180th Infantry Medium Tank Company
45th Infantry Regiment
I was born in Windham, Maine on June 23, 1930. In 1948 I graduated from Windham High School and on February 8, 1952 was drafted by the U.S. Army.
After being inducted into the Army at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, I was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for six weeks of basic training—in tanks. When I finished basic, I attended leadership school for eight weeks. During the last week I found out that I had been turned down for OCS and had received orders for the Far East Command—Korea.
I went home for an eight day leave, and then I headed for Camp Stoneman, California. In early December of 1952 I boarded the MSTS Pope bound for Korea. We docked in Yokohama, Japan where we then traveled to Camp Drake. After spending some time here we finally took a long train ride to Sasebo and Camp Gifu, for two weeks of CBR School.
I was issued an M-1 rifle even though I told them I was a tanker, not a rifleman. We then boarded a ferry for an overnight voyage to Pusan, Korea. I can’t remember how long we stayed there before they loaded us on the Chunchon Express. The train was equipped with wooden slat seats that were so uncomfortable you couldn’t sit or sleep on them.
Finally, we arrived at the 45th Divisions replacement depot where we received the standard Thunderbird haircut—four passes with an electric shaver, to a quarter inch. Then we received a tetanus shot, plus any other shot we might need. They put eight of us in the back of a deuce and a half for a long ride to the 180th Infantry Regiments Medium Tank Company, which was about one-and-a-half miles behind the MLR. We were greeted by the company commander, who after his speech turned us over to the first sergeant. The sergeant told us to turn in our M-1’s to the supply sergeant, which brought a cheer from all of us. They were short of .45 caliber M-1911 pistols, but each of us were issued one when they became available. When each of us was assigned to a tank position on line, we received a .45 with shoulder holster.
As I rode in a jeep up to the front, a lot of emotions (including fear) ran through my mind. I would be assigned to the fourth platoon sergeant’s tank as assistant driver.
On my first full day, I was given a tour by Master Sergeant Gibson, who had fought with Patton in the Second World War; his tank was named Ally Hoop IV. We walked up a bulldozed road to the tank position, and during the last seventy-five yards we were in plain view of Sandbag Castle and Able Hill. This area was known as Sniper Alley, so we didn’t dally along.
Unless we were on alert, there were only two men per tank for firing missions; the loader and gunner. I asked the sergeant if all we did was sit in parked tanks. He informed me that this was what the war had come down too; that we were there to provide direct fire support for Fox Company of the 180th.
Each shift of two men was for two hours and it was now winter. The months of January and February reminded me of back home in Maine. Sitting in those tanks sure got cold. Just about every night, at a certain time of each hour, we had orders for H&E (Harassment and Enterdiction) fire. I had been paired up with Kadurna, the regular gunner. After firing the round, the brass 76mm casing would never touch the tanks floor. I would catch it and place it between my legs, sliding my mitten covered hands along it until the casing became cold. This was the best damn hand warmer I ever had. Only a few times did I ever let Kadurna warm his hands.
Fox Company had moved up the left finger of Able Hill on a contact patrol. The left and right fingers came together just below the top of the hill. The Chinese had a large bunker and caves that joined together there. We called this area the “Snake Pit.”
Kadurna and I were on the 10:00 PM to midnight shift when Fox Company was ambushed just below the Snake Pit. As we were standing up in the turret, we could see flashes and hear the burp guns going off. About that time the OP-3 called us on the phone, telling us he was in direct communication with the platoon leader who said they were pinned down and needed help. He wanted to know if our gun was sited in on the Snake Pit, and if we could see a grenade flash. Kadurna told him to try it. I was able to see it with my naked eye; Kadurna saw it through the gun scope and said, “I’m on it. Range 1000 yards.”
The OP called asking for one round of HE (High Explosive), so Kadurna let go. Immediately, he called back saying the platoon leader was on target and needed three more so they could haul ass out of there. Kadurna fired them left to right, then waited. The OP called back letting us know the platoon had gotten out. Then he wanted to know if our 76mm was automatic, because he had never seen one fire that fast.
Needless to say, we had two of the biggest smiles you ever saw.
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I believe the combination of our gunners and the 76mm on our Sherman tanks were a deadly combination. We used it as a super sniper weapon. One night we took out a machine gun by just seeing the muzzle flash during a firefight. On several occasions we picked off the enemy as they dug, or crawled, in their trenches down from the Snake Pit.
The Chinese hated our tanks so much they fired mortars and recoilless rifles at them. On one occasion they connected, costing us two men. They were on duty and standing up in the two hatches when a mortar round hit the front slope of the turret; they never knew what hit them. I can still see their faces, but I can’t remember their names.
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To our right front, on the edge of Punchbowl, was a high hill that we called “Joe Stalin.” Every once in a while, when daylight came, the Chinese would be flying a hammer and sickle flag on a pole. After several attempts from 105mm artillery fire and the 90mm gun from a M-116 tank failed to knock it down, the OP-3 called us.
Sgt. Gibson wanted to direct the fire, because he had bet a bottle of whiskey that we could knock it down. While standing on the back deck with his binoculars, Kadurna informed him the range was 1900 yards, and he was sighted on the bottom of the flagpole. Sarge gave the order, “Fire.” When the dust settled, it was still there. So, the sergeant told Kadurna, “Right one, add one and fire.” This time when the dust settled, we heard the OP-3 yelling over the phone, “Son of a gun, you got it! You got it!”
* * * * * *
It was late March, or early April, when Lt. Turner, the platoon leader, called me in and told me to pack my things. I was going down to our next tank position and take over as tank commander. At this time all ranks had been frozen, so here I was, a Private (E2), doing a sergeants job. However, sometime in April, Congress had appropriated more money and the ranks opened up. In August I made Sergeant First Class.
My new tank crew was William Fitzpatrick from Philadelphia, the best tank gunner I ever met. The loader was Slatter from upstate New York, and a college gymnast who would do back flips from the turret to the deck, then to the ground. The driver was Anthony Palumbo from Brooklyn, New York.
Our position was directly across from Able Hill and about eight-hundred yards from the bunker at Snake Pit. On the ridge running from Able to Sandbag Castle was a rock slab that resembled a tombstone. The Chinese would set up their recoilless rifle behind it and try to hit our tank, until we knocked it out.
Then one day the OP-3 called Fitz asking him if he could take out the tombstone with an APC (Armor Piercing Capped—also known as “shot”). Fitz said he could. He fired one round of HE to get the range, hitting the rock dead center. However, it hardly put a scratch on it. Then he called the OP, asking him which corner he wanted off first. Which the OP replied, “Just take it down.”
When the dust settled the right corner was gone, and Fitz said, “Left corner next.”
The OP said, “If you do that, I’ll bring you a bottle of whiskey.”
Next went the left corner, and Fitz said, “Here goes the middle,” and it was gone.
I must say, that was some mighty good whiskey.
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The worse part about being on full alert was all four of us were in the tank. During one of these alerts, rumor had it the Chinese were coming after our tank. It turned out not to be a rumor. However, they went up the wrong finger. As they passed in front of the OP-3 bunker, an alert GI from Fox Company spotted them and emptied three, thirty round clips. The following morning they brought the three bodies down and they were loaded with anti-tank grenades. Needless to say, we were lucky that night.
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On the 27th of July, 1953, the truce ending the hostilities in Korea was signed. In October our Company Commander, Captain Heiser—a West Point graduate—assigned me to platoon leader. My platoon sergeant was SFC Chuck Meyers.
During one training exercise, we had to travel to the training area where we bivouacked overnight. We were glad to see the sun come up the following morning, because it had been a cold fall night. After passing through a small valley, five abreast, we fired at various targets before our final assault on a small hill. Captain Heiser was with a two-star general from Tenth Corps, and all his staff were parked in jeeps on a road that ran alongside the ridge line. During our maneuvers we had all the tank radios set on outside commo, so those observing could hear everything.
When it was over, I was informed the General wanted to see me at a tent that had been set up at the rear. The General wanted to see me—all I could thank of was that I was going to get an ass chewing. However, it turned out to be the opposite; I received a favorable critique of the exercise. He then asked if I planned to make a career out of the Army. I responded, “Right now, all I want to do is go home.”
In early December, I received orders to rotate home. I boarded the MSTS General Walker at Pusan for my voyage home. We spent Christmas and New Years on the ship, sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge on the 2nd of January, 1954.
On January 13, 1954, I was discharged from active duty.