~~Fifty-One~~

George DeSha

7th Marine Regiment

1st Marine Division

U.S. Marine Corps

At the age of twenty-one, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After basic training, I left San Diego, California aboard the Marine Lynx. Approximately ten days later, we arrived in Japan; from there—Korea.

It was September of 1951 when I arrived in Korea and I was assigned to Able Company, 1st BN, 7th Marines.

* * * * * *

In November we were on the eastern front—on Hill 812. It was next to Hill 749, where there was a lot of fighting. We were in trenches, and there was a Navy guy using a bunker in our trench. He was the Forward Observer for directing fire from the battleships.

I was cooking a can of pork-n-beans, on a heat can, when they brought up a can of beer for everyone. I had the can of beans sitting on the side of the trench, and was looking forward to eating them and chasing them down with a cold beer. Suddenly, the “gooks” started shelling us, and they blew up my can of beer along with my BAR. We all dove into our trenches.

I took my busted up BAR to the company commander, Lt. Ulritch. He told me that he was glad I was alive and he would get me a new BAR. It arrived two hours later. I just knew I was going to get in trouble for not taking better care of my equipment.

* * * * * *

It was January of 1952, and the weather was terrible. The mercury was reaching twenty degrees below zero, with the wind blowing at thirty to thirty-five miles per hour. We had been out for about an hour when headquarters called us back in. They did not want to loose any of us from frostbite.

We were wearing our “Mickey Mouse” boots, which were great; they were a thermal type boot. Snow would get in you boot, and as it melted you could feel it run down to your feet. By the time it reached your foot, it was hot water.

* * * * * *

The hills in Korea were so steep that we literally had to tie ropes to trees and pull ourselves up the hills. It was now March of 1952, and I was pulling guard duty at 2:00 AM. I thought I saw a patrol of North Koreans coming up the hill. I suddenly saw a muzzle blast. I emptied two magazines from my BAR, which held twenty rounds each.

The following morning a group of soldiers went down the hill to check out what had happened—I stayed behind. They found a North Korean soldier who was badly wounded, but he died before they could take him prisoner. The retreating enemy must have drug off six or seven dead with them; they said there was blood everywhere. The soldiers who went to check it out got all the credit.

* * * * * *

On May 28, 1952, we advanced on Hill 104, which was about the size of a city block. With us was Staff Sgt. Rollins Bryant, who was a veteran of World War II and a drill instructor at Parris Island. He said, “If I can come out of the South Pacific, I can make Hill 104 in a day.”

As we were taking the hill, we came under the largest enemy artillery barrage any Marine outfit had been subjected to since the beginning of the war—4,000 rounds. It was so thick, they looked like a swarm of gnats.

I was in a hand grenade fight with a “gook” that lasted for about four minutes. Needless to say, I got the best of him. Sgt. Bryant took shrapnel to his legs, but he continued to guide us and give us words of encouragement; later, he would be mortally wounded. His body was riddled, from head to toe, with shrapnel. He had survived the South Pacific, but only lasted two weeks in the hills of Korea.

We had nine that were killed in action and one-hundred seven wounded taking this hill. However, I must say, the Navy Corpsman were the greatest. While tending to the wounded, they suffered one killed and seven wounded. Not one was awarded a medal, and that is something that has often upset me.

On the 13th of June, we were on Hill 104 for the second time. They needed volunteers for a mission, so Lt Woodward, Master Sgt. Brown, Cpl. Alward, Cpl. Barnes, and myself, also a corporal, volunteered. We were to gather information on the enemy and capture a prisoner, if possible.

At 2:00 AM, when we started our way up the hill, the moon was to our back. As we crawled on our hands and knees, we went through some bad territory—a minefield. Amazingly, we all made it through safely. Suddenly, we spotted a Chinese soldier by himself. Lt. Woodward and I continued on. He must have thought we were some of his men, because he just sat there. I walked up to him, and got close enough to touch him. As I reached for him, he threw a grenade at my feet then took off running. We dove for cover.

After the dust settled, Chinese were coming from everywhere and they were shooting at us with their burp guns. We took off running, with about twenty-five in tow. However, they soon left as our fire team came up and opened up on them with machine gun fire.

The lieutenant had his helmet shot off, and I received a bullet in my arm—right above the elbow. I was evacuated to the hospital ship, Haven. They thought my arm had sustained more damage, so I was transferred to a hospital in Japan. I must say, it was great to come off the front where I had been living in muddy foxholes, to be able to sleep in a bed—with linens.

Six weeks later I was sent back to the front lines.

During my time in Korea, I went sixty-three days without a shower, shave, or change of clothes. Those in reserve say they can smell the ones coming off the front lines before they reached the reserve area.

I left Korea in September 1952.

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