- Chapter 11
That's me, standing at the far left, with a clean T-shirt; and my intrepid mortar men; the entire 60mm Mortar Section.
Even though I would still be in a forward rifle company, I felt my assignment to the 60s would increase my chances of survival by a smidgeon, which was better than nothing. Wimpee's situation was also slightly improved. The machine guns are utilized differently from the mortars. Although they usually move as a unit and are kept together as much as possible, when deployed, their squads are often attached to the platoon they are supporting and then their platoon leader stays with the company commander and acts as his advisor. The mortars are rarely separated although, on occasion, a mortar squad with its gun may be attached to a patrol.
Remember the black officer I mentioned who trained with us in Quantico and who was so obnoxious. On arrival in Korea he was assigned a MG platoon in a rifle company in the 1st Marines. While in a defense position with his foxhole to the rear of the company, they were attacked and he panicked. Thinking the company line had been overrun, he started throwing grenades in front of him. The company was still in position and a couple of Marines were wounded by his grenades. Because of the touchiness of trying to do anything to him his CO permanently attached the MG squads to the rifle platoons. This left nothing for the Lt. to do except follow the CO around. They continued this way until they were able to quietly transfer him to some innocuous job elsewhere in the Regiment.
Later I heard that the other black officer that was with us in the 2nd Special Basic course did an excellent job as a rifle platoon leader and was decorated before coming home.
I had received some training in the 60mm mortar at Quantico but now I had to learn all its finer points. I became a confirmed mortar man and to this day consider it one of the best weapons available to the company commander.
The 60mm mortar is the company commander's "weapon of opportunity" – his artillery. It is highly portable, quickly emplaced and made ready to fire, remarkably accurate when trained (aimed) by a good gunner, and can do great damage to enemy troops and material.
The weapon is in three parts - the mortar tube, which is a steel cylinder closed at one end in which is the firing pin, a base plate into which the tube fits with a ball joint, and a bipod which holds the tube erect. The bipod has bubble levels and vertical and horizontal gears for adjusting the attitude of the tube. The ammunition consists of a finned shell that looks like a small aerial bomb. It comes loaded with either High Explosive (HE) or white phosphorous (WP), better known as Willie Peter. The nose fuse detonates the shell on impact (larger mortars such as the 81mm and 4.2 inch can use proximity fuses for air bursts but not the 60).
The fuse is kept in a safe position by a pin that rides horizontally through the nose of the shell. The pin is kept stationary by a second pin that can be pulled out by the assistant gunner who loads the shells.
The gun is first pointed in the general direction of its intended target, and then leveled. If the target can be seen, the gunner can fire directly at the target. However, since the shell has a very high trajectory it is mostly fired from a defilade position. This is what makes its use so devastating. It can reach from defilade, where it can't be hit except by another mortar, to defilade where the enemy has taken cover. When so used, the gunner puts out aiming stakes 20 to 30 feet in front of the gun using compass headings to do so and sights on those. The firing orders are given by the Plt. Ldr. in terms of compass heading and range. The Lt. gets these from actually sighting on the target that necessitates his being on top of the hill and not behind it where the guns are. He is sometimes with the Company Commander or with the leading elements of the company,wherever he can best see the target from. However anyone in the company can give targets to the section by using map coordinates.
A sequence of using the mortar went something like this. The 1st Platoon has sent a squad size patrol, designated Dog One Able, to their front. Their objective is a low hill about a 1000 yards away. They have reached the hill and, using their radio, call back to their platoon leader to tell him so, also advising him that they see and hear movement in a gully 200 yards in front of them. The platoon leader decides to ask for mortar support. I'm lying right next to him having expected that the patrol might need some help. I talk to the Sgt. patrol leader and confirm that I'm about to give him support and get his exact location. We can see the hill he's on but not the gully.
I find the hill on my map on which I've also marked our gun positions that are about 100 yards in back of us at the base of the ridge we're on. I draw a line from the guns to the hill and then on to where I think the gully is. I measure the distance from the map and determine the heading. We can hear small arms fire and the patrol leader reports that they are being fired on from the gully and are returning the fire. I then call my section Sgt. who's with the guns:
"Dog Nan (our call sign) stand by for fire mission."
"Roger, standing by."
"Nan. Heading Zero eighty one degrees, range 700, enemy troops under cover, gun 1, one round, Willy Peter, at my command."
At the gun position the Sgt. repeats my order out loud so all three guns can hear it. The gunner for Gun 1 has his gun sighted on one aiming stick that is directly north of him. He traverses the gun so his sight shows he has moved it to 081 degrees at the same time making sure his vertical and horizontal bubbles remain level. The assistant gunner has checked his firing tables and determined that for 700 yards of range the gun has to be at a certain elevation (vertical angle) which he passes on to the gunner who makes the necessary correction. The asst. gunner also sees that the firing table requires the use of one increment for a White Phosphorous shell to reach that distance. The mortar shell has a built-in propellant charge in the base that will cause it to go a predetermined distance at a certain elevation. If that charge isn't enough he can add increments that are small charges in plastic packets that can be clipped between the fins of the shell. The Sgt. is watching all of this carefully and double-checking the aiming of the gun and preparation of the shell.
During these exchanges we've never used the word "fire" to prevent anyone from misunderstanding and firing prematurely. This applies to all supporting weapons and friendly troops have been unnecessarily hurt because an inexperienced trooper has said, "Fire at my command".
The other two guns are repeating everything Gun 1 is doing. All of this only takes a couple of minutes and the Sgt. then calls me back:
"Nan six this is Nan. Ready."
"Nan this is six. Fire one".
The asst. gunner for Gun 1 has taken the safety pin out of the shell and is holding it with his thumb over the internal safety pin. As he hears the Sgt. repeat my order, "Fire", he puts the rear of the shell, fins down, into the muzzle of the tube then lets his hands slide down with it until the safety pin reaches the inside of the tube, then lets the shell fall the rest of the way at the same time continuing his downward sliding of the hands so they are clear of the tube. When the shell hits the bottom of the tube the firing pin detonates the propellant that also ignites the "increment" and the shell blasts out of the tube. As the shell rides up the tube, the safety pin rides along until it clears the muzzle when the pin is free and pops out of the side. The shell is now armed and on its way. The mortar makes a very distinctive "Poop" when fired, one recognized by all infantrymen, friend and enemy, and sure to bring a cringe and immediate reaction to "hit the deck" when heard. It can also be heard as it’s whistling down toward you. Since its muzzle velocity is quite low, the gun positions can see the shell as it climbs to the top of its trajectory.
As soon as I hear the Sgt. repeat my fire order, I advise the patrol leader:
"Dog One Able, on the way, please adjust".
"Roger Nan, will adjust."
The patrol leader listens for the shell and watches where it hits, then reports back:
"Nan, this is One Able, right 50, up 50."
I plot where the shell hit and repeat the adjustment but keeping in mind that the report from the patrol leader was from his viewpoint that might not be the same as from mine:
"Nan this is Six, right 25, up fifty, one round, HE, fire when ready". Since I've allowed the gun to act "when ready", my fire order is proper.
"Six, on the way."
"One Able, on the way".
"Nan, down 25."
This continues until One Able reports, "On target". Usually it only takes a few ranging rounds to get on the target, then I order whatever I feel is necessary to accomplish the mission:
"Nan this is Six, Section, three rounds, HE, for effect, when ready."
"Roger Six, firing for effect."
"One Able, this is Nan Six, on the way".
All three guns have now fired three rounds each and a total of nine high explosive shells land in a pattern in the gully. The patrol leader calls back to report that the enemy firing has stopped and that he's going to have the patrol move forward. A short time later he again reports, they have found two dead CCF and one wounded, also some food stores and evidence of an enemy platoon having been located there but that has now left. He says he doesn't need any more mortar support and I call the guns, tell them "good job" and that they can secure for now.
Whenever we move to a new position and dig in, whether for the night or more than one day, Al and I get together and plan where he wants the mortars to fire in case we're hit. Likely avenues of approach are identified and, after situating my guns in a defilade position, I have them fire a round or two to register these "barrage" zones, then I give each of the zones a number. If our support fire is needed at night, the skipper just has to ask for the number he wants hit and my gunners lay in on that target and start firing.
We can also be asked to fire interdiction missions. A preselected target, such as a cross roads, is picked and we fire single rounds at it, one every fifteen to thirty minutes, all night long, varying the time between rounds so the enemy never knows when to expect the target to be hit next.
The first time I fired the 60s in anger I got into trouble with one of our platoon leaders. We were advancing along a series of hills when we spotted some enemy troops moving in the valley to our right. One of our rifle platoon leaders asked Al for permission to take a fire team and chase the enemy down. As he went into the valley, I was sitting next to Al on top of the hill watching what was going on. My mortar section was directly behind me taking a break. We could see the Lt. and his fire team moving toward the trees where the enemy had disappeared. Suddenly we saw a squad of enemy troops appear out of the trees in back of the Lt. Our guys next to us started yelling at the Lt but he couldn't hear us. Another group of enemy popped out of the woods on the left of the Lt. and started setting up a machine gun.
The position the enemy MG was being set up in was well selected behind a small, low ridge that would protect it from small arms fire from where we were located on top of the hill. I turned to Al and said that we've got to do something about that MG, should I use a mortar? He agreed and I quickly had one gunner set up his mortar on top of the hill next to us, sight directly at the enemy, guess at the range and fire an HE round – all of which took a little more than a minute. The shell landed within 20 yards of the gun and the enemy picked up the gun and ran back into the trees, they had not been able to fire a shot.
Then, without waiting for any further instructions I had the gunner shift his aim to the enemy squad and poop out three rounds at them. As those shells landed near them they too took off for their rear. In the meantime we could see that our Lt. was thoroughly confused on what was happening and started heading back to us with his fire team. I had the gunner fire a few more rounds into the trees where the first group of enemy disappeared with unknown results.
When the Lt. got back to us a few minutes later, puffing and panting from his climb up the hill, he came right to me and started giving me hell. He said he had the situation under control and was ready to do battle when my indiscriminate and uncalled for mortar fire scared all the enemy away. He finally calmed down when the Skipper and others explained to him about the MG which he had not seen and which could have done him dirt if our mortar man hadn't been as fast as he was in dropping a round on it.
One of the slightly more difficult days for us started on a nice summer morning. We were ordered forward in order - Fox, Easy and Dog - to take a large hill to our front. The hill had two ridges running westward from its top making a V shape. To get to the hill we had to advance through a wide, open valley, following a hard, gravel road along its eastern edge. When we came to where the first ridge came down to the valley floor, Fox Co. peeled off and started climbing the ridge. Easy continued forward headed for the second ridge which necessitated crossing a small, flat valley that separated the two ridges by about 1/4 mile and consisted of a series of rice paddies and no other cover.
As we followed Easy, Dog was strung out along the road with my mortar section about in the middle of the company. I was leading the section with my second squad directly behind me and had just reached where the first ridge met the road and where it ended in a small embankment about shoulder high that the road cut off and bent around. As I started around that bend I suddenly felt a terrific blast of air go by me, heard a loud "Whoomp", was showered with dirt and stones and then heard a sharp "Crack". This happened again immediately with the same results but by that time I was already in mid-air, diving toward a shallow ditch which bordered the left side of the road. Then there was a terrific bang and again a shower of dirt and rocks directly in back of me.
One or more Chinese recoil-less 75mm guns had fired three rounds at us at point blank range from the second ridge. The first round had missed my head by inches, hit just over the edge of the embankment about five feet from my shoulder, and had not gone off! The second round hit about two feet further up and was also a dud. The third hit the road about 25 yards in back of me and detonated. Four of the men in the 2nd squad were wounded, one rather seriously, and the mortar tube one was carrying had been hit by shrapnel and badly damaged.
The recoilless did not fire again but we then started to get small arms fire from the ridge. Easy kept advancing and finally started up the ridge as we hunkered down trying to use the edges of the rice paddies as cover. While we were waiting to move up I saw Wimpee coming back toward us with his arm in a sling, he had been hit in the upper arm and was leading a number of walking wounded back to the Bn aid station. A few minutes later I saw Dog 2 start up the ridge with its platoon leader in front. He had a huge, white bandage over one ear having had a rifle bullet go cleanly through the lobe of his ear. I remember thinking at the time how funny he looked and what a good target he made.
A short time later he too was being led back with a bullet wound in his shoulder. Easy finally began to make some progress up the ridge and we trailed along behind.
When all of us got onto the ridge it was starting to get dark. Easy 6 called Al and told him they had secured the objective and Bn 6 told us to dig in for the night. I picked out a beautiful small grassy hollow on the reverse slope of the ridge for my gun positions and started setting up my remaining two guns but Al called me and said I should move up to the crest and use my section as riflemen. I gave him an argument, pointing out that he was not making proper use of his mortars. However, he insisted because the company was too strung out and he didn't have enough troops to cover his assigned section of the ridge.
With some grumbling I moved my men to the top of the ridge and started putting them into position as best as I could because by then it was dark. When done I picked a position for myself right on the crest near a big pine tree and started digging my hole. The ground was very hard and gravelly and, to make matters worse, I got about six inches down and hit a huge root. No amount of chopping at with the dull edge of my little shovel would get it out and I was too tired to continue so just threw my sleeping bag across it and tried to get comfortable in a very shallow fox hole, draped across a tree root.
About 11 PM all hell broke loose. We started getting small arms fire from the top of the hill to our right where Easy was supposed to be but, worse yet; we started getting artillery fire on the ridge. For some reason the artillery shells were just clearing the ridge and landing in back of us. I could hear them swishing through the leaves and pine boughs over our heads. I had opened my entrenching tool and was desperately trying to dig my self deeper into the hole while still lying in it. Not only was that impossible because of the position I was in but there still was that damn root I couldn't get past. Any second I expected one of two things to happen. Either the Chinese gunners were going to get the range and the shells would start hitting the top of the ridge we were on or one or more of the shells would hit the heavier branches or trunks of the trees I was under and go off right over me. I tried digging next to the hole I'd started but that didn't work either and I finally gave up trying to dig further and just tried to make myself as small as possible. The barrage was not followed up with an assault and it finally slowed and then stopped in an hour or so but I'm sure nobody got any sleep, I know I didn't.
At sun-up we were ordered to pass through Easy and continue going up the ridge to take the top of the hill. Easy had reached a knob on the ridge the night before and, thinking they had reached the top, they stopped but the top was still some two hundred yards further up the hill and that's where some of the enemy was still emplaced. We were pretty pissed that we now had to finish the job Easy was supposed to have done and there were some choice comments made as we passed through them but their mistake was understandable with the way our maps were. What made us mad is that now it was up to us to finish the job, why not them? Of course they had suffered a few casualties but so had we earlier in the day.
Just before we started our move up the ridge I walked back to the beautiful little glade immediately to our rear where I had argued to emplace my guns and found it was gone. In its place was a churned up mess with shell crater on top of shell crater. That's where a lot of the artillery had landed during the night. I took Al back to show him and then thanked him for not listening to me the night before.
After a short and not very difficult firefight, Dog's lead platoon took the crest. Apparently the CCF took off after we came to the crest. When I got there some of our riflemen were still shooting at some fleeing enemy. But there were no dead or wounded on the hill. There was some equipment left including a strange looking 20mm gun and its shells. It had a metal shoulder stock and one of our Sgts, against the advice of his buddies, put the weapon to his shoulder while in the prone position and fired a round, He screamed in pain and we now had a Sgt. with a broken shoulder. We decided it was a type of anti-tank gun that was intended to be fired by resting the stock against a tree. The Sgt. had made the same mistake Marines had made during WW II when they first ran across the so-called "knee mortar" the Japanese were using. This small mortar, about 40mm I believe, had a curved base plate that looked like it could sit on a person's knee. When fired like that it invariable broke the gunner's leg. It wasn't until Japanese documents were captured that it was realized the mortar was to be placed on a fallen tree trunk when fired.
Later that day we were ordered off the hill and into Regt. reserve. Our company had not suffered serious casualties; I think only about 10 or 15 wounded with no one killed. I don't remember that Easy or Fox had very many either but we were all bushed and the walk back through the valley was with blank stares and more shuffle than walk. Our new Bn. Commander was standing at a cross road watching us as we shuffled past him. Next to him was our new Exec. Major Kurziel. I remember wondering what the new CO was crying about because there were definitely tears running down his cheeks. He turned to say something to Kurziel and when he turned back I saw a look of disbelief pass over Kurziel's face. Apparently our Bn CO had made some comment about how terribly his poor boys had suffered. I found out later that he was one of those regular officers the Marine Corps had gotten into the habit of sending over for a few months at a time so they could get some "battle experience" - he had never had a real field command before. Kurziel, on the other hand, had come up through the infantry ranks. The Bn CO apparently thought "his battalion" had been badly mauled. To Kurziel and the rest of us it was just another workday.
I had one other run-in with a Chinese 75mm recoilless rifle. My mortars were emplaced in a small valley, the opening of which was partially facing to our front so we weren't all that well protected. We had dug three gun pits for the mortars in the floor of the valley and our foxholes were dug in along both hillsides. My hole was about 100 feet up the hill and I had set my shelter half like a lean-to on the uphill side. I was lying in the hole reading a pocketbook and the gunner and assistant gunner of the middle gun were sitting together on the edge of the gun pit with their legs dangling in the pit.
Without warning, there was a loud explosion, immediately followed by the sharp crack that a recoil-less rifle makes. I looked up at my shelter half and could see sunlight coming through a number of holes that had not been there a second ago. To be frank, it looked like a sieve. I waited for the next round but when nothing happened in the next few minutes I crawled out of the hole and ran down to the gun pits.
There was a large crater immediately next to the middle pit across from where the two Marines were sitting. They were like statues, frozen in a state of paralyzed shock, but not a scratch on them. The blast of the shell had picked the two of them up, moved them to the other end of the pit and set them down again. Although not a single piece of shrapnel had touched them some had hit the mortar in the pit and completely wrecked it. Up until that moment I hadn't believed in miracles.
Since their gun was wrecked anyway I sent them back to the Bn. CP for the day and night on a made up errand, part of which was to scrounge me up a new shelter half, so they could get over their shock. When they returned they were back to normal and everybody complimented them on the effectiveness of their guardian angels.
At one time, while in Regt. reserve, we were told that Sighman Rhee, the President of South Korea, was going to visit our Bn. and we were to give him a demonstration. Marines love to put on demonstrations and we went into it wholeheartedly. The Regt. CO suggested we demonstrate a Marine rifle company assault on a fortified position. We first looked around the available terrain and found a nice small, loaf shaped hill fronted by a large open area which had some rice paddies leading partly up the side of the hill. Our plan was to have two platoons set up a firebase along the edge of the rice paddies and the third one to assault the enemy’s flank. The first thing Al wanted us to do is to have Wimpee emplace his MGs at the edge of the first rice paddy so they could put fire all along the crest of the hill. Then he wanted me to set up my mortars about three hundred yards in back of Wimpee and lay in some barrages across the top of the hill.
The idea was for two rifle platoons to move onto the paddies and begin taking the "enemy" position on top of the hill under fire, and then Wimpee would move his machine guns up and add to the holocaust. While this entire racket was going on, the other platoon would move into position on one flank. Just before their assault I would fire for effect on top of the hill with a combination of Willie Peter and HE. The enveloping platoon would move up their respective ridge under the cover of all this support and, when in proper position, we would lift our fires and they would make the final assault with much screaming and shooting, hopefully, not shooting at each other in the process.
The first dry run was with the troops only to see how it would work. It looked OK so Al asked Wimpee and me to get our firing positions in place and sight in on our targets. (To find out what happened next read the section titled "The Argument" which can be found in the "Experiences" indexed on the home page of this site.)
At one of our recent reunions I asked Wimpee if he remembered that incident and he said he sure did and I had to apologize for the 500th time.
Right after that event Al called us back to the CP to announce that our demonstration had been changed. Someone had decided another company should put on the "attack" demo while our company should demonstrate how we operate in the defense. Well, that was a new one for us. We had never had to demonstrate the defensive, always the offensive, but Marine ingenuity came into play and we entered into the work with as much enthusiasm as we had originally.
We decided to stay at the same location, just reverse our positions. The hill would make a good location to view the company's defensive area - like natural bleachers. We would dig in the company at the base of the hill where there was no rice paddy and lay our defensive fires over the field in front out to where the brush and trees started.
To get the best effect, we set the starting time for the demonstration as just after dusk. And, additionally, we loaded all our MG ammo belts with nothing but tracers. That was quite a job because the belt, as received, has only every fifth round as a tracer; this allows the gunner to see where his fire is going. We had to remove all the regular rounds and replace them with tracers and do this all by hand after first getting around the problem of getting that many extra tracers. Then we loaded all the riflemen's and BAR men's clips with tracers also. In effect we had the entire company prepared to fire almost nothing but tracers.
We wanted to make it look as realistic as possible so put various booby traps out in front of the company - grenades, both HE and WP, bouncing Bettys and whatever else we could scrounge up. Empty tin cans were put on lines between the trees and bushes. All these warning devices had lines running back from them to our lines.
We'd noticed that when tanks went by on a dirt road toward our side, they sounded like they were in front of us so we arranged for a tank to be positioned there. I suggested filling some drums with gasoline and placing them out in the field with a grenade attached to each and lines running back to us.
I laid the mortars in on various targets to our front and had a goodly supply of HE and WP ammo ready for each gun. We also wrote a short script so everyone in the company would know the sequence of events that were to take place and their role. We did not have time for a rehearsal but were so sure of how the demonstration would work that we weren't in the least worried. At least I wasn't - I'm sure Al must have had some concerns.
When a Marine rifle company comes under a major attack the action usually builds up as the attacking force first probes for weak spots, forms for the assault and then conducts the assault. The men in the company are returning the enemy's fire as necessary while at the same time not trying to give away their positions. The mortars come into play early in order to break up the enemy's assembly areas while the MGs hold off until the enemy starts its assault. Each MG has a zone of fire and each rifleman and BAR man also has one but the latter only fire at targets of opportunity until the assault starts. When the assault starts the company commander calls for "Final Protective Fire" and everybody either fires at targets they can see or fires their zones until ordered to stop.
The Sighmund Rhee entourage arrived shortly before dusk. We later heard that he could not make it but there were a bunch of high mucky-mucks from the Korean government and, of course, all kinds of brass. I was surprised to see that the government's official vehicles were elderly, olive-drab painted Chevies. The brass included members of the 1st Div., the 7th Regt, 10th Army and other U.N. military staffs - and the press. We had someone from the Bn. brief them on what was going to happen and give a running commentary.
As it started to get dark they could hear the first activity to our front. Enemy troops were running into our noise makers, then a booby trap would go off, then another. Slowly we let the activity build up. Some of our troops began firing at targets they could see or imagine. The first responses were with regular ammunition, not tracers.
Loudspeakers had been set up so the audience could hear an introduction and ongoing commentary and also our radio chatter. They heard the skipper call me to start firing some interdictory mortar fire on selected target areas. As the tension built the tempo of our fire increased. Platoon leaders were calling in the activities they were observing. Orders were being shouted fast and furious until the whole front seemed to be engaged in individual firefights.
We heard the enemy buglers announcing the assault. Just about then we could hear the noise of tanks coming toward us. And then the Captain called for the final protective fires.
Six machine guns opened up firing fans of tracers, every man in the company was firing his assigned zone and in-between clip changes was throwing HE and WP grenades. The mortars were firing as fast as they could drop the shells down the tubes. A couple of men armed with rocket launchers were firing while we, simultaneously, pulled the pins on the grenades attached to the gasoline drums to simulate their hitting enemy tanks. Not even we who had set it up expected the result we got. The only word to describe it is "awesome". For a few minutes the noise was unbelievable and the night was lit up like day. The front of our company was a solid sheet of glaring tracer fire interspersed with small and large explosions.
Al's order of "Cease Fire" was followed by a slow trailing off of firing until there was a complete silence that lasted for a minute or two because the audience was literally speechless, and then the applause started.
I later heard other officers say they had never before seen such an effective demonstration. It awed us too because we had never really appreciated the tremendous firepower a Marine rifle company has. I can't believe that a single enemy could have reached our lines alive. The only disquieting thought is that they do and, with the shoe on the other foot, that's what we have to attack through to get at them.
When in reserve the mortars do like everyone else - clean, repair and practice, practice, practice. When possible we used live ammo but often we couldn't and there's nothing more boring than gun drill and dry firing of mortars. At one such reserve position I managed to scrounge a large pad of paper from the Bn. S3 and set it up on a makeshift easel in front of the guns. I drew a picture of some typical terrain on the large pad and then had each of the mortar men take turns acting as forward observers and adjust the fire of the guns as I drew in where the shells were hitting. They quickly developed it into a game and our practice sessions became more tolerable while their efficiency improved markedly. I've always wondered why the Marine Corps didn't expand that training method. It was noticed by some of the Bn. staff and I believe helped get me "promoted" later on.
There were a number of other recollections I have of this time period which I'll have tell about again in bits and pieces.
** Al had all the company officer join him one sunny morning while we were in back of the line to reconnoiter a hill which we were to occupy later that day. As we were walking along the ridge three small deer suddenly bounded out of the trees and ran away from us. Caught by surprise we managed to unlimber our various weapons and started blasting away. But the deer bounded on with nary a scratch. We decided that we would not mention this occurrence to anyone else. Al was disgusted, seven highly trained, combat wise Marine officers and they couldn't hit a deer in the ass.
** Many of us had grown mustaches and someone got the idea to make a picture of those that were so adorned. I didn't have one at the time but did grow one later. The picture was sent to Max Factor in Hollywood labeled as "The Handlebar Crew from Hagaru". The firm sent us a large package containing every conceivable kind of moustache wax and other things designed for the care and maintenance of mustaches.
** When in reserve we occasionally got a supply of beer in. I don't remember what a can cost but we had to pay for the beer. What I could never understand is that the cases would be marked as "donated” by whichever brand it was. On questioning this we were told that our cost was to pay for the transportation. We couldn't believe that knowing the shipping facilities that were available for everything else and so decided that someone was ripping us off - not very good for morale.
We never, ever had access to a slop chute (bar) as apparently was the case in Vietnam and we never saw a sign of the Red Cross or the many things they supposedly provide the troops with. Some of our men who had occasion to go back as far as Pusan or other rear areas mentioned they had found Red Cross facilities which sold coffee and doughnuts to them. This just reinforced what I had found was the case in WW II also. You won't find many service men that have much good to say of the Red Cross and I've never donated to them since.
** I was standing on top of a hill watching the 1st and 2nd Plts assaulting the hill in front. Capt Al and Lt. Chaffee were standing in the open in front of me and I could see them talking. Some mortar fire was hitting us but not very close. Suddenly Chaffee looked down and pointed at his stomach. He had just been hit by a piece of shrapnel. It was only a small piece but still it sent him back to the Bn. aid station in some agony.
** One of our newer rifle platoon leaders had a terrible thing happen. I think his name might have been Ellsworth and he was from Pa. His lead squad was pinned down and their point man was killed. He and the Plt. Sgt. moved forward to where they could see the dead Marine but the fire was so intense they couldn't reach him. They waited as long as they could but the Lt. finally had to give the order to withdraw. When they came back through our lines he was sobbing. Marines try never to leave their dead but sometimes it can't be helped. But under no conditions do they leave wounded behind and one of his men had made the statement that he had seen the Marine move before they pulled back. The next day a patrol went out and brought the body back but I have no doubt that the Lt. would be haunted by that for the rest of his life.
** Earlier this same Lt. got into a little gambling situation with our company first sergeant. The Lt. had not had much experience playing cards and was introduced to and became enthralled with the game of poker. As he won a little he became overly confident. One day he and the 1st Sgt. were at the CP and the Sgt. showed him how you could bet on cutting the cards. They started with a quarter and the Lt. began to lose on every cut. Getting mad he started doubling his bets and still kept losing until the amount got to $256, at the next cut he had lost $512 and he looked as white as a ghost. The Sgt. calmly asked him if he wanted to cut again. After a minute he said " Yes" and cut a winning card. As soon as he'd left I asked the Sgt. if he would have held the Lt. to his bet and he admitted he wouldn't have, he only wanted to give him a good scare and get him to stop gambling. It must have worked because I never saw him gamble again.
** One night we were in position on the flank of the Dutch Brigade. We were always very careful not to show lights at night so the enemy couldn't make out our positions. To our horror we saw the Dutch troops build big campfires that cheerily burnt most of the night all along their lines on the ridge. In the morning we asked them if they were nuts only to be told "How are you going to fight the enemy if they can't find you?"
** There are always some Marines around who will cut your hair for 50 cents and thereby augment their meager pay. They don't have to be expert barbers because all we ever wanted was very short crew cuts. Nobody wanted to be bothered with longer hair; in fact some of the Marines shaved their heads. But in one reserve position we had a Korean civilian join our Bn. and he cut our hair for 25 cents a crack.
He was a shriveled up old man who told me he had once been the head barber at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Actually he was quite good and did one thing I've never seen before or since. After finishing he would massage your scalp by rapidly drumming the knuckles of both hands across it for a few minutes. He said this increased the scalps blood circulation and prevented baldness. I wouldn't know about that but I was surprised to find on first going to my barber, Eddy, in Wausau, Wisconsin that he always massaged your scalp with a vibrator attached to each hand. He's the only barber I've ever known to do that.
** One day we discovered that two sailors had joined the company. They had jumped ship in Pusan and worked their way up to the front, getting help from Marines all along the way. They didn't think sitting on a ship in Pusan harbor was the way to fight the war and wanted to see some action. By the time they got to us they were pretty well outfitted with dungarees, gear and weapons.
Al didn't realize they were in one of the platoons until they'd already been there a few days. This gave him a dilemma - we could use every warm body and they had performed well but we could also get in trouble for harboring runaways. He decided to play ignorant which was actually quite safe to do because we never held musters and there was really no way for us to know that we had more people than we were supposed to have.
They were with us about two weeks and then someone in Bn. HQ heard about them and Al was told to send them back which he did although they pleaded to stay. A couple of weeks after that two navy officers showed up. One was the defense counsel for the two sailors who were in the process of being court-martialed and the other the legal officer assigned to prosecute them.. The two officers stayed with us for a couple of days while we were on the line interviewing the men the sailors had worked with. When they saw how we lived and what we had to go through every day they both agreed the sailors deserved medals, not a court-martial.
We later heard they had received very light punishment and were considered heroes on their ship. But the Navy had to punish them because otherwise half the fleet would jump ship and go looking for a fight and souvenirs.
** Another time a Marine captain showed up at the company CP and wanted to talk to all the officers that had known a Lt. whose name I believe might have been King and who had left Dog just before I joined them. This Lt. had written a personal letter to a friend who was the publisher of a paper in a mid-western city. The letter was very critical of Truman and the conduct of the war. The friend had foolishly published it in his paper and it had been picked up by the wire services and reprinted in major papers across the country. The Lt. was immediately transferred back to Japan. The captain identified himself as an FBI agent and his questions were obviously aimed at trying to establish if King had been a communist. Everyone who had known King assured him that he was a good, loyal Marine officer who had simply put in writing to a friend what many of us felt. The captain left us apparently satisfied. Interestingly I met up with the same captain and King under peculiar circumstances at a later date.
** One morning we heard of a terrible tragedy in Fox Company. The night before one of their brand new replacement second lieutenants had placed a BAR man and a rifleman in a listening post in front of the lines. They were supposed to spend the night there and report any suspicious activity to the Lt. over a voice-powered telephone. After placing them in position he ordered them to shoot at anything that approached them from their front regardless of what they heard and then returned to his platoon.
When he got back to the line the Lt. realized he'd forgotten to leave the telephone at the listening post. By this time it had gotten dark. He took the men's squad leader and a telephone and headed back out. They lost their way and found themselves in front of the listening post so the Lt. told the Sgt. to stay where he was and he worked his way up toward the post. When the BAR man heard him he fired and stitched three rounds across the Lt's forehead. The Sgt. yelled and convinced the posted men of his identity and the three of them carried the dead Lt. back. The next day the BAR man put his BAR in his mouth and pulled the trigger. We felt most sorry for him because it had not been his mistake but that of a young, green officer.
** It was a bright, sunny, summer day that found the company first sergeant and I walking back to the Bn HQ for some forgotten reason. As we started to get in among the tents that made up the Bn forward CP we noticed a small jeep trailer sitting next to one of the tents. The trailer was loaded with all kinds of grenades and other explosive devices that had apparently been removed from some forward position and dumped haphazardly into it. As we got abreast of the trailer we heard a "pop" followed by a "sizzle". One of the things in the trailer just had its fuse lit and was about to go off. Without a second's thought we both dove off the road to our left. I remember noticing with curiosity as I was flying through the air that I appeared to be headed for a bunch of eggshells and orange peels.
We had managed to dive head first into the garbage pit for the battalion's mess. After landing in the glop we lay still for a moment expecting the whole trailer to go up in one glorious bang, but nothing more happened. When it looked like that was the end of our adventure we crawled out of the pit, cleaned ourselves off and went on our way promising each other to never tell anyone.
** Shortly before I left Dog, Al was transferred to be skipper of the Regiment's 4.2 Mortar Company. Tom Burke replaced him. Tom was a good officer and we liked him but he was never able to replace "the Skipper" and we all missed Al. Tom could do some strange things however. After I’d also left Dog a few weeks later I heard he got his officers together for a pep talk just before Dog was to move up again. During the talk he suddenly pulled out his forty-five and, waving it around recklessly, he exhorted his officers to follow him whenever he was about to charge the enemy. Strange behavior for a company commander! Either that or he too had received a package of pre-mixed martinis.
* One day, while I was still with Dog, we were asked to do a job that scared the daylights out of me. We were issued a bunch of axes and saws and were told to cut down a whole flock of trees on a hillside for use in building bunkers. Tom turned the company loose with no instruction or warnings and trees started falling every which way. Having learned how dangerous logging is while an underwriter for Employers Insurance I was aghast at seeing a couple of hundred Marines, untrained in logging, merrily denuding a hillside with cries of "Timber" on all sides. To make matters worse it rained all day and the hill was muddy and slippery. But we somehow got through the day with no serious injuries.
** While in Bn. reserve I had an opportunity to conduct a training session with the 60's using live ammo. We went a mile or so away into a small valley and set up our guns. I especially wanted my squad leaders to get more experience in calling for and adjusting fire so had them go to the top of a small hill in front of us and act as forward observers while I would stay with the guns and pass their orders on. We had just gotten started when our Bn. CO together with Maj. Kurdziel and some other Bn. staff officers showed up and stood off to the side watching us. Using his radio, one of the FO's called me to make an adjustment following the first round we had fired. I passed this on to the gunner of the squad that was going to register the fire.
They dropped in a shell and as it left the tube I knew there was something wrong. I yelled "Short round. Hit the deck" at the same time keeping my thumb on the radio button so my FOs could hear it too. Everybody hit the deck and the shell landed very short, between us and the FO's.
After we got calmed down The Bn CO asked me how I had known it was a short round. It had sounded no different than the previous one. I told him I could see that the increments between the fins were just sputtering as the round left the tube which was very unusual and, although I wasn't sure it would be short, I knew that there was something drastically wrong with the shell. He and Kurziel both seemed impressed.
A few days later I was ordered to report to Bn HQ and pick up some replacements. When I got there I found that one of them, 1st. Lt. Cook, was to be my replacement and that I was to take over as platoon commander of the Bn's 81 mm mortar platoon.
My last official act for Dog was to bring Lt. Cook and half a dozen enlisted replacements back to the company. Another case where I bounced up the hill while they laboriously puffed after me with many rest stops. I did have a little time to break in Cook who turned out to be a very nice person and a fine mortar man. I remember him especially because he had a finger missing he'd lost in an accident while a child.
When I finally was able to get back to the Bn. I had another pleasant surprise. Sometime earlier I had been notified by HQMC of my promotion to 1st Lt. and the 81mm Mortar platoon is required to have two officers, a 1st Lt. platoon commander and a 2nd Lt. assistant platoon commander. My assistant was to be Wimpee! Although I was very happy to hear this news because I knew he was one of the greatest officers I had ever worked with but I didn’t know how he was going to take that assignment. As it turned out he was just fine with it and even got to like the mortars.