~~Thirty~~

Floyd E. “Gene” Combs

USS Begor – APD-127

U.S. Navy

Living on a farm in Mineral Wells, West Virginia, I had grown tired of getting out of bed every morning at 4:30 AM. So, upon turning seventeen I decided it was time to leave the farm—I joined the Navy in March of 1945.

During 1945 – 1946, I was assigned to CBMU-618 (Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit) at Yonobaru Naval Air Station on Okinawa. I arrived in 1945 just after the island had been declared secure. I was assigned stringing telephone lines and phones at the air station, along with being a teletype operator.

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In June of 1950, while sailing along the California coast, the USS Begor collided with a fishing boat, puncturing its hull. She underwent repairs at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, in San Francisco. I boarded the ship while she was in the shipyard.

After the hostilities had broken out on June 25th, the Begor was ordered to Korea. So, while she was still in the yard, modifications were made to the ships communication as well as adding another twin-mount 40mm gun—just forward of the bridge. We finally departed for Korea on the 13th of November.

The APD’s purpose was to carry combat troops, such as Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), and land them on enemy beaches. During our 1950 – 51 deployment to Korea, we also carried a team of 41st British Commando Unit—who we launched on nighttime raids on North Korean rail facilities.

When the Chinese entered the war on the 28th of November, Tenth Corps was located in the area around the Chosin Reservoir. They were given orders to pull back to the Hungnam – Wonson area, and to set up a beachhead. However, the plans were changed and they were to evacuate through the port facilities at Hungnam. The Navy moved in everything they could, plus ordering commercial cargo ships to assist in the evacuation.

During December 16 through 24, we had a ten man detachment—two officers and eight enlisted men—of UDT-Three aboard the Begor. Their mission was to set explosives on the complete shoreline at the port of Hungnam. To augment this unit, it was relatively normal to ask for volunteers from members of the ships crew to work with them.

As a Storekeeper First Class, my duties consisted of ordering, accounting for and issuing supplies and equipment for the ship. Being a twenty-two year old sailor, I thought it would be cool to work with these guys; so, on the 24th of December I volunteered my services.

We arrived on the beach early in the morning—just before daylight. I remember the weather being bitterly cold, and UN troops had several fires going to help keep warm. A Turkish Army unit was guarding the port facility and they offered us cups of very strong coffee. Naval aircraft were dropping bombs in the hills just outside the city, while battleships lobbed two-thousand pound bombs—to the beach—just over our heads. Small arms fire, from the approaching Chinese Army, could be heard in the hills surrounding Hungnam.

A two-star Army General approached one of our crew, who was busy tying fuse lines. The general had a lit cigar in his mouth; a sailor jumped to his feet, pulled the cigar out of the general’s mouth, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it. He then looked him straight in the eyes and told him how stupid he was for smoking while this explosive operation was going on. The general actually apologized, then turned and walked away.

Our group finished planting the explosives around 11:00 AM, and we were back on the ship before noon; it was a “go” for the demolition. Around 2:15 PM orders came down to detonate the explosives; this resulted in the complete destruction of the docks.

At that time, excluding the atomic bomb, the destruction of the port facilities at Hungnam was the largest man-made explosion in history.

Between December 10 through 24 over two-hundred thousand soldiers and Korean refugees, plus tons of military cargo, were evacuated through Hungnam.

I have often wondered what happened to the Korean civilians, who arrived at the dock too late to be included in the evacuation. Were they killed in the explosion, or did they become casualties of the Chinese Army that was arriving at the port facility?

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