~~Thirty-Nine~~

William McCraney

35th Infantry Regiment

25th Infantry Division

U.S. Army

I joined the U.S. Army, at the age of seventeen, while living in Covington, Louisiana. I was sent to Chaffee, Arkansas for my basic training.

After basic training, I was assigned to the 17th FA from September 1949 until May 1950. After a thirty day leave, I was then transferred to Fort Lewis. At Fort Lewis I was assigned to the 65th Combat Engineers, which was stationed in Japan. On the way over to Japan we learned for the first time of the war in Korea. After spending two weeks in Japan, I was sent to Korea with the 25th Infantry Division.

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From May 20 through June 8, 1951, the Eighth Army initiated Operation Detonate, which was to retake Line Kansas. This operation would involve seven American divisions; the 1st Marine, 1st Cavalry, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry Divisions.

By the time Operation Detonate began, I was no stranger to combat; having been wounded twice; once at the Pusan Perimeter and the other at Unsan, North Korea. While at Unsan, the outpost I was on only had fifty-seven men. When the Chinese started coming, they came by the thousands. What we experienced must have been what Custer thought when he saw all those Indians!

The following is an account of Fox Company’s, taking of Hill 329 on the 21st of May, 1951. I had been with Fox Company since the latter part of July 1950.

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With the exception of Captain Holiday—our company commander—we had all new officers; the division officers had rotated out in April. Excluding the new replacements, the captain had led most of the new guys in seven or eight bayonet attacks during March and April. So, by the 21st of May they pretty much knew what to do. First Lieutenant Paul Clawson took over the first platoon, and First Lieutenant Willis Jackson had the third platoon—I was in the first platoon.

My platoon leader—and one fearless SOB—Sgt. “Pop” Cameron, along with my squad leader, Sgt. Virgil Fisher, taught me everything I knew about combat. Sometime in April, Sgt. Cameron was wounded and sent back to the States; on the 5th of April, Sgt. Fisher was killed in action.

May finally arrived and they had yet to name a replacement for Sgt. Fisher. The lieutenant told me he wanted me to take over as squad leader, even though I was only a PFC. He went on to add that he had checked my records, which were good, and had already put me in for a promotion—to corporal.

On the 20th of May, Easy Company was to be the lead company for our battalion, and they were to take the first ridge. The following day we were to take Hill 329. As they worked their way up the hill, they came under intense fire. Sgt. Donald Moyer would be mortally wounded that day, as he threw himself on a grenade, saving the lives of some of his fellow soldiers. Sgt. Moyer was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

On the evening of the twentieth, Lt. Clawson told me that my squad would be leading the attack the next day. For most of the night the rain poured down and it was still raining when morning arrived. They fed us a hot breakfast, which isn’t as great as it sounds; since a front line soldier knows that by the time you get through a chow line—in the rain—the only thing worth eating is the bacon.

One of our new replacements was an old sergeant that had been court-martialed and demoted to a private; he was over fifty years old. As I was assigning men to their positions, I assigned him to bring up the rear. Needless to say, he was upset and said I only placed him there because I didn’t believe he could keep up with the younger guys. I was finally able to convince him that I needed someone in the rear who could keep a cool head, and help with the wounded. He accepted my explanation, but he was right—I thought he was too old to keep up. However, by the end of the day I regretted my decision.

As we advanced up the hill we came upon a bunker that we believed was abandoned since we had not received any fire from it. The rain was still coming down hard, and when the old sergeant came to it, he went inside—I guess to get out of the rain. Unknown to us, there were a couple of Chinese in the bunker and they killed him. If he had not been bringing up the rear, the other guys would not have allowed him to go in there. However, later in the day, another squad went into the bunker and killed the Chinese.

Before we started our advance our tanks shelled the hill, but it didn’t seem to be very effective. The hill was steep, muddy, and the rain never stopped. You would take one step forward and slide two steps back. There was a large outcrop of rocks about two-thirds of the way up. After reaching these rocks, I took my men around the right side. We hadn’t gone thirty yards, when all hell broke loose. A machine gun opened fire on us, pinning us down. I had been scared in battle before, but the combination of the heavy rain, the mud, and the heavy machine gun fire just about topped them all.

The machine gun fire was going over our heads, hitting the men in other squads back by the rocks; Lt. Clawson was pinned down behind the rocks. According to eyewitness accounts, the lieutenant moved up to the head of the unit and killed three enemy soldiers that had been holding up their advancement. After one of his men fell wounded, the lieutenant disregarding his own safety, under heavy fire, carried the wounded soldier out of harms way. Upon returning, Lt. Clawson picked up the wounded soldiers weapon and continued their advance up the hill. Moments later, he was killed by machine gun fire.

By the time word reached me that the lieutenant had been killed and our platoon sergeant wounded and out of action, our condition was deteriorating fast. I knew something had to be done, and fast. So, I moved close enough to destroy the machine gun that had killed the lieutenant with a grenade.

In the hole with the machine gun, were two or three Chinese soldiers. So, I fired a few rounds to be sure they were dead. As I surveyed the rest of the hill, I didn’t like what I saw—hundreds of Chinese. I looked down at my M-1, with its eight rounds per clip, and suddenly my situation seemed pretty dismal. About that time I thought to myself, “What the hell, I’ll use their machine gun!” Quickly I got it into firing position and as I was looking for a target, they spotted me. They threw several grenades at me. Some went over my position. However, one landed on top of the hole, and two landed in the hole—with me!

Immediately, I jumped out and rolled into a tight ball just as they exploded. After the smoke cleared, my right leg was full of shrapnel and I wasn’t able to hear a sound. Dazed and disoriented, I noticed that both the machine gun and my M-1 had been destroyed. I quickly took off running down the hill, to my squad, to find anything else to shoot with.

Calling for my BAR man, I was informed that he had been wounded. So, I yelled for his BAR and ammo, which someone brought to me. After inserting a new clip, and placing two more in my jacket, back up the muddy hill I went. With some of my men following me, it started raining grenades as we got within twenty yards of the top; again we were pinned down. I got up and continued up the hill, firing at everything that moved. As I reached the top, I turned around and saw that my guys, along with men from other squads, had followed me.

Lt. Jackson’s platoon, who had come up the left slope, was on top of the hill. I was glad to see them! Later, I found out that Jackson and his men had a hell of a time getting to the top. The lieutenant had been wounded while his men were pinned down, the first time. After our artillery had shelled the enemy, he was able to continue their attack only to be pinned down a second time. Though wounded, he charged the enemy’s position, taking away one of the enemy soldiers weapon using it to beat him to death. He then chased several more away, and as they ran down the hill, he threw grenades at them, killing three more with his rifle. Finally, the company commander ordered him to go back and have his wound looked at.

After we got some control of the hill, I realized how bad my leg was. As I headed back down the hill, I came upon one of my guys lying on the ground. He said he had been hit in the chest and could barely breathe. It being a chest wound, I knew there was nothing I could do for him, but to get him to the aid station. They guy must have weighed about one-hundred eighty pounds, and I may have hit one-forty. I told him to get on my back, and then down the hill we went.

We began to take sniper fire from an area of the hill that was still under enemy control. As I carried him, I would slip and fall in the mud; only to get up and go again. Nearing the bottom, I fell again, but this time I was unable to get up—I had lost too much blood. Blood was running down my leg and had pooled in my boot. Lying there, I decided I would check his wound. Taking off his jacket, I got a surprise—no blood. After further investigation, he had a piece of metal, about the size of a thumbnail, just above his left nipple; I picked it off! I told him to get up off his ass and that he could carry me the rest of the way.

Later, we learned there were over three-hundred Chinese that were equipped with 81mm mortars, machine guns, automatic weapons, small arms, and grenades, dug in on Hill 329.

On the 21st of May, it took us three hours and thirty minutes to buy Hill 329. We paid for it with the lives of five men: thirty-three men were awarded the Purple Heart: three men were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross—First Lieutenant Paul Clawson (KIA), First Lieutenant Willis Jackson, and myself.

I am proud to have served in the U.S. Army, but never as proud as I was to have served with that group of soldiers on that hill in Korea on that miserable day in May of 1951.

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