Welcome Home, Sully
Copyright 2002. R. E. Sullivan, Ph.D. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be copied, faxed, electronically transmitted, or in any other manner duplicated without express written permission of the author. email@example.com.
Abstract: A 2dLt leaves the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan where he was being treated for two wounds acquired on the Pusan Perimeter during August, 1950. He works his way back to his infantry battalion by ignoring written orders to report to Camp Otsu to train replacements, and hitches a ride on a troop transport (APA Okanagon) with the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines. After various adventures of the near lethal and non-lethal variety, he rejoins his parent unit, the 2d Battalion of the 5th Marines. Most of the story concerns what occurred on September 23, 1950. A third wound is chalked up for the 2dLt for that war before the day ends.
Saturday, June 22, 2002
The Second Battalion of the 5th Marines (2/5), had seized what would be their final objective of the Inchon/Seoul Campaign the evening of September 26th, 1950. This was the Iwa Women's University on what was then the outskirts of Seoul. I was serving as the S-3 Alfa (Assistant Operations Officer/Liaison Officer) for the battalion.
I had fought as a Platoon Commander with D Company 2/5 on the Pusan Perimeter the previous month, and for a few hours actually commanded the company. During this time Battalion Headquarters had carried me as they did two other platoon commanders, as "Killed in Action, Body Not Recovered." This was on the 342 Massif, a sizable mountain shaped like a U, which overlooked the road junction in the town of Ching Dong Ni. I've written elsewhere of my adventures in that area, so suffice it to say that of the five officers present on that mountain the morning of August 8th, all five left with head wounds. Two were killed in action (KIA). I had suffered a head wound the afternoon before, and fought the rest of that battle and up until I took my second wound on the afternoon of the 10th of August with one usable eye. (Click on map)
We were relieved on our position on the Massif by an Army company the afternoon of the 9th, and came down the mountain to participate in Task Force Kean, a drive to the west toward Ko Song. The afternoon of the 10th, my platoon was the Brigade Point, embarked in vehicles behind a screening force from the Brigade Reconnaissance Platoon. The entire Brigade had been loaded into trucks and other types of transportation and followed in train along the road when the Recon Point tripped an ambush. In the ensuing fight I was critically wounded by a 120mm mortar shell, and evacuated from the battle area and eventually to the Naval Hospital, Yokosuka, Japan.
I was discharged, when my scabs got hard, as were we all, on September 15th, the same day the landings were made at Inchon. I was supposed to report to Camp Otsu in southern Honshu to serve as cadre for a camp that would process all Marine replacements going to Korea. I didn't much like that, so proceeded to Sasebo, with some fifty other orphans from the 5th Marines, where I'd heard that the 7th Marines were staging to join the 1st Marine Division (1stMarDiv) in Korea. I boarded the USS Okanagon, an APA (Attack Transport) knowing that the 1st Battalion of the 7th was aboard. I quickly learned that I had two old friends who were officers in A Company. One was Jim Stemple, a Basic School Classmate and old friend going back to China days, the other Frank Mitchell, who had joined 1/5 when we was stationed in Tangku, North China, during the summer of 1946. Frank would go on to receive a MOH, posthumously, during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign. They took me to LtCol Ray Davis, the battalion commander who agreed to give a ride to not only me, but another officer and some 50 enlisted all of us just out of hospital and looking to return to our beloved 5th Marines then fighting in the outskirts of Inchon. LtCol Davis had commanded the 1st Battalion of the 1st Marines on Peleliu when Chesty Puller had the Regiment, in September, 1944 and suffered 71% casualties in the first four days of the operation. Here he was, six years later, still commanding a battalion, which isn't the worst job in the world since I finally attained battalion command myself, the 1stBattalion of the 4th Marines in 1965/1966 in Viet Nam. Davis, like Mitchell, would also receive a MOH at the "Frozen Chosin," but unlike Frank would live to tell the tale.
The passage from Sasebo to Inchon was unremarkable. I was surprised on arriving at Inchon to discover I'd been there before. In 1946 I was stationed in North China, and we repatriated Koreans who were there working for the Japanese to this port. The only thing that had changed was the name, which in 1946 was Jinsen.
Whatever, as soon as Okanagon dropped her hook, the orphans from the 5th Marines, all of whom had been wounded at least once on the Pusan Perimeter, were clamoring for a way off the ship. This was on September 22d. Finally a passing "M" boat (Landing Ship Medium) pulled up to one of the cargo nets and we scrambled down for a short ride to the causeway from Wolmi Do leading to Inchon. We were a strange appearing group of orphans. I had managed to get my .45 through the chain of evacuation, and had a shoulder holster made while in hospital at Yokosuka, and was the only one armed among our group. I also was able to retain my boondockers, and a better pair of shoes was never made for the type of terrain we found in Korea. We were all dressed in khaki, with everyone except me having low cut shoes on, and a fore and aft khaki cover. So, there we were, on the causeway, looking for all the world like tourists. Where to go from there?
Talking to a number of officers who passed by we learned that the Division Headquarters had moved into an old US Army Camp at Ascom City, which was about half way to Kimpo Airport from Inchon. Next we had to booscout a couple of 6 bys to get there. We managed to do that. I was sitting in the front seat with the driver and an old friend, SSgt Russell Jeremiah Bogamanerio, when some clown off in the hills to the right of the road began pinging at us from 400 meters. The driver floorboarded the vehicle and ducked down behind the wheel while yelling "They're shooting at us." Bogy looked at the driver and asked if he was drawing combat pay. When the driver nodded his head, Bogy's indignant reply was: "Son, they're allowed to shoot at you." (Bogy is featured in the story "2ndPlt, ECo, 2dBn, 5th Marines elsewhere under my stories in these pages.)
At about that time out of the thick dust that billowed up from passing traffic came the bulbous nose of a 90mm rifle. Now, in a flash, we knew that there was only one vehicle in Korea that carried one of those damned things and that was an M-26 Pershing tank. Our thoughts were confirmed when we hit the tank head on. The 6 by behind us rear-ended our vehicle and we had 50 some Marines spread up and down the ditches on either side of the road. I got up and began to threaten the life of that damned tank commander, who was standing in the turret with a horrified look on his face and his tank helmet in his hands. Turned out to be 2dLt Jerry Stuart, another classmate from Basic School, and he was scared to death he had killed someone. Not our guys! They picked themselves out of the ditch, we hijacked two empty 6 bys since ours were both hors de combat, and continued toward Ascom City. Other than a few scratches and bruises, no broken bones, and no one was the worse for wear.
We arrived in Division Headquarters, and of course the officers from the old Brigade whom we knew, and who knew us, were very glad to see us. When I asked if we could get a set of utilities and 782 gear, as well as rifles and carbines they couldn't help us. They explained that the Division Supply Officer's gear was still not ashore, but that surely we could find equipment when we reached the front. Anyone with half a brain would have "Remained Over Night." Which of course meant that we left Ascom City about 1600, and headed for the ferry landing where we could get across the Han River. There was a traffic jam, understandably, at the river and we were the last vehicles ferried across just as it was getting dark.
We had a general idea of where the 5th Marines CP was, but as it got darker none of us had any desire to charge around Indian Country seeking the CP. On the other hand, we had only my .45 to protect ourselves with. So we moved to a field about a mile east of the ferry landing, and bedded down to await the dawn. Of course I use the term "bedded down" loosely since none of us had any equipment except the clothes on our back, which consisted of a khaki shirt. And by that time of the year the nights were getting a trifle cool. The night passed uneventfully, thank God, except that just before dawn there was a hell of a racket a couple of miles up the road from us. Came the dawn and we crawled back on our 6 bys and headed back to the Main Supply Route that would eventually take us to the Regimental Headquarters. We arrived a few minutes later to a scene out of Dante's Inferno.
The racket we'd heard just before daybreak had been a battery 6 of 105mm How fire hitting the Regimental Headquarters and the area immediately surrounding it. You say that the NKs had no 105s, so how could that happen? Well, the NKs didn't have any 105s until they captured probably several hundred of them, and the ammo that made them go boom, as they pushed the SKs and U. S. Army to the Pusan Perimeter. One round had impacted outside the hut that the senior staff officers and commander of the 5th Marine Regiment had bedded down in for the night, ricocheted off a jeep wheel, went through an open door, and exploded in the room. The RegtlXO, LtCol Larry Hayes had been seriously wounded, and the S-4, Major Bill Esterline, had lost a leg. There were other casualties as well, including several killed and the Regimental Commander, LtCol Ray Murray's rather aquiline nose had a 2" slit just on the bridge where it had been grazed by a fragment. It was at the 5th Marines Hqs that we outfitted ourselves. There were many packs and piles of combat gear at the Regimental Aid Station that had been taken from casualties, and in half an hour we were back in uniform, fully armed and equipped, ready to dance, and we were detailed to return to our battalions.
2/5 was only a mile down the road, in regimental reserve, and I rejoined at about 1000 the morning of the 23d. Lots of back slapping, and of course there was much interest in how the guys from the battalion were doing in the hospital. There had been many changes since I'd left on 10 August. Our S-3 Major Morgan McNeeley had been KIA, and we had joined Fox Company just before the Second Battle of the Naktong, so now we had a full three company battalion. The battalion had suffered very little during the Inchon landing, except for the Comm platoon which had been caught in a 40mm barrage from one of our LSTs that had pulled up on the beach killing or wounding twenty-two men. 2/5 had also been involved in the big tank battle on the outskirts of Inchon the morning of the 17th, killing six T-34s and some 400 infantry with a total casualty list of one Marine who had been hit in the heel by a ricocheting bullet. Days like that didn't come often enough. Then 2/5 had seized Kimpo Airfield, getting in a pretty good fight but once again suffering very few casualties. Our luck was about to change for the worse.
Of course I knew the Battalion Commander, LtCol Hal Roice, and BnXO, LtCol John Stevens, and when the S-3 was killed Major Walt Gall, who previously had commanded the Weapons Company, stepped in to replace him. I was standing there talking to them next to a jeep, which had behind the wheel a chubby pink cheeked young guy who might have been 18 years old, but certainly no older.
The skipper, LtCol Roice, pulled out his notebook where he kept the names and assignments of all of his officers, and showed it to me. The only officer I knew in the three rifle companies was 1stLt Bob Hanifan, who had been the XO of D Company and was now the XO of Fox. Some of the platoons even had two officers, with one for a back up. So Roice told me that I might as well become the S-3 Alfa, assistant to Major Gall, until there was a vacancy in a platoon. This was OK by me, since I hadn't really recovered from my second wound and wanted another week or so, if I could get it, before going back and humping with the troops as a platoon commander. At that point a message arrived from Regt. ordering Roice back there to receive an attack order. The other officers walked away, leaving me with that pink-cheeked young rascal mentioned earlier. I should note that no one wore insignia or any other indication of rank.
I'd been surprised during my talk with LtCol Roice and the others because the pink-cheeked guy had butted in a number of times with what I considered impertinent remarks. When left alone with this bird, I climbed his frame, as only a Mustang can do. While this was going on that guy just sat there and grinned. He finally said: "Lieutenant, we should have been introduced. I'm Major Spiker, and I relieved Walt Gall as CO of Weapons Company." Talk about having egg on your face. We would become the best of friends over the next few days, and the many years that followed. Matter of fact it would be Major Ted Spiker and I who would search and clear the four-story Chemistry Building and Labs on the grounds of the Iwa Women's University. Talk about an over-ranked clearing party.
We had a few problems with this, because no one had told Ted that the fuse on the current Mark IV grenades we had were shortened from the WW II model, that gave you five seconds to get rid of it, to three seconds. Ted damned near wiped us out a couple of times before I realized what was happening and clued him in on the three-second fuse. He'd pull the pin, and I could see his lips move: "One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three…." The only thing that saved us was that he was counting very quickly. I must say however, that he was getting air bursts nearly every time and that's something I've never seen done consistently with a grenade before.
One of my worst continuing nightmares has been the Head of the Chemistry Department of that university turning up in my office one day and wanting me to pay for the glass breakage as Ted and I cleared that building. On the other hand, the pure joy of throwing a grenade into a room full of beakers and test tubes cannot be totally negated.
The amphitheater, a sort of a theater in the round at the university had been used as a surgery by the NKs. There were stacks of bodies of men who had died there. We even found the jacket with the shoulder boards of a NK Major General, and from the number and location of the holes, and the copious blood thereon, there was one Major General that didn't have to worry about where he was going to retire. We also found a briefcase with the shoulder boards of a Russian artillery captain. No other indication of what had happened to him.
But I'm getting ahead of the story. LtCol Roice came back after maybe a half hour and told the assembled staff and company commanders that 2/5 was ordered to relieve the ROK Marines in the center of the line, that is between 3/5 to the north and 1/5 to the south. This would put us astride the Main Supply Route to Seoul. After 2/5 got in position, 1/5 was going to be pulled out to go in on the left (north) of 3/5. This would leave 2/5 with its south flank dangling in the air until the 1st Marines (Regt.) crossed the Han River from Yong Dung Po and closed the gap. This did not make us happy. Roice ordered Major Gall, the S-3, to move forward immediately and establish contact with the Marine Liaison Officer with the ROK Marines, LtCol Lanigan, and to make sure that the platoon of Marine tanks in support of the ROK Marines was pulled back to behind where our CP would be so they could support us as we made a passage of lines and jumped off in the attack at 1300.
So Major Gall told me to come along, and we climbed in a jeep with a driver and two shotguns (body guards, in effect) to drive up the MSR some three miles or so until we reached the position of the ROK Marines. We got about a mile down the road when some SOB put several rounds into the jeep, thankfully hitting no one. We all hit the ditch, while the NKs finished off the jeep with well-aimed shots, and we snooped and pooped the remaining two miles on foot. On arrival at the dry river-bed behind Hill 104, where we would emplace our CP, we could see the Four-Deuce Mortar Company banging away from their position in the river bed. We could also see the tanks of the tank platoon. These had gone up the north spur of the railroad line in column and were sitting with the lead tank about 300 meters from where the tunnel went through Hill 56, firing into the tunnel mouth. Major Gall told me that my job was to get forward, contact the tank commander and have them pull back in the riverbed so that the tanks could support 2/5 in our 1300 passage of lines and continuation of the attack. I proceeded alone up to where there was a tank retriever, and some tank people. I thought to myself: "Hell, these guys are going to have radio contact with that platoon. I'll just get on the horn and whistle those tanks back here, thus not having to expose my precious hide to the vagaries of whistling pieces of metal." Damned good idea, but they had no contact because they suspected that the antennas had been shot off the tanks. And they were right.
Not to worry. I'd get up there to the Tail End Charlie tank, get on the tank-infantry phone and order him to withdraw. From there I hoped that the rest of those birds would get the general idea and pull back as well. So much for theory. I worked up the ditch on the north side of the railroad track, with bullets and other assorted chunks of metal whizzing by overhead at a comfortable distance which was OK with me since I was perfectly safe in the ditch. That is, I was safe until I exited. When I did I got in hull defilade behind the tank and crawled up to where I could reach the tank infantry phone….and only a three feet length of telephone cord greeted me. The damned phone had either been shot off or someone hadn't replaced it properly after use and it had been pulled off as the tank pulled forward or back. Curses. Foiled again.
I could see that in comparison with the fire that the first three tanks were taking, that being around the two tail enders was almost as good as being on R&R. The first three tanks must have had thirty machine guns and God alone knows how many rifles pinging away at them, to say nothing of at least two batteries of the NK 45mm AT guns that, although they couldn't penetrate the front armor of an M-26, were making divots all over them. Oh no God, I don't want to go there! Whatever, I crawled up on the turret of the tail ender, and began to beat on the turret hatch with my carbine butt. The periscope came around, and finally the hatch popped open. The tank commander poked his head up gingerly, and I finally got out of him that the platoon commander was in the third tank. I tried to get this tank backed down a quarter mile to a road crossing, but he wouldn't move unless ordered to do so by the platoon commander.
So, back in the ditch, past the fourth tank in line, and up to the third tank. Ohmigod!. The fire was terrible, the air thick with metal. Crawled out of the ditch, and repeated the trick with the butt of my carbine on the tank hatch, and finally it opened. The platoon commander was a 1stLt Snow, and I was relaying my message for him to get himself and his accursed platoon back into the river bed, when I heard the totally unique sound of a bullet hitting flesh. Well, ‘twasn't me, but I heard what sounded like a sea bag crash down into the tank. In a few seconds another head came up, and I had to start all over telling him what I wanted done. Maybe thirty seconds later that head disappeared, and Lt Snow was in the turret again, with band aids on either side of his throat. Other than sounding a little hoarse, he appeared to be normal. So I began one more time, he nodded and said he'd have his tanks back and in position in half an hour, and slammed the hatch again. Now I was once again the only SOB in the immediate vicinity that didn't have fourteen inches of homogeneous armor between himself and the enemy.
(Lt. Snow was later evacuated to a hospital ship for treatment of his throat wound. The docs told him that if they had him on an x-ray machine and operating table, with all the medical techniques available, that they couldn't shoot him through the throat and do less damage than that round that hit him did. God is, sometimes, merciful.)
While all of the above had been progressing, 45 MM. AT tank fire, and MG and Rifle bullets kept up a steady drum beat on the forward hull of the tank. I finally screwed my courage to the sticking point and was going to try to make the ditch in one leap, when something connected with my right lower leg. So I leapt out into the blue, got in the ditch and established I wasn't bleeding badly. I then choggied down that damned ditch, finally reaching the tank retriever and the tankers gathered around it. There was no corpsman with them, but I knew that if I could get down to the Four-Deuce battery mentioned earlier I'd get some medical aid. Besides that the Gunnery Officer, 2dLt Buck Newsom, had been the Best Man at our Wedding, and he would give me aid and succor. And maybe even a big slug of Dutch Courage, which I needed desperately. By this time I had my right legging off, and could see a clean through and through wound just where the top of my legging had been. So I limped into the Four-Deuce battery, and was treated. Now, where the hell had Walt Gall gotten to?
There was an indentation in 104 that formed a perfect position for a battalion CP, maybe a quarter mile from the Four-Deuce battery. I could see the tanks withdrawing down the railroad line to my right (south) so I walked up to the draw mentioned earlier, and sure enough, that was the ROK CP and Major Gall was there. I could see the lead company of 2/5 maybe half a mile down the MSR to the west. God was in his heaven and all was proceeding on schedule.
LtCol Lanigan, the ROK Marine Liaison Officer had just come down the hill. I had known him at Pendleton, a fine looking mature Marine officer, and in two months he had aged twenty years. He was covered with blood, most of it black and crusty, but none of it his own. He sat down, threw his helmet on the ground, buried his head in his hands, and began to weep.
When LtCol Roice came back from getting his attack orders he had told us that the reason for the relief was that the ROK Marines had not been pushing hard enough. Lanigan began by saying that Ray Murray the Regimental CO, was pissed off at him big time because Ray felt that the ROKs weren't fighting. The ROK Marine battalion had only about 800 men, compared to our reinforced strength of some 1400. Lanigan then told us that in the last 48 hours that they had lost 400 KIAs and probably had less than 50 effectives left in the unit. Jesus Christ on a crutch! It was obvious that the ROKs had run into a rock crusher, and 2/5 would be next in the grinder.
By that time LtCol Roice had come up, and we saw him turn a bit white as he talked to Lanigan, and for damned good reason. We began to set up the black out tent to operate from that night, and we could hear that our lead company had made contact in front of Hill 56. Roice saw the bandage on my leg, and chided me about being accident- prone. I readily admitted what was patently true.
(LtCol Lanigan died of a heart attack some ten days later aboard ship at Inchon where we had loaded out to land at Wonson in North Korea.)
By 1700 that afternoon all three companies were in contact, and our casualties began to come in. 1/5 had withdrawn from our right, and there was our right flank dangling in the air. At about that moment an ambulance-from-hell drove into the battalion area. Seems that the ambulance was from the 1st Marines who had crossed the Han River that morning. The driver had been told to proceed up the MSR to our position, then head south where 1/5 had withdrawn, and rejoin the 1st Marines on the north bank of the Han. Now this was the craziest scheme I'd heard, until then.
It would soon be topped. LtCol Roice told me to get four men, and a couple of radios and radiomen. I was then to ride with my troops on that accursed ambulance across the gap created by the withdrawal of 1/5, and serve as liaison officer for the 5th Marines with Col. Chesty Puller's 1st Marines. By the time I'd rounded up the necessary "volunteers" it was getting on toward 1800 and an hour and a half until full darkness, and we had about three to five miles at the least to cover through Indian Territory. Besides that, my right leg had begun to throb, and I was not in the best of spirits. I thought of asking the Surgeon for another 1/4 grain of morphine, then decided that now of all times was one that I needed all my wits about me that God had given me.
And so, we climbed into that double-damned ambulance, and started off through No Man's Land. The road was terrible to non-existent, and we bumped along until going maybe a mile or so. I would halt the vehicle every 200 meters, get out and sweep the terrain to our south and east with my binoculars. When the fire came however, it came from the west, and from roughly the position that the 1/5 CP, now long since departed, had been in. It sounded like three or four rifles, and when my attention was fixed on them, one of the lads tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a small bald hilltop to the east at a range of maybe 400 meters. It was swarming with NKs.
That ripped it. I ordered the driver to turn that damned ambulance around, and we walked out, beside it thankfully attracting no more attention from the bad guys. When we arrived back at the 2/5 CP just before dark, LtCol Roice was not happy. He had told the Regimental Commander that he had detached me for liaison duty with the 1st Marines, and that was where he wanted me. I told him what had happened, and what we had seen, and further told him that we had at least an NK company to our right and rear, and for all I knew the whole damned NK army might be with them. I was not a happy camper after what I considered to be two attempts the day I got back from the hospital to get me killed, and wasn't bashful about making my feelings known. I asked LtCol Roice for an immediate transfer to a rifle company, since I was sure that we'd had enough officer casualties that day to open up a platoon or two.
As I'd come by the BnAidStation on my way back from the wild goose chase with the ambulance, 2dLt Ray Heck, who had been a platoon commander in my old D Company, had been brought in. Ray had been shot through the top of the head, and although he was in no pain it was obvious that he was moribund. I walked over to his stretcher and spoke to him. He recognized me and kept asking where he was hit. I assured him he'd be fine. Heard later that he didn't make it back to Regtl Aid.
LtCol Roice told me that there was no chance of my returning to a platoon in the near future. That I'd done a hell of a good job retracting those tanks, and he knew what a bitch of a job that had been and that I'd be suitably rewarded. Then he told me that he didn't blame me for not being able to get over to the 1st Marines, but he did have to get me over there as quickly as he could because someone had to be there to tell Puller what the 5th Marines were up to and to tell the 5th Marines what Puller was doing. I told him that it was Regiment's job to provide liaison, not the right flank battalion's, but Roice said that Murray had specified that I'd be the guy. And it was true that that damned 105 round did cause him to loose some key officers on his staff which reduced the number of flunkies available for such assignment..
In the meantime, my leg had begun to bleed again, and LtCol Roice ordered me down to Battalion Aid to be re-bandaged. We had two Doctors, neither of them known to me since our previous Surgeons had been wounded at the First Battle of the Naktong. They however saw that I was well treated, got another ¼ grain of morphine, and handed me two of those miniature Lejon brandy bottles before I left surgery. By that time it was pitch black. I found a spot close to the blackout tent, chug-a-lugged those little brandy bottles, and slept like a baby, oblivious to the whiz-bangs, and not waking till dawn on the 24th. Didn't have a clue who manned the phones that night, and didn't care. The next day was to be very possibly the worst of my life.
So ended September 23, 1950, my first day back with 2/5. Welcome Home, Sully.
End of Part I