~~Fifty-Eight~~

Melbourne Leroy Rogers

7th Cavalry Regiment

1st Cavalry Division

U.S. Army

On March 7, 1951, Fay Gilland and I were married. After spending our six day honeymoon in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, it was time for me to report to Uncle Sam. You see, I had received my orders before we decided to get married.

My oldest brother, Elmer, accompanied Fay and I to the White Star Lines bus station, in Maryville, Tennessee for my sixteen mile journey to the induction center in Knoxville.

At 8:00 AM, the bus pulled out from the station. Upon reaching the induction center, we were instructed to strip off all our clothes and then we were placed in a large, opened room. There we waited our turn to see a doctor. This room reminded me of holding pens for animals.

Around 7:00 PM, we were taken to another large room and ordered to “take one step forward.” We then took the oath that officially made us soldiers in the U.S. Army.

Just before dark, I would take my first train ride as we boarded a slow moving train bound for Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Even though it took all night to cross the Smoky Mountains, the “sand man” never came to my bunk. When we arrived the following morning, there was a little snow on the ground. I would have frozen if not for the wool overcoat loaned to me by my brother, Otha.

“FALL OUT!” rang out early the next morning, to start our processing. Standing in front of me, in the shot line, was Raymond Anderson—a pal from high school. For some reason the line got held up, and Raymond was shot in both arms—twice. We were then assigned to basic training companies. Luckily, I was assigned to Service Company for eight weeks training because we were chosen to be specialists, in lieu of infantry training.

You guessed it! About the sixth week of basic, our company commander—a World War II paratrooper, and tough as nails—called us to formation, and he told us he had bad news for us. He said our losses in Korea were high and we had been assigned as an infantry company. This meant six more weeks of advanced infantry training.

It would be May before Fay could visit me. Her first visit was when a brother, and his wife, brought her down. Later, she decided to go back with me on a weekend pass, and visit for a few days. However, she had no job yet and I being on a private’s pay, money was scarce. So, what do we do? We asked her dad to borrow thirty dollars and away we went. It was around midnight when she dropped me off at the base, and all the lights were out where she had hoped to stay. So, Fay being the brave, young, eighteen year old she was, parked the old ‘39 Chevy under a moss covered cypress and curled up in the back seat for some sleep until after daylight.

Not far away was a boarding house, owned by a Mrs. Seay. She had a vacancy for a week, but the rent was nine dollars for the whole week! Can you imagine that?

On the 30th of June, I learned through the Red Cross that my paternal grandmother had died. I received permission to go home to be a pallbearer—an honor for this young soldier. When I checked into the barracks, after returning to the base, I was told Service Company was headed for Europe—I started doing cartwheels. However, my excitement would be short lived. The sergeant-on-duty, Corporal Puckett, from Kingsport, Tennessee, told me I would not be going to Europe. I asked him why, and he said because I got to go home. I told him that I had permission through Red Cross to attend my grandmother’s funeral. He didn’t care. He said, “I’m sending your damn ass to Korea.” You guessed it! On September 19, 1951, I set sail for Korea.

I left Seattle, Washington, aboard the General M. M. Patrick and didn’t know a single person on the ship. A few days out, a trooper jumped overboard. He had told someone that nobody loved him, and he wasn’t going to fight for a country he had never heard of! One of the guys in the lifeboat found his fatigue jacket with his dog-tags in a pocket. The ships chaplain had a brief ceremony at sea, then the captain blew the ships horn and we set sail again.

One of the soldiers aboard the Patrick, was Richard “Dick” Salvatore, who was a soloist. His great singing helped shorten a very long, seasickness filled trip for this country hick.

After surviving the edge of a typhoon, a few days out of Fort Lawton, we docked in Yokohama, Japan—fourteen days later. Right away we were processed, and 6600 replacement troops boarded the General Meigs, which was 2000 over capacity, bound for Inchon, South Korea.

On the 9th of October, I was assigned to Company G, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.

This is an excerpt of a letter I wrote home:

Sunday, October 14, 1951

Hello Folks,

...I am only 4000 yards from the front lines! We’re going up today! This is a pretty bad situation over here...The colonel, Regimental commander, made a speech yesterday to this battalion, which is the 2nd BN...

He said he had seen action in other wars and had seen all kinds of lines, but China had the strongest one an American Army had ever faced! He broke down and cried during this speech and said he prayed for God to bless the brave men who broke this line...

The colonel told us the 7th Regiment had killed or wounded 10,000 Reds in the past 2 weeks...

So long,

Leroy

One night, near the front line, we were assembled after chow. I was told to take two men to the crest of a hill and observe the type of weapons that were fired by the enemy during the night, and report back after daybreak. Before we left, they told us no one would be there, and if there were—shoot them!

We topped out just before dark and were making our way to the edge nearest the enemy positions. Within ten yards of reaching the trench, up popped three Asians. I quickly pointed my M-1 at the mid-section of one! Then one shouted, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot! Thailand, Thailand!” And of course, I didn’t shoot; we spent the night with friendly troops.

This is another excerpt from a letter I wrote home:

October 20, 1951

Hello Folks,

...The Chinese are very sneaky. They slipped up on a machine gun squad and killed all five of them in E Company about 2 weeks ago. So we try to be alert as possible. It’s the “scariest” thing I have ever done...

George Company met every morning after breakfast to critique the night before. It was the morning of the twentieth, when our company commander, First Lieutenant Munson, asked what trooper was in a certain location the night before. I can still hear the frightened soldier say, “Me, sir.”

Munson replied, “I’m not being critical son, but where in the world did you get all those hand grenades you threw last night?”

The young soldier said that he had been collecting them every chance he got. He must have thrown dozens due to enemy activity that had been spotted.

It was time to get the password for the night, and because of the activity from the night before, we were told to shoot first and ask questions later.

I guess it was between midnight and 2:00 AM, and we were on full alert. My foxhole buddy, Robert Rogers, and I heard a noise to our front. Suddenly, I saw the image of a person, whom I assumed was an enemy soldier slipping up on us. So, I immediately fired my M-1—once. The person yelled, “Don’t shoot, it’s Brown.” I put the safety on, and went into a state of shock. Our platoon sergeant, Sgt. Musgrove, jumped down my throat, calling me trigger happy.

Luckily, for Private James Brown the bullet only grazed his chin; luckily for me, I wasn’t court-martialed.

Private Brown was the runner for the first platoon of George Company and he was running an errand when the incident occurred. He apparently had become lost due to the limited visibility, because of the rain and fog. He knew the trail he was on would lead him back to his platoon. I was cleared of any wrong doing.

On the twenty-eighth, Hills 200 and 199 were taken, but not without a battle of great intensity. The 7th Cavalry, along with the 5th Cavalry’s 2nd BN, participated in a two-battalion night attack. This would be one of the largest night attacks executed by the division. They jumped off around 0230 hours and fought desperately, until past noon, when their objectives were finally secured.

During the latter stages of the assault on Hill 200, First Lieutenant Lloyd Burke of the 5th Cavalry’s George Company led a force of thirty-five men against enemy positions that threatened to drive back the battalion. Burke’s action won him the sixth Medal of Honor to be awarded to a member of the 1st Cavalry Division.

Our George Company was waiting the battle out. We were to backup the 5th if they failed. I can still see and hear the fireworks.

It was late in the afternoon when we relieved the 5th, and they were pretty shot up. This one soldier, who was being carried on a litter, told me as I passed him that we wouldn’t last the night on that outpost.

Stan Schaaf, who had earlier transferred from Charlie to Baker Company, was also on this outpost. Later, he would have to go help pickup, and identify, his old buddies from Charlie Company. Apparently, when they finally took the hill, they were so tired they all feel asleep and were stabbed to death in their fart-sacks—sleeping bags.

November finally arrived and Lt. Chico DeVera, a former prisoner of war during World War II, had gone up in a reconnaissance plane to locate the enemy in their newly dug bunkers. This way he would know where we were to go after dark. Knowing how rumors spread in the military, we had been told that Fox Company had gone on a similar patrol just a few days earlier. And the “Chinks” waited until the patrol was in hand grenade range—wiping out the patrol.

I was assistant squad leader and was responsible for getting the patrol out on time. So, we blackened our faces and prepared to move out. Of course we were all scared out of our wits, because we had a different label for this type of patrol—a suicide patrol. Thank God, the “Chinks” had moved. However, we had to lie there in the cold November weather for four hours before BN Headquarters allowed us to return. We had to convince the gung-ho DeVera, the “Chinks” had heard us and had withdrawn in a valley to set up an ambush for us.

Being the last man in the column, I was ordered not to leave any wounded behind! The first trouble we ran into was one of our own minefields. We were told to do an about-face and try to walk as near the same path out, as we walked in. So, instead of Norbert Vanyo, the point man, being the leader—I was. We didn’t hit any mines.

During Operation Clobber—in November—the 70th Tank BN came up along side us and fired continuously for seventy-two hours at the enemy on the ridges across from us. Can you imagine trying to sleep during this time?

On the 16th of November, I spent my twenty-second birthday peeking out from a dark, cold, filthy bunker overlooking the Chorwon Valley—in North Korea. Later in the day, I would go on patrol stringing barbed wire. The “Chinks” always seemed to know when we were out of our holes, and vulnerable.

This particular day was one of my worst shelling experiences! No one—unless you’ve been there—can imagine the helpless feeling of lying on the ground as shells fell all around, hitting others and wondering if you would be next! I can still smell the smoke from the exploded shells.

When we finally returned to safety in our stinking trench, I told my foxhole buddy—Elmer Van Scoik—how awful it would have been to have been killed on my birthday. Like there would have been a good time to get killed!

Towards the end of November, the 7th Cavalry, along with all elements of the 1st Cavalry Division learned they would be leaving Korea. We were to be replaced by the 45th Infantry Division.

* * * * * *

It was the 18th of December, 1951, and members of the 7th Cavalry packed their gear and headed to Inchon to board a ship headed for Japan. After sailing for four days, we docked at Muroran, Japan, where we were taken to Camp Crawford.

It was snowing like crazy when I started my hour long guard duty on Christmas Eve. However, it was still a pleasant change from Korea. The camps loudspeakers were playing Christmas carols, and I knew at the end of my walk I was going to the base theater where a Japanese choir was singing carols; one stanza in English and one in Japanese.

Since I didn’t have enough points to rotate home, in March I transferred to Service Company as a finance clerk. I would return to Korea, but this time to Pusan—not the front lines.

Off the coast of Pusan is Koje-do Island, where the UN had a POW compound. I was sent on TDY (temporary duty) there to correct some pay records. I don’t remember how many days it took to get there, but we traveled by a schooner equipped with a small motor. I was accompanied by two “gooks,” one sat in front and the other in the back—running the motor. Not knowing if they were friendly or the enemy didn’t matter. I was unarmed.

Upon my arrival, I checked into the orderly room and was asked where my weapon was. I told the sergeant that I was unarmed. He replied, “Hell fire. It is a fifty dollar fine to get caught outside the tent unarmed, because of the prison uprising!” So, for the time I was there, he loaned me his .45 pistol and shoulder holster.

While there, everyone had to pull guard one hour a night; supposedly guarding an ammo dump. This particular night was a bright moonlit night and I saw a “second John” approaching my position, but didn’t challenge him.

He blurted out, “Who’s on guard?”

To which I replied, “Rogers.”

When he asked me why I didn’t challenge him, I told him I could see his bars at twenty paces; he had just come over from West Point. He then proceeded to ask if I expected to leave Korea alive! I informed him that I had already left once; a year ago, from the front.

Before I knew it, I blurted out, “We don’t play that silly stuff over here!”

We were told by our CO, who took us to the front, not to waste our energy saluting.

I never did salute the lieutenant; he could have very easily had me court-martialed, but I took my chances. I guess I was a little cocky.

It was time to return to Pusan and there was a small plane taxiing out for take-off. I ran him down and asked for a lift back to Pusan. “Nope, against military orders,” he said.

So, it was back to the dock for another schooner ride.

* * * * * *

On March 5, 1953, I finally returned home to my lovely bride, Fay.

* * * * * *

Although it has been fifty-seven years, it seems just like yesterday. Some memories we like to remember: some memories we like to forget.

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