1st Marine Regiment
1st Marine Division
U.S. Marine Corps
As I hauled wheat from Kahlotus, Washington to the Port of Paso, I never envisioned that six months later I would be in the hills of Korea.
A reserve second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, here I was in Korea after an abbreviated “special” basic training. Having never fired an M-1 with live ammo, my Marine Corps experience was being one of two Marine midshipmen at the University of Washington; and one two week camp. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but I was told that I was.
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The following describes the events of April 22 through 26, 1951.
As a leader of the second platoon of George Company, 1st Marines, I stood there on that hill as the battalion chaplain came up the line talking to the troops. When he reached me, he stopped and asked how I was doing after the events of the past few days. I told him I didn’t know how to answer that question. He firmly grasped my arm and said, “Lieutenant, just be ready.” At the moment I didn’t understand the importance of his words.
The last three days had been very busy and the casualties heavy. After a visit to the regimental aid station, our third platoon Gunnery Sergeant—Harold “Speedy” Wilson—was on his way to Washington D.C. to meet with President Truman. He was to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his action the night before.
We were on Hill 902 and ready for a Chinese attack. After an all night firefight, where Wilson’s third platoon met the enemy head on and held our line, we moved off the hill. We settled in on a long ridge line with a far reaching valley to our front. To our rear was a peaceful looking river where the Army Engineers had constructed a first class bridge. To our right was a platoon from Charlie Company, 5th Marines.
With the Chinese close at hand, adrenaline was running high, thus sleeping was not a good prospect. Being on constant alert, we noticed a hay stack to our front that, as the day went on, changed positions. Our mortar section discovered the hay stack was in reality a tank positioning itself to fire on our lines. Throughout the night the Chinese kept probing our lines and started small fires. This lasted until dawn, but we held our lines.
Early the following morning the battalion operations officer, and our company CO, came upon the ridge line. We had a meeting about our southern advance that was slated for that afternoon. It was decided that George Company would be the rear guard, and my second platoon was to be the rear guard for the company. When everyone was across the river, the Army Engineers were to blow up the bridge.
Battalion headquarters would move across first followed by our rocket launchers. Once across, they would fire over our heads into the valley, in front of the ridge line. In the process, the rockets would generate clouds of smoke and dust; thereby giving the enemy a great target. Now George Company pulled out and crossed the bridge. As soon as the first and third platoons crossed, our second platoon was to “double time” it from our position on the ridge line and cross the bridge.
The company had cleared the bridge, and we took one more look to our front and observed enemy activity. As word came for us to move out, there was a tremendous explosion to our rear. I turned just in time to see the bridge rise up, about ten feet, and then settle into about five feet of water—in that peaceful river.
Our route south had suddenly turned into two smoking piers on each side of the river. We had no radio, or any other means of communication with the company, as they were now out of sight. So, we immediately sent a squad, wading across the river to set up a machine gun section. When they were ready, we readied our weapons and ammo, and waded through the chest high water. At this point the river was about thirty yards wide, but the current was gentle and caused us no problem.
The over anxious Army Engineers were already far south, as I imagined they may have sensed they may be the target of a group of wet Marines. After crossing we immediately began marching to catch up with the rest of the company, which took about forty-five minutes. Soaking wet, we trudged about thirty miles that night. There was no more complaining than one would expect from a bunch of wet, pissed off Marines.
However, it was just one of those things!