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Paul George Martin
Bay Ridge, New York -
"For people to understand a war veteran, they should think of a time in their life when they were in great danger or close to death. Most them don't want to think about it. Well, the war veterans had that close death experience many times over in the muddy foxholes in European fields, hot beaches of the Pacific, frozen mountains of Korea, humid jungles of Vietnam, and the dry sands of the Middle East Desert Shield. They are all veterans who endured the many hardships of battle so others may live in comfort. They went to war so others may stay home."
- Paul Martin
My name is Paul George Martin of Brooklyn, New York. I was born July 22, 1929, in Flushing, New York, a son of Joseph B. Martin Jr. and Mabel Hartnett Martin (1895-1988). My father (born 1891) was a battalion chief for the New York Fire Department. He died in 1937. Mother worked at Macy's Department Store in New York. I had three older siblings, Joseph, Bernard, and Mary.
I attended St. Kevin Grade School in Flushing and then Bayside High School for three years. I worked selling papers and magazines and emptied ashes at houses while going to school. I was attending school during World War II. I helped salvage and assemble scrap metal for pick-up, grew victory gardens, and did messenger work in the Civilian Defense Air warden's office. I had relatives who were serving stateside in both the Army and Navy during the war.
I served eight months in the United States Marine Corps Reserves at Fort Shuyler, New York n 1947. Although my mother objected, I then joined the Marine Corps on February 2, 1948 because it looked like a good quality outfit and I liked the dress blue uniform. Two friends from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve joined with me. On February 3, I took a train to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. Bill Emmon went with me. We have since lost touch.
After a long, frozen, cold, snow-covered north, I woke up in Florence, South Carolina by a glazing sun. I lifted my head and noticed there was no snow. I walked to a diner and saw Marines dining. All had tough looks on them. I enjoyed the warm weather. At the rail junction in Yamasee, South Carolina, a sergeant gave orders that we could smoke, but no talking. After feeling restless we finally departed Yamasee, breathing the spring air. At Yamasee we saw Marines up ahead, and suddenly we saw an M.P. dashing towards us. His first order was, "I'm in charge. Smokers lamps out. No talking."
Parris Island was flat and sandy, and sand fleas filled the air after a rain. Boot camp was ten weeks, during which we had parade ground training and learned discipline, courtesy, how to obey orders, etc. My D.I.s were Gunny Sergeant Garrett, Sergeant Melia, and Corporal Dunman, all World War II veterans. They taught us how to stand guard duty, how to fire a rifle, and how to live in the field. We had proficiency tests on the range with our M1 rifles, and took GCT and MAT tests. I came to appreciate my D.I.s for teaching me the meaning of discipline and courtesy.
Our day began with lights on at 4 a.m. We all jumped out of bed, took care of personal hygiene, cleaned the barracks, and had morning chow. After that we had exercise, drilled on the parade ground, and had classroom training. After noon chow we drilled some more, had additional classroom training, and went to evening chow. For chow we had meat, potatoes, vegetables, dessert, and coffee. We had some free time after that. Mail call was during free time. We also used the time to write letters and take care of personal hygiene before lights out at 10 p.m. Church was offered and time was allowed for that.
We were expected to do everything right and do it fast. There was discipline for those who failed inspection, were slow on learning, were goofing off, or were caught smoking. If we failed inspection the D.I. made the entire platoon march to show that if one man made a mistake the whole platoon would suffer. Collective discipline was also used to show how one man's mistake could destroy a platoon in battle. There was individual punishment, too. One man dropped his weapon and had to sleep with it at night. Another man was caught in the PX and had to spend the night cleaning the mess hall. During church one time some guys were caught in the PX and spent five days in the brig. One guy who gave the D.I. a hard time ended up in the brig. Recruits who were below par ended up with a general discharge.
The last two weeks of boot camp went by slowly, and then graduation day came. A band played, the platoon mustered in front of colonels, and the CO spoke. For me personally, the hardest thing about boot camp was the lack of sleep, as well as no PX for ice cream and soda. I was never sorry that I had joined the Marine Corps. I learned how to obey orders and learned that I could accomplish anything in record time. I had gained weight, had better posture, and was physically energetic.
I was sent to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina after graduation. I was given a ten-day boot leave, and then went back to Camp Lejeune by train and bus to begin advanced training. I was assigned to a machine gun platoon, where I learned how to field the gun and took part in gun drills. Lieutenant Gottsponner and Sergeant Campi were my instructors. Lights on was at 5 a.m. We cleaned the barracks, answered roll call, and then began gun drill after morning chow. We had liberty at 4:30 p.m.
During this time I studied Chinese Communist philosophy, as well as their military strategy and tactics. I learned many lessons about Mao Tse Tung victories in defeating Chinese national forces much larger than ours. Six months later I left the machine gun platoon and was transferred to a Reconnaissance Company to become a Recon scout. I went to Little Creek, Virginia for ship-to-shore training, and had to pass a swimming test in order to qualify for Recon. I received cold weather training in Labrador, Canada in October of 1949.
I was back at Camp Lejeune for the remainder of 1949 and the beginning of 1950. During 1949 and early 1950, promotions were frozen. In April 1950 the annual Navy/Marine exercise (Operation Crossover) was conducted off the Marine base at Onslow Beach instead of Viesques, Puerto Rico like all previous years. Career officers and NCOs worried about their future. We thought the Corps was shrinking just like its budget. Despite all of this, we leathernecks kept in a state of readiness. I feel that the Korean War saved the Marine Corps. Its heroic performance at Pusan, Inchon, Seoul, and the Chosin Reservoir is what won Congressional approval of 400,000 men with four divisions and air wings a year later.
On Sunday morning, June 25, 1950, I was in the barracks at Camp Lejeune when we heard of the Communist invasion of South Korea. We all felt that we would be there, but didn't know it was D-82 and we would be landing at Inchon in less than three months.
The last days of June 1950 continued normally at Camp Lejeune until June 30th. The new Commanding General, Ray Robinson, ordered all gates to the base closed with no one allowed to enter or leave. All day and holiday leaves were held up, but finally leaves were granted if we left home phone numbers on hand. After the Fourth of July holiday, we heard that the 1st Marine Division had been ordered to Korea, but we were surprised that nothing was mentioned to us. Normal activities continued. During the first two weeks there was no sign of us getting into the battle except the lights were on late every night at division headquarters, which left no doubt that plans were being drawn. The reason for this delay was because the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Commander of the Atlantic fleet did not want to lose their landing force if Korea might be a diversionary move by the enemy.
Change of Plans
The Camp Lejeune Marines nearly didn't make the Inchon Landing, in spite of the Far East Command's continued requests for a Marine division to make Inchon by September 15, 1950. General Shepherd convinced the Pentagon that the Inchon opportunity was now or never. On July 25, 1950 (D-53), the Joint Chiefs agreed. The orders were passed down from the generals to the lowest privates the same day about noon. Our 1st Sergeant got a phone call to "forget about the new car". He thought it was the dealer in town and asked why and who was calling him. The answer was, "The Battalion Sergeant. We are going to Camp Pendleton." The 2nd Marine Division was all ready to go. That same day a truck picked us up in the field with orders to Camp Pendleton. As a young Marine I had mixed feelings about going to war, but within five days we had gone by train from Camp Lejeune to Camp Pendleton, California.
Two of my comrades that I had known at Camp Lejeune were not with me on the train trip, but they ended up in Korea. Pfc. Ray Boylan of H Company, 7th Marines left Camp Lejeune for the 3/6 Mediterranean cruise. I saw him among other wounded in the hills north of Seoul. Among my comrades in Reconnaissance Company, Joseph E. McDermott had planned a trip to the mountains on his next furlough, but ended up at Koto-ri. My buddy Joseph V. Voetter was scheduled for a trip to the seashore, but ended on the beaches off Wolmi-do. Pfc. Joseph Saluzzi, D Company, 7th Marines, was only two months away from being discharged when he received orders for Korea. He reached out from an ambulance Jeep in Seoul, which was a big surprise since I did not know that the 7th Marines had joined us D+5. Joe later authored the book, Red Blood Purple Heart.
I left the United States on August 16, 1950 with about 2,000 other Marines and cargo on the General Simon Buckner. I had been on a naval troop ship before, but this one was larger. The water was not rough--the ocean was as flat as a pond. The trip from San Diego to Kobe, Japan took 12 days. Other than standing watch, I had no duty on the ship. We crossed the International Date Line, and got news that the Marines had stopped the enemy in Korea. There were no stop-over on the trip other than a stop at Kobe to unload some cargo and then combat load an AKA cargo ship for the Inchon landing.
Inchon Countdown - June 25, 1950-September 12, 1950
Inchon Landing - D+1
We arrived at Inchon on the morning of September 15, 1950. There were all kinds of other vessels in the water--cruisers, destroyers, troop ships, and LSTs. We could hear the sound of the heavy guns and saw Corsairs overhead.
Due to the mudflats in the harbor we could only land at high tide, so we stayed onboard the ship for one day and then off-loaded onto nets into small boats D+1 at Green Beach at Wolmi-do. Even though it was a cloudy day, we could see the results of shells and trenches as we went ashore in Higgins boats, amtracs, and on foot. My first impression of Inchon was that it was an ancient city.
The recon company joined the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines. Our assignment was to patrol the exposed right flank of the division to allow the regiment to advance rapidly. We marched to the 0-1 line right flank on foot before units of the 7th Army Division arrived under cover of darkness. The old salts who were battle experienced taught us not to bunch up and told us to hold our rifles and be ready to fire since there were many enemy out there besides the one that might be shooting at us. D+3 we left the 1st Marines by truck to join the 5th Marines at Kimpo airfield.
Han River Crossing
Like D-Day in June 1944, the Inchon landing was easy and successful. After that, the Supreme Command ordered the 1st Marine Division to secure Seoul on September 22, 1950, exactly three months after it fell. That was only eight days after the landing at Inchon. This time pressing meant ordering the 5th Marines to cross the Han River in just 24 hours, so RCT 5 had to make some hasty decisions. First RCT 5 requested the Recon Company to dispatch 18 swimmers to cross the river in stealth on September 18, then changed plan on September 19 for the whole Recon Company to follow the swimmers in amtracs and secure a position blocking the road and railroad leading to North Korea.
At Kimpo I could see high mountain peaks far off to the north of Seoul and had no doubt the enemy could see all our actions at Kimpo. I spent two hours on an outpost on Hill 131 observing Hill 125 on the other side of the Han River in enemy territory. After watching for over two hours, we noticed no activity on that hill and we suggested an immediate crossing, which was denied by the high command. First our captain told us that we would cross in one hour and fifteen minutes, which made me feel our suggestion was accepted. Somehow no amtracs arrived until dusk much later.
The plan was for the company commander to send 12 swimmers to cross the Han River first to check the far side. If clear, they would signal the rest of the company to cross in amtracs. The 1st and 3rd platoons were to secure Hill 125 while the 2nd platoon with attached engineers were to move one mile inland to roadblock the main road and rail connecting Seoul with North Korea.
The swimmers left the company at Samhung Peninsula made it across safely and the Captain ordered me, Cpl. Joseph E. McDermott, and Pfc. Walter E. Cole to check the top of Hill 125. Since we noticed no signs of enemy activity, I sent a radio message back, "Marines landed. Situation well in hand." This was orders for the rest of the company to start moving across the river by amtrac. All was quiet until the amtracs started up. It took 45 minutes to reach the river and I'm sure it alerted the enemy of our plans. I had noticed the high mountains near Seoul and told Sgt. Larry Bielick that I thought the enemy could see us from the far off hills. His reply was, "You're paid to obey orders, not question them.'
I was with the 2nd platoon in a tractor and kept watching Hill 125 standing like a dark silhouette over the water. I noticed no signs of life as we entered the river, so I thought things were going to go off smoothly and unopposed. About halfway across I saw just one muzzle flash from the crest of the hill. He must have fired too soon. Then all hell broke loose. I could hear the sound of a train whistle in the background. The train was obviously bringing more troops to defend the area. As mentioned, I am sure the tractors alerted them.
We were hit with a continuance of small arms fire from Hill 125 and a few mortar shells landed near us. Our own artillery fire started leveling Hill 125. When our artillery started lobbing shells it was hard to tell whether it was incoming or outgoing. Four tractors, including mine, got stranded in a mudflat as the tide receded. We found out later that we were on a sandbar that was quicksand. This might have been a blessing in disguise as enemy shells failed to detonate in the soft ground. We never knew how many shells landed in the sand. Sgt. John Slagle showed great courage by showing great concern for swimmers. He kept yelling, "How about the swimmers?" The radios were out-grounded by artillery calls.
We had been told that in case of a firefight we were to withdraw to the river bank, but we never even made it across. Our amtrac tried hopelessly to get off the sandbar, but after three hours Sergeant Slagle directed the men to climb out of the tractor and wade ashore. He passed our weapons out to us and we climbed out of the tractors and waded waist deep to the north river bank. While wading ashore we realized how quick the sand was. Each time an amber cluster lit up, we had to freeze as we looked like targets sticking out of water.
While in this process I noticed a Marine sinking in the mud and waded to him. We lifted each other's knee out and moved it forward. It worked fine. Because the weight of our weapons was making the go harder, we devised a system where one of us held all the weapons while the other moved a few paces ahead. Then the weapons were passed over to that Marine so the other could move a few paces. My BAR belt with six magazines of ammunition was also passed this way.
On the shore of the river, Sgt. Larry R. Bielicke and Pfc. Joseph J. Voetter helped drag us to shore. After reaching shore we all searched for other stranded Marines. When flares lit up the darkness, we noticed another Marine out there not too far. He was Pfc. Glenn A. Kasdorf, who lost most of his clothes in the mud while attempting to make it to shore. We had to swim against the tide and it was tough going with his clothes weighing him down, so he took most of them off. We took off our packs and weapons and waded to help him in. I gave him a poncho to wear when he got out of the river. We then patrolled the bank and found three more Marines, including a swimmer. After that we got orders to join the company back on the hill. Only one Marine (Pfc. Robert Lyman Bowers Jr.) was killed. One was wounded (Capt. Kenneth Houghton). One swimmer (Pfc, Alphouse O. Ledet) was missing, but he was found the next morning by the 5th Marines.
Private First Class Bowers was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day:
After this we returned to Kimpo airfield and noticed that 3/5 Marines were assembling their landing teams. We learned the next day that the foxholes had fresh dirt. It was hard to believe that we didn't notice any enemy activity the day before.
First Marine Division Recon Company was attached to all three Marine regiments during the Inchon/Seoul campaign of September 1950. Recon Company patrols are rarely publicized in history since they must operate quietly and, like some other units, never get publicized. When one reads about the heroic actions of the 1st, 5th, and 7th Marines, they notice the word "reinforce" or "attached" units. Readers often ask about 11th Marines, not knowing their battalions are attached to other regiments. Many recon patrols seem to have no meaning, but after reading about the overall situations one realizes the importance on making the patrol.
While the front line companies of the three regiments were closing in on Seoul, the high command gave orders at midnight to advance rapidly into the city because intelligence reported that the enemy was fleeing north. The Recon Company sent out patrols to confirm that only civilians were fleeing since high level aerial reports could not notice the difference between troops and civilians.
The Recon Company was located on the left flank of RCT 7, which was seizing the hills northwest of Seoul while the 5th and 1st RCTs were street fighting through the barricades. One of the small outpost patrols was assigned to Sgt. Larry D. Bielicke, who selected Marines whom he had done night patrols with at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina and on maneuvers in Vieques and Labrador. Night patrols should only be conducted with troops who worked and trained together during the training time. Men selected were Cpl. Joseph J. Voetter, Joseph E. McDermott, Herbert D. Wilson, Pfc. Glenn A. Kasdorf, Joseph J. Gatz, and Paul G. Martin.
In late afternoon, the 2nd platoon departed the Recon Company position around Hill 223 and proceeded across an open field of rice paddies on up another hill to observe far down a draw. There was a road junction where one road turned northeast towards Seoul and the other turned northwest towards North Korea. The left road was just a wide trail leading towards Seoul over a hill leading to the Kaesong road. The other led towards the Han River farther north. Members of the 2nd platoon noticed scattered civilian women and children along a road in a staggered formation. They were carrying loads on carts, A-frames, and even on their heads. They did not look like a troop withdrawal at all and troops in the area would not allow this. Sergeant Bielicke and troops were left behind as the 2nd platoon returned to the company along another route. It was done in a way that no one would notice seven Marines remaining.
At sunset, Gatz, McDermott and Voetter set up an OP which we referred to as Outpost Joseph since all three had the same first name. Sergeant Bielicke took Kasdorf, Wilson, and me down by the road at dark. Corporal Wilson took the lead and gave signals by tapping his rifle butt twice to take cover and three times to follow all clear. I sprinkled some fresh dirt on two different trails that were crossed, and raked it with a native house broom.
The patrol got within 50 yards of the road at dark and we observed activities. For a few hours more natives were noticed moving away from Seoul, then some were seen moving to the side of the road like a rest stop. Shortly after, small columns were noticed going towards Seoul in the other direction. There were maybe only 40 or 50 natives. Some had caps on and weapons on their shoulders, but others looked like civilians carrying A-frames. One cart was being dragged at the end of the column and later a few stood at different spots along the road. This was good experience in reconnaissance work. It was easy to hide and not be detected, but the thought of death if spotted was something else. Hiding in a group of friends seems easy fun, but what if a stranger was nearby looking to kill? You would laugh at a friend bypassing you, but would you laugh at a killer passing by? What if the killer turned and walked in your direction? Would you panic and expose yourself? What if you were in your home and ignored someone knocking at your door. Could you hold still? Then as he leaves and while peeking through your blinds and suddenly he turns around and waves at you and rushes back calling you, would you open up? Maybe he never saw you, but in case someone is hiding, the wave and return would scare him into opening the door. That is the feeling that Sergeant Bielicke and his troops had during this moment.
Another small group of troops was then seen mixed with civilians carrying A-frames. About three carts followed. Finally the patrol heard a tank and later a self-propelled gun was slowly passing. Troops on the side were waving signals to it. Later another tank was noticed and was slowly steered off the road to the far side. At this point Sergeant Bielicke slowly withdrew the patrol. He needed to inform the command post quick enough before it could be too late to take action. Many times on these patrols a leader might have to change orders for the good of the overall situation. Patrols made someone who had never been hit feel like he was living on borrowed time.
Corporal McDermott reported to the Bielicke outpost that enemy units came down from the east above Seoul, continued up the western road, and then later came back down the road. But he felt they were not the same because no carts were seen coming from the east and they kept a better formation like a disciplined unit--not like the ones we saw staggering. I never heard what the other company patrols saw. Our own conclusion was that the enemy was half-hearted and maybe trying to envelop far behind the 1st and 5th Marines. We were told at a later date on the way to Wonsan that the 5th Marines sent a motor convoy towards Kaesong as a result of our patrol. Also, a half-hearted attack was launched at the Han River crossing site. Upon returning, more noise could be heard on the road. While crossing the trails I had noticed one of the raked spots, but noticed no footprints and missed passing the other.
Upon returning to OP Joseph it started to rain. Signals with rifle taps were passed back and forth. As it started to rain, the OP could hear a lot of talking behind them but never knew whether it was native or enemy. We felt that we were in a hopeless situation of being isolated by enemy and not meeting Sergeant Bielicke on return. At daybreak many footprints were noticed down in the rice paddies leading to the hills around northwestern Seoul. As the fog cleared off to the east, Private First Class Gatz noticed a column of civilians with A-frames leading toward enemy defenses. He asked, "Do they look like they are fleeing the city?"
Later a platoon came and led all back to company positions. A report of enemy build-up alerted the front line companies that the enemy was entering Seoul. We learned that our company was receiving incoming mortar fire. A few were wounded. I learned that some units in Seoul received a night tank attack. Recon Company patrolled the hills north of the city during the fighting for Seoul.
Operation Yo Yo
After Seoul was secured we were ordered back to Inchon, where we remained for two weeks rest. I dreamed of going home, but our Recon Company was ordered north to Wonsan along with the other regiments of the 1st Marine Division. We boarded an APA troop ship, and joined about 30 other ships en route to North Korea. The trip from Inchon to Wonsan took about eight days. Aboard ship I read three pieces of news. (1) The mother of a Marine Reserve wrote to the Marine Corps to ask why her son with only two weeks summer training was killed in action in Korea. (2) Truman and MacArthur met at Wake. (3) The last ship news before departure was, "300,000 Chinese near Manchurian Border."
I thought the biggest problem was behind us and that this would be a mop-up operation. Instead, this move was the United Nations' first mistake in the Korean War. It was not only a logistical nightmare, it also caused great loss of time. While securing Seoul, if the high command knew that Wonsan harbor was mined, the better move would have been to either stop and dig heavy defenses to protect South Korea from another invasion or reorganize the 8th Army and 10th Corps into one force and advance up above Pyongyang and Wonsan and dig in there on a much narrow front requiring less troops before the winter set in. We were not equipped for winter, there were poor roads to supply an army moving north, and we were meeting a new enemy--the Chinese.
Instead of this tactic, the high command decided to advance into rugged mountains with narrow roads during subzero weather. The advance toward Manchuria drew a new enemy into the war. No doubt the strategists both in Tokyo and Washington made bad decisions, but the junior officers' and troops' superior performance made up for the poor decisions and managed to survive a total disaster.
Chosin Reservoir Campaign
I spent most of my time in Chosin on motorized and foot patrols between many open gaps. On November 1, 1950, the Recon motor patrol drove up the coast to Hamhung and, attached to the 7th Marines, was sent on a patrol to Huksu-ri, 40 miles beyond range of communication and supporting fire, and returned without a casualty. On November 3, we joined the 7th Marines to find the forward battalions cut off by road blocks. We were the only troops available to break the roadblock, which was accomplished after all day flanking envelopment covers by smokescreen caused by enemy artillery fire. On November 4 the Recon Marines expected to take up defensive positions, only to be surprised by orders to mount the Jeeps and advance onto the Chosin Reservoir.
The 1st Platoon led the point into Sudong-ni and the 2nd Platoon took the point with 3rd Squad in the vanguard. At first the whole company rode in Jeeps. Then outside of Chinhung-ni, the 3rd Squad dismounted and advanced on foot across the river. Charlie Company/7th Marines advanced along the narrow gauge tracks. Farther down around a bend the tracks crossed a river into Samgo Railroad Station. C/7 could not see around the bend, but 3rd Squad on the point could.
Chinhung-ni to Koto-ri
First the 3rd Squad discovered enemy troops moving under railroad cars and behind huts covering the bridge about to ambush C/7. The 3rd Squad took up positions and fired single shots into these positions. This caused the enemy to scatter and alerted C/7. Then on our own side a little further, we saw a pile of straw off the side of the road by a hut. The first team was about to check it when a few enemy troops were spotted up ahead, which diverted their attention. The second team leader, Cpl. Joseph F. McDermott and Pfc. Walter Cole, went to check it out and discovered it was a tank. The motor started while Cole and McDermott slowly climbed up on the tank. They struggled to open the hatch with a rifle, but failed. Cole and McDermott then kicked the periscope and forced down a grenade and a second one. The tank stopped before it turned around to inflict casualties on the main body of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. No anti guns were on hand. The rest of the 3rd Squad fired a few rounds to protect Cole and McDermott, yet only a few single shots were fired by the enemy. In the meantime, guns and air support came forward to knock out remaining tanks. Such quick action at a great risk saved the day at Chinhung-ni.
Joseph McDermott received a Silver Star for this action:
Walter Cole also received a Silver Star for the same action:
On November 24, right after a Thanksgiving celebration, Recon scouts were told about the "end of the war and home for Christmas" offensive and all the other good news. Everyone was saying that we would be home by Christmas, and the big-time generals were all being flown out to the front line to have their pictures taken. Meanwhile, the Chinese were luring us into unfavorable positions during a lull in the fighting.
Orders came down from Washington for the 10th Corps and Eighth Army to close the 80-mile gap in the central mountains. The 120-man recon company was ordered to close this gap by daily motorized patrols operating from Yudam-ni. After departing Majon-dong, Recon Company reached Koto-ri on top of the pass and was ordered to defend the isolated Koto-ri perimeter with many open gaps due to a sudden change in the situation--the enemy was launching a major offensive all across Korea. Recon Company was assigned a wide open gap in the southeast, and, due to few Marines, had to spread far apart like an outpost line of resistance. From my outpost I discovered a wide open draw leading into Koto-ri and called in to tell the command post, "If enemy attacks from southeast, there is no one to stop them." The reply was, "You are there and if you can't stop them, there is no one else."
On or about November 29-30, an airstrip north of Koto-ri received some long-range small arms fire. Recon Company dispatched a patrol to the northeast of Koto-ri. I was a member of that patrol. The patrol went out after dark through a light snow flurry and reached a hilltop just as the three-quarter moon came over the horizon and the snow stopped. As we took up positions, the sun rose on a clear day. I suggested an airdrop into an open valley in front of us. Later one C-119 Flying Boxcar dropped about four chutes in the valley, but I could only see where two had landed. I took two Marines to a hill to the left to search for the other chutes and as I saw the third I was signaled back to my position. Other Marines had noticed shadows cast by the morning sun moving from a nearby hill. They were headed for the two chutes and supposedly the other two. An hour later, over 12 Corsairs came flying over and made three strikes with bullets, napalm and rockets. We withdrew. As we headed back to Koto-ri, we saw more Corsairs come over.
Upon return I was told to ready for return to that outpost, but never did because Recon Company was needed for other assignments. I heard nothing about this patrol and the airstrip. Over 40 years later, I noticed that Chosin Reservoir Air Evacuation statistics showed that from the Koto Airstrip, copters flew out 24 casualties, OYs flew out 484, and C-47s flew out 304. Did Recon Company's patrol help make this possible? 812 wounded got out. Did Recon Company accomplish so much by so little?
Funchilin Pass Bridge
During the first week of December the Chinese destroyed a bridge over a gorge in the Funchilin Pass. If the blown bridge three miles down the pass could not be rebuilt, the efforts and great sacrifices made by soldiers and Marines in defending Yudam-ni, Hagaru and Koto-ri and attacking out of many enemy encirclements would be in vain if they could not make it down the Funchilin Pass to Chinhung-ni and on to Hungnam.
After all kinds of ideas were made, it was finally decided that a bridge span could be used and dropped by parachute. The following steps had to be taken:
Recon Company witnessed this operation. First we saw many Corsairs overhead, then three C-119 flying boxcars came over. Out came one long span from each plane with about three or four open chutes. One span hung by only one chute. Later five more planes did the same thing, dropping a span each.
From my location I could not see them land, but learned that some Brockway trucks picked them up. They got them down to the blown bridge under cover of RCT7. The next heartbreak was that the spans were a little too short to cross the gap. One Marine recalled seeing plenty of timber wood back along the road in many locations and suggested stacking timber wood blocks on one side of the gap. After two hours the bridge was placed on the timber wood. The next problem was how wide each span should be apart for wide tanks, tracks, and small Jeep wheels. The spans themselves were made wide enough for tanks, and timber wood was placed across to cover Jeeps with only one wheel on the span. It worked.
Chris Rumley, 314th Airlift Wing Historian, wrote the following about the makeshift bridge:
The Marines and Army managed to defend and break out of the Chosin Reservoir intact. The superior performance by troops and tactical leaders made up for the poor strategy planning.
After breaking out of Chosin, I told a senior officer that I used to donate a quarter now and then to a war-torn Chinese mission before World War II. The officer replied, "No wonder you never got wounded." During my tour of duty in Korea, a bullet shinned my knee cap. Other than that, I was not wounded. One time green enemy tracers were flying all over and I felt being hit several times, but I was in no pain. In the morning a commander said to me, "What happened? Are you okay?" He showed everyone that I had seven bullet holes in my clothing. None of them had penetrated to my skin.
I can remember where the frozen bodies of dead Marines were removed from icy waters at the Chosin reservoir, their stiffened forms resembling statues. We came up there like Marines and we came out like Marines. We buried our dead and we got out our wounded. The Marines dug graves through frozen earth to prevent our fallen comrades from being eaten by packs of wild dogs.
Esprit de Corps
What makes troops perform their duties in face of possible death against hopeless situations? One answer is esprit de corps. Many think it is for love of country or for freedom and peace for the world. Some think it is against the fear of punishment. It would be interesting to ask different people of all ages and all walks of life to see what their answer would be.
Esprit de corps is the pride of a military unit that a soldier feels, from 13-man squad up to a 200,000 man army. Most think that only the Marine Corps has esprit de corps, but that is not true. The other branches of service have the same thing. The Army has its paratroopers, special forces and infantry units and has great pride in them. The Navy has the same among the ship crews like submariners and UTD men.
Loyalty to country or fighting for world freedom may be a reason for one to enlist into the armed forces, but esprit de corps is a must when a soldier is up there on the front lines facing a hopeless situation against an enemy and living under all the other discomforts of battle like cold and hunger, heat and thirst. Playing bands, cheering crowds, and waving flags are forgotten when troops enter combat areas.
The "Other Reservoir"
At the end of 1950 both sides had a near victory and learned the same lesson: Nothing fails like success. The United Nations forces withdrew back into South Korea and the enemy retook Seoul. In Washington and the United Nations, the situation looked hopeless. In the beginning of 1951, thirteen Asian and African nations made peace offerings to China. The Communist side made their mistake by ignoring the offers, and I think China and North Korea lost the war for passing up this opportunity. Before the UN had a chance to make a better offer to China, UN forces regrouped after licking their wounds from the 1950 setback, and with fresh replacements from the States reorganized the divided forces of the 8th Army and 10th Corps. With coordination of footwork and firepower, they slowly pushed the enemy back to the 38th parallel, followed by advance into North Korea. The Chinese Communist forces then launched two unsuccessful counterattacks. By then the seasoned veterans of the 1950 campaigns knew how to repel them and again the UN forces pushed back into North Korea, inflicting heavy losses in both men and material on the CCF.
If 100 people were asked what they know about the three year Korean War, only 50 would have heard of it. Of that 50 people, ask them if they have heard of the 1951 Chinese Communist Forces during April and May 1951 launching two unsuccessful counterattacks around the Hwachon reservoir, known to this writer as the "other reservoir". We who were there all remember the Chosin Reservoir of November-December 1950 in North Korea, but only 25 members of the general public have heard of it. Then take those 25 and ask if they know what action took place between those two major offensives. Only 12 will know. Ask those 12 if they have heard of the night patrols and outposts performed by the 1st Marine Division Recon Company. I don't think any of them will know.
On April 22, 1951, the 8th army forces were once again in control of all of South Korea after being under Communist domination twice during one year. Then the CCF launched a major offensive with plans to take Seoul by May Day. The 1st Marine Division on the west side of the Hwachon Reservoir was taking the brunt of it with its left flank exposed, but the 8th Army ordered an orderly withdraw all along the front, permitting the enemy attack to slow down and friendly forces to regroup and push back. Within two weeks contact was lost with the enemy. New orders were passed for all regiments to send one of their battalions forward to set up an outpost line of resistance. The 7th Marine outpost battalion was set up on a mountain peak on the road to Chunchon and no enemy was seen.
The division reconnaissance company was ordered to join this outpost and with a platoon of tanks attached conduct a motorized patrol into Chunchon about five miles up with observation plane flying overhead. The evening before, Recon Company arrived at the 7th Marines outpost and took up defensive positions for the night and was ready for the worst to happen. Most of us anticipated the outpost being surrounded. (Yes, another Chosin Reservoir, except for the warm weather.) But night passed without one sound. This reminds me of many past patrols with no casualties, but feeling like living on borrowed time.
After daybreak the Recon Company mounted the Jeeps and, with a platoon of tanks attached, departed for Chunchon. Going over the top of the first mountain pass we noticed a fog ahead covering Chunchon and surrounding area. It started to clear as we got closer. First we had no observation plane (OY), fearing it might give the patrol away too soon. Recon patrol arrived at Chunchon and dismounted. Under tank cover we checked the town and surrounding area. Nothing was seen, so the troops took up positions at different buildings.
Later as we patrolled the empty native huts, I picked up some small straw brooms. No one understood my reason for it. Back at our positions I suggested raking all the surrounding roads and even trails before returning to the outpost. This was done later without being noticed with one man on each patrol just dragging the broom over each trail. Later in the afternoon an observation plane saw some enemy troops far north of Chunchon. It was hit and its crew slightly wounded, but managed to return and land safely. Within minutes 12 Corsairs came up and delivered an air strike with all they had. The patrol then returned to RCT7 outpost line of resistance without incident. The night passed without even a sound of a cap going off.
The next morning our patrol returned to Chunchon. We noticed footmarks and wheel marks on two of the trails. One was leading to the northeast and the other was leading southwest to Seoul along the Pukhan River. This indicated that only two trails were used by the enemy while all other trails had no marks at all. The tanks saw some enemy running into the hills north of the town and fired all they had at them. I could not understand the reason for this since it just exposed our patrol into Chunchon.
Later we were given outpost positions to set up for the night. I was placed near a road junction south of town which branched off to Seoul along the Pukhan River. The rest of the company checked the surrounding area and left us there as they returned to the outpost line of resistance with tanks and Jeeps. The theory was, that should leave any enemy observer the impression we had all left. There we were all alone in No Man's Land. As the sun was setting we saw some enemy troops coming from the north along the ridgelines in small groups. Then shortly after that larger columns came along the road itself as it grew darker.
We had been on many patrols before, and these were all the thoughts that we had about what could happen to us:
As it grew dark we stood 50 percent, watch but we were all awake for awhile. Then I went to sleep first. Around midnight I was awakened by my buddy as we heard strange footsteps. We realized it must be a horse which he had not seen yet. Shortly afterward we saw a column of troops following about three or five men on horses. They were going rather slow. As we watched them move to the road junction, we were relieved to see them turn on the road towards Seoul. If they went straight toward the RCT outpost, no doubt they would have left us surrounded. I then wondered if they had encircled the outpost and attacked the main line of resistance farther back. No doubt the Chinese Communist Forces were taught small unit encirclement by Mao Tse Tung back during the 1930s.
After noticing only about a hundred enemy troops with weapons on some of their shoulders, there were a few hours of nothing and then we noticed them coming back from the Seoul road. There were many, many more with groups of animals trailing them. I don't think they were horses, but they could have been mules or oxen carrying equipment. Later one column of troops took a shortcut in front of us over to the east side of town and came back. They later guided more troops and animals in front of us. No doubt they were looking for a shorter way to go east rather than back around the northern part of town. Again we saw a few troops coming back and later they guided more of the same right past us. It was a relief that no enemy troops stopped to set up positions.
After a long wait it started getting light and we noticed no enemy to our left or in town. We did notice columns far off to the east. At sunrise another squad from our company came up from the rear to check on us and went on to another listening post. I never knew that more recon companies took up positions farther back. Yes, I thought we were all alone.
It is difficult to give all three outpost reports in a timely order, but I will try to be accurate. The other outpost at the bridge crossing saw much more enemy troops and animals passing eastward about five times during the night. A few hours after dark Corporal Kasdorf and Wilson noticed the enemy on horseback, followed by 30 troops. After a short gathering at the bridgehead, some continued south with all the horsemen while others walked toward the north side of Chunchon. Then the horsemen and walking troops passed Corporals Gobert, Seri and Setter. The horses moved faster on the road southwest towards Seoul. The foot troops wandered east past Corporals Cole, McDermott, and Martin (me). No weapons were noticed on any of them. Shortly afterwards the enemy troops returned past McDermott. Next, back at the bridge, more troops were seen coming across the bridge. Most turned south while a few turned north. Later a few returned from the north. Then another column crossed with animals dragging carts and all went south. Then Gobert's outpost saw horsemen return on the Seoul road and later more foot troops followed by animals with carts came up the Seoul road. This was only repeated two more times on the road from Seoul. Stetter and Seri were relieved not to see any troops go down the road leading back to the ORL. Later Corporal McDermott's outpost saw one column of troops followed by another in 30-minute intervals. No animals were seen until much later during the night and were moving much slower. It looked like civilians in white at the end.
The tank patrol returned later without incident and Marines with tanks went farther north and laid long-range fire on whatever they could further to the northeast. An air strike was called in, but no planes ever showed up. I was told the request was repeated three times. Later in the day we patrolled a mile down the Seoul road with tanks attached. On the radio we heard someone report a column of troops like this: "They could be enemy troops or might be friendly troops." That was one of the best recon reports I ever heard yet. We returned to RCT outpost before dark and felt like we lived on borrowed time. On many of these patrols we felt worn to a point where we were ready to have it out with the enemy once and for all. I think the enemy does not like to expose themselves to a recon patrol hoping not to expose themselves.
It appeared that the early enemy troops and horsemen were sent in and some went down the road to Seoul to guide enemy troops eastward to join others coming over the bridge at Chunchon. All the animals with carts assembled as one supply train, taking up the rear at a slower pace than the many troop units passing my outpost. Later Corporal Kasdorf saw more enemy troops cross the bridge, but most went north while a few went south. Then some horsemen went north and shortly later the enemy troops returned past Kasdorf and went south. Later more enemy troops passed Cole and me. Corporal Stetter and Seri saw no more enemy troops. Finally the troops without weapons were seen passing McDermott, and Wilson saw them cross the bridge with some horsemen back north.
At the crack of dawn Corporal Wilson saw some of the troops and horsemen going north. Everyone felt a little relieved to see no enemy troops in town, but remained in their locations until tanks and troops arrived about 8 a.m. There were no sounds of combat in the area, which made it seem more spooky like the calm before the storm. An air strike was called in, but again no planes ever arrived--either because air-ground coordination was not so good after the 1st Marine Air Wing was taken out of Marine Division control like 1950, or the high command did not want the enemy to know we saw them. Later in the day all of us put our reports together and conclusions were the enemy sent in troops and horsemen early to set up checkpoints to guide the main columns in the right direction with little delay. The horsemen went down the Seoul road to call other troops to move eastward.
Advising General Thomas
During my recon patrols in 1951, I learned how the CCF sunk bridges during the day to avoid air detection, and then raised them at night to move troops, as well as supplies by animals. On many occasions I saw signs of organized enemy troops hiding in the mountains, such as stacks of rice bowls and footprints along trails. Unlike other units, ours never walked ahead on foot hoping to surprise the enemy units. Since our company was too small to engage enemy units, much more was accomplished by continuous patrols without enemy interference.
Major General Gerald C. Thomas was the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division during the Korean War. While on outpost duty at Chunchon, I got a surprise visit by General Thomas, who was the new division commander at that time. He asked me about the situation from my outlook. Since I had studied Chinese tactics at Camp Lejeune, I told General Thomas how the Chinese were taught small unit isolation and told him that the outpost was a perfect target just ripe for isolating. He walked on as I continued talking. An unknown major took my name. Many NCOs and officers told me not to tell a General how to run his division. "He's got two stars and you've only got two stripes," they said. "Two stripes does not equal two stars." I was called the "No Star General" by some and the "No Stripe NCO" by others. I was expected to be called for office hours on this matter, but no more became of it. What the major did with my name was unknown until 42 years later.
In May 1993 I got a telephone call from one of my old Marine comrades who was with me in Korea 1950-51. He told me that my name was mentioned in a newly-published book by Col. Allan R. Millett (USMCR). In Chapter 23 of In Many a Strife: General Gerald C. Thomas and the U.S. Marine Corps, 1917-1956, entitled, "Commanding General, 1st Marine Division, 1951-1952," Millett describes the fighting that we Marines were involved in during that time in the Korean War. The chapter mentions my conversation with General Thomas. Millett wrote:
The First Marine Division Recon Company conducted many patrols and afterwards the scouts never knew the importance of such patrols. We learned later that reports of CCF moving east went all the way to 8th Army Headquarters and the 3rd Infantry Division was shifted from Seoul in the west over 70 miles east of the Hwachon Reservoir in time to repel the second part of the Chinese Communist counterattack which was cut to pieces with heavy losses in troops and equipment. The 8th Army took the offensive back into North Korea, routing what was left of the Communist troops, only to be stopped by heavily defended North Korean positions.
This was a big turning point of the Korean War in favor of the United Nations. Finally it was not the United Nations or the United States asking for peace talks like the end of 1950. Instead, the Soviet Union delegate, Jakob Malik, asked for peace. It was only a few months before that the free world had been begging for peace. Thanks to the Korean War veterans for this.
Soviet/UN Chess Game
Joseph V. Stalin manipulated the Korean War, but he let the Chinese down. Chinese General Peng Te-huai, direct commander of the Chinese People's Army for the first half of the Korean War, promised Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, "We will surround the enemy [US forces at Chosin] and finish them off." Peng was half right. The Chinese did surround us, but they failed to finish us off. In addition, for every Chinese division sent to "finish off" the Marines at Chosin, there was one less division that could be used against the United Nations forces in the west.
Let's look at the Korean conflict as a battle of the endless Cold War with all moves made by the Kremlin like a chess game. The USSR used the North Korean puppets as a means of testing the U.N. as to whether they would defend or fail like the League of Nations. The latter would leave them a free hand to attack elsewhere and if they defended and won draw them into a larger war of attrition with China. The USSR delegate remained absent when all U.N. resolutions were adopted. If the Reds really wanted to keep the U.N. out of Korea, all the Soviet delegate had to do was to veto all U.N. action. Moscow no doubt would have liked to have drawn two major powers--the United States and China--into an endless war of attrition at no cost to the USSR. Their philosophy: Don't fight the enemy, divide them against each other. They failed to do this.
First let us see how the Kremlin planned each of the opening moves like a gambit and how the Soviet leaders planned to reply to gambit accepted or declined.
First move was advance into South Korea like a gambit and if gambit declined by UN not resisting meant a free hand to advance anywhere else since no one would stop them--just like no one stopped Hitler back during the 1930s. If gambit accepted, draw UN forces into an endless war of attrition at no loss to the USSR.
Now let's look over the battle itself on a chessboard:
The United Nations got better than a stalemate. As to territory, the UN gained the Hwachon Reservoir, which was water to Seoul and other parts of South Korea. The UN failed to win all of Korea since that might lead to endless war of attrition. The USSR loves to see the USA and China bleed each other.
South Korea is not only free today, it is prosperous. North Korea is like a hermit kingdom with a failing economy with no one to bargain with. As for China, its performance in Korea gave it recognition as a world power, but thanks to Chinese arrogance they missed their best chance when UN members offered them a chance for peace talks while they were in Seoul and South Korea during late 1950 and early 1951. The UN lost a near victory by poor high-level decisions not knowing when and where to stop above Wonsan and Pyongyang. The Soviet Union was disappointed by the war's outcome. Nikita Khrushchev admitted in his diary that Joseph Stalin did not want to talk about it.
What Is a Win?
Here are my comments on if the United Nations won the Korean War. The first question is, "What is a win, what would we have to do to win in Korea, and at what cost?" Then, "What would it take to be the winner?" Winning a victory is one thing, but holding on to it and taking advantage of it is a greater problem. Looking back, if the U.N. did not win in Korea, what war did we win? World War One ended with an armistice, but all it did was to allow the enemy time out or a good breathing spell to start again with greater strength. Johnny came marching home, but his son had to return to finish the job for him at greater cost. We never returned to Korea a second time after 35 years. A job well done never has to be done again.
There was only one World War--Part 1 and 2, with a 25-year intermission to start again. A World War II vet told me that we didn't win in Korea. I asked him, "What war did we win?" He said, "World War II." I pointed at the Rising Sun flying over the Bank of Tokyo, Mitsui, Dai Ichi Kangyo, and Sumitomo Banks, and said, "There are no North Korean flags flying over the Bank of Pyongyang or any other North Korean bank." Then, pointing at Datsun and Honda cars, I asked, "You see any cars from Wonsan or Hamhung around?" We are not pleading with Kim II Sung not to export too many goods to us." Pointing at Jal Travel Agency, I said, "I don't see tours to Chosin ski resorts or summer vacation on the Reservoir or boat trips down the Yalu." Maybe Kim Il Sung made the mistake of not surrendering. Maybe Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Il would have a ticker tape parade down Broadway with all North Korean fans waving from the buildings.
From my point of view we won in Korea for the following reasons:
Korean War veterans accomplished a lot for the cause of world peace. For those who complain about not winning and all out victory in all of Korea, I want to know: Where were they when the war was on? Did they campaign for an all victory and volunteer to go over? Did they enlist with a promise they would be sent to Korea? I can remember the 1952 presidential campaign. One candidate complained about the war while the other said nothing.
I spent 14 months in Korea barely escaping death. I was on many patrols at Chosin in 1950 and Hwachon in 1951, before leaving Korea on November 6, 1951. I have forever wondered why I was chosen to survive while many of my friends were not. After the war I was in my early twenties. I knew there was no way my life could get any tougher. Everything after that was like gravy. Life was good. I was discharged in February of 1952, and am now employed by U.S. Trust Company in New York City.
Veterans Day is the time for everyone to pay tribute to all those who served their country in all past wars at great risk of their lives so others could stay home and live in peace and freedom. Everyone should not only commemorate those veterans who made a supreme sacrifice at memorial services, but the ones who are suffering total and partial disability from the horrors of gas poisoning from World War I, loss of frozen feet and hands in Korea, Agent Orange from Vietnam, and other handicaps from combat. Whether we won, lost or got a stalemate, the veterans should all be honored since they were just human pawns on a chess board. When you lose a chess game, do not blame the pawns. Blame the player.
For people to understand a war veteran, they should think of a time in their life when they were in great danger or close to death. Most them don't want to think about it. Well, the war veterans had that close death experience many times over in the muddy foxholes in European fields, hot beaches of the Pacific, frozen mountains of Korea, humid jungles of Vietnam, and the dry sands of the Middle East Desert Shield. They are all veterans who endured the many hardships of battle so others may live in comfort. They went to war so others may stay home. So let us salute all veterans--and even proclaim a Veterans' Week.
As to the Chosin Few and all that has been said and written about them, I must add that the Chosin Few played a very important part in winning the Korean War. China missed its big chance for a peace settlement back in 1951. China rejected a peace offer by the U.N. and before the U.N. could make a better offer the Chosin survivors and new replacements formed a new force with teamwork of footwork and firepower to push the CCF back into North Korea. With experience at Chosin on CCF tactics, the troops repelled two CCF counterattacks, inflicting heavy losses in men and material. Never again did the CCF return to South Korea. Did we WIN?
In 1950, the CCF lured both the 8th Army and 10th Corps deep into the North Korean mountains. The Chinese concentrated around Chosin while the 17th Infantry went all the way to the Yalu and back without incident. Enemy advanced, we retreated. As the Marines advanced to Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri, contact was lost with the Chinese. Enemy entrenched, we harassed. When defenses were set up on both sides of Chosin, the CCF started harassing. Enemy exhausted, we attacked. The CCF waited until we were thinly spread. Enemy retreated, we pursued. That they did during our march to the sea. Small unit encirclement and annihilation they failed to do. Yes, if only the Supreme UN Command of 1950 knew about Mao's tactics we probably wouldn't be united as The Chosin Few today.