The definitive account of the final and bloodiest battle for Pork Chop Hill
By the summer of 1953, the Korean War had long since reached a stalemate. As peace negotiations dragged on, units of the US 7th Infantry Division rebuilt the defenses of Hill 255, one of numerous outposts in front of the Main Line of Resistance extending across the peninsula. Better known by its nickname, Pork Chop Hill, the outpost had twice been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the spring. Now, the soldiers tasked with its rebuilding and defense hoped they would not be the last men to die in what had already become known as “the Forgotten War.”
On the night of July 6th, under the cover of a heavy monsoon rainstorm, forces of the Chinese 23rd Army attacked. For five hellish days, the opposing forces engaged in devastating artillery assaults, brutal hand-to-hand fighting, and round-the-clock attacks and counterattacks. Less than three weeks after the smoke on Pork Chop Hill cleared, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed.
On Hallowed Ground is the riveting story of this epic battle. Drawing on previously classified documents, interviews, and letters from survivors, author Bill McWilliams details the strategy and tactics behind the conflict and pays stirring tribute to the heroic soldiers and medics who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to hold “the Chop.”
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About the Author
McWilliams’s Air Force service included assignments as a flight and classroom instructor in undergraduate pilot training and fighter training; a US Air Force Academy Air Officer Commanding and flight instructor for cadets receiving familiarization training in light aircraft; and a seven-month combat tour in the Republic of Vietnam where he flew 128 fighter-bomber close support and interdiction missions. Later, he served in the Republic of Korea for two years, and at the Air Force Tactical Fighter Weapons Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. After leaving the Air Force, McWilliams served for more than eight years in systems engineering and management positions in industry, including work on a concept development study for the integrated defense systems for the Air Force’s newest fighter, the F-22 Raptor; systems engineering for the missile sight on the Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the ground mapping and navigation sensors for the Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile; and management system evaluation and auditing in various production programs, including Hughes Aircraft Company’s satellite production program.
While serving in operational and management positions, McWilliams conducted investigations and internally published reports on contentious and sensitive management, civil service, and military personnel issues. He also helped to investigate and report on the causes of fourteen major US Air Force aircraft accidents. He negotiated government employee union contracts, resolved trade union disputes and personnel complaints, worked with state and local governments as a major installation commander, and led and completed numerous management system analyses, evaluations, and audits.
McWilliams’s writing includes the 1,144 page Korean War history A Return to Glory: The Untold Story of Honor, Dishonor, and Triumph at the United States Military Academy, 1950–53; numerous newspaper and magazine articles, columns, and letters; a variety of Air Force safety publications; work in the United States Military Academy Association of Graduates magazine, Assembly; and newsletters for fraternal and professional organizations.
In February 2000, the US Military Academy Bicentennial Planning Group unanimously selected A Return to Glory as a Bicentennial Book, and five years later, the TV film rights were optioned. ESPN aired the one-hour Winnercomm documentary, “Faces of Sports: Brave Old Army Team,” in December 2005, followed by the highly successful TV movie Code Breakers.
McWilliams’s second book, On Hallowed Ground: The Last Battle for Pork Chop Hill, was released in October 2003. The work is a detailed account of the final battle for the outpost, which took place from July 6 to 11, three weeks prior to the Korean War armistice in 1953. His third major history, Sunday in Hell: Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute, is a meticulously-researched account of the devastating 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu’s military and civilian airfields, and the seaborne evacuation of more than twenty thousand wounded military employees and civilians from the island of Oahu to San Francisco. It was published in November 2011, just before the seventieth anniversary of the attack.
McWilliams and his wife, Ronnie, were married the day after McWilliams graduated from the Military Academy, and they currently live in Las Vegas, Nevada. They have three grown children: a son and a daughter who reside with their families in Star and Boise, Idaho, and a daughter who resides with her husband near Philipsburg, Montana.
Read an Excerpt
On Hallowed Ground
The Last Battle for Pork Chop Hill
By Bill McWilliams
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Bill McWilliams
All rights reserved.
THE FIRST HALF
A War of Maneuver
The Korean War was like no other war America had fought since the Declaration of Independence. First labeled a "police action" by President Harry S. Truman, a label he would come to regret, later called a "limited war" and, finally, "the forgotten war," to the American soldier, both the citizen-soldier and the professional, it was war. All of it. Pure war. Pure hell. A special kind of hell.
Early on, the bitter fighting earned from the American GI the label "the forgotten war," which preceded the not so endearing description, "yo-yo war." The latter term emerged from the GI's vernacular the first eighteen months, as the contending armies swept down, up, down, and up the Korean peninsula and ground to a halt near its waist, north of Seoul, the Republic of Korea's capital.
A 27 August 1951 letter from Lt. David R. Hughes eloquently expressed one young professional soldier's thoughts about life and death on the ever-changing line between opposing forces during the first half of the war. He was the company commander, K Company, 3d Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, and a graduate in the United States Military Academy's class of 1950, the West Point class which would earn the painful distinction of being the most bloodied of all academy classes whose members fought in the "Land of the Morning Calm." By August 1951, he was a veteran, having entered the war in the first days of November, in far North Korea, as a K Company infantry platoon leader:
Again from Korea. Again from a mountain top.
Yesterday I took out a patrol. It was Sunday ... a Sunday without services ... a Sunday out in that troubled land that lies between two armies. There is no room for a church on our misty hill in this lonely land of many battles.
No, the day seemed only like a wet, slick day anywhere, and I wondered, as we moved down the slopes to seek out our enemies, why the feeling of Sunday had so completely deserted me. But the ridges, and the woods, and brush, soon pulled our bodies into a shallow sort of fatigue, and thinking became tiresome. We wandered far, under the fitful skies.
Then, a group of Chinese who had been waiting, opened up and shot our lead man ... and we suddenly became involved in a short, sharp struggle of grenades and bullets. But we, at a disadvantage, had to pull back without our dead soldier.
Yet we knew what we had to do, and soon we set out again to risk much to get to him. This time we moved — not to gain knowledge, for we knew about our foe — not for ground, for we were turning back — not for glory, for we had been there a long, long time. We returned into a holocaust of bullets to recover the symbol of someone who had been so alive a short while before — and we returned in the hope that we, too, would be treated in the same way, were we ever there.
We set out, taut in every nerve, moving in a high-tension sort of way. I happened to look at the wet, bony wrist of someone beside me. He gripped his rifle with a chalky hand. Flesh and caution, against the savagery of bullets and sharp little fragments....
We set out ... an intense group of men ... under that terrible ... broken sound of artillery, and the snicker of machine guns in the bushes. Then, in a final, fearful second of confusion — in a second of awful silence, one gutty private crawled up, and with the last ounce of his courage, pulled our soldier back to us.
We had succeeded. We started back, rubbery legged and very tired ... feeling a little better, a little more certain there would be a tomorrow. We had done something important. We were bringing our soldier with us.
Then it was night, and the rain was soft again. We drew up on a nameless ridge and dug into the black earth to wait for the enemy, or for the dawn. The fog moved in among the trees. I sat for a long time looking at the end of the world out there to the north.
Nine months in a muddy, forgotten war where men still come forth in a blaze of courage. Where men still go out on patrol, limping from old patrols and old wars.
Weary, jagged war where men go up the same hill twice, three times, four times, no less scared, no less immune but much older and much more tired. A raggedy war of worn hopes of rotation, and bright faces of green youngsters in new boots. A soldier's war of worthy men — of patient men — of grim men — of dignified men.
A sergeant sat beside me. For him, twelve months in the same company, in the same platoon, meeting the same life and death each day. Rest? Five days, he said, in Japan, three days in Seoul ... and three hundred and fifty-seven days on this ridge! Now he sat looking, as I was, at the same end of the world to the north.
Nine months, and I am a Company Commander now, with the frowning weight of many men and many battles to carry. A different, older feeling than of a platoon leader.
New men ... I must calm them, teach them, fight them, send them home whole and proud ... or broken and quiet. But get them home. Then wait for new replacements so the gap can be filled here, that gun can be operated over there.
There is much work to be done. I must put this man where he belongs, and I must send many men where no man belongs. I must work harder and laugh merrier ... and answer that mother's letter to tell her of her lost son. Yes, I was there ... I heard him speak ... I saw him die. So, in many ways, I must write the epitaph to many families.
There is always that decision to make as to whether a man is malingering or sick ... whether to send him out for his own sake, and for another's protection, or return him for a necessary rest. And one must never be wrong.
One must be ready and willing, always, to give his life for the least of his men.
Perhaps that is the most worthwhile part of all this ... the tangible sacrifice that an infantryman, a soldier, can understand.
I see these things still I am slave
When banners flaunt and bugles blow
Content to fill a soldier's grave
For reasons I shall never know
Now it is raining again. The scrawny tents on the line are dark and wet, and the enemy is restlessly probing. It will not be a quiet night.
When the line between the two armies stabilized near and across Korea's thirty-eighth parallel in October 1951, the term "half-war" became another commonly used term, although from another perspective, on the home front it had been a "half-war" from the beginning. Half the American population was daily interested in, affected by, or directly involved in the war in faraway Northeast Asia. For the other half of the American populace, it was life and business as usual. Guns and butter.
As for President Truman's administration, its attention was justifiably divided between Europe, with the cold war threat imposed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its allied East European client states, and Asia, with the North Koreans and their Chinese allies. The North Koreans and Chinese were the growing communist threat rearing its head in Asia. The fear of a possible surprise attack initiated by the Soviets to begin World War III was a valid security issue for the the American government. The war in Korea, backed by Soviet arms and advisers as well as Soviet pilots flying air combat missions, and Communist Chinese "volunteers" numbering in the hundreds of thousands, was strongly believed by key figures in the administration to be a possible strategic diversion preparatory to the main thrust into a Europe still recovering from the ravages of World War II. America's European Allies were not anxious to become embroiled in a World War III, or anything that might remotely lead to another worldwide conflagration.
Not Prepared to Fight
In Korea, among GIs, "yo-yo war" was an apt name. For Republic of Korea (ROK) and American soldiers, and, later, forces from seventeen other United Nations member states, the first eighteen months in Korea were marked by vicious fighting which surged up and down the peninsula. From 25 June until 15 September 1950, for United Nations forces, primarily ROK and American, it was the kind of war all soldiers despise: scrambling to piece together divisions, regiments, battalions, and companies that were not combat ready; a harried rush to the battlefield; confidence overflowing while underrating a disciplined, determined, well-trained and -equipped enemy; then stinging defeat, withdrawal, retreat, sometimes "bug out," delay, block, and in nearly every clash with the rapidly advancing North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA), the In Min Gun, heavy casualties:
According to Gen. William F. Dean, who commanded [the lead elements of the 24th Infantry Division] in the early days in Korea, they had come "fat and happy in occupation billets, complete with Japanese girlfriends, plenty of beer and servants to shine their boots." These were not the same battle-hardened troops who had swept across the Pacific and defeated the elite Japanese units in an endless series of bitter struggles in tiny island outposts. Fewer then one in six had seen combat; many had been lured into the service after the war by recruiting officers promising an ideal way to get out of small-town America and see the world. "They had enlisted," wrote one company commander, T. R. Fehrenbach, "for every reason known to man except to fight." Suddenly, after the invasion there was a desperate need for manpower. Men on their way back to America to the stockade, were reprieved and marched, still in handcuffs, to Yokohama. They would be allowed to fight in Korea as a means of clearing their records. Only as they boarded the planes and ships on their way to Korea were their handcuffs removed. When word of the North Korean invasion reached members of the 34th Infantry Regiment in Japan, the first reaction was, "Where's Korea?" The next was, "Let the gooks kill each other off." On the night of June 30, Lt. Col. Charles B. (Brad) Smith, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 24th Division, was called by his commanding officer and told to take his battalion to Korea. At the airport, General Dean told Smith his orders were simple: "When you get to Pusan head for Taejon. We want you to stop the North Koreans as far from Pusan as we can. Block the main road as far North as possible. Contact General Church [the division commander, who had flown from Tokyo to Taejon in the middle of the night].
"If you can't locate him, go to Taejon and beyond if you can. Sorry I can't give you any more information. That's all I've got. Good luck to you and God bless you and your men."
Col. John H. ("Iron Mike") Michaelis, commander of the legendary 27th Infantry Regiment's Wolfhounds and one of the early heroes of the war, had another perspective. American troops did not know their weapons or even the basics of infantry life and survival:
They'd spent a lot of time listening to lectures on the differences between communism and Americanism and not enough time crawling on their bellies on maneuvers with live ammunition singing over them. They'd been nursed and coddled, told to drive safely, to buy War Bonds, to give to the Red Cross, to avoid VD, to write home to mother — when someone ought to have been telling them how to clear a machine gun when it jams.
"Michaelis ... [noticed] that the American soldiers had become prisoners of their own hardware or, in his words, 'so damn road bound that they'd lost the use of their legs. Send out a patrol on a scouting mission and they load up in a three-quarter-ton truck and start riding down the highway.'"
To make matters worse, most of the commanders of American units in the early fighting in Korea were men who fought in Europe. American soldiers were not the only ones roadbound and not conditioned to fight the battles for the hills of Korea — the high ground. With some few exceptions, the same could be said of their commanders. And equally important, both soldiers and their commanders were unaccustomed to fighting guerrillas who would infiltrate their flanks and strike in their rear. Guerrilla warfare mixed with conventional warfare was the way of both the North Koreans and Chinese. The initial lack of American preparedness to fight front and rear at the same time exacted a tragic toll in the early days of the war.
Trading Space for Time
Thus began those first three months, when the South Koreans and Americans were fighting a desperate defensive war. By 28 June, Seoul had fallen. In the first five days, the ROKs, and then the Americans, promptly committed and began building up air and naval support, of necessity buying time while the overpowered ROK Army, and soon thereafter units of the U.S. Eighth Army, gave ground toward the shrinking toehold, later dubbed the "Pusan Perimeter" by the press. After five days, in which President Truman and his Cabinet were reaching key decisions, including the decision to commit ground forces to the fight, the U.S. Army began committing inexperienced, ill-equipped, and woefully undertrained combat units as rapidly as possible. "Task Force Smith," as Brad Smith's reinforced battalion was called, was the lead element of the 24th Infantry Division, the first American division to enter the desperate fight to hold the lower half of the Korean peninsula. Then came the 25th Infantry Division. At the same time the U.S. Army was filling up and training divisions to follow the 24th and 25th Divisions into the ground war. Next came the 1st Cavalry Division, then the 7th Infantry Division, at Inchon.
While delaying and giving ground, the race was on to avoid another debacle similar to the defense of the Bataan Peninsula, the disastrous, early World War II defeat of American and Philippine units at the hands of the Japanese Empire on the main island of Luzon. To avoid a similar fate in Korea, there was an urgent need to reinforce and build solid, offensive-capable strength inside the rapidly shrinking perimeter.
When the Korean War started, the American Eighth Army, weakened by the sharp, post–World War II reduction in the U.S. Armed Forces, was composed of four badly understrength divisions stationed in Japan. The Department of the Army, working with the ROK government and the Eighth Army, rushed to fill the Eighth's four divisions with Korean Augmentees to the United States Army (KATUSAs) at the same time stripping combat experienced American noncommissioned officers from other units, such as the 1st Cavalry, to fill leadership positions in the first two divisions deploying to engage the NKPA — and backfilling the other two divisions with NCO and officer replacements sent from units elsewhere: "The 1st Cavalry Division began landing unopposed and piecemeal at Pohang on 18 July. 'Johnnie' Walker warmly welcomed the 1st Cav [and 'Hap' Gay] into the Eighth Army. That [the division] had been gutted of 750 key noncoms to beef up the 24th Division and now numbered only 11,000 men (7,500 below full wartime strength) was apparently discounted."
Maj. Gen. Hobart R. "Hap" Gay, the 1st Cavalry commander, had been Gen. George S. Patton's chief of staff in Patton's Third Army in Europe in World War II and was riding in the car with Patton when the accident that proved fatal for the brilliant tactician and mercurial leader occurred. Gay unabashedly boosted Walker to Patton while Patton's chief of staff and the two had become Patton's closest lieutenants. "The old Third Army cohorts Walker and Gay were back in harness, working another battlefield."
By 26 July, less than a month after the American ground forces had entered the fight, and just eight days after the 1st Cavalry had come ashore at Pohang, General Walker conceded his holding actions north and west of the Naktong River might not succeed. Though he emphatically told his staff there would be no talk of a withdrawal, he also directed them to develop a plan to pull back behind the Naktong River. For the first time there was quiet talk in his staff there might indeed be another Dunkirk in the offing. The reference was to the defeat and emergency evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces from the European continent in early World War II, when the German Blitzkrieg stormed through Holland, Belgium, and France, cutting off and pinning the British against the English Channel in the port and on the beaches of Dunkirk.
Walker was on a short tether with General MacArthur's General Headquarters (GHQ) in Japan, and MacArthur would have none of Walker's planned withdrawal to the Naktong River line. When Walker called MacArthur's chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Ned Almond, seven hundred miles away in Japan to ask permission to pull behind the Naktong and displace the Eighth's headquarters back to Pusan, Almond, after hanging up the phone, went immediately to see MacArthur to bring the pessimistic assessment from Walker. He suggested the pullbacks could have devastating effects on the entire Eighth Army and could result in another Dunkirk. He recommended MacArthur and some GHQ staff members fly to Korea and personally assess the circumstances and confer with their field commander.
Excerpted from On Hallowed Ground by Bill McWilliams. Copyright © 2004 Bill McWilliams. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 The First Half: A War of Maneuver,
2 To Hold the Hills,
3 The Fall of Old Baldy: Danger on the Left Flank,
4 Upping the Ante,
6 Calm before the Storm,
7 Signs of Trouble,
8 The Beginning,
9 Holding Tight,
10 Battalion Counterattack,
11 Three Companies and a Platoon,
12 Final Decisions and Surprises,
About the Author,