CHANGJIN JOURNAL 11.27.05


This is the second gunner, 4th Platoon, L 3/31. He died a few minutes after being hit. This photo was taken outside the perimeter near our first position. -  Photo courtesy MSG Willard Donovan, 4th Platoon Leader, L3/31

 

CHANGJIN JOURNAL 11.27.05

 

The Changjin Journal is designed to disseminate and solicit information on the Chosin campaign. Comments and brief essays are invited. Subject matter will be limited to history of the Chosin campaign, as well as past or present interpretation of that history. See End Notes for distribution and other notices.

Colonel George A. Rasula, USA-Ret., Chosin Historian

Byron Sims, Contributing Editor

 

IN THIS ISSUE of the Changjin Journal, we look back at those who didn’t make it to Hagaru-ri where the evacuation aircraft were waiting, and also those who suffered their end during the breakout from Hagaru-ri to Hungnam. The reasons why rest in the memories of a thousand who never did make it out, those whose remains once again meet the frost of an early winter. With these memories we will include an essay from the distaff side Chosin family, one of the many who suffered the agony of waiting.

 

UP FRONT

Many publications based on the Chosin battles relate to those individuals who fortunately made it to the Hagaru-ri perimeter and evacuated by air. As time marched on, survivors began to surface, many able to fill the gaps in the story. Some units were fortunate to have key personnel who survived, resulting in more accurate information as to what happened within those units. This is noted in recent issues of the Changjin Journal that provide coverage of the 1st Battalion, 32d Infantry. The 3d Battalion of the 31st Infantry has been less fortunate.

 

Fifty-five years ago on this November anniversary date the Chinese, from their point of view, were lucky enough to take advantage of a change taking place east of Chosin, that of the 5th Marines departing for Yudam-ni while elements of the Army RCT-31 were in the process of arriving. They attacked the positions of the 5th Marines just a few hours after darkness, finding some positions vacant while others manned by soldiers who had just arrived, some even in the process of arriving. This, in effect, created a the most favorable killing ground for the Chinese, allowing them to drive through two companies of 3/31, through the battalion command post area, and into one battery position of the 57th Field Artillery Battalion. This initial attack included a maneuver element that went around Hill 1457, attacking the vacated command post of the 5th Marines, finding it occupied by the headquarters of the 57th Field Artillery Battalion.

 

What did this attack do to these units, other than sound the alarm that the Chinese were there in force? They lost many key personnel this first night. Lt. Col. Bill Reilly received multiple wounds about the same time as Lt. Col. Ray Embree of 57FA was wounded at his command post. This would have put Maj. Clifton Couch, executive officer, in command of 3/31, but that didn’t happen because Couch was seriously wounded and died. This then put the Maj. Harvey Storms, S-3, the last field grade officer of the battalion, in command; he was killed during the attempted breakout.

 

When we look at the officer casualty notes maintained by the 3/31 battalion adjutant, Capt. Robert McClay, we find many of the officers were killed or wounded in the first night and next day. From the staff, headquarters company and attached officers we remember the dead and missing: Maj. Clifton Couch - KIA; Maj. Harvey Storms - KIA (1 Dec); Lt. Robert Boyer - KIA (6 Dec); Capt Melville Adams - KIA; Capt. Fred Spear - MIA; Capt. (Chaplain) James Conner - MIA; Lt. Jule Rybolt - WIA/MIA; Lt. Olin A. Johnson, USAF-TACP - KIA.

From I Company we remember: Capt. Auburn Marr – MIA; Lt. Donald Halverson - KIA (about 6 November near Fusen Reservoir).

From K Company: Lt. Jack E. Brooks - KIA; Lt. Thomas Wesley - MIA

From L Company: Lt. Lester Rulik - KIA; Lt. Maynard Schermerhorn - WIA/MIA.

From M Company: Lt. Paul Dill - WIA/MIA.

Attached from Heavy Mortar Company: Lt. James Grist - KIA.

Attached from 57th FA Battalion: Lt. Carter Hagley - KIA.

 

Roy Appleman in East of Chosin, p.84, reports: “Another serious loss during the night was the regimental surgeon who was killed while working on a critically wounded man in a blackout tent.” This is not correct. The regimental surgeon was Capt. H.J. Galloway, MD, who had been seriously wounded during the ambush at Hill 1221, made it to the 3/31 aid station at the Inlet and was one of the few evacuated by helicopter on 30 November. Capt. Sterling W. Morgan, M.D., was the 3/31 battalion surgeon.

 

An interesting unpublished story relates to Lt. Jack Brooks of King Company who, when his carbine ran out of ammunition, used it as a club in an effort to keep the attacking Chinese from his wounded soldiers; he died as did many soldiers of his platoon.

 

Another King Company story is about a corporal who defended his one-man foxhole for three days and nights. When last seen his frozen body was still in a firing position draped over the edge of his foxhole, with seventeen dead Chinese soldiers scattered in the snow to his front.

 

 

THE MEDICS [Ref: Medics Face Trauma CJ 03.25.02]

 

One who had an unbelievable challenge at the Inlet was the battalion surgeon of Bill Reilly’s 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry — Capt. Sterling W. Morgan, M.D., who faced the impossible task serving the mass of casualties his aid station received after that first night, as well as during the next three days before the breakout. Little is known about the medical support at that location, other than the fact that medics were falling as fast as infantrymen.

 

Although medical support was on the way that first night, they never made it to the Inlet because the Medical Company convoy had been ambushed at Hill 1221. The regimental surgeon, Dr. Galloway, made it to the Inlet where he was not able to perform as a surgeon “because of being hit twice in the right arm, the right leg, and the brain.” He was fortunate to be evacuated by helicopter three days later. A medical service officer, Capt. Brown Sebastian, also made it to the Inlet; he was later “killed instantly by a bullet through the head as the medics were attempting to clear the third roadblock on the way back to the Marines (who were never reached).”

 

Jeep driver Jeeter (wounded in the arm) with Sgt. Lee (wounded in the spine) also made it to the Inlet where, as recalled by Dr. Morgan, “both were fatally wounded when a mortar round landed on the box ambulance parked near the aid station.”

 

As aid men (corpsmen) continued to fall and medical supplies ran out, Dr. Sterling Morgan was left to deal with the extremes of mental trauma anyone could have been expected to endure. When he stumbled into the Hagaru-ri perimeter he had to have asked, why me?

 

 

STERLING W. MORGAN, M.D.

 

Families from Japan all the way back to the States were glued to any news media they could find, all the time dreading that knock on the door — sweating out the word as some called it.

Harriet Morgan received a letter from Osaka, Japan.

 

 

HEARTS THAT STAND ALONE by Harriet M. Morgan

 

         As I walked down the road to the mailbox, my step lacked the usual lilt. Heavier than the child within me were my thoughts and my heart as I relived the past few months.

         That day he had come home from work, I turned to greet him with the question of the day, "Did you get the grass seed?"

         A strange look passed over his face, a look that for once I was unable to identify.

         "No," he said, "I bought some more life insurance instead."

         I was further mystified when he continued that the next day we were to begin an eighteen-day leave. However, seeing that explanation was finally necessary, he told me, "I got my orders today. I leave for the Far East on August 12."

         The world dropped from around me from that moment on. The next day was just the beginning of all the "last times" I would be counting -- his last day to go to work, the last time I'd see him wave to me as he rounded the driveway onto the road, the last time he'd come home after a normal day's activities.

         We spent the eighteen days traveling east with our eighteen-months-old daughter, viewing again the country we loved, visiting with our families, and saying the familiar good byes which this time had a quiet, deep meaning.

         Farewells were never meant to be. Watching the one I loved dearly ride off to war was worse than the living alone afterward.

         The days were busy. Only a first child can take up as much time as there is in a day. We walked, played, ate, slept and rode daily. And at the end of each day were the hours that I spent with my pen, picturing in detail the events that he was missing.

         The most important moments were those when the mail came in – a letter a day, often a pack at a time when delivery was delayed. From his letters, I developed an almost on-the-spot familiarity with Korea. As I listened to each news broadcast and read the papers, I felt as though I myself were living in an alien land, one with the troops who were forever climbing the next ridge after the enemy.

         We landed at Inchon to spend our first night under fire, cringing close to the ground at each burst of mortar or roar of the tanks' guns.

         We fought our way south and met the 1st Cavalry Division in that historic union. We were on the winning side now, and victory seemed assured as we eliminated the gorillas [guerrillas] in our continued march south to Pusan. We were ambushed, and there were accidents, but most of us arrived safely.

         After regrouping and reconditioning we were ordered to board ships. Seasick, ill with the flu, we sailed north, avoiding the mined harbor at Wonsan, to land at Ewon [Iwon], far to the north, to commence the big drive to the Yalu. We were going to be home by Christmas!

         First came the mud. It covered us. got inside us, bogged us down, tired us out. Then came the snow and the cold. Electric blankets and hot water at home; here a thin pair of pants, heavy boots, and a blanket. But we were going to be home by Christmas . . .

         In a valley came our first costly ambush. Our guns and our guardian angels saved us for another day.

         Two days after Thanksgiving the enemy hit again. No kidding ourselves; this was it.

         Here, abruptly, my life in Korea ended. The letters that had kept me close to the fighting no longer gleamed in the mailbox. I had only the newspapers and the broadcasts now.

         One day in horrified fascination I reread the account of the slaughter and burning of a convoy of wounded from which one man said only he and a few others had escaped. Where else than with those hundreds of dead could my dearest doctor be?

         The agony of vicarious suffering is unbearable, for there is no balm for the wounds. For days I lived unknowingly – at times hoping that all was well, at times assured that no harm could come to one dear to me, always aware of the fear that creeps into hearts that stand alone.

         And today, from habit, almost mechanically, I pulled open the mailbox. A yellow envelope, a telegram, lay innocently within. Void of all sensation, even of heartbeat, I drew it out, stared numbly at it a moment, and slowly tore it to get at its message.

         "Am well and fit. Best love from Daddy. All my love Dearest," signed with his name and Osaka Army Hospital, Japan.

         Suddenly the air was clean and good, The road was wide and straight. "Oh, God, he's safe," I whispered. And unashamedly I bent myself to the mailbox and wept.

 

 

THE BREAKOUT CONTINUES

 

After the reorganization of the Army elements at Hagaru-ri into two small battalions of three rifle companies each, we find the next story involving a distaff connection that is the opposite of the Morgan experience. This involved Lt. Rolin Skilton who was one of the two liaison officers in Hq/31 in the Chosin area, now assigned as a platoon leader in Lt. Bob Boyer’s Love Company, 31/7. During the 6 December breakout from Hagaru-ri Boyer’s company was the second unit to be committed on the left flank of the Marines where they shortly became involved in a nasty firefight with the next Chinese fireblock. During this action Lt. Skilton was severely wounded, placed on a stretcher to be carried on a vehicle until he could be evacuated. It is not known if any attempt was made to carry him back to the Hagaru-ri airstrip. Since the Love Company action took place in mid or late afternoon, the odds were that the airstrip was closed due to movement of units being repositioned for the breakout, as well as the 5th Marines commitment to attack the Chinese on East Hill.

 

Time marched on. On the distaff side we learned that Lt. Skilton had written a letter to his wife Barbara informing her that he was OK. When that letter arrived it was postmarked FPO (Fleet Post Office) causing her to believe that he had made it to the coast and was aboard ship. This she strongly believed as noted in many letters that were being exchanged among the families.

 

As time marched on Lt. Skilton was eventually carried MIA on the rolls, and after the war when official burial sites were uncovered and bodies returned to the States, Lt. Rolin Skilton’s remains were returned from the mass grave at Koto-ri, as were the remains of Lt. Bob Boyer who was also killed the day Rolin crawled on that stretcher, insisting he didn’t need help.

 

 

END NOTES

 

On this fifty-fifth anniversary of the night the Chinese launched their first attack, let each teardrop remember the hundreds of soldiers who perished in those trucks of wounded, as well as each of the fallen soldiers who gave their all trying to get them out. They continue their eternal rest under that battleground called the Chosin. Soldiers of Changjin remember.

 

End CJ 11.27.05