~~Forty-Five~~

Charles Bracey

61st FA BN

1st Cavalry Division

U.S. Army

Growing up in Johns, North Carolina, I was drafted in March of 1951 at the age of twenty.

* * * * * *

In early July, after arriving in Korea, I was assigned to the HQ Battery of the 61st FA; my twin brother, Neill, was also attached to this unit. The first week there, we were in reserve and the Canadians were located next to us. Suddenly, I heard a loud explosion and immediately turned around to see two guys flying through the air; they had hit a land mine. One was killed instantly, and the other had the meat ripped from his legs. I was close enough to hear him tell the medics, “Tell my wife I’ll see her in hell.” From that point forward, I was afraid of stepping on a mine.

* * * * * *

During September we had taken another hill, and I was walking on the ridge line when I heard a voice say, “Hey fool, get off that ridge line, there’s a sniper on that next hill.” I quickly got down, hooked into the commo line, and took off running down the hill. The area had not been cleared of mines and as I briskly moved down the hill, I worried about stepping on one.

* * * * * *

We had a crew chief, George Best, from Ohio who liked to play practical jokes. There were three new replacements assigned to our unit, and George had warned them about incoming shells and the sound they made. He whistled just like an incoming shell and everyone dove off the three-quarter ton truck. He started laughing, and as soon as they got back on the truck, real shells—white phosphorus ones—started coming in. These would burn a hole in you, if they hit you. As the shell hit between me and the truck; George yelled, “Charlie, we’ll see you on the other side of the hill.” I probably set a world speed record getting out of there.

The shells were getting closer and I had about a six-hundred yard sprint to be on the back side of the hill. As I was running, suddenly a pheasant flew up in front of me and I thought I had stepped on a mine. It scared me so bad I about lost everything. Finally, the shelling stopped and I caught up with the rest of the crew; we then high-tailed it out of there.

* * * * * *

Our unit was the lead artillery battalion; we had control over eleven battalions, which fired constantly for several days to soften up “Old Baldy.” The fire control section—the ones that called in artillery fire—was under the command of the 61st. As you can imagine, it was hard to get any sleep under these conditions.

My crew was dispatched to set up communication lines between the artillery forward observers and the liaison section, which was just behind the front lines. We had to climb up a steep hill, then down the backside. On our way up we noticed a small cave near the top. I approached the cave and at the last minute decided not to go in it, but to continue on. Due to the hard climb, we left our weapons in our vehicle with the driver—a mistake.

Unknown to us, there were six guerrillas hiding in that cave; apparently their mission was to blow-up our ammo dump. After we passed the cave, they came out and headed down the hill. Upon completing our mission, we were going back when we heard a lot of shooting. When we reached the bottom, there laid five dead North Koreans; four had been shot between the eyes and the fifth one through the heart.

Our driver was a new replacement from Tennessee. As the North Koreans were coming down the hill they noticed him and began shooting. So, he rolled to the ground and returned fire. He told me that he was a hillbilly from Tennessee and had hunted all his life. Luckily, he still had the M-1 rifle instead of the carbine that was normally issued to new replacements. I have always regretted that I never learned his name. I understand that he was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.

After the battle was over, and the 7th Cavalry had taken the hill, my CO called me in and asked me to pick a guy to go with me to return the radios back to the other artillery batteries that had supported us. I chose Sgt. Joseph Noe—a great guy. We were given a map with the unit locations marked on it, and a compass.

Since it was going to be a several day trip, we loaded several C-rations in our vehicle. The temperature was dipping down to zero—or lower—at nights, so we took three blankets with us. On our first day out, we came to a bombed out village where we stopped. We hid behind a wall to protect us from being shot at by a sniper. As we opened our first can of rations, about ten Korean kids, hungry and wearing very few clothes, came out from behind the wall—what a pitiful sight. I looked at Joe and said, “Man! I can’t eat looking at these starving kids.” He replied that he wasn’t able to eat either. So, we opened up our rations and fed them. Luckily, the oldest one knew enough English to understand what we were saying. We also gave them our blankets, telling them to huddle together so they would stay warm. And we told them we would get them some help.

The next unit we came to, we informed the CO about these kids. He called headquarters, which said they would send someone to pick them up. To this day I can still see their faces and am reminded of them every time I see and ad for “Save the Children.”

* * * * * *

In December of 1951, we were placed in reserve as we waited to move to Japan. It was extremely cold and snowing like crazy. We were living in large tents that held thirty-to-forty men. Some of the guys had visited the British and Greeks, and bought fifths of liquor for twenty dollars a fifth. Needless to say, they “tied one on.” Some completely passed out. After all, we only had one beer ration the whole time we were in Korea.

My crew was on alert status, and as luck would have it, the Chinese had broken through the ROK and we had to fire support for the infantry unit that was backing up the ROK unit. So, my crew and I set up the necessary lines running from the artillery to the liaison section. When we returned to camp, some time after midnight, we found that one side of our tent had collapsed from the snow. So, we had to pull the guys out from underneath the tent. One guy, Homer Harding, had zipped up his sleeping bag and was unable to get out. Using his knife, he had to cut his way out. When we finally got him out, he looked like he had been “tarred and feathered.” Naturally, we kidded all the guys who had to stay behind with their tremendous hangovers.

We were one of the last 1st Cavalry units to leave Korea; the 1st was being replaced by the 45th Infantry Division. We envisioned going to a warmer place, but we ended up in Hokkaido, Japan, which was colder than Korea.

The day before we were to board the train, we had heard rumors of riding on steam heated cars. When we arrived at the station, they put us in regular boxcars; it was twenty-five degrees below zero. We left at 7:30 AM arriving in Inchon after 10:00 PM. Luckily, we had taken our blankets out of our duffel bags, wrapping up in them. One guy took a candle and held it close to his feet, because they were so cold; he burned the soles of his feet. After unloading from the train, we had to stand in the bitter cold for thirty minutes. Then we boarded a troopship that was at least sixty-five degrees; guys started passing out like flies.

For the first time in six months, I slept like a baby.

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