View the service history of NFL Lineman
1stLt Bob Kalsu
View his Service Profile on TogetherWeServed.com
Short Bio: Bob Kalsu had just finished a stellar rookie year in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills when he chose to serve in Vietnam and became the only U.S. pro athlete to die there.
Kalsu’s story touching and tragic.
The Standard Times
New Bedford, MA
Bob Kalsu never reached All-Pro status in the National Football League.
Probably because he didn’t play long enough.
But the big lineman from the University of Oklahoma was voted the team’s top rookie in his first and only season with the Buffalo Bills.
That was back in 1968 when the American Football League was on the threshold of a merger with the rival NFL, and the 1-12-1 Bills were hoping to re-discover the glory days of mid-decade.
I was two years removed from Vietnam at the time and still trying to re-adjust to civilian life. Part of that re-adjustment centered around watching professional football, trying to convince myself that the AFL was not just a cheap imitation of the real thing (NFL).
A year later I finally became convinced when the Jets beat my beloved Colts in Super Bowl III.
But I had never even heard of Bob Kalsu until sometime last week, when I saw his story on television.
I can’t remember the exact night it was shown. It was mid- to late-week, I think. But I do know it was on the early version of ESPN’s Sportscenter.
It probably was meant to be a filler piece. You know, one of those five-minute mini-features that help fill the hour-long time slot when off-nights, Mother Nature or a combination of both leave the scoreboard virtually empty.
What it became was, quite simply, the most heart-rendering piece I’ve ever seen.
It was a story of life, love and devotion interrupted by an untimely death.
Bob Kalsu played the lead role.
On July 21, 1970, the Bills’ lineman became the only professional football player to be killed in Vietnam. Details of his death came from the lips of a teary-eyed former soldier who saw Lieutenant Kalsu fall while helping defend something called Ripcord Base on an isolated jungle mountaintop near the Ashau Valley.
All through his high school and college days, football was a big part of Kalsu’s life. So was the ROTC — Reserve Officers Training Corps. But the biggest part of Kalsu’s life was his sweetheart, Jan, who he married the day after his final college game in the Orange Bowl.
The Bills selected him in the eighth round of the ’68 college draft – after such not-so-notables as Pete Richardson, a defensive back from Dayton, running back Max Anderson of Arizona State and Mike McBath, a defensive end from Penn State. With the exception of first-round selection Haven Moses of San Diego State, the Buffalo draft list read like a roll call from the Society of Unknown Nobodies.
But Kalsu quickly became somebody in his first AFL season by earning the team’s Rookie of the Year award with his stellar play at guard.
Sadly it would be his final season of football.
His wife had recently given birth to a daughter, Jill, and the future appeared bright. But following the ’68 season, Kalsu began fulfilling his ROTC obligation with the United States Army and in November 1969, he received his orders to go to Vietnam.
He probably could have used politics to remain at home, but Kalsu said no.
After six months in Vietnam, 1st Lieutenant Bob Kalsu left his 11th Artillery unit of the 101st Airborne Division for a week of R&R in Hawaii.
There he was reunited with Jan, who was now pregnant with their second child.
Most of this information was recorded in newspaper articles – articles I never knew existed before watching last week’s riveting television piece.
But while the written words put a lump in my throat, the spoken words induced tears that flowed freely from my eyes.
I sobbed when Jan told of the day she received word of her husband’s death as she lay in her hospital bed after giving birth to her son, Bob Jr.
I sniffled when the young Bob revealed he had heard his father’s voice asking him to have the first dance with his sister on her wedding day.
And I cried when Bob Jr. relayed how he saw his father sitting and smiling as he and Jill moved gracefully about the dance floor.
But when all was said and done, I probably felt worse about myself for never having known Bob Kalsu had even existed.
View the service history of entertainer
1st Lt Don Ho
US Air Force
View his service story on TogetherWeServed.com
Short Bio: In 1954 Ho entered the United States Air Force doing his basic training at Keesler AFB, Mississippi and spent time flying fighter jets in both Texas and Hawaii. Transferred to Travis AFB, California he went to the local city of Concord and bought an electronic keyboard from a music store, and recalls, “That’s when it all started.”
By Michael P. Walsh
The Washington, D.C., Vietnam Veterans Memorial is inscribed with 58,272 names – each a story of lost opportunity and heartache; ultimate sacrifices that, with time, are known by and intimate to fewer. The New Guy is one of those small stories, perhaps now, 48 years later, important to only me – that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told.
Long Island’s morning fog was dense and chilly as I turned onto the drive at Pinelawn National Cemetery. Driving forward, I familiarized myself with the numbering of the stones. Donning my overcoat as I got out of the car, I crossed the roadway to walk another 50 feet over wet grass to The New Guy’s permanent address: plot 31313A in section “N.”
A stunted, winter-bare tree stood watch over his grave – it looked like it shaded him nicely in the summertime. The headstone, identical to the thousands surrounding it, is engraved with bits of personal information: born 12 days after I was, on July 14, 1947, he died March 7, 1968. Below those dates are chiseled the word “Vietnam;” farther down are the two letters “PH” confirming the Purple Heart was awarded posthumously. Exactly 40 years later, March 7, 2008, I was here for a long overdue visit. Although today I know his name, for most of the intervening years, I didn’t. In my recollections, he has always been, simply, “The New Guy.”
New guys were easy to spot. Naturally, there was the rookie’s nervousness, but that clean helmet cover was the giveaway. A seasoned Marine’s helmet might have a heavy rubber band encircling it, holding bug repellant and a well-used plastic spoon, but always printed on the fabric covering his steel “pot” was a message. Sometimes a clever or rude manipulation of a biblical phrase; other times, it was a less-nuanced “Screw You” challenge to the enemy. The brazen tempted fate with a crude calendar counting down their remaining days in country. Attesting to the helmet’s use as protection, basin and stool, the messages were written on camouflage covers stained by rain, soil and sweat. In 1968, those young Marines with helmet covers awaiting a personal signature were known to the rest of us as “New Guys.”
I was a Marine forward observer scout. My helmet cover sported a faded green shamrock, surrounded by the words “All Irish F.O.’s.” Early March found Louis, my radio operator, and me attached to “Alpha” Company, one of two line companies of First Battalion, Third Marines, providing security up a backwater of the Cua Viet River.
It was a reprieve to patrol from a fixed location, allowing us to fortify positions, improve makeshift hutches and learn the lay of the land before, not during, ambushes. The few incoming sniper rounds were erratic – minor nuisances that were quickly suppressed – and the weather improved daily. Most importantly, we were alive. There wasn’t much not to like.
Suddenly, on March 7, 1968, our Vietnamese-speaking S-2 scout reported enemy combatants moving through Phu Tai, a neighboring village, after nightfall. Since it was our job to keep bad actors out of the neighborhood, Alpha Co was ordered on top of Amtrak’s in the predawn dark for a rough ride, over dry rice paddies to give this little village the once over. Maybe we’d find trouble, maybe not. Personally, I was thinking not.
With the bellowing of our Amtrak’s dual turbocharged exhausts announcing our pending arrival, all North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars working the area would surely be long gone before we showed up. For all intents and purposes, it looked like it would be an early morning cakewalk. Map and compass were close, radio communications checked; I was alert, not anxious. Turned out I should have been.
In the glow of a false dawn, we were rolling-up on Phu Tai’s western edge when suddenly a rocket propelled grenade flew out of the tree line, blowing a hole in our lead Amtrak. With it came a stupefying volume of incoming automatic weapons fire. Screams of the wounded and shouts for corpsman were coming from all quarters as Louis and I leapt off our Amtrak and scrambled to a nearby trench. So much for nobody being home. Dawn had arrived at Phu Tai with a promise of some serious mayhem.
A vestige of the French and Viet Minh conflict of an earlier time, our trench was typical of those surrounding villages near the Demilitarized Zone. Just to the north of it, outside the village, was an abandoned, French-era church. It didn’t show on my map, but there it was – two-stories tall and roofless, it was one of the few solid masonry structures in those parts. My view of it was blocked by a clump of bushes rimming our trench’s back edge, directly behind where Louis and I made our stand.
Looking over the forward edge of the trench, I located where Marines were digging in. Our near-instant heavy casualties and the sustained volume of incoming fire indicated a large, entrenched force – a motivated enemy that might mount a counterattack. The simultaneous firing of several batteries was initiated to provide a protective curtain of shrapnel while we got a handle on things.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, the day went badly fast. To my right, just beyond Louis, a Marine I had bummed a cigarette from a few minutes earlier was dead. To my left, in sequence, was another dead Marine, our wounded platoon commander and, scattered beyond them, a dozen, perhaps 15, Marines. Some dead, some wounded; those still capable struggled to keep our recently-issued M-16’s functioning.
During all this, I received a priority radio message advising me an NVA sniper had been spotted on the second floor of the church. The reason for the high number of casualties in my immediate area was now obvious: from his perch, the shooter could target men well below the trench’s rear lip. It was inevitable that Louis and I were going to find ourselves on that deadly score card if we didn’t put him out of business. Hoping to be quick enough to avert additional causalities, another artillery mission was worked up.
It was just then that I met The New Guy – part of a Marine company sent to reinforce our precarious position. As he dropped into the trench behind me, I turned to see by his clean helmet cover; the look on his face said that today was his introduction to the terrors of the fight. Still, he never wavered. Suppressing the fear, we all knew, he spoke the last words of his life: “What do you want me to do?” In the intervening years, neither our dire circumstances nor his response to them have been forgotten.
Quickly I pointed out the sniper’s position and explained the need to keep him down while artillery was brought on target; I don’t remember the precise number, but I can’t imagine that more than 15 words were exchanged. Turning toward the church without hesitation, he took a firing position at the base of the bushes. With my back now covered, I gave the final “fire for effect” that would eliminate that menace in the loft.
Moments later, six 105 mm artillery rounds landed in the church’s upper story, abruptly and decisively ending the shooter’s reign. Unfortunately, The New Guy missed our small victory. Seconds before his demise, the sniper fired his last round. It was on target, and it was fatal. The New Guy was dead.
Although aware that he had protected me, providing time to complete the task at hand, reflection was not an option as that March 7, 1968, engagement at Phu Tai still had plenty of promised mayhem to be played out. A brutal assault, with Marines engaging in close-quarters fighting, routed the NVA forces. Afterward, in the late afternoon’s fading light, we searched for our wounded and killed. I don’t recall there being any prisoners.
As darkness enveloped the field, “Puff,” the Gatling-armed C-130 flying transport, came on station, providing covering fire as needed and dropping huge illumination flares, lighting-up the dry rice paddy for the night’s remaining work.
With our men accounted for, the Marines withdrew from the village and linked up to form a perimeter where, from freshly dug fighting holes, weary eyes and lethal intent were focused into the evening’s menacing shadows. Inbound helicopter flights soon began landing with the necessities: munitions, food, water and, oh yes, more New Guys. Following triage protocol, our corpsmen backloaded the outgoing flights with our 94 wounded. It wasn’t until the next morning, March 8, 1968, that The New Guy and his 12 companions, each now cocooned in a body bag, were finally relieved of duty. Marines gently loaded them into Hueys for their trip back across the Cua Viet to the first stop on their rotation stateside: the morgue at Dong Ha.
Curiously, though few things have had such a profound and lasting imprint on my life, many years passed before I dared replay those long-ago violent days. When I did, prominent and persistent was the question: “Who was The New Guy?” With research, I found the answer.
Three days after the battle of Phu Tai, the Department of Defense issued its weekly count of Vietnam casualties. The following day, March 12, 1968, The New York Times published the names of those who claimed New York as home. Last on their list of 22 was a young Marine from Brooklyn: Esau Whitehead Jr.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial website describes Esau at the time of his death as a 20-year-old African-American corporal from New York City. On “The Wall,” his name is found on Panel 43E, Line 49. The record states vaguely that he died from “ground, small arms fire, Quang Tri province.” Because of the chaos of battle, it is most likely I am the only person who knows the exact details. Wanting to share those, a letter was written describing Esau’s last moments; however, when unable to locate survivors, I rewrote it as the story of ‘The New Guy,’ hoping someday it would land where it belongs. Of course, after all this time, there may be no family left or, it’s also possible that no one cares.
But I do. I care. So, Esau, I’m writing your final story, hoping it will find its way to those who remember that 20-year-old kid from Brooklyn and wonder how it was for you at the end.
Cpl. Esau Whitehead Jr., you died living up to the Marine Corps motto – Semper Fidelis – while protecting a fellow Marine you knew for less than five minutes.
Thank you again, Esau. Your family should know.
The photo is left to right: Cpl Michael Walsh, Cpl James P. “Pat” Daly and PFC Roger McLain displaying the shamrocks they added to their helmet covers in Vietnam, 1968. Lt. George Norris is to the rear and between Cpl. Walsh and Cpl. Daly. He was killed in action while serving as a Company Commander.
Reprinted with permission from the Marine Corps Association & Foundation, Leatherneck Magazine, May 2017
By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches
Alvin Cullum York was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nests, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He was also a conscientious objector.
York was born on December 13, 1887 to William and Mary York of Pall Mall, Tennessee and raised in a two-room log cabin in a rural backwater in the northern section of Fentress County. He was the third oldest of a family of eleven children. Like many families in the county, the York family eked out a hardscrabble existence of subsistence farming supplemented by hunting. York’s father, also acted as a part time blacksmith to provide some extra income for the family.
In the wake of his father’s death in 1911, York, as the eldest still living in the area, was forced to aid his mother in raising his younger siblings. To support the family, he began working in railroad constructions and as a logger in Harriman, Tennessee.
As York came of age he earned a reputation as a deadly accurate marksman and a hell raiser. Drinking and gambling in borderline bars, York was generally considered a nuisance and someone who “would never amount to anything.” That reputation underwent a serious overhaul when York experienced a religious conversion in 1914. In that year two significant events occurred: his best friend, Everett Delk, was beaten to death in a bar fight in Static, Kentucky; and he attended a revival conducted by H.H. Russell of the Church of Christ in Christian Union. Delk’s senseless death convinced York that he needed to change his ways or suffer a fate similar to his fallen comrade, which prompted him to attend prayer meetings.
A strict fundamentalist sect with a following limited to three states – Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee – the Church of Christ in Christian Union embraced a strict moral code which forbade drinking, dancing, movies, swimming, swearing, popular literature, and moral injunctions against violence and war. Though raised Methodist, York joined the Church of Christ in Christian Union and in the process convinced one of his best friends, Rosier Pile, to join as well. Blessed with a melodious singing voice, York became the song leader and a Sunday school teacher at the local church. Rosier Pile went on to become the church’s pastor. The church also brought York in contact with the girl who would become his wife, Gracie Williams.
By most accounts, York’s conversion was sincere and complete. He quit drinking, gambling, and fighting. When the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, York’s new found faith would be tested. He received his draft notice from his friend, the postmaster and pastor, Rosier Pile, on June 5, 1917, just six months prior to his thirtieth birthday. Because of the Church of Christ in Christian Union’s proscriptions against war, Pile encouraged York to seek conscientious objector status. York wrote on his draft card: “Don’t want to fight.” When his case came up for review it was denied at both the local and the state level because the Church of Christ in Christian Union was not recognized as a legitimate Christian sect.
York was assigned to Company G, 328th Infantry Regiment 82nd Infantry Division known as “The All American Division” and posted to Camp Gordon in Georgia. The 82nd lives today as the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.
York proved his skill as a crack shot but was seen as an oddity because he did not wish to fight. This led him to have extensive conversations with his company commander, Capt. Edward C.B. Danforth, and his battalion commander, Maj. G. Edward Buxton, relating to the Biblical justification for war. A devout Christian, Buxton cited a variety of Biblical sources to counter his subordinate’s concerns.
Challenging York’s pacifist stance, the two officers were able to convince the reluctant soldier that war could be justified. Following a ten-day leave to visit home, York returned with a firm belief that God meant for him to fight.
Traveling to Boston, York’s unit sailed for Le Havre, France in May 1918 and arrived later that month after a stop in Britain. Reaching the Continent, York’s division spent time along the Somme as well as at Toul, Lagney, and Marbache where it underwent a variety of training to prepare it for combat operations along the Western Front. Promoted to corporal, York took part in the St. Mihiel offensive that September as the 82nd sought to protect the U.S First Army’s right flank. With the successful conclusion of fighting in that sector, the 82nd was shifted north to take part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a battle that cost 28,000 German lives and 26,277 American lives, making it the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).
Entering the fighting on October 7 as it relieved units of the 28th Infantry Division, York’s unit received orders that night to advance the next morning to take Hill 223 and press on to sever the Decauville Railroad north of Chatel-Chehery. Advancing around 6 am the next morning, the Americans succeeded in taking the hill.
Moving forward from the hill, York’s unit was forced to attack through a triangular valley and quickly came under German machine gun fire on several sides from the adjacent hills. This stalled the attack as the Americans began taking heavy casualties. In an effort to eliminate the machine guns, 17 men led by Sgt. Bernard Early, including York, were ordered to work around into the German rear. Taking advantage of the brush and hilly nature of the terrain, these troops succeeded in slipping behind the German lines and advanced up one of the hills opposite the American advance.
In doing so, they overran and captured a German headquarters area and secured a large number of prisoners including a major. While Early’s men began securing the prisoners, the German machine gunners up the slope turned several of their guns and opened fire on the Americans. This killed six and wounded three, including Sgt. Early, leaving York in command of the remaining seven men. With his men behind cover guarding the prisoners, York moved to deal with the machine guns. Beginning in a prone position, he utilized the shooting skills he had honed as a boy.
Picking off the German gunners, York was able to move to a standing position as he evaded enemy fire. During the course of the fight, six German soldiers emerged from their trenches and charged at York with bayonets. Running low on rifle ammunition, he drew his pistol and dropped all six before they reached him. Switching back to his rifle, he returned to sniping at the German machine guns. Believing he had killed around 20 Germans, and not wishing to kill more than necessary, he began calling for them to them to surrender.
This resulted in German First Lieutenant Paul Jurgen Vollmer – a highly decorated officer who had recently assumed command of the 120th Wurttemberg Landwehr Regiment’s 1st Battalion – emptying his pistol trying to kill York while he was contending with the machine guns. Failing to injure York, and seeing his mounting losses, he offered in English to surrender the unit to York, who accepted. Rounding up the prisoners in the immediate area, York and his men had captured around 100 Germans. With Vollmer’s assistance, York began moving the men back towards the American lines. In the process, another thirty Germans were captured. Advancing through artillery fire, York succeeded in delivering 132 prisoners to his battalion headquarters. This done, he and his men rejoined their unit and fought through to the Decauville Railroad. In the course of the fight, 28 Germans were killed and 35 machine guns captured. York’s actions clearing the machine guns reinvigorated the 328th’s assault and the regiment advanced to secure a position on the Decauville Railroad.
Upon returning to his unit, York reported to his Brigade Commander, Gen. Julian R. Lindsey, who remarked “Well York, I hear you have captured the whole damn German army.” York replied “No sir. I got only 132.”
For his achievements, York was promoted to sergeant and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Remaining with his unit for the final weeks of the war, his decoration was upgraded to the Medal of Honor which he received on April 18, 1919. The award was presented to York by American Expeditionary Forces commander. In addition to the Medal of Honor, York received the French Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, as well as the Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra. When given his French decorations by Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme allied commander commented, “What you did was the greatest thing ever accomplished by any soldier by any of the armies of Europe.” Arriving back in the United States in late May, York was hailed as a hero and received a ticker tape parade in New York City.
That York deserves credit for his heroism is without question. Unfortunately, however, his exploit has been blown out of proportion with some accounts claiming that he silenced thirty-five machine guns and captured 132 prisoners single-handedly. York never claimed that he acted alone, nor was he proud of what he did. Twenty-five Germans lay dead, and by his accounting, York was responsible for at least nine of the deaths. Only two of the seven survivors were acknowledged for their participation in the event; Sgt. Early and Cpl. Cutting were finally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1927.
York’s life caught fire in the American imagination not because of who he was, but what he symbolized: a humble, self-reliant, God-fearing, taciturn patriot who slowly moved to action only when sufficiently provoked and then adamantly refused to capitalize on his fame. George Pattullo, the Saturday Evening Post reporter who broke the story, focused on the religion-patriotic nature of York’s feat. He titled his piece “The Second Elder Gives Battle,” referring to York’s status in his home congregation in Pall Mall, Tennessee.
York turned his back on quick and certain fortune in 1919, and went home to Tennessee to resume peacetime life and married the love of his life, Gracie Williams. Over the next several years, the couple had seven children.
Largely unknown to most Americans was the fact that Alvin York returned to America with a single vision: he wanted to provide a practical educational opportunity for the mountain boys and girls of Tennessee. Understanding that to prosper in the modern world an education was necessary, York sought to bring Fentress County into the twentieth century. Thousands of like-minded veterans returned from France with similar sentiments and as a result college enrollments shot up immediately after the war.
A celebrity, York took part in several speaking tours and eagerly sought to improve educational opportunities for area children. This culminated with the opening of the Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute in 1926. Though he possessed some political ambitions, these largely proved fruitless. Throughout the 1920s York went on speaking tours to endorse his hopes for education and raise money for York Institute. He also became interested in state and national politics. A Democrat in a staunchly Republican county, York’s endorsement carried a degree of clout for pols. York also used his celebrity to improve roads, employment, and education in his home county.
York withdrew from the national spotlight during the 1930s, and focused his waning political aspirations on the state rather than the local level. He considered running for the U.S. Senate against the freshman senator, Albert Gore (father of Vice President Al Gore). In the 1932 election, he changed his party affiliation and supported Herbert Hoover over Franklin D. Roosevelt because FDR promised to repeal Prohibition. Once the New Deal got underway, however, York returned to the Democratic Party and endorsed the president’s public work relief programs, especially the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
In 1939, York was appointed superintendent of the Cumberland Homesteads near Crossville. The community was envisioned by federal planners as a model of cooperative living for the region’s distressed farmers, coal miners, and factory workers. While the cooperative experiment failed and the federal government withdrew from the project in the 1940s, the Homesteads community nevertheless survived.
In 1935 York delivered a sermon entitled, Christian Cure for Strife, which argued that the vigilant Christian should ignore current world events, because Europe stood poised on the brink of another war and Americans should avoid it at all costs. Recalling his career as a soldier, York renounced America’s involvement in World War I. He said, “In order to achieve world peace, Americans must first secure it at home beginning with their own families. The church and the home, therefore, represented the cornerstones of world peace.”
At the same time, the threat of war had rekindled the interest of some filmmakers, most notably Jesse L. Lasky, into reviving the story of York’s exploits during World War I. Lasky, having witnessed the famous New York reception of the hero from his eighth floor office window in May of 1919 had wanted then to tell York’s story.
Because the Church of Christ in Christian Union condemned movies as sinful, Lasky had a tough time convincing York that a film based on his life was justified. York finally agreed when he decided that the money made from the film could be used to create an interdenominational Bible school.
Through York’s association with Lasky and Warner Brothers, he became convinced that Hitler represented the personification of evil in the world and turned belligerent. York’s conversion to interventionism was so complete that he wholeheartedly agreed with Gen. George C. Marshall that the U.S. should institute its first peacetime draft. Governor Prentice Cooper approved York’s endorsement by naming him chief executive of the Fentress County Draft Board, and appointed him to the Tennessee Preparedness Committee to help prepare for wartime.
In 1937, York not only condemned war but also questioned America’s involvement in the First World War. In that same year, York joined the Emergency Peace Campaign which lobbied against any U.S. involvement in the growing tensions in Europe. A pious peaceful man, York had fought his country’s enemy only after great deliberation and had to be convinced that war was sometimes necessary. His personal struggle in World War I found new resonance in an America at odds over the recent European war, for York personified isolationist Christian America wrestling with its conscience over whether or not to engage in the current war abroad.
In 1940-41, York joined the Fight for Freedom Committee which combated the isolationist stance of America First, and York became one of its most vocal members. Up until Pearl Harbor, York battled another legendary American hero, the man who symbolized America First to the general public, Charles Lindbergh. Meantime, the film “Sergeant York” starring Gary Cooper, became one of the top grossing Warner Brothers films of the entire war era and earned Cooper the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1942.
During the war, York attempted to reenlist in the infantry but could not do so due to age and obesity. Instead, through an affiliation with the Signal Corps, York traveled the country on bond tours, recruitment drives, and camp inspections. Ironically, the Bible school that was built with the proceeds from the movie opened in 1942, but the very people the school was intended for had either enlisted in the armed services or moved north to work in defense related industries. The school closed in 1943 never to reopen.
York’s health began to deteriorate after the war and in 1954 he suffered from a stroke that would leave him bedridden for the remainder of his life. In 1951, the Internal Revenue Service accused York of tax evasion regarding profits earned from the movie. Unfortunately, York was practically destitute in 1951. He spent the next ten years wrangling with the IRS, which led Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Congressman Joe L. Evins to establish the York Relief Fund to help cancel the debt.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy ordered that the matter be resolved and considered the IRS’s actions in the case to be a national disgrace. The relief fund paid the IRS $100,000 and placed $30,000 in trust to be used in the family’s best interest.
York died on September 2, 1964 and was buried with full military honors in the Pall Mall cemetery. His funeral was attended by Governor Frank G. Clement and Gen. Matthew Ridgway as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s official representative. He was survived by seven children and his widow.
When asked how he wanted to be remembered, the old sergeant said he wanted people to remember how he tried to improve basic education in Tennessee because he considered a solid education the true key to success. It saddened him somewhat that only one of his children went on to college, but he was proud of the fact that they all had received high school diplomas from York Institute. Most people, of course, do not remember him as a proponent for public education. York’s memory is forever tied to Gary Cooper’s laconic screen portrayal of the mountain hero and the myth surrounding his military exploits in the Argonne in 1918.
Battle scene from Sergeant York starring Gary Cooper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtk488k1-yM
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
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Short Bio: Born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of opera singer and building contractor Vernelle Rohrer. He graduated from Dearborn High School in nearby Dearborn, Michigan, and attended Purdue University, where he studied Engineering, later transferring to Carnegie Mellon University. He took an interest in acting, and joined The Actor’s Studio, where he studied acting. He enlisted into the Marine Corps, and rose to the rank of Sergeant in the Artillery, but saw no interest in a military career, and left as soon as his military obligation was up, to return to acting.
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During World War II Bradlee fought in a total of thirteen naval battles.
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