CHANGJIN JOURNAL  11.27.06


See below.  Photo by Bill Donovan, Company L, 3/31

CHANGJIN JOURNAL 11.27.06 [Edited 13 Nov 06/Byron]

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 we provide our readers with a manuscript published in the Army Chapter Chosin Few (AC-CF) newsletter, Vol. XIII, No. 4, November 1999, pp.6-17. The issue climaxed George Rasula’s thirteen years as chapter historian and editor, after which he activated the Changjin Journal to provide broader dissemination of the Chosin story.

The original essay by Lt. James Mortrude included maps from the Chosin Chronology, an aerial photo of the Inlet with map from MSgt Edward H. Smith, USMC, and one sketch of the napalm strike from the Magill manuscript, 1996, all of which have been published in past issues of the Changjin Journal. This issue will expand the visual presentation of Mortrude’s story with photographs by Bill Donovan of L Company, 3/31, and Ivan Long of Headquarters, RCT-31.
 



 

JIM MORTRUDE: RIFLE PLATOON LEADER EAST OF CHOSIN

Lieutenant James Mortrude, Company C, 1st Battalion, 32d Infantry, a unit attached to the 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT-31) that fought the battle east of the Chosin Reservoir, 25 November - 2 December 1950.

The landing on the beach at Iwon, North Korea, was unopposed, uneventful and most importantly, dry. Platoon-wise, our situation at Iwon was considerably improved from the time of the Inchon, South Korea, landing. We now had a regular attached aid man. Corporal Camoesas was of considerable medical ability and sincere professional dedication to the welfare of the troops.

Our initial thirty-plus South Korean auxiliaries (KATUSAs) had been both culled and integrated by combat and the "buddy system." As a result, U.S. - South Korean relations on the troop level were relatively cordial. I was using our best Japanese occupation trained KATUSA as our Korean platoon sergeant to facilitate communication and coordination with our KATUSAs. This man, Chung Yung Te, also had some knowledge of English which he was rapidly increasing.

Our fire discipline had greatly improved. Our soldiers held their fire on order, even at night, and in the daytime, responded very well to tracer direction, Ever since my experience in WW II as a machine gun squad leader, I had been convinced of the effectiveness of leaders using tracers to direct their unit fires. As a platoon leader in Korea, I carried nothing but tracers in my carbine. All I had to do to activate and direct the platoon fires was to fire a burst of tracer at a desired target, The troops would quickly and decisively join in.

Also, the troops had adapted to the more sophisticated techniques of "marching fire". This is an aimed grazing shot at suspected enemy positions every two or three steps rather than "John Wayne" hip shooting, We had very successfully utilized marching fire early in the Inchon campaign to tie down, overrun and capture a number of North Koreans on a hill position.

Our night security, a continuing concern to me, seemed to be improving in response to my persistence, In my experience it was usually during the early morning hours from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. that security lapsed due to someone falling asleep or failing to completely awaken their relief. Consequently, I made it a point to always walk the defensive line sometime during that period. To my satisfaction, one of the sergeants once assured me that the troops were more concerned with me than the enemy catching them asleep.

Most important, my confidence in the company had greatly increased due to Captain Robert Jones' steady, responsible leadership in the Inchon campaign, Also, I had developed rapport with some of the other company officers. Lieutenant Richard Moore had been most helpful in transferring command of the platoon to me at Camp McNair in Japan. I also became friendly with Lieutenants Herbert Marshburn and George Foster on shipboard. However, one other company officer still continued to give me "new boy on the block" treatment. I think there was a basic difference of opinion as to proper concerns of a platoon leader.


[Click on the map for a much larger image]  This map portrays the disposition of major units on 25 November, the day 1/32 Inf. arrived east of the Chosin Reservoir to begin relief of the 5th Marines, while the remainder of RCT-31 was beginning its move from the area of the Fusen Reservoir, arriving at the Chosin on 27 November. Map CC-11A from The Chosin Chronology, Copyright © 2006 by George A. Rasula
 

My memory fails me as to our departure from "Happy Valley" and our movement to the foot of Funchilin Pass. I do remember the new bivouac area was snow covered and that we passed a cold unpleasant night on hard rocky ground.

We loaded early in the morning for the trip up the mountain to relieve the Marines east of the Chosin Reservoir.

During the long cold trip up the mountain road, north through Hagaru-ri, the platoon medic, Corporal Camoesas, and I were very concerned that the troops might incur frostbite from the steel floors of the trucks during the inactivity of the slow ride. We checked with everyone during traffic breaks and insisted those experiencing numbness detruck and "stomp" about to restore circulation.

We incurred no cold casualties and unloaded early in the afternoon on Hill 1221 in the First Marine Division [5th Marine Regiment] area north of Hagaru-ri. The weather was cold with some snow already accumulated on the ground.

We relieved a Marine squad in thinly manned but well prepared reserve positions along the ridgeline. They informed us of an abortive attempt by a Chinese reconnaissance patrol of the previous night to drag a marine from his position.

I was much impressed by the young marine squad sergeant and his professional briefing of first myself, and then of his own squad before their departure. He followed a formal field order format as though it was routine procedure.

We occupied two- and three-man foxholes. We organized night security for maximum troop rest with only two men awake in each squad area. The platoon sergeant, the Korean platoon sergeant, the platoon medic and myself took turns in the Platoon Headquarters.

As usual, I scheduled myself for the 0200 "witching hour" shift. When I awakened, I found the weather cold and quiet with a cover of fresh snow on the ground. I checked the platoon area and found only one man awake. I awakened the platoon sergeant and required him to organize walking security patrols in each squad area for the remainder of the night. Platoon policy was that if we couldn't manage security from the foxholes, then we would do it the hard, uncomfortable way, above ground. I was insistent one way or another that we have effective night security.

I then walked the company defensive line and found the same situation of "no challenge" and only one or two people awake in all of Company C. When I returned to our platoon area I found our guard up and functioning as desired. I then got into my sleeping bag at about 0400 hours and slept the rest of the night.

27 NOVEMBER

I awakened after daylight to find the weather somewhat moderated with some sunshine. I conducted a brief investigation of our night security failure, censured and counseled the NCOs, and imposed latrine excavation duty on the key enlisted offenders, those determined to have failed to awaken their relief.

On receiving the company call to breakfast, the platoon sergeant supervised call with approximately one half the troops remaining on position while the other half were going, coming, and eating at the messing area. Usually, many brought at least a portion of their food back with them in their mess kits in order to facilitate their foxhole buddies' feeding.

When I reached the mess tent I found the other company officers huddled warming around an extra field burner. I informed the company commander of the disciplinary actions taken in my platoon and the reason therefore. Captain Seever listened to my report without comment but another platoon leader precipitated a confrontation with me by remarking on the absence of any such problems in his platoon. Captain Seever eventually restored order and supported the need for night security after I had adamantly expressed my opinion of our past night.

Around noon [Nov 27], a number of trucks full of Marine troops moved south through our position. In the afternoon we trucked north about four miles to the forward positions vacated by the Marines. We were told these were to be our attack positions for the last general offensive "North to the Yalu."

We detrucked behind a ridgeline and proceeded to occupy former Marine-prepared positions on the forward slope to the right night of a road through a pass.


[Click on the map for a much larger image]

Map CC 17A from the Chosin Chronology copyright © 2006 by George A. Rasula

Lt. Col. Don Faith’s 1/32 Inf. occupied positions north of the Inlet, with Lt. Col. Riley’s 3/31 Inf. and Lt. Col. Embree’s 57FA taking positions south of the Inlet.

In theory, I tied in by fire with the company command group just across the road in the saddle of the pass. Actually, a considerable gap existed between their positions on the road and our positions being higher up the hill but everyone was satisfied. My opinion now, is that "tie in with fire" is often just a myth that compromises night defensive positions for enemy penetrations.

Our people were well positioned on the forward slope and our platoon command post was on the top of a hill in an excellently prepared, former Marine bunker with overhead cover and a good view to the front, flanks, and rear. A supporting heavy water-cooled machine gun was emplaced on our right flank.

The wire crew with a telephone line and EE8 telephone reached us just at dark. I had some critical comments for the wire crew who were not sure of how to connect the phone. To me, this seemed typical of our low level of technical expertise.

There was some hopeful discussion of a hot meal. The platoon sergeant sent a couple of men to the company command post to check but nothing materialized. We had received a day's ration of C rations before we left Hill 1221 but never received any hot food thereafter.

As darkness developed, it became much colder. I directed squad warming fires be established in vacant foxholes. However, I was soon ordered to extinguish same by telephone calls from a nervous company and battalion headquarters who were concerned that the sky aglow of our fires could be seen from the front by the enemy.

Also, we received an alert of the possible return of a friendly reconnaissance patrol along the road to our front. I alerted our troops. I now understand this referred to the 31st Regimental I&R Platoon which was never heard from again. This is another myth, giving lip service to security by ordering out patrols and then not supervising them or even being concerned with maintaining contact with them.

This reported patrol was later to be of some concern to us when the enemy began probing our positions. Actually it operated in our favor. Upon detecting movement, the squad called for instructions rather than just firing on observed movement and disclosing our positions.

The platoon sergeant and I walked the platoon line periodically to maintain an alert status and to ensure the troops were not allowing their feet to freeze in the inactivity of their foxholes. In some cases we would order seemingly benumbed troops out of their holes to move around with us to restore circulation.

Our Americans were generally good-natured about the cold but the Koreans were dispirited and resigned. We observed frequent "ostrich" behavior among the KATUSAs. This presented a dilemma in that the American troops did not trust the KATUSAs to share a foxhole with them. Conversely, if there were two KATUSAs in the same foxhole there would likely be no one alert in that hole.

When we reentered the comparative warmth of the CP from our walking tours, we would experience our individual weapons icing up to the point of becoming inoperable. Reluctantly, we had to leave our weapons outside. This failure of the bolts of frost-coated weapons to chamber rounds fully into firing position was a major problem throughout the Chosin operation and interfered continually with automatic and semiautomatic fire.

[Click on the map for a much larger image]  This map shows the Chinese attacks on the night of 27-28 November, just hours after many RCT-31 units had arrived, occupying temporary positions based on preparations for an attack to the north. The Chinese attacks had been directed at the positions previously occupied by RCT-5, the 5th Marines, finding them occupied by the newly arrived Army units. There was no opposition at Hill 1221 because the Marines had pulled out and the third infantry battalion of RCT-31, Lt. Col. Reidy’s 2/31 Inf., had not yet arrived.  Map 21A from the Chosin Chronology copyright © 2006 by George A. Rasula.

In the early hours of the morning, I received a sound-power telephone call that our squad on our left flank was observing people crawling toward them. I requested that they hold their fire as long as possible to give me a chance to join them. Upon reaching them, I observed several people crawling in a snowy, brushy area about fifty yards below us. Except for freezing in position, these people failed to acknowledge my shouted challenge. I launched two fragmentation grenades on them from my carbine so that they could not determine our individual positions. They immediately withdrew out of sight, back down the hill. Later, the left squad reported an explosion had killed one of two KATUSAs in a foxhole. In the morning we found a KATUSA with his head literally blown off. Presumably, while he was asleep the enemy had discharged a pole charge against his head.

There was no further enemy contact in our platoon area, but in the late hours of the night we heard shouting and firing from down across the road in the A Company area. I think I recognized the company commander's - Captain Scullion - voice. That was probably just before he was killed in the course of alerting his company to the Chinese attack down the road. In retrospect, I think the enemy first probed our forward slope positions, and then found and exploited the physical gap between ourselves and A Company.

28 NOVEMBER

Sometime after dawn, we began to receive harassing artillery fire from a self-propelled gun at a bend in the road to our front. Lieutenant Jim Campbell from the heavy weapons D Company and an old friend from ROTC summer camp attempted to place long distance heavy machine gun fire on the enemy gun. In return, he received several near misses of enemy artillery fire that tore limbs from the tree above his position.

In the morning Lieutenant Sherrard, executive officer of Company C, came to my area to guide us to an attack position. We were to counterattack up the ridgeline and retake some C Company positions that had been lost during the night. For the sake of time and weight, we reluctantly abandoned our bedrolls with the assurance of the executive officer that the bags would be brought right up to us at night. However, we never saw the bags again and suffered considerably in our subsequent positions at night without their protection. Not only were we without food, now we had also been deprived of the vital warmth of our sleeping bags at night.

In the counterattack, we proceeded generally east up the ridgeline through abandoned positions, initially without resistance. We observed some C Company dead from another platoon who had apparently been killed in their sleeping bags during the Chinese attacks of the night before.

By mid-afternoon, we encountered a series of enemy-occupied knolls. We used very close (50-100 yards) air support from Marine Corsair aircraft. This air support was coordinated by telephone to the Battalion Forward Air Controller (FAC), Captain Edward P. Stamford, with the battalion command group and spotted by our hand-thrown white phosphorous grenades. Consequently, we were able to take the first couple knolls without a firefight.

The supporting Corsairs flew so close we could frequently look down from our knoll into the cockpit of the aircraft and wave to the pilot. The FAC would tell me on the telephone that the pilot was "on station" ready for a run, and I would throw my grenade as far out in front as possible. The aircraft would strike just beyond it.

It was the best air-ground support I ever had ever seen in WW II or would ever see again in Korea. The Marines were completely committed to close air support of ground troops. Their slow, heavily armed, propeller-driven aircraft, their dedicated pilots, and their experienced air controllers made this air-ground support very effective.

Late in the afternoon, we were stopped just short of the crest of a larger knoll and a bisecting ridgeline by heavy enemy fire that could not be suppressed by our air support. An unsuccessful diversionary attack, by Platoon Sergeant Campbell with one squad around the right south flank, confirmed the enemy was well dug in a reverse slope defense. At this point, after sniper fire killed one man of the Company Headquarters just as they reached our location, I was ordered to pull back and defend the right flank of the previous knoll. Enemy fire ceased on our withdrawal and we established our new defensive positions without incident. Miraculously and because of our excellent air support our platoon had suffered no casualties during the long afternoon counterattack.

Sometime after dark, we began to receive fire from the knoll and ridge to our front from which we had withdrawn. I requested mortar fire. The first ranging round fell over and behind the target ridge line and resulted in loud cries. I then requested "fire for effect" at a repeat range. The fire for effect resulted in more cries of distress as though the fire was falling in an assembly area. The fire from the ridgeline ceased and all remained quiet thereafter.

In the early hours of the morning, we received orders to begin withdrawing down the south nose of our ridgeline into the valley below and proceed parallel to and on the left of the main road. This we did without enemy resistance, but with much slipping and sliding down the hillside.

After a mile or so walking along a few yards above and to the left of the road, we were hailed by the Battalion Commander, Lt. Colonel Faith. He shouted for me to lead the column over this high ground and attack the enemy roadblock down in the valley below, while he hit it frontally. After a much longer, slower climb than I had anticipated, we initially aimed a high, snow-covered ridgeline. Here there were numerous well-prepared but abandoned positions. From the C rations scattered about but too frozen to eat I assumed these positions must have been previous occupied by U.S. troops, perhaps Marines. [Had been occupied by a company of 3d Battalion, 5th Marines.]

Well after daylight we reached a position directly above the enemy roadblock, overlooking the frozen arm of the reservoir and the 31st Infantry [3/31] positions. I formed our two platoons as skirmishers to initiate marching fire on my command. However, as we came out of our attack position over the military crest, Colonel Faith's group, which had been attacking down the road below, broke the enemy roadblock with seeming ease. Perhaps the enemy had also detected our impending attack and lost some of their resolve in the face of being vertical envelopment.

We then had a breather at the roadblock site while we covered the passage of the battalion vehicles across the causeway into the 31st [3/31 & 57FA] perimeter.

The Inlet perimeter expanded with the arrival of 1/32 Inf., a time when Lt. Col. Faith discovered that the two other battalion commanders, Reilly and Embree, had both been seriously wounded.

Our platoon was next deployed to defend the northwest portion of the perimeter blocking the road and railroad bed approach from the southwest. Around our positions, just north of the road and railway bed, were numerous Chinese dead who had apparently been slaughtered the night before by grazing ground fire from the multiple guns of the antiaircraft weapons vehicles. We spent the rest of the day preparing our positions with emphasis on the road and old railroad bed leading into us along the reservoir from the southwest. Also, I directed that the Chinese dead be searched for grenades to be salvaged, and that their bodies be collected together to prevent confusion of the dead with possible future live night infiltrators. In addition to salvaging many "potato masher" type hand grenades, we acquired great respect for the 40mm automatic antiaircraft weapons which had literally blown these people apart the night before.

In anticipation of increasingly colder weather, I even salvaged a greatcoat from an unusually large enemy KIA. This supplemental item fit quite comfortably, if not stylish under my parka, but was later to be a source of considerable concern to me.

NIGHT 29 - 30 NOVEMBER

Surprisingly, the first night in this new perimeter passed without incident for our platoon but without much real rest in the absence of our missing sleeping bags. Also, since the company truck had frozen and had been abandoned in the previous forward area, we had no rations throughout the operation, except the initial C rations we had been issued before we initially moved north.

Early next morning we were instructed to secure the shoreline of the reservoir in our area for a helicopter landing area for the evacuation of casualties. This we accomplished without enemy contact. However, the only helicopter to use this area was that of the 7th Division Commander, General Barr. He discouraged my enthusiastic welcome with a brusque response and stalked off to locate Colonel Faith. The fact that Colonel Faith was not there to meet him probably is indicative of a general lack of and concern with command communications.

On the ice are three helicopters that had landed to pick up wounded, this location being about 400 yards southwest of the causeway and bridge.

Also, in midmorning, we received a lone [1/32] soldier who had become separated during the withdrawal, evaded the Chinese, and now straggled in across the reservoir ice from the northwest.

About noon, we began receiving sporadic mortar fire, apparently directed at our platoon command post position dug into the cutback of the railroad. Thus motivated, we continued to improve our positions, but did not provide ourselves with overhead cover, an omission which I was later to much regret.

Late that afternoon, we observed about fifty troops approaching up the roadbed from the south in a multiple column. Despite some spontaneous warnings that they were friendly troops, I was convinced from their bulky uniforms, their jogging gait, and their close column formation that they were enemy. Accordingly, we placed long-range rifle fire on them and they dispersed.

As a sequel to this disrupted enemy troop movement, shortly after dark our forward positions reported hearing voices and observing people crawling on the ground to our front. I requested and received mortar fire 100 yards to our front. After warning our people down in their foxholes, I requested the range be reduced 50 yards with a "fire for effect". When this was done we heard much crying and shouting and thereafter there was no further enemy activity in our area. Most likely, the enemy we had earlier dispersed by rifle fire had attempted to reassemble under cover of darkness for a planned night attack on our positions.

This incident was typical of the small unit tactics and vulnerability of the Chinese fighting us. Apparently, because of the low level of individual capability and training, they had to mass their troops in movement and attack in order to employ them. Once dispersed, they apparently had great difficulty reorganizing. Further, even in the case of successful night attacks by the Chinese, this lack of control became advantage for us. After the Chinese penetrated our positions, they tended to break up into individuals and small groups who ran around aimlessly until they were eliminated by fire from our remaining defensive positions or by our counterattacks.

During our two nights in this new perimeter, I continued to walk the line of platoon positions to insure that one man was alert in each hole and that no one was freezing to death. The platoon sergeant and his Korean counterpart were able to prepare some C ration coffee on a small squad burner that Chung Yung Te always carried. Probably because of the altitude, they had trouble heating it and the drink was only lukewarm when distributed to the troops. The troops appreciated it more, I think, for the effort than for sustenance.

During the night we heard cries from wounded within the perimeter who were suffering from the cold. Also, the fighting with infiltrators in other areas of the perimeter had apparently resulted in unattached individuals and stragglers drifting into our more stable area.

During one of my rounds of the platoon positions I was confronted by an hysterical truck driver who was frenzied by the bizarre appearance of my improvised camouflage helmet cover pillow case purloined from shipboard and my salvaged Chinese greatcoat hanging out below my parka. After he refused to be reassured by my voice, I was rescued by one of our automatic riflemen who threatened to "cut him in half" if he didn't "leave the lieutenant alone". It may even have been the same BAR man who finished off the fleeing civilian in "Happy Valley." (BAR men tended to develop aggressive personalities after they carried those heavy weapons for a while.)

1 DECEMBER


This aerial photo is believed to have been taken by a reconnaissance aircraft the morning of 1 December, showing the southwest section of the Inlet perimeter at a time when the trucks were being lined up along the road to load wounded soldiers. This multiple generation photo courtesy MSgt.Edward Smith, USMC (Ret) who at the time was assigned to the Air Section of the X Corps Fire Support Coordination Center, when recon was being made to determine the thickness of the reservoir ice.—GAR

Toward dawn, enemy mortar fire increased in our vicinity and one impacted in our platoon command post, blowing us all off our feet. Corporal Camoesas and I were unhurt but the Korean platoon sergeant, Chung Yung Te, was slightly wounded in the legs and back, and Platoon Sergeant Campbell received mortal internal injuries.

Sergeant Campbell's death was particularly poignant in that initially we hoped that he was not badly hurt but just shaken up. However, shortly after we helped him and Chung Yung Te into a more sheltered portion of the CP, Campbell called for me. When I went over to talk to him, he insisted he was "all torn up inside" and had me get his family pictures out of his wallet for "one last look". I tried in vain to assure him. Shortly after I went back to the CP to answer the telephone, Corporal Camoesas came over and informed me Campbell had just died. He was a fine man and I wish I had remained with him in his passing.

Sometime in the early morning, Captain Seever, the company commander, came to my CP to inform me of increasing infiltration in other portions of the perimeter and to alert us to be prepared to counterattack to retake "one of those areas". However, this mission never materialized. Later, I heard a friend, Lieutenant Bob Wilson, had been killed in this early morning counterattack.

Also, sometime during this busy night, I injured my knee while launching a rifle carbine flare from a kneeling position on the ice around. I don't know if the butt of the carbine slipped across my knee or if I carelessly placed it against my knee during firing, a long-established prohibition. In any case, thereafter it became difficult for me to walk.

As the morning wore on I became increasingly more exhausted. When the telephone summoned me to the Company CP for the breakout order, I had difficulty finding the CP. I hardly remember receiving the withdrawal order. I do remember some discussion of my impaired mobility, which resulted in the decision I would command the platoon from one of the tracked weapons carriers. I also remember a moment of panic after leaving the company CP when I was not sure of my way back to the platoon. I do not recall my order to the platoon, but think it was fragmentary as I led the troops out of their positions to the head of the column for the breakout. I remember Colonel Faith, as we moved up, ordering me to "break through and keep going".

I also recall a confused situation of trucks being lined up under mortar fire and lightly falling snow. I specifically noticed our Battalion Surgeon supervising the loading of the wounded. The particular irony of his situation was that in previous conversations he had doubted the value of running a battalion aid station as a positive experience toward his ultimate inspiration of becoming a surgeon. I seem to remember him being blown off his feet by a mortar round, but recovering and continuing the loading of the wounded. Later, I heard he had made it out alive but with badly frozen hands. Again I thought of his aspiration to be a surgeon.

Upon reaching the 40mm weapons carrier already in position at the head of the breakout column, I boarded same and waited some time for the order to move out. Obviously we, or at least I, could well have used this available time for last minute planning and coordination of our attack. As I recall, though, we all just huddled there in the vehicle and among the rocks waiting for "the word". In retrospect, I think we were already virtually exhausted, both physically and mentally.

 


Map 35A from The Chosin Chronology © Copyright 2006 by George A. Rasula.

The reader/viewer will quickly sense the significance of Chinese defenses on and around Hill 1221 that prevented the column of wounded from going much further. The Tank Company of RCT-31 had moved to Hagaru-ri the day before and was no longer present at Hudong-ni to help play a role in the breakout.

After perhaps a half hour or so, the weather cleared, the faithful Corsairs began orbiting overhead, and the order was passed to "move out".

As we lurched off down the road to the southwest, the troops of our platoon were deployed on either side of my mobile command post. This included one soldier who was so generally inept as to be unwelcome in the squads. This poor soul, now bereft of Sergeant Campbell and Chung Yung Te, just trotted along beside my vehicle. Also, at this time of our initial movement to engage, the supporting Marine Corps aircraft began flying directly over us from the rear to strike the enemy positions on the road ahead of us.

We had proceeded only a short way beyond our perimeter when a furious burst of enemy automatic weapons fire drove me and the runner down behind the shield of our open turret, and the vehicle stalled. While I was exhorting the driver to restart the vehicle and the runner to return fire, I hopefully watched one of the gull-winged Corsair aircraft making a low-level run toward us from the rear.

As the aircraft approached I saw his napalm bombs fall away toward us. Fearing it was a premature release, I crouched against the wall of the turret. A sheet of flame burned overhead momentarily with a sensation of heat and then dissipated in the air.

With the vehicle stalled, its ammunition exhausted, and my own mobility at least psychologically motivated, I tumbled over the rear of the turret to the ground,

Some small fires were still burning. Lieutenant George Foster of our company was standing nearby with face and clothing blackened and in a dazed condition. Our problem soldier and several unrecognizable persons, drenched and burned with napalm, were already dead or dying alongside our mobile CP. I took cover over the right (north) shoulder of the road followed by several of our platoon.

While I was sitting behind a large boulder, exhausted, and trying to collect my thoughts, an officer, apparently from the battalion staff (probably the motor officer, Lieutenant Hugh May) came running up to us. He told me that the enemy roadblock to our front had the whole column stalled. He exhorted me to resume the attack saying that we must eliminate the roadblock and "get moving again." I said we would try to flank low by the edge of the ice and get behind the enemy.

As we were thus maneuvering I observed enemy on the shoulder of the road immediately above me and threw one of my salvaged "potato masher" grenades up the hill at them. Although it fell short and started to roll back on me before it exploded, it apparently had the desired effect. When I rose up from behind the rock where I had temporarily sheltered the Chinese had abandoned the position and were disappearing down the road.

During this incident, my white-pillow-camouflaged helmet fell off and rolled down toward the ice. Preoccupied with the situation, I abandoned the helmet and led the people with me back up on the road.

At this point I spotted one remaining Chinese soldier up on the high, left shoulder of the road trying to put some sort of a ground-mounted weapon into action. I aimed at him at close range but my carbine failed to fire. Nevertheless, he temporarily abandoned his position up over the shoulder of the road but returned almost immediately, as though being sent back by some out-of-sight commander. I manually chambered a round that did fire this time. The enemy did not go down but, wounded or not, hastened on his way, this time not to return.

Thus encouraged and enthused, our little group of five or six people, including two of the ubiquitous BAR men, ran screaming and cursing down the road shooting at everything. This included one Chinese who crawled out from under a disabled vehicle and a communications lineman up a telephone pole. As our targets and endurance exhausted, we stopped to regroup and catch our breath. In retrospect, it seems we must have flanked into the rear of the Chinese roadblock and were again in the lead of the breakout.

At this point, one of our platoon members (I believe it was PFC Nathaniel McCloud) came up with my white helmet he had salvaged from the ice. I was grateful for both the protection and the warmth it also had my dog-eared alpaca liner attached.


This photo was taken about two miles south the Inlet perimeter. A large group of men from 1/32 Inf. were caught in heavy cross-rire, seeking protection of a small bank. Men can be seen crawling and running across the ice. To the left are men running to the next higher bank to form a skirmish line to return fire. Enemy fire was heavy at this time, as the Chinese held all visible high ground.—Photo by Bill Donovan, Company L, 3/31.

As more members of our platoon caught up with us and other battalion troops appeared to be closing on us, we resumed our march. We proceeded some distance south on the road without contact or incident to the mouth of a larger valley. Here an upended concrete span was collapsed into a gully and the road was junctioned by another road or trail leading up the valley.

At this time I became confused as to the correct route. While we were hesitating in a nearby abandoned house, Lieutenant Herbert Marshburn, a former C Company platoon leader, currently with A Company and a good friend of mine, joined us with a number of additional people. While he and I were discussing possible routes of march, a Marine Corsair aircraft strafed the house with fifty caliber fire, without causing any casualties but with much noise and dust. Normally we would have been trailing bright-colored identification panels to mark our positions for friendly aircraft but significant of our deterioration or organization and functioning, these panels had been left behind, either with Sergeant Campbell's remains or with the wounded Chung Yung Te. In any case, this incident activated us and Lieutenant Marshburn and I went forward to determine the route of march.

From this new vantage point, our indecision was resolved by the sight of many Chinese advancing toward us from a considerable distance up the valley. We decided to continue across the valley on what we now realized was the main road to the opposite high ground of Hill 1221 which we had once occupied.

At this time, I was struck across the left temple by a sniper's bullet which I imagined I felt passing through my head; actually it was only a glancing blow. When I regained consciousness, Lieutenant Marshburn said my wound was bleeding and needed medical attention. He suggested he take all the people available and keep moving and that I catch up with him when I could.

I agreed and staggered back to the ruined house where our platoon medic, Corporal Camoesas, cleaned and bandaged my wound. He suggested I wait there for transportation by the oncoming trucks. Once bandaged, the bleeding ceased but my knee continued to stiffen and I could not find my weapon. However, after a short time I regained my mobility and hobbled after the troops now moving across the valley toward the base of Hill 1221.

I never regained contact with our platoon. I understand Lieutenant Marshburn was killed by a bullet to the head shortly after leaving me. I have always wondered if it was the same sniper that grazed me and, if so, could we have avoided further losses from that same sniper by aggressively going after him when I was first wounded. Also, of course, I have always felt Marshburn died in my place at the head of our platoon.

I caught up with an aggregate of troops from various units huddled in the ditch of the road part way up the side of the high ground of Hill 1221 on the south side of the valley. They were under fire from enemy positions on the crest of Hill 1221 immediately above them. Also, we began receiving long-range fire from the northeast from the Chinese we had earlier seen moving down the valley.

As we lay there in the ditch, several trucks came up the road and one of them stopped near us. When it did, it began receiving bullet strikes through the hood. I recognized the passenger in the cab as a member of our platoon and I urged him to join me in the comparative safety of the ditch. However, he was apparently already wounded and dazed. I tried to help him out of the vehicle, but he was unresponsive and remained crouched in the front seat as the truck moved on up the road toward the enemy roadblocks still in place. I never saw him again. As more infantrymen bunched up in this limited position exposed to fire from two directions, someone initiated movement up the hill. This impromptu movement quickly became a spontaneous attack under the rallying cry of "Come on, G.I." My bleeding completely stanched by the cold, my strength somewhat recovered and my knee very painful but still supportive, I salvaged an M1 rifle and a bandoleer of ammunition from a wounded KATUSA and followed the movement up the hill which was now dotted with the bodies of our casualties.

This attack carried to the crest of the hill into the very midst of the Chinese-occupied positions, originally prepared by the Marines and temporarily occupied by us on our initial arrival at the Chosin. The Chinese broke under our assault and ran down through the saddle where the road crossed the ridgeline. Those that did not run were quickly killed in their foxholes. I heard that at least one was choked to death by an enraged American.

This unplanned, unorganized, soldier-led assault will always be the highlight of my infantry career - a triumph of the individual initiative, determination, bravery and sacrifice of the American soldier over supposedly highly indoctrinated but actually unmotivated Chinese peasantry.

During this melee on Hill 1221, we were again attacked by Marine Corsair aircraft, this time by air-to-ground rocket fire. Fortunately, we had the contested positions on the hill available for cover and I saw no friendly casualties. It does, however, give us the dubious distinction of having been under friendly napalm, machine gun, and rocket fire, all in one day. Obviously, these experiences were the function of our close engagement with the enemy rather than ineptness on the part of the Marine fliers. Even had we been given a choice, I would certainly have chanced a few short rounds for the benefit of such remarkably effective close air support. As the Chinese vacated the hill and resistance ceased, more American and KATUSA soldiers came up the route of our attack and joined our group, We moved, or rather drifted, south off the high ground, without organization or leadership, to intersect the road as it curved back to the west from the saddle, I suppose any cogent thoughts I had at the time were based on Colonel Faith's exhortation to "break through and keep going."

Actually, this is where, after the spontaneous attack succeeded and enemy resistance ceased, the withdrawal became a rout in the absence of any attempt to reorganize or to establish task force command and control.

The climax was probably felt by all as darkness reduced visibility and prevented further close air support. Two pilots remembered those last minutes. They were Marine pilots Ed Montagne and Tom Mulvihill who were flying their Corsairs on an urgent mission to drop ammunition.

Ed Montagne said: "We circled the reservoir for a while trying to reach Boyhood One-Four [Ed Stamford] to get permission to make the drop, to no avail. Much yelling into [the] microphone. I do believe Tom [Mulvihill] tried to get Boyhood One-Four to calm down...So we finally went out over the reservoir, dropped down to almost water [ice] level, slowed up to about 100 knots and went in right over the truck convoy to make the drop. Just as we were about to reach the trucks, someone (I presume Stamford) yelled into the mike "You're strafing us," or words to that effect. We could see the troops huddled around the vehicles and up the side of the hill, their black forms against the snow...As I remember, Tom and I were shaken by their situation and there was some discussion about sending more planes to help them...In fact, I felt bad that we were not able to do more to help them. To this day I don't know if they ever recovered the ammo. Did it do them any good? Were we any help in our rocket and strafing runs?"

Tom Mulvihill described the end of the breakout: "...We hung around until after dark strafing and trying our best to keep the Chinese from them. But it was all over, there was no doubt about it."—GAR

Although my observations were by then very hazy, I recall seeing at least one disabled U.S. tank and several American dead, obviously from a previous battle on the road below the crest of the hill.

Leaving the road, we converted into a group of about fifty persons as we moved out on the ice of the reservoir. Our group by this time included a seriously wounded captain walking with the aid of two mortar aiming stakes.

I do recall, as we moved across the ice, small groups of Chinese would attempt to intercept us but we would drive them back by running at them with desperate shouting and shooting. Also, we came across one wounded American soldier and one wounded and one dead Chinese, literally frozen to the ice of a watering hole. The American said the Chinese had shot him after initially indicating friendship as they hosted him to a drink from "their" watering hole. He had retaliated by shooting both of them.

Just prior to darkness, off in the distance, we observed an air drop of supplies into what we assumed to be the Hagaru-ri area. We were all heartened by this assurance of our direction of march and that the Marines were still holding.

Sometime after darkness, I began to imagine that we were moving through a built-up area. In my state of exhaustion, I wanted to fall out and rest in one of the houses along the route of march. Fortunately, someone of more presence of mind convinced me there were no buildings, only rocks, and that I should "keep going."

Upon reaching Hagaru-ri , we were individually passed through the forward Marine positions in a most professional manner. My impromptu camouflage, my salvaged "potato masher" grenades and again, my expropriated Chinese greatcoat occasioned some concern and curiosity among the marines. After I was identified as friendly, and since there were infiltrators in the area, they wisely insisted on divesting me of my coat and remaining grenades before escorting me to the aid station.

At a very busy aid station they redressed my head wound, wrapped my swollen knee, and gave me a set of crutches. While there, I saw my ROTC friend, Lieutenant Jim Campbell. Although his face was grotesquely distorted by a cheek wound, he seemed to be otherwise all right.

From the aid station, I was escorted to a tent filled with other wounded. Although too cold for comfort, it was bearable by virtue of the number of people therein.

Before dozing off, I forced myself to change to my extra set of insoles we carried as a matter of necessity when wearing the impermeable rubber-bottomed shoepacs. The felt inner soles as well as my heavy outer ski-type socks were frozen to my boots and came off therewith. Fortunately, my padded wool infantry socks and a final pair of personal thin inner liners were damp but unfrozen. Later that night, however, I did awaken with sharp frostbite pains in my heels. My heels remained sore for months thereafter and are to this day somewhat numb and quite vulnerable to cold.

I awakened sometime in midmorning to news of a hot meal and made my way on crutches to the messing area. Hungry as I thought myself to be, I actually ate very little. Apparently, this is a common reaction after extended fasting.

While in the mess area, I saw Major Jones who told me of the destruction of the main body of the task force and the resultant heavy losses.

When I returned to the tent, I was directed to a screening area where patients with impaired mobility were being assembled for air evacuation. Shortly thereafter, we were trucked to the airstrip and boarded C-47 transport aircraft. Although the aircrew was concerned with the possibility of enemy antiaircraft fire, we took off and flew without incident to a medical holding area in the Hungnam area. From there I was transferred offshore to the hospital ship Consolation.

END NOTES

After hospitalization in Japan, Lt. Mortrude returned to Korea to complete his combat tour with the 32d Infantry Regment. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Mortrude resides at Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

END CJ 11.27.06

 

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