279th Infantry Regiment
45th Infantry Division
On September 4, 1930, I was born in my paternal grandmother’s house in the northwest corner of Chimney Mountain, ten miles south of Muskogee, Oklahoma.
I joined the local National Guard, in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on the 20th of September 1947. The company I was assigned to, Company L, 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, was mostly made up of veterans of the Second World War. In August 1948, I went to my first summer camp in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
After graduating from Porter High School, in May 1949, I enrolled at Oklahoma A&M. During the summer of 1950, I was home from college and working on the family farm when the Korean War broke out.
The 45th was notified in early August that it would be called into active service effective on the 1st of September. I chose to enter active service instead of returning to college. In early September our commanding officer, Lt. Cochran, closed the armory and marched us to the train station. The entire town followed us as we marched down Main Street. After saying good-bye to our families, we boarded the train headed for our new home—Camp (now Fort) Polk, Louisiana.
After arriving at Camp Polk we set up a rigorous training program of the cadre force (us) who would train the draftee’s when they arrived in November.
In late January, I was selected to attend an Infantry Leadership School in Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was the ranking NCO (Sergeant First Class), so I commanded the troop train to Fort Knox. The training consisted of four weeks of very rigorous training followed by four weeks of basic training of recruits. During the training I came down with pneumonia and had to wait for the next class to graduate. While at Fort Knox, my division, the 45th Infantry Division, was ordered to Japan to provide the defense of the northern island of Hokkaido. After graduation I received orders to join the division in Japan.
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Camp Stoneman, California, was the wildest place I ever saw. Everyone there knew where he was headed and acted accordingly. At this time the company consisted of about seven-hundred men. On the morning of May 25, 1951, we boarded the MSTS Private Sadao S. Munemori. In early June after an uneventful voyage, we docked at Yokohama, Japan. We spent a few days at Camp Drake before moving, by train, to the northern island of Hokkaido. Here, we went through rigorous field training until sometime in October, and then we returned to Camp Shimamatsu, which was a tent camp.
On the 19th of September, I was informed that I was about to become a civilian. I told them I wanted to re-enlist, so the next morning I rode forty miles in a pouring rain—in a topless jeep—to re-enlist. In November we moved to a new permanent base, Camp Chitose II, but only for a short time. We received orders in early December to go to Korea.
I left the port of Muroran, Japan, on the 10th of December with an advance party for the 279th. At 0400 hours, I was standing in the snow as I waited to board the USS Henrico. We were escorted by a few destroyers, and arrived at Inchon on the 17th of December.
It was late afternoon when we arrived, and we boarded a train bound for the front. At Yong Dong-Po, we crossed the Han River and passed through Seoul. It looked like mostly rubble and tar-paper shacks. The further north we went, the valleys became narrower, and the temperature dropped rapidly. We continued on through Uijongbu, until we reached the “end of the line” at Yonchon. Arriving around 2000 hours, we disembarked and proceeded to the area where the 8th Cavalry Regiment was located.
They were bivouacked on a small hill, and it was very cold and windy. We were escorted to an unheated square tent that had been quickly erected. Its corner stakes had been driven in the frozen ground. We laced up the corners, trying to stop the wind from coming in. Then we got out our sleeping bags, along with all our clothes and the blankets we could find; we were still cold. Little did I know, it would be spring before I would get warm again.
Before the regiment arrived, we toured the front and became acquainted with the area. Since I was a Sergeant First Class, I was issued an M-2 carbine instead of the M-1 rifle when I left Camp Stoneman. When I arrived in Japan I had to give up my M-2, because it was not my TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment) weapon. While in the 8th Cavalry’s area I found a stack of rifles, in the snow, so I laid down my M-1 and picked up an M-2. I carried it until I left Korea.
The regiment arrived, after dark, on the 29th of December 1951. Since the 8th Cavalry wasn’t leaving until the following morning, our platoon had to squeeze into a squad tent. Needless to say, it was warm and cozy that night. We stayed here for about two weeks training and getting ready for combat.
Arriving on the front on January 13, 1952, Lieutenant Lamb told me to take two squads and to go find the company outpost, and to stay there until we were relieved. When we left the weather was clear and cold, but when night came it began to snow and had turned miserable. We took one sleeping bag for every two men, so one man had to stay awake on guard—or freeze. Thank God that night was uneventful, but it was an experience to say the least. We had no heat, and our meals where frozen C-rations that had to be chipped out of the can with a bayonet.
The outpost was about three-quarters of a mile in front of the line. We soon became accustomed to the sound of artillery as it passed overhead. The following morning we had a frozen C-ration breakfast and watched as a patrol from the I&R platoon approached the T-Bone complex, in the snow, wearing white uniforms.
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In late January 1952, my second platoon went on an ambush patrol near the lower Alligator Jaw. We left after dark, in a heavy snowfall, heading down the jeep road and passing through the “Gate.” When we came upon a destroyed village, we realized we had gone too far. So, Lt. Lamb turned us around, and after retracing our steps for a short distance, we cut across some frozen rice paddies to our objective. After reaching it, the third squad was sent out front about one-hundred yards and the rest of us set up positions at the base of the “lower Alligator Jaw.” It was approaching midnight, and still snowing. Soon, we noticed that some of the men began to doze off. To remedy this, we made snowballs and threw them at the sleeping GI’s—waking them up.
Around 0400 hours, we received a call from Lt. Rogers telling us to return. When we all stood up, we got a surprise. We had been sitting in the same position—in the snow—for about four hours, and the snow had melted only to freeze to the seat of our pants. So, when we stood up, each of us had a large chunk of snow and ice, about the size of a bicycle tire attached to the seat our pants. We were able to shed our added weight, and return.
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On the 24th of January, 1952, around 1100 hours, I received a request for volunteers to take some ammo to Charlie Company; they were engaged in a battle on the T-Bone complex. There was a platoon providing support fire, and they were running low on .30 caliber machine gun ammo. They were located on the alligator jaw, Hill 198—I believe.
I took three men and proceeded to the “Gate” to meet our guide; a sergeant from Charlie Company. Each of us was carrying two boxes of .30 caliber ammo. Having only traveled a half-a-mile, we were about to move into open view of the enemy on the “T.”
We proceeded to our objective, walking at fifteen yard intervals. As we began to approach a trail leading down from the lower alligator jaw, we met a patrol returning from this same area. We should have realized this junction had been zeroed in, but we didn’t. Now as we met the returning patrol, the Chinese had a target they couldn’t turn down—us. As they began to drop mortar fire down on us, we took cover in a ditch beside the road; our guide was just over the bank from me, in a rice paddy. After a few minutes of continuous firing, I asked the guide what he wanted to do. Thinking we would get up and deliver the ammo, he said to throw all the ammo to him and for us to get back to our lines. Since the mortar fire was getting closer, I said, “Agreed.”
Suddenly, a vintage sergeant from the Second World War arrived on the scene and began directing traffic. Listening for the mortars to fire, he would time them and yell for us to “hit the dirt” before they hit. We were able to return to our lines with only one minor casualty; Don Sarrette received a cut on the back of his hand.
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In early February we moved off the line to a reserve area. We had only been there one or two days when our second platoon received orders to attack Hill 260, which was part of the T-Bone complex.
To prepare ourselves for this operation, Lt. Rogers, Lt. Lamb, SFC Arians, and myself (MSG Elkins) flew over the area to familiarize ourselves with the terrain. Over the years most of the major details of Operation Dark Baldy have faded. However, this twenty-one year old kid inherited more responsibility that night than he wanted and consequently events of that night have been forever etched in my memory.
On February 6, Company L, under the command of Lt. Clifford Rogers, was assigned the mission of attacking Hill 260. Lt. Lamb’s second platoon was given the assault role, with the first, third, and fourth platoons giving supporting roles. We disembarked from the trucks and formed a column of two’s and headed into “no mans land.”
The second platoon climbed up the steep, ice covered ridge just south of a small knob. After getting orientated, Lt. Lamb gave the order to advance. I monitored SFC Callaway’s third squad, which was on our left, with Arians’ monitoring Sgt. Kimsey’s first squad on the right; the second and fourth squads were in reserve. As we reached the top of the small knob, PFC Rodriguez called out, “Elkins, I’ve got one.”
PFC Patrick followed me as I went to investigate. We reached the hole where Rodriguez was standing, to find a man lying in the bottom. He was a dead GI, apparently from an earlier action. Suddenly, a thunderous explosion blew all three of us through the air into a long narrow trench. While still flying through the air, I shouted “Throw a grenade in the hole,” thinking the man in the hole had caused the explosion. After landing on top of each other, I heard Lt. Lamb call out that he had been wounded. As I ran over to his position, the aid man—Sgt. Culwell—was already attending to his wounds. The lieutenant had stepped on a mine, losing both legs above the knees. At this time, I assumed command of the platoon.
We had been ordered to wait for Lt. Rogers and Master Sergeant Dorr’s first platoon to arrive. Once they arrived (some forty-five minutes later), the second platoon continued its advance, under my command, following Lt. Lamb’s original plan. We moved forward about four-to-five-hundred yards, when we came to a place that overlooked the enemy trenches on Baldy, about one-hundred yards away. It was eerie looking—and deathly quiet. There was no cover between us and their trenches, and we knew they were laying in wait.
Before starting the assault, I called in a barrage of artillery fire. I then informed the squad leaders the attack would begin when the artillery support stopped. The first round came in high, and right, of the target. So, I adjusted the fire three or four times then requested fire for effect. One of the three guns must not have been properly setup as some rounds began to drop into my right flank, which caused the first squad to leave their position. As they ran past me, to the rear, I stood up trying to stop them—to no avail. Then the last round came in, killing or wounding sixteen men. I was standing near the point of impact and it momentarily knocked me unconscious. When I came to, I ran to the phone requesting cease-fire.
As I surveyed the area, all I could see were dead and wounded. Only one man from the first platoon had not been killed or wounded; that would change. Sergeant Kimsey, squad leader of the first squad, had severely burned his hand as he removed a burning white phosphorus grenade from the unconscious body of PFC Port.
I asked Kimsey to gather up the walking wounded and take them to the area of the third platoon. Then I deployed the third squad about twenty-five yards forward, to provide protection for Culwell and his litter carriers. Soon orders came to withdraw.
It had been two and a half hours since Lt. Lamb stepped on the land mine and now the forward progress of the second platoon was not stopped by enemy forces, but by friendly fire.
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In March 1952, Lt. Hartley became our new platoon leader, and I must say a very good one. Even though he was new to us, and Korea, he was not new to the Army. During the Second World War he had been a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne, while in France.
We were to move up to the extreme left flank of the division. So, on the last day in reserve I went with the scouting party to check out our new position. Needless to say, I missed the last shower run and it had been two weeks since my last one.
The following day we moved to our new position. The platoon occupied a long ridge that ran down to a two-man listening post, and tied into the 65th Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. The third platoon was to our right, with two tanks and a quad .50 dug in on the left half of our platoon. Needless to say, the tanks and quad .50 drew enemy fire like magnets. This gave us a lot of grief. The fire was so heavy, to minimize the effects of shell shock, we had to rotate a few men out of the area.
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After meeting our new company commander, Captain Rose, we were ordered to attack Hill 192. Lt. Hartley was the platoon leader, I was the platoon sergeant, and Bob Arians was the assistant platoon sergeant.
The plan called for us to destroy any fortifications that we could and return to our lines. I was to take a support squad up Hill 190, which is south of Hill 192, to cover the attack force on their climb up and down Hill 192. That night we headed up the east side of the ridge that extended out to both hills. At night you were not always able to make out natural landmarks, so we passed our objective.
We were strung out in single file with “Red” Ryan at the point; he liked this job so much that everyone was glad to let him have it. As we passed the base of the Hill 190, we began to sense we had company in the rice paddy to our right. About fifty yards to our front, we could hear the Chinese moving in the grass and making their familiar cat and bird calls. We continued on until Red spotted one about five yards away, crawling in the ditch. He threw a grenade at him.
The lieutenant halted the column, and then he decided we should go back. As we retraced our steps we began to climb Hill 190, still not realizing it was Hill 190. When we reached the top, my squad went to the left and Arians’ squad went right. With only about two-thirds of the men in their positions, the Chinese hit us in force. They were well dug-in and began to fire at us with burp guns, and to throw grenades at us. When the attack began, Arians was about five yards away from the Chinese, and I was about fifteen yards to his left.
In the opening moments of the attack, Arians, Red Ryan, and Tex were wounded. Red and Tex were able to make their way back to ridge, but we couldn’t find Bob Arians. We called for flares, but we were still unable to find him. Lt. Hartley told me to take two men and go find him. After some time, the lieutenant called us back. Before we left the hill, we called in mortar fire on the valley.
We arrived back at our lines at 0200 hours on the 17th of April, 1952. As I prepared to lie down, First Sergeant Hook called to tell me that a patrol would be leaving at dawn, to try to locate Bob, and they needed a guide—I volunteered to be their guide.
The following morning I had overslept and as I ran to the line, I saw the patrol about two-hundred yards out. The platoon aid man and I ran, catching up with them. By the time Captain Rose spotted Hill 192, we were receiving sporadic small arms fire from our rear. After looking at his map, the captain decided we needed to turn back. On our way back I noticed the spot we were looking for. A captain, from the third platoon that I remember as “Buckshot,” and I ran to the top of the ridge, leaving the rest of the guys in the valley. We looked around and saw no sign of life, so reluctantly we decided to leave.
On August 5, 1989, I saw Bob Arians for the first time since the night of the attack. He had been seriously wounded, but survived one-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war.
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A few days after our rescue attempt, L Company moved to the ridge that extended up to Old Baldy. Item Company was leaving as we were moving in. The Chinese spotted and unleashed a barrage of 120mm mortar fire on us. We were located in a small grove of hardwood trees, and we were getting tree bursts as well as direct fire.
We were here for about two weeks and suffered several Chinese night probes, along with a lot of mortar fire. During this time we received several minor casualties—including myself. One evening as the men were beginning to line up in the trenches to eat, I received a call from the company CP to inform us of incoming mortar fire. As I jumped on a trench bank to warn the men, a mortar round hit about fifteen yards away—blowing me into the trench. After I took cover in a bunker, Horace Powell told me that my knee was bleeding.
Several days later I was at the company CP, for a platoon leaders meeting. After the meeting Captain Rose suggested I take his jeep and go get a shower. This would be the first shower I had in sixty days. While there, I also went by the battalion aid station to get my knee attended to.
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During the afternoon of April 30, 1952, a heavy fog fell over Old Baldy. So, the 179th Infantry Regiment moved up a day earlier to relieve us. Since May Day was a big Communist holiday everyone expected a Chinese attack, but it never materialized.
The night we moved off the line, I slept on the hard ground instead of in a hole. The following morning we began our two day march to the reserve area. I walked most of the way with a festering knee. However I didn’t really care—for I knew I would be going home soon. We spent one night near the 120th Engineer BN, so I visited with my cousin, Dan Morton. Early the next morning we moved out passing through the bombed out town of Yonchon.
That night we arrived on a ridge that overlooked our new reserve area. We moved down the following morning to our new home, a large 16 x 32 feet squad tents. Within a few days word came down that three men, Richard Jones, Charles Hicks, and yours truly, would be rotating home. Before leaving, I was to select a new platoon sergeant. Since Bob Arians was still missing, I chose the next guy in line. He turned it down; I must say I couldn’t blame him. So, Lt. Hartley suggested Cpl. Patrick—he accepted. I found out later that he was only seventeen and in three months he would be a MSG. The next morning I watched as he took “my troops” out, while I stayed in my tent; it was a sad day.
Later that day, we three men went to Yongchon to board a train to begin our journey home. We finally arrived at Yong Dong-Po where we reported to the processing center. Here they doused us with DDT, took all our clothes, and searched our personal belongings for contraband. Next, we hit the showers and were given new clothes.
After a few days we moved to Inchon where we spent our last night in Korea. The following day we boarded a ship bound for Sasebo, Japan. We stayed in Japan for two weeks before boarding a ship headed for the good old U.S.A. We arrived in San Francisco in early June, then on to Camp Stoneman. The camp had changed during the past year—it was no longer the rowdy place it was a year earlier.
Here I boarded a troop train bound for Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where I was discharged in mid-June of 1952.