CHANGJIN JOURNAL 10.30.00
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IN THIS ISSUE We provide a first person account from a member of the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry (3/31).As our readers may recall, the units of RCT 31 moved into positions vacated by the 5th Marines just a few hours before the CCF attacks on both sides of the reservoir (see CJ 02.04.00).
By Herbert L. Bryant, Commander of Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, written in 1992.
Having relived the days of late November 1950 for 42 years, I decided to put it in writing and maybe it will help me to forget.
NEAR THE FUSEN RESERVOIR
I was assigned as commander of Headquarters Company 3/31 about 15 November, having replaced Capt. Snodgrass who was evacuated because of kidney stones. It was the day after 3/31 had fought the Chinese and had killed quite a large number of them. I recall seeing them scattered across the hillside as I traveled to the battalion CP. I was transferring from D1/31. We moved without vehicles cross-country to the vicinity of the Fusen Reservoir where we stayed for a few days. Brig. Gen. Henry Hodes came and spent the night with us. Maj. Clifton Z. Couch, Jr., the executive officer (XO), who was a great hunter from Arkansas, and I went on a hunt for about three hours; this shows how relaxed this operation was and the assurance that we were in control. We had no knowledge of the danger we faced from the Chinese.
We left the Fusen area and returned to the regimental headquarters area at Untaek. A few days later we boarded a train and went to Hamhung, while our vehicles went by road. There we joined with our vehicles and the trucks that were to carry our troops the following morning.
MOVE TO THE CHOSIN RESERVOIR
We traveled many miles up a dangerous mountain road. It was very cold riding in a jeep, but a wonderful view of the mountains and valleys, and a relief to reach the top. I remember the sawmill town [Sasu-ri] and thought, "That's something that looks familiar."
When we arrived at the inlet area our adjutant, Capt. Bob McClay, showed me to my company CP, a two-room house with a hallways between the rooms, doors at both ends of the hall. The house was about six feet from the railroad track and about 200 yards from the bridge and causeway across the inlet. My CP was about 100 yards from the battalion CP and almost directly in line with the bridge. We were on the same side [uphill ?] of the railroad track as the battalion CP. The kitchen, supply, P&A Platoon and ammo trucks were all located about 100 yards in the rear of the company CP and between the road and the reservoir. there was no sign of a living thing in the area other than ourselves. Darkness came early as I attended a meeting at the battalion CP that evening. We were told there would be no movement the next morning, that we'd wait for further orders. My runner and I returned to our CP and were challenged as we approached. We went inside and talked with the First Sergeant and then went to sleep.
THE FIRST NIGHT
It was about midnight when I was awakened to the sound of small arms fire. I pulled on my boots and got my rifle and went out the hall door facing the battalion CP. There was the First Sergeant and several men from the P&A Platoon. Small arms fire was coming from the direction of the bridge and the area to the right. A man came around the end of the house toward the bridge and several people shot him. I told the men to go to the battalion CP where we arrived without challenge from the security. The first sergeant and I set up security on three sides of the CP. The CP building was next to a steep bank facing north and there was no place to position anyone on the north side. The security on the east was facing the M Company CP. On the south, they were facing the artillery; on the west they were facing my CP and the inlet bridge. We did not encounter anyone at the battalion CP nor did we look for anyone. There was no time for that.
In the corner of the yard, toward the reservoir, my runner took a position facing the artillery. My first sergeant and I took positions in the same corner facing our CP. We had about a dozen men. I had no idea the CP had been evacuated. There were numerous attacks by squads of eight to 12 Chinese from the direction of my CP. Some were stopped within a few feet of our position. It was light enough to see our CP and my jeep which was parked between the two CPs.
During WW II, I was a platoon leader in L Company, 314th Infantry, 79th Division in Europe. I found that the only rifle that would stop a man was the M1 and that's what I used then. Shortly after the Inchon landing I procured myself an M1. Other company commanders made fun of me but I was glad that night that I had it. The only problem was reloading with cold numb hands.
There was a wooden pole about 15 feet long behind the position where we were lying and every 10 minutes we would pound our boots against it to restore circulation. It was great and we used it for four nights. Just before dawn we began to see groups of Chinese coming back from the direction of the artillery. Several groups wanted to fight but most were willing to bypass us toward the reservoir.
THE FIRST DAY
After daylight on November 28, we saw American troops coming from the hills between M Company and the artillery position. We got up from our positions and as they approached, we realized that it was our battalion CP group. I remember the surprised look on Major Couch, as if to say "What are you all doing here?" At that time the first sergeant and I took our men toward our own CP. Both areas were littered with dead Chinese. They paid a heavy price and didn't accomplish very much. We found a squad leader from our P&A Platoon dead by the corner of the house. Two men from his squad lost control of themselves because they were sure they had killed him. It took the first sergeant some time before he could assure them that many of us had fired at him when he came around the corner of the house. We went in the hallway of the CP and looked at the place where we had been sleeping; it was a total wreck. The company field desk was destroyed as was everything else in the room. Some grenades littered the floor. The room across the hall was in shambles, the only occupant being a dead ROK soldier. I told the first sergeant not to let anyone in the house as it was too dangerous and nothing worth salvaging. I regret not saving my musette bag.
We then went to the area of the kitchen and ammo trucks. I found the mess sergeant and cooks; they had all survived the night. Two of the cooks had spent the night under the truck while the Chinese went through the truck over their heads. The enemy soldiers took a frozen turkey, one the mess sergeant had held back from Thanksgiving to make soup, although they dropped it about ten yards away. The first sergeant then started getting a head count and making a roster. I found Lt. Barnard, the P&A Platoon leader. He and some of his men had stayed with the trucks during the night. He was trying to find the remainder of his platoon.
I went back to the battalion CP about mid-morning where I was told Lt. Col. Reilly was wounded and had been in the CP all night. Capt. McClay told me that Maj. Couch and Capt. Adams (S-4) had been wounded. I told him about the condition of my company so he told me to consolidate my CP with the battalion CP so we would have only one to secure. McClay said Couch and Adams both had chest wounds from a sniper, so I went to see Couch who was unconscious in the battalion CP. I don't believe he ever regained consciousness. I then went to see Adams at the aid station. He was in good spirits. The next day I went to see him again and he wanted me to get a jeep and take him out; he was sure we could make it. He had his pistol under his pillow and said they would never take him. He was aware of our situation, but died on day three. Maj. Couch died on day two.
The attacks started early on the second night. The headquarters personnel, including Lt. Jule C. Rybolt, the commo officer, took up positions with the security group of Headquarters Company. The intensity of the attack was equal to the night before and came from the same general direction, from the bridge through L Company and through my CP. They appeared to stop at K Company's kitchen and have a party, then go to my old CP to regroup. From there, they would make a move toward the battalion CP. We were successful in stopping the attacks while some would turn off toward the artillery, just as they did the first night. There were many who we stopped within 30 feet of our positions. Some had no weapons, just grenades. A number of times during the night the battle became intense in the artillery area where they were apparently firing direct fire from the big guns, then all at once it would stop like you had flipped a switch. Then we would concentrate on our rear, expecting to be hit from that direction. After a while, it would start again and we realized the artillery had survived once again. This type of action went on all night.
Shortly before daylight [November 29] we received word not to shoot across the Inlet, that Col. MacLean was coming across. This message was passed along as loudly as we could yell, and off and on for about an hour until well after daylight. Part of the P&A Platoon and the company cooks were defending in that direction. Some time later that morning we heard that Col. MacLean had been captured in the rear of our position and killed. This was reported by the artillery. After daylight, the 1/32 began racing across the bridge and joined our position. LTC Faith visited our battalion headquarters; that was the first time I had seen him. The remainder of the day was spent trying to tighten our defense and salvaging weapons and ammunition. We were accumulating quite a number of U.S. weapons outside the battalion CP. We were also exchanging weapons, as everyone was trying to trade a carbine for an M1.
We had two Chinese prisoners secured in a stall by the commo building. The first sergeant, my runner and I spent quite a few hours trying to dig a foxhole, difficult to do in the frozen ground. We got down about a foot that day and a little deeper on the third day.
Night fell with everyone expecting a repeat of the night before, but things were quiet for a while. A group of headquarters personnel was standing in the yard close to the entrance of the CP when one of the quad 50s from the AAA half-track fired through the battalion CP killing the battalion sergeant major and wounding the commo officer, Lt. Rybolt. This was about 15 feet from my position. Later we began receiving fire from my old CP area. This had been an assembly and attack point since the first night. Someone from the artillery came to the yard and asked if we had anyone in that building. I told him no and asked him to burn it. He said he would destroy it and they did a beautiful job. First they blew it apart, then set it on fire. When we visited the house the next day we found many charred Chinese bodies. For the remainder of the night we had many squad attacks coming from the bridge area. They would try to get to the battalion CP, but when the fire was too intense they would slide off the the right and toward the artillery. A number of squads came by in squad columns about 30 yards from our location and headed for the artillery. It was obvious that the AAA tracks and 105 howitzers were their targets. They could sit on the ridge all day, see the artillery and plan their attacks. During the night it was difficult for me to know what was going on behind our position. All I knew was where M Company's CP was located and the battle raged in that direction every night. They were catching them coming off the hill from the east. I went to their area twice and saw the slaughter that had taken place.
The third day [November 30] began with a few enemy soldiers straggling back at daylight. The remainder of the day was devoted to looking after the wounded, food and ammo resupply, and preparing for another night. The big event of the day was the arrival of Gen. David Barr, the division commander. We thought he would bring some good news, but we never heard a word. Later in the day a helicopter came and evacuated Reilly and Embree. We took Lt. Rybolt down to the lake as he was going to be the next one out. The chopper did not return and, after dark, we brought him back to the aid station. He came close to getting out.
Sometime during the afternoon Capt. McClay asked me if I would attend a service for Maj. Couch and the sergeant major. Their bodies and others had been placed outside the CP toward the bridge. We had a short service attended by a dozen people. ["Who officiated? Chaplain? Are these bodies shown in the photo on page 18 of our August 94 newsletter.] During the afternoon many air attacks were directed at the enemy behind the hills. We also received air drops of supplies.
The attacks on the fourth night started soon after dark and continued all night, much like it was after midnight the first night. We survived because of what we had learned the first night; hold our ground and keep shooting. I think everyone knew after that first night there was no place to go. It was quite hectic throughout the night. The enemy continued to come in squads from the bridge area to my side of the perimeter, but I knew that they were also coming from the hills to the north and east. There were many pitched battles fought throughout the area that night.
The fourth day [December 1] arrived with more miserable weather and some snow. We all had a bad night, then went about our morning business of looking after the wounded and trying to get more food and ammo. There were wounded enemy soldiers their grenades that had to be dealt with. Sometime around mid-morning Maj. Harvey Storms, then the 3/31 commander, called a meeting of company commanders and staff. He said we were going to withdraw to Hagaru as soon as the weather permitted. We were told to unload all two and one-half ton trucks and load them with wounded. All other vehicles were to be destroyed. After the meeting, I asked Major Storms what we should do with the two Chinese prisoners. He said unlock the lock and leave it in the hasp.
We had a huge pile of rifles outside the CP. I talked with Lt. William J. Barnard about putting demolition charges under them. He said he would take care of it. I saw him later on the road and he was not sure if the charge had blown. With all the noise we could not tell. He had not seen his two men who were assigned to set the charges. There were so many men running through the area they could easily have tripped and broken the wires.
It appeared as if the Chinese knew what we were about to do because the mortar fire increased considerably. They had the high ground and we could not conceal our actions. The tasks were numerous, to say the least - getting vehicles started, getting them unloaded, refueling from one to another, destroying jeeps and trailers, destroying kitchens and P&A equipment, and loading the wounded. My first sergeant was going to the different sections of the company and telling men where to assemble when we got word to withdraw. My orders from Maj. Storms were to follow the convoy and assist the rear guard. About noon, my first sergeant and I split a can of frozen franks and beans, not doing much with them; it was like eating buckshot. That was normally one of the best meals to eat cold.
After mid-day the convoy began to move. The first sergeant, my runner and I left the battalion CP area and moved to the road about 100 yards south of the CP. I thought the men assembled quite well under the circumstances. We had men from battalion headquarters, cooks, P&A and commo men, and even a few ROKs. We had about 30 men when we started out behind the convoy and had good control for about a mile, after which we were forced off the road down to the edge of the reservoir. I use the word "forced" but it was more of a drift to the right. We were getting heavy fire from the hills to our left.
There were many troops who were supposed to be the rear guard that were between the road and the reservoir and were passing our group, and as a result our troops moved in the same direction. After we were on the edge of the reservoir I made numerous attempts to get men to stop and take up positions on the bank. They would not reply and some would almost walk into me with blank stares on their faces. [Early indicators of the effects of traumatic stress by groups of soldiers, the trigger being the napalm dropped on the lead unit when the breakout first began.] I came to a cove where everyone was crawling across a 40 yard stretch of ice. I laid down and began crawling, and didn't get very far before it was evident that I was in more danger than I would be walking or running across. I got up and walked to the other side of the cove. I called back and they started to get up and run across. There was scattered fire but it was not intense. There was a little baby girl lying on the ice who had been killed. That was the first time I saw civilians in the group. I had not seen a civilian the entire time we were in the position by the bridge. I finally arrived at the bridge north of Hill 1221 when the last truck was being pulled across. Major Storms and Captain O'Neal were about 20 yards from the crossing, observing the battle. They were alone, no radio operations, no messengers, just the two of them.
The trucks with the wounded were lined up on the road climbing up the left side of Hill 1221. It was quite a scene. There were trucks with steam spewing from broken radiators, wounded and dead drivers being pulled out of truck cabs and other men taking their place, trucks pushing others to help them up the hill. It was a horrible sight.
The fighter planes were strafing down the side of the road left of the trucks moving up the hill. Boyhood One Four was about 15 yards to the left of Major Storms directing the aircraft. It was the best close air support you could ask for. Boyhood One Four, Captain Stamford, was the tactical air controller for Faith's battalion. I walked with Major Storms and Captain O'Neal for several minutes as we watched the air attacks coming almost directly at us. The Chinese were coming down the hill to the left toward the convoy. I crossed the swamp with several men and started up the road on the right side of the trucks. The fire was quite heavy and we took to the ditch and began crawling. It didn't take long before I realized there were too many dead men in the ditch. We got up and started toward the top of Hill 1221.
BEGINNING OF THE END
It was getting dark fast and the air cover departed about that time. When we reached the top of the hill we went toward the head of the convoy. We could see swarms of Chinese across the valley to the east. We went a few hundred yards along the top of the hill where there were many foxholes and some machine gun emplacements. We dropped off the hill to the right and there was an American tank disabled in the road. We stopped and learned against the steep bank above the road and took a smoke. It was still night as visibility was very poor which made it difficult to see enemy from friendly. There were wounded sitting beside the road.
We headed south and picked up more men, including a sergeant who took the lead. We encountered many roadblocks. We would leave the road and go to the railroad, and on to the lake, and back to the road. Sometimes we stayed in one place for thirty minutes, but it seemed like hours. When the shooting stopped, we would move out. I talked several times with the sergeant who was the point man. I knew who he was, but his name will not come back after all these years. He was a real quality NCO, one who would still listen and also make suggestions. We did not engage any of the roadblocks. We waited them out and went around them when the firing died down. When we came to the sawmill town it was light enough so I knew where we were. We could see the flashes from the artillery at Hagaru. We arrived at the Hagaru perimeter about 0200 hours, December 1, with about 15 men.
I was debriefed on December 2 by Lt. Escue of Headquarters/31 who gave me at least a gallon of water, being dehydrated from consuming nothing more than snow. He also found me a place to sleep where I sacked out until the morning of December 3. When I awakened I discovered I could barely walk; my left knee was swollen from a fall down a railroad embankment, one of many falls that previous night. Capt. McClay and I checked into the aid station and were put on an evacuation flight to the Hamhung area [Yonpo airfield]. It was quite a takeoff for that fully loaded aircraft. Later that day we were evacuated to the Osaka General Hospital in Japan. Capt. Sterling Morgan who was our 3/31 battalion surgeon was on our plane; he did a remarkable job at the reservoir. It had been a trying time for all.
The next few issues of the Changjin Journal will be distributed on the 50th anniversary of the Chosin campaign. Time and space permitting, we plan to highlight the major activities which took place during the period before November 27 to the withdrawal from Hungnam.
For past issues of the Changjin Journal go to the Changjin Journal Table of Contents
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