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Jack Luke Cuthrell
Colonial Heights, VA-
"By the time the battle was over, the North Korean forces were no longer an effective fighting force. WE HAD WHIPPED THEIR ASS!!"
- Sgt. Jack Cuthrell
I just returned from the Korean Family Reunion at Virginia Beach, Virginia. I am a little frustrated, although not with the reunion that was one of the friendliest and most inclusive of all reunions. I am frustrated with history. When I say I was at the Pusan Perimeter, I get a blank stare. No one seems to know much about it.
Let me set the record straight here and now. Without us holding the Pusan Perimeter, there would have been no Inchon Landing and the war may have been lost. When the Perimeter was formed, we were outnumbered by about six to one, and out-gunned. To make matters worse, when MacArthur decided to invade Inchon, the Marines were taken off the line to prepare for the Invasion. That left us even more short-handed. On top of that, we were shorted even more ammo than we already were. The ammo and equipment meant for the Perimeter was diverted to the invasion force, which meant that we had to hold with even less than we should have.
In the book, Fighting on the Brink: Defense of the Pusan Perimeter by BG Uzal W. Ent, he refers to the 35th as "The Rock of Pusan." This is in no way meant to suggest that we were the only ones to save Pusan. Every outfit and every soldier that was at the Perimeter fought under tremendous hardship and with great courage. I, for one, am proud to say that I was associated with the troops that held the Perimeter. We took General Walker’s order to "Stay or Die" to heart. We said, "Yes, General. We can do that." And we did it.
I hope this piece which I seemed compelled to write will someday get into the hands of some troops that were there and to some that were not. History should not glaze over this part of the war. It was the first victory over communism and set the stage for what was to follow.
My name is Jack Luke Cuthrell of Colonial Heights, Virginia. I was born October 22, 1929 in Martin County, North Carolina, the son of Henry Clay and Menda Lucille Sykes Cuthrell. I have one sister, Pauline, who is two years older than me, and one brother, Norvell Fisher, who is two years younger. My dad had a number of jobs. My mother worked making duffle bags for the Army during World War II, but she was mainly a baker.
I was in the Virginia National Guard for 21 months before joining the Army. I was working for Western Union when the Bell system started long distance service. Western Union was losing business and cutting back. I was sent to Jacksonville, Florida, then laid off. There was a recession on then and jobs were hard to find. I was walking down Jefferson Street in Richmond, Virginia and passed the recruiting office a little ways. Thinking I would join the Army, I turned around, went in, and joined on August 19, 1949. I was gone that evening. I was not living at home when I joined.
I was assigned to take training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Three or four of us were put on a train around 7:00 in the evening to travel there. The train stopped at Charlottesville, Virginia. None of us had much money, so we pooled our money to buy some snacks at the snack bar. There was a fellow from Jamaica with us. As we entered the snack bar, the waitress said, "We do not serve blacks in here." Even being from the South I had never thought much about how the blacks were treated. It shook me up and I said, "Let's go. I am not buying anything in here." From that day on for the rest of my life I never looked down on anyone.
After basic training I went by train straight from Fort Knox to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Nothing to speak of happened on the trip. Once at Fort Belvoir, we were assigned barracks. I was slated to be the platoon sergeant, but there was one black. The Army was integrating at the time so they gave the job to the black. During eight weeks of training I learned to be a demolition man, working with land mines, booby traps, blowing roads and bridges, etc. Although I do not remember any of my instructors' names, they were all good and we learned very well.
War Breaks Out
I had just gotten my first three-day pass since I enlisted in the Army a year previously. I gave my address as Marshall Street, Richmond, Virginia, but I was going to Nashville, Tennessee. That was where my girlfriend was staying. I had been there one day when I heard that the North Koreans had attacked South Korea. I had no idea where Korea was, and did not care. But by the end of the day, there was much news on the radio about it. There were reports on the radio that the American Army was being sent to Korea. I thought that I should go home in case the Army was looking for me. I caught a bus to Richmond and got there a little after dark. My mom met me at the door. She didn’t even greet me. All she said was the Army had been trying to get in touch with me. That made me a little anxious, so I called the Main Street Station to find out the next train to Columbus, Georgia. It was scheduled to leave at 11 a.m. the next morning.
I arrived in Columbus after midnight, too late to catch the last bus to Fort Benning. I slept in the bus station until the first bus in the morning. By the time I got to the company area, everything was packed and loaded on trucks and ready to go to Columbus. I found the First Sergeant and got my orders while still in my class uniform. The guys had packed my things and loaded them on a truck. I found the truck and we headed back to Columbus. I had come pretty close to being classified as a deserter, so I was really lucky.
There was no delay en route. My train ticket took me to Kansas City, Kansas. There were guys from all parts of the east coast all going to Camp Stoneman, California. The train ride was enjoyable, but it was a good way to see the rest of the country.
When we got to Camp Stoneman there was a tent set up just as we got off the train. There were tables set up on each side of the tent. We entered the tent and showed our shot record. If we needed any shots we got them, no matter how many there were. I only got three or four shots. Some people got more. At the end of the aisle were some bunks. If someone felt faint, he was helped to them until he felt good enough to go on. We were taken to the supply room and issued sheets, a pillow and pillow case, and blanket. Then we were taken to the barracks. We picked a bunk and made the bed, and sat down to see what would come next. We had no idea what was really going on, only that we may be going to that place called Korea.
The next day we had to pack up our civilian clothes so they could be sent to our home address. Then they issued us two sets of full combat gear consisting of two M-1 rifles, helmets, helmet liners, pistol belts, canteens and first aid packets, as well as combat packs with tent halves, poles, ropes, ponchos, and mess kits. Some guys were so sore from the shots that they could hardly carry it all.
We were there for two or three more days. We were then put on a train without letting us know where we were going. It turned out to be Fort Lewis, Washington. Spending two days on a troop train was not a very good trip.
The stay at Fort Lewis was only one day. Trucks came to take us to the port to load on ships for the trip to Japan. We hung around for about a half day there, then we moved out. That wound up being the airport. There were some Stratocruisers and some C-130s parked there. I was hoping to go on the Stratocruisers, but no luck. I was assigned to a C-130. I think that there were about 20 guys in the group. They gave us a paper bag with our food in it—a sandwich, an orange, apple, and a cookie.
When we went to Alaska where the plane had to refuel, they were supposed to feed us a hot meal. When we arrived at the air base, there was not anyone there. They did not know we were coming. It took a while to get someone with authority to get the plane refueled. Meanwhile, we were taken to the mess hall to be fed. Not knowing that we were coming, there was no hot chow. They fed us cold cuts and cold coffee. We were again given a bag with some sandwiches and fruit.
This was late at night and we were getting tired. There were two aircraft engines in the center of the plane, so there was not much room to relax. We had to stay where we were so that the plane could stay balanced. No one got much sleep—just a short nap now and then.
We arrived in Japan early in the morning. After we got off the plane they took the extra gear we had brought. I was glad to get rid of that. It got too heavy after a while. They told us we were to go to a base to zero in our rifles. We never got to do that. We were taken to some barracks where we were going to stay. When we got settled in, we were called to get some chow. Having not eaten much for the last day or so, that was the best thing we had heard in some time. The bunk was a welcome sight, also. I lay down and was asleep in seconds.
The next morning, they called us out to check our equipment to make sure we had everything. Then we were told to take the rest of the day off and get ready to leave the next day. BOY!! I can tell you that I needed that. I was pooped out. I got my things together and slept most of the day. The next morning after breakfast we fell in for another inspection and were told we were going to Sasebo, Japan. I thought, "Where in the hell is Sasebo?" Waiting at the train station was a Japanese train. The cars looked about half as large as ours did. When we loaded on the train I noticed that there were half seats and half sleepers. The seats were small and the sleepers were straw mats slung between some poles. I am only 5’11", and they were too small for me, but we did what all soldiers do and found a way to get some sleep. How long the trip was I do not remember.
When we arrived in Sasebo, the Red Cross was there giving out doughnuts and coffee. That was the one and only time that I ever saw the Red Cross. I thought that they were everywhere according to their advertisements. We were assigned our barracks and told when chow would be served. The port of Sasebo looked like an anthill with everyone going in all directions. The ships were being loaded and unloaded by Japanese carrying everything on their backs from the ships to shore along planks laid from the ship’s holds to the shore.
There were rumors around that there was a hole in the fence and that some Japanese girls were there to help relieve soldiers of some of their pent-up emotions and some of their money. I did not partake of the opportunity to do so. Later, I thought that maybe I should have.
Arriving in Korea
We spent two or three days in Japan. After that we loaded onto a ship that looked like a small cargo ship. The holds were empty with straw mats on the floor. Everyone picked a mat and bedded down. It took us two days to get to Pusan, Korea. The way I remember that number is that we were issued two days of C-rations and we had two short arm inspections. If anyone reading this does not know what a short arm inspection is, this is not the time to explain.
We arrived at the port of Pusan around August 1, 1950, and disembarked as soon as we were docked. There was a lot of activity around the docks. As we got off the ship that afternoon we were asked our name and serial number. We were then directed to an area where groups were forming. After everyone was off the ship and they were grouped, we were told where we were assigned. I was assigned to the 25th Division, 35th Regiment. We were given some "K" rations. (K-rations were from World War II.) They contained crackers, jelly, candy, and cigarettes. I forget if there was anything more in it. We were also given a bandolier of M-1 ammo. We were told to lock and load and that we may run into some North Koreans on the way. Right then I knew that this was not the place I wanted to be.
We had not gone very far when a truck tire blew out. One of the guys was so quick to dive to the bed of the truck that he skinned my shin with his M-1. Thus, my first war wound. One of the guys opened his K-rations and soon we all followed suit. Mine had some Lucky Strike cigarettes with the green package. (They stopped printing the green package in 1941. The dye was needed for the war effort.). All in all, they were not bad.
We arrived at the orientation area. It was a straw-covered shelter with wooden benches. The sergeant giving the orientation had been wounded and could not wait to get back to the front. His unit was short-handed and needed all the help they could get. He told us that we were outnumbered by six to one and figured that was about right. I surely hoped he was right.
Being that I had gone to demolition school and just came from Fort Benning teaching the officer training candidates to lay mines, set booby traps, and build foot bridges across rivers, I thought that I would be assigned to the Engineers. One of the memories I have of being in the school was when we were given a booby trap trigger in one of the classes. We had to hold it while the instructor gave his lecture. He assured us that some of us would not hold it to the end. Mine was the second or third to go off. He said that I would not be assigned to the bomb disposal unit. "Good", I said to myself. I didn’t want to go there anyway.
Heavy Mortar Company
I was assigned to the third platoon, Heavy Mortar Company, of the 35th Regiment, 25th Division. They then took my M-1, gave me a .45 pistol and an M-1 carbine. The carbine did not have any bluing on it, and it looked pretty rough. These are the weapons of a mortar man, which was not much comfort. I could not hit a barn door at 50 feet, and the carbine did not look very reliable. There was a rumor that a lot of weapons were salvaged from surplus dumps in Japan. Whether or not that was true, I don’t know.
Around August 15 or 16, I arrived at the platoon area. When I got to the mortar platoon I did not know what to expect, but I had no fear that I remember. I was fresh from the States and did not know enough to be afraid. I put the enemy 300-400 yards away. I was too green to be edgy, but the guys that had been there a few days before were.
My platoon leader was Lieutenant Welborn G. Dolvlin. He was cool under fire. He was a good leader as far as I could tell. No one ever complained about him. He could keep a stick moving with his .45. What happened to him I do not know. There was a Sergeant Steely who had been in World War II, and Sergeant Morrison had been with the 82nd Airborne during that war as well. We had a lot of confidence in him. Sergeant Steely was calm in showing me around the area. I thought that if he was so calm, I had not much to worry about. Little did I know that they had been overrun a few days before and had lost six or seven men. After I heard about that, I had confidence in him to do the right thing. Sergeant Burgerson came from Fort Benning where he was an instructor. We had confidence in him also. The one that calmed me was my number 1 gunner, James E. Mancuso (1928-2006), who had not been in World War II.
Our area was about 50 yards long and 10 yards wide with no one on either side that I could see. It was at the base of a dike that was about ten feet tall facing the Naktong-ni river. On the left was a small hill and to the rear and right was open ground. To the left and by a path was a foxhole. I was told it was mine, and I was given a 2.3 rocket launcher. The Sergeant said that it would not stop the Russian T-34 tanks, and to use it for personnel. That also was not much comfort.
In the middle to the rear was a .50 caliber machine gun. On top of the dike was a .30 caliber machine gun that we did not use during the day unless we were attacked. There were three 4.2 guns with not much ammo for each. I was assigned to the number two gun. I knew nothing about mortars. I had seen them fired during basic training, but that was it. My job was an ammo bearer. It consisted of preparing the rounds with the proper charge and handing it to the number two gunner, who dropped it in the tube. I got about ten minutes training on how to do that. The number one gunner, Mancuso, took some time with me, and I have never forgotten him. He was one of the survivors when the platoon had been overrun a few days before.
Our mortar platoon was a support unit of the infantry. Support troops manned heavy weapons such as recoilless rifles, 81mm mortars, heavy machine guns, 4.2 inch mortars, and artillery. We supplied fire support when it was needed and where it was needed if we could reach the target. The front line soldiers could not carry the heavy weapons, so it was up to us to be as close as possible to them to give them fire when they needed it.
The 4.2 mortar had a tube about 48 inches long with a stationary firing pin in the bottom. It had a base plate about 24 inches square with four handles, a socket for the tube to fit into, and some slots on the bottom to help set the base plate when it was fired. There was a tripod on the front of the tube with a worm gear and handle to set the elevation. I guess the total weight of the gun was about 300 pounds. Each gun crew had a number one gunner, number two gunner, two ammo bearers, and a driver that helped wherever he might be needed. Each crew had its own 3/4-ton truck and trailer to transport the guns.
There were two kinds of ammo--7 1/2 number high explosives and white phosphorous. As far as the fire power went, we could fire much faster than 105s after the guns were set. Our platoon--three guns--fired as much as 200-300 rounds a day. The 4.2s had a range of 1200 yards, and the trajectory was more oval as compared to the 105s, which was flatter. We could reach behind the hills and on the top, whereas the 105s had some trouble doing that.
Our 4.2 mortars were a very effective weapon. We never had one break down. The only moving part was the elevation screw and we had no trouble with that. We were able to put the rounds very close to where we wanted. The gooks did not have much heavy artillery or tanks. They were armed with rifles, machine guns, mortars, light artillery, T34 tanks, and self-propelled artillery. The largest difficulty that we had was that we did not have enough ammo. We could have fired a lot more support, but as it was we had to ration our ammo.
Unlike the infantry, we never dug in for the night. We were not right on the front line and if we had to move out it would take too long to load the mortars on the trucks. There were always guards posted around our position.
Our company went north on the west coast, through Taegu to Taejon to Seoul, Kaesong, Chorwon, and the Iron Triangle. From there we went to Pyongyang and Sinanju to Hwachon. When the Chinese entered the war, we went through Yonghung, Wonson, and back through Seoul. What stands out in my mind is taking the Kimpo airport, the Iron Triangle, trying to hold the area along the Imjin River, as well as the withdrawal from the north when the Chinese entered. I also remember holding the defensive position south of Seoul, and Operation Ripper, when we took about 3,000 prisoners the first day.
Engaging the Enemy
When I first got to Korea, to the left of the perimeter and about fifty yards out were three foxholes for a listening post. They were manned at night. We engaged the enemy the first night that I was there. The gooks were trying to break through our line, which they did every night, and infiltrated to the rear. The first time I saw the enemy was when they were bringing some prisoners to our position. I did not see my first dead enemy until about a week after I arrived. He was a prisoner being brought to our position. He broke and ran and was shot. It was not until we had broken out of the Pusan Perimeter that I saw the first dead American. The dead gook had no effect on me that I remember, but seeing my first dead American I thought about his family and how they would take his death, even though I did not know him.
Three things happened out there that I remember. One was that from time to time we would crawl up to the top of the dike to check things out. We kept hearing some tinkling and could not figure out what it was. At daylight we were going up to check things out. The guy next to me hit me on the back of my head and knocked my helmet off. The sound that we were hearing was the strap on my helmet hitting the barrel of my rifle.
Second, I remember that one time there were three of us on a listening post when some flares went off behind us. We opened fire in that direction. We had some concentrations set up for rifle grenades in that area and one guy was assigned to fire rifle grenades in that direction, too. He must have loaded a live round instead of the blank. There was a bright flash, and he went down in his hole and would not come out until dawn. It turned out to be some animals that must have set the flares off, because after we stopped firing, all was quiet. This was the only time that I witnessed cowardice, but we never did say anything about him doing that. A few days later he volunteered for a rifle company. I guess he wanted to prove that he was not a coward. The next time I saw him he was on a litter Jeep with a wound in his thigh, on his way to a hospital in Japan.
Another time out we were in rain. It was raining really hard and the holes were full of water, so we sat at the bottom of the dike. All of us had our rifles under our ponchos sitting in the rain. We heard someone walking on the dike right above us. There was nothing we could do but sit still and hope he kept going. It was very dark and he was concentrating on where he was going. After he had passed far enough, we called on the sound power phone to the machine gun on the dike. They got him. There never was any more, so he must have been lost.
At night there always was fighting going on in our concentrations to the left. With the ammo we had we could only fire so much a day, so the forward observer (FO) had to pick and choose when and where to fire. One morning the FO showed up about dawn running off the hill. He told our Medic that there was a wounded GI about 100 yards out. The Medic’s name was Keith. As he went by me, he looked down at me as if to say, "Come help me." I looked away. Later, I felt I should have gone with him. I told myself that if that happened again I would do what I could and not shirk what I should do. Keith brought the GI in. He was a big blond kid with five or six burp gun slugs in his gut. We were cut off for three days, and Keith stayed by his side the whole time. The afternoon of the third day, a personnel carrier got through with some medical people. While they were giving him some plasma, he passed away. Keith took it very hard. We did not keep track of the days, but we knew when it was Sunday, because Keith made sure that we took our Cloroquinine to ward off malaria.
The battle for the Pusan Perimeter stands out in my mind. It took place from August 1 to September 16, 1950--45 days, east of Masan on the Naktong-ni Our objective was to block the North Koreans from breaking through the east coast, the shortest route to Pusan. W\I found out that war was not like "in the movies". There is no way that you can put something like that in a story. There was fighting every night in the perimeter. We fired all the ammo we could get and wished for more.
I never saw an American tank at the Pusan Perimeter, but there was a lot of air support from P51 Mustangs. The artillery was set up about 150 yards behind us, so we knew when they were firing. They fired a lot of rounds every day. There was no such thing as rest/regroup during the Pusan Perimeter. We fought with what we had and how many we had.
There were a lot of refugees and they were all going toward Pusan. They were loaded down with what they could carry. They only moved during the day where they could be seen. The gooks infiltrated through our lines during the nights and harassed the rear during the day. They infiltrated through the refugees.
I only came face to face with the enemy a couple of times. The North Koreans were about the same age as we were, but there were also some old men. As far as I was concerned, their skill in battle was not very good. They were good fighters only in the sense that they took a lot of casualties in order to take their objective. We did not have enough men and the gooks had a lot. They tried to overwhelm us with numbers, where we used the usual army tactics. I have seen where they fought to the last man.
On one trick at the listening post it was really foggy. We all heard something to our right and turned that way. We could only see a few yards. Soon a North Korean appeared through the fog. We all opened up at the same time. The North Korean died soon after. Later in the morning at the position, someone asked me what had happened to my watch. The face was shattered, so the North Korean must have gotten a shot off and hit my watch. In my excitement, I didn’t notice. During the time that I was in Korea, I was only slightly wounded on my hands from gravel from a mortar round. I received no other injuries.
Another time that I was pulling night watch at the .50 caliber machine it had been raining for two or three days and everything was wet and muddy. There was a fence post about fifty yards out, and if we looked at it too long, it would "start to move". A flare went off out by the post and I opened up with the machine gun. It fired five or six rounds and jammed. I jerked on the belt a few times, but that did not help. Then I opened the breach and tried to position a new round in the chamber. It was so dark that I was trying to do that by feel. By this time, everyone was up and ready for whatever might come. It must have been an animal that tripped the flare because nothing happened. I spent the rest of the time with a rifle that I was not sure was any good either due to all the rain and mud. The next morning I figured out what had happened. I was slamming the cover so hard that it would spring open again.
I remember that during the summer of 1950, we were on top of a hill and had just finished eating when we heard jets coming. We were so far up the hill that the jets were the same height as us. When they passed, they had to turn sideways to get through the valley. Sometimes I think those guys had more guts than brains.
While in the Pusan Perimeter we were in battle at a place called Subuk-san, although I did not know it until I read about it 50 years later in some books. As far as I know, no one knew that the battles had names. The battle I was in came to be known as Battle Mountain. It took place between August 15 and September 19, 1950. Everyone has heard of the Punch Bowl, the Bowling Alley, Pork Chop Hill, Old Baldy and Chosin. Hardly anyone has heard of Battle Mountain.
The 35th and 27th regiments of the 25th Division were assigned the area around Subuk-san and Pil-bong, which became known as Battle Mountain. The North Koreans were massing for an attack through this section, which to them was the best route to Pusan. We had orders to "hold at all costs." The battle raged for two weeks and territory changed hands thirteen times. General Keene said of this battle, "Never before to my knowledge has a unit closed the gaps in its front line and held it intact while a full-scale battle was raging in the rear areas." By the time the battle was over, the North Korean forces were no longer an effective fighting force. WE HAD WHIPPED THEIR ASS!!
The mountain changed hands six times in seven days. The North Koreans would run our guys off at night and we would take it back the next day. During the night, the North Koreans would infiltrate through to the rear and gather up together. When they thought they had enough troops, they would stage an attack. Sometimes there was as much fighting in the rear as the front. That is why we were cut off so much of the time.
We were cut off a couple days and ran out of food, so we called to get a spotter plane to drop to us some food. In the morning, he came over and dropped a metal box. We rushed out to open it and it was 50-caliber ammo. We needed 50-caliber ammo like a hole in the head. We had a 50-caliber machine gun that would fire five to ten rounds, then jam because it was so worn out. Later in the afternoon, we did get some C-rations. Someone got our food and we got their ammo. I hope they got their ammo later, too.
After this battle was over and we broke out of the Perimeter, I had no time to reflect on what had happened. There was just too much going on to think about anything except the job at hand. This battle stands out in my mind today because if we had not held the Perimeter the war could have very well been lost. There is not enough credit given to the battle of the Pusan Perimeter. We received the Korean Presidential Unit Citation for the Pusan Perimeter.
It was during this time in the Pusan Perimeter that I was in my most personal danger. We were surrounded most of the time. Knowing that any time we could be over run, I just tried to keep my cool and not think about it one way or the other.
The 25th was called the Phantom Division by the gooks due to the 27th Regiment that was held off the line to plug the holes that the North Koreans tried to open. Around the middle of September they brought us our trucks. I had never given it a thought of how the guns would be moved. There was a buzz around the position like something was going to happen. The next day we got word that the Marines had landed at Inchon and we were to go on the attack.
The next day we moved out around dusk to cross the Naktong River. The engineers were held up for some reason and we did not cross until the next morning. The infantry was moving so fast that there were days when we did not fire the whole day. The next afternoon we were told to go to a position to our right. It had gotten dark and we still had not found where we were supposed to be, so we set up a perimeter and stayed the night. I don’t think anyone slept all night. Lieutenant Dolvin contacted headquarters the next morning to find out where we were supposed to be. The maps that we used were Japanese and were not very accurate. It was some time before the mapmakers got over there to make us some good maps. Occasionally there would be a roadblock and we gave support. I remember that after we had passed Seoul, we kept moving for two or three days and slept very little.
Everyone took turns driving the truck with one other guy to keep each other awake. The rest tried to get some sleep. Our truck was close to the last one in the line. You would think that trying to sleep in the back of a ¾ ton Dodge Power Wagon would be impossible. Not so. We were moving at night and stopped for a while because a firefight had broken out up ahead. The North Koreans had set up a roadblock. After it had been cleared and we moved out, we found out that the North Koreans had waited for most of the trucks to go by to hit the rear of the convoy. The guys in the truck four or five trucks ahead of us had all fallen asleep and had not moved on with the rest. That saved us from being hit at the roadblock. This was one of three or four times that I was in the wrong place at the right time to enable me to make it through the war.
We were moving so fast that the food could not keep up, so we ate a lot of rice that we found in the villages. We had no water either, so we got water where we could. I hated the halazone taste. We had a cook that brought us hot chow whenever he could. He would wait until the roadblock was clear and then get the food to us. One of the guys commented one day that he would get hit one of these days, so it did happen. The road had been opened and he and his Jeep driver were going through when the North Koreans closed the road again. The cook and driver were found the next day. We never did get much hot chow after that.
We had been chasing the gooks for three or four days when we linked up with the Marines. The Marines were on our right, but we had no contact with them. There was some animosity between us and the Marines because we were called for a fire mission but could not reach it. Later we called the Marines and asked for support, but they would not fire for us.
We met the Marines at Kimpo around September 17, 1950. They came in from the north and we came from the south. Taking the airport at Kimpo allowed our planes to be closer to the front lines to better support the ground troops and have shorter supply routes. There was what appeared to be an airstrip, but we did not go onto it. There was a hanger and what looked like a control center, as well as a couple of wrecked airplanes. We stayed in some buildings that we thought were the University of Korea. Our platoon spent the night in what looked like a science lab. After Kimpo was secure we moved out the next day to keep in touch with the gooks, so I did not see any planes arrive. There was not much resistance at Kimpo. The gooks had been on the run since Inchon and our breakout of the Pusan Perimeter, so we had no resistance to speak of.
The Turks were assigned to the 25th and we had some contact with them. When they first relieved us, I thought that they were not very well armed. They had many Thompson machine guns and 1903 rifles. Everybody had a knife. In the late fall, the Turks relieved us. We moved off the hill to about 500 yards away. We had not been allowed any fires. The first thing the Turks did was build fires--and then they had a party. They were a fearless bunch.
It was early November and it was cold already. We had gotten shoepaks, an extra pair of socks, wool long johns, and sweaters. There were no gloves, pile jackets, pile hats or parkas. At the end of November the Chosin Reservoir campaign began. We were made aware of the trap at Chosin after a few days. The news came to us through the grapevine. We were around Hwachon, I think. We had stopped and were waiting for orders when some South Korean troops moving south down the road by our position said that the Chinese had entered the war and had hit us really hard. We could not hold the line, so the only choice we had was to withdraw. We packed up and got ready to move out. We had a short fire fight with the Chinese, then left. We just did get out of the Chinese trap.
We withdrew rather fast the first days, then more of an orderly fashion, taking turns setting up delaying actions along the way. We had been told that there may be a large number of enemy troops in the area and that if we saw signs that would indicate that, we were to stop. One tank stuck with us during the withdrawal and is part of the reason I am here today. With his fire power and presence it made things a lot easier. The gooks were everywhere and it was the only big thing left.
During the withdrawal we were called for a fire mission. There was a small draw just off the road. We had to set the guns up close together. We got set up and we all hung the first round and dropped them at once. Our second did not go off and we called a misfire. Lifting the barrel, the round came out. Putting the barrel back down, there was a "thunk". Everyone looked at each other with eyes wide open. There was another round still in the gun. The first round had not gone off. With the guns so close, we had missed it. Two things passed through our minds. (1) If both rounds had gone off we would have been blown to Hell. (2) If the first round had gone off there would have been some guys with serious wounds.
Another time a fire mission was called and we had to put our guns on a frozen rice paddy. We just dug the base plate in the paddy a little bit, thinking the first would set the gun. They called for the first round. We dropped it and the gun disappeared over the rice paddy. The gun just bounced off the ice, crossed over the paddy, and flipped over the other side. We were more careful where we put the guns after that.
I got sick during the withdrawal and lay in the back of our truck for two or three days before they could get me to an aid station. I thought I was just run down from not getting enough food and rest. They thought I had pneumonia, gave me a shot for that, and sent me to Ascom City Hospital. A blood test determined that I was suffering from malaria. My system had almost shut down and the malaria had shown up. I had to have gotten my malaria at the Pusan Perimeter. I never had it before. It reoccurred from time to time until the early 1970s. I have not had an attack for a very long time.
There was some reported enemy troop movement and we were told to stop. After a couple of days we were sent in reserve. Our area was about a mile or so from the front at a house with a good-sized yard next to the road. I think we had been there one day. The guns were set up in case there was a fire mission. That night all was quiet. The guards had been posted and the guys had found a place to bed down. I was on duty first down by the road. There was a lot of firing going up at the front, and it kept getting closer. After about an hour had passed I heard noise coming down the road. I called to get the platoon leader up. By this time, everyone was up and ready for a fight. It turned out to be South Koreans heading south in a hurry. The platoon leader had us load up the guns and get ready to move out.
About this time some Chinese came over a knoll left of the house. They had sent up flares and we could see them clearly. We picked off quite a few and headed for the trucks. I forget how far we had gone before the Chinese slammed the door shut. Soon after, orders came down to take our trucks away from us to keep them from getting captured. We were left with just one Jeep and trailer with one gun and maybe two dozen rounds of ammo. We had to walk out. I remember one night laying on the ground in my sleeping bag, looking up at the stars. I could see the Big and Little Dipper and the North Star. I also saw a shooting star. It was so nice and peaceful I forgot the war for a little while.
We walked a very long way and the guys were having trouble with their feet. One of the guys got frostbitten toes and wound up losing two of them. We were not used to walking much. When we got our trucks back, we kept going south for another day or so. I guess we had broken contact with the Chinese, because we stopped and waited a couple of days. We were assigned to a patrol with ‘A’ Company, I think—a couple of tanks and a recon platoon.
They had us go north about five miles and set up a perimeter. The infantry was sent out to make contact with the Chinese. The first day nothing happened, but it was cold!! I pulled my guard duty and went to sleep in the back of a two-and-a-half-ton truck. I had been asleep for awhile, and I got cold on my chest. I turned over on my side. After a while I got cold again, and turned over on my other side and got cold again. The cold was coming down through the canvas cover, through my sleeping bag, field jacket, shirt, sweater, and long john shirt. I got up to see why I was so cold. I had gone to sleep with all my clothes and had sweated and that had turned to frost. NOW THAT IS COLD!
The second day, we fired one round. Why I don’t know. Early the next morning word came that they had made contact with the Chinese and to get ready to move out. When we had fired the round the day before, it had thawed out some, but during the night it had frozen again. The base plate had frozen to the ground and we could not get it up. We hooked the winch of a two-and-a-half-ton truck to pull it up. The handles bent, but it came loose. The handles stayed bent the rest of the time I was there. Another thing I remember about the cold was there were no gloves, so we had to hold the round long enough for it to get warm to keep it from peeling the skin off our hands. We took turns dropping rounds and then warming our hands so we could drop the next round. We headed south in a hurry. This was not a bug-out like before. There was some order to this withdrawal. There was a leap frog approach to this one. During combat one tended to lose all sense of time, but I think the withdrawal took five or six days.
The whole 14 months I spent in Korea, all holidays were spent involved in the war except one. The only holiday that stands out is the Christmas in 1950. Things settled down again after the above move. We were in reserve at Kaesong and things were very quiet, so we did not set up the guns. Some guys dug bunkers. I had a nice one in the side of a hill. On Christmas the cooks brought us our Christmas dinner of turkey with all the trimmings. We were in line waiting to eat when all hell broke loose. The North Koreans hit the infantry in front of us and we were ordered to move out. The cooks closed the food up and bugged out. The cook said we would get our dinner later.
When we were ready to leave I thought about my nice bunker. I ran over and tossed a grenade in it. The SOBs weren’t going to use my bunker. Three or four days later when things had stabilized we got our dinner with all the trimmings. It was New Year’s Day, so we had our Christmas dinner and New Year's together.
Let me say that the cooks do not get enough credit for the work they do. There is nothing better to help your morale than a hot meal occasionally. Besides Christmas dinner that New Year's Day, I remember another time when the cook showed up early one winter morning with his truck that had stoves in it. We got to have eggs any way we wanted, with Spam and bread. It was cold as hell, and that was the best breakfast I have ever had before or since.
Coldest I've Ever Been
We still had not gotten any winter clothes—only the Mickey Mouse boots and an extra pair of socks. We pinned the socks under our shirt and changed them every couple of days. The winter was very cold and windy. It was the coldest I had ever been before or after. I wore a tee shirt, fatigue shirt, wool sweater, fatigue jacket, long johns, fatigue pants, long wool socks, and shoe paks. At 15 to 20 degrees below zero, that did not keep me warm. We had no gloves or winter hats. How we got through the winter, no one seems to know. Two guys in our unit were sent to the hospital with frost bite. One was Frank Creig from Ireland, West Virginia, and another guy was from Florida. I got frost bite on my right middle finger. It was so cold that we did not oil our rifle because it would freeze and would not eject the spent round.
The North Koreans had summer outfits, and early in the winter some of them still had their summer uniforms on. Later they had a quilted uniform. The Chinese had quilted uniforms. Whether they were warm or not, I don't know.
It seems to me that our mortar platoon was asked to do the impossible most of the time. Once in particular we were asked to go on patrol with an infantry company over a frozen foot path. We were not foot soldiers, so it was difficult for our truck and ammo trailer to travel over a narrow, frozen foot path. We turned the front wheels to the left so they would climb up the bank a little ways, then slide back down to the path. We always gave it our best shot to support the front line, so we managed to do that, but nothing came of it. We never got close enough to fire.
Korea in 1951
The first week of March, orders came down to get ready to move out at midnight. We moved into position along the Han River in the dark and set up the guns. At six o’clock in the morning, all the artillery was to open up at one time for the start of Operation Ripper (March 7-April 4, 1951). Boy, that was a helluva racket. I did not know we had so many guns. During the fire mission, I looked up and saw a Chinese mortar round coming toward us. I just stood there. I couldn’t go anywhere. There was no place to go anyway. It landed about 50 yards to my left. It hit the footpath and did not go off. It bounced over a little knoll. My heart started to beat again.
After the infantry had gotten out of range we packed up to cross the river. The engineers had built a bridge by now. Along the riverbank was gravel. Our trailer was loaded with ammo, so we got hung up on the bank and sank in the stuff. It was almost dark when we got across. We were alone looking for the rest of the platoon. While driving in the dark with no lights and making a turn, the driver put us in a ditch. There was no one around to help us, so there we were alone with Chinese all around. The only thing to do was to set guards out and hope for the best. No one slept all night. A little after daylight, a two-and-a-half-ton truck came by and pulled us out. We found the rest of the platoon about noon. We sure were glad to see them. The report that I heard was that we captured 3,000 prisoners that day.
I do not remember much after that until April 21st. (The Chinese spring offensive took place April 22-29, 1951.) That night after the guards were set out, I lay down on my sleeping bag. After a little while of lying there, things did not seem right. I got up and walked around. It was just too quiet. There was a half-track with quad 50s on it and a tank in the front of us. I talked to the guy in the half-track and asked him how many rounds he had. He said about 5,000. I asked how long that would last. He said about 15 to 20 minutes in an attack. I talked to the tanker, too. Tank support was not used by us very often, but during the spring offensive we had a lot of tank support as we were very close to the infantry's position.
Not long after that I heard a noise to our left. I got the guys up, just in case. The noise got further to our rear. Around midnight they hit us. We had twenty or thirty rounds of ammo per gun. That did not last very long. After the ammo was gone the trucks were loaded up to move out. The Chinese had broken through our left and were trying to surround us. Captain Berry of A Company sent some guys over to plug the hole. The tank started to leave, so we went with them. About 200 yards out we got stopped by some Chinese. That was broken and we moved out again. It was just getting light when we ran onto an ammo truck and ambulance by the side of the road. The truck driver and ambulance driver were dead. Looking inside the ambulance, we found one guy still alive. He was taken out and put in our truck. To the right of us was a small hill. To our left were some rice paddies.
From the knoll, the gooks launched an attack. They were only a couple of hundred yards away. We bailed out of our trucks and into the edge of the rice paddy and started to fire our rifles. We stopped the attack in about five minutes and the gooks withdrew over the knoll. On the side of the road was an ammo truck and the driver was dead. I climbed up to see if it would start. Moving the GI over, I tried to start it. I heard some pings and saw a couple of new holes in the hood. I bailed out of there and went to the other side of the road. Some firing was coming from that side. There was an abandoned weapons carrier with a .50 caliber mounted on it. I got in there and tried to fire it in that direction. It did not fire, so I tried to change barrels. More rounds were hitting close to me. I thought at that time that the son of a bitch was trying to kill me. In my haste to change the barrel, I did not get it to fire, so I bailed out of there and got behind the rice paddy to see if I could locate that son of a bitch. Shortly, some GI’s came over the hill. I guess they took care of him. Things quieted down and we moved out. A helicopter landed close to the road to take the wounded. They took our wounded GI. That was the only time I saw a helicopter during the war.
There was never a time our platoon suffered heavy casualties after the breakout of the Pusan Perimeter, but on June 6, 1951, Pfc. Lewis B. Starkey (1931-1951) of Kent County, Maryland was killed in action at Kumhwa. He was the only one that I knew who was killed. The only time I saw many dead Americans was after the Chinese spring offensive had settled down. Word came that we could send in some unarmed trucks and troops to pick up the dead and wounded. I think three or four trucks went in and came out with a lot of GIs. I did not see too much evacuation of wounded or dead as we were not in many positions to witness it.
I think in early summer 1951, we were at the Imjin River area. Keith, the medic I mentioned earlier, was awarded the Silver Star for his work there. Since we had very few casualties, he was up with the foot soldiers most of the time. Not long after that, he was sent to the rear because of battle fatigue. We got a new Medic and he was good also, but we missed Keith. He was gone for some time. When he returned, we were really glad to have him back, and we told him how much we had missed him.
The springs and falls in Korea were nice, but the summers were hot and smelly from the rice paddies. In the summer of 1951, the Turks were supposed to relieve the Marines to the left of us. We were relieved also. It turned out that the Marines had not taken the ground they were supposed to and the Turks would not relieve them. We were diverted around to help the Marines. We had been on the line for four weeks and needed a rest, which made us mad as hell. In one day we took the ground the Marines could not take in three. From that time on my opinion of the Marines was that they were more bark than bite.
In the monsoon season in August 1951, it was difficult to move around. We had trouble keeping our rifles dry. We had to take care that the mortar tubes didn't get water in them by covering them all the time when not firing. We had to go on patrol with an infantry company in the middle of the night to make contact with the gooks. A company of infantry and support troops moved out about midnight to get to where we were supposed to be by daylight. It had rained for days and all the streams were swollen. We got to a swollen stream that was about eight to ten feet across and about three feet deep. We could not get our trucks across the stream so we lugged the guns and ammo with help from the infantry guys. We had to walk across it with the guns and ammo to keep from being swept downstream. We had difficulty standing up in it, but with the weight of the gun parts and some ammo it was easier to get across. We got to the position and spent all day trying to make contact with the gooks, but never did. The guns were set up ready to fire if needed, so having spent all night and the better part of a day with nothing happening, one of the guys said, "Let's fire one round for the hell of it." We fired one round in the afternoon, and then packed up to return.
I only remember getting a shower one time. The other times we washed in streams. When it rained we did not put on our raincoats. We let the rain wash us off. I got a couple of showers during R&R. We shaved maybe once a week when there was a stream nearby. I got a change of clothes when I got the shower and when I went on R&R.
We very seldom got hot chow, so most of the time we ate C-rations on the line. There were a few times when we went three or four days with no chow, so we ate what rice we could find in the villages. I had no reaction from that. The best thing I ate while I was in Korea was during the winter of 1950 when we got those fresh eggs that I mentioned earlier in my memoir. Sometimes there was hot chow while we were in reserve. Being in "reserve" during this time of the war meant not being far from the front line. I do not remember being far enough from the front line to get any complete rest.
I became good friends with James Mancuso. He took me under his wing when I first got to Korea. He was the number 1 gunner and was in charge of the crew. He took his time to teach me about the mortars since I did not know anything about them when I got there. Soon I was his number 2 gunner, so we worked very good together. When we got a chance to pitch a tent we did it together. He made it out of Korea in July 1951. We still stay in touch with each other about once a month.
I only met two guys in Korea that I knew prior to the war. Both were from demolition school at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. One was in the third platoon of our mortar company. He was killed in July 1951. The other was a tank driver. I had a cousin that was a chaplain in Korea. He had seen a name like mine on a marker in the cemetery at Taejon and wrote my mom that he had seen it. As luck would have it, my mom had just gotten a letter from me and wrote and told me about it.
I had very little contact with the natives, but I saw how poor and backward the people were. All the children I saw always looked frightened and in poor health. We took a boy with us for a month or so until we could get him to a home. I also saw where some village leaders had been shot and put in a common grave.
A Little Humor
Most of the time being in a war zone was serious. There was not much to laugh about, but Clyde Williams (Willy Lump-Lump) was someone that kept us laughing. He found a lot of things that he could joke about. He made it out of Korea and we keep in touch. Once during the rainy season, Clyde pitched his tent on the bottom of a small knoll. It rained hard during the night and got his tent wet. A frog got in and Willy tried to get him out. Finally he gave up and left the tent.
Another time we were in a small village that had some houses standing, so we all picked a house to sleep in. We had not been out of the weather for a couple months or more. I lay down in my house. There was a hole in the ceiling right above me. After dark I was awakened by some noise. It sounded like some rats were having a race in the ceiling. They would congregate at one end and run to the other. They did this several times. Finally one jumped through the hole and landed on my shoulder. I had turned on my side just in case they did come through the hole. I left and went to sleep on the porch.
During the winter of 1950 we were in another village that had one house standing. The whole platoon picked a spot inside of it. We built a fire in the cooking area which heated the house through flues under the floor. The floor got so hot that we had to keep turning to keep from getting burned. That awakened all the lice in the house and we all wound up with a bad case of lice. After a few days they brought a case of DDT and had us take off our clothes. They powdered us with the DDT and burned our clothes. We got a chance of clothes.
As far as I remember, the mail was in good condition. I do not remember anyone receiving anything unusual in the mail. I was not very close with my family, so I did not get much mail from them. I had a girlfriend that sent me a couple of letters. In a little fire fight at the Pusan Perimeter I had my watch broken by a bullet. I wrote my mom to send me a watch with a luminous face. She did that and that was the only package I got. Our platoon sergeant got a Dear John letter from his wife, but he was not too upset as they were not on good terms when he left the States.
I drank beer when we could get it and I smoked about a pack a day. When we got paid I played poker with some of the guys. I was a smoker prior to Korea, but not a drinker or gambler. I saw one USO show in Korea. It was Bob Hope with Marilyn Maxwell. It seems to me that it was in the fall, but I do not remember the place where it was held. I went on R&R for three or four days. The first day I got picked by a Japanese girl and spent my time with her. She took very good care of me, seeing that I had good food and a bath every day, along with other things.
After returning to the States I was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. After my leave I was sent to Fort Sam Houston, and then after a couple months there they sent me to Camp Polk, Louisiana to open the base. I was the First Sergeant of the Motor Company after they activated the 37th Division (Ohio National Guard) and sent them to Camp Polk.
I did not reenlist. I had three options. (1) Go to OCS. (2) Go recruiting. (3) My Staff Sergeant rating had came down and I could take that to reenlist. However, during my leave I got married to Elisabeth Burger Z(1937-2011) and my new wife did not want me to stay in the Army, so I got out. I got discharged in September 1952. Elisabeth and I had five children: Harald, Andre, Mark, Sheila and Vicky. We also had 12 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
I did not think the country of Korea was worth fighting for, but the cause for which we were fighting was worth it. My strongest memories of fighting in Korea were of not having enough ammo during the first days of the war, the rain and mud, but most of all, the COLD. The hardest thing about Korea for me personally was eating the C-rations (I had heartburn for 14 months) and surviving the winter with no winter clothes to speak of.
I think that a war hero is someone that puts his fellow soldiers' welfare before his own, stands and fights when all seems lost, and who is of clear mind when he does an act of bravery. All of the riflemen that fought the gooks in the first of the war were all heroes in my mind. They fought hard with what they had, knowing that the next day would not be any better.
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