Topics - Operation Nomad

 
Nomad was the name given to the 24th Infantry Division's push toward Kumsong, North Korea, which is some 30 miles north of Parallel 38.

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Operation Nomad-Polar: The Last Major Allied Offensive of the Korean War

By Merry Helm
Writers Guild of America
February 12, 2007

Operation Nomad-Polar was one of a specific series of Allied offensives against Communist forces in North Korea during August, September and October 1951.

Truce talks between Communist China, North Korea, South Korea and the United States had begun on July 10th of that year but had broken down August 23rd. Allied Commander General Matthew Ridgway wanted to apply military pressure to persuade the Communists back to the negotiation table.

Additionally, General James Van Fleet, Commander of the 8th Army, felt the potential for peace was softening his troops. A series of limited-offensive actions could keep the men sharp and also provide combat-hardening for thousands of new replacement troops arriving in Korea. Although many consider(ed) these battles disastrous, they nonetheless continued, one after another, throughout the fall.

The last of these was Operation Nomad, which took place in the central sector of the Korean peninsula south of Kumsong, North Korea. The operation began 13 October 1951, overlapping the final days of the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge to the east.

Newspaper accounts of Operation Nomad drastically underplayed the reality of what happened, especially during the opening days of the offensive. History books, too, give only abbreviated nods – if any – to this battle. Yet, it was one of the most brutal, and most costly, the US 24th Infantry Division endured during its historic tenure in Korea.

During the first week of October 1951, the 24th Division moved into IX Corps' Line WYOMING sector to relieve the 7th Infantry Division. Sandwiched between the 2nd ROK Division to the west and the 6th ROK Division to the east, the 24th ID's 5th Infantry Regiment (5th RCT) took positions on the left; the 21st Regiment was positioned in the center; and the 19th Regiment moved into positions on the right, next to the 6th ROK. Also attached to the American regiments was the Columbian Infantry Battalion.

On 13 October, these Allied troops launched an aggressive push against Chinese Communists deeply embedded in the mountains before them. The objective was to push the Chinese off their fortified winter line and also to take the city of Kumsong, a key supply center for enemy troops.

Between the Allied positions and Kumsong stood a series of forbidding objectives, including the “pearl”, Hill 770, inside of which the Chinese Command Post was built to withstand attacks and also house and supply Chinese soldiers during the coming winter.

This cluster of jagged peaks comprised a formidable fortress. In the previous months, the Chinese had taken advantage of the lull in fighting to construct elaborate tunnel, trench and bunker systems within these mountains. During air, mortar and artillery attacks, the enemy had merely to go underground to protect themselves. Emerging predominantly unharmed, they preferred to attack or counterattack after the sun went down.

Command Reports euphemistically reported the Communists exhibited “stubborn resistance” and “gave ground grudgingly” in this battle. Survivors know the reality was far more vicious. The Chinese were not about to give up their comparatively luxurious fortress “grudgingly.”

The terrain was extremely steep, barren and slippery with rubble; cover for attacking troops was nearly non-existent. Allied troops became easy targets as they climbed upward under hails of gunfire, mortar, and so many grenades it “looked like flocks of blackbirds coming over.” [See Footnote 1.]

Unlike the North Koreans, who fought for the very dirt beneath their feet, the Chinese were prone to focusing on strategic advantage. In the push and pull of battle, they would give up yardage if it would lure the Allies into untenable positions.

By each day’s end, many 24th ID platoons were left with only a handful of men. By morning, they’d be back up to strength; the "pipeline" of replacements was running with the tap wide open – for the first days. After that, anybody who could carry a gun or a stretcher, including cooks, were brought in to replace the fallen.

The 24th Division reached Line NOMAD by 17 October, and after five straight days of fighting, the troops hoped for a chance to rest. But they were immediately assigned a new objective, Line POLAR; they secured it five days later, on 22 October.

Operation Nomad-Polar was the last major Allied offensive of the Korean War. The cost was high: at least 1,784 American casualties in 10 days. Of these, 288 were killed in action, died of wounds, or were later declared dead. (These figures do not include the many casualties in the following days and weeks, as the Chinese tried to regain their positions.)

Perhaps it’s coincidence – perhaps not – but it must be noted that Communist Liaison officers agreed to resume truce talks with the Americans and South Koreans on October 22nd, the day the 24th Division reached Line POLAR.

One must wonder, why would such a key battle be underplayed in the press – and nearly vanquished from histories of the Korean War?

One possible reason may be that “Operation Nomad” was not a term the Army shared with the press, the public, or even with the soldiers themselves. In fact, many or most veterans who survived the battle remember it only as the Big Fall Push.

In contrast, battles that were given labels by journalists grabbed the public’s imagination, such as Bloody Ridge, the Punchbowl, Old Baldy, Iron Triangle and Heartbreak Ridge. In contrast battles known for their hill numbers did not grab similar attention.

According to published statistics, the 24th Division averaged 175 American casualties per day during Operation Nomad-Polar. In comparison, the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge had daily average of 113 casualties; and the Battle of Bloody Ridge averaged 146 casualties per day. The only autumn battle more deadly than Operation Nomad was Operation Commando, which averaged 377 casualties per day. [See Footnote 2.]

Regarding the seemingly deliberate attempt to downplay the realities of Operation Nomad-Polar in newspaper reports, one could point to the inexperience of the reporter, who was in fact not a journalist, but an Associated Press photographer. The following is taken from the AP story published on Monday, 15 October 1951:

. . .AP photographer Bob Schulz reported from the front that American and South Korean foot soldiers made gains of 3,000 yards in the first four hours of their attack Monday.

Schulz said that the gains of almost a mile and a half were made “against an astonishing lack of Chinese resistance.”

In the assaulting forces were troops of the U. S. 24th Division, and the South Korean Second and Sixth Divisions.

The lack of intense infantry fighting in this sector contrasted sharply with the recent raging battles on the Western and Eastern fronts. There, Chinese and Korean Reds contested every yard.

AP photographer Robert H. Schulz reported from the Central front that Sunday’s gains on the approaches to Kumsong brought to nearly three miles the ground taken in the three-day push. Kumsong is a Red supply and staging depot area well protected by mountains some 30 miles north of Parallel 38.

The Allied Force – the U. S. 24th Division and the Republic of Korea (ROK) Second and Sixth Divisions – has seized nineteen hills in the advance, two of the most important Sunday. One is 2,000 feet high.

Schulz reported the most noteworthy aspect of the advance was the “only moderate” resistance from what are apparently unusually poor quality Chinese troops.

Whether these teen-age and middle-age scrapings from the Chinese military barrel are the main defense of the Kumsong sector or whether they are only a forward screening forte remains to be seen. . .

Schulz failed to report the 24th suffered some 750 casualties in those first three days; nor was the public informed that 115 of those casualties resulted in death; and he certainly did not accurately portray the viciousness of the battle.

There is another, possibly related, factor to consider. During this time period, American journalists were frustrated and angry, because they were being denied access to facts surrounding ground fighting and truce negotiations. In his excellent account of the Korean War, Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Toland writes:

The fighting along the front continued to be bitter and inconclusive. On October 15, [1951] Heartbreak Ridge, just north of the Punchbowl, was finally secured – after 3,700 American casualties. On the Eighth Army left flank, Operation Commando reached its objective in four days but also with heavy losses. In the United States, the public responded in a poll, with two thirds describing the Korean conflict as “an utterly useless war.”

While the liaison officers at Panmunjom were thrashing out an agreement, General Ridgway was attempting to pacify the correspondents. Hanson Baldwin of The New York Times protested that “embellished adjectives had replaced facts.” The military communiqué of World War II had been simple, often terse. In this war it had become “a grab bag of service claims, so-called ‘action’ verbs and descriptive phrases.” And the result was “all the more serious since censorship in Korea had been serious and often captious.”

At a press conference on October 16, Ridgway acknowledged that “full and timely information” had not been supplied and promised “steps would be taken to correct the situation.” At the same time, it would be “bad faith” to release certain kinds of information. As for the fighting, Ridgway acknowledged that the situation from some standpoints “could readily be construed as a military stalemate. It all depends on how you look at it.” [See Footnote 3.]

Whether “full and timely information” was being withheld for military – or for political – reasons remains unclear, at least to this writer. We do know American sentiments against the war were having a notable affect on the Truman administration.

Unquestionably, the truth of Operation Nomad-Polar was skewed and buried. Participants were cheated of honor by the media, overlooked by historians and, perhaps worst, were treated with total indifference upon returning home.

The men who participated in this operation – both friend and foe – fought a gut-wrenching battle. The 24th Division, the Korean War’s most veteran American Division, not only achieved its objectives, but did so with magnificence. The Allies ended up driving the Chinese some 10 miles from their winter line, captured the enemy’s fortifications, and destroyed Kumsong, along with its rail/supply capabilities. It was a resounding victory.

Yes, the Korean War may still be unfinished. But, even after their WWII patriotism and idealism was mashed into the ground forever, American soldiers successfully fended off Communist aggression on that blood-soaked peninsula.

They won.

Copyright
Merry M Helm
mhelm@cableone.net

---

Footnotes:

[1] Private Al Moore in interview with author, 2006.

[2] Operation Nomad-Polar: 1,752 casualties 13 to 22 Oct 1951.  Heartbreak Ridge: 3,745 casualties sustained between 13 Sep to 15 Oct 1951.  Bloody Ridge: 2, 772 casualties from 18 Aug to 5 Sep 1951.  Operation Commando: 2,643 casualties, 3 to 9 Oct 1951.  Taken from A Chronology of the Forgotten War's remembered battles. www.vfw.org.  As published in APG News.  Aberdeen Proving Ground.  30 October 2003; p 5.

Three American Divisions, for which casualty records are available, carried out Operation Commando.  In contrast, casualties sustained by the Columbian Battalion and the two ROK Divisions during Operation Nomad are not readily available and are not factored into the daily casualty statistics noted above.

[3] Toland, John.  In Mortal Combat: Korea 1950-1953.  New York: William Morrow.  1991: pp 487-488.


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Walter Hermes Writings

Operation Nomad was the name given to the 24th Infantry Division's push toward Kumsong, North Korea, on Korea's Central Sector some 30 miles north of Parallel 38.  The 24th was accompanied by the ROK Second and Sixth Divisions on this push toward Kumsong.

According to 24th Forward, Nomad's goals were to

"...root the Chinese from its proposed winter line of defense, gain high ground overlooking the Kumsong valley to render it ineffective to the Chinese army operating in the area, and demonstrate the considerable fighting power that was at the command of the Allied Powers." [24th Forward, Troop Information and Education, 24th Infantry Division Headquarters, APO 24, c/o Postmaster, San Francisco, CA, circa 1952.]'

The following excerpt from Hermes sets the stage for our drive toward Kumsong in October 1951.

"On October 9, General Van Fleet visited IX Corps headquarters and found Lt. Gen. William H. Hoge and his division commanders eager to carry out local advances along the corps front.  The objectives would be to improve the defensive positions of the divisions in the line and to maintain pressure upon the enemy.  Since both of these coincided with Eighth Army directives, Van Fleet gave his approval.

The U.S. 24th Division, and the ROK 2nd and 6th Divisions were selected to make the advance to a line about four miles south of Kumsong.  The American division was flanked on either side by the South Korean divisions and was expected to provide tank support for the ROK 2nd.

On October 13, units of the third divisions moved out and registered gains of almost two miles the first day.  During the night the Chinese mounted several counter attacks, which were successfully beaten off.  Despite stubborn resistance and intense concentrations of artillery fire, the IX Corps troops pushed ahead slowly during the next few days and reached the objective line by October 17.  The favorable outcome led Hoge to direct another advance two miles closer to Kumsong.  Here the attackers would establish a strong outpost line and patrol aggressively to maintain contact with the enemy.

The pattern set up during the initial phase of the IX Corps advance repeated itself during the second phase.  Hoge reported that the enemy reaction seemed to be one of delay rather than a serious effort to hold the line.  Chinese attacks varied from platoon to battalion size and most frequently were launched during the night or just before dawn.  Heavy artillery and mortar fire accompanied the enemy drives and hand grenades were used plentifully."

Continuing from Hermes, the following quote appears to have been one of the significant motivating factors in General Van Fleet's launching attacks such as Nomad.  Hermes states:

"The Eighth Army shift from the passive defense was fostered by both external and internal developments.  Since the enemy had used the respite on the battlefield to build up his stocks and to bring his combat units up to strength, Van Fleet wanted to probe the Communist defenses, determining the disposition of the enemy troops, and prevent them from employing their mounting offensive capabilities by keeping them off balance.

In addition, Van Fleet was aware that the combat efficiency of the Eighth Army had slipped during the latter part of July.  Patrols were conducted indifferently and failed to bring in prisoners.  Gathering intelligence became an increasingly difficult task.  Even a stepped-up training program was not enough to restore the ability and will of the Eighth Army to fight.  Inactivity and the hope that the armistice talks would prove successful were a tough combination to defeat.

As Van Fleet pointed out later:

"A sitdown army is subject to collapse at the first sign of an enemy effort.... As Commander of the Eighth Army, I couldn't allow my forces to become soft and dormant.' (emphasis added)

In the course of disturbing the enemy's dispositions and of sharpening the fighting edge of the Eighth Army troops, Van Fleet also hoped to improve his own defense positions along the front.  There were several areas where the seizure of dominant terrain would remove sags in the line or threats to the UNC lines of communication." [Hermes, Walter G., United States Army in the Korean War, Truce Tent and Fighting Front]

From the above writings and the Associated Press articles contained in the file Nomad Associated Press October 13-14.pdf  it would appear that Operation Nomad was a fairly easy time--a piece of cake!  However, for me and my company, E Company, and our regiment, the 19th Infantry Regiment, it was anything but that!

From my analysis of casualty records, the 19th Infantry Regiment suffered its greatest monthly casualties anytime during the Korean War--912 total casualties and 152 who paid the supreme price--to Operation Nomad.  Only July 1950 when the 19th suffered 888 total casualties came anywhere near October 1951.  And the accompanying article, Nomad 24th Forward [COMING SOON ON THE KWE] has words that support this view of Nomad.

Please keep in mind that while some components of the 24th apparently were able to move relatively freely toward Kumsong, some others were not.

We are especially interested in contacting anyone with the 24th Division or its supporting units who would like to cooperate in our effort to better document and describe Operation Nomad.

Thomas J. Thiel
Co. E, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division
Korea, 1951-52
Tthiels@comcast.net

Merry Helm
mhelm@cableone.net


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Associated Press Headlines

  • Violent Fight Rages in Central Area as Three U.N. Divisions Open At-tack
    Reds Recapture Critical Point At Heartbreak - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Saturday, October 13, 1951
     
  • Allied Forces Push Deep Into Red Korea - The Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Sunday, October 14, 1951
     
  • Reds’ Central Korea Stand May Collapse:
    UN Troops Smash Ahead on 22-Mile Battlefront - The Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Monday, October 15, 1951
  • Allied Plane Strafed Neutral Zone, Gen. Ridgway Says UN, Communist Officers Hold 3-Hour Meeting
    Reds Offer Little Opposition in Hills/Three Allied Divisions Take Two New Positions - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Tuesday, October 16, 1951
     
  • Reds are Caught in Giant Trap; Get Air Licking - Communists Suffer Worst Air Defeat - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Wednesday, October 17, 1951
     
  • Allies Near Kumsong as Reds Fall Back - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Thursday, October 18, 1951
     
  • UN Troops Push Nearer Kumsong - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Friday, October 19, 1951
     
  • The Florence Morning News, Florence, S.C., Friday, October 19, 1951
     
  • Red Defenders of Kumsong Driven Off Hill by Allies - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Saturday, October 20, 1951
     
  • Allied-Red Fight Rages at Kumsong - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Sunday, October 21, 1951
     
  • The Florence Morning News, Florence, S.C., Sunday, October 21, 1951
     
  • Nearing Agreement (Armistice Talks) - Reds Near Kumsong Offer No Opposition - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Monday, October 22, 1951
     
  • The Florence Morning News, Florence, S.C., Monday, October 22, 1951
     
  • Allies Win Ground, Air Fights; Rumble Through Kumsong - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Tuesday, October 23, 1951
     
  • Reds Planes Offer Stiffest Opposition of Korean Fight - Allied Losses May be Heavier Than Indicated - Florence Morning News, Florence, SC, Wednesday, October 24, 1951
     
  • The Florence Morning News, Florence, S.C., Wednesday October 24, 1951 - UN, Communists Plan to Resume Korean Armistice Talks Tonight
    Reds Accept Allied Terms After Delay

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Nomad 24th Forward


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Detailed Casualty Information

Introduction & Explanation Key

Detailed casualty information for operation Nomad was compiled in six different sorting arrangements or reports to facilitate user access.

The reports are all in the same data format in that the columns (vertical) all contain the same data in the same order. But for each of the six different arrangements the rows (horizontal) are ordered differently depending upon how the information was arranged.  For the most part the information contained in each column is fairly obvious, but more detail for the company, documentation, and GO# columns is provided in the Interpretation Key near the end of this document.

The six arrangements, along with a brief description of how that information is arranged and how best to use that specific report or arrangement, are as follows:

010 Last Name Order

This is the primary casualty list and is arranged by last and then first name (column 1) order. So the first column of this report has names in alphabetic order, beginning with Abbott and ending with Zuniga. It is primarily useful for looking for a specific member of the 24th Infantry Division who was a casualty of Operation Nomad if you know that person’s name.  Once you have located that individual then you can scan across the table to determine the type of casualty, when it occurred and other related information.

020 Unit - Last Name Order

Suppose, however, you want to look at all the casualties by the unit they were in during Nomad. Notice that the unit is at the rightmost column of the report and begins with the 13th Field Artillery, which suffered three casualties in Nomad according to this data. The next unit in this arrangement is the 19th Infantry Regiment (my unit, by the way), and that the first casualty listed is Mr. Able, who was in my section at the time of his injury. The 19th didn’t fare so well as 23 pages later we find Mr. Zuniga again as the last member of the 19th on this list. All the names within a unit are then arranged in alphabetic order on name.  Immediately after Mr. Zuniga, the unit designation switches to the 21st Infantry Regiment and the first name occurring there is Mr. Aguilera. The last casualty with the 21st is Mr. Zonca, etc.

030 Company - Unit - Last Name Order

For a relatively limited number of casualty records Ms. Helm added the specific company to which the person was assigned during Operation Nomad. This data arrangement then orders the casualty records first in company order (Able, Baker, Charlie, etc.), and next in u7nit order and finally within these two they are arranged alphabetically by last and first name.  This report is only nine pages long in contrast to the 52 pages in the above re-ports. The reason for this is that only a limited amount of such information was available.  How may this be used? To see if per chance any of your comrades in your Company may appear in this list.

040 Casualties - Last Name Order

This report is first arranged by the information in the casualty column (the 10th column) and within that on last, first name. A numerical sequence number was added at the left of the name column to facilitate counting casualties.

This arrangement would be of most use to just evaluate total casualties. For a detailed definition of the entry in this column please see the Interpretation Key near the end of this document.

050 Date - Last Name Order

This report is primarily ordered by the information in the date column (column 11) and then by last, first name order (column 1).  This arrangement is useful to evaluate the casualties on any given Operation No-mad date. A numerical sequence number has been added in the leftmost column to facilitate counting casualties by date.

060 Date - Casualty - Last Name Order

The last report is arranged similar to the above report in that it first arranged by the date of the casualty (date column, column 11). Then it was ordered by the type of casualty (column 10), and finally arranged by name. This report may be useful to determine casualties by date and type, but if you do wish to compile such information please see the next section first.

Nomad Casualty Summary Table

If you are interested in analyzing casualties by Date and Type, we have already performed some analyses of the data. It is presented in both tabular and graphical form in a one-page summary obtainable by clicking on the above link.

Acrobat Reader’s Search Power

Ms. Helm first compiled this information with a Microsoft Works Spread Sheet. She then sent it me and I converted it first to an Excel spread sheet where the formatting and arranging was done. Next it was converted to the Adobe Portable Document Format with Adobe Acrobat Professional 7.0.8 so that it would be universally available to anyone with Adobe Reader on their computers. Adobe Reader 7 or higher is recommended and may be obtained at:
http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html. One of the strengths of Acrobat Reader is its Search and Find capability. Suppose for example you want to find all the casualties of Operation Nomad from Los Angeles. We did not provide you with a report that will enable you to do that.

Here is how one might go about doing this. Open Report 010 above (010 Last Name Order) with Adobe Reader. Then click on the Search or Field Glasses icon. The Search PDF window will open on the right hand side of the screen. Enter “Los Angeles” in the “What word or phrase would you like to search for?” Hit enter. Almost immediately you will find there were 81 casualties of Operation Nomad from Los Angeles. You may view each one of the records the Search command located.

You may also use the Find option to sequentially find each occurrence of the words “Los Angeles.” You could do similarly for “Purple Heart” and find there are 58 such listings. Search and Find are powerful tools to locate a given record in this system and may be used on all of the reports.

T.J. Thiel
E Company, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division
Korea 1951-52
tthiel5@comcast.net

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Interpretation Key - Operation Nomad-Polar casualty list:

The table below reveals preliminary findings and will be updated as more research materials can be obtained from military archives.

Abbreviations: KIA – killed in action; MIA – missing in action; WIA – wounded in action; SIA – seriously injured in action; Capt – captured; RTD – returned to duty; RTMC – returned to military control. Other notations include those who died of their wounds after leaving the battlefield and for those whose injuries or disabilities made it necessary for them to be separated from the Army.

Purple Hearts: Current research indicates a significant undercount of WIA casualties during the Korean War. Documentation of these uncounted casualties can be found at division, regimental and unit levels, company morning reports, award citations, etc, and will be continually added to this list as it becomes available.

Please Note: Not every soldier received a Purple Heart for his wounds, so this list should not be construed as validation that the device was actually given out. Offered below is information about where to locate valid documentation of a soldier’s wounds – whether or not he was appropriately awarded the Purple Heart.

The column labeled “documentation” indicates information has been located for currently unlisted soldiers who were wounded in action. The GO# column indicates the number of the General Order containing the documentation, followed by the year in which that GO was written.

General Orders were issued at 8th Army level, 24th Division level (for which only the GO# is listed) and at Regimental/unit levels. Examples:

1. GO# 21, 1951, is General Order 21, issued 1951, by the 24th Infantry Division. (WIA documentation at this level is often found in the citation text for Silver Stars or Bronze Medal [with “V” device for Valor] recipients.)

2. GO# 8th – 42, 1952, is General Order 42, issued 1952, by the 8th Army. (WIA documentation at this level is occasionally found in the citation text for Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross recipients.)

3. GO# 19th – 9, 1952, is General Order 9, issued 1952, by the 19th Infantry Regiment. (As more research becomes possible, information for other 24th Division units will be added.)

4. MR 10-24, 1951, is the soldier’s company’s Morning Report for October 24, 1951.

5. Prsnl Rpt 39: Included below are three names missing from the National Archives’ casualty database, which were discovered in several pages of “Personnel Reports” for a specific Army hospital. The reports included rosters of wounded patients.


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Memoirs

Those who have memories of Operation Nomad are welcome to send them to Lynnita for posting on this page.  Photographs in connection with those memories are also welcome.

Contents:

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The Ralph Frederick Story
written by Al Oppedal

As it says in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” It is a bitter irony that the finest expression of this verse is often revealed in the crucible of war, when a soldier sometimes has to choose between saving his own life or risking it to save a comrade in jeopardy.  That was true of a pair of young men, one from a farm in Iowa and the other from a small town in Ohio. They met and became friends as members of Fox Company, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, while serving during the Korean War. Their friendship was put to its harshest test during one of the worst battles of the Korean War, a battle that was launched with good intentions, but one that nearly became a tragedy. It was resolved by the individual courage of American soldiers.

James W. Gullett grew up in the town of Pedro, Ohio, and was working at a newspaper in Ironton, Ohio, when he was drafted into the Army in early 1951. For his basic training, he was sent to Ft. Riley, Kansas, the home of the 24th Infantry Division. At about the same time, Ralph Frederick, a farm boy from Ruthven, Iowa, received his draft notice. Frederick was older than most draftees at the time. Approaching his twenty-sixth birthday, Frederick had been deferred from service in World War II because an older brother was serving in the Navy and Ralph was needed on the farm. Ralph had lost his mother when he was only seven, but his father, Clarence, had done an excellent job of raising his family. Ralph was a star athlete in high school, particularly excelling in baseball, and had been a member of teams that had competed successfully against semipro clubs and all star teams from surrounding states.

Gullett and Frederick did not cross paths at Ft. Riley, but both arrived in Korea in April, 1951, as replacements for the depleted numbers of the 24th. United Nations forces were preparing to launch an offensive to push Chinese forces out of South Korea and bring the war to an end. The pair wound up as members of the same squad, and quickly became friends. Both had been ardent outdoorsmen, and shared tales about fishing and hunting. Their friendship was such that Gullett, who enjoyed chewing tobacco, could prevail on Frederick to stash additional supplies of the material in the bloused legs of his trousers. Frederick would later admit, “Before long, I was chewing the stuff, too.”

As is always true when green replacements join battle-hardened veteran units, the newcomers were not greeted warmly. They would have to prove themselves. They soon had their chance, and quickly became accepted by the veterans.  The 24th had seen some of the worst fighting of the war. The Division had been serving with occupation forces in Japan when North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. The 24th was soft from occupation duty and it was deficient in personnel, training and necessary equipment. It was soon pinned in the Southeastern corner of the Korean peninsula. It seemed possible that the Division might be pushed into the sea. During the rapid advance of the North Korean forces, the commanding officer of the 24th, Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, was captured. Despite the dire situation, U.S. forces rallied. A solid defensive line, called “the Pusan Perimeter,” was established, and the line held.

The situation was dramatically remedied with, an amphibious invasion at Inchon, a town on the far northwestern coast of South Korea. The invasion was launched at dawn on September 15, 1950, by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Due to the erratic tides at Inchon, such an invasion was thought to be at best foolhardy, and at worst impossible, but it worked. U.S. forces to the southeast broke out of the Pusan Perimeter, and linked up with the troops moving inland from Inchon. North Korean forces were soon in headlong and confused retreat. The North Korean Army seemingly was through as an effective fighting force.

With the North Koreans pushed back behind “the 38th Parallel,” or the line that separated North and South Korea, the mission of the “police action” had apparently been accomplished.  “In war there is no substitute for victory,” was the view of Old Warrior MacArthur. He wanted to chase enemy forces into their North Korean enclave and continue to pound them until they surrendered unconditionally. MacArthur received authorization from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to invade North Korea “provided there was no danger of Chinese or Russian intervention.” Just what could be done if such intervention occurred after Allied forces were engaged in North Korea was not explained. MacArthur received the necessary Presidential approval on September 29, 1950.

There were some storm signals. The Chinese Communists warned that they “would not tolerate foreign aggression.” India opposed “any invasion of North Korea.” Syngman Rhee, president of South Korea, announced his intention to complete the liberation of all of Korea. He expected to serve as President of a united Korea, and this infuriated the Russians and Chinese.  MacArthur demanded the surrender of North Korean forces, but receiving no reply, U.N. forces moved into North Korea. By October 26, forward elements of U.N. forces had advanced to within a few miles of the border between North Korea and Manchuria. The 24th Division had won several engagements, driving within a few miles of Sinuiju, a town just near the western edge of the Korean peninsula and right on the Manchurian border. Within a few days, however, it was evident the situation had been radically changed. Enemy prisoners, who spoke freely to interrogators, stated that large forces of Communist Chinese had entered Korea. Although the identity of the prisoners was obvious, intelligence was reluctant to conclude that their presence indicated a full-scale Chinese invasion.

It was soon evident that there had, in fact, been a Chinese invasion, and in large numbers. U.N. forces were soon in a fighting retreat, made more difficult by the onset of extreme winter weather. The allied forces were pushed back into South Korea.  That was the approximate situation when Gullett and Frederick arrived as replacements in mid-April, 1951. MacArthur thought his military reputation had been sullied, and he was determined to push the Chinese forces out of Korea.

Korea is a rugged country, and the push north mostly involved moving up one ridge at a time. The U.N. forces, mostly U.S., would advance up a ridge, then dig in for the night. As they moved up each ridge, the soldiers would continuously fire their M-1 rifles from the hip, jamming the 8-round clips into their weapons as fast as they could. Most of the time, there was little contact with the enemy, although no one had any doubt that they were out
there somewhere. Gullett would recall a time when they were dug in and had no water to drink. He knew that venturing outside his foxhole was an invitation to be shot. He thought it was providential when it started raining, and he could catch the rain in his empty ration tins.

Through the summer and continuing in the fall, the U.N. line moved steadily northward. Frederick would remember only “three or four times” that he felt in real danger during this period. The reports of mass Chinese suicide attacks that were reported in the U.S. press seldom, if ever, happened, at least not in the experience of Gullett and Frederick. The preferred Chinese tactic was to infiltrate forces through the U.S. lines, then launch harassing attacks from the rear. One time, Gullett and Frederick were part of a force assigned to relieve a company that had been surrounded by the Chinese.

By the time October arrived, the U.N. forces had advanced to a point far north of the 38th Parallel. The generals apparently concluded that the time was ripe for a showdown battle with the Chinese. “We were never told anything,” Frederick would remember years later. “We had no idea where we were, and we sure weren’t clued in on the big picture. But you didn’t have to be a genius to figure something was going on. We were pushed harder each day, and were meeting more resistance and taking more casualties. A lot of times you really wonder how smart the people are that are giving the orders, but they don’t exactly ask your opinion, you know.”

What was evolving was something known as “Operation Nomad.” It was a big push, and Gullett and Frederick were right in the middle of it. It turned into a near disaster, and you will most likely search in vain for any reference to “Operation Nomad” in any published literature of the war.  On October 19, 1951, Fox Company was given the assignment of being in the center of a frontal attack up a ridge. The attack was to be launched in mid-afternoon. The Chinese had laid a trap for them, having dug a trench around the entire ridge. The trench was manned and armed.

Frederick had an omen that it wasn’t going to go well. Early in the morning, another member of Frederick’s and Gullett’s squad, a youngster from Sacramento County, California, named Alfonso Garcia, told Frederick, “We’re going to have to go up that ridge this afternoon. I want to see what is on the other side.”  Garcia, Gullett and Frederick had arrived in Korea at the same time, and Garcia and Frederick were often assigned to the same patrols, and traded duties as advance scout for the platoon.  “He was a nice kid and a good soldier,” Frederick would recall. “Always had a smile on his face, always was upbeat, and he loved to talk about horses. Evidently, his family had some horses, and he was really proud of that. You couldn’t talk him out of anything, though. He wanted to go up that hill.”  Garcia was crawling up the hill, but soon he was rolling back down. He was dead. The memory of his friend rolling down the hill would remain with Frederick for the rest of his life and bring tears to his eyes, but the attack up the ridge was going to proceed.

Gullett was a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man. Handling a BAR in combat was not a task for which any logically-minded individual was likely to volunteer. In the grim humor of the battle-hardened GI, the life expectancy of a BAR man in combat was estimated at thirty seconds. Gullett would not only be manning a BAR during the attack, he would be in the lead squad.  A BAR fired the same ammunition as an M-1 rifle, a .30-06 cartridge, but the BAR man was quite conspicuous during an advance. The 8-shot clips for an M-1 were inserted at the top of the weapon, but the BAR carried magazines with 20-25 rounds. These magazines were attached under the rifle. The BAR man would carry several of these magazines into combat, and the weapon was heavier than an M-1, so the BAR man carried a heavy load. The BAR often had a tripod mount at its end, and it was a larger weapon, so the BAR man could be identified from quite a long distance and, when seen, attracted enemy fire like a magnet.  The attack got underway at about 4 in the afternoon, and Fox Company was immediately in trouble. They were quickly pinned down, and many men were hit.

Frederick found cover under a tree that reminded him of a Christmas tree. “Never again in the rest of my life will I ever cut down a Christmas tree,” he would say later. Gullett was to Frederick’s left, perhaps twenty or so yards away. Gullett had been hit, and had fallen into a large shell crater. He called for help.  Frederick called for the medic, but was told that the medic had been hit. At that time, Frederick perhaps was the only man in the squad who was as yet unscathed. He hesitated, but only for a moment. He was hidden from view behind the tree, and was safe, but he abandoned the security of the tree to help Gullett. He may have been hit as he worked his way to Gullett, but he didn’t feel any pain. Later, he was found to have several wounds in his face, shoulder and back from small fragments, apparently from rifle launched grenades. “It was about like No. 4 bird shot,” he would recall later.  He worked his way crab-wise to Gullett’s position. Gullett was very glad to see him, but Ralph was appalled at what he saw. Gullett had received a very severe leg wound and was bleeding profusely. It appeared that much of his calf muscle had been shot away. The shell crater was filled with gore.
Each man carried some field dressings with him. Frederick used all he had, and found Gullett’s. Somehow, he managed to stop the bleeding by applying a crude tourniquet.  “I’m not going to be able to carry you out of this hole,” Frederick told Gullett. “So, you’re going to have to crawl out of here as best you can, and I will come back for you and get you down the hill.”

Frederick heard Gullett’s yell that he had made it. He then picked up Gullett’s BAR and emptied a couple of magazines, sweeping fire over where he thought the Chinese positions were. As he fired the BAR, he backed up until he was at Gullett’s position. He abandoned the BAR and hoisted Gullett so he could use his good leg. “It was sort of like a three-legged race at a picnic,” Frederick said.  The trip down the hill was not uneventful. The pair was hit with grenade fragments, and was knocked flat at least once. Gullett received additional wounds in his shoulder and back, and Frederick also received additional wounds.  They arrived at the bottom of the hill, and Frederick was the one who received attention. He couldn’t figure out why, because it was obvious, at least to him, that Gullett was the one with the severe wounds. Later on, he discovered why. The grenade fragments had caused him to bleed profusely on his face, and he had about a two-week growth of whiskers, “so I must have been a sorry sight,” Frederick said. “They probably figured I had a severe head wound.”

Frederick was told that he had earned the Purple Heart and also a Silver Star, as he had rescued a wounded man while wounded himself, and doing it under fire. That was the last he would hear about a Silver Star, and he wouldn’t receive a Purple Heart until many years later. In the confusion of battle, there were more important things to think about. He was asked whether or not he would be able to walk to a position by a river that was about a quarter mile away. He said that he could. He and two other men made their way to the river.  Frederick recognized the two men as replacements. They had joined unit days earlier. Frederick heard gunfire, which he recognized as mortars, and also saw small arms fire making splashes in the river. He concluded that the position would soon be untenable, as the mortars were zeroing in. He figured he could outrun a mortar, but the rounds could be deadly if they remained where they were. He told the other men that they would have to abandon the position and seek shelter elsewhere. The two men refused to leave.

By this time, Frederick had crossed the river a couple of times, looking for the best escape route. As a result, most of the blood was washed from his trousers. He was now starting to feel some pain from his wounds. Frederick had no authority to tell the men what to do, and he again advised them to leave, but said the choice was up to them.
He then took a guess as to which direction would lead him to friendly forces, and took off.  “I ran as hard as I could for as far as I could,” he said. “I have no idea how far I ran, but eventually I came across an abandoned jeep. I hadn’t eaten anything since morning, and there were a couple cans of C rations on the front seat, so I helped myself.  “Eventually, I ran into some people who told me to keep moving in the same direction and I would eventually run into some tents. I finally found those tents. It was some sort of aid station, and I could see that many men from my unit were there being treated. I looked around to see if I could find Gullett. He was there, on a stretcher. Evidently he had been brought in by helicopter. He looked terrible, seemed to be bleeding from every pore, but he was glad to see me. “I asked him how he was doing, and he said he would probably be going stateside. He asked how I was, and I told him I was fine. Then, some guy hollered at me to get on a truck, and that was the last time I ever saw Gullett. I sure thought of him many times over the years, wondering whether or not he got out of Korea alive.”

Only 12 of the 50 or more men in the platoon were able to return to active duty, and Frederick was the only member of his 12-man squad to rejoin Fox Company. He spent about three weeks in the field hospital before being returned to his unit. While Frederick and Gullett were moved to hospitals in the rear, the battle known as Operation Nomad was drawing to a close. The day after the pair was wounded, the remnants of Fox Company joined George Company. The men went up the same path as Gullett and Frederick had gone the day before. Master Sergeant Woodrow “Woody” Keeble, a native American from Sisseton, S.D., led the first platoon of the merged companies.

The men were pinned down. They would later describe the large number of grenades passing overhead as “looking like a flock of blackbirds.” Keeble crawled forward and told the men, “You guys wait here. I’m going up by myself.”
Keeble had fought in WWII, and had been an outstanding baseball pitcher before that war, good enough to be offered a contract by the Chicago White Sox. He was about to put his arm strength to better use, and commenced an act of heroism worthy of Sgt. York.

There were three machine gun nests at the top of the ridge that were backed up by two trenches of riflemen. Keeble flanked one of the bunkers and destroyed it with a grenade. Somehow he worked his way around to wipe out the second bunker. Before he could attack the third bunker, he was hit with a concussion grenade. He took time to regain his bearings, then took out the third bunker with his rifle. He took out seven more riflemen in the trenches, and then the Chinese broke, running down the trench.

Members of Howe Company proceeded to mop up the rest, leaving the trench “brimful of dead Chinese.” Keeble had been wounded on October 15 and again on October 17. The medics didn’t want him going up the hill on the 20th, but he went anyway. His knee had been blown out. He accomplished what he did with wounds to his arms, legs, chest and face. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but a mix-up and lost paper work delayed it. Finally, a decision was made that the Medal of Honor “quota” had been filled, so the nation’s highest military honor would not be granted to the noble soldier. All the men who served with him will cherish his memory for as long as they live. Keeble died in 1982, but his widow is still alive, and those who witnessed his heroism have been fighting to get him the recognition he deserves.

As for Gullett, he spent most of his remaining service time in army hospitals. His war wound would plague him for the rest of his life. Both he and Frederick returned home and resumed their lives, trying their best to put their war experience behind them. Neither talked of their experiences, not even to their wives. Gullett had a particularly hard time, but he had a religious conversion and became an ordained minister at age 36. He served as pastor of the United Pentecostal Church in Grayson, Kentucky, for 29 years. He died in 2001. Frederick never received his Silver Star, and it was decades before either he or Gullett received their campaign ribbons and Purple Heart medals. It was almost as though it had been forgotten that they had ever served. “It is really hard to talk to anyone about it,” Frederick would say. “If you weren’t there, you couldn’t really understand what it was like, and when you talk to people about it, their eyes sort of glaze over, so you just learn to keep it to yourself.”

Frederick would experience more tragedy. His wife died at age 37, and he was left to raise their young daughter. His health started to decline during the summer of 2006, and he gave more thought to his experiences in Korea. He continued to wonder about his friend Gullett and what had happened to him. Frederick at last unloaded some of his experiences and his concern about his friend. His nephew, John Frederick, had started corresponding with Congressmen and Senators in an effort to get Frederick his award while he was still alive. A notice was posted on the computer website of the Korean War Project asking for any members of Fox Company, 119th Infantry Regiment who might have recollections of the unit’s action on October 19, 1951.

The notice attracted the attention of Merry Helm, a lady from Fargo, ND, who has made it a mission to gain more information about Operation Nomad and the men who participated in it. Through her efforts, Mrs. Ernestine Gullett, the widow of James W. Gullett, was located. Frederick had a chance to hear from her. On November 6, 2006, Ms. Helm did a telephone interview with Ralph. “I was so amazed and so glad to hear that Gullett had lived,” Frederick said in the interview. “It is wonderful that he had a chance to raise a family and live such a full life. I wish I could have seen him, though. He was a great guy.” Nine days later, on November 15, 2006, Ralph Frederick died, but those who talked him during the last days of his life knew a huge burden had been lifted from him. He was at peace.

A copy of the interview was sent to Ernestine Gullett. “I had to cry when I read the interview,” she said. “To think what those men went through. I hope Ralph knew that he saved the life of a wonderful man. I don’t understand why this all happened, but God works in mysterious ways.”

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About the Author - by Al Oppedal

I grew up on a farm in rural Ruthven, Iowa. We were neighbors to the Frederick family. In those times, a good neighbor was something to be cherished, and the Fredericks were good neighbors. I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Journalism. Out of college, I had a job with the Omaha World Herald, but was 1-A in the draft, and chose to take the exam for Navy OCS. I was commissioned, and served on a DER out of Pearl Harbor and when the DER was decommissioned, I served as assistant officer in charge of a remote facility in the western Pacific. After release from active duty, I served six years in the active reserve and six years in the inactive reserve. My career was in publishing, and upon retirement, my wife and I returned to our home community, where I completed work on a book about the history of the community, and specifically, the contribution of young men from rural communities made in winning the Inevitable Triumph, or victory in World War II. We also became reacquainted with former friends, including Ralph Frederick. Ralph had been one of the heroes of my childhood. I was fascinated with what Ralph and others had gone through in their service in Korea and was chagrined that their noble contribution has not been recognized. I hope to make at least a small contribution in alleviating that oversight.


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Nomad Photo Album

[Visitors to this page of the Korean War Educator are invited to send their Operation Nomad-related pictures (1951 through now) for posting in this photo album.  Send them to Lynnita Brown, 111 E. Houghton St., Tuscola, IL 61953 or e-mail them as an attachment.]


My squad after Nomad
(Photo courtesy
Thomas J. Thiel)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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