Whether our cause is just or not, we should remember those who have given their lives so that we have the opportunity to enjoy ours. The following is perhaps one of the best accounts of a combat action ever written and that you have never heard about:
My father was a Marine Corps machine gun platoon leader in Korea and was involved in a couple of battles. He never spoke much about his experiences, but did mention that in one of the battles he was involved in, the after action report indicated that approximately 2300 enemy mortar and artillery rounds fell in an area the size of a par 5 golf course fairway. The two marines in the foxhole next to him suffered a direct hit and were essentially dematerialized, while my father received nary a scratch.
Anyway, before my father passed away, he had reunited with one of the marines he had served with in Korea, Bill, who was writing a book about his experiences over there. The book was never published, but my father and another marine, whose letter I am publishing below, were asked to comment on the book and offer suggestions/corrections.
This is the other marine's letter to Bill regarding his experiences at Outpost Detroit near the Korean MLR(Main Line of Resistance):
(Note: VT=Variable Timed fuse.)
Your book of memories has been read and warmly reviewed. It is a stirring and accurate account of life down in the trenches and for me a longed for revelation. My recollection of what I did on October 6, 1952, is uneven and, until I read your treasure trove of a portrait of a warrior as a young man, I had no knowledge of the fate of my companions after my capture. I have wanted for such a long time a first hand account of what happened after the battle for Detroit that the appearance of your book at this stage of my life was miraculous.
Let me describe to you, as accurately and completely as I can, the events that preceded your last journey to O. P. Detroit. That outpost was in line with the middle of my second platoon on the MLR. Right after we moved into that position I sought to locate it with the use of a map. I disregarded the brown, greenless, devastated and insignificant mound for other more significant hills and was astonished when someone pointed out to me that the mound was Detroit and that it was a combat outpost. But, by then being accustomed to military euphemisms I marked it as such on my map and seized the hope I would never have to go there.
After the shelling you took on that outpost on October 2 and 3 along with Frisco, Seattle and Warsaw, Van Zuyen called me to his CP on October 5 and said that he was going to send me and a reinforced squad from my platoon to relieve the squad from your platoon. By this time I was aware of how dangerous Detroit was and so, without invitation, I reached below his cot, on which I was sitting, seized the ever present bottle and, without objection on his part, took a long pull and returned to my platoon to make ready. I was scared stiff of going out there but I was confident, after the shelling and probes we took at Bunker Hill that we would measure up to anything that was likely to be thrown at us. Unlike you, until it happened, I never anticipated the enormous magnitude of the artillery assault that befell us.
As you know, the relief of your squad was uneventful. The night of October 5 was marked by intermittent shelling. One squad member was directly hit by a 61mm mortar and his remains were put into a poncho and returned to the MLR. I made no inspection that night of the line because I thought the incoming would lessen during the day. I was wrong; the shelling increased. Around mid-day the CP Bunker, in which about 6 of us were sitting, took a direct hit by a '76mm against the sand- bagged wall. We pushed the unbroken sandbags back into place and in doing so I took hold of the still warm nose cone. Grisly thoughts were crowding in on me.
Because the shelling increased in intensity, I did not move out of the CP to inspect the premises out of concern that we might run out of ponchos. About 7 PM on October 6 we began to receive regular shelling. Now it was no longer intermittent but steady; one after the other. At this time a Puerto Rican Marine went berserk in the CP and had to be subdued. Immediately after this was done he was put on the cot and he began to babble in Spanish from the rhythm of which I took to be prayers. We needed them because just at that moment the shelling, now multiple and constant, thundered down. It seemed to last forever and so I must take exception to your description of it as "brief." The effect of that shelling was calamitous. Apart from those wounded and killed, the bunkers, such as they were, broke down but even more disastrous the dirt from the sandbags and the roof of the bunker covered the extra ammunition we had stored in the CP. We were in dusty chaos. Not long after the lifting of the barrage the cry went up "Here they come" and I shouted "Everybody Out." We took our stand in the trench at the point where the path and the CP met. At that time and at that place we were a fighting force of 7. I do not know what happened to the other 15 men but I had no time to rally any more because the Chinese were upon us.
We took them as they came up to the trench at the CP and the path. I saw countless heads coming at me all bobbing and weaving. They wore khakis with red borders on their collars. When we opened up they could not have been more than 10 feet away. None of them made it into the trenches but they did not fall as we shot into them; they faded away. I remember one, a handsome Chinese about my age. I fired into him with my carbine on full automatic. He did not drop but his arms and body began to jerk about as if he were a marionette doing a dance and then he went away. This lasted for a short time and then all became still. You can understand that I disagree with your explanation of how the dead Chinese got around the path to the trench line; they were put there by gallant Marines and not artillery fire.
At this time, I took two men and led them along the east side of the trench line toward the north side of the hill to see what was up. As I got further along the curving trench line all was silent. I then realized that if the Chinese were further down the trench line, I was hell bound along with the two behind me and so we returned to our original stand at the CP. Upon returning I saw a tall, jug eared, olive skinned BAR(Browning Automatic Rifle) man, whose name I cannot remember, standing in the trenches and heard him say, in a conversational tone, "Hey that one blew my hand right off."
The next thing I remember I was out of the trenches, standing on top of the hill and the BAR man, by cradling the rifle in what was left of his left arm, was firing down our trench line from east to west. I never saw him again.
Tharp, the radio man. with his pack on his back was standing next to the BAR man and he was firing down the path as it came by the CP. I called to him-to request V.T. for our position. At this time I did not care that we might be killed by our own incoming. Most of the men were already dead and the rest including me would soon join them. After that order I shouted words of encouragement "fight to the death."
The next thing I remember is crouching down along side the flame thrower who was badly wounded in his arm. He was at the entrance to the bunker located between the CP and the machine gun bunker facing the MLR. We used it for our ammo dump.
He was trying to tie a thick rubber strip onto his arm to stop the blood. I finished the job for him and we tried to get the flame thrower working. He turned the nozzle and I struck the matches to light it. It sputtered a couple of times and went out. He then gave me a M1 and a bandoleer to replace my carbine now out of ammo and none to be found for a resupply. We were completely ruined and I called out "It's every man for himself" and began running down the trench this time from east to west. I passed several burning bodies and heard rifle fire and then it happened. A hook on my boot got caught by the communication wire on the floor and side of the trench and I went down. I thought I was going to die and was sure the bullets would start ripping into me.
Then a most strange thing happened. I had a vision of a beautiful, black hair, fair skinned woman who resembled no one I ever knew. The apparition quickly passed when a Marine using the bunker facing the MLR west of the "ammo dump" called to me. I made the mistake and went into the bunker.
It was occupied by the man who called out. He was lying along the west side of the bunker and Zolo, a machine gunner, was at the aperture. I was against the east side with my head at the bunker entrance. We were trapped. The Marine was taking pot shots down the trench line. I heard the VT explode above but it did not have the desired effect. Not long afterward the gooks blew a hole in the west side of the bunker and shortly thereafter a grenade came spinning through that hole. I can see it now with the fuse spitting out its shower of sparks, it was going to land between us.
I drew myself up on my right side into the fetal position trying to get all of me inside my helmet. When the grenade exploded my face felt as if it had been torn away from my head. My hands went to my face and I could feet and taste globs of flesh and blood all over my face. I then lost all control over myself and began screaming "my face, my face" and rolled around the floor. Not too long afterward I realized my face was not blown away (only a piece about the size of a dime under the right eye was gone) but that I had been struck by the body parts of the Marine opposite me. Zolo was breathing very slow and low with a croaking uneven sound and then that stopped. I then yelled "Surrender -Surrender," threw my M1 out of the bunker, looked up and saw a gook pointing a burp gun at me.
When I left the bunker several Chinese took me to the top of the hill. The irony of my euphoria in being alive did not penetrate my dazed state but standing there I heard machine guns open up. I thought they were our guns and that the counter attack had started. Not until I read your account did I realize it was the gooks shooting at you on your way up the path. I remember thinking "what a Hollywood finish." But as you came up that path I was being dragged down the north side of the hill by various members of the Chinese People's Volunteers. Three others were captured; all four of us wounded. Two returned to the MLR as you know. Seventeen died.
That's my story. Until this moment I have been unable to reveal all of that tale to anyone. I tell it to you by way of personal purgation and because, after reading your chapter on Detroit, I know that we share a passionate interest in that obscure battle of 6 October 1952. I've had a difficult time keeping those events from taking over my life. I have thought of that battle every day since it was fought and have been very hard on myself because of the loss and my surrender. Even though I know that we stood our ground and fought the good fight still I cannot rid myself of the image of an all too eager killer too cowardly to take the death his enemy has offered him and which, in their opinion, he deserves.
But hope springs eternal. Recently I determined to make peace with myself. Your book has helped me immensely but after 41 years of war peace comes slowly. It has been so difficult for me to realize I was vulnerable and that I was unable to endure the unendurable. Still it is comforting for me to finally realize I was not Achilles, the god-like but I tried to be Hector, the citizen-soldier.
Ours was but to do or die. We tried both. I salute you.