Jenny, thanks for the effort and sagacity you evidenced in writing your comment. Let me begin by saying that Wally became the older brother I was never gifted with. Everyone in 5th Basic knew or knew of Wally. He was by far the most decorated of the 300 2dlts in our year group. Should you ever visit NAS Pensacola the Museum there has the most extensive displays of Navy and MC aircraft in the world. Among those aircraft is the SBD Wally flew in as a Radioman/Navigator/Gunner (twin 30s). You can see the patched hole through which Wally suffered a leg wound. Wally's only and older brother was a Sgt, and also a rear seat man on a SBD, ( http://aviatornut.com/aircraft/118-scale-aircraft/118-u-s-navy-sbd-3-dauntless-vs-2-uss-lexington-may-7th-1942-battle-of-the-coral-sea) and had been KIA at Pearl Harbor. That made Wally a sole surviving son that exempted him from combat if he so chose. (I and everyone else kidded him without mercy about this when we sailed to Korea, claiming that he'd fink out when we reached Pusan.) From that aircraft Wally was credited with shooting down one and a half Zeros with his twin 30s. Almost unheard of to shoot down a Zero from the back seat. Wally earned his Silver Star, as well as his Air Medals and DFC. Short story: after we left the SSP 313, Perch, Wally and I reported to Camp Del Mar. We had a new XO who was a grounded aviator. The XO, a 1stLt, every time he had a chance, made fun of us lowly 2dLts. One morning I picked up Wally and we drove to Del Mar. Wally had decked himself out with a blouse with all his badges flying. When we entered the office, the XO did a double take but spoke not a damned word. The Company Commander was Kenny Houghton who observed all this with a twinkle in his eye. Wally took off his blouse and turning to the XO he said "And I'll tell you something else, Lieutenant. I was the second enlisted in MC History to be awarded a DFC. Wally 1. XO 0. Wally, thank God, took me under his wing. He'd gently correct me if he saw me making a mistake, or in an instance where I could have done something better. I loved the man.

On the 342 Massif at Ching Dong Ni Wally had been KIA before I was ordered to the summit.

The letter mistakes what actually occurred on the 342 Massif. But I wouldn't change a word of what Pat wrote. I was a good 1,000 meters from where the action occurred on August 8th. The XO and I had just made the long climb up the mountain, and were on our backs gasping for air when Captain Finn, with his nasty head wound, told us what had occurred. Until then we'd heard a real fire fight going on to the north but had no clue as to what the hell was going on.

Hanifin immediately left for the summit. He told me to get our company hqs personnel and my mortars and rockets to form a perimeter defense and hold there until he assessed the situation. His fear was that he was afraid the NKs would seize that ground. If they did we'd play bloody hell getting the rest of the company to the rear. For all he knew at the time the company might have to abandon the summit and fall back to the position down the mountain where we had spent the night. When the XO hit the summit he immediately passed out either from sun stroke or heat exhaustion. My 30 man contingent was armed with M-2 Carbines, 45s, and 2.36 and 3.5 Rocket Launchers. We'd have had a tough time if we did have to defend the hill. Hanifin said that he'd send back a runner in an hour or so to advise me what to do next, if anything.

I left the position at 1100. I told my Plt Sgt to hold there until I sent back word. I climbed to the summit. The first thing I saw was Hanifin, unconscious, with a Poncho rigged to keep the sun off him. That made me the Acting 6. I reconned the position, and called a meeting of my acting unit leaders since all the principals were dead or wounded. In going back to their positions my action MG platoon leader was hit within five feet of our Co CP area. The round hit him in the left chest, but skidded up his ribs instead of penetrating. Worst of all he had a pack of cigarettes in his his pocket and tobacco was smeared all over the wound. The latter measured about 4" wide and 6" long. The tobacco burned like fire, and he screamed his head off. All the foregoing is as sharp in my memory as though it happened yesterday.

I was the one who determined that trying to recover our dead who were far down the slope (there were 14) would result in more casualties, and ordered that no recovery effort should be made. The 14 were picked up by an Army Graves Registration Team a week later and buried at Masan. I'll write that story later.




20 November


Dear Barbara:


I want you to know first how sorry I am I haven't written before. It's been hard to find a time and a place, though. We are set up now at a place called Hungnam in North Korea, and conditions are better than they were.


I guess I don't have to tell you that something died inside me when I heard about Wally. It was the day I left the States, almost 30 minutes before I got aboard the truck, that a confidential dispatch came in. There was no way I could notify you, Barb, or even Caroline. I just had to go on down to San Diego and aboard Ship, and it was a month nearly before my letters got to Carol, telling her what I knew.


I suppose Sullivan and others have written. I want to tell you what I know, too, Barbara, about the Battle of Chindong-Ni. I want to tell it straight, so little Wally will know what kind of a Dad he had when he grows up. I'd like you to know too, Barb, that Wally was the finest man, the straightest, the squarest, the best I ever knew in my whole life, and the man I'll always remember, and try to be like, in every way I can remember. He was the best Marine Officer I've ever known - the best Marine I'll ever know, loved by his men and his comrades, respected by superiors and contemporaries alike. I can't tell you how I felt about him - I guess you know. Ever since that day on the train, outside of Quantico, in the fall of '48, I tried to stick with Wally. I could sum up every one of his qualities in one sentence; though - he was just a man - the manliest guy I ever met. The day of the battle was terribly hot, over a 100o and no shade. Hanifin, tough as he is, passed out with heat exhaustion. It was so hot you had to keep moving, to keep doing something to keep from dropping.


Dog company was ordered up to a hilltop near Chin-Dong-Ni - about two miles out on a flank from the rest of the brigade - after a night of artillery and mortar fire which caused a lot of casualties. About 0830 in the morning on August, they went up the hill - bare, brown, and shimmering in the heat-wave already, though it was early. Wally had his platoon and was up front with the scouts - only a few rounds of sniper fire were being picked up - everything looked pretty good, particularly after the bad night they had just had.


Wally was cheerful and wisecrack-ing with his troops, they said, and right out front as they climbed the hill. On top of the hill, Capt. Finn deployed his platoons along the ridgeline - set Sullivan and his mortars up to the rear, and sent Mike Shinka back to the army CP to guide some army troops of the 24th Division up. There was a long nose leading out to the front and some trees down there, and a lot of firing going on in that area.


Wally and his squad leaders and runner moved down that way on a reconnaissance to scout out the terrain. He was always very careful to make a personal reconnaissance, because he didn't want to take his troops down into any bad places and get then surprised.


Anyhow, on that fatal day, an enemy machine gunner watched them come. He fired one long burst and got Wally and the two squad leaders. Right then the whole battle front blazed into action. All sorts of fire began raining into the Dog Company lines. Sullivan, in his mortar positions, heard the boys yelling "Lieutenant Reid's Dead" and he said it froze his heart like ice - they didn't say "Lieutenant Reid's been hit." He knew Wally was instantly killed.


Capt. Finn ran out to get Wally, and a Korean rifleman shot him in the head. Oakley took out the company and was killed, trying to regain control on that same ridge. Hanifin passed out in the intense heat and Sullivan saw him later, coming out of it. All he could say, over and over, was "Poor Barb . . . poor Barb . . . "


Everybody was thinking of you, Barbara, during the rest of that hellish fight, when the whole company was nearly wiped out, they didn't forget either Wally, or you. Capt. Houghton told me later, aboard the McKinley, how Wally's platoon cried because he was dead, and Sullivan personally took a 3.5 rocket launcher team and got the machine gun that got Wally, even though that's no consolation, now, to you.


I haven't gotten to go south to the cemetery on the road to Chinju, Barbara, but I will and I'll stand bareheaded in the rain, or snow, and pray for the greatest Marine I ever knew, and for a man I was proud to call my buddy. I'll get there, Barbara, if it's the last thing I'll ever do.


I'll never forget the last time I shook his hand, that night in Oceanside, so long ago - I'll always remember it. I'd give anything, Barb . . . anything . . . if we could have stopped time right then, and nobody had to leave again for war. But he did have to go. That night we sat in that little Mexican beer-joint and had a beer together and talked - - like old times - - I can remember everything he said. He had a way of saying things honestly, to the point, so you'd never forget them.


Barbara, I don't know why it had to happen. I'm no philosopher -and not religious - - and I can't find any reasons God might have had for doing it. I know a lot of people had to die to save that little part of what America stands for - but one of then shouldn't have been Wally. I wish it had been me - so many times I've thought that - he hadn't gotten to be with you and the kids at all that whole year - I, at least, had a year with Caroline and Mike and Peggy.


One thing you can remember, Barbara, there's a place is South Korea where he lies that will always be sacred to all of us who knew him. It may be thousands of miles across the sea, but it is, like Brooke's Soldier - a little plot of ground that is forever America and we who knew him will carry our memories of him forever in our hearts.


Barb, if you need anything, if there's anything I can do, anything at all, write me, send me a wire. If you need money, or advice, or if you're just having troubles and need a friendly shoulder to cry on, remember me. That goes for all time - I could never do enough for you anyway to make up for all the things that Wally, in the past, did for me.


I'm enclosing a picture we took on that last night. Tell the children "hello' for me - (PAT)


I wouldn't edit anything. As someone who is reading this letter who doesn't know who these people are personally, I can connect with the feelings and the emotions of the writer. There aren't any last names mentioned (other than Sully's), so if someone were to try and connect it to a specific person, they might be able to, but they're really going to have to try hard. And, in my experience, most people are lazy by nature. Additionally, while the letter is deeply personal to the people who wrote it and received it, as a third party who was neither of those, the only connection I had to it was what I have already stated; Marines feel the same way about each other no matter the era.


This letter is a fantastic example of how Marines feel about one another. Whatever time period is inconsequential. Today's generation of Marines can identify with it because they have said the same things about Marines with whom they have served. I like the fact that there is no year date on the letter. Other than a reference to a train out of Quantico (which still runs, but isn't used to transport Marines anywhere other than on libo) and the names of the kids (which aren't as common today), this letter could have been written by a Marine in Afghanistan/Iraq/wherever today.


Sully, I feel the same way the author did about one of my buddies who was killed by a sniper in Afghanistan. Though I was home and out of the Corps by then, I kept thinking about his pregnant widow (she had twins), and how much I would trade places with him in a heartbeat. If you're interested, look up William Cahir when you have a chance. He wasn't the manliest man that I have ever known, but he was one of the best that I was ever proud to call my friend.


Jenny