My first indication that I might wind up being in a war began on the 25th of June 1950 when the headline of the Indianapolis Sunday Star read "North Koreans swarm across the border." At that time I didn't even know anything about North Korea, where it was, or who they were fighting. In just a few days, the 16th Marine Battalion left for training from Indianapolis, with several friends of mine. After training, it went on to the Chosin Reservoir, where my three friends were all hit. I figured my time would soon come.
On January 25, 1951 - happy 22nd birthday - I took the oath of loyalty to the federal government, then joined 44 other draftees to the 200-mile drive to Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky to begin 14 weeks of infantry basic training. We suffered greatly from the heavy snows and bitter cold of that winter, with outside temperatures reaching -20 degrees. Our 600-bed hospital was quickly filled with very ill flu patients while hundreds more remained bedfast in their barracks.
At that time I began to write my series on Army training I had promised for the Indiana Catholic newspaper, a project I continued for 16 months. In May of 1951 I completed basic training. Twenty-five of our group were ordered to Leadership School. Most of the company went to Germany; two went to Korea, both killed when their mortar platoon was overrun. July 1951 - Completed Leadership School, assigned to Troop Information and Education Program to write and produce a daily regimental newspaper and lecturing to basic trainees. November 1951 - Ordered to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to attend 22-week artillery school. Graduated in May 1952 with a Second Lieutenant's commission. May 1952 - Ordered to the 31st Division at Camp Adderbury, Indiana. Served in the 117th Artillery Battalion as Headquarters Battery Executive and Assistant Battalion Communication Officer. December 1952 - Began the journey to the Far East Command in Tokyo, Japan. Assigned to the Chemical, Biological, Radiological School at Camp Geehu (ph)? for 2 weeks' training.
January 1953 - Moved on to Korea, reached my new home. The 955th Field Artillery Battalion located in North Korea at the east end of the Ninth Corps area. I reported for duty on January 24, 1953, one day short of my second anniversary in the Army, and was greeted by Major Cooper, the Battalion Executive Officer. He said that my personnel records had arrived the day before, and he was happy to note that I had experience as a communications officer. Though I tried to explain that I had no experience in Army communications and had only filled a slot on a chart, the major ignored my comment, as he noted that his only experienced communication officer was to rotate back to the States the following day. He needed someone for the job. That someone was me.
He explained that a Battalion communications officer was expected to hold the rank of either captain or First Lieutenant. As I was neither, he assigned me as assistant communication officer with the full duties and responsibilities of my nonexistent superior. The job as communication officer in an artillery unit called for me to develop and operate both land lines and radio communications and to supervise approximately 120 soldiers assigned to these tasks. I had the use of a jeep and a driver and was expected to spend most of my time in the field on reconnaissance, inspection, and miscellaneous missions.
Secretly pleased at having avoided the dangers of assignment as an artillery forward observer, I planned to quickly learn the physical limits of safe territory. I had no desire to innocently wander into enemy lands. I did not dream that my field trips would expose me to considerable danger, yet in each of the following six months I was to earn a special service bonus from my frequency for coming under close enemy fire. It was a poor way to make a living; I wouldn't recommend it.
In my assignment as communications officer at Camp Atterbury, I had received a complete shipment of the newest state-of-the-Army communication equipment, which was destined for the complete battalion at Camp Atterbury. Acting on orders, I inventoried each piece by the label on the container, entered the item in the property book, then reshipped all containers to the National Guard armories in Alabama and Mississippi for storage. There they were to be placed in storage, still crated and await the return of the Dixie Division to Southern armories.
I entered Korea to find communication equipment in a sad condition. It was all of World War II vintage, which had been used throughout the Pacific war, then stored for five years at stock points in the Pacific regions as World War II ended. Radios destined for forward artillery observation posts were antiquated and so heavy they had to be carried up and down the steep hills in two pieces. Each radio operated on an interior crystal on a single frequency. The radio was so fragile that a slight earth tremor caused by a shell exploding on the ground nearby would make it go off frequency and become inoperable.
In the heat of battle, telephone lines were usually were shot out and artillery observers had to turn to radio communications to call for fire support. Too often these had also failed. Observers had to watch helplessly as they lacked the equipment to call fire on the enemy targets in crucial moments of the battle. Repair of defective radios involved returning them to headquarters battery for servicing by a trained technician. Even this was a problem. As we were authorized to carry two radio repairmen, only one was on the roster, and he had been shipped away on temporary duty to a South Korean Army unit. I never met the man.
Radio repair was on a guess-and-by golly system by untrained radio operators. I could not understand while all the new communication equipment I received at Camp Atterbury had shipped away for warehouse storage when it was so badly needed for combat units in Korea. In mid-April I was notified that all of our communication equipment except our largest AM radio was to be replaced by $1.5 million worth of the newest radios. Everything came off as planned. The new radios arrived with an Eighth Army team who gave a two-day seminar to all communication people in the battalion.
Their goodies included small, lightweight yet stronger field telephones, new lightweight switchboards at one-quarter of the size of the old, and beautiful new radios whose 10-pound weight made them easy to carry as a backpack up and down the hills. They also had several dozen dial-in radio frequencies that was supplemented by a calibration switch and retractable antenna. None of the equipment was released to us until each piece had been checked out by a technician after it was uncrated.
The first radio given me was released one evening. Knowing how badly we needed a new radio on a forward observation post that was under threatened attack, I called for my jeep and driver. We left at dark to take the radio to the observation post. With only the cat's paws on the headlights showing, we edged across the ridge top to descend towards the valley floor. Our attention was taken up by a long series of silvery streaks that seemed targeted to hit the road at the top of the ridges that we had just crossed. I was not sorry that enemy gunners aimed high, did not fire on the lower section of the road on which we now traveled.
We reached the observation post in about 20 minutes. The driver stayed with the jeep. I headed up the hill with the radio, moving slowly in the darkness so as not to startle any trigger-happy sentinels. The observer was pleased to get the new radio and listened carefully as I explained its operation. As I concluded, he made several calls to our fire-direction center to confirm his knowledge of the radio's operation. By midnight, I felt he had it down pat and left him with the radio to descend the hill for my return to our base.
But communications continued to be somewhat of a problem, and this came to a head later in the spring when I received a call that I was requested to appear before two-star General Sang, head of the South Korean Capital Division. He was also the past bodyguard director and bodyguard unit for South Korean president Syngman Rhee.
His division held a keystone spot in the central sector over which we fired our guns and was expected to anchor the line in the summer offensive that was developing by the Chinese army. The division was considered the best in the entire South Korean Army, its commander tough and ruthless. Caution warned me that I must be very careful in the way I expressed myself. General Sang sat motionless in a small office chair, eyed me coldly as I walked across the room to report and offer my snappy salute. The carelessness of his return quickly told me of his disdain for western white officers.
The walnut-paneled walls, the indirect lighting, and fine carpeting were unusually rich decorations for a cave in the mountainside. I sensed that I faced a powerful and dangerous man. The general's aide stood slightly behind and to the side of his superior. His holster pistol was belted high on his right hip, the flap either carelessly or carefully left undone. In accented English, he explained that as the general spoke no English, he would speak as interpreter. As he spoke the general's eyes did not leave my face. The half-smile that creased his face held no warmth and was to remain throughout our conversation.
The questions came quick and direct. Why did your soldiers hold one of my wiremen hostage at gunpoint, then refuse my officer's command to release the man? I avoided the direct question but instead spoke of my battalion's mission. I reminded the general that our 18 artillery pieces gave him the most fire support of any American unit in the sector. I stressed the importance of communications with our front-line observers and of our inability to provide the firepower to support his troops if the communication lines were broken. I talked of the recent problems that had caused a failure of our telephone lines and of the investigation that revealed crucial lines had been cut out and removed. Only then did I tell him of my instructions to my men to apprehend and hold anybody they found who performed such acts.
The general spoke rapidly. Did you instruct your soldiers to shoot my men? I replied that my orders were to dispose of any saboteurs who intentionally prevented us from giving his unit the military support that we had promised. I did not admit that my people would do nothing to harm Korean wiremen who we suspected of harvesting this surplus wire. I admitted my men could not understand Oriental dialects and could not tell a Korean from a Chinaman. They all look alike to us, I apologized. He smiled. I think he felt the same about us. Then he nodded thoughtfully.
He acknowledged that his troops had been the cause of our problems and that he would take the proper steps to ensure that they did not happen again. He asked that I contact him if the situation did not improve and he would take the required corrective action. He concluded the interview with a snappy salute and a much warmer smile. At noontime, as I lunched with my fellow officers, I described my episode of the morning, describing the general as a grandfatherly type. To my surprise, their faces showed a serious concern.
"General Sang is known among his troops as 'the butcher,'" came from Lieutenant Miller, who served as a military advisor on the general's staff. "Just before you got here it was said that he personally executed three of his staff and let the bodies lay on the parade ground for several days as a warning to those who failed their military duty. He must have felt that you shared his conviction of disciplinary methods, unusual in an American officer, but much to his liking."
I had no response and avoided further contact with the general.
Night light - Survival on the battlefield can sometimes depend on the solving of a mystery. How many troops is the enemy? What's his objective? Many questions are asked; most go unsolved. I was to encounter such a mystery and would like to share the memories. It was a dark night, that spring night of 1953. The heavens seemed to glow from the myriads of stars that blanketed the blackness. I was in a group of three GIs that had just passed the rubble that had been Kumla, North Korea. Our jeep traveled east, both headlights showing the gravel road that stretched ahead of us.
Although we were within a mile of the foremost infantry positions, we had no fear that enemy guns would seek out such a small and elusive target. Within a few miles of home, our artillery battalion, one of the group called my attention to an unusual light in the sky. I turned to watch the light as it approached from the west. Curious at first, I became more interested as the light rapidly grew nearer to us. My first impression was that I was viewing the exhaust of a high-flying airplane, but I quickly discounted that idea. East-west air flights in Korea did not travel above the battlefield, but for safety reasons flew in an air corridor several miles to the south. Any planes we saw always flew a north-south pattern to and from targets well up into North Korea.
The speed of the light was substantially greater than that of our fastest airplanes, although it did not approach the velocity of space vehicles as depicted in our modern science movies. Our driver pulled to the side of the road and turned off his ignition key, although he did not douse his headlights. We watched in silence as the light passed overhead. I immediately noticed the stillness of the night and was aware that no sound came from the light. The object appeared to have a yellow-white color, unlike the silver of the stars that formed its background. It had the shape of a rectangle, more tall than wide. My impression was that of looking into a lighted interior through an open door or hatch.
The light passed into the eastern sky and was still visible when I shifted my gaze to search for other moving lights. I saw none and turned to look once more at the light. To my astonishment I saw that it had reversed its direction of travel and now flew a 180-degree course change to move back to the west along its original flight track. We watched as the light again passed overhead, the rectangle shape of the light in the same position as on its original pass over and on the same side. It had changed direction without turning around, comparable to a ground vehicle that stops its direction of travel and immediately backs up to move at the same speed that it had possessed in its forward movement. It gave no indication it had noticed our presence. It went on to vanish in the western sky.
We sat silently for a few minutes, exchanged our thoughts as we concluded. We had witnessed a technology that exceeded our knowledge or belief. It had passed overhead, seemingly controlled by an intelligent being. We knew nothing of the altitude or shape of the vehicle, we saw only a light. It did not have hostile intent toward us. It traveled just above the battlefield, then at a point where the battle lines meandered to the northeast, it moved back westward along its original line of flight.
We did not report what we had seen. For a unit engaged in battle, there is little interest in something that offers no threat. We didn't speak of the matter again. Like I said, some mysteries just go unsolved.
June 8, 1953 - In one of the few books that covers the final two weeks of the Korean War, the author claims that much of the heaviest fighting occurred during the final six weeks. During the month of June, 1953, the United Nations artillery fired a record 2,710,000 rounds of 105-millimeter shells and larger. Chinese forces suffered 105,000 casualties that month and another 72,000 in the shortened month of July. The author states that the first major offensive of the Chinese Communist forces in two years began with a two-divisional attack against soldiers of the South Korean Capital Division entrenched on Sniper's Ridge. In a night battle that began on June 8, the Koreans were pushed back two miles. This marked the beginning of a series of major attacks on the Kumla Kumsong Bulge.
June 8 was a beautiful summer day, too quiet and peaceful to think of war. About noon I got word that a motor company of the American Second Division had entered our sector and taken position on the backside of a small ridge that paralleled Sniper's Ridge. As South Korean infantry also manned a spot, communication between the two units was difficult because of language differences. I was ordered to run a phone line to the mortar outfit, a move that would give it communications to an American and English-speaking outfit. I decided to run the line from the back of a jeep by using two wiremen to assist me. By late afternoon, we hadn't reached our destination when a small truck drove up with another wire crew. The sergeant in charge of the group said they had been sent to protect us as a Chinese patrol had penetrated our lines and was hidden in the area in which we worked.
We labored into the darkness of that still night. Then it began, the sound we had grown to recognize, the sound as of a giant hand in the sky was slowly crushing an empty soda pop can. All seven of us dove to the ground an instant before the first shell struck. We lay prone with no protection as shell after shell cascaded down and around us. Thunderous explosions encircled us. Brief fire balls and showers of sparks lit the darkness. My thoughts of that moment are still vivid. The rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air - such magnificent words from the Star Spangled Banner - yet I thought, would Francis Scott Key have written those words if he had been the target?
At that moment I was very unpatriotic. A shell fragment whizzed by just inches above my face. I felt no fear but rather a calm acceptance. I had no place to hide. The next one would surely hit me. Where and how would it feel? Unexpectedly, the shelling moved away to fall on targets at both sides of the valley. Enemy shells began to hit up on Sniper's Ridge. As we had not suffered any injuries, we resumed our drive to edge along the road toward completion point of our assignment. In minutes we reached the road junction where we would connect to a line run toward us from the mortar outfit.
Once again the guns found us as targets. Shells fell all around us, and in the perimeter of the mortar unit up on the hillside, the constant off-on of the bursts looked like clusters of giant strobe lights. We again left our vehicles to take cover on the ground. The sergeant with the field telephone hooked up onto one of the lines, then to the other. He said that both lines were dead. The prolonged shelling had blown out both the line we had just completed and the shorter one laid by the mortar crew. Our work had been for nought.
Again the shelling moved elsewhere. We got into our vehicles and moved off toward a tall ridge that would shield us from enemy eyes. From that point we could circle back to our starting point and begin to re-lay the line. But it was not to be. Less than a hundred yards, enemy guns hit us for the third time. Exploding shells landed behind us, then to the left and to the right. A high tower of sparks arced upward from behind my jeep and fell across the hood and into the road. The jeep began to wobble and drifted to the right. The right front wheel slipped off the raised road bed and the vehicle began to roll over. I was thrown outward, fell prone on the ground.
Stunned for but a moment, I returned to the jeep and found no sign of Private Bridgeforth, the driver. When I called, he gave a weak answer. I found him sitting in the road, some 20 yards behind the jeep, a stunned look on his face. The truck that followed us sat quietly in the middle of the road; all four tires had been flattened. As the truck driver said he was all right, I ran to the rear of his vehicle, climbed up onto its bed. One soldier was unconscious and lay sprawled on his back on the floor. Finding no sign of a wound on him, I guessed he had suffered a concussion from the shelling. Certainly he needed some prompt medical assistance.
We drove back to our medical service tent on the rims of our wheels, tires flattening until the rubber shredded away. The driver took us directly to the dispensary. A corpsman placed the unconscious man on a stretcher, carried him into the tent. Four of my linemen stood looking in through the open doorway. They did not speak, and there was no sound from them. When I told them to return to their quarters, one said quietly, "Sir, we're just waiting our turn. We're all wounded."
Calling up a fresh crew, I made one last try to get the line through. We rounded the last ridge that protected us from the battlefield and found the valley floor pocketed with shell bursts still. I ordered the driver to turn around and head for home. I would not accept the loss of more of my men. I lost five men that night from our party of seven. This included my jeep driver, who had been blown out into the road.
In the final six weeks that preceded the truce signing, my battalion suffered more casualties than in its entire total of the previous 28 months. Our last loss was a medical corpsman struck down by shell fire just three hours before the armistice.
In the early morning hours of June 18th, the Korean government opened the gates of four prisoner-of-war camps on the southern coast of South Korea. ROK guards stood aside as some 27,000 North Korean prisoners fled from confinement. South Korean soldiers met them outside the gates, gave them food, clothing, and maps, and directed them to hiding places. By the time United Nations security forces arrived, the prisoners had melted into the population. Less than 1000 were recaptured. The pre-battle-hardened veterans formed a significant number of enemy soldiers loose behind our troops on the battle line and raised the possibility that some units might have to fight the enemy both to their front and to their rear.
Armed Forces Radio Network reports of the escapees attracted little attention among the men of my outfit. We were occupied with fighting off the increasing numbers of Chinese night attacks on the Capital Division and kept our attention riveted on the enemy buildup in the north that held the promise of a major attack. Since the prisoner release had occurred 200 miles to the south, we felt that southern security forces could control the situation and would not allow any large groups of those released to move north into our immediate rear. As civilians were not permitted to be within 20 miles of the main line, I felt that strangers within this zone would be quickly spotted and detained.
But that conviction changed dramatically on a morning a few days after the prisoner release. I had no reason to expect any unusual experience that morning as I left my unit for a routine drive to our observation post at the eastern end of the Capital Division line. My jeep driver took our normal route, a little-used dirt road known as the Boot Trail. That took us to the top of a high wooded mountain ridge. We stopped at the top for a moment to admire the mountain vista that lay below us, then resumed our trip down the ridge toward the valley.
Absorbed in studying the beauty of the mountain slopes, I paid no attention to the road ahead until my jeep driver slammed on the brakes to slow us to a crawl as we rounded the base of the small hill on the valley floor. To my surprise, I saw that we had come up on a group of some 40 men milling about the roadway. By the looks on several faces, I saw that they were equally surprised by our unexpected appearance. We were the center of attention as 40 pairs of eyes followed our slow approach. Warning bells rang in my head as I sensed we faced a potentially dangerous situation.
My driver seemed not to sense the problem as we edged closer to the men who blocked our way. Though not wishing to alarm my companion, I advised him in a low voice to move very slowly and not bump anyone, but be prepared to floorboard it if I gave the word. At this point we were too close to the group to bypass it and did not have room on the narrow road to turn around. All of the men appeared to be Korean, although they seemed to be taller than the average South Korean soldiers with whom I was familiar.
They were identically garbed in long white robes with black stovepipe hats of a style usually worn by the village elders. However, these were not old men but young men who appeared to be in prime physical condition. I saw no weapons, though some in the group kept their hands hidden in the folds of their robes in a manner that suggested they did have some in their possession. None carried any bags of supplies or personal effects. They looked simply like a group of Korean farmers who stopped to rest while taking a walk in the country. I knew they weren't.
As we edged into the crowd, those in front of us moved slowly to the sides of the road and turned to face us as we passed. Then they moved back onto the road behind us. We became surrounded by the group, and it was apparent that it would easily pull us from our jeep if it so chose. I showed no concern for our safety, nor did I indicate that I was aware that we were in the middle of a platoon of North Korean escapees. Although I raised my hand in a gesture of greeting, the silent faces around me remained expressionless and cold.
We continued to move slowly down the road. Soon the roadway became clear as the last of the Koreans stepped slowly from our path. We accelerated to our normal driving pace, did not look back. My driver looked shocked as I told him of the identity of the group through which we had just passed. I reported the incident to the commander of the South Korean troops on the observation hill, but he showed little concern of the sighting of the North Korean platoon just three-quarters of a mile behind his unit. On our return to my unit, we retraced our route of the morning but saw no signs of the white-clad strangers. I guessed that the group had just been dropped off by vehicular transportation and was awaiting instructions and guides for night passage through the South Korean lines.
Did intelligence gained by the group on its trip through our lines assist the Chinese in the taking of the hill several weeks later? I'll never know. Though I've told my grandchildren of my drive between the ranks of the North Korean honor guard, it never has the same chill as I felt at the time of the appearance.
On the evening of July 13, 1953, a mass force of three Chinese armies attacked the South Korean Capital division in the adjacent Sixth South Korean Division. It was to be the final battle and was one of the largest of the Korean War. This is my account of the events that began on that date. On mid afternoon of July 13th, vehicles of the American 555th Field Artillery passed our headquarters area en route to their new position a few miles to the north. This battalion had traveled 90 miles that day since dawn, over the rough mountain roads that took it to its newest assignment. Its mission was to add firepower to our guns of the 955th and to help protect the South Korean 6th Capital Infantry Division.
Known as the Triple Nickel, it was not the first time it had been sent to add its firepower to the guns of our 955th. In 1951 at the Battle of Uijongbu and in 1952 at White Horse Mountain it had supported the 955th. Both times enemy forces broke through our infantry defenses to overrun the 955th, causing loss of guns and personnel. It had earned the reputation as a hard-luck unit, a jinx.
But that wasn't on my mind as I left my evening meal to report as night-duty commander of our Fire Direction Center. I was expected to perform my regular duties on that day, that was to serve as night commander and also work the following as a full day. A small cot was placed in the bunker that housed the direction center. This allowed me to plan for catnaps during the quiet hours of the darkness. About 9 PM I had begun to eye the cot when my thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the field telephone connected to our easternmost forward observation point. At that moment I had no idea that my day's work was about to begin.
I answered the phone to hear these words, "The flak has started." The words were almost obscured by the background sounds of large explosions. Its message given, the line went dead. It had been blown out. I switched to radio in an effort to reach the observation post. In a few moments, the voice of Second Lieutenant Joe Kleinfelder, our newest replacement, came on the airwaves. He asked for flares to be fired over the valley that separated his hill from those of the enemy. As I waited for his answer as to what the flares showed him, the duty sergeant said that he had tried to reach our westernmost observation post by telephone and radio but got no response on either. This was my first suspicion that both flanks of the Capital Division were under heavy attack.
Lieutenant Joe came back on the radio to report that the placement of the flares was just fine. By their light he described hundreds of enemy infantry spread out and running across the narrow valley toward the base of his hill. Though we dropped shell after shell upon the attacker, Joe said hundreds more to continued to emerge from the shadows of the hills across from him. He spoke of their attack on the South Korean defenders in an outpost at the bottom of his hill. Heavy defensive efforts momentarily kept the enemy at bay, but the gunfire slackened, then ceased, as enemy infantry swarmed into the trenches.
Joe said no survivors left that outpost. Attracted by the unusual heavy firing of our guns, the day commander, Captain Winfreid, returned to the fire direction bunker and took my place as night duty officer. As Lieutenant Kleinfelder's radio signals had become weaker and developed more static, I thought of an idea that might better the quality of his transmissions. I called on my jeep driver to bring around the communications jeep with the two mounted radios in the back of it. Together we drove the six-mile drive to the top of a tall ridge that gave us good line of sight to both the battle area and the FDC.
Communication to both locations was excellent at that point. It took only a few minor adjustments and we had set up a radio relay station. From that moment our only function was to serve as a monitor for the messages that passed between the two locations. Joe continued to call for flares, adjusting them as the attackers moved up the hill to begin the fight for possession of the trenches and bunkers along the top of the hill. He pinpointed a platoon of Chinese which headed directly toward his bunker to swarm over the top in a search for the entrance. Some fired small arms through the viewing port; others tried to force hand grenades through the chicken wire netting that covered it.
He called for our artillery to fire directly on top his bunker. After several salvos, he ordered cease firing; enemy destroyed. He returned to the viewing aperture to calmly resume calling fire on other groups of enemy. Shortly before midnight, Kleinfelder asked for permission to leave his bunker. Our battalion commander was on the radiowaves and demanded to know why. Joe's answer was simple: "I'm alone."
It was the first we knew that no living support infantry remained on the hill, and Joe had been defending it with our artillery support. Colonel Easterday's voice came softly, "Then leave, Joe. Get out the best way you can." Joe returned to the airwaves 15 minutes later to report that he was safe and hidden but unable to move further. He called one mission to destroy his vacated bunker with its abandoned equipment, then followed it with a time-on-target mission, a simultaneous firing of all artillery that could reach his target.
He had detected an enemy battalion reassembling in a small valley behind his hill and destroyed it before it could resume its attack into the now-undefended territory to the rear. Joe Kleinfelder then closed down his radio, knowing that he had no more targets, but he wanted to conserve his batteries. He said he'd be back on the air as soon as he had something to shoot at. It was his last message. He never called again.
We finally gave up our wait on the top of hill and returned our unit shortly after noon, when we received bad news from our western observation point. Lieutenant St. Clair, who manned that, was also missing. His two sergeants had managed to get back, but Lieutenant St. Clair did not. The Triple Nickel artillery lost much of its personnel and 17 of its 18 guns as it, for the third time, was overrun by the Chinese soldiers.
Survivors of the Triple Nickel said they didn't know they were under attack until enemy troops were running through their area, firing at everyone in sight. Our battalion commander told us it appeared the entire front had collapsed, and no friendly infantry stood between us and the Chinese. He said we would not retreat. If the enemy crossed the top of the ridge to our north, we would lower our guns to fire point-blank into their ranks. The single copy of the Stars and Stripes East Asia edition reached us the day after the attack, reported that 120,000 Chinese troops...
(END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE; BEGIN SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE)
?-teenth? trucks of the American Third Division again arriving to unload its infantry troops. By nightfall most of the division had gone into position atop the wooded ridge that sat above us.
Within a few hours enemy troops arrived close enough to continue the battle and began to drop mortar and artillery shells on our newest defensive line and down into our battery area. Several light probing attacks reminded us that the enemy was not ready to give up the fight but was preparing for the next round. On the following day we were reinforced with three additional battalions of artillery, 54 guns that became attached to our 955th Battalion.
On the following day, Chinese troops assaulted the ridge in a daylight attack. Although driven back, they renewed their assault with heavily reinforced units after darkness. The enemy fought its way upward in a determined move to drive our GIs off that ridge. We began our artillery defense by elevating the gun tubes to a 65-degree elevation and using four units of powder, about half of normal strength. As the battle progressed upward toward the top of the ridge, we had to increase our tube elevation and decrease the powder. Charge three, charge two, charge one, a strength barely enough to get the shells over the heads of our defenders on the ridge top.
And then the ultimate, ?fire information? that we could not fire as the shells would drop behind the attacking Chinese. We began to steel ourselves for the surge that would sweep over the ridge top to make us its next target. Then miracle of miracles, our troops atop the ridge rallied as the enemy began to weaken, unable to compensate for the loss of so many troops to our shell fire.
Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the Chinese gave up the ground they had gained and retreated back to their starting point. By dawn, American forces again had control of the upper sections of the ridge. That night of July 15th marked the highwater mark of the last major Chinese effort to stage a breakdown that would have allowed them to continue the war into the South Korean portion of the country. The Chinese troops kept up night and day attacks on that ridge for the next 10 days, they never again came so close to success as on that night where they almost reached the top of the hill.
July 27, 1953 - It wasn't a date that's given much note in the history books; most don't mention it. It wasn't a date that the public remembers, for the events of that day were little noted and quickly forgotten, as is the memory of a persistent cold once it leaves a host. It was a date that shall be forever in the memories of the thousands with whom I shared that time, for on that day I knew I would survive a long, bloody war. At 10:12 AM, representatives of two warring armies signed a truce agreement that put an end to a three-year conflict that took two million military casualties. This ended the Korean War. With a notice that the truce was to be signed, enemy troops continued to battle. Several incoming shells dropped on our side of the ridge; they had been fired at random targets and did no damage to our heavily sandbagged bunkers. They only left fresh souvenirs in the form of shiny shell fragments, scattered about our small horseshoe-pitching court.
We received word early that morning that the fighting would conclude that evening at approximately 8 PM. About noontime I received orders to drive to our Ninth Corps Artillery Headquarters. We were to be given information concerning our move away from the front. Our closeness to the battle lines was too great and offered too big a disadvantage in the event that hostilities would continue. Before leaving I listened by radio as an artillery observer up on the ridge just above me described a six-gun enemy artillery battery that had been pulled into an open field and was firing wildly into our lines. He called return fire that destroyed guns and crews. Such a waste.
On arriving at the corps artillery headquarters, I was given maps of our new location and the road routes that we would use in moving down into that location. When I attempted to leave, the headquarters personnel had already begun the celebration to end the war, and I was pressured into assisting two of the elderly officers in their liquid celebration.
After darkness I quickly slipped away and drove back toward my unit. Full night had fallen as the jeep neared the front. Though only 8:30 PM, all fighting had ceased. It was an eerie feeling. No sound of guns, no lights in the sky from bursting shells, and the few vehicles on the road drove with full and uncovered headlights. The war was over. It was now time to begin our plans for peace.
I remained in Korea until mid-October of 1953. By that time most of the experienced officers had all left and were on their way home. In mid-October my replacement as communications officer arrived, and I was released from my duties and reassigned to a South Korean infantry unit as a forward observer. This unit was engaged in construction of a new outpost on the new defense line.
On the first evening at my new hillside position, a young South Korean enlisted man came to my tent to ask that I listen to him read. Not knowing what to expect, I invited him into my tent. He saluted, then pulled from his pocket a basic English primary reader, similar to one that I was given when I entered first grade. He read from it with great difficulty and seemed appreciative of my attempts to correct my poor English pronunciation - his poor English pronunciation. After struggling through a page or two, he thanked me and left. I escorted him from the tent and was surprised to see several other soldiers quietly lined up, waiting their turns, each holding his own reader.
This began a nightly routine that was to continue until the day I left to begin my journey for home. It was with some regrets that I left that day, for though I had arrived in this land to help cause its destruction, my last days were used to help in its reconstruction. A very tiny attempt perhaps, but it was a beginning.