31st Infantry Regiment
7th Infantry Division
I was born on June 11, 1931, in Bronx, New York—one of fourteen children born to Michael and Mary Connolly.
I entered the first grade at PS-160 in South Jamaica, Queens. Needless to say, times were hard in those days. One day the rent was due, so we moved to Saint Albans, Queens—here I enrolled in school at PS-36. I was in the sixth grade, and one day my father came to school. He told me to gather my hat and coat, he had found a job for me; this was the end of my schooling. After working for three or four months at a drugstore in Queens, I went to work on a farm. Here we planted, watered, and harvested vegetables to sale. Being that there were fourteen of us children, we all had to help out at home.
After turning seventeen I enlisted in the U.S. Army. I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for my basic training. In the summer of 1949 I headed for Occupational Duty in Hokkaido, Japan—as a member of the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. I shall never forget the name of the ship I sailed on, the USS Patrick, because I was sick for twenty-two straight days.
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After being in Japan for fifteen months, I was hoping to go home soon. However, it was not to be; North Korea had invaded South Korea. All enlisted men whose time was about up were given an extra year of service by President Truman. Like a lot of other men I would be leaving Japan, but not for home—for Korea
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On September 15, 1950, along with the First Marine Division, the 7th Infantry Division made the Inchon Landing. We encountered a lot of sniper fire, but the fighting was light. The following morning as we headed towards Seoul, I had my first encounter with death; one of my men was killed. We covered his eighteen year old body with a poncho, so the “grave boys” would take him back to the rear.
The fighting at Seoul was extremely intense; it was door-to-door, house-to-house.
After Seoul had been secured, our lieutenant ordered me to take my squad out in front of the company, about three-hundred yards, and set up an outpost. On our way, we passed through a village where we met an elderly man, two women, two little boys who were about two or three years old, and a little girl who looked to be ten or eleven years old. The young girl had coal black hair that reached her waist. We gave the man some cigarettes, and for the women we all chipped in some C-rations and coffee packs; then we gave the kids some candy bars. Now we moved out to set up the outpost for the night.
The following morning, around 0600 hours, we headed back to the company. As we passed through the village we looked for the North Korean civilians we had met the day before. We found the elderly man with his hands tied behind his back and a wire wrapped around his neck. Both of the women had their throats cut, and the two boys were sitting by the mother—crying. We looked for the little girl, but couldn’t find her. As we came to the end of the village we saw her standing by a tree. However, as we approached her, we noticed her feet were about six inches off the ground. Her hands were tied behind her back, leaves had been shoved in her mouth, and her beautiful coal black hair reached about her head as it wrapped around a limb.
After we cut her down, we placed all the bodies between the two little shacks they lived in and covered their bodies with our ponchos. We took the two little boys with us and turned them over to the chaplain, who placed them in an orphanage. Apparently some North Korean troops came into the village during the night, and these innocent people would not tell them of our location. This is how they treated their own people.
The following day we moved out again—this time to the 38th parallel. As we walked along on a curvy mountain road, one of the guys in front yelled out that something was moving in the bushes. With our rifles ready, one of the guys pulled back a bush noticing a hole in the side of the mountain. Crawling in, he found fourteen kids living there. We asked the kids were they got the American trenching shovels they used to dig the hole. They informed us that three American soldiers had been ambushed and killed by North Korean troops. They told us that they had buried the three Americans, and had hidden their rifles and ammo. The kids led us to their graves and helped us dig up the bodies. Along with the bodies of the three GI’s, we sent the kids back to the rear.
Finally, we made our way to the Chosin Reservoir where the temperature was dipping to thirty-five to forty below zero. We thought we were going to be home by Christmas, but that all changed after Thanksgiving—the Chinese entered the war.
After ten days of fighting at the Chosin, of the 3,200 men of the 31st Infantry Regiment only 385 came back alive. The rest had either been killed, frozen to death, captured, or were missing. We returned south of the 38th parallel.
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Around the end of August, 1951, my lieutenant told me I was going home. I felt both excitement and sadness. I wanted to go home and see my family, but at the same time I was saying bye to men that I had lived with, and fought with, for the last two years.
Arriving in Japan, I was able to take a hot shower, get clean clothes, and enjoyed a good meal, and then I boarded a ship headed for California. From there I took a troop train to New York where I grabbed a cab from the train station to home.
As I opened the front door, I could smell the freshly brewed coffee; boy did it smell good.
On August 4, 1952, I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army