By the summer of 1951, the Korean War had reached a stalemate as peace negotiations began at Kaesong. The opposing armies faced each other across a line which ran with many twists and turns along the way from east to west, through the middle of the Korean peninsula, a few miles north of the 38th parallel. UN and communist forces jockeyed for position along this line, clashing in several relatively small but intense and bloody battles.
One bloody ground battle took place from August 18 to September 5, 1951. It began as an attempt by UN forces to seize a ridge of hills which they believed were being used as observation posts to call in artillery fire on a UN supply road.
It was a joint operation conducted by South Korean and the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division. Their mission was to seize a ridge of hills used by the North Koreans as observation posts to call in artillery fire on a UN supply road. Leading the initial attacks was the 36th ROK Regiment. It succeeded in capturing most, but not all, of the ridge after a week of fierce fighting that at times was hand to hand. It was a short-lived triumph, for the following day the North Koreans recaptured the mountain in a fierce counterattack.
The next assault was made by the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Division. The battle raged for ten days, as the North Koreans repulsed one assault after another by the increasingly exhausted and depleted U.S. forces. After repeatedly being driven back, the 9th succeeded in capturing one of the hill objectives after two days of heavy fighting. The weather then turned to almost constant rain, greatly slowing the attacks and making operations almost impossible because of the difficulty in bringing supplies through “rivers of mud” and up steep, slippery slopes.
Fighting continued, however, and casualties mounted. The 2nd Division’s 23rd Infantry Regiment joined the attack on the main ridge while the division’s other infantry regiment, the 38th Infantry Regiment, occupied positions immediately behind the main ridge which threatened to cut off any North Korean retreat. The combination of frontal attacks, flanking movements and incessant bombardment by artillery, tanks, and airstrikes ultimately decided the battle. Over 14,000 artillery rounds were fired in a 24-hour period. Finally, on September 5, 1951, the North Koreans abandoned the ridge after UN forces succeeded in outflanking it.
The American soldiers called the piece of terrain they had taken “Bloody Ridge.” which indeed it was: 2,700 UN and perhaps as many as 15,000 communists were casualties, almost all of them killed or wounded with few prisoners being taken by either side. The much higher communist casualties were probably caused by poor discipline in the KPA and constraining orders so strict to the point where subordinate leaders were often not allowed to withdraw under any conditions, in which case the entire unit would be blooded. Even when permission was granted for a withdrawal, it often came only after the large majority of troops in the unit had been killed.
After UN forces withdrew from Bloody Ridge, the North Koreans set up new positions just 1,500 yards away on a seven-mile-long hill mass that quickly earned the name “Heartbreak Ridge.”
The month-long battle took place between September 13th and October 15th, 1951and was one of several major engagements in the hills of North Korea a few miles north of the 38th parallel-the pre-war boundary between North and South Korea.
If anything, the Communist defenses were even more formidable here than on Bloody Ridge. The U.S. 2nd Infantry Division’s acting commander, Brig. Gen. Thomas de Shazo, and his immediate superior, Maj. Gen. Clovis E. Byers, the X Corps commander, seriously underestimated the strength of the North Korean position.
They ordered a single infantry regiment, the 23rd, and its attached French Battalion, to make what would prove to be an ill-conceived assault straight up Heartbreak’s heavily fortified slopes.
All three of the 2nd Division’s infantry regiments participated, with the brunt of the combat borne by the 9th and 23rd Infantry Regiments, along with the attached French Battalion.
The initial attack began on September 13th and quickly deteriorated into a familiar pattern. First, American aircraft, tanks, and artillery would pummel the ridge for hours on end, turning the already barren hillside into a cratered moonscape. Next, the 23rd’s infantrymen would clamber up the mountain’s rocky slopes, taking out one enemy bunker after another by direct assault. Those who survived to reach the crest arrived exhausted and low on ammunition. The inevitable counterattack soon came-waves of North Koreans determined to recapture the lost ground at any cost. Many of these counterattacks were conducted at night by fresh troops that the North Koreans were able to bring up under the shelter of neighboring hills. Battles begun by a bomb, bullet and shell were inevitably finished by grenade, trench knife and fists as formal military engagements degenerated into desperate hand-to-hand brawls. Sometimes dawn broke to reveal the defenders still holding the mountaintop.
The battle progressed for two weeks. Because of the constricting terrain and the narrow confines of the objectives, units were committed piecemeal-one platoon, company or battalion at a time. Once a unit could no longer stand the strain a replacement would take its place until the 23rd Infantry as a whole was fairly well shattered.
Several units up to company size of 100ï¿½??200 men were wiped out. The Americans employed massive artillery barrages, airstrikes, and tanks in attempts to drive the North Koreans off the ridge, but the KPA proved extremely hard to dislodge.
Finally, on September 27th the 2nd Division’s new commander, Maj. Gen. Robert N. Young, called a halt to the “fiasco” on Heartbreak Ridge as American planners reconsidered their strategy.
As long as the North Koreans could continue to reinforce and resupply their garrison on the ridge, it would be nearly impossible for the Americans to take the mountain. After belatedly recognizing this fact, the 2nd Division crafted a new plan that called for a full division assault on the valleys and hills adjacent to Heartbreak to cut the ridge off from further reinforcement. Spearheading this new offensive would be the division’s 72nd Tank Battalion, whose mission was to push up the Mundung-ni Valley west of Heartbreak to destroy enemy supply dumps in the vicinity of the town of Mundung-ni.
It was a bold plan, but one that could not be accomplished until a way had been found to get the 72nd’s M4A3E8 Sherman tanks into the valley. The only existing road was little more than a track that could not bear the weight of the Shermans. To make matters worse, the road was mined and blocked by a six-foot (2 m) high rock barrier built by the North Koreans. Using shovels and explosives, the men of the 2nd Division’s 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion braved enemy fire to clear these obstacles and build an improved roadway. While they worked, the division’s three infantry regiments-9th, 23rd and 38th-launched coordinated assaults on Heartbreak Ridge and the adjacent hills.
By October 10 everything was ready for the main operation. On October 11th, led by more than 30 tanks and supported by artillery and airplanes, the 2nd Division started advancing into the valley. The sudden onslaught of a battalion of tanks racing up the valley took the enemy by surprise. By coincidence, the thrust came just when the Chinese 204th Division was moving up to relieve the North Koreans on Heartbreak Ridge. The Chinese unit under fire was the 610th Regiment of the 204th Division (Commander: Wenfang Luo), dispatched by the 68th Army (Commander: Niansheng Wen). The regiment’s mission was to reinforce the North Korean defense along the valley against a possible American armored offensive; more specifically, it was ordered to prevent the Americans from reaching the town of Mundung-ni at all costs.
Before the Chinese could dig in, the 2nd Division had already started the attack. Caught in the open, the Chinese division suffered heavy casualties from the American tanks as the armored vehicles penetrated to a depth of 6 km of the Chinese defense lines and caused great damage. However, the 610th Regiment managed to damage five Sherman tanks before the Americans halted the offensive.
On October 12th the 2nd Division began an airborne and artillery bombardment that lasted for two hours on Hill 635 and Hill 709 before the 23rd Regiment, led by 48 tanks, assaulted Chinese defensive positions. Having learned the American tactics from the previous day, the 610th Regiment of the Chinese army had already reinforced the anti-tank trenches flanking the road that runs through the Mundung-ni Valley; in addition, a battalion of anti-tank guns was assigned to the regiment (49 infantry guns, recoilless guns, and rocket launchers were also distributed among the front-line soldiers.) At point-blank range, the Chinese soldiers fired upon the advancing American tanks. Before the 23rd halted the assault at 4 pm, the Chinese had destroyed or damaged 18 tanks.
The 23rd Regiment did not assault the hills on the next day. The South Korean 8th Division, however, starting from October 13, launched its attack on hills 97, 742, 650, 932 and 922. These battles were subsequently known to be brutal and costly; for example, a company of the Chinese 610th Regiment was defending hill 932. Under the attack of four South Korean battalions, the company resisted for four days to the last man before the South Korean army took the hill on its 11th assault.
On October 14th eight Sherman tanks in arrow formation attacked the Chinese positions along Mundung-ni Valley. All the tanks were knocked out by the crossfire of Chinese anti-tank guns. Two more were lost on October 19th due to mines. During the five days, the Shermans roared up and down the Mundung-ni Valley, over-running supply dumps, mauling troop concentrations and destroying approximately 350 bunkers on Heartbreak and in the surrounding hills and valleys. A smaller tank-infantry team scoured the Sat’ae-ri Valley East of the ridge, thereby completing the encirclement and eliminating any hope of reinforcement for the beleaguered North Koreans on Heartbreak Ridge.
The armored thrusts turned the tide of the battle, but plenty of hard fighting remained for the infantry before French soldiers captured the last communist bastion on the ridge on October 13th.
After 30 days of combat, the Americans and French eventually gained the upper hand and secured Heartbreak Ridge. Yet the Sherman tanks did not penetrate through the Mundung-ni Valley and reach the town of Mundung-ni after 38 of the armored vehicles were destroyed and nine were damaged. The defense of the Mundung-ni Valley (or as it is known today in North Korea, the Battle of Height 1211) is today celebrated as a great victory in North Korea, with a claim of a total of 29,000 enemy casualties (certainly inflated), 60 tanks destroyed and 40 airplanes shot down: North Korean propaganda today enhances the defense of the heights around the valley and a number of significant acts of courage and sacrifice (real or alleged) committed during the battle. Actually, the failure of the Allied offensive inside the valley and the heights above gave to the North Korean Army one of the few victorious actions during the last phase of the war.
Both sides suffered high casualties-over 3,700 American and French and an estimated 25,000 North Korean and Chinese. These losses made a deep impression on the UN and US command, which decided that battles like Heartbreak Ridge were not worth the high cost in blood for the relatively small amount of terrain captured.
However, the UN offensives were to continue with equally high casualty rates for the 1st Cavalry in Operation Commando, and the 24th Division in Operation Nomad-Polar, which was the last major offensive conducted by UN forces in the war.
Public opinion had by this time turned against “limited-objective” operations of this nature, and military censorship resulted in far less media focus on the other October battles that followed Heartbreak Ridge.
Heartbreak Ridge is regarded as a good illustration of simple lessons. First among them as in World War I and World War II, simply using tremendous quantity of firepower did not guarantee victory in mountainous terrain. For attacks to succeed, attacks had to be made on a large scale and combining maneuver where possible. Even then attacks in the mountains would be a slow and laborious process, even where the enemy was vastly outnumbered and suffering grotesquely disproportionate casualties. In this sense what Heartbreak Ridge also showed was that the U.S. Military could be amazingly stubborn about having to re-learn the same lessons over and over again.
In the case of Heartbreak Ridge, it emerged as the consequence of an earlier, also bloody battle for the aptly named Bloody Ridge, where lightly-armed Communist troops used terrain to negate some of the effects of UN firepower, and relied chiefly on stubbornness and willpower to protract the fighting in this first stage.
In spite of the fanatical nature of the Communist resistance on Bloody Ridge, UN troops assigned to Heartbreak Ridge which consisted initially of a U.S. infantry regiment and a French battalion to capture this ridge. Against them were dug in a large number of far more lightly armed North Korean and Chinese troops.
The result was that the UN forces prepared a full-strength divisional attack on the ridge, using concentrated armor in an attempt to outflank the North Koreans. By this time the Chinese were preparing to send their own reinforcements, which is one of those chance co-incidences possible in warfare collided with UN troops which had managed to clear means through a minefield-ridden defensive position for the armored strikes to start pushing through.
At the same time, UN infantry forces began what proved to be an unpleasantly slow, slogging drive against a primarily North Korean defense. The Chinese troops, unpleasantly for them but happily for the UN got caught in the open by the armored detachment, were massacred, but the UN found that mountains canalize armor, and from this one incident at the start came far more slow, steady slogging of air, infantry, and armor that would finally take Heartbreak Ridge at the close of a month’s worth of major combat, between September and October of 1951. The result was an increasing tendency among UN troops to decide that such costly battles, with a sum total of 3,700 UN troops (as opposed to 25,000 Communists) were not a good augur for any kind of significant breakthrough operation.
Editor’s Note: A well-written story of one man’s experience on Heartbreak Ridge gives a personal account on what it was like to fight in this bloody battle. He is Sgt. 1st Class Bill Wilson who served as a Platoon Sergeant in Company I, 23rd Regiment 2nd Division U.S. Army during the Ridge.
By Maj. Allan C. Bevilacqua, USMC (Ret)
There were 80 of us on that hill when an estimated 600-800 Chinese hit us hard that night. Sixty-six of us were killed, wounded or missing.”
PFC Edgar “Bart”Dauberman, USMC
“Easy”Company, 2d Battalion 5th Marines
In the spring of 1952, General James A. Van Fleet, USA, Commander, 8th United States Army in Korea and supreme commander of all Allied Forces in Korea, undertook one of the most audacious operations in the history of warfare. With his Army fully engaged against Chinese and North Korean communists across the Korean peninsula, General Van Fleet completely realigned his entire force. Dubbed Operation Mixmaster, thousands of men and vehicles and thousands upon thousands of tons of supplies and equipment were shuttled hundreds of miles to new positions over a period of more than one week. It was a daringly unprecedented operation, and the Chinese and North Koreans, who could have ruined it all, were caught flatfooted.
For Major General John T. Selden’s First Marine Division, Operation Mixmaster meant a move across the width of Korea, from positions near Pohang on Korea’s eastern coast to a new location on the extreme left of the 8th Army line in the far west. From its new position on the Kimpo Peninsula west of Seoul on the Yellow Sea, the assigned sector of the 1stMarDiv stretched 32 miles eastward to the Samichon River, where it linked up with its “brother” division, the British Commonwealth Division. Thirty-two miles was an extraordinarily large stretch of front for a division to cover, but it was no coincidence that the two divisions were sited in such a manner. In planning the relocation of his forces, Gen. Van Fleet specifically directed what he termed “the two most powerful divisions in Korea”be positioned to block any Chinese attempt to access the Uijongbu Corridor, the traditional and natural geographic invasion route into South Korea.
One of 1stMarDiv’s first tasks in taking over its sector of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR), dubbed the Jamestown Line, was the establishment of a Combat Outpost Line (COPL) designed to break up any Chinese attack against the MLR. Most of these outposts were quickly, if unofficially, dubbed by Marines with names of famous motion picture and TV stars; Hedy, Dagmar, Marilyn, Esther and Ingrid, while others reflected names in the news: Siberia, Warsaw, Berlin and East Berlin. One of the first combat outposts received nothing more in the way of identification than a number, Outpost 3 (OP 3). It would be the scene of the first Chinese attempt to test the COPL, and while it was a small engagement in light of things to come, it would entail some of the heaviest fighting of the Korean War. There, on an otherwise insignificant hill, a small reinforced platoon of Marines withstood every attempt by two Chinese regiments to exterminate them and wrote a lasting tale of courage in their blood and steadfast resistance.
Before there was any shooting, however, there was a full ration of plain, old-fashioned, back-breaking work. Not an overpowering hill compared to the heights that confronted 1stMarDiv in the eastern region of Korea, OP 3 boasted an elevation of 400 feet. That, however, was the hill’s elevation above sea level. In tactical terms, the hill rose little more than 70 feet above the surrounding terrain. If not overpoweringly tall, the hill covered a good bit of ground, a very good bit of ground to be defended by a platoon, even a reinforced platoon. Nor did the hill possess even the most rudimentary of fighting positions. Every bunker, every weapons emplacement, every inch of trench line had to be dug and dug and dug.
The task of all this digging, manual hauling of timbers and filling of sand bags, fell to the 2d Platoon of Capt. Charles C. “Cary” Matthews’ E Company, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines (“Easy”/2/5). There would be a full ration of sweating, straining work and, while none of the platoon were aware of it, not overly much time to complete it. Watching them intently from concealed positions on the bulky hill mass of Taedok-San to their front, Chinese observers were following their every move. Farther to the rear, two entire regiments of the 195th Division, Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) 65th Army were making final preparations for what they intended to be the obliteration of the handful of Marines on OP 3. They would be supported by the fires of 10 artillery battalions fielding 106 guns, in calibers ranging from 76 mm to 152 mm and one battalion of self-propelled, high-velocity 76 mm direct fire guns, all courtesy of the Soviet Union.
As Tuesday, April 15, 1952, dawned over OP 3, Lieutenant Dean Morley, platoon leader of 2d Platoon of Easy/2/5, awakened to what appeared to be yet any other day, one he hoped would be uneventful. Throughout the day, Dean Morley got his wish. The Chinese continued to be relatively nonconfrontational. On OP 3, the Marines of the 2d Platoon contented themselves with making improvements to their positions, gnawing at C-rations, making small talk and speculating on when the battalion would be withdrawn to regimental reserve and the intriguing possibility that there might be a shower point set up. Two machine-gun squad leaders, Sergeant Arthur G. “Artie” Barbosa and Corporal Duane E. Dewey, made their usual daily checks of ammunition supply and marking stakes for principal direction of fire and final protective lines. In the 60 mm mortar section like routine preparations were undertaken. None of it was lackadaisical, and everything was done competently and professionally. There was no sense in getting caught with your skivvies at half-mast. All in all, though, it was just another day on OP 3.
That ended abruptly during the waning hours of April 15th. At 2330, a single green star shell was fired from the vicinity of Hill 67, which subsequent information would reveal to be the forward headquarters of the 195th CCF Division some 1,900 yards to the northwest. Everyone who was on watch on OP 3 saw it. Everyone back on the MLR saw it. Everyone knew what it meant. The Chinese were about to register their preparatory fires as a prelude to a major ground attack.
When the Chinese fire came, it came methodically and deliberately in the form of 76 mm howitzers and 122 mm mortars controlled by forward observers on Taedok-San. The Chinese, who tended to be quite skillful in these matters, raked OP 3 from front to rear and from side to side, concentrating their effort on key positions. The Marines of the 2d Platoon, who had sweated, strained and voiced their displeasure at all the manual labor that went into fortifying the hill, hunkered gratefully in the bunkers they had built as the ground about them rocked like an earthquake, fires lighting up the night sky with the brilliance of a fireworks display.
Amazingly, despite the intensity of the Chinese fire, there were no Marine casualties as the Chinese gave OP 3 a first-class working over. To Marines with an ear for such things, though, there was a disturbing uneasiness at the lack of any evidence of the presence of incoming 122 mm or 152 mm artillery rounds in the downpour of shells pummeling the position. That could mean but one thing: the Chinese were saving their heavy hitters for the main event. It wasn’t a comforting thought.
As suddenly as it had begun, the volcano of fire that engulfed OP 3 ended about 20 minutes later as another green star shell was fired from the same position as the first. No Marine on OP 3 had to be told what would be coming next. After an eerie quiet that lasted about five minutes, a third signal pyrotechnic fired once again from Hill 67 bathed the area out in front of OP 3 in a lurid green light which gave every tense face on the outpost an unsettling corpse-like tinge. No one had much time to contemplate that. Even before the illumination completely burned itself out, the Chinese, in what seemed to be inexhaustible numbers, came out of the dark and began moving toward OP 3.
When the Chinese came, they came in near mechanical waves, as though there were some manner of machine back behind Taedok-San grinding out rank after rank of automatons. If they were automatons, they were well-directed automatons, advancing implacably against the front and both sides of the Marines’ defensive positions. The entire perimeter erupted in a blaze of muzzle flashes as the defenders of OP 3 laid into the oncoming tide of Chinese with everything they had. It was a one-sided contest. There were too many Chinese and not enough Marines spread over too large an area.
Soon enough, the attacking Chinese had totally enveloped OP 3 on all sides and were firing into the defenders from every point of the compass. With more Chinese following close behind, some forced their way into the forward positions by sheer weight of numbers. In the process they gave Hospital Corpsman Second Class Jerome “Jerry” Natt a baptism of fire that would have been hard to duplicate.
Jerry Natt had joined Easy/2/5 shortly after noon that day and had been sent forward at dark to join the platoon on OP 3. Assigned to a bunker with two Marines and advised to get some sleep, he was told that he would get an orientation tour in the morning. The Chinese arrived first, and with them came casualties. Immediately there was the cry of, “Corpsman!” One of the first to send up that call was one of the Marines Natt had shared the bunker with to “get some sleep.”
The wounded Marine – Natt didn’t know his name – was outside in a firing position. It was as dark as the inside of a cat out there. The corpsman could only attempt to find the man’s wound by feel. Eventually, it was revealed to be a chest wound. Only because of the strobe-like light produced by incoming was Natt able to see well enough to stop the bleeding and put a dressing on the wound. Natt never forgot his abrupt “Introduction to Ground Combat 101,” nor did he ever learn the name of the first combat casualty he treated. There would be more.
One among those was platoon leader Lt Morley, who went down hard hit (he would survive) and unable to continue. Lt Bill Maughan, a “short timer” due to depart in only several days, assumed command of the platoon. Maughan, a former enlisted Marine who had served in China before being commissioned, was immediately confronted by a problem, one that had been a disturbing possibility and was now a reality. Outpost 3 was too big an area to defend and there were too few Marines to adequately defend it.
Slowly, steadily, the defenders of OP 3, taking their wounded with them and keeping the Chinese at bay, withdrew into a tight perimeter in the southeastern corner of the hill. It was a barroom brawl every step of the way, Marines and Chinese locked into a welter of personal combat featuring rifle butts, fighting knives, entrenching tools and bare fists. They were getting help from the 81 mm mortars of Weapons Co, the 5th Marines 4.2-inch mortars back on the MLR and the 105 mm howitzers of Lieutenant Colonel James R. Haynes’ 1st Battalion, 11th Marines that pounded the Chinese relentlessly. Adding their voices to the symphony of explosives were the 155 mm howitzers of LtCol Bruce F. Hillam’s 4th Battalion, 11th Marines ranging farther back to punish Chinese assembly areas. It was not at all easy. Through rock-hard resistance and inspiring acts of personal courage beyond counting, the Marines established a defensible perimeter, but something had been left behind.
A member of the 60 mm mortar section was the first to notice it. A significant amount of 60 mm ammunition had been left behind. When you have both hands engaged in fighting the man who is attempting to kill you, there aren’t enough hands left over to tug along a crate of ammunition in the bargain. Another part of that bargain is the fact that a pair of 60 mm mortars are of scant use if there is no ammunition for them. Somehow that ammunition had to be retrieved by whatever means necessary. That was when Stanley “Stan” Wawrzyniak took over. Wawrzyniak, the company gunnery sergeant and no stranger to combat, had volunteered to accompany the platoon to OP 3 just to see if he could “help out.”
GySgt Wawrzyniak could smell a firefight from 5 miles off, and he couldn’t be paid to miss one. The situation on OP 3 looked promising. Already a holder of the Navy Cross for his valorous acts while “helping out” during the bitterly contested battle for Hill 812 in eastern Korea the previous fall, he proved once again his uncanny ability to be the right man at the right time. A man utterly without fear, he waded into the hail of incoming fire and swarming Chinese not once or twice but three times, returning each time with two cases of urgently needed ammunition. Being wounded during one of these forays didn’t stop him. After his final trip, he waved off medical attention to make a complete circuit of the new perimeter to direct the fires of individual positions. Only after that, did Wawrzyniak consent to allow a corpsman to stop the leakage of blood from two separate wounds. For his actions in the early morning hours of April 16, 1952, GySgt Stan Wawrzyniak would receive a gold star in lieu of a second Navy Cross.
(Author’s note: It was my good fortune to know LtCol Stan Wawrzyniak as a friend for many years until his death. He truly was that combat oddity, a man utterly without fear. Stan Wawrzyniak would not have backed off from an enraged gorilla.)
As chaotic as the situation on OP 3 was, it was not without one saving grace. For all the ferocity of the Chinese ground assault, that assault was not properly supported by artillery. Despite meticulously registering their fires on the positions of Easy/2/5 on the hill, when the Chinese infantry moved forward, the fires of the artillery were, for the most part, some 1,000 yards off target. While there was enough incoming on the hill itself to keep life from being dull and uninteresting, the bulk of the Chinese fires were falling off to the west at the time when they were most needed. Had some Chinese forward observer misread his map? Had the Chinese fire direction center incorrectly calculated elevation and deflection? Had someone erred in plotting the gun- target line?
Whatever the cause, it was enough to allow the defenders of OP 3 a few fleeting moments to catch their breath. As quickly as the Chinese attack had begun, it stopped, and the Chinese infantry withdrew to regroup before coming on again, this time properly supported by artillery.
While the first Chinese attack had approached tidal-wave proportions, the second Chinese attempt to wrest control of OP 3 struck like a human avalanche. By this time half of the defenders of OP 3 were dead or wounded. That didn’t prevent the wounded who still were capable of using a weapon, however, from using it to good effect. The Chinese were resolved to take the outpost. The Marines were even more resolved to hold it.
Hell was in session on OP 3, and machine-gun squad leader Sgt Artie Barbosa was suddenly fighting a one-man war. With his entire squad but one down, killed or wounded Sgt Barbosa manned the gun himself, laying withering streams of fire on Chinese attacking from two directions. As one after another of his squad fell, Barbosa, despite the deadly Chinese fire directed at him, single-handedly carried the machine gun and tripod to a position where it could enfilade both sides of the Chinese avenues of attack. Through his actions, Sgt Barbosa laid a carpet of dead Chinese at the points where the attackers came closest to breaching the perimeter.
While it cannot be said that any one man saved the day on OP 3, had Artie Barbosa not been there, the outcome of the firefight on OP 3 may have had a different ending. The Marine Corps felt the same way. For his courage and complete disregard for his own safety, Sgt Artie Barbosa would receive the Navy Cross. Rifleman Bart Dauberman, who lives today in Pennsylvania, still thinks it should have been the Medal of Honor.
If Artie Barbosa didn’t receive America’s highest award for military valor, Cpl Duane Dewey did. Duane Dewey, the squad leader of the other machine-gun squad that fought on OP 3, had his hands as full as anyone beating off what seemed to be a never ending supply of Chinese. Then a Chinese grenade landed alongside a corpsman who was caring for a wounded Marine.
Duane Dewey didn’t hesitate. He shoved the corpsman aside and threw himself atop the deadly device – after first putting his helmet over it. Incredibly, despite offering up his own life to save the lives of others, Cpl Dewey lived. One year later, fully recovered, Duane Dewey went to the White House where recently inaugurated President Dwight D. Eisenhower placed the blue ribbon of the Medal of Honor about his neck. Asked why he had first placed his helmet over the grenade that was about to detonate, he replied that he thought “maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad.” Duane Dewey is made of tough stuff. He spends his time today in Florida and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He still attends Easy/2/5 reunions.
There were courageous acts aplenty in a night that was torn apart by explosions and the never ending deadly roar of gunfire. One of the most courageous among those was the action of SSgt Quinton Barlow, the 2d Platoon’s platoon sergeant – he was the man who seemed to be everywhere at once. If there was any point at which the Chinese threatened to break through the perimeter, SSgt Barlow was there to pitch in and help beat it back. Moving from position to position amid a whiplash storm of incoming fire, Quinton Barlow went undeterred from one threatened point to another, giving no thought to his own safety, always managing to be in the most dangerous location. Quinton Barlow would become the third defender of OP 3 to receive the Navy Cross.
Almost as quickly as the firefight on OP 3 had begun, it ended. The Chinese attackers had met more than their match. Two entire regiments of Chinese never succeeded in their objective of wresting OP 3 from less than 100 Marines who intended to hold the hill or die on it. The sole Chinese who succeeded in breaking through that stalwart wall were three who were immediately overcome and taken prisoner. They seemed to be glad to be out of it.
At daybreak on April 16, the defenders of OP 3 were relieved. As they filed off the hill, they brought nine of their dead and 39 of their wounded with them. They brought as well one Medal of Honor, three Navy Crosses, six Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars and a basket full of Purple Hearts.
Has there ever been such an engagement in all of Marine Corps history, one in which so many testimonials to bravery and valor were showered on a single reinforced platoon? It would be interesting to find out.
Less than a week later, OP 3 was abandoned. The hill was simply too large to be defended by much less than a company, and the MLR could not spare a company for duty on an outpost. The war in Korea would go on and battles involving much larger units would be fought. Places with names such as Yoke, Bunker Hill, Ungok, the three Nevada Outposts (Reno, Carson and Vegas) and the Hook would all find their way into the record before the guns fell silent at Boulder City on July 27, 1953.
The firefight on OP 3, a minor engagement compared to the much larger battles in that war 65 years ago, would be forgotten, earning at most a page or two in Korean War histories. It would not be forgotten, however, by the Marines of Easy/2/5 who were there. They will gather one last time this summer, those who are still with us, men well into their 80s, to recall those long ago days and the men they shared them with. So many of those Marines of Easy/2/5 have answered their final roll call. After this last gathering, the proud banner that hung over their annual reunions will be presented to the 1stMarDiv for safekeeping, perhaps to serve as a testimonial to what rock-hard Marine resolve and Marine courage can achieve.
Author’s note: Deep gratitude and appreciation are owed MGySgt Leland “Lee” Brinkman, USMC (Ret) and Marine veteran PFC Edgar “Bart” Dauberman, Easy/2/5 Marines who were there, for their invaluable assistance in putting this narrative together.
Author Allan C. Bevilacqua is a former enlisted Marine who served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, as well as on an exchange tour with the French Foreign Legion. Later in his career, he was an instructor at Amphibious Warfare School and Command and Staff College, Quantico, VA.
Reprinted with permission from the Marine Corps Association & Foundation, Leatherneck Magazine, May 2017
The Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA) and the Korean War Memorial Foundation (KWMFB) have been trying for some time to get Congress to enact legislation that would allow The Wall of Remembrance (WOR) to be constructed at the site of the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D. C. The Wall of Remembrance (WOR) would have the names of the 37,000 plus Korean War KIA’s/MIA’s engraved in it, much like the Viet Nam Wall
The enacted legislation states that “no federal funds can be used in the construction of The Wall of Remembrance. The Foothills Chapter #301 of The Korean War Veterans Association located in Greenville, SC passed a resolution and named a “Fund-Raising” committee to raise the money for the 547 plus South Carolinians who paid the ultimate price to stop the spread of communism in Asia and to keep South Korea a free nation. South Korea, in a relatively short time, became one of the largest economies in the world, and instead of being a receiver of foreign aid became a provider of foreign aid.
The Korean War was first dubbed a “Police Action.” It was not covered very much by the news media and became known as “The Forgotten War.” But since the founding of the Korean War Veterans Association in the mid-1980’s, it has been working hard to make America knowledgeable of the Korean War, and they are having much success.
Instead of being thought of as “The Forgotten War,” it is now being billed as “The Forgotten Victory.” Just contrast North Korea to South Korea today and it’s easy to understand why it should be billed as “The Forgotten Victory.” While South Korea is wildly successful, North Korea can’t feed their own people or even keep their lights on.
For that, and many other reasons, we not only need to but we “MUST” build this wall to honor America’s the 37,000 plus heroes who sacrificed their lives in this now “The Forgotten Victory.” And we MUST do it now if we want any Korean War Veterans to be around to attend the dedication of the Wall.
The average age of Korean War Veterans today is eighty- five years. The average of men (a few women) fighting in the “Korean War” was nineteen (19) years. If the average age was nineteen (19), there must have been many sixteen (16), seventeen (17), and eighteen (18) year olds on the frontline. The draft had ended after WW II so all of the military in the first few months of the hostilities were volunteers. And yes, they were heroes, every single one of them. All who served in Korea, in my view, were heroes.
As I said, we are raising money for the South Carolina KIA’s/POW’s. But let me hasten to say, every name will be on the Wall, no matter where the money comes from. We are requesting that contributors from South Carolina make checks payable to: KWVA Foothills Chapter #301. In the “FOR” area write “Wall of Remembrance.”
Mail them to: Lewis Vaughn, 623 Ashley Commons Ct., Greer, SC 29651.
If the contributor is not from South Carolina, go to the KWVMF website to make a contribution. Of course, we in South Carolina will accept and appreciate contributions originating anywhere in or outside the U.S.
Calling the war in Korea the “forgotten war” has been part of the American lexicon since 1951. However, why it was called that in the first place is not completely understood.To understand how the words and, more importantly, how its meaning became part of our national mentality, one must first appreciate the history of what was occurring on the Korean peninsula before, during and following the war.
Korea was ruled by Japan from 1910 until the closing days of World War II in 1945 when the Allies split the former Japanese colony along the 38th parallel, with the north administered by the Soviet Union and the South by the United States. Over the next few years the Soviets and the Americans gradually withdrew their forces, and the two Koreas were all but “forgotten” as the world focused on Germany, Eastern Europe, and China’s civil war and revolution.
That all changed the early morning hours on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops stormed across the38th parallel and invaded South Korea, catching the greatly outnumbered and ill-equipped South Korea’s forces off guard and throwing them into a hasty southern retreat. American and other Allied troops still located in Korea also withdrew to the south, setting up blocking and delaying positions until they reached the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. The most famous of these blocking stances was Task Force Smith on July 27, 1950 at the Battle of Osan, approximately 20 miles south of Seoul. North Korean troops and tanks eventually overwhelmed American positions and the remnants of the Task Force retreated in disorder to the south.
The United Nations quickly condemned the invasion and demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities and for North Korea to withdraw its armed forces back above the 38th parallel. When the North Koreans failed to comply, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on June 27, 1950 recommending that its members provide military assistance to South Korea.
Although he did not want to find the United States embroiled in another war, President Harry Truman soon agreed to send American forces into action, and on July 7, 1950, the U.N. Security Council recommended that all U.N. forces sent to South Korea be put under U.S. command. The next day, General Douglas MacArthur was named Supreme Commander of all U.N. Forces in Korea.
By early August, 1950 the weakened Allies had been pushed all the way back to the Pusan Perimeter, a defensive line around an area in the southeastern corner of theKorean peninsula. Throughout August and into September, the Americans and their counterparts fought off attack after attack from the North Koreans, barely preventing them from advancing any further. The first reinforcement to arrive by ship in the Pusan Harbor where the Army First Cavalry Division and U.S. Marines stationed in Japan. Other U.N. troops arrived as well, allowing the Allies to take the offensive.
Wanting to crush North Korean forces not only near Pusan but elsewhere in South Korea, MacArthur devised an audacious plan to land troops behind the enemy lines at Inchon – about 100 miles south of the 38th parallel and 25 miles northwest from Seoul. In that way his forces could attack the North Koreans from both directions.
Initially MacArthur’s proposal met with resistance when other senior American military leaders – mostly Navy officers – criticized the plan as too risky, pointing to a variety of challenges associated with landing at Inchon, including the narrow port channel and extreme tidal changes. MacArthur argued that these factors would mean the North Koreans wouldn’t expect the Allies to attempt an amphibious landing at the poorly defended Inchon.
MacArthur received the official go-ahead for the Inchon landing and beginning on September 15, 1950, American-led U.N. forces converged on the North Korean army from the north and the south, killing or capturing thousands North Korean soldiers and disrupting their supply lines. All along the Korean peninsula, the now disorganized units of the North Korean army were trying to hold on while others quickly retreated back over the 38th parallel.
General Douglas MacArthur ordered troops to pursue the retreating North Koreans further into North Korea while sending other U.N. force southeast and to recapture Seoul, which they succeeded to do by September 26, 1950 following bitter, deadly house-to-house fighting.
By early October 1950, American and South Korean forces advanced deep into North Korea, destroying North Koreans units and sending them further into retreat toward to the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from Communist China. On October 19, the North Korean capital of Pyongyang was captured.
McArthur then pushed American troops further north toward the Yalu River. Chinese leaders threatened to intervene in the conflict if U.N. forces continued north or crossed the border into China. McArthur felt confident the Chinese were bluffing and would never enter the war. It was a miscalculation that ultimately helped get him fired by Truman.
In late November, as record subzero temperatures blown in by cold northern winds, a massive force of 300,000 Chinese troops crossed into North Korea undetected and joined the demoralized North Korean forces.
In brutal freezing cold-weather fighting, the outnumbered U.N. forces, surrounded by North Koreans and Chinese, began withdrawing from the Chosin Reservoir and other footholds along the further stretches of North Korea. The complete breakout from the Chosin Reservoir took a few weeks before some U.N. forces reached Hungnam’s port facilities and evacuated by ships. Other badly depleted U.N. forces rapidly retreated towards the 38th parallel.
In early January 1951, the Communists recaptured Seoul, only to have the Allies reoccupy it again in March. By May 1951, the communists were pushed back to the 38th parallel, and the battle line remained in that vicinity for the rest of the war as US and North Korean armistice negotiators, neither willing to surrender an inch of bloody worthless frozen ground, took their own sweet time dawdling in the comfort of a heated “peace tent” at the abandoned village of Panmunjom.
On July 27, 1953, after two years of bitter back and forth negotiation and three years of war that killed about 600,000 soldiers on both sides and as many as 2 million civilians, military leaders from China, North Korea and the United Nations signed an armistice that ended the fighting and established a 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone to serve as a buffer between the two Koreas.
Korea remains divided along the 38th parallel with North and South Korea still making threats against each other, raising nuclear-tipped spears, conducting “training exercises” and firing “stray rounds.” Every day, communist and anticommunist forces – including Americans – stare each other down across no man’s land and conduct reconnaissance and security patrols along the most heavily fortified space in the world. Nearly every day the media reminds us about the tensions between the two Koreas, which are perhaps worse today than when the U.N. sent troops there 62 years ago.
Isolated North Korea continues to be ruled by a one-family dictatorship currently led by its erratic and immature Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un who and in the tradition of his father and grandfather, uses the nations meager resources on military might while his enslaved people continue to starve to death.
South Korea, however, has grown into the eight wealthiest nation in the world and Seoul’s quality of life in 2013 was found to be higher than that of New York City, London, or Melbourne but slightly lower than Tokyo and Paris.
So why is the Korean War Korea still referred to as a “police action,” “the Korean conflict” and “the forgotten war,” when in fact it was inescapably a real, hard slugging, miserable war where millions died and many more suffered from the hostilities? And why in spite of it significance of being the first shooting war of the Cold War, pitting democracy to communism?
Here are some of the reasons given for why it gained the label “the forgotten war” and continues to be referred to in that manner by many.
Nestled snugly between the storied glory of the last “good war” – Second World War and that twelve year nightmare known as Vietnam – the Korean War is mostly forgotten because very little was accomplished according to some. They point out the neither side won nor did they lose it since they never signed a permanent peace treaty, so both sides are technically still at war.
Another theory goes something like this: it was fought in a remote, backward country of no vital, strategic interest, and it ended in a deadlock “the kiss of death for national pride and war memory. What contradicts that idea, however, is the Korean War Veterans Memorial dedicate to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the men and women who served during the Korean War.
Dedicate on July 27, 1995, the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the war, it is in Washington, D.C.’s West Potomac Park, southeast of the Lincoln Memorial and just south of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall. There are 38 infantrymen statues scattered across an open field to symbolize the 38th parallel.
Perhaps the one theory that makes some sense on how the forgotten war idea came into being was put forth by Melinda Pash in her book “In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War,” which examines this significant but neglected war.
She wrote Korea has been called a “Forgotten War” since at least October 1951 when U.S. News & World Report gave it that moniker. In reality, Americans did not so much forget the Korean War as never having thought about it at all. When the war first broke out, people worried that American involvement would usher in the same type of rationing and full mobilization that had characterized World War II. That failed to occur and within a few months, most Americans turned back to their own lives, ignoring the conflict raging half a world away.
Newspapers continued to report on the war, but with the entrance of the Chinese in late fall 1950 and the resulting stalemate in late 1951, few Americans wanted to read or think about Korea despite the nearly two million American serving in Korea.
No doubt, many of our citizens – mostly because it is so well entrenched in our psyche – will continue to “forget” or ignore the Korean War and its veterans. Yet on so many levels this shows general disrespect for those American patriots who bravely fought in a bitter war where 54,246 died and another 103,254 were injured. Then of course there are the 7,140 POWs and the 8,117 U.S. troops still officially missing in action. Don’t families of those who died deserve the honor of knowing their loved one died in a real war and not a forgotten one?
Personal Service Reflections of US Marine
Sgt Steve Bosworth
U.S. Marine Corps
(Veterans – read more stories like the following when you join www.togetherweserved.com)
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MARINE CORPS?
I wish I could point to some patriotic or altruistic motive. The truth is I was kicked out of high school in the 10th grade. My mom had died suddenly when I was 15, and my dad simply couldn’t cope as the sole parent of me, my three brothers and older sister. I decided to leave home but I had no place to go – fortunately for me the Marine Corps gave me a home. My dad gave his permission to my recruiter for me to enlist, and I began my recruit training at MCRDSD when I was seventeen years old.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
In and out with three years of active duty. A proud graduate of Platoon 3047, I completed recruit training in October 1967, then moved up the road to Camp Pendleton for ITR. Initially trained as a 0331 – later sent to an Army facility (Fort Huachuca, AZ) and was trained in the Ground Combat Surveillance program (SCAMP). I also spent time at H.M. Smith on Oahu where I earned my GED and received a promotion to L/Cpl. I enjoyed Camp Smith and had met many new friends. I was then transferred back to CONUS for staging in preparation for WesPac deployment.
By July, 1969 I was at Camp Pendleton’s Staging Battalion receiving final training for an RVN tour. Inexplicably, I was presented with TAD orders to Fort Huachuca to attend SCAMP training. To this day, considering that my only MOS was 0331, I have no idea why I was diverted to SCAMP. Upon arrival at Fort Huachuca, I realized I was one of a handful of Marines on that post. Think of Southern Arizona in August. Somehow we persevered!
We learned all about different combat surveillance sensors that would activate and signal in the presence of acoustic (noise), seismic (movement), and/or detection of the presence of ferrous metals (weapons). We learned how to deploy and monitor each device. I’m sure there was some other weird stuff from that early generation of sensor technology that I’ve since lost in the fog of time. I do remember, however, our concentrated course in calling in fire missions from a variety of sources when they the sensors were activated. We also attended advanced map-reading and topography workshops.
When I arrived in RVN, no one in 1stMarDiv had heard of SCAMP so I spent several months as a ‘grunt’ with the 5th Marines, including assignments to 3/5 S3, Lima Co, and Regimental S2. Eventually, orders caught up with me, sending me to a newly formed SCAMP unit with dotted line reporting to 1stMarDiv G2. Teams of us went all over the division AO, inserting sensor strings, and establishing, and manning remote monitoring sites, in some very interesting places.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ACTIONS WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
My Vietnam memories have been a part of my thoughts every day of my life since leaving Vietnam.
I was assigned to 3/5 in 1969, transferred to a SCAMP unit in February, 1970. The operations I participated in were in and around the Que Son Mountains, Liberty Bridge, Arizona, Charlie Ridge, Antennae Valley and Nong Son.
In 1966 Robert McNamara ordered the creation of an electronic system designed to monitor via deployed sensor devices, the movement of enemy traffic and material from North to South Vietnam on what was then commonly known as the ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail.’ The media labeled the program as “McNamara’s Wall.” Critics called in “McNamara’s Blunder.”
To that end, the U.S. Army developed a Ground Combat Surveillance training program at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. As interest grew in remote sensor deployment and monitoring, the Marine Corps established its own Sensor Control and Management Platoons (SCAMP) and relied on the US Army to train selected Marine Corps personnel at its Fort Huachuca facilities.
The newly formed SCAMP units fell under the respective operational leadership of both 3rdMarDiv and 1stMarDiv G2 commands. The first teams were activated in 1969 with a mission to deploy by air, or by hand, sensors in what were determined to be target-rich areas. Additionally, teams were to establish remote monitoring sites in support of the deployed sensors.
To my knowledge, in the summer of 1969, the Marine Corps launched its first functioning SCAMP unit operating in and around the DMZ, as well as some of the western infiltration routes. However, the initial SCAMP impact for the Marine Corps was brief due to the stand-down of the 3rdMarDivision in Northern I Corps, in the late fall of 1969.
Several of the original SCAMP unit personnel and equipment were moved south to the 1stMarDivision HQ in Da Nang, where a new SCAMP unit was formed.
Our job was to deploy and then monitor a variety of devices–often multiple devices in ‘strings’ in remote areas–air dropped, or hand implemented in enemy controlled terrain. I do remember that many were battery powered, so periodically the teams that implanted the devices had to return over time to change the batteries. Many of them had self-destruct (go boom) mechanisms built-in, and required disarming before changing batteries. For the most part, that generation of equipment depended on line-of-sight FM (think high ground) capabilities for monitoring.
My response now takes me off the reservation a bit. I was a teenager when I arrived in Viet Nam. So in a lot of ways, I didn’t even know the things that I didn’t know, but should have known. I tried to be like a sponge. I kept my eyes and ears open, and attempted to absorb all the information about that place that I could.
I guess for me the whole damn thing was life-changing. I couldn’t get comfortable. I can honestly say my butt was puckered tight my entire time over there–except when I had dysentery, so that shouldn’t count.
Let’s talk life-changing. I believe Viet Nam instilled a chronic paranoia into my psyche. I now have what seems like a hard-wired compulsion to check and re-check my surroundings. I never trust the status quo. As a civilian I eventually fell into a sales role and later formed a consulting business with a friend. So here’s my personal neurosis, compliments of Southeast Asia. In my mind, Because business is competitive, I tend to relate that competition with elements of combat.
As a small-unit team leader I learned to adopt a set of best practices that sustain me to this day in business. I passionately believe in redundancy, meaning I’m assuming that something, or someone will break down. I always have a contingency plan.
As a Marine in Viet Nam, life was hard with occasional moments of stark terror. What helped me was the underlying confidence that I was part of a team, if things went bad, we weren’t alone. The notion of team versus “I” was huge. Teamwork is a collaboration of brothers–there is no “I” in team. This was essential in small-unit combat operations, and has resonated for me throughout my professional career.
Whether you find yourself in a combat, or a business environment – each calls for diligent preparation for each mission, rigorous review of your operational plan, followed by someone else’s review of the same plan. I can’t begin to express the value that an extra set of eyeballs brings to the table as a devil’s advocate.
My wife calls it paranoia, I call it staying alive. These habits are life-long for me, and they came right out of a combat zone.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Camp Smith in Hawaii, it was the calm between the storms. Loved it!
It was at Camp Smith that I received my G.E.D. Getting my G.E.D gave me the confidence to reach higher, ultimately earning a bachelor’s degree.
Easily, my least favorite posting was at the USA facility in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. We were billeted in July, in pre-WWII wooden barracks, without AC.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Being called a “Marine” for the very first time rather than “recruit,” or “maggot” after successfully completing recruit training at MCRDSD.
In those days, after drill and a presentation of the USMC marching band, we were all seated in the base auditorium, and Lt. Col. Terry addressed the recruits and their families. It was inspiring. My sister and my dad were there–both a little shocked that I’d finished.
IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
I have a “V” on one of my decorations (NAM), but, I didn’t do anything valorous. I remember vividly being scared, and wanting to get back to stateside with all my bits intact.
In retrospect, I honestly believe I was way too young to be a Marine sergeant in the bush, and I’ll always be grateful that I didn’t get any of my guys killed. In Vietnam I spent about a month with a Green Beret unit. Real interesting – they were career soldiers – very capable.
In March/April of 1970 I was flown to Nong Son which at the time was a Special Forces encampment (A-105) located in western Quang Nam Province. The area had changed hands between the Marine Corps and the Army several times over the years and lives had been lost there. It was here that Pfc. Melvin Newlin, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division posthumously earned the MOH on July 4, 1967.
Within a few clicks of Nong Son the colossal Battle of Kham Duc erupted between May 10-12, 1968. At the time A-105 was located there, and only relocated to Nong Son after Kham Duc was destroyed. The camp itself had been reinforced with elements from the 1st Marine Division, the Army 1st Infantry Division and the ARVN ever since Tet 1968 when thousands of NVA/VC roamed the area.
During the two day battle, the Army suffered many killed in action plus 71 wounded at Kham Duc; the Marines at nearby Ngok Tavak lost 12 killed and 21 wounded. The combined services reported the highest number of missing in any battle in Vietnam, with 31 U.S. military personnel reported missing in action. Three were rescued within 5 days, one was captured and kept as a POW until March 1973, and 15 listed as KIA (9 recovered, 6 not recovered). Nine U.S. military aircraft had been shot down, including two C-130s. On 12 May, the North Vietnamese were in complete control of Kham Duc. The next day a massive B52 raid completely destroyed Kham Duc.
As I remember it, Nong Son was constructed on a razorback hill and hardened with concrete. There was an LZ located down the hill and a CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) Militia group encamped by it. I was part of a team of three USMC enlisted personnel sharing space with a Special Forces A Team (A-105) consisting of a CO and XO (USA Special Forces Capt. and 1st Lieutenant) and 7 or 8 Special Forces staff NCO’s. They all were career soldiers–very professional. Each staff NCO had an operational specialty, i.e., Comm, Weapons, Medic, Mortars, etc. Additionally, they were required to be proficient with at least one other team member’s specialty. I also remember a 4 deuce mortar pit.
Our USMC contingent monitored SCAMP sensor strings and devices that we’d previously introduced on sensor implant missions in an adjacent area called Antennae Valley. The string locations were bracketed and registered with regional artillery assets and our job was to call in fire missions on the heads of bad guys when movement was detected from the sensor strings in these areas. At the time, Antennae Valley was a free-fire zone.
The USA personnel maintained the Nong Son outpost and ran patrols from that site and simultaneously served as advisors to a company of CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) militia, who were resident just below the encampment. I remember going out on Med-Caps run by our Special Forces counterparts, and watching in amazement as their medic performed various surgical procedures in the surrounding ‘villes.’ One was a life-saving operation on a Vietnamese woman. This was an enlisted guy. Very impressive!
My team rotated out after a month–we were relieved by another SCAMP team. Our new mission was to hump back into Antennae Valley in as stealthy a manner as possible, find the existing strings, disarm them, and change the batteries, and then exit that nasty place as quickly and quietly as possible.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
They are all meaningful to me because they were all earned, particularly the Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Achievement Medal w/V, and the Expert Rifle Qualification Badge.
I was equally proud when I scored 2nd in my 0331 class–for which I was given my first stripe. I remember that for me, making PFC was a really big deal.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Arriving in San Diego in the summer of 1967, my immediate assessment of my situation was that I’d made a tragic, perhaps fatal error in judgment. The nightmare began the moment the angry, red-faced man began screaming at me about moving my worthless self and scant belongings off of the bus and onto the yellow footprints. The joy continued as we spent the entire evening and early morning hours carrying heavy green canvas sea bags containing our brand-new “wardrobes.” We were soon introduced to our Junior Drill Instructor, Sgt. Stumbo.
From my 17 yr. old perspective, Sgt. Stumbo was a bully and a sadist. He tormented me mercilessly, and I’m sure I trembled in his presence. He didn’t strike me as a particularly bright NCO, but he was gifted in one singular respect. This man had the most creative, foulest and shocking repertoire of words, terms and phrases, coupled with family-member specific inferences of alleged cohabitation with small barnyard animals. His verbiage and descriptive capabilities were unlike anything I’d ever heard. In my opinion Sgt. Stumbo’s elocution skills far exceeded those of any Drill Instructor from either of the Recruit Depots.
We all lived in terror of this Marine, yet we so marveled at his verbal creativity. He must have been a savant of some sort. Sadly, I can cite no other redeeming qualities in Sgt. Stumbo. Perhaps he had a mother who loved him, but it’s unlikely. As the weeks turned into months, we learned to cope, and to anticipate his twisted behavior, just like we’d later anticipate a likely ambush site, or trip-wire placement on a trail in Viet Nam. We were learning survival skills. I realized that if I could hack it under Stumbo, I could handle it all. I was right.
Although my relationship with Sgt. Stumbo never evolved to a higher plane, something remarkable did happen. Through some stroke of luck, I qualified as an expert (221) shooter with the M14 at the rifle range. For me, life became a little more civilized during the remainder of Recruit Training.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Sneaking home to Pomona, CA, while on R&R to Hawaii only to discover that Jody had been in my bed, and coming to the realization that I didn’t really have that special girl waiting for me. I was crushed.
One good thing did occur during my illicit R&R journey. I visited Cal Poly University and made an appointment with the Dean of the School Arts. My aim was to somehow get into school after my release from active duty and despite my 10th grade status from high school I was in fact, a card carrying GED success. In this photo I am receiving my GED Certificate from the unit commander at Camp H.M. Smith.
I told the Dean my story about my technically AWOL status – including the part about Jody. He laughed so hard he almost wet himself, and promised to allow me admittance to the university for the fall 1970 session–on a probationary status, of course.
Eventually, I made it back to Hawaii in time for my return flight to RVN. In reflection, I know now, that I’d have never gone to the school, if I’d spent all my R&R time with her (which is what I intended), so because of her philandering ways, I ultimately earned a degree.
This story is recounted in Gregg Stoner’s book, Echoes From the Halls – iUniverse Press: 2009.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
Juvenile Counselor – 1970 – 1984.
Software Salesperson – 1984 – 1994.
Consultant – 1994 – present. This is me and my wife during a recent business trip to Budapest.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
The late comedian George Gobel once said, “When I walked into the party, I felt like a pair of brown shoes in a room full of tuxedos.” These were my exact feelings in the fall of 1970 when freshly released from active duty in the Marine Corps; I walked into a Southern California VFW Chapter for the very first time, and approached the bar to order a drink.
The ambient noise suddenly stops and I realized everyone was looking at me. These were a bunch of grizzled old salts ranging from in age from early forties through eighties looking at me as if I was encroaching on their private turf. I was immediately spot-checked for my new VFW Card and DD-214. Not one of them chose to engage in any small talk, or make nice in any way, even when I initiated it. At that time I was twenty, and looking around, there was no one there remotely close to my age group.
I remember feeling bad about it, but, in retrospect it’s understandable. In those days the generational gap was huge, and for many of those veterans–China Marines, WW II and Korea–I was trespassing. There was however, an upside to my early VFW experience, and that was that no one cared that I was under 21, only that I met the membership criteria of having served in a combat zone – and the drinks were cheap.
As it turned out, I allowed my membership to lapse after that first year. By that time I was 21, and could drink anywhere legally. In 2013 I re-enrolled as an at-large member.
I’m also a past member of 1st Mar Division Association.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
The influence was strong in many ways. Using my GI Bill, I leveraged my G.E.D. to receive probationary status at a university in California. I earned a BS, and started my first post-military career as a Juvenile Counselor at Boys Republic School (BR), in Chino, California. I worked at BR for 14 years and was a Supervising Caseworker when I left.
I’d been interested in technology and decided to transition to a new career as a software salesperson at the enterprise level. I sold business (ERP) software for about 10 years, and began to burn out. In 1994, I embarked on my third (final) post-military career as a business consultant. Because of the Marine Corps, I understand the difference between tactical application and execution, and strategic planning. I have incorporated these elements where appropriate, into my sales training workshops. Many of the concepts, discipline and rigor we learned in training are highly applicable, and sought after in the business world. I’ve been fortunate enough to attract a broad market, and share these methods around the globe.
There’s a back-story to all this. In my early days at BR, I met a counselor, whom I married in 1978. We’ve been together ever since, and she’s been my rock. She transitioned from counseling to education, and has been a 6th grade teacher for many years. I sincerely believe she’d have made an excellent Drill Instructor.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE MARINE CORPS?
Stay in as long as possible. Apply or enroll in any training, discipline, or skill available. The Marine Corps experience prepares young men and women for any career imaginable.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
I’ve connected with old comrades and made new friends. Among them was my friend Bill Lavelle. We got together for the first time nearly 40 years after we were in Viet Nam together.
But here’s an example of the power of TWS: In May of 2008, I was in Bangkok for a speaking engagement. Weeks earlier, I had mentioned in the TWS “Situation Reports” column that I’d be working in the Far East, and specifically in Bangkok. Unsolicited, I received a PM from MGySgt Luis Adrianzen who at the time was on a TAD assignment and based in our embassy.
In his message he recommended a number of culturally significant places to visit. I thought it was pretty cool that he reached out. We started chatting online, and I promised to give him a heads-up when I arrived in town.
My first leg took me to Hong Kong, and after my layover, I realized I was getting sick. When I arrived in Bangkok I had a full blown case of bronchitis, and had pretty much completely lost my voice. Keep in mind, that I was engaged (already received a 50% deposit) to lead a 3-day workshop for about a hundred people.
Desperate, I knew I needed a doctor, quick. I emailed Luis from my hotel room and within minutes my phone was ringing. It was Luis. “Be out in front of your hotel in 20 minutes.” By the time I made it downstairs, he was waiting for me. It’s real easy to spot an active-duty Marine, even in a crowd.
He took me to a local Thai physician at a clinic every bit as state-of-the-art as what you’d find in our facilities at home. The doc checked me over, gave me an injection in the rear, and handed me several envelopes full of medication. “You’ll recover your voice in the morning, and be well enough to work in 36 hrs.” When I went to pay, the bill was the equivalent of $26.00 (U.S.).
I had lunch with Luis that day (I paid) then I went back to my hotel and slept for 24 hours. After that, I was good to go. The bad news: I missed visiting the tourist sites. The good news: I fulfilled my business obligations, and left happy clients behind.
I will never forget the day that MGySgt Luis Adrianzen went out of his way for a fellow Marine. What an example of brotherhood he set for me. By the way, Luis retired on July 29, 2013 and I wish him all the success in the world as his journey continues.
So, to close the circle on this story, TWS has been extremely rewarding to me on both personal, as well as professional levels. I think of my brother and sister Marines every day, and this venue helps me remember. Always!