~~Forty-Nine~~

Otto White

23rd Infantry Regiment

2nd Infantry Division

U.S. Army

I was born on November 28, 1929; a month after the beginning of the Great Depression.

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Before I reached the age of six, my father passed away while our family was stationed at Camp Grant, Illinois. To help provide for the family, and keep us together, mother took in washings. There were three boys, me be the youngest; another brother died at birth.

Being the youngest, I always had the most clothes—a lot of hand-me downs. Needless to say, we always knew what we were getting for Christmas; flannel shirts, denim pants, and sweaters.

With no work to be found, my oldest brother, Richard (Dick), went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC. He went to Wisconsin where they planted thousands of pine trees. During the eighth and ninth grades, I was able to find work at Rockford Bakeries, Inc.. In my sophomore year, I began working at A&P Food Store; at that time, this was the largest food retail store in the United States. I worked there through my senior year.

After graduating from high school, I was able to get a job at George D. Roper Corporation. Many of my classmates and friends joined the Reserves right out of high school. I can remember getting home every night from work and reading the newspaper to see how many had been killed over there—Korea.

In late 1950 I received my draft notice and was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 22, 1951. Late summer, or early fall, I left Seattle, Washington aboard the USNS James O’Hara along with two-hundred fifty other soldiers.

After arriving in Japan, and filling out paperwork, I would be assigned to Baker Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, which was located on Hill 1179; later known as Heartbreak Ridge.

It was middle to late August when I arrived on Heartbreak. Next to our CP was a sign that read:

Your on the hill

You clumb the grade

If you’re going to Baker

You got it made

A news crew was going to film us for part of their newsreel. So, we had a couple of guys that worked hard in getting an air compressor up the hill. We were going to spray paint our helmets; and of course shine our shoes—we had to look sharp.

At daybreak on September 1, the attack started. There was very little action until we came close to the ridge line. The Chinese started shooting at us with their burp guns, and throwing grenades over the edge at us.

Suddenly, two of our guys starting running the wrong way, and someone yelled, “Get your --- back here, or get shot!”

I yelled, “If he misses, I won’t!”

I don’t believe anyone shot at the deserters—we didn’t have enough time.

I quickly turned around and started feeding mortar shells to our corporal; a Japanese guy from California. He was firing the mortar without its tripod. Enemy mortar shells were hitting all around us—hitting almost every position. There must have been five-or-six, with each one getting closer to me. Suddenly, I stood up. Why? I was knocked down the hill. Wounded, I crawled back to where I was before the mortar round hit, finding the corporal lying face down. He had suffered a concussion wound. From the back of his head, to the middle of his back, looked like he had been struck with a machete.

I remember yelling “medic” several times, but no words came out. So, I began to move back and after a while I sat down because I felt weak. My wrist and arm were in pain, and covered in blood. Even though I couldn’t feel it, I also had a stomach wound. As I set there, the corporal walked by me—I couldn’t believe it.

I had been hit, simultaneously, with small arms fire and fragments from a mortar shell. My left wrist had broken bones, and there was a hole in my left forearm that I could put my finger through. I also had a wound to my intestines.

It was 9:05 AM when I was wounded; it would be 9:05 PM when I arrived at an aid station: twelve full hours before receiving medical attention. I recall the doctor checking me out and calling the helicopter service for a helicopter to evacuate me. The voice on the other end of the radio, said the helicopters were done flying for the day.

The next voice I heard was the doctor. He was yelling, “I have a man with 105 degree temperature. Get your --- back here right now!” Needless to say, the helicopter arrived in short order.

They strapped me on the outside of the helicopter and flew me to a M.A.S.H. unit. I woke up with a bandage on my wrist and a ten inch incision on my stomach. From there I was transferred to the hospital ship, USS Repose.

I went on to spend time in Tripler Hospital, a hospital in San Jose, East St. Louis Hospital, and Battle Creek Hospital. I spent one year, and went through three operations, at Battle Creek.

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During the first hour of battle, Baker Company lost one-hundred and nine men. I am one of three that made it from the fourth platoon. Within a few weeks of me being wounded, my mother received a telegram reporting me as being killed in action.

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[In 1986, Clint Eastwood directed, and starred, in the movie “Heartbreak Ridge.” The movie begins with film footage shot during the battle in which Otto was wounded. There are some frames that show wounded infantrymen and medics. One series shows two men assisting a wounded soldier. Otto believes that may have been him.]

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