~~Sixty-Three~~

Dick Thune

A Battery

300th Armored FA BN

U.S. Army

My father was with the 6th Engineers (now the 10th Engineers), of the 3rd Infantry Division, in the First World War. He strongly advised me to “let them draft you” and to this day, I believe that was very good advice. So, in early 1951, at the age of twenty-one, I was drafted from my hometown of Kenyon, Minnesota. Before I was sworn in, I learned that the Marine Corps was taking every odd number man on the roster—I had an even number.

I took my basic training at Camp Chaffee, then I went to Fort Sill for Advanced Artillery Training. It was here that we were informed that everyone was going to Korea. So, to help delay the inevitable, I applied for Leadership School. After completing artillery training, I was accepted to the school, and all the other draftees were sent to Alaska. Guess where I went upon completing Leadership School? Korea!

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Arriving in Korea in April 1952, I was assigned to A Battery, 300th Armored FA BN; I was on the number three gun. An artillery battalion consists of three batteries, each with six guns. During my time in Korea, I was a cannoneer, gunner, and Chief of Howitzer section on a 105mm M-7 self-propelled artillery piece. The M-7 was built on an M-4 tank chassis, but minus the turret and heavy armor. It was equipped with a 650hp, nine cylinder radial engine.

The 105mm had a range of approximately 6.9 miles.

* * * * * *

During the middle of May, there was a lot of ground and air action. The FO team for A Battery was literally blown off Hill 710, and had to be quickly replaced. We were firing a lot of flak suppression missions, as UN planes were seeking out targets in front of our battalion. One of those missions was being flown by four Marine, or Navy, F-4u Corsairs, which we watched as they dove on their targets. After they had made several passes, they climbed to a higher altitude. Then suddenly, one of them dove down making a high speed flyover on one of the targets; probably a photo reconnaissance. The pilot pulled up at a sharp angle, and when he passed over A Battery, we heard what sounded like an AAA gun. I was watching the Corsair when a round exploded underneath its engine and it began to smoke.

The pilot banked to the right, looking for a place to crash. He then disappeared over the ridge to our left front. The remaining Corsairs made strafing runs to keep the Chinese from capturing their downed buddy. From our battery area we couldn’t see what was happening, but we sure could hear it. Within minutes we received a fire mission. I was on the phone with the FDC and he was advising us of our target, and I had to be sure all the bubbles were level.

As the Corsair’s pulled up, and passed overhead, one of them still had a bomb hanging from its shackle—we kept our eye on that one. Once they were out of the area, we fired continuously until a rescue helicopter arrived. They were able to get the pilot out safely.

* * * * * *

In July we moved back to the rear. During one very hot, humid night we were issued a red alert, which meant an unidentified aircraft was in the area. It was pitch black, as there was no moon. Suddenly, we heard what sounded like a misfiring Briggs and Stratton engine, as it passed overhead going west to east. The sound stopped and it became deathly quiet. While it was over us, I swear I could have heard what sounded like the propeller of a small plane. Then the whole valley glowed with a white light that appeared to have come from about a dozen parachute flares. Luckily for us, nothing came from this, but it definitely got everyone’s attention.

* * * * * *

When we moved to our winter position in 1952, we positioned all eighteen guns in an “s” shaped valley along the Kumsong River. As I remember, HQ and HQ Service Battery were located at the bottom of the curve. Across the river, to the front and right of HQ, was a large, sandy cream colored spot where the Chinese had set up their artillery. One day after we had finished lunch, we received a red alert.

At the end of World War II, I was a fifteen year old kid, who like many other kids knew airplanes and how they sounded. We were all on the .50’s when we heard the sound of Rolls Royce-Merlin engines, which only meant one thing—F-51 Mustangs. There were four of them, with South Korean markings, coming up the river at a very low altitude. They must have been only one-hundred feet up when they passed overhead. All of us on the guns waved at the pilots, and they returned our waves.

After they flew over, they pulled up and began their attack. I believe it was on the railhead at Kumsong, which was located roughly a couple thousand yards to our northwest.

* * * * * *

While at this same location, we received another red alert. We noticed two vapor trails heading south. One appeared to be darker in color than the other. We had been informed that a MIG produced a darker vapor trail than our planes. It looked like a MIG was being chased by one of ours. Suddenly, both planes dove straight down.

The gunner on four and myself, were watching the chase through our binoculars. We saw the end of the vapor trail right above the ridge line. And without time to blink our eyes, a MIG-15 being chased by an F-86 streaked over our heads. They soon disappeared over the ridge. I never knew if our plane caught him or not.

* * * * * *

In May of 1953, I rotated home.

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