77th FA BN
1st Cavalry Division
On my eighteenth birthday—August 9, 1943—I was certain my draft notice would be forthcoming; I was right. On the 28th of September, I was inducted into the U.S. Army. After I returned home at the end of the Second World War, I decided to become a career soldier and obtained a commission in the artillery. In the late 1940’s, there were two branches of artillery—field and anti-aircraft. Field artillery was where you fired at ground targets, while anti-aircraft fired at planes.
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In September of 1950, I was shipped to Korea with an anti-aircraft artillery battalion. However, the North Koreans had no air force to speak of, so my unit was used in a field artillery role.
We went way up into North Korea, getting within forty miles of the Yalu River. However, in late November the Chinese Army entered the war—in support of the North Koreans. Had it not been for this change of events, the war probably would have been over by the end of the year.
Having been greatly outnumbered, we got kicked out of North Korea and had to retreat back into South Korea; this was a somber time for us. We pulled our guns with tractors, which burned a lot of diesel fuel. We had run out of fuel, so we used trucks to pull our guns to keep the Chinese from capturing them; we destroyed the tractors. It was bitterly cold, and the infantry had it rough; they had to move by foot. Being in an artillery unit, we had the luxury of riding in trucks or jeeps.
I remember crossing a shallow river and watching as the infantry dodged chunks of ice as they waded across. Having been an infantryman in the Second World War, I knew the misery these men were going through.
We were all scattered out as we moved back south. When we reached Seoul, we waited for all the units of our battalion to form up again. Once we did, we headed to Pusan—in an organized manner. To keep from clogging up the roads, which were not very good to start with, some of us with equipment and guns moved by rail; others moved by trucks.
We rode in box cars that were crowded with Korean refugees. Our guns and equipment were riding on flat cars—with guards. There was a Korean woman holding a dead infant. It was a slow train, and for a couple of days I remember seeing her still holding her dead child. I could only think of the love this mother must have had for her child.
Finally, a few days before Christmas of 1950, we arrived in Pusan. Our chaplain had made arrangements for some of us to hear a Korean orphan’s choir sing Christmas carols. It was held in an extremely cold building, and when they sang “Silent Night,” there were very few dry eyes in the crowd of GI’s. We were all thinking of home, our families, and of course—a warm house.
While in Pusan, we again were established as an anti-aircraft artillery battalion. In May of 1951, I requested a transfer to a field artillery battalion and was assigned to Battery C of the 77th FA BN of the 1st Cavalry Division, which provided support to the 7th Cavalry Regiment—where I was a forward observer. A forward observer was usually attached to a front line infantry company, where he could direct fire missions with the use of a radio.
By the time I joined the 1st Cavalry Division, the North Korean army had been badly beaten, so now our enemy was the Chinese army. When things had quieted down and we were placed in a defensive position, I would get my FDC (fire direct center) to let me harass the Chinese that were in front of us. We were separated from the Chinese by a thousand or so yards, and as I spotted puffs of smoke I would mark them on my map. This gave me a more accurate reading of where their front line was.
I was given a 105 howitzer, and depending on how much ammo we had, I directed fire on their positions. We called this “harassing” fire, which didn’t do much damage; it just kept the Chinese on their toes. It also let them know we knew where they were.
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One time I was spotting and I noticed a lot of Chinese soldiers getting into position—just before dark—on Hill 339; which was approximately a mile from my position. I was able to get a TOT (Time on Target) fire mission that killed quite a few Chinese. A TOT is where one fire direct center coordinates with other artillery battalions to time their firing, so all rounds hit within a few seconds after the first round hits; this doesn’t give the enemy time to react.
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About a thousand yards in front of us, three Russian T-34 tanks had dug in during the night. Late in the day, we called in scattered fire and all three tanks took off. The following morning I was able to get an 8-inch howitzer, whose shell could do more damage than that of the 105 howitzer; we tore up all three bunkers. Two were empty; the third one had a tank in it. The tank was set on fire and burned for several hours, as the ammo inside exploded.
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Prior to going home in November 1951, I spent the last few weeks in Korea with a Greek infantry battalion. I joined a company, as a replacement, whose forward observer had been killed in action. One thing about the Greeks, they were terrific fighters.
When I left their hill, I had the honor of having lunch with their battalion commander—a lieutenant colonel. He told me that every man in his battalion was a volunteer who hated communism with a passion. It seemed each man had a family member killed, or wounded, during the civil war that occurred in their country after the Second World War. The Soviet Union had tried to turn Greece into a communist country. He went on to say that guards had to be placed around the dock to keep other soldiers from sneaking aboard their ship as it left for Korea. I recall one incident as were attacking the hill. A Greek lieutenant kicked the hell out of a soldier who was manning a machine gun, because he hadn’t moved his gun fast enough to kill more Chinese—as they retreated.
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After serving in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, I retired from the U.S. Army.