaching apparition was seen to be covered with muck. They both stopped and looked at each other. Then one was heard to say in a voice that probably carried to Pusan, “KLEIN, YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH. YOU TRIED TO KILL ME!”
As the fickle finger of fate would have it, later that summer Wimpee got his next assignment--the Battalion’s 81mm mortar platoon. Ha! At one of our recent reunions, I asked Wimpee if he remembered that incident and he said he sure did. I had to apologize for the 500th time.
Right after that event Al called us back to the CP to announce that our demonstration had been changed. Someone had decided another company should put on the "attack" demo while our company should demonstrate how we operate in the defense. Well, that was a new one for us. We had never had to demonstrate the defensive, always the offensive, but Marine ingenuity came into play and we entered into the work with as much enthusiasm as we had originally.
We decided to stay at the same location, just reverse our positions. The hill would make a good location to view the company's defensive area--like natural bleachers. We would dig in the company at the base of the hill where there was no rice paddy and lay our defensive fires over the field in front out to where the brush and trees started.
To get the best effect we set the starting time for the demonstration as just after dusk. Additionally, we loaded all our MG ammo belts with nothing but tracers. That was quite a job because the belt, as received, had only every fifth round as a tracer. This allowed the gunner to see where his fire was going. We had to remove all the regular rounds and replace them with tracers and do this all by hand after first getting around the problem of getting that many extra tracers. Then we loaded all the riflemen's and BAR men's clips with tracers also. In effect, we had the entire company prepared to fire almost nothing but tracers.
We wanted to make it look as realistic as possible, so we put various booby traps out in front of the company--grenades, both HE and WP, bouncing Bettys and whatever else we could scrounge up. Empty tin cans were put on lines between the trees and bushes. All these warning devices had lines running back from them to our lines. We had noticed that when tanks went by on a dirt road toward our side, they sounded like they were in front of us. So we arranged for a tank to be positioned there. I suggested filling some drums with gasoline and placing them out in the field with a grenade attached to each and lines running back to us.
I laid the mortars in on various targets to our front and had a goodly supply of HE and WP ammo ready for each gun. We also wrote a short script so everyone in the company would know the sequence of events that were to take place and their role. We did not have time for a rehearsal, but were so sure of how the demonstration would work that we weren't in the least worried. At least I wasn't. I'm sure Al must have had some concerns.
When a Marine rifle company comes under a major attack, the action usually builds up as the attacking force first probes for weak spots, forms for the assault, and then conducts the assault. The men in the company return the enemy's fire as necessary, while at the same time trying not to give away their positions. The mortars come into play early in order to break up the enemy's assembly areas while the MGs hold off until the enemy starts its assault. Each MG has a zone of fire and each rifleman and BAR man also has one, but the latter only fires at targets of opportunity until the assault starts. When the assault starts, the company commander calls for "Final Protective Fire" and everybody fires their zones until ordered to stop.
The Syngman Rhee entourage arrived shortly before dusk. We later heard that he could not make it, but there was a bunch of high mucky-mucks from the Korean government and, of course, all kinds of brass. I was surprised to see that the government's official vehicles were elderly, olive-drab painted Chevys. The brass included members of the 1st Division, the 7th Regiment, 10th Army and other U.N. military staffs--and the press. We had someone from the Battalion brief them on what was going to happen and give a running commentary.
As it started to get dark, they could hear the first activity to our front. Enemy troops were running into our noise makers, then a booby trap would go off, then another. Slowly we let the activity build up. Some of our troops began firing at targets they could see or imagine. The first responses were with regular ammunition, not tracers.
Loudspeakers had been set up so the audience could hear an introduction and ongoing commentary and also our radio chatter. They heard the skipper call me to start firing some interdictory mortar fire on selected target areas. As the tension built, the tempo of our fire increased. Platoon leaders were calling in the activities they were observing. Orders were being shouted fast and furious until the whole front seemed to be engaged in individual firefights. We heard the enemy buglers announcing the assault. Just about then we could hear the noise of tanks coming toward us--and then the Captain called for the final protective fire.
Six machine guns opened up firing fans of tracers. Every man in the company was firing his assigned zone and in-between clip changes was throwing HE and WP grenades. The mortars were firing as fast as they could drop the shells down the tubes. A couple of men armed with rocket launchers were firing while we, simultaneously, pulled the pins on the grenades attached to the gasoline drums to simulate their hitting enemy tanks. Not even we who had set it up expected the result we got. The only word to describe it was "awesome". For a few minutes the noise was unbelievable and the night was lit up like day. The front of our company was a solid sheet of glaring tracer fire interspersed with small and large explosions.
Al's order of "Cease Fire" was followed by a slow trailing off of firing until there was a complete silence that lasted for a minute or two because the audience was literally speechless, and then the applause started. I later heard other officers say they had never before seen such an effective demonstration. It awed us too because we had never really appreciated the tremendous firepower a Marine rifle company has. I can't believe that a single enemy could have reached our lines alive. The only disquieting thought was that they do--and, with the shoe on the other foot, that's what we have to attack through to get at them.
When in reserve the mortars do like everyone else--clean, repair, and practice, practice, practice. When possible we used live ammo, but often we couldn't and there was nothing more boring than gun drill and dry firing of mortars. At one such reserve position I managed to scrounge a large pad of paper from the Battalion S3 and set it up on a makeshift easel in front of the guns. I drew a picture of some typical terrain on the large pad and then had each of the mortar men take turns acting as forward observers and adjust the fire of the guns as I drew in where the shells were hitting. They quickly developed it into a game and our practice sessions became more tolerable while their efficiency improved markedly. I've always wondered why the Marine Corps didn't expand that training method. It was noticed by some of the Battalion staff and I believe helped get me "promoted" later on.
There are a number of other recollections I have of this time period which I'll tell about again in bits and pieces.
** Al had all the company officers join him one sunny morning while we were in back of the line to reconnoiter a hill which we were to occupy later that day. As we were walking along the ridge, three small deer suddenly bounded out of the trees and ran away from us. Caught by surprise, we managed to unlimber our various weapons and started blasting away. But the deer bounded on with nary a scratch. We decided that we would not mention this occurrence to anyone else. Al was disgusted--seven highly trained, combat-wise Marine officers and they couldn't hit a deer in the ass.
** Many of us had grown moustaches and someone got the idea to make a picture of those that were so adorned. I didn't have one at the time, but did grow one later. The picture was sent to Max Factor in Hollywood labeled as, "The Handlebar Crew from Hagaru". The firm sent us a large package containing every conceivable kind of moustache wax and other things designed for the care and maintenance of moustaches.
** When in reserve we occasionally got a supply of beer. I don't remember what a can cost, but we had to pay for the beer. What I could never understand was that the cases were marked as "donated” by whichever brand it was. On questioning this, we were told that our cost was to pay for the transportation. We couldn't believe that, knowing the shipping facilities that were available for everything else, and so decided that someone was ripping us off. Not very good for morale.
We never, ever had access to a slop chute (bar), as apparently was the case in Vietnam. We also never saw a sign of the Red Cross or the many things they supposedly provided the troops with. Some of our men who had occasion to go back as far as Pusan or other rear areas mentioned that they had found Red Cross facilities which sold coffee and doughnuts to them. This just reinforced what I had found was the case in World War II. You won't find many service men that have much good to say of the Red Cross, and I've never donated to them since.
** I was standing on top of a hill watching the 1st and 2nd Platoons assaulting the hill in front. Captain Al and Lieutenant Chaffee were standing in the open in front of me and I could see them talking. Some mortar fire was hitting us, but not very close. Suddenly Chaffee looked down and pointed at his stomach. He had just been hit by a piece of shrapnel. It was only a small piece, but still it sent him back to the Battalion aid station in some agony.
** One of our newer rifle platoon leaders had a terrible thing happen. I think his name might have been Ellsworth and he was from Pennsylvania. His lead squad was pinned down and their point man was killed. He and the Platoon Sergeant moved forward to where they could see the dead Marine, but the fire was so intense they couldn't reach him. They waited as long as they could, but the Lieutenant finally had to give the order to withdraw. When they came back through our lines, he was sobbing. Marines try never to leave their dead but sometimes it can't be helped. But under no conditions do they leave wounded behind. One of his men had made the statement that he had seen the Marine move before they pulled back. I had no doubt that the Lieutenant would be haunted by that for the rest of his life.
** Earlier, this same Lieutenant got into a little gambling situation with our company first sergeant. The Lieutenant had not had much experience playing cards and was introduced to and became enthralled with the game of poker. As he won a little, he became overly confident. One day he and the 1st Sergeant were at the CP and the Sergeant showed him how he could bet on cutting the cards. They started with a quarter and the Lieutenant began to lose on every cut. Getting mad, he started doubling his bets and still kept losing until the amount got to $256. At the next cut he had lost $512 and he looked as white as a ghost. The Sergeant calmly asked him if he wanted to cut again. After a minute he said, "Yes" and cut a winning card. As soon as he had left I asked the Sergeant if he would have held the Lieutenant to his bet. He admitted that he wouldn't have. He only wanted to give him a good scare and get him to stop gambling. It must have worked because I never saw him gamble again.
** One night we were in position on the flank of the Dutch Brigade. We were always very careful not to show lights at night so the enemy couldn't make out our positions. To our horror, we saw the Dutch troops build big campfires that cheerily burnt most of the night all along their lines on the ridge. In the morning we asked them if they were nuts, only to be told, "How are you going to fight the enemy if they can't find you?"
** A very successful operation we were part of was called "Operation Mousetrap". Its purpose was explained to us in a briefing that the Skipper, Al Mackin, would give us before any such planned move by our company. 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 KMC 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), find weak spots in it, and 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 bulldozer 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.
** There were always some Marines around who would cut our hair for 50 cents and thereby augment their meager pay. They didn't have to be expert barbers because all we ever wanted was very short crew cuts. Nobody wanted to be bothered with longer hair. In fact, some of the Marines shaved their heads. But in one reserve position we had a Korean civilian join our Battalion and he cut our hair for 25 cents a crack.
He was a shriveled up old man who told me that he had once been the head barber at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Actually, he was quite good, and did one thing I have never seen before or since. After finishing he would massage the scalp by rapidly drumming the knuckles of both hands across it for a few minutes. He said this increased the scalp's blood circulation and prevented baldness. I wouldn't know about that, but I was surprised to see on first going to my barber, Eddy, in Wausau, Wisconsin that he always massaged my scalp with a vibrator attached to each hand. He is the only barber I've ever known to do that.
** One hill we were on had some old Chinese bunkers on the forward slope and during a rainy afternoon I crawled into one with a newly-acquired pocketbook and settled myself for a couple of hours of peace and quiet. To get into the bunker, I had to crawl on my hands and knees down a few steps cut into the dirt. After a while I looked up from the book and saw a huge, ugly bug sitting on the bottom step. It was somewhat fan-shaped, that is taller than wide, and about the size of my two thumbs held together.
Now I absolutely hate bugs--not to the point of paranoia, but I do my best to avoid them. What bothered me most was that I hadn't seen the bug arrive, so I didn't know if it moved slow or fast, crawled, hopped or flew. There was no way I could get past it and I was afraid to move and thereby startle it into some action. So there the two of us sat for the longest time looking at each other. Then I saw a huge centipede coming from somewhere in back of me and heading for the steps. When the two came face to face, they engaged in a battle royal and rolled down the step to the floor of the bunker. I quickly scooted past them and crawled out of there in a big hurry with a sigh of relief. It had been one of my worst moments of sheer terror in Korea.
** One day we discovered that two sailors had joined the company. They had jumped ship in Pusan and worked their way up to the front, getting help from Marines all along the way. They didn't think sitting on a ship in Pusan harbor was the way to fight the war and wanted to see some action. By the time they got to us, they were pretty well outfitted with dungarees, gear and weapons. Al didn't realize they were in one of the platoons until they had already been there a few days. This gave him a dilemma. We could use every warm body and they had performed well, but we could also get in trouble for harboring runaways. He decided to play ignorant, which was actually quite safe to do because we never held musters and there was really no way for us to know that we had more people than we were supposed to have.
They were with us about two weeks and then someone in Battalion Headquarters heard about them and Al was told to send them back--which he did, although they pleaded to stay. A couple of weeks after that, two Navy officers showed up. One was the defense counsel for the two sailors who were in the process of being court-martialed and the other the legal officer assigned to prosecute them.. The two officers stayed with us for a couple of days while we were on the line, interviewing the men the sailors had worked with. When they saw how we lived and what we had to go through every day, they said the sailors deserved medals, not a court-martial. We later heard that they had received very light punishment and were considered heroes on their ship, but the Navy had to punish them because otherwise half the fleet would jump ship and go looking for a fight and souvenirs.
** Another time a Marine captain showed up at the company CP and wanted to talk to all the officers that had known a Lieutenant whose name I believe might have been King and who had left Dog just before I joined them. This Lieutenant had written a personal letter to a friend who was the publisher of a paper in a mid-western city. The letter was very critical of Truman and the conduct of the war. The friend had foolishly published it in his paper and it had been picked up by the wire services and reprinted in major papers across the country. The Lieutenant was immediately transferred back to Japan. The captain identified himself as an FBI agent and his questions were obviously aimed at trying to establish if King had been a communist. Everyone who had known King assured him that he was a good, loyal Marine officer who had simply put in writing to a friend what many of us felt. The captain left us apparently satisfied. Interestingly, I met up with the same captain and King under peculiar circumstances at a later date.
** One morning we heard of a terrible tragedy in Fox Company. The night before, one of their brand new replacement second lieutenants had placed a BAR man and a rifleman in a listening post in front of the lines. They were supposed to spend the night there and report any suspicious activity to the Lieutenant over a voice-powered telephone. After placing them in position, he ordered them to shoot at anything that approached them from their front, regardless of what they heard, and then returned to his platoon.
When he got back to the line, the Lieutenant realized that he had forgotten to leave the telephone at the listening post. By this time it had gotten dark. He took the men's squad leader and a telephone and headed back out. They lost their way and found themselves in front of the listening post. The Lieutenant told the Sergeant to stay where he was and he worked his way up toward the post. When the BAR man heard him he fired and stitched three rounds across the Lieutenant's forehead. The Sergeant yelled and convinced the posted men of his identity and the three of them carried the dead Lieutenant back. The next day the BAR man put his BAR in his mouth and pulled the trigger. We felt most sorry for him because it had not been his mistake, but that of a young, green officer.
** It was a bright, sunny, summer day that found the company first sergeant and I walking back to the Battalion Headquarters for some forgotten reason. As we started to get in among the tents that made up the Battalion forward CP, we noticed a small jeep trailer sitting next to one of the tents. The trailer was loaded with all kinds of grenades and other explosive devices that had apparently been removed from some forward position and dumped haphazardly into it. As we got abreast of the trailer, we heard a "pop" followed by a "sizzle". One of the things in the trailer just had its fuse lit and was about to go off.
Without a second's thought, we both dove off the road to our left. I remember noticing with curiosity as I was flying through the air that I appeared to be headed for a bunch of eggshells and orange peels. We had managed to dive head first into the garbage pit for the battalion's mess. After landing in the glop we lay still for a moment, expecting the whole trailer to go up in one glorious bang. But nothing more happened. When it looked like that was the end of our adventure, we crawled out of the pit, cleaned ourselves off, and went on our way, promising each other to never tell anyone.
** Shortly before I left Dog, Al was transferred to be skipper of the Regiment's 4.2 Mortar Company. Tom Burke replaced him. Tom was a good officer and we liked him, but he was never able to replace "the Skipper" and we all missed Al. Tom could do some strange things, however. After I had also left Dog a few weeks later, I heard that he got his officers together for a pep talk just before Dog was to move up again. During the talk he suddenly pulled out his .45 and, waving it around recklessly, he exhorted his officers to follow him whenever he was about to charge the enemy. Strange behavior for a company commander! Either that or he, too, had received a package of pre-mixed martinis.
* One day, while I was still with Dog, we were asked to do a job that scared the daylights out of me. We were issued a bunch of axes and saws and were told to cut down a whole flock of trees on a hillside for use in building bunkers. Tom turned the company loose with no instruction or warnings and trees started falling every which way. Having learned how dangerous logging is while an underwriter for Employers Insurance, I was aghast at seeing a couple of hundred Marines, untrained in logging, merrily denuding a hillside with cries of "Timber" on all sides. To make matters worse, it rained all day and the hill was muddy and slippery. But we somehow got through the day with no serious injuries.
** While in Battalion reserve I had an opportunity to conduct a training session with the 60s using live ammo. We went a mile or so away into a small valley and set up our guns. I especially wanted my squad leaders to get more experience in calling for and adjusting fire, so I had them go to the top of a small hill in front of us and act as forward observers while I stayed with the guns and passed their orders on. We had just gotten started when our Battalion CO. together with Major Kurdziel and some other Battalion staff officers, showed up and stood off to the side watching us. Using his radio, one of the FO's called me to make an adjustment following the first round we had fired. I passed this on to the gunner of the squad that was going to register the fire. They dropped in a shell and, as it left the tube, I knew there was something wrong. I yelled, "Short round. Hit the deck"--at the same time keeping my thumb on the radio button so my FOs could hear it too. Everybody hit the deck and the shell landed very short, between us and the FOs.
After we got calmed down, the Battalion CO asked me how I had known it was a short round. It had sounded no different than the previous one. I told him that I could see that the increments between the fins were just sputtering as the round left the tube--which was very unusual. Although I wasn't sure it would be short, I knew that there was something drastically wrong with the shell. He and Kurziel both seemed impressed.
A few days later I was ordered to report to Battalion Headquarters and pick up some replacements. When I got there, I found that one of them, 1st Lieutenant Cook, was to be my replacement and that I was to take over as platoon commander of the Battalion's 81mm mortar platoon. My last official act for Dog was to bring Lieutenant Cook and half a dozen enlisted replacements back to the company--another case where I bounced up the hill while they laboriously puffed after me with many rest stops. I did have a little time to break in Cook, who turned out to be a very nice person and a fine mortar man. I remember him especially because he had a finger missing. He had lost it in an accident while a child.
When I finally was able to get back to the Battalion, I had another pleasant surprise. Sometime earlier I had been notified by Headquarters Marine Corps of my promotion to 1st Lieutenant. The 81mm Mortar Platoon was required to have two officers, a 1st Lieutenant platoon commander and a 2nd Lieutenant assistant platoon commander. My assistant was to be Wimpee! Although I was very happy to hear this news because I knew he was one of the greatest officers I had ever worked with, I didn’t know how he was going to take that assignment. As it turned out, he was just fine with it and even got to like the mortars.
The 81s - Fall and Winter
It was kind of nice that my two favorite people from Dog were now also involved with mortars--Al Mackin with the Four Deuces (4.2 inch Mortars) and Wimpee with me on the 81s.
Al's 4.2's were the largest mortars used by the US military. They were the regimental commander’s weapon of opportunity, likened to the 60s for the company commander and the 81s for the battalion commander. The 4.2's were really an artillery weapon and, in fact, replaced the old 75mm howitzer that used to be a favorite of the Corps. Their very large shells were loaded like an artillery shell, fired with a lanyard and trigger, and the guns had to be moved with vehicles.
The 81s, on the other hand, although considerably larger and heavier than the 60s, could still be carried by troops. They resembled the 60s except for size. The platoon was the largest in the battalion and consisted of, strangely enough, 81 men. It was organized into three sections with two squads in each section. Each squad had a gun, so there were six guns in total. Because of its size, the platoon required two officers in addition to the usual accompaniment of NCOs. The modus operandi was for the platoon leader to mostly travel with the battalion commander, act as his advisor for mortar support, select their emplacements, recommend and select targets, and act as forward observer as necessary. The assistant platoon commander watched over the guns, moved the platoon as necessary, controlled the laying in and firing at the gun sites, and saw to it that we had a continuous supply of ammo.
The only reason I ended up as the platoon commander and Wimpee as my assistant was because of my lower serial number and the fact that I had been made a 1st Lieutenant. I would have been just as happy to have the reverse happen because I appreciated his longer combat experience, but Corps bureaucracy as usual prevented an efficient result.
For the first time we had our own transportation. We had a jeep and a 6X6 truck, better known as a "Six By". The jeep was to allow Wimpee and me to get around faster and the truck was used primarily to carry ammo because the 81s were a voracious user of ammunition. When possible, we also threw the gun tubes, base plates and bipods into the back of the truck, but often the guns had to be emplaced in difficult terrain and carried in by the squads. They were quite heavy. If I remember correctly, the base plate weighed about 75 pounds compared to the 60s 40 pounds.
When moving the troops, Wimpy and I made it a practice of walking with them and allowing the guns to be carried in the jeep, leaving more space in the truck for ammunition. We only used the jeep to move ahead hurriedly or for various errands.
Like the 60s, I thoroughly enjoyed the 81s, probably more so because we were now even a little further back from the front line. Because of its much longer range, we might be as far as a quarter mile from the front line troops and often were located near or in the battalion forward CP where we could appreciate a few of the amenities that might be available at such a location. That doesn't mean we were completely out of the line of fire. There were many times we were subject to artillery, mortar and even small arms fire, and on at least one occasion, found ourselves in front of the lines.
Our call letters had now been changed to "King" and I was King 1, while Wimpee was King 2. Shortly after I took over the platoon, the battalion got a new S3 (Operations officer). He was a regular and it soon became evident he was going to be a real s.o.b. He was so aggressive that he quickly took over running the whole battalion while the Battalion CO sort of faded into the background. We could see Major Kurziel did not like that at all, but apparently there was little he could do about it.
One morning we were ordered to move the battalion to a new objective and the S3 had the whole battalion move along the ridges. I asked permission to let the 81s move along a parallel road, but was turned down. We had to carry the guns along while climbing the hills. When we got to our jumping off site, the assaulting rifle companies moved forward across a small valley and on to a ridge and hill complex a short distance in front of us. On my own initiative, I had the guns placed in the valley where they were well in range of anything the battalion might want to fire on. We never received any fire orders, even though I notified the Battalion Commander of our preparedness. We were a little exposed, but we had the platoon dig good gun pits and the little enemy artillery we were receiving posed no significant danger.
The lead company finally reached their objective--the peak of a high hill about a mile in front of us. The S3 had an order passed on to me stating, “He wants the 81s on top of the hill." Since he hadn't wanted me to be with him earlier, I assumed that he had changed his mind and now wanted my learned advice. I told Wimpee to stand fast and be prepared to go into action and then went forward as fast as I could. The hill the S3 was on top of was a very high one. It was actually a mountain, and completely bare on the crest. When I got to the top, even I was puffing hard. I finally found the S3 and reported to him. His first question was, "Where are your guns?' I told him back in the valley where they were supposed to be, but ready to fire in an instant. He got furious. "I said I wanted the 81s on this hill," he raved.
I told him that I had understood he wanted the platoon leader of the 81s on the hill, but certainly not the entire platoon. Then I tried to tactfully remind him that the guns could effectively support the battalion from their present position, that they were very heavy, that their re-supply would be difficult if not impossible and that, in any event, placing mortars on top of a mountain was not an approved tactic. That tore it. He told me in no uncertain terms that he was running the battalion--not me. He said that he didn't give damn about any difficulties I might have in getting the guns to the top or re-supplying them. That was my problem, not his, and that I had better get the guns up there--NOW!
When I called Wimpee and gave him the word, he couldn't believe it. I moved back down the hill to help move the platoon up and met them on the way. Needless to say, the men were grumbling, but realized it wasn't our doing. With much effort we got the guns moved up with a modicum of ammo. Now, where to put them? This was a practically bare hill top and there wasn't a lot of room with the S3 having decided to put his forward CP up there too. We hadn't seen hide nor hair of the Battalion commander, but the 3 had a number of the other staff officers on top. Being "rear echelon" pogues, they were not only uncomfortable with their exposed position, but also demanded a lot of room.
To make matters worse, the ground was hard and gravelly and we couldn't get any decent holes dug. There was also a storm coming in while it was rapidly getting dark. We finally got half the guns set up in a few shallow, scratched-out gun pits off to one side and then Wimpee and I dug a shallow two-man foxhole on the crest next to the guns. Over this we set up our two shelter halves as a pup tent and we plotted a few targets in front of the hill in case we were asked to shoot at something after dark.
Then Wimpee and I retired to our snug little abode and tried to do some reading with the help of the light from a candle stub. By this time the storm was really on top of us and the wind started to howl with rain coming in sheets. It soon appeared that our pup tent was going to do its best to fly away and we desperately held on to the flaps. The candle blew out, the tent was getting harder to hold, and the rain was blowing in. Wimpee made some snide comment on the beauties of life in the field and we both started to laugh. Then we couldn't stop laughing and I was laughing so hard my chest began to hurt. Finally we both said, "What the H--l" and let go of the tent, which promptly blew apart. Then we pulled our heads into our sleeping bags, zipped them as tight as we could, and fell asleep. We were exhausted. The storm didn't last long and things finally quieted down.
In the morning the troops nearby wanted to know what in blazes we had found so funny. We never did fire the guns and when the 3 came by and saw our makeshift set-up he didn't say anything. I think he finally realized he had given us a stupid order. Kurziel came by once too and only shook his head in disbelief.
The Fight for Hill 749
This action, which started on September 12th, was typical of those our battalion was repeatedly involved in during the summer and fall of '51. For some reason or other it remains in my memory with great clarity. It may be that, although similar to many situations we faced prior to that date, it was the first major battle I was involved in where I could see it in its entirety. Before then, as a rifle platoon leader, I only saw that little bit of territory directly in front of us that I was to be responsible for. But now, as part of the battalion staff, I could observe all the battalion in operation--all three rifle companies and the weapons company, and units from other organizations. I could also overhear all of the radio chatter.
While helping to compose the "History" page of our Dog Association website, I was able to obtain some of our battalion's unit diaries for this time period and these helped greatly with clarifying what happened and the timing details of the events.
Hill 749 (its number determined by its height in meters) was about ten miles north of the 38th Parallel in central Korea and had been designated as division objective Baker. Dominating a valley complex directly to the north of our regiment that we would have to cross, it was the highest point in the regiment's zone. Because of this it had to be controlled. When we finally got close enough to see it well, its top appeared to be an almost barren heap of dirt and granite with some scrub brush and a few stunted pines and denuded of almost all other vegetation. Part way down the three ridges leading to the top, the cover was mostly scrub pine. It was obvious that it probably had been fought over at least once, if not more times before. The crest was at the western end of a ridge that ran southeastward to another hill, Hill 673. Intelligence reported that one reinforced NKPA battalion, well dug in with bunkers and trenches with considerable mortar and artillery support, occupied the 673/749 complex. A patrol in the area the previous day had come under sporadic small arms and automatic weapons fire and intermittent 82mm mortar fire from the enemy positions.
During the night of September 11th, the 2nd Battalion had moved into defensive positions on and to the rear of Hill 602. While moving into their positions, Fox Company had received eight rounds of 76mm recoilless rifle fire and Easy Company 75 rounds also from 76mm weapons. See Hill 749 Map below.
At a briefing for the Company Commanders, our S3 informed them that the battalion would attack Hill 749 with Easy and Dog Companies in the lead and Fox Company in reserve. The attack was to commence at 0500. The 81mm platoon was to follow Dog Company while Fox was to remain on Hill 602 with the battalion command group. I had already decided on a position for our mortars that was in front of a small hill, Hill 250, which lay between 749 and us. See (A) on map below. The position was in defilade just to the rear of a small ridge that bordered a stream and well within range of the summit of 749 and its rearward slopes. When I recommended that to the S3, he did not agree and said that the mortars were to be placed to a position he pointed to on his map. I was shocked when I saw this because his map showed the mortars at the foot of the northernmost ridge that ran down to a small valley lying between 749 and Hill 650 to its west. See (B) on map. Having been vilified by the Major on a previous occasion, I was reluctant to say anything, but considered it important enough to at least note that his mortars appeared to be somewhat exposed to the front and to the left flank. He assured me that Easy would be on the ridge to our right front and, as for the left flank, he had been told that elements of the British brigade would be occupying Hill 650. “Yeah, right!” I thought to myself.
At 0500, Easy and Dog moved out in the attack in accord with a regimental frag order. The 81mm mortar platoon followed them, while Fox Company remained on Hill 602 with the battalion command group. I went with Easy Company because I wanted to get a look at the position we were supposed to occupy while Wimpee got the platoon ready to follow Dog. Every few yards there was a piece of cardboard or paper on the trail that the Marines were careful not to step on. I asked one why and he told me that these were locations of foot mines that had been marked by the point troops. The foot mine was a vicious little homemade device that consisted of a small wooden box in which was an explosive charge and a pressure-type detonator. The box was buried shallowly in the ground and covered with a little dirt or grass. When stepped on, the resultant blast was enough to seriously injure a man’s foot or leg.
A little further on, the trail made a bend to the right as it started going up the ridge. At that position there was a Marine standing and pointing to a cigarette pack lying on the ground as each man went by. I told him to go ahead and catch up with his unit and I would take over the job of warning the men as they made the bend in the trail. I did this for ten or fifteen minutes when a Marine came from in back of me and asked a question. I turned to answer and, when done, turned back just in time to see a Marine’s foot descend on the cigarette pack a couple of feet in front of me. I froze in shock and so did he as he realized where his foot was but by then he had his whole weight on it. Nothing happened! After he raised his foot, I reached down, picked up the pack, and scraped the dirt away under it. There was nothing there. Someone had just dropped an empty pack.
I radioed Wimpee and he told me they were in back of Dog, but things had slowed up as Dog was having trouble advancing up the ridge. I told him I would meet him down the ridge from position (2) and, on arriving there, saw one of my former Dog troopers, a Corporal, sitting on the ground with his back against a tree and a pool of blood around him. A corpsman had his bag open and was getting bandages and morphine ready. I asked the Corporal what had happened and he told me he had wanted to take a break and sat down on a foot mine. I heard later he survived, but can’t imagine what kind of injuries he must have had. Shortly after this I met Wimpee and we moved forward with the 81s to find the spot marked on the map at the base of the ridge Easy was on that the S3 said we should emplace the mortars.
I had left Easy and met Wimpee at the bottom of the ridge and the two of us moved the guns into position at (B). Wimpee shook his head, but we began digging in the guns and, in view of our wide-open front, had part of the platoon dig foxholes on the valley floor a short distance in front of the gun positions. I told Wimpee, “You know, if you consider that the enemy is always north of us, we are presently leading the attack. Whoever heard of the 81s being in front of the rifle platoons?” Many years later, one of my daughters who was three years old at the time would have described our situation as, "This is fridiculous.” Had we been in the position I recommended, we could have been firing a good hour and a half earlier. We are very much aware that our gun positions were extremely exposed with no protection from the front and possibly our left flank.
Wimpee and I, around 10:30, decide to check in with the British Brigade supposedly on the ridge to Hill 650 west of us. We sent an ad hoc fire team to reconnoiter the ridge and they returned with the report that they went to the crest of 650 and partially down its southern flank and never saw anyone. Great! We definitely exposed the left flank also. We sent the fire team back up and asked them to dig in at a point part way up the ridge and warn us of any activity.
During the rest of the day all three companies continued their slow advance under heavy fire. At 1740 Easy reached position (7), Dog had made it to (8) while Fox was still at (6). We tried to help as called upon, and at 1750 our 81s neutralized an enemy 76mm recoilless rifle that was spotted on 749. As it started to get dark, the rifle companies stopped their advance and began digging in. Dog and Easy were tied in, but there was a gap between Dog and Fox. At 1800 Fox was counterattacked and requested Dog to assist them by fire, which they did, and helped them beat off the enemy troops. Finally their flanks were tied in. Dog was asked to continue assisting Fox by fire.
At 2330 we received a peculiar radio call from an Easy Company platoon leader. He was whispering and we had a hard time hearing him. Finally we understood that he was on the western flank of their ridge near position (4) and he could hear voices and movement in the valley to his west. As he described it, there was no doubt that enemy troops were moving down the valley directly toward us and were within a few hundred yards. I told him we would fire a rectangular pattern to his left and asked him to adjust for us. We fired a couple of rounds that he assured us were hitting just to his left and slightly in front of him. We then fired for effect, walking the fire back toward us in a large rectangle at minimum range. The gun tubes were pointing practically straight up. When the explosions ceased, we could hear screams in front of us, including what sounded like screaming women. This was upsetting, but not unexpected, because the North Koreans used women as cargo carriers and also had many camp followers. The Easy platoon leader told us we had been right on target and he could hear what was left of the enemy rapidly retreating.
During the night, all units received sporadic s/a, a/w, mortar and artillery fire. Fox was counter attacked six times.
At this point, I overheard a radio exchange that chilled the blood. I heard the Dog Company commander call the Fox Company commander to discuss where they might tie in their flanks. The end of their radio conversation went something like this, “Fox Six where exactly are you now?” “Dog Six, if you can see that little knob with the pile of rocks north of 702, I’m just behind it”. A few minutes later, “Fox Six this is Dog Six, yeah, I think I can see it, you’re quite a ways from us.” This was answered by a quavering voice, “Dog this is Fox. We are under heavy mortar fire--the Six has been hit.” The Fox Company commander had failed to realize that the enemy had radios, too. He should never have described his position in that manner. He should have used the prescribed codes.
The 81’s remained in position to give assistance to the 2/1 as necessary, but were also ordered to the rear that night. While it was still light, Wimpee and I had gone forward of our positions to look at the damage we had done to the valley the night before. There was no sign of the enemy, but the valley was well chewed up; covered with craters from one side to the other. We estimated some of our shells had come within 75 to 100 yards of the Easy platoon.
This action emphasizes the difficulty we had dealing with the Korean terrain and was exacerbated by an ill-conceived plan of our Battalion S3. The attempted complicated maneuver of all three companies under very adverse conditions--three separate, narrow approaches over difficult terrain--led to disordered communications, all further made difficult by the attempts to relieve the battalion while its companies were in direct engagement with the enemy. All companies had heavy casualties, both KIA and WIA, with Fox bearing the brunt. One company commander and three platoon leaders were wounded, one twice.
Below is a picture of Hill 749 after its capture and our moving on to the next objective.
Early in the fall we were given a new mortar. The Marine Corps had been testing this new model in the States and now wanted to see how it would perform under combat conditions. Our platoon was picked as the unit to perform the test and we got one gun for that purpose.
The entire gun was much lighter with many of the parts, including the base plate, made out of aluminum. The gun tube was still steel but the walls had numerous rings cut out around the outside to make it lighter. Also, instead of a bi-pod, it had a single support that had a small bi-pod at its base to give better support. The "uni-pod" was built to incorporate a hydraulic piston that was to take up the shock of the gun firing and keep it unmoved so it would be more accurate. The old gun did have a tendency to jump around a bit which, together with minor variations in propellant, gave the mortar its characteristic stretched out oval "pattern" where the shells impacted.
The troops liked the new gun because of its lighter weight. It could be accurate if fired carefully, but it had one bad feature. When fired rapidly, its hydraulic action failed to keep up with the gunner. Consequently, since the tube was unable to return to its original position quickly enough, each succeeding shell left it with the tube slightly more depressed and went a little further.
When Wimpee sent in the written reports on our test, he emphasized this feature and recommended against the use of the gun unless it could be improved. I later heard they did make changes to the gun, but don't know if that quirk was eliminated.
We had given our best squad the new gun and their assistant gunner, Corporal Rodriquez, was especially fast. We warned him a number of times that he should slow down when dropping the shells into the tube, but he liked to show off how much faster his gun was firing. During one fire mission I watched him as he really outdid himself dropping shells down the tube as fast as he possibly could. Suddenly he was just a mite too fast. He dropped one shell in and managed to get the other one over the mouth of the tube before the first one fired. As the first one came out, it hit the tail of the shell in his hand. The one in his hand promptly flew into three pieces, the fuse, the body and the tail--the pieces flying in all directions.
The shell that hit it continued its flight, but had most of the oomph taken out of it. It started to come down just 25 or 30 yards in front of the gun. Those of us that saw what happened yelled and hit the deck, but many others in the vicinity didn't realize anything had happened. I could see the shell lazily coming down and knew the safety pin was out of it and that it was armed. But as it fell, I could see it didn't have time to tilt nose downward. It landed in the dirt in front of us on its side, bounced once, but didn't detonate. Neither did the shell that had flown apart.
I went up to Rodriquez, who was still standing by the gun, his face white as a ghost. His left arm was totally paralyzed, but otherwise he didn't have a scratch on him. We sent him back to Battalion Aid where they kept him overnight until his paralysis wore off. Our corpsman passed on the doctor's diagnosis that, in addition to the physical shock Rodriquez' arm had received, he also had a psychological shock which was the primary reason for the paralysis. He was a much more careful loader from then on.
In one of our movements, we were moving the entire Battalion to a forward position by traveling in trucks down a gravel road. Wimpee and I were in the jeep with our driver and radioman, and directly in back of us was our six-by loaded with the guns and ammunition. The rest of the platoon was following in other trucks supplied by the Battalion motor pool. Part way to our destination the vehicles in front of us came to a stop at a curve in the road. There was a hill to our left, so we couldn't see around the curve and determine what was holding things up.
Finally, as the vehicles in front inched forward, we could see a small bridge crossing a stream. Every few minutes the Chinese were lobbing an artillery shell at the bridge. They hadn't hit it yet. The drivers in front of us were timing the shells, which seemed to be coming every three minutes. After slowly nosing out from behind the hill, the drivers would roar off as fast as they could as soon as another shell had detonated, making it across the bridge before the next shell arrived. I walked back to the driver of our ammo truck and explained to him what was happening. I told him to let us go first, then allow three minutes to pass before making his own rush for the bridge.
Finally it came our turn. As soon as the vehicle in front of us made it across the bridge and the next shell detonated, our driver slammed his foot on the gas pedal and, with a spurt of gravel, we took off as fast as the little jeep could go. As we got to the bridge, I heard something in back of us, turned around, and saw with horror that our ammo truck was right on our rear bumper. All I could visualize was the ammo truck getting hit while we were on the bridge and we right in front of him. I shouted to the driver to go as fast as he could so we could put some distance between the truck and ourselves. He did his best, but the truck hung right in there.
That's how we raced across, engines roaring, the planks of the bridge rattling and banging. When we hit the other side, we kept right on going with the impetus we had. On our right I saw an emplaced artillery unit and there was a single Marine sitting at the side of the road watching all this foolishness. In the split second that we went by, I recognized Don Clark and gave a yell. He saw me too and shouted back, "Hey, Spook!" But by then we were already past him and had to keep on going. That was my first "visit" with Don since we had left Quantico.
During another of our other moves forward, we heard a lot of to-do in back of us and suddenly saw a surprising caravan of jeeps and trucks coming down the road between our troops who were in single file on each side. The lead jeep stopped by us and out stepped General Ridgway, who had replaced MacArthur as the big chief of all of us. He had his usual grenades hung on his field jacket and was accompanied by a whole entourage of staff officers, plus a large complement of newsmen.
The General and our Colonel spread a map on the hood of the jeep and discussed our current situation while the reporters were busily taking pictures. A couple of our Marines had gotten their hands on an appropriated enemy mule and had let him tag along and carry their packs. We all thought it was pretty funny having our own pack burro. Either one of Ridgway's staff or a newsman potted the mule and thought it would be a good idea to have Ridgway pose with it for the cameramen. The scene was set up and just as the pictures were being taken someone noticed that the Marines had tied a condom to one of the mule's ears as a decoration. The newsmen were delighted and tried to get it into better focus. When Ridgway suddenly noticed it, he was not at all amused and immediately cut off the picture-taking session. I think he must have said something to our Colonel because not much later we were told to get rid of the mule. But, before that happened, we had a few enemy artillery shell land in the valley next to us. They weren't close enough to do any harm and none of us even hit the deck. I have never seen people disappear so fast. It seemed like just a second after the first round hit the entire entourage was off and roaring to the rear.
It was about this time that we heard of two unfortunate incidents. Lieutenant Humphrey, the Dog Company Executive Officer, had fallen off a small cliff and broken his leg, resulting in his being returned to Japan. Two of our Battalion staff were killed when they lost control of their jeep while going down a muddy, steep road and crashed into a tree.
The weather was turning cold and we began being issued our winter clothing and gear. The wool liner for our sleeping bag that was for summer use was exchanged for a large, down-filled bag. We were issued the new shoe-pacs that were so warm we didn't need to wear heavy socks. Heavier winter pants and a wool-lined vest were worn under a wool-lined parka, and leather gloves with wool inserts completed our outer wear. I don't remember if we also got long underwear, but we might have. My parka was a full-length one with a hood that was edged with some sort of gray fur. It was so warm that, even on the coldest day, I had to zip it open and cool off when on the march.
Wimpee and I also got something we were very proud of--a new "arctic" tent. It was a small, circular tent with sides about two feet high and a center pole that raised the roof to about seven feet. I would guess it was about ten feet in diameter, so there was plenty of room for the two of us. The best feature about it was its double-walled construction, which acted as insulation, so it was much warmer than a regular tent. If I remember correctly, we were one of the first in the regiment to get this type of tent.
At the same time Wimpee had scrounged from somewhere two low cots that were only about six inches off the ground. I think they may have been used as stretchers. Regardless, that was a lot better than being on the ground. With the tent came another neat device--a small, oil-fired stove. This unit was rectangular, about two feet long, a foot wide, and six inches deep. It stood on four short legs and was fired by regular fuel oil that was readily available. I believe it had an insulated metal chimney that ran out of the side of the tent. An especially nice feature of the stove was that, in addition to heating the tent, the top could be used as a cooking surface.
We had gotten the tent shortly after we arrived at a new position to the rear of a small ridgeline. Running through the area we were in was a small stream. We set the tent up on one side and the guns on the other. Next to the guns was the start of the ridge and the gun crews found a cave in its side right adjacent to them, so a number of them moved in there instead of digging foxholes.
Wimpee and I filled and emplaced sandbags all around our tent as high as the vertical walls that made them just a little higher than our cots. Then we put a few large stones in the stream that we could use as a crossing to get to the gun positions. After all that hard work we entered the tent and relaxed in our new, heated quarters--both of us lying on our cots reading pocket books and feeling smug, snug, safe and satisfied with the world in our little, luxurious palace.
Suddenly there was a loud bang. Too late to react, we both looked up to see the sunlight streaming through a myriad of holes in one side of the tent and out of matching holes in the other. When nothing further happened, we ventured out to see what had happened.
An enemy artillery shell had landed in the middle of the stream right where we had constructed our "crossing" and had blown it all apart. Although this was just a few yards from our tent, we were fortunate in being on cots that were lower than the level of the sandbags. The shrapnel hadn't gotten to us, but it sure had done a job on our beautiful new tent. I can't remember what we did then, but we kept using the tent so we must have patched it with tape.
The other funny thing that happened was that when the shell hit, all the men around the guns tried to get into the cave which they now discovered was much too small. Like college kids cramming into a phone booth, they somehow managed to get many more in than one would have thought physically possible by simply piling on top of each other. It must be that under proper stimulation the human body can shrink itself. Of course, once the danger appeared to be over, it would return to normal. There was much grunting and cussing as they untangled themselves and then began some well-considered digging of additional foxholes.
We were in this position for quite some time and it had one peculiarity. The Battalion forward elements were on a long, slightly U-shaped ridge to our front, and to our right there was a wide, open valley before the next ridge about a half-mile away. On that ridge was emplaced another Marine unit. In-between, there was nothing. The MSR (Main Supply Route) for the Regiment went backward from the adjacent unit's rear along the other side of the valley.
When anyone from our Battalion wanted to go back to the Battalion's CP where our supplies were, he first had to cross the valley. The valley was under constant enemy observation and we found, through experience, that if only one or two individuals crossed the valley in daylight, there would be no enemy reaction. If any more attempted it, they would draw immediate artillery fire.
Early one morning we heard tanks to our right rear and found that a tank platoon had moved into the valley and forward so they were about even with us, then spread themselves across the valley from our side to the other using whatever irregularities in terrain were available to give themselves some cover. They drew no fire then.
As we did every morning, we sent a runner back to the Battalion CP for mail and any messages. This particular morning, the runner was a brand new replacement. While he was gone we heard an artillery round hit the valley, but paid no attention to it. When the runner returned, he was a psychological wreck. White and unable to stop shaking, he said that on the way back he was just passing in front of one of the tanks when the tank commander, who happened to be the platoon leader, stood up in the top hatch and wished him a good morning. Just then an enemy artillery shell screamed over. It decapitated the tank commander, continued on its way, and detonated further down the valley. The tanker's body continued to stand in the hatch. The runner took off in blind panic and didn't stop until he was back in our area. The medics eventually sent him back to the Battalion Aid station. I never heard any more of him, but wouldn't be surprised if he never recovered from that shocking sight. The tanks pulled back that day and didn't come back.
On one beautiful sunny morning in November, I walked back to the rear CP. Although only around 20 degrees, the sun was warm and I could walk with my parka zipped open. I got across the valley with no trouble and as I stepped onto the dirt road that ran along its edge, I noticed an empty jeep parked in a small ravine. Not too far from it was huddled a Marine Captain, hunkered down behind a small hill, gripping his carbine with a look of desperation. I walked up to him and asked him what he was doing there. He seemed shocked to see me boldly walk up to him without any attempt at taking cover.
He informed me that he was General White's aide and the General, who happened to be the 1st Division's Exec., was somewhere in front of him along the road. I left the Captain and started walking forward along the road. In about 100 yards I could see a solitary figure standing in the open by the side of the road, studying the valley and its front through binoculars. I approached the General and introduced myself. He immediately wanted to know all about my unit, its location, recent experiences, etc. When we got done, I pointed out to him that he was completely exposed and there were no friendly troops in the valley. I also offered to stick around as long as he might need me to give him some protection. He thanked me, but said he was quite all right, that he had just wanted to come forward to see this area for himself, and that he would be leaving in a few minutes himself. When I got back to his jeep, I could see his aide still lying down behind his little hill, obviously scared stiff. When I mentioned this story later, I learned that General White had a great reputation as a fearless officer and was well-liked by his staff and the troops.
Not too many days after that event, I was called into the Battalion Headquarters and advised by the exec, Major Kurziel, that I was to be transferred to the weapons company as executive officer. Was this another case when I had been in the right place at the right time, or just coincidence? I don't know. I think Wimpee took over the 81s.The transfer was another step a little further to the rear. Now I would be somewhere near the Battalion CP all the time and no longer with the front line companies.
This segment digresses from the chronological to describe some of my experiences with supporting arms--artillery, naval gunfire and air support. The infantry can't fight alone and needs this support in order to accomplish its mission. Our most frequent--in fact, constant, support was by artillery. The Division had a variety of artillery weapons organic to its organization up to eight-inch self-propelled howitzers. In addition, they had other artillery units attached to them and we could also have made available to us, if in range, artillery units from adjacent organizations. Such support was available on almost a minute's notice just through a short radio request. Unless the circumstances or targets were unusual, the Division normally provided the support with its organic artillery.
Each rifle company had an artillery forward observer (FO) working with it who acted as both the company commander's advisor as to the proper use of artillery fire and also did the calling for and adjusting of his battery's fire. He was temporarily attached to the company from one of the artillery regiment's batteries and worked directly with them. If needed, however, he could call for support from any artillery unit convenient and available. He also had his own radio and radioman with him for that purpose and used a separate artillery radio net.
All Marines are taught the rudiments of calling for and adjusting artillery, naval gunfire and air support. In an emergency, and even though they do not have available the proper radio network, a PFC on the line whose officers and NCOs have been incapacitated knows how to have a request for support relayed through the company radio net.
One unique maneuver by the artillery was a Time-On-Target (TOT). This involved the use of a number of different batteries all located in different positions and even firing different weapons. The objective was to have all the shells from all the supporting batteries arrive at the target at the same time. Since the guns were at different distances from the target and were firing different sized shells at differing elevations, someone, usually the Division's artillery staff, had to calculate the time each gun was to fire.
One early morning in the summer we were looking out from our ridge position down the middle of a long, wide valley when we saw movement in the distance. It didn't take long for us to identify large numbers of enemy troops moving toward us in the open. We estimated that an entire enemy regiment was in the valley and on the move. Our FO called the division artillery HQ and asked for a TOT using all available guns. He also asked that air bursts be used which would result in the shells bursting from 10 to 20 feet off the ground due to the action of their proximity fuses.
The request was acknowledged and within minutes our FO was advised the TOT would arrive at a specified time. Shortly after we could hear those batteries that were furthest to the rear fire, then other units closer to us. This progressed until all had fired for effect. Our FO had not had anyone fire any ranging shots because we did not want to let the enemy know we were going to take them under artillery fire.
Finally we could hear the shells rumbling, whistling and whooshing over our heads. Suddenly the entire middle of the valley erupted into explosions and billowing dust. We could see the shrapnel from the nearer airbursts hitting the ground over a wide area. I couldn't guess how many shells of varying sizes hit that valley, but they all did at almost the same instant. It was the most devastating and awesome sight I had ever seen. The TOT caught the enemy by complete surprise and must have done terrible damage. We could see the enemy that survived drifting off to the hills on either side or those to the rear retreating. We estimated that we had effectively eliminated that regiment.
Interestingly, the Chinese and North Korean tactic when coming under artillery fire was to continue moving as rapidly as possible. We supposed their theory was that opposing artillery would be slow in adjusting their fire and they could literally run out of the target area. Our gunners were so well trained and had so many automatic procedures, they could adjust very rapidly following the orders of the FOs who were observing the enemies movements. Our troops, on the other hand, were taught to take cover and wait out the barrage.
We were told that one Marine artillery Captain had developed a unique twist to the TOT procedure. He knew that a single gun could fire at the same target but using different elevations. He supposedly had trained a battery to fire as many as three rounds from the same gun and have them all arrive at the target at the same time. It sounded feasible but complicated, and I personally never saw it done.
Artillery was also used to do counter-battery fire. There were a number of ways intelligence personnel could determine where enemy artillery was located. The oldest method was to measure and take compass readings on the craters left by enemy shells. An experienced artilleryman could be pretty accurate in telling how far away and at what heading the enemy position was. Then there was simple observation. At night forward troops might see gun flashes and during the day our airborne FOs were excellent at spotting those positions. The latest method was to use counter-battery radar. This was a very fast acting radar system that picked up a shell's trajectory as it was coming in and then a computer calculated a reverse trajectory tracing the shells path back to its origin.
But our artillery support was not always perfect, and short rounds and masked fire caused many friendly casualties. The latter mistake occurred when the person calculating the fire order overlooked the fact that the terrain between the guns and the target might contain portions that were higher than the trajectory of the shells causing them to hit in friendly positions.
One evening, while I was still with Dog Company, we were ordered to advance up a ridge and to the crest of a hill to our front. It was rapidly getting dark and we hadn't made it but halfway up when it became pitch black with not even moonlight. The point of our lead platoon suddenly was taken under fire. We heard later that our point had heard some babbling, apparently an enemy challenge, and yelled back some choice words that was followed by the enemy firing at them. For a few minutes there was a small firefight taking place while the rest of us hunkered down on the trail and waited for the order to start moving forward again.
The skipper decided it would be advisable to bring some artillery fire to bear on the crest of the hill and asked our attached FO to do so. The FO gave the necessary order and a few minutes later the first ranging round came in. Unfortunately, it landed right on the trail we were on about a hundred yards in front of where I was. The FO immediately cancelled the request, but the damage had been done. We had suffered a number of casualties, some quite serious.
At first we thought the problem had been a "short" round, but our FO, in studying the map, determined that the ridge we were on had a hump in it that was at the same height as the top of our objective. The officer at the battery had failed to notice this and the shell's trajectory had caused it to hit our ridge instead of clearing it and going on to the top of the hill.
An interesting sidelight to this anecdote was that before advancing up that ridge, the Division paymaster had caught up with our company and had started doling out an allotment of script to the troops. Our order to advance and the fall of night caught him by surprise. To avoid having to find his jeep and drive to the rear in the dark, he very reluctantly stayed with us. He was one very nervous Captain when the excitement started and I never saw anyone as relieved as he to part company with us when daylight finally broke.
Frequently, especially at night, our guns fired at supposed enemy positions or lay down interdictory fire on strategic sites. Lying in our foxhole, gazing up at the stars on a clear night, the rumble of the shells passing over gave us a feeling of security.
Our artillery regiment also had a searchlight battery. They were equipped with huge, mobile searchlights that were to be used to light up a battlefield at night. I believe it was in Korea that they used them for the first time in a unique way. On nights that were especially dark because of a cloud cover, they were positioned in low terrain behind the front lines and their beams trained up at the clouds over the front. The reflected light did a reasonably good job of lighting up the area in front of the line and enabled us to spot enemy movements much sooner. I never heard whether the Marine Corps considered this a worthwhile endeavor and never saw searchlights used again in my later years in the reserves.
One of the most effective artillery supporting arms for the Marines was naval gunfire. Usually a Marine combat unit was within range of such support and might even be directly supported by selected ships. A regiment, for example, was supported by a light or heavy cruiser during an amphibious landing.
Most often the Division in Korea was too far from the coast to benefit from this, but I was witness to one occasion when we were able to use such help. We had a large mountain in front of us that was about 20 miles from the coast, the maximum range for a battleship. Our FO had been advised that the USS Missouri was steaming up and down the coast parallel to us and available. There was supposedly an enemy regimental headquarters on top of the mountain and it was decided it would make a good target for the Missouri's 16-inch guns. It was a beautiful, bright and sunny day when the FO requested navel gunfire support and was patched through to the fire control officer on the Missouri.
After accurately identifying the target and its coordinates, they decided to fire for effect without first firing spotting rounds. We were too far away to hear the battlewagon actually firing, but were advised when the rounds were on the way. All eyes and binoculars were on the mountain when we heard the freight train sound of the 16-inch shells rumbling overhead. Each of these shells weighed more than a Volkswagen, and when they hit the top of that mountain there was the loudest bang and flash I had ever heard. The earth literally shook around us and the top of the mountain was hidden behind a huge ball of smoke and fire. When the smoke cleared, we could see there wasn't much left of the top. It looked like someone had taken a razor and sliced the top twenty or more feet off the mountain. I was impressed.
Amazingly, naval guns are extremely accurate and even more so when the ship was moving. I have never quite understood how they could shoot as accurately as they did with the ship moving forward and also wallowing from side to side--but they did.
Tank support was an integral part of the Marine Division. However its tanks were not used as a separate, rapid moving, mobile force as was the case with the armored divisions of the Army. The Marine tanks were used primarily for infantry support and as an anti-tank weapon or as either mobile or stationary artillery.
The Marine rifleman has mixed emotions about tanks. Sometimes they were nice to have around, especially when we had to bust through heavily defended terrain or we were in a defensive position under attack and the tanks came roaring to our aid. But, the downside was that they were very noisy, they attracted enemy attention and fire and, if we were anywhere in front of them, their 90mm cannons could rattle the fillings out of our teeth when they were fired.
Tankers, on the other hand, were very friendly towards the infantry. Since they were totally deaf and practically blind when buttoned up, they depended on the ground troops to protect them from enemy infantry. Modern infantry is not as afraid of them as they were when first appearing on the battlefield in World War I. Even a relatively shallow foxhole will protect an infantryman from a direct tank assault and he has a number of devastating and accurate weapons available to take out a tank.
One thing they were nice for was to heat our coffee in its canteen cup by setting it on the grating that covered its engines at the tank's rear. That grating got so hot we could fry eggs in a pan on it. Another nice advantage was to be able to jump on them and hitch a ride when moving forward. Each tank could carry a dozen or more grunts hanging from its top and sides.
At one of our positions, a tank company dug in on our flank. Using a tank equipped with a dozer blade, the tankers dug out positions that each tank could roll into so that only its turret and gun was exposed to the front. I walked over to watch this process and found that the Company Commander was a fellow I had been at Quantico with. After his tank was positioned, he invited me inside and showed me how everything worked. I asked if I could fire the 90 and he said, "Sure! Pick out a target on that ridge about a mile to our front." Looking through the tank sight, the ridge popped into view as though it was a hundred feet in front of me. At its top I could see a tree stump on the forward edge of an enemy trench line. I put the cross hairs of the sight on the tree stump and felt the automatic traversing system turn the turret to the correct position while the ranging gear was adjusting the elevation of the gun. The captain acted as loader and gave me a "ready" when the shell was in the gun's chamber. I pressed the trigger button and watched the tree stump disappear in a flaring blast. The noise inside the tank was not uncomfortable and I was amazed at the accuracy of the gun. I told the Captain I was convinced his 90mm was more accurate at one mile than my carbine at 50 feet. He said, "That's not all. It's just as accurate when we are bouncing along over rough ground at 40mph." Very impressive.
I mentioned "Operation Mousetrap" earlier and the fact that a tank unit had been located to our left that night. They had an interesting experience. 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 that I can't remember, 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. 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 had valiantly crawled up again, only to be rolled back down by the next blast. Finally giving up, he had dug his little hole and 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.
One of the questions we used to ask captured troops was what did they fear most. Without exception they would answer, "Your airplanes." And of our air weapons, the most feared was napalm.
The Marines had developed the concept of close air support between the world wars and had proven its success in the Pacific. There was not another military unit in the world, or is there yet, that does as effective a job in coordinating infantry and air. To this day allies send their officers to Marine installations here to learn how we do it. Recently our army has done better with its assault helicopters, but the Marines still outshine all. There is a specific reason for this which other military organizations have been unable to or chosen not to adopt.
I pointed out in an earlier segment that every Marine is a rifleman first. This goes for Marine aviators as well. The typical young Marine pilot, be he in a fighter, or attack squadron, spends his formative years dividing his time into (1) one third tactical flying, (2) one third in a staff job at squadron headquarters learning administrative functions, and (3) one third with the infantry as a forward air observer.
He is prepared for the last job with some infantry training and is then attached to a Marine regiment with a couple of radiomen who handle the more sophisticated and powerful radios required for his work. He acts as the regimental commander’s air advisor and works in coordination with the other supporting arms staff and the air officers at division and the other regiments.
But when the stuff hits the fan he can be found with the forward elements of the regiments and battalions, very often with a rifle company or even a platoon directing air support sorties to their targets directly in front of the lines. Because he has lived and fought with the infantry, his actions when flying in support of them take on a completely different complexion. He knows what the score is. Also, when he is on the ground and his buddies are flying, they know what he is going through and will do everything possible to help. The Navy's pilots are also very effective and go through the same training cycle, but there is something just a little different that exists between Marines on the ground and those in the air.
I've seen Marine pilots dropping their ordnance within 50 to 100 yards of the most forward Marine. Then, after running out of pay load, dive back in strafing runs until out of cannon or machine gun ammo and then continue their dives, pulling out within feet over the enemy position. Even without ammo the enemy was scared to death of them and kept down until they were gone. In the meantime, the Marines either advanced or pulled back, whichever the game plan called for.
Very few other aviation units did that, although there are a couple of exceptions. At one time we had a squadron from the South African Air Force support our battalion and they were almost as good. They flew an older model of jet and put on quite a show of screaming over the enemy positions at tree top height. The Canadians were also very good, but our Air Force was nowhere near as effective. They dropped their bombs, napalm or whatever from a decent height--as far as possible out of the range of ground fire, and then headed home.
Shortly after joining Dog while on the Quantico Line, we watched a forward air controller (airborne) in a small Piper Cub spot some enemy positions in back of the ridge to our front. He apparently called for support and a few minutes later two Marine Corsairs showed up. Although already obsolete, some of these fantastic old prop planes from World War II were still being used by the Marines in Korea. They must have been returning from another mission because they had no bombs or rockets. The Corsairs circled over the position for a minute, then winged over and took turns diving down and firing their MGs. We could see enemy tracers arcing up toward them as they made their dives and one must have been hit because he veered off, climbed for altitude, and headed home with a slight wisp of smoke trailing him. The remaining pilot was MAD. How could they do such a terrible thing as hit his buddy. He continued his dives. We could see him coming almost straight down, then he would disappear behind the ridge. We could hear his guns chattering and then watched him pop up again. He kept this up until out of ammo and then he also headed home.
The airborne controllers were something else too. The only protection the pilot and observer had in their little canvas-covered Cubs was the steel plate they put under their seat cushion. The enemy hated them because they knew that when these little slow flying Cubs were overhead, they were going to get a dose of something --artillery, naval gunfire, rockets or an air attack. Consequently, they were fair game for any enemy soldier within range, no matter how armed. Some of the observers had been known to drop hand grenades or fire their .45 pistols in response.
One Marine FAO (Forward Air Observer) with Dog at one time was another Lieutenant named Fox. He was in the company CP radioing for an air support mission while I was talking to the skipper about what he wanted my 60s to do. Our lead platoon was pinned down by the enemy on a hill in front of us. I heard Fox in contact with a flight (four aircraft) that was airborne over our regiment's sector. They were armed with napalm, which was perfect as far as Lieutenant Fox was concerned. He asked them to come over and hit the enemy position.
When the flight showed up, the flight leader, under Fox's direction, made a couple of passes over the target. When Fox was satisfied that the flight leader had the target identified, he told him to go ahead and make his run. The flight leader headed to the target with the other three following and dropped his napalm. The only problem was that on this run he was a little too timid, flew too high, and the napalm hit quite a distance from the enemy position. Of course, the other three planes following the leader also dropped their tanks at the wrong time.
Lieutenant Fox was furious! He called the flight leader and after voicing his dissatisfaction in a string of choice words, he ended his transmission with, "That was undoubtedly the worst bombing run I've ever seen and you have to be an absolute idiot to have missed the target that badly. Who is this, anyway?" The response was a very cold, "This is Colonel ____! Who are you?" With some daring Fox answered, "This is Lieutenant Fox and I still think you did a lousy job, Colonel." It was unusual to have that high a rank flying a mission and Fox found later that this had been a HQ flight. Every now and then, to keep their proficiency up and get some time in the air, the Headquarters staff officers would fly a mission and this had been that kind of flight. The Colonel was the Squadron Commander and his wingmen were all ranking staff officers.
Describing targets to the air support and, particularly, identifying exactly where our forward troops were was always a problem. Targets were usually identified by map coordinates and verbal description or, if possible, by marking with an artillery or mortar round. If close enough, I could drop a 60mm white phosphorous shell on top of the target or Wimpee could have one of his MGs fire tracers at it.
To show the pilots where we were, each rifle platoon carried a brightly colored "air panel". These could be laid on the ground in front of the assaulting squads and, hopefully, be seen by the pilots as they made their strafing, bombing or rocket runs.
Shortly after I joined Dog in early April, some rear echelon pogue came up with this bright idea--every Marine would be issued a brightly-colored scarf with colors matching for each platoon. Our Company was chosen to try out this wonderful suggestion. The 2nd platoon was given yellow scarves, the 3rd light green (which blended in nicely with the vegetation), and mine was bright red. On the first occasion we went into the assault, the 2nd was leading and before jumping off each 2nd Platoon Marine had to tie his yellow scarf around his neck. We were to follow the 2nd, so we tied on our red scarves. The theory was that our close air support would be able to spot us from the air and provide close fire support while still avoiding friendly casualties.
We all had a very dim view of this idea and were reluctant to try it, but the skipper said he had express orders for us to give it a test. The 2nd jumped off, got to the top of the hill that had been assigned as their objective and immediately began to tear off their scarves and get rid of them. As they crested the hill, they quickly found out that the scarves were just as visible to the enemy as they were to our air support. I understand the Skipper sent a choicely-worded message back to HQ on what we all thought about that brilliant idea and we never heard another word about it.
Unfortunately, there were other examples of illogical thinking on the part of ranking officers in the rear. Often they were regulars who had had little or no experience with troop leading in the field and were sent to Korea to be able to earn some ribbons. Our Battalion Commander was a good example, but there were many others in higher and purely staff positions. Fortunately, as an aid in keeping a favorable impression of the Marine Corps as a whole, I quickly forgot most of these instances, but one shining example sticks out that also involved air support.
I had the 60s at the time and Dog Company was in the most peculiar and dangerous position we had ever been in. Visualize a small mountain, the top of which consisted of a narrow ridge running north and south that had a small saddle in the middle. This saddle contained a large rocky hummock that prevented a person on one side from seeing a person on the other side unless both backed up a considerable distance. The interesting part of this position was that we occupied the southern part of the ridge and a Chinese rifle company the northern part. At each end of the saddle our foremost troops were only 50 yards apart! But they couldn’t see each other, much less shoot at each other.
As the two ridges retreated backward from the saddle, they slowly curved to the west and separated. So, as we moved down our occupied ridge, the southern one, we could begin to see the enemy occupying the northern one when it was about 100 yards away. Then, as we progressed further to the west, the enemy positions were 200 yards, then 300 yards, etc. away.
Both the Chinese and we had dug ourselves well in and had continued to improve our positions every day. We managed to build some large bunkers covered with logs and sandbags and a system of deep trenches directly behind the crest of our ridge. Our bunkers had gun slits to the front, through which we could see enemy movement during the day. Every so often they or we would fire a shot or MG burst at each other, but that was all. There we sat--neither one of us able to move. The only way to get around the hummock that separated us was to go single file, and that was suicide.
Our first attempt to break the status quo was for the Battalion Weapons Company to send an anti-tank recoilless 75mm rifle team to the ridge. They were going to blow the hummock away with a few well-aimed rounds. After getting into position behind one of the bunkers close to the saddle, they stuck the snout of the rifle tube around the bunker’s edge and, pointing it in the general direction, fired a round. The resultant bang was terrific, but it didn’t so much as scratch the rocks. On the contrary, not considering that this rifle has a terrible back blast, no one had paid attention that our Company CP with its foxholes was directly in back of it--unoccupied, thank God. Through the cloud of dirt and smoke the blast left behind, we could see tattered remains of underwear, clothing, toilet gear, pocket books, mail, etc. being scattered down the mountainside. That was enough for the Skipper. He told the team to leave and never come back.
Next, a contingent of officers showed up from Division Headquarters. They wanted to survey this impasse for themselves. I remember three coming into the bunker some of us were sitting in and one, a dapper Lieutenant Colonel aviator type smoking a curved pipe, walked to the slit in front and looked out. He asked us to point out the enemy positions. That wasn't necessary, one of us told him. All he had to do was look at the ridge a hundred yards to his front and he would see another bunker facing him. That was a Chinese bunker. He was so surprised his mouth dropped open and the pipe fell to the dirt floor. As he stooped down to pick it up, there was a “Crack” as a rifle bullet came through the slit over his head. Visibly shaken, he never straightened up, but scuttled out of the rear of the bunker doubled over. The other two followed on his heels and we never saw another HQ representative.
The next day we heard that Division HQ had come up with a solution. The Navy had some Tiny Tim rockets left over from World War II and two of our planes were going to use them to blow that hummock away. The Tiny Tim was a very large rocket and a plane could carry only one at a time.
Not wanting to be anywhere near this experiment, we pulled the whole company back down the ridge and out of harm's way shortly before the planes arrived. When they got over our position, they made a few practice passes and then went at it. The detonation of the Tiny Tims was, indeed, spectacular. The only hitch was that the first one hit about 500 yards short of the saddle and the second went over and landed about a mile away in a valley. The planes left and didn't come back. So did the entourage that had come up to direct and observe them. They looked pretty disgusted. The whole problem was eventually solved when one of our other Battalions finally bypassed the hill, the enemy pulled out, and we were able to move ahead. This was one time when air support was not at its best, but it was an exception.
In Korea we saw the start of the use of helicopters to move combat troops. Up until then, they had been used primarily to evacuate wounded and occasionally let a commander see the front from the air or help him visit his units. However, the Marine Corps had begun to see the value of the chopper as another means of moving personnel and weapons from the sea to the shore and had begun to develop the theory of "vertical envelopment".
In the early part of the winter they moved one of the 5th Marine's companies from a reserve position to a forward position on a hill using only helicopters. I believe it was the first time in history such a mass movement of troops by helicopter was accomplished. Once the Corps saw it was feasible, they built on this experience and ended up using the helicopter as an assault vehicle much like they had used landing craft in the past. Only now, they could bypass the beach and land troops in the rear or to the sides of enemy positions. Ultimately it became as major a tactic as was the use of airborne and parachute troops.
Weapons Company and Home
I believe it was mid-December when I was released from the 81s and made executive officer of the 2nd Battalion's Weapons Company. I remember very little of this period, probably because not very much interesting or exciting happened. Captain Mackin had been the Company’s CO for a while after leaving the 4.2's and he had been replaced by Dave McKay. McKay had been with us at Dog, but had made Captain in the meantime. Al had been sent home by then. When I got to Weapons, the CO was Capt. Walter Oberg, whom I had not known and didn't get to know very well in the short time I was with them.
One of the company's responsibilities for those of its units that were not assigned to directly support some other Battalion was to afford security to the Battalion Command Post. I remember us being in position near the city of Inje, nestled among some low lying hills that surrounded us and were connected by a ridge that formed almost a circle around the Battalion CP. The 1st Lieutenant in charge of the Heavy Machine Gun platoon had been assigned the job of setting up a perimeter around the CP using whatever troops were available from the Company.
My job was almost entirely administrative, but considering my own neck could be endangered, I decided, on a whim, to check these defensive positions the first evening just before dark. What I found was horrible. The Lieutenant had done an absolutely lousy job. The defensive positions were poorly chosen and the troops that occupied them had been given no orders on how to improve them or how to react in case of an attack. Instead of going back and getting the Lieutenant to do a better job, I decided to do the job myself since it was shortly going to be dark. I circled the entire area, re-positioning some of the troops, talking to all of them, and leaving specific instructions for their fire team and squad leaders on how to conduct the defense if necessary.
While in the process of this, I noticed someone had come to the top of the ridge and was beginning to retrace my steps. He finally caught up with me and I saw it was our Battalion Exec., Major Kurziel. He didn't say anything, just asked me to keep on with what I was doing. He followed me around for a while and then left, apparently satisfied with what he had found. I would hate to think what he would have done to us if he had found the conditions that had existed earlier. Again, luck had been with me because when I was separated from the Battalion and got my "separation" fitness report, it had been written by Kurziel and was a very complimentary report.
Class 6 Run
One day I was asked to see the Colonel and Kurziel. On reporting to them I was asked if I would like to go to Japan on a "Class 6 Run". The Battalion was in reserve and things were very quiet (the peace talks had started), so they had decided to procure a liquor ration for the Battalion officers. What this meant was that an officer would be assigned to take orders and collect money from all the Battalion officers, then hitchhike to Japan, purchase the ordered liquor, and somehow bring it back. No government travel order or transportation was to be provided, so the officer volunteering for this would have to make all arrangements himself as best as he could. It only took me a few seconds to consider and tell them that I was not interested. They thought they were doing me a favor, but as much as a trip to Japan sounded like fun, the potential problems sounded even worse. The Colonel was a little surprised that I turned this opportunity down, but I saw Kurziel smiling and think he understood my reason a lot better.
They did get another officer whose name I don't remember, but who had been somewhat of a football hero during his college days. I saw him later and he told me he wished he had never taken that assignment. Collecting the orders, getting to Japan, and even buying the liquor were no big problem, but then his headache started. There he sat with some 50 cases of liquor and no way to get them back. Worse yet, he could not leave them alone because they would be stolen. Everyone he approached to get help, truck drivers, aircrews, etc. wanted a little something for transporting him and the cases. When he finally made it back to the Battalion CP, he had quite a bit less than what he started with and was a nervous wreck. He said it had been no fun at all and he would never do it again.
The only other thing of any consequence I remember in this period was that we were plagued with tent fires. The oil stoves that were used to heat the tents had an un-insulated metal chimney. If not watched closely, these chimneys started to get red hot and eventually set fire to the top of the tent. At least a couple of times a week we heard the yell "Fire" at night and ran out into the snow to see another tent top merrily blazing away.
On December 22nd, just before noon, I was ordered to see the Adjutant. He told me to pack my gear and be ready by 1700 to leave for K10 (one of our major air bases) and from there to head for Japan as the first leg home.
The orders came as a complete surprise. I was mentally prepared to stay there until at least the Spring of 1952. When I picked up and signed my orders at 1700, I saw that there were 57 officers included and among them were Wimpee and a bunch of the guys that had been at Colgate with me. We found out later that Truman had made a promise he would bring back as many troops as possible for Christmas and had so ordered the services to comply. Our orders were the Marine Corps response--a "token" return of troops and so accomplished that there was no way we could make it back by Christmas. But we were not complaining! The interesting thing about the orders was that they only got us back as far as Japan. From there on we were on our own.
Before leaving the Battalion the following morning, I made sure my binoculars found their way back to Dog Company and then I got a lift in a truck to K10, which was only some 50 miles way. At the air base, a handful of others and I waited around for a cargo flight to Osaka, Japan. While we were waiting I saw an old, beat-up Corsair land, park, and its pilot walk over to a mess tent. It was without a doubt the worst-looking plane I had ever seen, almost completely made of patches and with hardly any paint left it. I asked one of the NCOs stationed there what it was and he told me, "Oh, that belongs to one of the squadrons. They've cobbled it together from parts of others and just use it for personal transportation. That pilot just popped over here for lunch."
It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day as we were getting ready to board our flight. I had on my full-length parka when I noticed a young Navy corpsman standing on the sideline shivering in a thin field jacket. I took off the parka and handed it to him saying," Here, enjoy it. I'm headed home and would just as soon not lug it along."
Before dark we had landed at Osaka and checked into the local BOQ as transients. The next morning, after a wonderful hot and fresh breakfast, I checked in with the Adjutant on how to get home. He told me that I would just have to put my name on a list for whatever transportation might be made available. I did have the option of choosing a ship or an airline. I naturally chose air. Wandering around I found a few other officers I knew and we settled down to wait. The rest of my stay there is almost a complete blur. I know that Christmas Eve we were at the Officers Club on the Osaka Naval Air station. It was a pretty miserable evening. There were not many people about and I remember sitting in the bar with a handful of others trying to sing Christmas songs.
Although we had to stick close to the base in order not to miss out on a flight that could leave at any time without notice, we did get into Tokyo for one afternoon and night. But that was the extent of our sightseeing. Sometime in this period we connected with our locker boxes. I don't remember exactly how they managed to get to us, but the last we had seen them was on the Kobe dock. Sometimes the logistic service of the Corps could be pretty amazing. Up until now we had only our dungarees to wear and we were not permitted off the base without a proper uniform. In our locker boxes we had our green woolen ones and they were deemed acceptable. We were still there for New Years Eve, again spent at the club. I think our days were just used up in eating, drinking, and watching movies.
On either the 1st or 2nd of January, we were told there would be two chartered commercial flights leaving for the States very early the next morning. We had no further details, so just selected one or the other by number. Mine was a California Pacific Constellation. After we boarded we found that we would make a refueling stop in Hawaii and then continue to San Francisco. The other plane was going on a great circle route to Seattle and its passengers would have to make their own arrangements from there. It looked like my luck was holding.
I also found a few old friends from our Colgate V-12 unit on board--Andy Marusak, Ken Scheel, George Vosburgh, and a former V-12er I only remember as "Red" Evans. The latter was very disconsolate. He told me that he had gotten a poor fitness report on leaving his unit. He didn't explain why, but was afraid his Marine Corps career was over. As soon as we got back to the States he put in his resignation and it was accepted.
After a good number of hours in the air, George Vosburgh, who was sitting next to me at the window, brought my attention to a large oil slick that had formed on the right in-board engine nacelle. We pointed it out to the male steward and a little while later the co-pilot came back to our seat, leaned across both of us, and studied the engine for a few minutes. Then he said, "Yea, looks like an oil leak alright. The pilot and I can't see it from the cockpit." With that he went forward, leaving us with the very uncomfortable feeling that the flight crew wasn't exhibiting an awful lot of expertise while our plane appeared to be having some sort of mechanical difficulty.
Within minutes, and without any announcement, the engine stopped and the propeller was feathered. We were somewhere over the huge, empty Pacific and now down to three engines! When nothing further in the form of explanation was forthcoming, we got the steward and asked him what was going on. He said he would check and a little later there was an announcement from the Captain that one of our engines had developed an oil leak and had been shut off. We were not to be concerned because the plane could easily make it the entire way to Honolulu, which was our next scheduled stop. But, to play it safe, he was going to detour slightly to the nearest airport, which happened to be on Guam, and stop for repairs.
Early that afternoon we touched down at the Naval air station on Guam. The island looked tiny from the air and we wondered how they had ever found it. After a package lunch provided by the Navy mess, we wandered around the island on foot while they worked on the engine. It was spooky walking around the partially destroyed Japanese bunkers and tanks that were scattered all around. It took about two hours to fix the oil leak and we took off again.
We arrived in Honolulu around two in the morning, deplaned, and were ushered into a large hangar-type building. We now found we were to go through customs here instead of at San Francisco because this was our port of entry. It seemed to me that the customs people were extremely unfriendly. But I guess having to get up at that time of the night to check in a scurvy lot of Marines was not their most favorite duty.
They very thoroughly searched our belongings, finding all sorts of souvenirs--some of which they confiscated. There seemed to be no clear pattern to what they were refusing to let enter the country. In one case they took away a Russian-manufactured rifle while they let pass through a Czech-made machine pistol that could fire fully automatic, making it strictly illegal.
While waiting our turn to be inspected, we stood at the open door of the hangar and looked out at the lush Hawaiian landscape in the moonlight. After two hours we re-boarded our plane and took off again. That was the extent of my visit to Hawaii.
We landed the next day as it was getting dark in San Francisco. I don't think I have ever seen anything so beautiful as the lights of the city appearing on the horizon as we approached. As soon as we had deplaned we were bussed to Treasure Island, the Naval medical and separation center.
Our quarters at the BOQ were the usual Spartan but reasonably comfortable ones. It was too late to do anything else and we were told our physicals would start first thing in the morning, so we all made phone calls home and just hit the sack.
They started on us in the morning with a vengeance. A more thorough physical I've rarely had and it took about three days. In between appointments our time was our own and we could do as we wanted. Four of us called the Mark Hopkins Hotel and asked for a suite of rooms. That afternoon we checked in for our first real liberty ashore. One of our group was found to have worms and was given some powerful medicine to clean him out. While we had a wonderful time and started hitting the bars, he had to sit in the room continually running to the bathroom. When we got back after the bars closed, he was sitting in a chair, pale as a ghost and completely wrung out--not a nice way to spend his first night back in La-la land.
The first time we went down in the elevator at the hotel I noticed that the other passengers seemed to be avoiding us. There certainly was no showing of friendliness or appreciation. We realized that we didn't look the best. Most of us had straggly moustaches, including me, and our uniforms were the inexpensive green wool issued ones and not the sharp gabardines we normally would have worn, had we all not been told to leave them at home before leaving for Korea. Later it was evident to me that our cold reception by the citizens of San Francisco was only a precursor to the treatment of the Vietnam veterans. One couldn't help but get the impression that they were somewhat afraid of us, probably thinking we were representatives of some unruly, kill-crazy mob.
The following morning we found out what our room and our room charges were costing us, so we quickly checked out of the hotel. We could barely scrape enough together among us to do so. We had not yet been paid, but had only been able to exchange our script for currency on Treasure Island. It was then back to Treasure Island for continuation of the physicals. Others told us that it was much cheaper to stay at the Marine Memorial Hotel, one owned and operated by a non-profit Marine Association, so I called and made a reservation for myself there instead.
The whole process at Treasure Island turned into a comedy similar to what one later saw in "M*A*S*H". We wore the regular hospital gowns tied loosely in the back with nothing on underneath, but had to move from one part of the hospital to another among all the civilians and service people going about their regular duties. It was more than embarrassing, especially if we had to carry large bottled urine specimens or cardboard cartons with stool specimens with us from one examination point to another.
At one point I was crossing through the main lobby when I spotted Lieutenant King, who had been with Dog Company for a short time after I joined them and who I also had known at Quantico. He had returned home a number of months ago and had been temporarily stationed at Treasure Island before being released. Then a very strange coincidence occurred. Coming toward us I saw another officer I recognized. It was a Captain, the one who had visited us at Dog to check into the background of the very Lieutenant King I was talking to. I knew the Captain was an FBI agent, but when I introduced them to each other I did not say so. The look on the Captain's face was something else when I identified King. He had never met him, but knew immediately who he was. Of course, King had no inkling of who the Captain was. After some ten or fifteen minutes of visiting, we all parted company and I never saw either of them again.
During the course of our separation procedures I was interviewed as to my future career with the Corps. The Major who did so told me that if I would convert my commission to a regular one, I could choose any Marine installation in the United States as my first tour of duty. It was a tempting offer and the second chance I had had to make the Corps a career. My record was good and I liked the Corps, but I also knew that a career could be quickly cut short when, as a junior officer, you had the bad luck of getting a martinet as a superior who ended up disliking you. The resultant bad, even if unfair, fitness report could ruin you. I didn't like the idea that one individual could have that much power over me. In retrospect, this was an unrealistic fear because certainly the same thing can happen in civilian life--but at the time I didn't think so, at least not as probable. More importantly, I knew Jane did not care for service life and that I had a job waiting that I also liked, so I told them I wasn't interested and they should transfer me to the reserves. This they did and within the week I had my orders together with my back pay and an airline ticket to New York.
One last comment on the "Korean Experience". Shortly after getting "home" to my parents in Rifton, New York, I drove back to New York City to check on my job. I was still in uniform as I came down Route 9 and was pulled over by a state trooper in Tuxedo Park, New York, a place noted for its traffic “traps”. The trooper went all around the car, but couldn't find anything wrong. Finally he checked my license and asked if the address it showed, which was still Bellerose, Long Island, was my current one. I admitted it wasn't because while I was in Korea my parents had moved to Rifton and I was now using that address. Well then, the trooper announced, I had broken the law by not notifying the Motor Vehicle Division of my change in address within the required ten days. I looked at him in disbelief and then explained that I had been in combat in Korea while my "address changed". Notifying the New York State Motor Vehicle Division was furthest from my mind. Furthermore, I told him, I had just returned home and had no chance to write such a notification. While I explained all of this to him, he calmly wrote out a ticket. I paid the fine by mail--under protest with a long letter to the court, but was simply ignored. A nice homecoming present!