NOVEMBER 28, 1950 6 A.M.-MIDNIGHT
At 6 a.m. the Marines strung up and down the hill unofficially declared the first night's battle for Fox Hill over. The action at the Sudong Gorge had been a vicious skirmish, but still only a skirmish. Now Fox Company had engaged in a full-scale firefight with Chinese Communists for the first time and had held their own.
The snow had stopped falling and pale sunlight streamed through the smoky scene as now and again another "dead" enemy soldier would rise like a ghost and scamper back across the saddle toward the rocky knoll. Sometimes a Marine would pick him off; sometimes he would make it. Intermittent sniper fire from the ridges and folds of the West Hill and the ridges of Toktong-san continued, and two Americans were wounded by a burst of automatic fire at 6:07 a.m. But for the most part both sides were content to use the daylight hours to lick their wounds and regroup.
Men hopped from their foxholes and began dragging Chinese bodies to use as sandbags. Although there were fewer enemy dead on the west slope of the hill, Bob Kirchner managed to find half a dozen corpses to pile in front of his hole, including the two men he had bayoneted and the bugler Sergeant Komorowski's grenade had beheaded.
To his everlasting sorrow, he also dragged Roger Gonzales's body out of his hole and added it to the stack. He was sure the dead Marine would have understood; Kirchner certainly would have if the tables were turned.
Up at the two tall rocks Captain Barber directed Bob Ezell's machine-gun crew, now down to four men, to register several white phosphorous rounds-"Willie Peter"-lofted toward the rocky knoll and the rocky ridge by the 81-mm mortars. The shells were not very effective because the small mushroom clouds, with their white, spindly spider legs, did not contrast with the snow. Meanwhile, Marines across the hill began scrounging among the enemy corpses. They were amazed to find U.S. Navy-issue field glasses and Americanmade Palmolive soap, Colgate toothpaste, and Lucky Strike cigarettes. Many of the captured packs and knapsacks also held small picks and shovels. After the firefight the Americans, who now understood the danger they faced, found it miraculously easier to dig into the frozen ground.
But the most stunning discoveries were the guns and ammunition. They ran a global gamut, and the recovered weaponry flabbergasted the Americans. There were a dozen or so Thompson submachine guns, the "Chicago typewriters" that the United States had shipped to Chiang Kai-shek by the boatload during World War II and the Chinese civil war. To these were added aluminum Russian burp guns, Japanese automatic rifles, British Lee-Enfields and Stens, American Springfields, and several ancient wooden rifles of indeterminate origin. Numerous khukri blades, knives carried by generations of Ghurka infantrymen, were also turned up, and the late Corporal Ladner's light machine gun was discovered half-buried in the snow near the lip of the ravine running up the west valley. Finally, Lieutenant McCarthy ordered his men to take the weapons and ammo from any dead Marines, a particularly unpleasant task.
At 8 a.m., Ezell was one of the Marines sorting through the captured weapons on the hilltop when he saw Hector Cafferata crawling in his socks out onto the saddle toward the listening post he had escaped six hours earlier. Ezell could only imagine how awful the big man's feet must have felt as he slithered into the hole and bent down to gather his gear and shoepacs. As soon as he stood he was knocked down again by a sniper bullet. Ezell dived into a trench and called out to him, but Cafferata merely let loose a torrent of curses and oaths. Shit-shit-fuck-shit. Fuckinggoddamn sniper. Motherfucking fucker.
Ezell yelled again. "Hector! Is it bad?"
Between curses Cafferata waved at him to keep down. "I can make it!" he hollered.
Cafferata had no way of knowing that the bullet had pierced his right shoulder, ricocheted off a rib, and punctured his lung. What he did know was that he was in agony-the pain was so great that he did not even know where, or how many times, he'd been hit. His chest felt as if it had been run through by a spear, and his groin was on fire. He assumed they'd also gotten him in the balls. When he reached down with his good right hand his underwear was pooling with blood. He could not feel his testicles. That's it, he thought. No kids for me. A wave of remorse washed over him as he undid his web belt, fashioned a sling, and lurched down the hill.
The Americans down near the road were also stirring from their foxholes and defensive positions. Corporal Robert Gaines was venturing down from Private First Class Holt's heavy machine-gun nest-the gun was finally unfrozen-when he heard a combination of voices and moans from the large hut adjacent to the MSR. He peeked through a bullet hole in the planking and saw at least a squad of wounded Chinese on the dirt floor. He pulled the pins on two grenades, tossed them inside, and ran back up the hill.
Not long afterward Corporal Harry Burke of the bazooka section and a corpsman arrived at the same hut. Burke was hoping to retrieve the sleeping bag he'd stowed in the large cooking pot when he'd first arrived on the hill. Gaines's grenade had left two Chinese still alive, though badly torn up. The light brown color of their frozen flesh reminded Burke of wax dummies. He and the corpsman put them out of their misery with sidearms, and Burke found his bag right where he had left it. Everything else, however, was gone. Shoepacs, parkas, and packs had been carried away in the night.
Burke had mixed feelings. The parkas were long and bulky, and their hoods impaired your vision and hearing; they were more suitable for standing watch aboard ship than for long mountain hikes. But they sure kept you warm. As for the shoepacs-well, don't get Harry Burke started on shoepacs. Nothing more than glorified rubber duck hunter's boots, an invitation to frostbite. But now that they were gone he felt a chill run through his entire body. He looked to his left. The three mailbags had been torn open, and the floor was littered with empty food and candy wrappers, presents from home that the Marines would never see.
When Burke stepped outside he nearly tripped over a dead Chinese sergeant lying in a red puddle of ice between the two huts. He took the man's whistle from around his neck and found several pamphlets in his jacket pocket. One had a photograph of Mao Tsetung printed on the cover. He pocketed them and climbed back up to the foxhole he had found on the southeast slope. When he blew the whistle it made a sound like a platoon sergeant's on the parade ground.
A bit lower down the east slope the assistant company cook John Bledsoe wondered aloud if his partner, Phil Bavaro, planned to dig to China. Their hole was less than two feet deep. "Can't dig to China," Bavaro replied. "That's right over there." He lifted his chin toward the north without pausing in his shoveling. "I guess I'd be digging to ..."
As Bavaro tried to imagine what country was on the other side of the globe from North Korea, Bledsoe hopped out of the hole and walked over to the sixteen-by-eighteen tent erected by the mortarmen the afternoon before. It had been taken over by the corpsmen and turned into the med tent. The entire canvas floor, corner to corner, was covered with wounded Marines. He spotted his buddy Howard Koone, with whom he had served in China before the war. A corpsman was cutting the boot off Koone's left ankle while another jabbed a morphine syrette into his thigh.
Bledsoe brewed a pot of coffee, mixed water from his canteen with orange juice powder, and gave Koone a swig of each. Koone vomited it back up on Bledsoe's boots and passed out. Bledsoe limited the remainder of his juice and joe to the corpsmen.
Now feeling guilty, Bledsoe walked back to their foxhole and told Bavaro that he would take a turn with the spade. Bavaro headed down to the small hut, hoping to find his clothes (he was still wearing his skivvies under his parka). No such luck. His pack with its spare socks, thermal insoles, and spare underwear was gone. Worse, so was his dungaree jacket with the small flask of whiskey hidden in its pocket. To add insult to injury, in the corner of the hut he saw the box from a birthday cake his mother had sent him. He had carried that cake since Thanksgiving. Nothing was left but a few crumbs trailing across the dirt floor.
On his trek back up the hill Bavaro passed by the med tent and was dragooned by a corpsman into assisting in a field operation. He held a Marine down as the corpsman tried to dig a bullet out of his chest. Soon Bavaro's gloves were soaked with blood and frozen stiff.
Sometime after dawn, with the sun well up and the sniping well down, Barber's executive officer, Lieutenant Clark Wright, ordered the 81-mm mortar gunner Private First Class Richard Kline and the heavy machine gunner Corporal Jack Page to recon the road and take a body count. Below the cut bank, in the middle of the MSR, they came upon two Chinese soldiers sitting back to back. One was dead, the other mortally wounded. Page could tell from the dying man's white armband that he was a noncom. As Page and Kline approached him he lifted a finger to his temple and made a triggerpulling motion. Page obliged him with his sidearm. Kline found two pearl-handled 9-mm Luger pistols on his body.
Page and Kline, not straying too far past the cut-bank, figured they could count about 100 enemy dead up and down and on either side of the road. Remarkably, most of the corpses seemed to be officers and NCOs. They carried large flashlights powered by five battery cells, with a canvas cover over the globe-like bulb. A red star was cut out of the canvas, and an officer's or NCO's insignia was etched into the metal casing. One man was apparently a paymaster; his pack was crammed with paper yuans and what looked like Chinese bonds.
Kline looked to Page. "Sure can't accuse them of hiding behind their enlisted men," he said.
On the northeast corner of the hilltop, Corporal Belmarez was the first to hear the thrum of the planes. He looked up and saw several formations of camouflaged, gull-winged Marine Corsairs heading north. As the aircraft and their payloads of rockets and napalm canisters passed overhead, all sniping from the Chinese ceased. To reduce its risk of facing better-trained American and Australian pilots, the People's Air Force of China had played no part in the war to this point. But in the short time since the Red armies had crossed the Yalu River, their soldiers had developed excellent discipline under American air attacks. Troops in foxholes learned to stifle their natural instinct to flee and instead remained hunkered down, and any caught out in the open would often freeze in their tracks and stand stock-still with arms outstretched or squat into a ball for long periods of time in an attempt to resemble a tree or a bush.
But evasion techniques that may have worked in warmer months proved futile in winter. For one thing, any attempt to remain motionless for any length of time could be just as deadly as gunfire or bombs in the subzero temperatures. And though the white quilted Chinese uniforms afforded some camouflage against the snow, Marine pilots had become adept at swooping in low and following broken trails leading to enemy emplacements, even to the point of zeroing in on a single set of footprints.
Watching the planes come into range, the Americans on Fox Hill anticipated a slaughter. But the cheer that rose across the hill died quickly when the planes overflew them and continued on toward Yudam-ni.
The enlisted men of Fox Company had no idea that six enemy divisions-more than 40,000 Chinese soldiers-were now encircling the bulk of the First Marine Division. Nor did they know of the dire circumstances facing Litzenberg's and Murray's men at Yudamni as another 100,000 Reds approached; nor of Charlie Company's near annihilation on Turkey Hill; nor of the Army's calamitous situation on the east side of the reservoir, where the GI forces were being cut down. Nor did Barber and his officers know that two days earlier, across the Taebacks, the panicked Eighth Army had been routed and was fleeing south following a disastrous defeat north of Pyongyang. The situation, however, was certainly becoming clear in Tokyo, where Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, commanding officer of all U.S. naval forces in the Far East, summoned the commander of his amphibious forces and directed him to begin making plans for a large-scale evacuation of Marines from North Korea.
However, as soldiers have always done, the men of Fox Company somehow intuited their fate, though without speaking of it. They also knew there was not a thing they could do about it. The wind was blowing from the north, and the reverberations of distant Corsair cannons and rocket fire carried on it were audible up at the frozen Chosin.
At 7:45 a.m., shortly after the Corsairs disappeared over the northern horizon, Lieutenant McCarthy edged up to the saddle to attempt a body count. He could barely move without stepping over an enemy corpse. He estimated the total as close to 350, with at least 150 dead between the site of Corporal Ladner's light machine gun emplacement and the slit trench from which Cafferata, Benson, Pourers, and Smith had fought. Most of the rest lay piled before the original site for the two forward squads of the Third Platoon, particularly where Sergeant Keirn had set up his nest. McCarthy, like Page and Kline down on the MSR, was struck by the disproportional number of officers and NCOs among the dead. He figured that was why most of the prisoners were so young: the veterans were fighting to the end.
Upon his return to the company command post tent McCarthy handed Barber his own casualty report. Of the fifty-four Marines and corpsmen of the Third Rifle Platoon, sixteen were dead, nine wounded, and three missing. Fox Company in total had twentyfour dead, fifty-four wounded, and three missing. Almost a third of the company had become casualties in one night. In addition, men who were still effective were running out of ammunition. Barber turned to the huge stacks of enemy weapons and ammo the Marines had collected, cleaned, and test-fired. There was a similar stack at the bottom of the hill.
"See what we've got here," he told his communications officer Lieutenant Schmitt. "And start handing them out."
Sometime during the night Corporal Wayne Pickett and Private First Class Troy Williford had been roused from their cave and forced by their captors to carry Private First Class Daniel Yesko up over the rocky ridge and down to a dilapidated farmhouse beneath the opposite slope of Toktong-san. As they were shoved into a cattle shed behind the house, Pickett saw several Chinese and North Korean officers assembling near the main building's front door. He guessed that he and the other Marines had been moved to a temporary enemy battalion command post.
Their wristwatches had been stripped off them, but the three Americans could tell from the sun's position that it was still early morning. Before long a guard flung open the shed door and pointed with his rifle barrel toward a small grove of trees one hundred yards away. Firing squad was Pickett's first thought. Instead they were led to a slit trench latrine. The Marines were relieving themselves there when a squadron of Australian Mustangs flew in low and rocketed the farmhouse and the shed, obliterating both buildings.
Their captors were furious, and Pickett was certain that this time they would be executed. But again they were merely marched, unbound and carrying Yesko, four miles to another farmhouse. There they were led into an adjoining corral where seven or eight more Americans were huddled. The prisoners were all Marines captured at Yudam-ni. One had been shot in the shoulder.
The Americans did what they could to treat their wounded comrades until sometime late in the afternoon, when a North Korean ambulance arrived. Yesko and the second wounded Marine were loaded inside and driven away. Pickett would have preferred to see Chinese markings on the ambulance; the North Koreans were known to be less gentle with captives. He steeled himself to enter the rice culture as a prisoner of war, and he wondered if that would include ever seeing Dan Yesko again.
By midmorning Fox Company was again a bustling hive, gearing up with an intensity, born of combat, that would have been all but unimaginable the day before. The bright sunshine provided some needed warmth, though the Marines guessed that the temperature had risen to only ten below zero. The lubricating oil on all weapons had been turned to sludge by the cold, so every carbine, M 1, BAR, sidearm, and light and heavy machine gun was wiped of excess oil and test-fired. Every bullet of every clip of every gun was also removed, wiped down, and replaced.
The machine gunners, remembering the Chinese suicide charges on their emplacements, laid out their belts and substituted standard cartridges for the red tracers on every fifth round.
The forward artillery officer contacted How Company's 105-mm howitzer unit, using the dying gasps of the SCR-300's frozen radio batteries, and requested that they register their shells for distance on the East Hill, South Hill, West Hill, and rocky ridge surrounding Fox Hill. Within moments, explosions ringed the company's position. The artillery observer marked them on his topographic maps. When new batteries were air-dropped, he would contact Captain Ben Read, How's commander, to tell him where the rounds landed.
Barber ordered a detail to be formed to take the company Jeep as well as the mail carrier's Jeep back to Hagaru-ri for supplies. But the vehicles' batteries were dead, and at any rate the Jeeps themselves were so badly shot up that nobody believed they would start, or run, even with fresh batteries. The same detail, led by Sergeant Kenneth Kipp, the NCO whose fire team had rescued Lee Knowles and Robert Rapp from a Jeep trailer, set off on a recon patrol east and south-the two directions from which the Chinese had not yet attacked.
Kipp returned an hour later with news Barber had anticipated: Fox Hill was surrounded. Kipp had encountered enemy snipers from both directions. Fox Company was completely cut off from any other units of the First Marine Division. Thousands of Chinese were out there, perhaps tens of thousands, and Barber's company was down to two-thirds of its strength.
There may have been a lull, but the Chinese let Fox Company know they were still watching. At 9:40 a.m., Private First Class Alvin Haney, out collecting abandoned weapons near the eastern edge of the hilltop, was knocked over by a sniper's bullet fired from the rocky knoll. Private First Class Billy French, the mail carrier, saw the shooting and bolted from his foxhole. He reached Haney and began dragging him back to cover.
But Haney was a big man and the rescue was slow. Halfway to the tree line Haney was hit again, by a bullet that lodged in his back. French persevered and had nearly made it to safety when he, too, was shot, in the foot. Corporal Gaines and Private First Class Hutchinson, the two Marines who had arrived late and had dug in near the erosion ridge, managed to pull both Haney and French to safety.
Farther northwest, near the saddle, the four Marines manning the light machine-gun unit were using the two tall rocks as an improvised fort. Crouching behind the forward rock were Bob Ezell and Private First Class Ray Valek. They had been joined by two other privates first class: Charles Parker and David Goodrich of the Second Platoon. A sniper on the rocky knoll-Ezell was certain it was the same bastard who had gotten Haney just missed Goodrich's head. The slug struck the rock an inch from his ear, and the impact of the rock fragments knocked Goodrich into the open. Valek, lunging to pull him back in, was grazed in the head just below the helmet.
Gushing blood, Valek took off for the aid station, trying to keep the two rocks between him and the rocky knoll until he reached the tree line. Goodrich, meanwhile, was semiconscious and had a nasty-looking gouge in his neck from the ricochet. While Ezell treated the wound with sulfa powder and bandaged it, Parker leaned out from behind the forward rock. "I'm gonna find that son of a bitch," he said.
Earlier, in Hagaru-ri, Lieutenant Peterson had tried to confine Parker to sick bay with a bad case of the flu, but Parker refused. He truly believed Fox Company was going to be home by Christmas and was terrified of being stranded in a military hospital in Japan while his buddies left. Now, as he scrutinized the rocky knoll for the sniper who'd nailed Goodrich and Valek, he suddenly grunted. Bob Ezell turned and Parker fell into his lap, a hole in his stomach. Ezell hollered for a corpsman. Two arrived, with a stretcher. The medic examining Parker told Ezell he wouldn't need it. Parker was dead.
Ezell and the three medics carried Goodrich down the hill, intending to come back for Parker's body. Outside the med tents Ezell ran into a friend, Sergeant Clarence Tallbull, a Blackfoot Indian who served as the company's unofficial barber. Tallbull hated the North Koreans, and his buddies surmised that this was because he looked just like one. He was small and wiry and had Asian facial features; whenever he walked near a POW enclosure, the prisoners would rush to the wire to talk to him. That pissed Tallbull off. Now he had a thick, bloody bandage wrapped around his neck and shoulders.
"What happened, Chief?"
"Hit in the back of the neck. Take a look, willya, tell me how bad it is?"
Ezell bent over Tallbull and removed the dressing. He gently skinned off a glob of frozen blood the size of a small snowball. He could see the Indian's exposed shoulder bone. A day or two earlier he would have been horrified. Hell, a couple of hours ago he had been afraid to mess with Kenny Benson's crusted eyes. Not now.
"Aw, that's OK," Ezell said. "You're gonna be fine."
Tallbull smiled and gave him a thumbs-up.
When Ezell returned to the two tall rocks, Private First Class Jerry Triggs was waiting for him. Triggs, who was only seventeen, was another ammo carrier with the First Platoon's light machine-gun unit. Several paces to the east, Corporal Alvin Dytkiewicz and Private First Class William Gleason had taken over the gun and emplaced it in the same broad notch that Corporal Ladner had previously occupied, between the Second and Third Platoons. Ezell told Triggs that on his way back up he had passed close enough to the company command post to hear Captain Barber chewing out Mr. Chung, the Korean interpreter. Barber was incensed because Mr. Chung couldn't speak Chinese.
"Guess all those smart guys back at Division really didn't have any idea they were crossing the Yalu," Ezell said.
"Home for Christmas, my ass," Triggs said.
Unknown to Ezell, the interpreter had nonetheless found out, through a combination of sign language and linguistically related Korean and Chinese words, that the prisoners were from a regiment of the Fifty-ninth CCF Division, and that several of them had fought against Mao in Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Army before being conscripted by the Chinese Communists.
Barber had stood over the prisoners listening to the interpreter's report and noted that their uniforms reeked of garlic. To Barber they were a pathetic bunch, rocking on their haunches with their backs to the wind, shivering, frostbitten. Even the few tough, battlehardened fighters were tiny and looked beaten, and their skin seemed to have been cured by the wind, like beef jerky. He wondered what the hell was happening up at the Chosin Reservoir.
The unflappable Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Lockwood was in his usual good mood when, at 9:45 a.m., his composite "cooks and bakers" company started up the MSR from Hagaru-ri. In the van were three tanks from Company D's First Tank Battalion; several hundred Marines followed on foot. Lockwood wore a 35-mm camera attached to a strap around his neck.
The relief detail had reached the top of the first rise, barely a mile beyond the northern perimeter of Hagaru-ri, when Lockwood saw a burning Sherman tank lying on its side ahead. The disabled tank was in a small vale where the road dipped before again rising toward the pass through a series of steep gorges. These gateway hills were studded with a string of abandoned gold mines.
Lockwood halted the column and swept the heights with binoculars. He was encircled. On hilltops in every direction he saw rows of enemy soldiers. No sooner had he moved his men off the road than they began taking rifle and mortar fire. He ordered several flanking maneuvers, but the Chinese mirrored his movements. It would be impossible to get around them.
Soon, more Chinese riflemen poured out of the gold mines. A squadron of Corsairs passed overhead, but Lockwood didn't carry a radio with the frequency to contact them. He may have had tanks, but without mortars and heavy machine guns this was suicide.
He lit his pipe and told his radioman to contact Litzenberg.
Warren McClure gave up on the idea of retrieving his BAR from the "deep dip." There were too many snipers. He had just learned of Roger Gonzales's death from Bob Kirchner. He couldn't believe the new boot had been killed in the short time he'd been gone. Christ, he barely knew the kid, but nevertheless this death hit him hard. A foxhole buddy was, after all, a foxhole buddy. However, before he had time to think, much less grieve, his squad leader, Sergeant Reitz, again asked him to establish a forward listening post, this time by himself.
McClure surveyed the entire west slope of the hill before deciding on a small, rocky outcropping farther up the grade that jutted out, nearly hanging, over the ravine that ran up the west valley. Finding some sparse scrub for cover, he shoved the vegetation into his BAR belt, crawled out onto the ledge, and settled into a prone position behind a little rock knob that reminded him of a wart on a witch's nose. He knew that an enemy sniper would find his scrub camouflage laughable and prayed that his filthy uniform blended into the granite.
Marines behind him passed him a carbine and an M1. He was about 150 yards distant from the top of the West Hill, and at eye level with it. He was also 250 or so yards away from, and well below, the snipers on the rocky knoll. At 10:15 a.m. he heard the drone of the planes.
McClure looked up to see eight Australian Mustangs barreling down toward the west valley. He hollered for the Second Platoon's multicolored air panels. They were passed out to his little ledge, and he laid them out in the snow about ten yards to his right, pointing them toward the rocky knoll. Sniper slugs ricocheted off the rocks around the panels as he dived back behind the witch's wart.
The Royal Australian Air Force was based at the snow-covered airstrip in Yonpo, just north of Wonsan, and was famous for its officers' club, which sold beer and whiskey. Everybody said that those Aussies knew how to fight a war. For days the pilots had been peering down from their cramped cockpits while supporting the retreating Eighth Army in the west. Now they were watching the same thing happening to the U.S. Marines in the east.
In a moment the planes were directly in front of McClure over the west valley, flying so low that their propellers could have chopped kindling. He was at eye level with the pilots, and he gave one a thumbs-up. One Aussie, who had a full blond mustache, returned the signal. Half a dozen Chinese stood up on the rocky knoll and actually shot down at the incoming aircraft with automatic weapons. They did no damage. The P-51 s plastered the rocky knoll with bombs, rockets, and 20-mm cannon rounds.
One Mustang loosed a napalm canister from its cradle near the top of the east side of the knoll, but it failed to ignite. McClure watched the twenty-two remaining Marines of the Third Platoon near the hilltop stand in their holes and fire like madmen. He knew they were aiming for the napalm. Another Mustang pounded the hill with more cannon fire and simultaneously dropped a second napalm cylinder. The two exploded at the same time, sucking the oxygen out of the air and turning the knoll into a vaporizing orange inferno. Flaming quilted uniforms toppled from it like melting candle wax. Ezell's light machine-gun crew up at the two tall rocks felt the hot wind wash over them as they burrowed into the snow.
It was over in a minute. Before heading home, for good measure, the Mustangs strafed a roadblock the Chinese had set up between the West Hill and Yudam-ni. Then the Aussies pulled up, backtracked over Fox Hill, and waggled their wings. A cheer rose to meet them. Bob Ezell felt so good about life that he broke out crackers, frozen jelly, and a roll of Charms hard candies from his C-rats and handed the snacks around. His companions took the crackers and jelly but passed up the Charms. Marines considered (and still consider) eating Charms bad luck.
McClure's smile evaporated. He could still hear the fading whine of the P-51 propellers when he saw five Chinese soldiers rise from a fold in the West Hill directly across the valley. They jogged down the slope, performed a left oblique as if they were walking paradeground duty, and raced toward the ravine. McClure lifted his carbine, aimed for the head, and took two of them out. The others disappeared into the deep gash in the valley.
Now four more Chinese jumped up and followed their exact trail. McClure sighted his carbine but it jammed. He lifted his M 1, sighted, and picked off another Chinese. He squeezed again but then the M1 also jammed. Goddamn rifles frozen at ten-thirty in the morning.
He yelled for another weapon and a second carbine was passed out to him. By then, however, the second group of Chinese had been swallowed up by the ravine. Just as they disappeared, a lone enemy rifleman bolted out of the mouth of the ravine and began tearing back toward the West Hill. McClure fired and missed. The man ducked behind a tree at the base of the hill. McClure could see his left arm and part of his ass sticking out from behind the scrawny sapling. He knelt, lifted the carbine to his shoulder-and felt a god-awful burning sensation in his back and under his right shoulder blade. He flopped like a fish and turned faceup.
McClure stared back at his own men, one of whom must have shot him in the back. Jesus! He was furious, searching the tree line for the asshole. Then he looked down and noticed a dark crimson circle about the size of a half-dollar on his fatigue jacket, just over his sternum. A through-and-through wound. He guessed the sniper had used an armor-piercing 7.62 round. He shook off his right glove and covered the puncture. With his bare palm he could feel the air rushing into and out of his chest with each breath.
Sergeant Harold Bean crawled out on the ledge. As he reached McClure he, too, keeled over, shot in the side. Oblivious of the sniper, the corpsman William McLean rushed onto the outcropping. McClure had raised himself to a half-sitting position, with his back to the small rock. Sergeant Bean was moaning on the ground next to him. Words came out of McClure's mouth in a gurgle: "Take care of Bean first." He didn't recognize his own voice.
The corpsman slipped a morphine syrette into McClure's jacket pocket and turned to bend over the sergeant. Then a strange thing happened.
McClure found himself looking down at himself. He was hovering perhaps ten feet over the outcropping. His gaze moved from his own inert body, to McLean working on Bean, to the Chinese moving in and out of the folds of the West Hill. He turned in the air, floating, and saw Lieutenant Elmo Peterson and Lieutenant Clark Wright several yards back in the tree line, ducking behind a large flat rock. Peterson was yelling something to the corpsmanMcClure couldn't make out what. Wright, the company XO, was not saying anything. That suited McClure just fine. This was the same officer who had given his platoon a "blood and guts" speech, in the manner of General Patton, on the USS Bradley before the landing at Inchon. But now he wasn't making one move to assist the ballsy corpsman.
Just as suddenly as he had floated above this scene, McClure was back in his pain-racked body. At home in the Ozarks he'd wounded many a deer, and he now realized he had to move, immediately, before his body stiffened up. He sat up and asked the corpsman for directions to the aid station. McLean turned from Sergeant Bean and pointed to the bottom of the hill. McClure noticed that he was warming a morphine syrette in his mouth.
McClure struggled to his feet and lunged back into the trees. Neither Peterson nor Wright made a move to help him. He would have spat at their feet as he passed them, if he had had any spit.
By 11:30 a.m., Lieutenant Colonel Lockwood's column was still pinned down near the old gold mines, barely more than a mile up the MSR from Hagaru-ri. Lockwood radioed to Colonel Alpha Bowser, the commander of the Marine contingent in the village, and requested reinforcements for his reinforcement company. Bowser directed the First Marine Division's Able Company, Third Battalion-the last of the last of the rear guard-to get ready. Before the company could go beyond the perimeter, however, the orders were canceled. Lockwood had managed to deliver a situation report to Colonel Litzenberg in Yudam-ni, and Litzenberg counterordered Lockwood's "cooks and bakers" unit to return to Hagaru-ri.
"We'll pick up Fox on our way south," Litzenberg had told Bowser before signing off. At least Litzenberg knew what was coming.
At about the same time, eight miles east across the reservoir, General Edward Almond, commander in chief of X Corps, choppered into the perimeter held by the army's battered task force. The elements from his Fifth and Seventh regiments as well as their supporting artillery units, close to three thousand soldiers in all, had taken nearly 35 percent casualties. When it was explained to Almond that parts of at least two Chinese divisions had hit them the previous night, and that even more Reds were swarming toward the Marines at Yudam-ni, Turkey Hill, and Fox Hill, Almond was skeptical.
"That's impossible," he said. "There aren't two Chinese divisions in the whole of North Korea. The enemy delaying you is nothing more than remnants fleeing north. We're still attacking, and we're going all the way to the Yalu. Don't let a bunch of goddamn Chinese laundrymen stop you."
Remnants fleeing north. Chinese laundrymen. Almond's battle commanders could only shake their heads at his dreadnaught pretensions.
As Almond's helicopter flew him south again, however, General MacArthur, seven hundred miles away in Tokyo, had been forced to officially swallow his premature declaration of victory. His situation report to the United Nations made that clear. "Enemy reactions developed in the course of our assault operations of the past four days disclose that a major segment of the Chinese continental forces in Army, Corps, and Divisional organization of an aggregate strength of 200,000 men is now arrayed against the United Nations forces in North Korea," he wrote. "Consequently, we face an entirely new war."
Warren McClure was lost and in pain when he nearly tripped over a wounded Chinese soldier. The man was half buried in the snow, and there were bullet holes all across his bare stomach. He seemed to be an officer. Now, he groped with his left arm and hand as if searching for a weapon. McClure could see none.
He half-circled the man, giving him a wide berth, and their eyes met. Something unsaid passed between them, a silent commiseration, an acknowledgment of the misfortunes of war. If he had had a weapon, McClure would have put the dying soldier out of his misery. But he didn't, and he left without looking back.
McClure stumbled through the trees before eventually finding the old command post tent at the bottom of the gully. He ripped back the flap, and the first person he saw was Lieutenant Joe Brady, the CO of the mortar section. Brady was the son of Irish immigrants and still carried the whiff of peat bog about him. He was sitting on an empty crate-he could not lie down because of grenade fragments in his back-and his left hand was bandaged. With his good right hand he reached into his field jacket and produced a fifth of White Horse scotch whisky. "Here," Brady said, "you look like you need a swig."
McClure took the bottle and swallowed a large portion. He teetered toward the back of the tent and found an open space on the floor. He collapsed onto his back and passed out.
It was just past noon, and Gray Davis was fed up with two particularly annoying snipers on the ridgeline of the West Hill. What bothered him most, he supposed, was how good they were. He and Luke Johnson had been ducking and diving all morning. Davis had always heard that the Belgians made the best damn guns in the world, even better than the Czechs, and he was itching to find out.
He loaded a full magazine into the automatic rifle he had recovered from the valley, took a deep breath, and stood up in his foxhole. He raked the ridgeline with the full clip. As he flopped back down beneath the lip of his hole, a light machine gunner farther up the west slope hollered down to offer his compliments. Davis had knocked one of the snipers off the crest.
At 1 p.m., Captain Barber ordered the corpsmen who were using the old mortarmen's tents at the bottom of the hill as an aid station to relocate. He had no doubt that there would be another attack after nightfall, and the wounded would be safer farther east, up and over the main central ridgeline. This would also put them out of harm's way with regard to the snipers on the West Hill and the rocky knoll.
A squad of Marines broke out the two eighteen-by-sixteen med tents that had never been erected and set them up in the trees behind the First Platoon's defensive line on the east slope. Fifteen minutes later corpsmen began carrying the most seriously wounded over the ridge on stretchers. The others limped and hobbled behind them. The tents were soon filled, and holes were dug in the snow beside them to accommodate the overflow. The more seriously wounded remained inside. The less seriously injured, swathed in sleeping bags, were rotated between the tents and the dugouts so that they would not freeze to death.
As the mortarmen's tent was being taken down, Warren McClure came to. He stared up at a gunmetal gray sky. He wondered for a moment where he was. Then he felt the stabbing pain in his chest. He and one other Marine-a man who seemed to be dying, although McClure could not see his injury-were the only two of the wounded who had not been evacuated to the new med tents. McClure listened as the other man asked to be left at the bottom of the hill with a sidearm.
A squad of Marines assisting the corpsmen, including the bazooka man Harry Burke, huddled to ponder this request. Then they wordlessly propped the man up against a tree facing the road. One of them handed him a forty-five-caliber pistol. The rest turned and lifted McClure. Then they put him back down, hard, at the sound of a plane.
At 3 p.m., a Marine R4FD cargo plane, number 785, piloted by First Lieutenant Bobby Carter, swooped low over Fox Hill and waggled its wings. Around this time, Captain Barber decided to tell his XO, Clark Wright, that an hour earlier he'd heard from Litzenberg regarding Lieutenant Colonel Lockwood's reinforcement company. That company would not be coming. Under covering fire from their own reinforcements from the Third Battalion, First Marines, Lockwood had extracted his cooks and bakers and limped back to Hagaru-ri.
"We're on our own," Barber said, gazing up at the cargo plane. "Form up a recovery detail and let's see what they sent us."
On his dry run, Bobby Carter flew in over the rocky knoll, down the west valley, and banked left in front of the South Hill across the road. Now he was soaring directly over Fox Hill, following its main ridgeline, throttling back to eighty-five miles per hour perhaps three hundred feet above the treetops. The cargo doors on the left side of the aircraft slid open and bundles fell from them. The parachutes barely had time to open before the pallets smashed to the ground in the east valley about seventy-five yards in front of the First Platoon's perimeter.
Smith, the supply sergeant, was the first to reach them. Contrails from the plane disappeared in the southeast sky as he knelt over the parachutes, slashing at the tangled ropes. A bullet hit his right leg and he heard his tibia snap. Smith fell into a ditch.
The communications officer, Lieutenant Schmitt, grabbed a stretcher. A fire team from the First Platoon laid down covering fire and three more Marines joined Schmitt as he hustled out to the wounded man. Schmitt was rolling Smith onto the litter when the same sniper hit him in virtually the same place, shattering his shinbone. The three uninjured Marines were joined by two corpsmen. Together, dodging sniper fire, they dragged Smith and Schmitt back to the tree line. When they got to the med tent, Lieutenant Brady offered Smith and Schmitt slugs of White Horse scotch whisky. They threw them back as corpsmen broke and shaved pine tree branches to form into splints.
The First Platoon's commanding officer, Lieutenant John Dunne, dispatched a four-man detail to smoke out the sniper. They found him easily, and as they buried him in a barrage of automatic weapons fire, a recovery team jumped from the tree line and began hauling the supplies back to the perimeter.
Boxes and bandoliers of thirty-caliber ammo, hand grenades, and 60-mm and 81-mm mortar rounds were handed out across the hill. Lieutenant McCarthy of the Third Platoon confiscated the several rolls of barbed wire to stretch across the mouth of the saddle, and ordered trip-wire grenades strung across the crest. The silk parachutes were cut into strips to be used as blankets for the wounded. Several hungry men noted that there were no C-rations in the air drop.
After the ammunition had been dragged in from the valley, eight unarmed Chinese soldiers jumped from the culvert where the MSR met the dry creek bed. Bob Ezell had been wrong; the Chinese were even smaller-or more supple-than he'd guessed. They took off in the direction of the woods that encircled the bottom of the South Hill like an apron. A burst from one of the First Platoon's light machine guns halted them. They fell to their knees, raised their hands above their heads, and were frog-marched back into the perimeter.
Forty minutes later the Americans were astonished to see a small helicopter approach the hill. Weeks earlier, as the Korean winter began, the Marine chopper fleet had been grounded when the oil in the gearboxes that controlled the rotors had frozen up. Since then the gearboxes had been drained and the standard lubricant had been replaced by thinner oil. Nonetheless it remained a dangerous adventure to take these little craft up into the windswept mountains. Apparently this particular chopper pilot, Captain George Farish, had been willing to take the risk.
Farish's little two-seater darted in like a mosquito over the east valley. When it reached treetop level over the First Platoon's position it hovered to drop fresh batteries for the SCR-300 radio and field phones. For an instant Farish appeared to be looking for a place to land. Several wounded men, including Warren McClure and Walt Hiskett, began to think of a medevac.
Their hope died when the helicopter took a sniper's bullet in its rotor transmission case and began leaking oil. Master Sergeant Charles Dana considered forcing the pilot down at gunpoint. Barber stopped him: "Do that and none will ever come back."
It was an academic point-Farish's machine was mortally wounded. As he struggled to control his little chopper, he clipped several treetops with his rotor blades. Finally he gave a halfhearted salute and coaxed the damaged chopper toward the temporary airstrip at Hagaru-ri. (The Marines at Fox Hill would learn later that the chopper never made it; the transmission locked up and Farish crash-landed at the edge of the village. He walked away from the wreck unhurt.)
With sunset approaching a sense of grim urgency settled over Fox Hill. The temperature dropped to the minus twenties; the less seriously wounded drifted, unbidden, from the med tents back to their foxholes; and Marines across the hill prepared for what many suspected might be their last night alive.
Corporal Hiskett was heartsick. He had seen the corpsmen carry Private First Class Parker's body down from the two tall rocks. First Johnny Farley, he thought, and now Charlie Parker-his two best friends. He realized that no one was getting off the hill this day, and he resolved that his shoulder wound would still allow him to toss grenades. He stumbled from the med tent back to the Second Platoon lines. But the corpsman McLean saw him and talked him into returning to the aid station. It was not hard to persuade him. Hiskett was barely conscious.
Except for the Marines who had moved up from the road and the remnants of the badly hit Third Rifle Platoon-about twenty Marines in all who now fortified a new, smaller defensive line thirty yards below the crest of the hill-Fox Company's perimeter remained similar to the horseshoe shape it had taken the previous night. However, it now had gaps.
Lieutenant Peterson, ignoring his own shoulder wound, paced up and down behind the Second Platoon lines on the west slope with a grim message: "If we should be overrun tonight, don't-I repeat, don't-leave your foxholes." He knew that How Company's howitzer men had been given orders to shell the entire hill if Fox Company was overrun. "We're going to take some Chinese with us if we go," he told his men.
Individual men prepared for battle in their own ways. Up on the Third Platoon's front line, Ernest Gonzalez was hungry. While there was still light he snaked down through the trees, back to the position his fire team had originally occupied before being ordered to the hilltop. He found several of his squad's sleeping bags pierced with bullet holes. He also dug up two boxes of C-rations and popped a couple of frozen gumdrops into his mouth. Then nature called.
Gonzalez walked over to a stand of trees. The blowing snow had built up against their trunks, forming a small, three-sided embankment. One joke in the company was how you could get only half an inch of peter out of three inches of clothing in order to take a leak. But defecating was an entirely different story. The trick, everyone knew, was to move your bowels before your balls turned blue and broke off.
He squatted, encased in his tentlike parka, and dropped his dungarees, wool pants, long johns, and shorts. He did his business, cleaned up, and was buttoning up when a sniper's bullet snapped a pine branch over his head. Gonzalez's feet went out from under him and he plopped down on top of his deposit. He scrambled deeper into the trees, wondering how he would clean himself. But there was no need. His crap had frozen between the time he'd dropped it and the time it had taken to get his layers of pants on again. It hadn't even dented when he'd sat on it.
Gonzalez removed his helmet, found a stick, and lifted the steel pot out from behind a tree-just like what he'd seen in war movies. Nothing happened. He swung the helmet to the other side of the tree. Still no sniper. Feeling safe, he skittered back toward the road. He snatched several enemy rifles and clips of ammo from the stack that had been piled up earlier and began scrounging among the dead Chinese in the shadow of the small hut. He discovered a camera with two rolls of film, and a Chinese backpack.
He was about to rip open the backpack when his eyes were drawn to a strangely discolored spot in the snow. It wasn't bright red with new blood; nor was it dirt. He kicked at it and then bent down to probe with his hand. Jesus! He jumped backward, realizing that it was a corpse, burned black by napalm. The Chinese must have held this hill before being burned out by the flyboys. So that's who had dug the foxholes and trenches.
Backing away, he turned and dragged his booty up the hill to share with his new foxhole buddy, Freddy Gonzales from San Pedro. What would our aunts say if they could see us now?
The two Marines went to work situating their six rifles, clips of ammo, and hand grenades within easy reach around the lip of the hole. Their gun pit fortified, they tore into the C-rations, but the food was frozen solid. They might as well have tried to eat concrete. The best they could manage was to melt the top quarter-inch layer of beef hash and beans over a small fire, drag their bayonets over that top layer, and scrape the tepid shavings into their mouths.
Next they rummaged through the captured backpack. It contained a small bowl of frozen rice, a pair of steel-spiked boots too small to fit either of them, a tin of special rifle oil-whale oil?-for use in subfreezing temperatures, and a foldout brochure with photographs of people they assumed were Chinese dignitaries. The only face they recognized was Mao's.
At the bottom of the backpack was a crinkled photograph of its owner. He was posing in front of a pagoda in what looked like a big city with his wife and two children. They were all wearing Western clothes and smiling. Ernest and Freddy glanced from the photo to each other. Neither said a word.
Up at the two tall rocks the First Platoon's resituated light machine gun emplacement was down to four men. Corporal Dytkiewicz and Private First Class Gleason, who manned the gun, knew by now what had happened to Corporal Ladner's team the last time the Chinese had attacked. They expected no subtlety from their opponents. The Chinese would charge down the saddle, straight on and straight up, until they died.
The only cover for the machine-gun nest was some thin brush, and Dytkiewicz and Gleason shot envious glances at Ezell and Triggs frantically chipping out a hole behind the larger, more forward rock a few yards away. As the sky glazed purple in the west, almost to the color of a mussel shell, more "dead" enemy soldiers jumped up from snow holes and dashed across the saddle. The four Marines snapped off shots at these blurry figures while sniper bullets from the rocky knoll and the rocky ridges ticked through the branches around them.
"We either get 'em now or get 'em when they come later," Ezell yelled to Dytkiewicz. The corporal replied with a long burst that raked the ridgelines of Toktong-san.
At 6:05 p.m., Ezell flinched at a crunching of snow behind himbut he lowered his weapon when he recognized a Marine uniform. "Here," the Marine said, handing over eight hand grenades to be divided among the four-man crew. "It's all we can spare."
He had taken only a few steps back down the hill when he stopped and turned. "Listen," he said, "when you pull the pin, don't forget to pull the spoons up, too. They're probably frozen to the skin of the grenades."
At 6:30, a light snow began to fall. Ezell, Triggs, Dytkiewicz, and Gleason settled into what was technically a fifty-fifty watch. Although they were all exhausted, no one really slept.
Sometime around 7 p.m., Warren McClure woke from a deep sleep. He saw that he was still lying in the northeast corner of a sixteenby-eighteen tent, but something had changed. He was at such an angle that he felt he was about to slide down on top of the man below him. Then he remembered that the aid station had been moved and he was no longer on flat ground.
He looked around, wondering who had carried him here. Every square foot of the canvas tent floor was covered with wounded men. Most were suffering in silence, but many were in agonized positions. It was warm in the tent, the warmest McClure had felt in a long time, and he noticed pine branches burning in a portable kerosene stove near the tent's downhill flap.
Despite the heat McClure was in excruciating pain. Moving slowly, so as not to intensify what felt like the red-hot poker gouging into his chest, he began searching his pants and dungaree field jacket for his first-aid kit. In his right breast jacket pocket his fingers felt the morphine syrette that the corpsman McLean had left with him on the outcropping. He tore open the paper packaging and injected the tiny needle into his left wrist.
Someone-he couldn't tell who-pulled back the tent flap and announced that, according to scuttlebutt, a company of cooks and bakers was heading up the road from Hagaru-ri to relieve them. A smile creased McClure's face. Imagine what they'll say back at battalion. A line company of Marine riflemen rescued by the kitchen staff? Suddenly the pain was deadened and McClure nodded off into dreamless oblivion.
Dick Bonelli was certain this was a gag. He hadn't fired a machine gun since Pendleton and wasn't shy about letting Lieutenant McCarthy know it. The platoon commander had handed Sergeant Keirn's old light machine gun to one of the West Coast Marines, an Apache everyone called "Big Indian." Then McCarthy had tapped Bonelli as his assistant gunner. Bonelli thought that being assigned a dead man's gun was a bad enough omen. But then the lieutenant had ordered them to set up their nest out in front of the Third Platoon's forward line at the top of the hill. Like two sitting ducks.
They had barely dug in when it began snowing hard. As the flakes built up on the gun barrel, the Big Indian started shaking. At first Bonelli thought it was from the cold. Then he realized something was not right, and he wondered if it had to do with the fact that the Big Indian had been the only member of Wayne Pickett's fire team to avoid capture during the first attack. He was pondering just how, in fact, this had occurred when the Apache bolted from the hole with nary a word. Not a good sign.
Bonelli kept an eye out for his return as he sorted through the machine gun belts. Half of them, each holding a hundred or so bullets, had "crimped," or bent beyond repair, in their ammo boxes. He stacked these defectives toward the back of the foxhole while laying all the good belts, maybe half a dozen, within easy reach.
When he finished this housekeeping there was still no sign of his gunner, so he left the hole himself and made his way back to McCarthy's bunker command post. He found McCarthy and the Big Indian huddled around a single candle. The Apache had one lit cigarette in his mouth and another burning in his hand.
"What the hell's happening, Lieutenant?"
Bonelli was not one of Lieutenant McCarthy's favorite Marines. More than once McCarthy had to warn the wise-ass New Yorker to shape up or he'd be so deep in the brig they would have to shoot peas at him for chow. Now he just looked at Bonelli, exasperated.
"He can't make it," McCarthy said.
"Hell you mean he can't make it?"
McCarthy looked at Bonelli like he was three-quarters stupid. "I mean, he can't make it."
"Jesus Christ. The party's gonna start. Who's on the gun?"
"You got the gun," McCarthy said. "Get yourself an assistant. And when they come I'd better find you firing that gun or dead over it."
Bonelli took a last, disgusted look at the Big Indian, who would not return his gaze, and backed out of the dugout, fuming. The first foxhole he stumbled across was occupied by Private First Class Homer Penn of the Third Platoon-Penn from Pennsylvania, as everybody called him. Bonelli rapped him on the helmet. "You're coming with me," he said.
Penn from Pennsylvania cursed Bonelli during the entire trek up the hill. When they reached the machine-gun nest Penn eased himself into the foxhole as if there might be snakes inside.
At precisely 10 p.m., a loud series of beeps and electric feedback emanated from a loudspeaker set up under the lip of the west valley's deep ravine where it joined the saddle. A Chinese voice, speaking in perfectly enunciated English, explained that the Americans were surrounded and outnumbered, and their only rational course was to surrender. The man spoke patronizingly, as if he were addressing a classroom of particularly dull children.
A few Marines on the west slope caught an occasional glimpse of the Red behind the voice. He was tall and wore a full-length quilted coat with what appeared to be an officer's insignia on his shoulders and cap. They were maddening, these glimpses-too fleeting and coming from all about the shadowed ravine. It was as if the Chinese was aware of the Americans' desire to kill him and enjoyed playing this game of cat and mouse. He was too far away to reach with a grenade, and orders had been passed earlier among all Marines to save their little ammunition for a clear shot.
The enemy officer repeated his demand several times, and then the loudspeaker played Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas." When that ended, another song was played. It too was in English, but with a heavy accent. The chorus seemed to be, "Marines, tonight you die." When the music ended a huge bonfire erupted at the lee side of the rocky knoll, throwing into relief scores of moving, white-clad figures.
At 11 p.m., How Battery fired a white phosphorous shell from Hagaru-ri to register distance on the West Hill. The shell fell far short, and Gray Davis and Luke Johnson nearly jumped from their foxhole "all the way to Japan" when the round landed no more than ten yards in front of them. Unlike a howitzer shell, "Willie Peter" made no rustling whistle as it flew through the sky. The expanding shower of glowing, acrid-smelling, talclike orange particles filled the air around their hole. Both men were hit with chunks of the smoldering debris. Davis picked one up and studied it by the moonlight. The stuff was supposed to keep burning through anything it touched. Too damn cold to burn, he thought. Good thing.
Thirty minutes later, their range corrected, How Company began an intermittent howitzer bombardment of the West Hill, the rocky knoll, and the rocky ridge. Fox Company's 81-mm mortar unit joined in, concentrating its fire on the rocky knoll and what the Marines were now calling the "sniper ridges" of Toktong-san.
It was almost midnight, and the four men manning the First Platoon's light machine-gun emplacement by the two tall rocks could clearly see many Chinese moving into and out of the light of the glowing bonfire. To Bob Ezell they looked like Indians performing a slow-motion war dance.
NOVEMBER 29, 1950, 12 A.M-3 A.M.
Fox Company was hit by friendly fire at 2:15 a.m. when two artillery shells fell within the perimeter almost simultaneously. No one could tell whether they were launched from the howitzers at Hagaru-ri or the company's own 81-mm mortars.
The first exploded in one of the wide gaps along the Second Platoon's lines on the west slope, knocking a corpsman, McLean, against a tree but otherwise causing no harm. The second landed nearly on top of a Third Platoon foxhole just below the hilltop, killing one Marine and wounding two others, including the squad leader-the former seminary student Corporal Ashdale. The company's forward air controller told Captain Barber that the belowzero temperature had probably compressed the gases in the shells' propelling charges. Nothing could have been done; it was just a coldweather accident.
As the friendly fire demonstrated, the weather was affecting more than just Barber's men. A few days before heading up to the pass the captain and his communications officer, Lieutenant Schmitt, had noticed that as the artillery recoil mechanisms in How Company's howitzers froze, the cannoneers were forced to push the tubes back into the batteries by hand. This prompted Barber to order Schmitt to set up a temporary firing range outside the village to test the company s weapons.
The M1 rifles had handled the subfreezing temperatures better than the carbines. The gases in the smaller cartridges of the carbines had compressed in the cold, and their clips had failed to feed ammunition into the chamber. Schmitt experimented with various options, including stretching the gun's operating slide spring to give more force to the forward motion of the bolt. The results were inconclusive. The BARs also proved balky as the temperature dropped lower. But both the heavy and the light machine guns testfired adequately. Of course it was a hell of a lot colder up on Toktong Pass than it had been down at Hagaru-ri, as Jim Holt had discovered during last night's fighting when the water in the barrel jacket of his heavy machine gun froze solid.
Holt's gun crew had been forced to wait until sunrise, thaw the barrel, and substitute antifreeze. Corporal Jack Page did the same. The air-cooled light machine guns posed a different problem. The only way to prevent the carbon around the barrel tips from freezing up was to fire off a burst every hour or so. But cold, drowsy, lethargic men were likely to forget this task, and too often they were wary of giving away their emplacements. A couple of ingenious machine-gun crewmen hit on the idea of pissing on the barrels-if they were willing to expose themselves to enemy snipers.
The mortar crews also had difficulties. Their tubes' metal baseplates had to be relocated every few hours lest they freeze solid to the ground, and the baseplates were also beginning to show straining cracks from recoiling off the rock-hard hill. As for the grenade fuses, the men could only guess whether or not one would detonate after it was tossed.
The corpsmen were perhaps even more frustrated by the weather. Warming morphine syrettes in their mouths was the least of their problems. Plasma, frozen in its feeding tubes, was worthless, and their numb fingers fumbled to change dressings. Moreover, if a medic tried to cut off a man's clothing to get a closer look at his wounds, he was probably condemning the man to gangrene and a slow death by freezing. The corpsmen did, however, discover one unexpected boon-because of the low temperatures, bullet and shrapnel wounds were closing almost immediately, blood flow was congealing, and men were staying alive instead of bleeding to death before help could reach them.
There was one other advantage to fighting in such cold: the growing piles of corpses did not smell.
Five minutes after the friendly-fire incident, an enemy machinegun crew wielding an ancient, Japanese-made Nambu opened up from the road, just to the east of the two huts. Marines saw the green tracers fly up the small gulley and into the rear of the reformed Third Platoon lines. Here was proof that enemy reinforcements had arrived: there had been no Chinese machine guns firing the previous night. As if to drive the point home two more machine guns immediately began raking the Third Platoon's forward positions from the rocky knoll and the rocky ridgeline leading to Toktong-san.
The Marines would soon learn that General Sung Shih-lun had ordered another Chinese battalion-five more companies-into the fight for Fox Hill.
Down near the MSR, Jack Page swung his barrel, aimed for the source of the tracers, and fired a burst from his heavy machine gun. Page and his crew had removed the red tracers from their own gun earlier in the day. Either he knocked out the Chinese gun or its crew cut and ran. In either case, there was no more machine-gun fire from the middle of the road. But now the Marines of the Second Platoon, up and down the west slope, reported that firing by rifles and automatic weapons from the West Hill was picking up, as if the company were being probed for weak spots. A wise-ass hollered something about Santa Ana and the Alamo. Nobody laughed. The wounded Lieutenant Elmo Peterson hobbled up and down behind the line, telling his men, "Hold fire 'til they come."
Up on the saddle, they were coming. The bursts from the machine guns on the knoll were followed by a rain of mortar shellsanother new development. When had they brought in mortar tubes? Following the bombardment, the usual bugles, whistles, and cries of "Marine, you die!" echoed across the hill. To Bob Ezell, peering out from behind the two tall rocks, it looked as if the snow had come to life. In the moonlight, ghostly, white-clad soldiers, perhaps two hundred of them, were streaming across the land bridge. An illumination shell lit up the saddle, and the enemy's white quilted uniforms seemed to glisten. Ezell could hear one Chinese voice above all the others: "Son of a bitch Marine, we kill! Son of a bitch Marine, you die!"
Ezell watched, rapt, as O'Leary's 60-mm mortars tore up the point squads, breaking the Chinese ranks. But still they charged, even in disarray. The forward artillery observer Lieutenant Campbell called in a howitzer barrage from Hagaru-ri. As the boom of the heavy field pieces echoed off the rocky knoll and the rocky ridge, Ezell felt a sensation like an electric current pass through his body. The enemy machine guns quit. The infantry did not.
Clawing over the barbed-wire fence, they hit the Americans once more between the flanks of the Second and Third Platoons. Corporal Dytkiewicz's light machine-gun emplacement was the focushe had failed to purge the tracers from his belts-and he was wounded immediately, his left shoulder torn up by submachine-gun fire. His hole mate, Private First Class Gleason, took the unconscious corporal on his back and made for the med tents. Up at the rocks Ezell and Jerry Triggs did not see Dytkiewicz and Gleason fall back, and soon they were virtually surrounded, much like Cafferata and Benson twenty-four hours earlier. They tossed their last four grenades, momentarily slowing the advance, and-their backs to one of the two tall rocks-shouldered their M Is.
Ezell emptied a clip on semiautomatic, but when he reloaded his rifle seized up-it would fire only one round at a time. The return lever was frozen and would catch on the next cartridge when he squeezed the trigger. With each shot he had to push the lever manually to force the round into the firing chamber. This was nearly impossible with frozen hands and bulky gloves.
Ezell and Triggs could only guess why Dytkiewicz's gun had gone silent. But the BARs and M I s of the forward firing teams of the Third Platoon, as well as Dick Bonelli's light machine gun, kept the Chinese off for a few seconds. The Chinese were so close that Ezell could hear them grunt and gag as they were hit. Lieutenant McCarthy's platoon, however, was stretched to the breaking point. It was only a matter of time.
Then something strange occurred. While Ezell and Triggs ducked to reload behind the forward rock, scores of Chinese rushed past on either side, paying no attention to them. For a moment there was an odd silence, broken only by the sound of canvas sneakers cracking the snow crust. Ezell heard rustling on the other side of the rock. He clicked his bayonet onto the barrel of his empty MI. Like all Marines, he had been instructed, during basic, in the classic Biddle bayonet offensive, but this technique was the last thing on his mind-he just wanted to stick someone. He leaped and lunged just as a hand grenade exploded between him and Triggs. Ezell was thrown through the air. He did not feel himself land.
For Ezell the next several moments were a kaleidoscopic chiaroscuro of moon, sky, snow, and stars, like a black-and-white movie broken only by the orange flashes flaming around him. He could not move, but he could see and hear the enemy swarm Triggs. There was much jabbering and whistle blowing and ragged blats of the bugles. There were grenade explosions, and now flares in the sky, and still the incessant blare of the damn bugles. He forced his eyes closed as a Chinese soldier, breathing hard, squatted down next to him, ripped off his gloves, and checked each wrist for a watch. A bugler-very close, Ezell thought-ceased blowing in the middle of a note. Ezell's mind drifted to the scene from Gunga Din in which Sam Jaffe is shot off the spire.
The Chinese moved on, leaving Ezell and Triggs for dead. Ezell tried to get to his feet. He could not.
The forward foxholes of the Third Platoon took the brunt of the attack.
From their two-man hole Ernest Gonzalez swept the hill to the left while Freddy Gonzales fired to the right. Ernest realized he did not need the waning moon to spot the advancing enemy-a nearly constant barrage of grenades and flares lit up the sky. He sighted in on a bugler standing up by the two tall rocks blowing a Chinese charge and shot him through the head.
At Pendleton, Ernest had turned out to be a crack shot, and from the first his M 1 had felt like a natural extension of his body. The rifle rarely left his hands during his eleven-day passage from San Diego to Yokohama, Japan, despite the fact that he spent nearly the entire voyage in the head throwing up. Two things, he was certain, had saved him from dying on that troopship. The first was the expectation of firing this beautiful weapon in a real battle. The other was his daily readings from the Roman Catholic missal his mother had given him as a going-away gift. He could sure use the missal now, but the gun would have to do.
He was sighting in again when a potato masher exploded to his right. The concussion ripped his helmet and glasses off his head. He fell to his knees. Freddy turned. "Ernie, you all right?"
"I can't see."
Despite his wounds from the friendly fire, Corporal Ashdale manned the light machine gun in the center of the Third Platoon's line. He was overrun almost immediately and was nearly blinded by an exploding grenade. Still, he managed to wrestle with an enemy soldier who was trying to take the gun until another Chinese slammed the butt of a rifle into the back of his skull. Ashdale went out, and the two Chinese escaped with the machine gun.
One of Ashdale's assistant gunners staggered down the west slope toward the Second Platoon's right flank. He stumbled into a foxhole occupied by two privates first class: Don Childs and Norman Jackson, both firing at a frantic pace. They challenged him, and when he answered with the password they pulled him down into the hole. He was dazed, he was in his stocking feet, and his M 1 had been shattered by a grenade. "Load," Childs said, and tossed him their spare rifles. Over the previous twenty-four hours they had each scrounged five Chinese Mausers.
All hell was breaking loose around Dick Bonelli and Homer Penn. Bonelli was just getting the hang of firing the light machine gun, and of sighting on the enemy's tracers, when an American voice from somewhere behind him shouted, "Let's go."
Penn made a move to stand. Bonelli clamped a hand on his shoulder. "Go? Go where, for Chrissake? No bus ride outta here."
Penn brushed Bonelli's hand away and bolted from the foxhole. He stumbled several feet and was shot in both shoulders. He fell, bleeding, into a hole occupied by Walt Klein and Private First Class Frank Valtierra. Together they picked him up and carried him down the hill.
Bonelli was still surrounded, and now alone.
Down at the command post Lieutenant Campbell again radioed How Company's howitzer unit to ask them to "box" the crest of Fox Hill with incoming. There was a subsequent curtain of explosions. They fell so close to the Third Platoon's forward squads that any Marine still standing was blown off his feet by the concussive winds. They were too close for Dick Bonelli's liking. He dived for the bottom of his hole to wait out the bombardment.
At 2:30 a.m., while the battle raged on the heights, several Chinese platoons slipped down from the rocky ridge and made their way around the reverse slope of Fox Hill. They skirted the saddle and flanked the Marines around the bramble thicket on the northeast crest. Corporal Belmarez, on the First Platoon's line at the top of the eastern slope, never saw them coming. He was blown out of his foxhole, six feet straight into the air, by a concussion grenade.
Wounded in both legs, he crawled down the hill, leaving a bloody trail in the snow. When he couldn't go any farther he asked the Lord to save him.
Twenty yards below Belmarez, Private First Class Allen Thompson, a twenty-one-year-old reservist, swung his light machine gun toward the sound of the explosion. He aimed at the white figures darting down the hill and squeezed the trigger. The gun jammed; its head space where the firing pin connected was frozen solid. Fuck. Thompson was a rifleman by training who had been assigned to the machine gun after the First Platoon reached Fox Hill. He'd joked to his assistant gunner, Private First Class Roger Davis, that his entire knowledge of machine guns consisted of bullets going in one end and coming out the other. Still, he had test-fired the damn thing just two hours ago.
The Chinese came hard and fast. Thompson and Davis emptied their rifles and sidearms and dropped back to the cover of the trees. While Thompson reloaded, Davis was gutted by automatic weapons fire. The last straw. Thompson's emotions slipped their brake.
All alone, and impelled by God's own anger, he charged the nearest group of enemy soldiers, screaming at the top of his lungs, firing like a madman. He took out a squad. The Chinese were stunned. At the same time, Jack Page swung his heavy machine gun up the east slope and raked the charging enemy. At Page's burst more Marines from the First Platoon joined the fight. The Chinese fled in all directions. Thompson fell to his knees in the snow, trembling and panting.
The surviving Chinese who had attacked down the east slope were now scattered on the hill, within the American lines. In his foxhole near the tree line the bazooka man Harry Burke heard pine boughs cracking to his right. He whirled and shot two men with his M I. In the next hole the cooks Phil Bavaro and John Bledsoe were about to charge up the hill when Bavaro saw movement down on the road. They each emptied a clip from their M I s. Up? Down? Which way to fight? "Best to stay here," Bavaro said.
It was a smart decision. Yet another platoon of Chinese had crept down from the South Hill three hundred yards across the road, had crossed the level ground, and were now forming up on the MSR. In the foxhole below Bavaro and Bledsoe, on the lower southeast corner of the hill, Corporal Robert Gaines jabbed Private First Class Rollin Hutchinson hard in the ribs with the butt of his M1: "See 'em?" Hutchinson nodded.
The two had laid out spare rifles, ammo, and grenades on the parapet of their hole. They had bayonets fixed. They watched in silence as a squad broke off from the platoon on the road and loped toward the larger hut. Gaines and Hutchinson lit them up. One Chinese soldier with a Thompson submachine gun was particularly persistent. He darted from the hut to the trees and back again, spraying Gaines's and Hutchinson's position. Bullets flicked across the lip of their hole, knocking off the carefully stacked weapons. Gaines concentrated on following his muzzle flashes. From a corner of the hut the Thompson opened up again. Gaines stood and emptied a rifle clip at the flashes. The firing stopped.
Below them someone was crashing through the trees. They saw a crouching figure. "Don't shoot," a voice yelled in English. "I'm a Marine."
"What's the password?"
"Uh, uh ... I don't know. Please. I'm a Marine. I swear to God."
Gaines looked at Hutchinson. They had both been brought up on World War II movies. Would the Hollywood technique come through? "Who won the World Series last month?" Gaines shouted.
"Yankees," the voice shot back instantly. "Four straight over the Phillies."
"Get your ass up here."
A platoon-size group of Chinese, perhaps forty men, were dispersed about the east slope. They crashed through the trees and penetrated deep into Fox's perimeter. Now they gathered in a small open vale just above the med tents, bunched up and milling around, chatter ing confusedly. Some of the wounded, including Warren McClure, heard the noises, the alien voices, and sat up and felt around for weapons. But there had been none to spare for the med tents, and the armed corpsmen were all out on the flanks.
Suddenly the flap of McClure's tent rose and he prepared for the worst. He wished he had his BAR. In crept Sergeant Robert Scully, the squad leader of the bazooka section, pressing a finger to his lips.
"They're all around us, right up the draw," Scully said in a hushed voice. "I don't know what to tell you, except to keep the fuck quiet." Scully hoisted his M 1. "I'll be right outside," he said, and disappeared.
McClure looked around. Someone began saying the Lord's Prayer aloud, until someone else told him to keep quiet. After this not a whisper could be heard, although some men anxiously continued to mouth the words to prayers. Lieutenant Schmitt passed a whispered message: "If they stick their heads in here, stare them in the eye and show them you're Marines." McClure, still dopey from the morphine, decided that no matter what happened, he couldn't do a damned thing about it. He flopped back down to sleep.
In the adjacent tent, Corporal Walt Hiskett was fingering the rosary his mother had given him before her death. Hiskett was celebrated in the outfit for his huge, jutting, steely jaw, which had taken more than a few punches. He was a tough kid from a broken home, and he couldn't remember the last time he had prayed. In Chicago he had once had an elementary school teacher who made the entire class memorize the Twenty-third Psalm. And the janitor who had worked in his mother's apartment building gave a piece of candy to every kid who attended his weekly Bible studies. Hiskett liked the candy and recalled that the janitor had always closed the classes with the Lord's Prayer. Now he found it almost funnyalmost-that the words of both the psalm and the prayer suddenly popped back into his head here in a med tent in North Korea.
Something suddenly became clear to Hiskett. He made a pledge: if he got off this hill alive he would serve God, forever, in any way he could. He closed his eyes and whispered softly, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures ..."
Across the med tent, Hector Cafferata lay on a stretcher. Prayer was the last thing on his mind. He had never so much as taken an aspirin in his life, and the morphine coursing through his bloodstream was making him crazy. He thought he might actually go insane if he didn't get to use the Mauser machine pistol Kenny Benson had slipped past the corpsmen and given him-even if it did feel as if it weighed a hundred pounds when he tried to lift it.
He attempted to crawl, but despite the painkiller even the slightest movement left him in agony. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He had always been a strong kid, maybe the strongest in the outfit. Back in the States he had hated to fight because he just hated to hurt anyone. But not now.
Bullets and grenade fragments zipped through the canvas tent and ricocheted off the warming stoves. A corpsman dived through the flap and began wriggling, staying low to the ground. He told everyone to keep still and-Jesus Christ, of all things-to keep low.
"I'll be back," the corpsman said. "I'll try to bring some weapons."
Oh, you do that, Cafferata thought. Bring lots, and bring 'em fast. His animal instincts were aroused. He wanted to kill people.
Privates first class Childs and Jackson, still occupying the hole on the west slope at the top of the Second Platoon's right flank, heard the enemy's chatter over their shoulders. They wheeled and saw thirty to forty Chinese soldiers behind them, between their position and the First Platoon, and pretty damn close to the med tents.
Jackson made a face. What the hell they doing back there in the middle of the perimeter? Childs could only shrug. Their loader, the Marine in his socks with the broken rifle, held two spare rifles at the ready. Without a word the two rose from their hole. Childs leveled his M1, Jackson his BAR. They nodded to each other. One, two, three, and they swept the little vale.
The Chinese who escaped Childs and Jackson ran east-and into a wall of bullets organized by Master Sergeant Dana, who had formed a squad of Marines from the headquarters unit just above the med tents. Dana, whose face was bleeding from grenade fragments, did not call a cease-fire until every last man was dead.
Up and down the MSR, from Yudam-ni to Koto-ri, Chinese forces were attacking on all fronts. On the west side of the Chosin elements of the Fifth and Seventh Marine regiments were fending off repeated assaults, and Murray and Litzenberg were aware that more Reds were pouring into the area. On the east side of the reservoir, what remained of the Army units had buckled and were attempting to fight their way back to Hagaru-ri.
They had no idea that farther south the Fifty-eighth CCF Division was penetrating the perimeter surrounding Hagaru-ri. If the United Nations forces there were routed, no Americans trapped north of the village would find a safe haven.
In Tokyo General MacArthur did not yet have specifics; nor did he have any grasp of the desperate situation facing his X Corps. When he convened his top commanders, General Almond still seemed reluctant to accept the size and intensity of the Chinese opposition. Almond told MacArthur that he expected the Marines to continue their "attack" west and north, to carry out the plan to cut the enemy lines of communication, and to continue their march on to the Yalu River. According to one participant, "The meeting broke up after midnight on a note of confident resolution."
Lieutenant Bob McCarthy waited until the howitzer bombardment tailed off before heading for the crest of Fox Hill. Running west to east just below the hilltop he passed Dick Bonelli blazing away on the light machine gun and saw Freddy Gonzales and Ernest Gonzalez higher still, standing back-to-back in their foxhole and firing in opposite directions.
A little farther on, he reached Corporal "Ski" Golembieski, who occupied the foxhole on the Third Platoon's ultimate right flank. If McCarthy's calculations were correct, the left flank of Lieutenant Dunne's First Platoon should be about fifty yards down the east slope. He had no idea that the Chinese had already maneuvered around the bramble thicket and poured through the gap in the American lines. McCarthy ordered Golembieski down the hill to make contact with, and bring back, whatever men Lieutenant Dunne could spare.
Golembieski took off in a low crouch. After going about thirty yards he saw a group of soldiers huddled in a semicircle. In the moonlight he could make out the contours of their calf-length parkas, and he assumed they were Marines. He stood, walked a few paces, and was about to hail them when he heard one speaking Chinese. A burst of automatic weapons fire ripped through the loose folds of his field jacket. One bullet nicked off his cartridge belt, knocking him backward onto the snow. He rolled over into a prone position and fired. Several of the Chinese fell.
Golembieski's clip was almost empty when his M1 jammed. He lifted the rifle over his head, turned it backward, and tried to kick the bolt into place with his shoepac. It wouldn't budge. With enemy fire throwing up teardrops of snow all around him, he crawled back toward the northeast crest with the bad news for Lieutenant McCarthy.
For Dick Bonelli the spookiest aspect of night fighting was never knowing whether friend or foe was to his immediate left or right. There had been times during the first night, after Howard Koone went down, when he was certain he was the only Marine left standing on the hill; when the sun rose he had been surprised to see friendly faces in neighboring holes. Now, with the enemy again charging, he knew there were foxholes on either side of him that were supposed to be manned by Marines. But things changed fast in a firefight. Assaults started; holes were overrun; some people were killed or wounded; others, like Homer Penn, bugged out to regroup somewhere else. Worse, the contours of the hill made it difficult to communicate even with someone who was, in theory, only several yards away.
Earlier in the day Captain Barber had issued standing orders to the entire company: "Treat anything outside your foxhole as enemy." In other words, you were allowed to retreat as far as the back of your hole. Easier said than done, Bonelli thought. He could see no other Americans around him. White quilted uniforms flashed from all directions as the Chinese from the saddle meshed with the survivors from the bramble thicket. Bonelli's hole was an island.
He unlocked the light machine gun from its traverse bar and pointed it down the hill. He sprayed bullets as if he were watering a lawn. When it came to a "gook party," Dick Bonelli had a motto: Too much ain't never enough. And this was the party to end all parties. He scythed the lower slopes.
Lieutenant Elmo Peterson was wounded again, this time in the rib cage. But again he stayed on his feet and refused to leave his command. He ordered the upper flanks of his Second Platoon to turn in their holes and fire into the same confused mass.
Bullets cracked past Bonelli's head. Most, he deduced, were coming from his own lines. It was time to get out of there.
He hefted the machine gun and tripod and moved down the slope, four ammunition belts crisscrossing his chest like bandoliers. He swiveled back and forth, spraying pockets of the enemy as they came into view. Four here, reloading behind a rock; two there, trying to undo a jammed rifle.
Above him, the Chinese had momentarily bypassed the foxhole occupied by Ernest Gonzalez and Freddy Gonzales. They used the time to catch their breath and reload. Freddy was jamming bullets into his M 1 when Ernest tapped him on the shoulder and pointed with his chin, down the slope. They both goggled at a frenzied Sergeant York zigzagging across the battlefield hauling forty pounds of weapons and a tripod. Bonelli was wrapped in so much ammo he looked like a mummy. Crazy bastard.
At 2:43 a.m., Captain Barber left his command post below the med tents and raced for the east slope. Just above the tree line he nearly tripped over the unconscious Eleazar Belmarez. The corporal's torn leggings were caked with frozen blood. Barber hollered for a corpsman. None appeared, but Private First Class William Garza heard the cry and bolted from his foxhole near the tree line. Barber left Garza with Belmarez and continued up the hill. Before he'd gone ten feet he spotted two Marines running toward him in their stocking feet, parkas flapping.
"Where you men going?"
"Getting the hell out of here."
Garza, confused and frightened himself, almost expected the CO to shoot them on the spot. Instead Barber merely held up a hand. "Hold on, you're not going anywhere," he said. "There's nowhere to go. We can talk about this, but now's not the time. I'll make a deal with you. Get back to your position and in the morning if you come up with a better plan than mine, I'll listen. But now's not the time."
The two men turned and trotted back up the hill. Garza was dumbstruck. Barber shrugged and took off after them.
When he reached the northeast corner of the hill where the flanks of the First Platoon and Third Platoon should have met, the area was pandemonium. Marines and Chinese ran in all directions, shooting, hollering, heaving grenades, cursing, fighting with knives and rifle butts and even hand to hand. One Marine was beating an enemy soldier to death with a helmet. The air was acrid, thick with smoke and the smell of blasted granite. There were, Barber realized, no more lines.
He saw Lieutenant McCarthy. They were both converging on a Marine lying on his back in the snow in the middle of the firefight, for some reason kicking his Ml with his shoepac. From out of this maelstrom Dick Bonelli abruptly appeared. He plopped down in a prone position between the two officers and set up his machine gun pointing down the east slope. The barrel glowed red-hot.
Barber pointed down the slope. "Are those Marines down there?"
"Gooks," Lieutenant McCarthy said. "They're shooting at us."
Barber nodded and Bonelli opened up, firing over the head of the soldier who was still lying on his back and kicking his rifle. They had no idea it was Stan Golembieski, still trying to un-jam his rifle. Out of the corner of his eye Bonelli saw a muzzle flash. He felt a rush of air past his ear as a bullet snapped by. It hit Lieutenant McCarthy in the thigh, ricocheted off the stock of the lieutenant's MI, and smashed into Captain Barber's pelvis.
They fell on either side of Bonelli. He saw a quarter-size red oval spread across Barber's upper left thigh, near his groin. Barber plugged the hole with his handkerchief. Bonelli again sprayed the Chinese. At the same time, Golembieski kick-started his rifle. Together they knocked down the entire group. Bonelli and Golembieski scanned the east slope for more targets; none appeared. They moved the machine gun around to face the crest, but the enemy on the hilltop also seemed to have been beaten back.
Bonelli felt a hand on his shoulder, swiveled, and came face-toface with the platoon sergeant, John Audas. He was kneeling over McCarthy and Barber. McCarthy croaked to Audas to take over command of the Third Platoon. Audas hollered for a corpsman, but Barber waved him off. "We'll walk," he said. Using each other as a crutch, the two officers limped off toward the med tents.
On the way down the hill Barber was certain he heard a voice speaking English from somewhere in the west valley. "We're from the Eleventh Marines. Captain Barber, will you surrender?" He ignored it.
Bonelli watched the two officers recede, and his thoughts drifted to Barber's recent boast that there hadn't been a bullet made that could kill him. Then he remembered, farther back, the captain's coming-aboard speech in Koto-ri, the part about being a hell of a good infantry officer. Damn right, he thought.