~~Seventy-Five~~

Gordon Southern

180th Infantry Medium Tank Company

45th Infantry Division

U.S. Army

I was born in Steele, Missouri in August of 1926. I was drafted in November of 1950. I entered the service at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri where I underwent my basic training.

After basic I was lucky enough to be sent to Leaders Course, which kept me from serving as an infantryman in the Korean campaign of 1951-52. This was a really bad time for casualties. Upon completion of this course, my CO talked me into accepting an offer for OCS at the Armored School in Fort Knox, Kentucky—which lasted for six months. Following school I served a short time at Fort Hood, Texas with the 317th Tank BN. Then, as a second lieutenant, I received orders for Korea.

* * * * * *

After arriving in Korea I was assigned to the 180th Infantry Medium Tank Company, 45th Infantry Division, as a platoon leader; later I became company commander.

* * * * * *

During the winter we had to run the tanks back and forward to keep the tracks from freezing to the ground. Plus, every two-or-three hours we had to start the engines to keep the old Ford liquid-cooled engines from busting their block—anti-freeze was scarce.

A tank test involves shooting, maneuvering, and communication. Tanks were used as pillboxes on the MLR, and could not be moved easily. The tests were given when we were back in reserve, in cooperation with combat engineers who built fortifications. During a particular training we were near a Korean village, nestled among rice paddies and orchards. While some of the homes were still intact, the civilians had to be moved out. At times some of them tried to return, even at the risk of injury during the training exercises. It was the job of the M.P.’s to clear and secure these areas the days we were firing. I felt sorry for the locals who were relocated to an internment camp down the road; living in what amounted to be welfare.

Early one morning, a young Korean woman came into the training area leading a small girl while carrying a baby—papoose style—wrapped in a GI blanket around her shoulders. The first sergeant, along with a medic, brought here to my CP tent. Apparently, she had fallen and broken her right arm. I can still see her; her broken arm in a makeshift sling, made from a pair of GI underwear, as she used her good arm to adjust the baby.

The medic said it was a “green stick fracture.” I could see the bone protruding from the flesh. I called for one of our Korean laborers, who were working as a house boy, to translate for us. The little girl who was about three years old, with her tear stained cheeks, held tight to her mother’s skirt. Even though the medic had seen a lot of action, he was visibly upset over the young woman’s situation. He told me that we didn’t have the means to treat her properly, and the closest evac hospital was twenty miles away.

As I glanced between the sergeant and the medic, I realized there was little we could do. So, I asked the medic what we could do for her in the way of first aid. He said he could make her a splint and give her some APC’s, for the pain. I told him to do what he could, but our test was that day and we had to get to the firing range immediately.

I wish I could give a happy ending to this story, but I can’t. I have no idea of what happened to her and the little girl.

The following day we made a torturous road march back to the MLR.

* * * * * *

It was early March 1953, when my #5 tank was hit by a high explosive round from a flat trajectory 76mm anti-tank gun. It was a freak round that hit the elbow telescope sight, deflecting down into the fighting compartment. It burned, or destroyed, every piece of equipment inside the tank. Luckily the ammo that was stored under the floor did not detonate.

Usually five men are assigned to a tank crew; however, due to sick leave, R&R, or rotating home, we could usually afford only two men, which was the requirement. Two men had to be in the tank 24/7; one gunner and one loader. Luckily the tank crew suffered no casualties in this incident. One guy had gone over to the artillery FO’s hut for a hot C-ration meal. The other one, PFC Henslin (as I recall), had a touch of diarrhea and had made a nature call to the slit trench. Both men were spared serious injuries, if not death; however, they were subject to court-martial. I didn’t have the heart to press charges against them, but I did have to fill out a Korean Certificate of Loss for the tank.

* * * * * *

Lt. General I.D. White, commander of Tenth Corps, was a decorated tank hero from the Second World War and former commander of the Armored School at Fort Knox. He loved armor, but Korea’s terrain wasn’t good armor territory. Using my tanks, he performed an experiment using searchlights.

In the lower Chorwon area, the Marines had mounted searchlights on top of their tank guns. They were somewhat successful in blinding the enemy, but the enemy would knock them out with return fire, so the Marines ceased their use. However, the General heard about it and thought he knew a better way—we would use aerial searchlights.

It took a week to mount the lights, plus we had to install “Little Joe” generators to provide power for them. I received word from regiment that I was to be in one of the fourth platoons tanks, and General White would be monitoring the operation. They could not have picked a worse night for a demonstration. It was the first week of April and we were hit with a freak, but heavy, snowstorm.

Nothing was visible through the scope or the pistol port. The general told us to turn on the lights and fire two rounds. I got on the radio to the other tanks and gave the command, “Light up.” The lights came on and you couldn’t see anything past the end of the tube. It was a complete whiteout—absolute zero visibility. You can press your ear close to the receiver of an EE-8 and you can hear a tank gun fire even if the butterfly switch isn’t activated. Knowing the general was listening, I said, “Two rounds on the way, sir.” We couldn’t see the bursts, even though the target was less then eight-hundred yards away. The General wanted to know what it looked like out there. So, I told him I couldn’t see a thing due to the snowstorm.

Being stubborn and not about to give up, the General instructed me to turn my searchlight on and have the other two tanks fire two rounds.

The radio network was open and anyone turning into that frequency could hear. What worried me was that if anyone was listening, they were laughing at this farce—at my expense.

At first the Chinese may have been surprised by our lights, and waste of ammo in the snowstorm—but not for long. The last two rounds fired brought out the enemy’s full arsenal—it was just like a “turkey shoot.” Being apprehensive from the beginning, I made sure all the tanks were buttoned up tight when we began this odd mission.

Immediately, rounds from small arms started glancing off the turret while others ricocheted around the track sprockets and volute springs. Luckily we were not hit by any of the mortar or recoilless rifle fire that was striking within fifty yards of us. Their FO’s weren’t able to direct fire in the zero visibility, so they used their artillery sparingly. Sitting inside these tanks, the sound of the rounds striking the turrets were deafening. I intentionally left the butterfly switch on so the General could get an earful. He came over the radio saying, “This is Jade 6. Cease fire. End mission. We’ll try this another time when visibility is better.”

Thank God, I had no casualties to report.

* * * * * *

As the regiment moved into Sandbag Castle, which was opposite of “Joseph Stalin,” we smeared mud on our tank markings, imposed radio silence, and took all precautions not to let the enemy know we had arrived. Under the cover of darkness we moved into our positions. Soon, every company along the front heard the following announcement, “Welcome men of Tank Company, 180th Regiment. We dedicate the following song to you.” The song, “There’s no Tomorrow,” started blaring over loudspeakers. The troops broke out in laughter. Needless to say, there were no secrets on the front lines with all the “line crossers.” It was hard to tell a South Korean from a North Korean. A trooper from Arkansas had the solution; “If he says ‘ya’ll’ you know he’s a South Korean.”

* * * * * *

We were at Sandbag Castle when a North Korean soldier walked across the valley floor, through a heavy snow. Somehow the soldier was able to elude the Chemical Smoke Detachment and the infantry units in their trenches. The infantry had been in action all through the night, and they were tired and sleepy. After he had run eight-hundred yards across the valley and another hundred yards through the infantry, he was stopped by my platoon sergeant who was at the CP bunker. The North Korean had lost his cap, and his hair and scraggly beard, were weighted down with frost. And because he was breathing heavily, his white uniform was covered with the frozen mist from his breath. The sergeant brought him to the small opening of my sandbag CP and said, “Lieutenant, Lieutenant, look what I got!”

I unzipped my sleeping bag and ran outside, with one hand on my holstered .45. When I saw the two standing there, I drew my pistol, racked it back to put a round in the chamber, and pointed it at the prisoner’s chest. (We didn’t keep rounds in the chamber—it was too dangerous). The prisoner just knew I was going to execute him, and he began to sob. Falling to his knees, he repeatedly clapped his hands and chanted—begging for his life. Under these circumstances, one doesn’t have to speak another man’s language.

I had no plan of shooting him, but when he stopped clapping and reached inside his uniform, I debated whether or not to pull the trigger; he pulled out a “Safe Conduct Pass” leaflet. These had been dropped from our aircraft.

My platoon sergeant, being on the line for nine months, had earned his thirty-six points needed to rotate Stateside. During the Second World War he had been a Prisoner of War of the Japanese and was known to be anxious to get home. Leaving the prisoner with Sarge, I went outside and called headquarters on the EE-8 (hand cranked field phone) to report our prisoner.

This is where we screwed up. The General had wanted a prisoner for some time, but Sarge took his prize—in my jeep—back to the regiment. This was a huge no-no. We were providing support for the 1st BN, particularly Charlie Company, so he should have been our prisoner. Just imagine how difficult it must have been for the commander of Charlie Company, and the 1st BN, to explain to the regimental commander how the first prisoner of 1953 came through their lines. Why do I still remember this? As a result, I received the biggest ass chewing of my career.

A call came in from the 1st BN Commander requesting my appearance at his CP—right away. Entering his bunker, I stood at attention with the proper hand salute. I waited for his return salute in accordance to proper military courtesy; it was a long time before I dropped my arm.

He wanted to know why the prisoner wasn’t sent to him. I informed him that my platoon sergeant should not have taken the prisoner to regiment, and that I took full responsibility. Then he went into his tirade, calling me a “half-assed shavetail.” He continued by saying we tankers were nothing but “glorified Patton’s with that silly ass .45 pistol hangin’ there in your shoulder holster.” I told him I would write a letter of apology and that his headquarters should be credited for the capture. He informed me it was too late, because he was “the laughing stock of the whole friggin’ division.” Then he said, “Get the hell outta my hoochie!”

The following day the division G-2 brought the prisoner to my bunker asking me to help with the interrogation. We loaded him into an armored personnel carrier (half-track) and drove to a high knoll about fifty yards in front of the front lines. Here a Korean interpreter asked him to point out where their key positions were located across the valley. He complied and as he was pointing them out, we came under mortar fire. The G-2 signaled the interrogation was over and we got the hell out of there.

In about two weeks I received a courtesy copy of the intelligence report from division. Our prisoner was the last survivor of his machine gun squad that had been pounded all through the night by patrols supported by tank and mortar fire. He was a South Korean that had been stranded earlier by the yo-yo forces during the early part of the war, and he wanted to return to his family living near Taejon. I’ve often wondered if he made it home.

The battalion commander got over his anger, and we did favors for each other after this.

* * * * * *

In early 1953, while in the vicinity of Satae-ri, we had a patrol that came under fire. So, I directed the fire of the 76mm guns from two tanks in front of the patrol. During this ordeal, SFC (William) Krilling received grenade fragments in both hips. However, he was still able to grab two Chinese burp guns. Even though he was wounded, with the use of a sound powered phone, he was able to relay to me the location of the enemy. I in turn, took his commands and relayed them directly to my gunner and loader, telling them when to fire, and how many rounds. Apparently, the enemy had taken shelter in a cave and due to Krilling’s commands, we scored a direct hit.

On their way back down, Father Walsh carried out two men then went back to help carry a litter back down. He even took the time to stop and give last rites to the fallen Chinese soldiers.

Luckily for the platoon, half of the ammo for the burp guns was defective. A lot of the Chinese grenades were duds. If it had not been for this, casualties would have been a lot higher.

Since Krilling said our tanks saved their lives, he presented me with one of the burp guns. After getting it back home, it now is in the 45th Infantry Division’s Museum in Oklahoma City.

I was ordered to attend a special awards ceremony at Regimental Headquarters sometime in early April. My jeep driver and I were the only ones invited from Tank Company. There were representatives from each company, and each battalion. During this ceremony, SFC Krilling was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Father Walsh was awarded the Silver Star.

While attending a mini-reunion with some of my tankers in Traverse City, Michigan, I learned that after the war, Father Walsh served as chaplain at the Dannemore State Prison—in New York. On May 3, 1977, he died of a heart attack.

* * * * * *

A few days after the signing of the armistice, I was headed to Inchon to be processed home. Rumor was that the troopships had plenty of ice cream, gourmet meals, and even a midnight snack would be available.

The two day wait at Inchon was very unpleasant due to the stench of the mud flats that were exposed during low tide. The tidal range of thirty-two feet, at Inchon, is one of the largest in the world. Still visible at low tide were rusty LST’s, KCM’s, and DUKW’s.

There at Inchon is where I thought I would loose the burp gun presented to me by SFC Krilling. However, to my disappointment, before boarding the troopship Nelson W. Walker, I was given a new assignment; I was to be in charge of one-hundred six POW’s. There were two other officers who were given the same number of prisoners to watch. Needless to say, since I was my own security officer, this is how I was able to get stateside with the burp gun.

Finally, the blessed day order came down—board ship. I was going home.[12]

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