Richard D. Goldblatt, retired Army Intelligence Officer
A Morning in June: Defending Outpost Harryby James W. Evans
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By June 1953 the Korean War, marked at the outset by extremely fluid advances and retreats up and down the peninsula, had settled into position warfare very near the original pre-war demarcation line between North and South Korea. At this point both sides were fighting to win a peace, to achieve incremental advantages that could be translated into gains at the peace negotiations in Panmunjom. These last days of the war saw savage battles for control of important local terrain features, and in the trench warfare of the Chorwon Valley a young U.S. Army lieutenant was assigned to lead an infantry company charged with holding Outpost Harry against a determined Chinese assault. The battle devolved into hand-to-hand combat during a period of constant, intense fighting that lasted two days. The author, although seriously wounded that night, refused evacuation and remained on the hill to successfully lead his company in defense of the outpost. It wasn’t romantic; it wasn’t chivalrous; and many died or were badly wounded. Some of the survivors never fully overcame the mental and physical damage they suffered during the nightmare. With this book, one of those scarred by that experience recounts the events of the battle and his lifelong efforts to deal with the residual horrors. The Korean Conflict may be called “the forgotten war” by some, but not by those who were on the front lines.
Richard D. Goldblatt, retired Army Intelligence Officer
- University of Alabama Press
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A Morning in JuneDefending Outpost Harry
By JAMES W. EVANS
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESSCopyright © 2010 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.
Chapter One5th Regimental Combat Team Korea with Incoming Artillery
On the crisp, cool morning of 10 October 1952, I, 2LT James William Evans, along with other U.S. Army replacement personnel, was finally getting off a Korean train after a two-day ride from Pusan, Korea. From the window, I noted that the train stopped at a small railroad station. Gathering all of my gear, including my .30-caliber carbine, I disembarked and joined the other one hundred or so replacements standing beside the train. Glancing about, I noticed that the railroad station's roof was gone-blown off-a true indication that the country was at war.
Before long, a sergeant started calling out names. After each name, the sergeant would direct that person to one of several two-and-a-half-ton trucks waiting a short distance from the railroad station. The trucks would transport the soldiers to their assigned units. When I heard my name called, I climbed onto the bed of the truck that was designated to go to my unit, the 5th Regimental Combat Team (5th RCT).
Our truck left the railroad station, and we bounced around in the "deuce and a half" for more than an hour, stopping at various locations. Riding in the back of a two-and-a-half-ton truck is a rough ride. The truck didn't seem to have any rear springs, because every dent in the road meant a bump of the wooden seat that would move the passengers up and back down with a hard landing.
At each stop the driver called out the name of the soldier assigned to the unit, and the soldier would gather his gear and hop off. We riders didn't exchange a lot of conversation. No one seemed excited or joyful to be in Korea; in fact, we were a rather somber group. When the truck stopped and the driver called out my name, I gathered my equipment and disembarked at a location in the northeastern section of South Korea. As I looked around, I noticed several large tents erected and arranged in a dispersed manner. I was, so I quickly learned, at the headquarters of the 5th Infantry Regiment of the 5th RCT.
After checking in with the sergeant major, I dropped off my gear at the transit officer's quarters, which was really just a bunker in the side of a hill. Since noon was approaching, the sergeant major suggested I get some chow before reporting in. I found the mess hall, had lunch, and then walked back to headquarters, reporting as ordered. When reporting to a new command, infantry officer protocol directs the reporting officer to report to the unit's highest-ranking officer first and then work his way down to his assignment. Being a second lieutenant, I would have to work my way a long way down.
"Sir, Lieutenant Evans reporting as ordered, sir." I first reported to Lee L. Alfred, Colonel, Infantry, commanding the 5th Infantry Regiment and the 5th RCT.
The colonel quickly reviewed my orders. "Welcome, Lieutenant Evans, to the 5th Regimental Combat Team," Colonel Alfred said. "I notice you're wearing a Ranger shoulder tab. I thought all Rangers were to be assigned to Ranger companies." I explained that as I understood the situation, in 1951 the army had inactivated the Ranger companies in Korea, so replacement Rangers now reported to regular line units. We chatted for a few minutes before Colonel Alfred said he was glad to see me and we shook hands; I saluted and turned to walk to the door. He seemed like a reasonable person.
The colonel then turned me over to the regimental S-1, a designation for a regimental/battalion personnel officer. A major was currently holding the regimental S-1 slot. I saluted the major, who acknowledged the salute and suggested we go outside and look around. After we left Colonel Alfred's office and took a short walk out of the headquarters bunker, the S-1 explained to me that I was going to be a platoon leader in Able Company. Then he described where we were.
"We are standing in the bottom of an area called the Punch Bowl," he began. "The area is so named because if you look all the way around, you'll feel like you're in a very large bowl. Mountains are all around us, with the northern series of mountains being the ones where we are engaged with the North Korea People's Army, the NKPA," he said. "The units that we have fought have been the 45th, 48th, and 50th Regiments, 115th Division, of the III North Korean Corps."
Pointing to the edge along the top of the northern series of mountains, the S-1 explained that the edge was the "rim." He said, "We call the edge a rim because bowls have rims, and since we're in a bowl, we have to have a rim." That made sense to me.
Continuing, he explained that no pattern existed as to which battalion would be on the rim or in reserve for showers, rest, and other military training. Battalions are normally rotated every month or so. Turning so that I could see his shoulder patch, the S-1 continued. "Fifth Regimental Combat Team, formed in Hawaii in 1950, is made up of several different units. The base unit for the 5th RCT is the 5th Infantry Regiment, which has as an organic component a tank company, a medical company, and a 4.2-inch mortar company. The 5th Infantry is one of the oldest regiments in the United States Army, formed in 1808. As you may already know, like all infantry regiments, the 5th Infantry Regiment has three infantry battalions identified as 1st, called Red; 2nd, called White; and the 3rd Battalion, called Blue. And each battalion has four infantry companies." The S-1 didn't tell me, because I knew, that the 1st Battalion [BN] had Able, Baker, and Charley companies, plus Dog-the heavy weapons company; 2nd BN had Easy, Fox, and George, plus How-the heavy weapons company; and 3rd BN had Item, King, and Love, plus Mike-the heavy weapons company.
"One additional element that's part of the 5th RCT is the 555th Field Artillery Battalion, which we sometimes call the 'Triple Nickel.' The last additional component is 72nd Engineer Company. As you can see," he said, pointing to his left shoulder, "the shoulder patch for the 5th RCT has five points and is shaped like a pentagon, with the interior in red and a border in white. The 5th RCT is presently attached to the 25th Infantry Division, which is part of the X Corps."
After telling me all about the 5th RCT, the division, and the corps, the S-1 asked if I had any questions.
"No, sir," I responded. Besides, I thought, I most likely would never meet anyone with the X Corps or the 25th Infantry Division. I may never even meet anyone from the Triple Nickel unless it would be a forward observer.
Again pointing to the northern mountains, the S-1 explained, "The 1st Battalion, of which Able Company is a part, starts from the highest peak, on the left side of the northern rim, and goes down eastward to just about the center of the rim. With Able Company occupying the left flank of the 1st Battalion, Able Company starts from the highest peak and runs east. The Turkish Brigade starts on the other side of the highest peak and runs toward the west. The joining point is the peak. You may be assigned to the platoon having the responsibility of defending the area on the east of the peak down." I guessed that climbing up the mountain to the peak and back down was the worst platoon location in the Able Company area. Surely a new second lieutenant would get that assignment.
Continuing to point toward the northern rim, he said, "Now the 2nd Battalion of the 5th RCT attaches to the right flank of the 1st Battalion and continues to the east."
The major explained that the bowl was about seven to eight miles across and that to travel from the bottom of the bowl to the rim by jeep took four to five hours.
"In case you're wondering, the NKPA soldiers are still very active on the other side of the northern rim. Get some rest, because you're leaving early in the morning."
I thanked the major for his help, saluted, and departed.
When I returned to the transit officer's quarters, I found my gear as I had left it and started to settle in, hoping the chest cold that was threatening would go away. After looking around the quarters, I decided, as I first thought, that these quarters looked a lot like a bunker. I was learning that "bunker" was a generic term for any sleeping, mess, fighting, medical, or other type of facility. I had always visualized a "bunker" as a concrete structure like the ones the Germans used during World War II when the Rangers scaled the cliffs on D-Day. Not so in Korea. In Korea they used logs, tar paper, and sandbags as building materials. Sometimes, if available, the bunker builders would use twelve-by-twelve-inch square timbers that were twelve feet long instead of logs.
Here, soldiers had constructed a bunker using logs that were ten feet long and eight to ten inches thick. My bunker for the night had been cut out of the side of a hill. Bunkers were constructed using these procedures because four of the sides wouldn't require sandbagging-the floor, the left wall, the right wall, and the rear wall. All of the walls used logs stacked one on top of another. Logs on the roof were laid side by side. The front wall and the roof had sandbags stacked on the logs. This procedure of using sandbags had two benefits. First, small arms bullets would not normally penetrate the sand. Second, the sandbags would protect the bunker from the shrapnel generated from exploding artillery rounds. Frequently, the roof would have an additional layer of rocks. Theoretically, these rocks would trigger any incoming shells before they could penetrate the logs. With luck, the shell would then explode outside the bunker. If that shell had a longer fuse, the explosion would occur inside of the bunker and I would have a serious problem. The bunker I was now in was one room that was about five feet wide by eight feet deep, with a height of a little over six feet. There were three bunk beds installed along one of the eight-foot walls. By using smaller logs as side rails and pulling communication wire (a narrow-gauge wire covered with a plastic coating used to connect telephones) back and forth, thereby creating a web of wire, the bunks became racks on which to support a bedroll. By placing a sleeping bag on the web of wire, the bunks became a bed.
The lower bunk was about six inches off the floor; the center bunk, about two and a half feet off the floor; and the top bunk, about four and a half feet above the floor. The height of each bunk (including the width of the logs) was approximately eighteen inches high, which left room to slide into and out of the bunk. Earlier, when I was reporting as ordered and found my home for the night, I hadn't seen any other gear in the bunker. I supposed I was the only officer in transit. There were many stories about big rats in Korea running around the bunker floors looking for food. Not wanting to sleep too close to the rats, and not eager to climb and try to squeeze into the top bunk, I had put my gear in the center bunk before I reported to the colonel.
After my introductions at headquarters and killing some time wandering around regimental headquarters, I went back to the mess tent-the kitchen was partially in a bunker-and had a good evening meal. I guess it tasted so good because I was hungry and the food served was available. I was tired and still feeling as if I might be catching a cold.
While leaning against the bunker where I would be spending the night, and watching the sun drop behind the mountain rim, I started smoking a cigarette and thinking about the day's activities. In this first week of October, the Korean evening had been beautiful. This was such a restful and quiet place it was difficult to believe a war was going on. I hadn't heard a shot fired or an artillery shell land. And except for catching the damn cold, my first day in the bowl had been a good day. I had arrived safely, met the colonel without making any dumb mistakes, and the major S-1 seemed like a good person. The 5th RCT wasn't so bad after all-not the Rangers, but not bad.
I finished my cigarette and went inside my home for the night. In my small room was a candleholder made from an empty C-ration can (about the size of a soup can) cut four times. Each cut went from the top of the can halfway down toward the bottom. Then three of the four sides were bent out and down to form handles. The fourth side was bent inward to form a base on which the candle was placed. The candleholder was a good idea, because as the candle burned down, the stub would fall into the bottom of the can and go out. I lit a candle and placed the candleholder on a small table. The bunker contained no chairs or other furniture.
As I unrolled my sleeping bag, I remembered that it incorporated a new design. According to the supply sergeant who issued the sleeping bags to us, the bag had a "quick release" manufactured into the zipper. All you had to do was pull the zipper tab all the way up and the whole zipper would release, allowing the bag to completely open.
"Now, the reason why they added the new design," the supply sergeant had said, "is that a couple of years ago at the beginning of the Korean War, we didn't have any winter clothing to issue, and everybody was very cold. You'll learn that the temperature in Korea can drop to minus ten to twenty degrees in the winter. In trying to keep from freezing, soldiers would put on everything they had to wear, crawl into their sleeping bags, zip the zipper all the way up, and try to stay warm and get some sleep. The North Koreans would attack at night while the American soldiers were sleeping. The yelling and gunfire by the NKPA soldiers would awaken the GIs, and before they could get out of their sleeping bags, the enemy would bayonet them." Suddenly we all thought the quick release zipper was a good idea.
Wearily, I took off my clothes, which didn't mean much, since it simply meant removing my boots, socks, and field jacket. I had taken off my flak vest and helmet as soon as I entered the bunker after dinner. Since a chill was in the air and seemed to be getting colder, and with no heater in the bunker, I decided I would sleep in the rest of my clothes. The bunker where I slept had a woolen blanket hung over the small entry door to keep the candlelight from shining out. I didn't understand why the blanket was necessary, since I didn't think any North Korean soldiers were near this position for miles. I carefully slid into my sleeping bag and pulled the zipper up. The sleeping bag was warm, and even the wire bed felt good. I quickly went to sleep. Maybe even snored.
KERWHOOM KERWHOOM KERWAM
What was that? Without thinking, I quickly rose up, and my head hit the log railing on the bunk above. The candle had gone out and I was in total darkness. I could taste dirt from the dust rolling in through the opening. The ground was shaking. I was afraid the bunker would collapse.
KERR-WHHAM KERWHOOM WHAMMEM
Bright flashes-then total darkness. Incoming artillery! The noise must be incoming artillery! I heard someone screaming in great pain. I tried to rise, but I hit my head on the bunker railing again. I couldn't get up. The quick release! The quick release! I remembered the quick release. I grabbed the zipper tab and pulled upward. My head was in the way. I ducked down in the sleeping bag to get the zipper over my head. The quick release still wouldn't release the zipper. The quick release wouldn't work. The zipper was up. I couldn't get out. I strained as much as I could to rip open the sleeping bag, but I couldn't break the zipper open.
KERWHOOM KERWHOOM WHAMM
More bright flashes. The concussions from the shells hit me. The smell of burned powder came in with the dust. More dust. I knew the bunker would collapse. I was coughing, trying to get the dust out. I couldn't get the release to work. And I still heard the man screaming. I had to get myself under control. I rose up. Damn! I kept forgetting that I couldn't raise myself without hitting that damn log on the bunk above me. Can't see-
-anything. Total darkness. The North Koreans were firing three rounds at a time. Concussions closer. Have to get out of here. I could feel the dirt from the bunker falling on me. The damn thing was really going to collapse.
I finally quit coughing for a few seconds. Think fast. Will this thing open if I slowly unzip the sleeping bag the normal way? Would the zipper work? Have to try. My hands were shaking, but I slowly got the zipper grip. The goddamn thing has to work. I pulled the zipper tab toward my feet, and the zipper released. My mummy wrap let me go! I was FREE!
Excerpted from A Morning in June by JAMES W. EVANS Copyright © 2010 by The University of Alabama Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
James W. Evans served as a U.S. Army infantry officer in Korea in 1952–53 and received the Silver Star for his leadership of Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Regimental Combat Team, which also earned the Distinguished Unit Citation for their defense of Outpost Harry. Following a civilian career in the computer industry, he currently resides in Williamsburg, Virginia. John S. D. Eisenhower attained the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Army before retiring in 1975 and then served as U.S. Ambassador to Belgium under President Nixon. The son of Mamie and Dwight D. Eisenhower, he is best known for his military histories, especially Bitter Woods (on the Battle of the Bulge) and So Far from God (on the Mexican-American War).
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