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Life of an FO8784 Reads  Printer-friendly page

Korea I entered active duty with the 47th Infantry Division from Minnesota. At the time I arrived in Korea, I was originally assigned to A Battery 143rd FA as Recon & Survey Officer on August 16, 1952. I was 1st Lt at that time. All of us, except the battery commander and executive officer, pulled tours as forward observer with the Korean infantry units we were supporting at that time.

We were in the Kumsong salient which was later lost to North Korea after our battalion had moved over to support Heartbreak Ridge.

The unit commanders on that date were as follows: Hq&Hq Btry, Capt. Dwight R Rowland, A Btry 1st Lt. Marvin E. Sample, B Btry 1st Lt. Robert L. Marble, C Btry 1st Lt. Thomas T. Bissell, Svc Btry 1st Lt. Alexander A. Pacifico.

Service as a forward observer with a Korean rifle company was sometimes a little difficult. The company supported by my battery was commanded by a 2d lieutenant, about 22 years old, the only surviving officer in the unit. The senior NCO was a staff sergeant. No one spoke English to any extent, but several did have the ability to let us know of targets, patrols, and operational plans. It was fortunate that we were in a static situation at the time; in a mobile attack or withdrawal it would have been almost impossible to coordinate artillery support. Any time that something was planned, someone came out from Battalion to help coordinate. All of the ROKA infantry units were designated by code numbers at that time. I cannot even identify the unit.

The OP was dug through the crest of the ridge we were defending and was well protected overhead. To the north and west was a great area of small hills and the Kumsong River which separated our forces, dominated by the massive mountain called Papa-san. The river formed a "V" that pointed sharply to the north, outlining the salient. To the west was Sniper Ridge and the Kumhwa Valley. Visibility was fantastic! One time I was able to identify, at about 5,000 meters, a Chinese forward observer team (FO and radio operator) trying to move forward into a better position. We chased them all over the mountainside with 105mm artillery fire until we caught them. Of course, I was using a BC scope to observe at that distance.

The NKA had an 82mm mortar dug into the reverse slope of a small hill in the valley. At about 6:00 PM they would run that mortar out on wooden rails, fire off several rounds, then shove the mortar back into the hill and pick up the rails before we could get any counter battery fire off. Their targets were our outposts and hilltop position. I was finally able to set up some planned fires to forestall their mortar attack, and also to be able to respond almost instantly. I'm sure that we had an effect on the mortar crew, but we never did get that mortar.

From the OP it was about 200 feet down the reverse slope to water from a spring, and another couple hundred feet down to a point that a jeep could reach. The team driver would try to bring a hot meal every day. During October rains he was unable to deliver food or mail because the bridge about two miles back had washed out. The Red Cross representative called me by telephone on the OP to tell me that my daughter was born on October 18, 1952. After I returned from that FO tour, I was transferred to Headquarters Battery.

The 160th Inf Regt went on line at Heartbreak in late October 1952 and probably had been pulled off line in December, even though they had been hit hard. When they first came on line they were greeted with "Welcome, Killers of Koji-do." The 160th had been on guard duty at the POW camp on Koji-do. Obviously the relief in place was not a secret from North Korea troops.

We faced a strong North Korean attack against our positions on Heartbreak Ridge. There were a number of casualties. That night we were throwing out every kind of ammunition we had. We fired all of our illuminating rounds, and I understand that some guns even fired out propaganda rounds. Major Fred Angel (Mississippi) was S3; he had Service Battery trucks on the road all night searching for ammunition. Our ammo people even highjacked ammunition and trucks from other units. To the best of my recollection, more than 10,000 rounds were fired that night. All of the units received counter-battery fire and sustained wounded or injured. My recon specialist from A Btry (Woomer) was killed on Heartbreak that night.

During the November 3 attack on Heartbreak, the FO on the right of the line called for fire on his position. He verified that his position was overrun. After a battalion volley of air bursts, we were unable to contact him. He survived the attack, but lost all communication. Some of the other positions were also overrun, but the 160th was able to regain control of Heartbreak before daybreak.

Initially I was assigned as Battalion Survey Officer, then as S2, then as Asst S3. Things were happening so fast that I did not receive any paper orders on that. I went to every observation post in January 1953 during a changeover. We moved out of the Heartbreak Ridge area in the dead of night. I made the trip up to the Ridge to orient new FO's from our replacement unit. We left all FO equipment in place, transferred the telephones and radios and maps to new FO's. When we pulled a gun out of position, a gun from the replacement battalion dropped a gun in the same gun pit. Initially I started out from regimental HQ to the first FO position, on the right point of Heartbreak, with the communications officer, Lt Harry Wigness. We came under a mortar bombardment and he rolled off the trail and down the hill into an aid station, so I continued without him. It took from 0700 one morning until after 0100 the next morning for me to finish all 7 OP's on both sides of the Mundung-ni river. I ended up with frost bite of the fingers and toes because insulated boots and lined gloves were not authorized for headquarters troops. Then we moved out. I woke up on the ground someplace east of the Punchbowl with snow in my face. We waited there until nightfall and moved almost to the east coast, near Anchor Hill, to again support a Korean infantry unit.

The battalion then moved far east in Korea, near the Japan Sea. There we also had heavy battles with North Korean and Chinese forces. We were in that position when the truce took effect in July 1953. We moved back into central Korea and I was one of the first to leave in August 1953.

Note: by William R Hendrickson


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