5th Marine Regiment
1st Marine Division
U.S. Marine Corps
After graduating from Waynesboro High School, in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, in 1948, I joined the U.S. Marine Corps.
It was the summer of 1950, and Eugene—my brother who was also in the Marines—and I were both home on leave. Gene was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Air Station and I at Dover, New Jersey. Our parents took us to Washington D.C., to watch a baseball game at Griffith Stadium. Our team—the Yankees—were playing. As we were leaving the stadium, there stood a young boy selling newspapers, barking, “Extra, read all about it—Marines called to Korea.” Gene and I turned and looked at each other. When we returned home, he had a telegram—I didn’t. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
Gene shipped over with the whole division, and they flew me over later—in August. Arriving in Masan, South Korea as part of the first replacement draft, I was assigned to G Company, 3rd BN, 5th Marine Regiment. However, I did arrive in time to participate in the second battle of the Naktong River.
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On the morning of September 15th, the 3rd BN of the 5th Marines assaulted the island of Wolmi-do—beginning the Inchon Invasion.
While were in reserve, on the seventeenth, a lieutenant said they needed a platoon to go down to a village where some North Korean guerrillas had chased the villagers from their homes. I had a BAR and we went through all the houses and were ready to leave when someone said that we had better check out the backyard; what a mistake. Walking between two houses, I was the first to enter the backyard. There was something like a wheat field about fifty to one-hundred yards in front of me. As I scanned the area, I didn’t see anything.
Suddenly, another Marine pointed in front of me and said, “There’s one.” As soon as I turned to look, I saw a North Korean—in his brown uniform—sit down. I sprayed the area, and then all hell broke loose. The bullets were so close, I could hear them crackle as they flew by me. I quickly dropped, and as I was going down it felt as though I had brushed against a tree limb. It began to hurt, then I noticed there was no tree—I had been hit. I remember someone saying that where the bullet came out, one could bleed to death—I began to panic.
Luckily for me, the bullet entered my right shoulder and went down my back; it never came out. They had us pinned down, and I laid there for about forty-five minutes before two Marines came and dragged me to the street. Here a corpsman gave me a shot of morphine, and a miniature bottle of brandy. Not wanting to be a hog, I only took a sip. The corpsman told me to “Kill it!” which I did. After a brief stay on a hospital ship, I was transferred to Japan where they removed the bullet.
While recovering in Japan, they put us through drills everyday. We had grown very tired of this, so they started a rumor about needing volunteers to sign-up for guard duty in the Philippines or Alaska. After we signed the petition, the next morning we were all marched to warehouse and given weather gear; big, OD parkas that hung below the knees. We had made a mistake. They loaded us onto a boat, and the next thing we knew we were landing in North Korea. We were told that the Marines were headed north to the Yalu River. Also, that the Marines were to set up defensive positions, then we would be relieved by the Army and we would be going to Japan.
When we arrived in a valley before reaching the Chosin Reservoir, it was snowing and the temperature was falling. They said the temperature was thirty-to-fifty below zero.
It was the night before the Chinese hit us, and I had just laid down for the first time. With our rifles between us, my buddy and I got into my sleeping bag. We had been told not to keep a round in the chamber, but I did—I wanted to be ready. However, I did keep the safety on.
Before crawling into the bag, I took off my “Mickey Mouse” boots. I guess it was between 1:30 or 2:00 AM when suddenly the shooting started, along with some mortar fire. A Marine came running through the snow yelling for everyone to get up, the Chinese were coming. Due to my hands being frozen, I could not get my boots tied, so I just pulled them up. Without knowing it, I grabbed my buddy’s rifle.
They told us—George Company—to quickly form a skirmish line. The Chinese were coming over a hill, which we were ordered to take and hold. As we started up, the Chinese were throwing percussion grenades at us; one of which picked up my foxhole buddy, and threw him to the ground. I shook his foot and when he didn’t respond, I thought he was dead. However, he had just been knocked unconscious.
When we reached the top, it was beginning to get daylight. I noticed smoke, as if it were coming from a campfire, but there were no flames. As it got lighter, I noticed large mounds everywhere; they were dead Chinese. The warm blood flowing in the cold snow was the source of the smoke.
At the Chosin Reservoir, the Chinese had us outnumbered by fifteen-to-one. When word came for us leave, we had to fight our way out. And guess who was given the task of rear guard? George Company!
While we were on top of the hill, word came down for us to hold at all cost, so the rest of the division could start moving south towards Hagaru-ri. They informed us when word came for us to leave, for us to throw all the grenades we had down the hill, into the valley. I had about six-or-seven, and we had them—plus my buddies—lined up around our foxhole. A grenade has about a seven second fuse, which I usually held until the count of four.
The following morning, Corsairs dropped napalm on the Chinese—killing hundreds. While we were sitting in our foxhole, a Corsair swooped down towards us. My buddy said, “He’s going to shoot us. He thinks we’re Chinese.” At that moment, the pilot let his rockets go—we could see them coming. We quickly covered our heads and one exploded close to us, spraying shrapnel. A piece missed my knee by four-or-five inches.
Word finally came; getting rid of our hand grenades we quickly exited our foxhole, and ran down the hill—tripping in the snow. We had no more than got off the hill, when the Chinese started lobbing white phosphorus mortars all over the hill.
The next day we started down the road to Hagaru-ri and didn’t get very far—there was a roadblock. The Chinese were on a hilltop firing down on us. We received word that if the division didn’t get through the roadblock by afternoon, then we would have to clear the hill the following morning. When morning came, the men of George Company fixed their bayonets and started up the hill. We hadn’t gotten very far when the Chinese opened up on us with small arms fire, and machine guns; I hit the ground. Word quickly spread for us to lay out our air panels, which were bright red, orange, and yellow—they were sending a night fighter.
We could hear him coming, and I thought to myself, “I hope he doesn’t miss.” When he dropped his five-hundred pound bomb, it shook the whole hill. After that, I thought nothing could be alive on the hill—wrong. As soon as we topped the hill, they opened up on us again. So, they dropped a second bomb; this time all the trees were blown to pieces.
It was foggy that morning and I noticed a huge, well built, bunker, but saw no enemy. With grenade ready, I set my sights on the bunker. As I was about to throw it, from inside a voice said, “Don’t shoot. There’s Marines in here.” Inside were four dead Marines, and one that had half of his nose blown off; he was the one yelling. Apparently, the Chinese must have thrown their bodies in there after they overran their position.
Upon reaching the top, there must have been hundreds of dead Chinese lying everywhere. They were the best dressed Chinese I had ever seen. One soldier was wearing a white cap with a red star in the front. He was also wearing shoes with gold spikes on the bottom.
We finally made our fifteen-to twenty mile journey to Hagaru-ri, which was where Chester Puller’s CP was located. Upon our arrival, we were checked by doctors. If your wound or frostbite was severe enough, you were flown out by plane. Due to frostbite, I was flown out on the next to last plane to leave Hagaru-ri.
After staying in Japan for a few days, I was flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital—where I arrived on Christmas Eve.