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When a general complains of the morale of his troops, the time has come to look at his own.
-- George C. Marshall
It was January 28, 1951. I had been with my platoon for five days. The platoon leader, Lieutenant Mitchell, called us into his hut and informed us that we would be going on a motorized patrol the next day. He emphasized that it would be dangerous since a patrol had gone into the same region on the 28th without finding the enemy.
The next morning, January 29, 1951, after breakfast the vehicles were assembled for the patrol and my squad leader went on sick call. The rest of my squad, all newcomers, loaded up for the trip. I started out in the second jeep but that was to change later.
Somewhere along the way we picked up a walking patrol from the 24th division and loaded them onto our vehicles. Shortly after that the lead jeep suffered a flat tire and its occupants traded places with those of us in the second jeep and they went on without us.
Our jeep had a spare tire but no lug wrench. We found an open end wrench which was a little bit too large, but by shimming it up with a match pad we were able to get the nuts off and change the wheel. By this time we had probably lost an hour. We sped up and overtook the patrol where the road split to Chipyong-ni on the left and who knows where on the right. The people from the 24th division dismounted at this point and started down the road to the right. We proceeded toward Chipyong-ni.
We reached a small village just west of the railroad tracks and the Lieutenant called a lunch break. A mortar round came in at that time and lunch was called off. We could see a column of infant-walking along the sky line in a direction that would put them in position to cut off our retreat. A young corporal named Gibbons asked Lt. Mitchell if he could fire upon them and he emptied a belt of .50 ammo at the column without making any effect. The drivers were ordered to turn all of the vehicles around so we could break out. During this time a young 2nd Lieutenant named Penrod was walking up and down our column as cool as he could be, trying to locate an enemy machine gunner who was firing upon us at close range.
A Sergeant Larson sent me up a hill with three other privates and told me to dig in but we had just reached the top when we were told to come back down. Once the vehicles were turned around we were ordered to move out but the driver in the lead jeep panicked as soon as his vehicle was hit and he jammed on his brakes, bailed out and stalled the column.
Everyone jumped off the vehicles and dove into the ditches and took positions facing north. Gibbons saw that one of the group had lost his weapon and sent him back toward the vehicles to get it. The man never came back.
We heard a burst of machine gun fire and then silence. Then came another burst of machine gun fire and the sound of coolant draining from a radiator. They had effectively stopped us from leaving on the motor vehicles.
Soon after the sound of the dripping stopped a Chinese soldier came walking boldly down the road. I should have shot him but I did not. He saw me and turned towards me with his weapon firing. This time I did shoot, all 8 rounds in the M-1 and he went down. He was there the next day when I left the village.
The Chinese then launched an attack in force from some unseen positions to the north. We broke up their charge with rifle fire and then the planes showed up to help, aided by a spotter in a Piper Cub. It seemed as though the planes were there each time an attack came and mostly we were shooting at heads as they looked up from what seemed to be a trench in the hill closest to us on the north. At one time a group of three civilian men came running down the road from the direction of Chipyong and we let them into our area. They disappeared into the huts during one spell of heavy firing and we never saw them again. I was apprehensive about this but I could not shoot them and neither would anyone else in my group.
We became aware we were not hearing gunfire from the east end of the village and we decided to go there and check things out. I remember that a hill of some sort divided the village and we had to go over that under fire to get to the east end but we made it without injuries. There was no one there. We had been left behind.
We saw parachutes being dropped on a hill to the south of our position and we started out to try to reach that hill. That was the last time I saw most of them again. We had just started out when we came under heavy fire. I could see the snow kicking up from the bullets and then I was hit in the right shin. I saw one of my friends going down at the same time and the others kept on going. I called to my friend and found out that he was unhurt. After that we did not talk again. I soon heard the crunch of snow as someone walked up on me and my weapon was taken from my hand. I rolled over and put my hands in the air. The Chinese soldier thrust his weapon toward me but to my immense good fortune he did not fire. I then called to my friend and he stood up. We had lain under machine gun fire for some time but the gunner was unable to depress it low enough to hit us again. The bullets passed low enough for us to hear their passing but were not hurt.
The little man who initiated our capture stayed with us. It was necessary to get me off the slope where I had been injured but that presented a problem. My friend was about my height but our captor was about five feet tall. It was decided I would wrap my arms around my friend's neck and that he would drag me off the slope. I hung on and was hauled down the slope with my broken leg bumping along the ground as he stumbled down hill with me hanging on. When we got to the road he was marched away immediately. I guess they killed him. He was found dead later, I guess. The casualty report listed him as DOD I suppose that means Died on Duty. There was a lot of milling around by the Chinese troops as I lay on the road. Occasionally one would check my wrist to see if I had a watch and another would make a gesture as to strike me but my captor stopped it from happening.
After some time the Chinese decided to burn the vehicles. They got straw from the roofs of the huts of the village and spread it on the jeeps and weapons carriers and then poured the jerry cans of gasoline on the straw. They set it afire and then they ran off. I did not see them again.
I crawled into one of the huts and pulled a straw mat over me. I spent a restless night in the hut wondering if the enemy would return. They did not.
The next morning I crawled out of the hut to the road. I pulled myself up on the bumper of the lead jeep and relieved myself. About this time some of our planes started to bomb the tunnels. I saw the bombs drop but I did not hear them explode. I must have been too terrified to remember it. I decided that I should leave the village. I had pulled myself out of the hut by using my hands to lift me as I pushed backward with my left foot. This method did work for short range travel but it obviously would not work for long distances so I rolled over on to my belly. I used my hands and elbows to pull me along and I set out in the direction from which we had come.
I saw the Chinese soldier I had shot the day before lying face up in the ditch on the east side. One of his friends had thrown some straw over him but it barely covered his body. I also saw the body of a US soldier in the village on the north side of the road. His head was bare and his hands and feet were bare. I could see the name on his helmet liner - A Anderson. This was the guy that Gibbons had sent to retrieve his weapon.
A plane strafed and bombed the huts to the northwest where the Chinese started their attack. The Chinese were long gone but he rendered the buildings useless for cover in the future.
It was well that I left the village when I did for a decision was made to make sure that the Chinese could not use the vehicles. The village was obliterated by bombing an hour or so after I left it.
I do not know how far I crawled. When I was young and macho I thought it was several miles but it was probably a little over a mile. I do know that I crawled through a small stream that ran across the road. The temperature had warmed up and the water was running. My gloves got soaked and my hands froze. The coloring in the gloves ran and my hands turned black. I thought they were gangrenous when I pulled the gloves off later but it was only the dye in the gloves. The frostbite of the hands was minor. My feet suffered far more serious frostbite because the boot liners retained the moisture from my feet sweating.
I crawled and slept alternately that day. Sometime in the afternoon I saw some fighter planes strafing the hills south and east of the tunnels. I crawled out of a ditch and waved to them. One of the pilots saw me and turned his plane my way. When I saw the fire on the leading edge of his wings I knew he thought I was the enemy. I crawled to the west side of the road and there was enough of a hump in the land between the plane and me that he did not get a clear shot. He released a rocket or two and then fired some more rockets into a dwelling father west. He was so close I could see him in the cockpit when he leveled off. When he left I crawled across the road to the east and into a ditch in the rice paddy. I was learning a lot about war and friendly fire though it was not called that in 1951.
I lay in the ditch all night and crawled back to the road at first light. I did not attempt to crawl down the road again because of the experience with the plane. Some Korean civilians walked by heading north but they offered no help.
I was napping in the afternoon when I was awakened by cannon fire. Some tanks had pulled up on the frozen rice paddy to the east and were firing at the hills that the planes had been strafing the day before. Operation Killer was beginning.
A jeep pulled up and a man with field glasses got out to observe the effect of the cannon fire. This was my opportunity to get rescued if it was going to happen. I rolled on to the road with my hands in the air. The jeep pulled forward and the man who had been observing got out with a carbine pointing at me. He shouted and asked who I was. I shouted back that I was from C Company from a patrol that was lost Monday. The jeep came all the way up to me and the driver, a corporal, got out and lifted me into the front passenger seat and put my injured leg out on the fender. The second man, a handsome Captain with a black beard sat in back. I was driven back to the battalion aid station to have my wound dressed. (The medic was the brother of a buddy of mine from my first enlistment and was a dead ringer for him. He was later captured himself and exchanged in 1953. Larry Wilson of Hazel Park, Michigan.)
I was a celebrity for a few minutes. I was interviewed by a Major and then by a Brigadier General. I guess they doubted my estimate of enemy strength because the 23rd was led into Chipyong and the rest is history.
I also saw a guy from my squad at the aid station, a Guamanian boy named Guillermo (Billy) Untalan, our assistant B.A.R. man. His story was that he was injured in our mad rush to off the weapons carrier and was pushed under the rear tire as it was moving. His leg was not broken but the thigh was severely bruised and he could not run. When we made the break to the east end of the village he was left behind. The Chinese overran him and because of his oriental features they thought he was one of them. He walked out under the cover of darkness and reached help later. He asked about his buddy, Miller, but I knew nothing. Miller was later listed as dead on the casualty report for 1-29-51 as were Rudy Scateni, Richard Norman and Cenkowski, the other members of our under strength squad.
I spent the night in a school house as we waited to be evacuated. There was a Korean girl whose leg had been amputated at the thigh on a pallet next to me who cried all night while a man tried to console her. The next day we were loaded into an ambulance and taken to an air strip. Since we were driven north to the field I assume it was Suwon, which was in the hands of the enemy when we started out. I read later that fighting was going on taking place on one side of the field while our planes were landing on the other side. I can not confirm this, but the story was in either the Army Times or Stars & Stripes in February of 1951.
We flew to a field outside of Pusan where we were put on a train for transport into the city. I remember the Air Force kids who were handling the stretchers complaining that it was past 5 p.m. and they were still working. The infantry fights a different kind of war, friends.
A surgeon working alone operated on my leg to remove the debris from the wound and a cast was put on it from thigh to toe to immobilize all the joints. The next day I was on a plane to Japan.
I spent two weeks in a hospital in Hakata, Japan and then I was moved to Osaka to start the trip home. We stopped at Wake Island in the middle of the night and then we landed in Hawaii. Then on to California, Illinois and then Percy Jones in Battle Creek, Michigan. My leg healed and then I was returned to the Inactive Reserve on 8-10-51. I had been recalled on 11-12-50 and had spent an interesting nine months on active duty. I stopped in at the Chevrolet factory in Flint on my way home and hired in again and went back to work on Monday. It had been exactly one year (8-11-50) since I had graduated from college so let us say I had spent a very interesting year.
Note: by Richard C Fockler, 23rd lnf., C Co.
This Day in History
New York Patriots defeat Scots-American Loyalists at Moores Creek Bridge.
Napoleons Marshal Nicholas Oudinot is pushed back at Barsur-Aube by the Emperors allied enemies shortly before his abdication.
The first Union prisoners arrive at Andersonville Prison in Georgia.
Great Britain agrees to U.S. arbitration in a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana, defusing a dangerous U.S.- British diplomatic crisis and recognizing U.S. authority over the Western Hemisphere.
The Japanese push the Russians back in Manchuria, and cross the Sha River.
The United States rejects a Soviet peace offer as propaganda.
The burning down of the Reichstag building in Berlin gives the Nazis the opportunity to suspend personal liberty with increased power.
British Commandos raid a German radar station at Bruneval on the French coast.
Allied Naval Forces attack a Japanese invasion convoy during the Battle of the Java Sea.
The U.S. Navys first aircraft carrier, the Langley, is sunk by Japanese warplanes, and all of its 32 aircraft are lost.