This story begins on 1 December 1951 during the breakout from the inlet. I was a Sergeant with Colonel MacLean’s forward CP when the Chinese first attacked the night of 27 November, 1951. Milo Paynovich and I left the perimeter walking along the edge of the reservoir. We came to an area where logs were slid from railway cars down to the water. About half way across this open area I became aware of a Chinese soldier above and next to a flat car. He was in plain view with a rifle in his right hand. He was gesturing and seemed to be calling up fellow soldiers to stop the ‘leakage’ of Americans along the edge of the reservoir I stopped with no cover in sight, took careful aim, and shot him.
Before I got my shot off, he realized his mistake and started to draw down on me. His weapon was up and pointing when I fired. I don’t know where the bullet hit, but he dropped like a stone. This particular incident has puzzled me since. I’ll never understand why he didn’t just take up a position and pick us off as we went by.
Instead of crossing the open area by the reservoir ice, an area littered with bodies, I crossed the road at a run and headed for the cover of the railroad bed. The railroad crossed the same stream, upstream from the road bridge, that had given the convoy trouble. By the time I reached the railroad bridge, I noticed that most of the convoy had passed and was stacking up along the incline of Hill 1221. There was heavy fire, most of it over my head. Captain, Henry Wamble of Medical Company called to me as I went by the trailer in which he was being carried. He was under a layer of wounded. He asked me for a drink, and after asking him where he had been hit, I sanctimoniously pointed out that we didn’t give water to belly wounds. To my dying day I’ll wish I had given him a drink.
Someone was shouting that we needed to secure the hill in order to move the convoy. As I was looking over the situation, it became apparent that we had secured part of the hill… Americans appeared above on the nose. As I was looking, an Air Force twin-engine plane dropped a bomb among that group of men, and they disappeared, at least from my view I started up the hill with a group of men. We received fire from our left which caused us to drift to the right. The sun was still up, and I recall a fairly large disorganized group. We went over the crest against no opposition, realizing we had flanked the Chinese who had been shooting at us. I went up the reverse slope firing at anything suspicious using aimed marching fire, taught me by my platoon sergeant during my first enlistment in Panama.
When I topped the crest I found myself about ten feet from a Chinese soldier who was firing a 50 calibre machine gun from a shallow hole, the barrel resting on clods of dirt. I shot him between the shoulder blades, saw the rifle bullet strike. He had been standing in the hip-deep hole while firing, and when hit he stretched up and turned toward me, eyes wide open, mouth agape. I shot again, hitting him in the neck. There was a loud bang to my right rear, and I saw a rifle protruding from a covered foxhole. The rifleman had shot at me and missed from about five feet. I had one hand grenade, so I hopped to the top of his hole, pulled the pin, and threw it into his hole with as much force as I could muster. I felt the blast under my feet as it went off.
I looked around and there were only a few of us there. The sun had slipped out of sight, but it was still light. Down in the valley there were one or two vehicles still at that location, by the blown bridge, perhaps out of action. Below me on the road. partially out of my sight, was our convoy tightly bunched. A plane came in and dropped napalm on a Chinese column in the valley north of the road. As it was tumbling through the air, the Chinese broke and scattered. The canister hit among the group, detonated and got many of them.
My next recollection is struggling to break up the physical roadblock, then going down the hairpin curve to get the convoy moving again. It was near dark. but perhaps a sharp eye could still be able to tell a black thread from white. I was dog-trotting in the ditch between the road and Hill 1221. As I rounded the curve, I could see the lead vehicle a couple of hundred feet away. Suddenly on the other side of the road to my right front a Chinese stood up. I could only see him from his waist up. He had a long-barrelled bipod mounted weapon resting on the road, and he fired before I could react. There was a loud bang and a huge flash at my knees. My legs were knocked out from under me, and I fell into the ditch. The flash blinded me, and I thought my legs were blown off, and indeed one was folded under me. When I couldn’t feel anything below my knee, I knew I was finished. But aside from a lot of superficial wounds from gravel and dirt, I was unharmed. The round had apparently detonated at the edge of the road.
It was a problem getting the convoy moving, but there were quite a few working to get it going. Dead were discarded, viable wounded reloaded. Inoperable vehicles, some still with dead bodies—perhaps some alive–were shoved over the side of the hill. At the bottom of the hill, we encountered another blown bridge. The crossing was fairly narrow and deep without negotiable banks. Someone started the detour over the railroad bridge. I guided the lead truck, and I have a distinct recollection of the tires hanging over the ties on each side. It seemed impossible to make that traverse in the dark, but we got more than one vehicle across, and at least one with a trailer. After several trucks crossed, we started to move down the road. I was sitting on the right front fender of the lead truck. As we approached a cut, we received fire from both sides. I dropped off the fender and took up a prone position in the ditch to the right of the road. I fired seven rounds, emptying my clip at the gun on the left. It ceased fire. Like a fool I stayed where I had fired and was inserting another clip when he shot directly at me. The first bullet hit a hand-span from my left elbow. In one of those moments in life when time stands still, I realized I should have moved… and moved! The next round hit further away and then started hammering the truck. I moved.
My recollection is now of the fires. Visibility was good…red glare…lots of noise.. explosions. Lots of milling around with friend and foe intermingled. Stamford, in something I’ve read, says we were captured, but at the time I didn’t know that. Suddenly, the truck began to move. I ran and grabbed the trailer stakes and swung on the fender Chinese were trying to tear me off Using my M-1, I pushed back with the barrel and fired. I remember pushing back as the round went through the first man and into the second, and probably a third. The truck broke through the physical roadblock–I remember logs and barrels—and went several hundred yards before being stopped by another blown bridge. I started firing at the Chinese coming down the road toward us. They disappeared. I turned and jumped off the bridge and crossed to the village beyond. (I was later told that they dropped the trailer, backed up, and detoured the bridge.)
In the village I ran into Ivan Ruddick who had a shoulder wound. We entered a fairly large building, some sort of storage area where we encountered a young Korean lad, perhaps 16-years-old. Ruddick spoke fairly good Japanese and learned that “the Chinese were everywhere.” I don’t recall if we were told that friendly forces were not too far away I think we would have headed for them had we known. While we were talking, I heard a vehicle racing through the village.
We went to a heated house, probably taken there by the boy. There was a wounded Chinese soldier in the house; we didn’t harm him. I sat down and fell asleep and was awakened in daylight (2 December) by a group of Chinese. They took us outside and with one or two others marched us cross country, climbing a hill where we halted. While on that hill, we were strafed. We then reversed our steps and went back toward the village where we passed the truck, apparently the one we had heard racing through the village, the one with the trailer which I rode to the destroyed bridge. Everyone was dead. The driver, half in the cab, dangled head down on the running board. A Lt. Col. was on the passenger side. A chest, lashed to the front bumper, was broken open, and I swear it contained bundles of Military Payment Certificates (MPC), and the MPC were scattered about on the ground. At the time I seemed to believe it was the November payroll. (Maybe someone else was able to salvage much of it and properly spend it on booze and women.)
We were escorted through the village, gathering other GIs, assembling about a dozen on a low rise. One Chinese soldier armed with a US carbine with the appearance of being the platoon’s eight-ball, threatened us. In our group was a slight GI who was crying. The eight-ball was enjoying himself with the man who began whining and begging. I was standing behind him and kicked the GI in the ass, knocking him down. Another Chinese went to the eight-ball and slapped his face. We were then brought to the house. I can’t remember what happened to that little GI.
The building in which we were held had been a home, although not heated. Tacked to the wall was a beat up postcard. I pulled it off and put it in my pocket as I was a stamp collector. On the floor in the comer I found two garlic cloves which I ate. We were strafed several times; once a machine gun round struck the floor about six inches from a Chinese soldier who was catching a few winks in the next room. The impact jarred him, and he casually looked to see what happened, then resumed his nap. I’m not sure if we had any “designated” guards. There were always Chinese around, moving steadily toward Hagaru. Groups of Chinese would barge in to get out of the weather, whistles would blow, and they would leave the house. Ruddick and I had decided to “cut out” at the first opportunity, but there wasn’t a uniform opinion about this among the group. In any event, we left during the night while we were intermingled with a group of Chinese.
Light snow was falling. We worked off from the Chinese and about seven of us headed down to the reservoir in a single file. I don’t remember if any others, other than wounded, stayed behind as I don’t recall how many were in the house. We headed straight west across the reservoir, and soon I realized that we were going in the wrong direction. I believed this very strongly and began pissing and moaning about the direction. Finally we stopped. I did a ninety-degree turn to the left. Soon, just as it was getting light (3 December), we were challenged. I was in the lead and yelled “GI!” A marine began yelling back, telling us to freeze and walk back on our own tracks. When the message finally penetrated, we turned and walked out, and in the gathering light, could see trip wires all over the place. Fortunately, none were tripped. We were taken to a CP tent and interviewed. We were put on the next outbound. I felt in pretty good shape and probably should not have been sent out. My legs pained, but in any event I realized what was happening and wasn’t going to complain. We flew to Fukuoka. Japan.
I now have a translation of the card that I took off the wall. The stamped side is headed “Post Card,” with a date of January 1, 1950. I am surprised to learn that the card had been mailed nearly a year before I picked it off the wall. I always thought it would be something like, “Dear Folks, thought I would drop in and visit you for the coming holidays.” The stamp is a 50 jun and is labelled “Chosun Postal.” The rest of the front side of the card is as follows:
Delivery postal office
Address of recipient: The 1st people school, Sasu-Ri, Hanam-Myun, Jangjin-Kun, Hamnam-Do
Name of recipient: To brother, Han, Bong-woon
Name and address of sender. Chosun People P 0. Box 4038
Sent by Han, Bong-yong
The message side of the card reads:“Read, my brother, I am sending this message as I hope you will study hard in the new year Something (*not interpretable) in the range of Bakdu mountain (*the highest mountain in Korea) went to you with cold wind. (* Very metaphoric expression, meaning “I am concerned with the very cold temperature you should face.) I bless your health and peaceful life in the new year.”