Able on the Imjin

MK comment (31 Oct 2002): For a very long time, J. C. Poe (#2) has gently prodded me to get the photos now on this page to somewhere you can see them and read the stories that go with them. Well, I now thank him for the prods and both him and Cpt/Maj Lendon P. Pearson (#9) even more for sharing their memories of life along the Imjin River during the winter of 1951-1952 and early spring of 1952. The effort in cleaning up the "mess" that Poe refers to in his first paragraph below was "no big thing" because of my interest in what they gave me to work with. Poe will now forgive me for saying that this page has "as told to MK" tales. Take over, Sarge. MK.

Okay, all of you Buddy Bunker fans, Cpl Merv designated me to be point man on a recon patrol through our old homestead along the Imjin. He promised to clean up any mess created by the patrol members and to furnish transportation to the nearest MASH for any of them who become casualties along the way.

My mission is to furnish data to match up with a situation map which I turned in earlier. That map is of Able Company's area along the Imjin during the winter of 1951-1952 and the spring of 1952 and is on the map page "Our Hills" from Kelly to Nori. I carried out my mission by sending Merv the five photos below and the raw material for the stories that go with them. When you see this page, it means that the patrol has returned safe and sound.

The left arrow in this photo points at Able Co's  left flank and the right arrow points to Baker Co's right flank. The center arrow points to an island in the Imjin River. This island, though small, is clearly visible in all the maps of this area, including the map on which I noted all the main landmarks of the Able Co position.

That map is the second one on the "Our Hills" from Kelly to Nori page. A peek at that map will give you the "big picture" concerning all of the features which shown are in this page's photos.

In the photo above, I have marked and you can see Captain Pearson's wire "fish net" which we strung by breaking through about three feet of ice that had collected on both banks of the river and by wading in the shoulder deep ice water. On the previous night, at the request of the 3rd Platoon, I had fired flares at this area of the river. The light from the flares disclosed the presence of three rubber inner tubes each of which had two Chinese hanging on in an attempt to float through our line. They never made it but no telling how many had made it before we caught those.

The "fish net" consisted of three strands of concertina wire strung between five strands of barbed wire and, as far as I know, no unwanted guests made it through the line after that - not by using that route at least. Cpt Pearson was the first man in the water and the last man out after the job was finished. I doubt not that all along for the job remembered that as the coldest bath of a lifetime. What a welcome relief it was to get in that old warm-up bunker for dry clothes and hot C rations from the nearby mess tent.

MK note: I drew a complete blank on the "fish net" and Poe's tale about it. By Poe's mention of the amount of ice in the river, I suspect that I had not yet arrived when the "fish net" was installed; or else, I had just arrived and the Captain did not yet have enough confidence in me to invite me along for the "fish net" stringing. In that latter case, it's an indignity which, like Herman Wouk opined about his not being allowed to eat insects, I bear with fortitude. MK.

This photo, taken from the Nori side of the river, shows the southwest edge of Hill 264. It was located behind the 3rd Platoon and was the blocking position occupied by the Belgian Battalion. It's importance was to bolster the weak point in the line: where the river ran between Able Co and Baker Co just below the island. Thus, the Belgian unit was very important in preventing an enemy breakthrough and run to Seoul down the best and most traditional invasion route to the south.

Merv and I agree with Bart Soto, of the 65th Inf Rgt and a good friend of and contributor to the IBB, that both his Outpost Nori and Outpost Kelly photos certainly appear to have been taken from Hill 264.

The bluffs across the river in this photo, along the river's east side, were split between the 2nd and 3rd Platoons with the break between them being just below and left of the "H" in "Hill 264".

MK note: You may be able to make out that the "break" that Poe just mentioned was a draw (or, as our British friends would say, a reentrant) from the river up to the trenches of our front line. A little further to your left is another such draw. I am certain that each of those two draws had a bunker for one of the 4th Squad's (2nd Plt) two machine guns. I first saw one of those bunkers on 25 Dec 1951 when its gun was, literally, covered with snow and the then occupants of the bunker were "resting their eyes". Of course, being a lowly ammo bearer at the time, I was not yet allowed to live in that fine residence. Poe does not remember the Belgian Battalion being anywhere but on Hill 264, but I have noticed that the 65th Inf Rgt showed up to replace some other unit to our right, as mentioned under the 2nd photo on down from here;  and, at the time I drew Corporal Key's Map, I must have thought that it was a Belgian unit that was then on our right. MK.

We had the pictured small boat when we first came to the position in late November 1951. I don't recall what became of it, but do remember that we usually just waded the river until engineers installed a small foot bridge to the lower tip of the island you see in this photo. For a while, that little bridge was handy for foot dry trips to Nori and patrols up the valley; but, it was back to wet assed crossings again after the bridge also disappeared - to where I can't recall that either.

I also used that little bridge when I was on the detail that picked up, from the Baker side of the river, our first flack jackets. No sooner than getting back to our side of the river, I had to satisfy my doubt about the so called "bulletproof" jackets and fired my trusty .45 pistol into one of them to prove my point: a little bit flakproof - maybe; bulletproof  - no!!!

MK note: I remember the "bulletproof" flak jackets of course. My opinion of how much protection they afforded is only slightly less favorable than that of Sgt Poe. I remember the boat also, or one just like it, and the uses to which we put it; but, the only thing I know about its mysterious disappearance is that I didn't take it. The bridge, I don't remember at all. Maybe that is because I only used it a time or two or, perhaps, because I was in a rifle platoon. I'm not sure we were allowed to use bridges.  MK.

On one of the mornings after a night when the Chinese had kicked one of the rifle platoons off of Nori, I had moved my mortar about a hundred yards forward and set it up next to the NCO bunker for our weapons platoon. We needed some extra reach so that I could fire past Nori and a drop a few rounds in Charley Chinaman's hip pocket as he scrambled to escape the effects of my mortar and an impending air strike. We surely pissed him off enough that he began shooting at my mortar with one of his terrible, long range, elephant guns. Here is a composite of three photos in which you have a view of that Bunker, an aircraft, and an exploding bomb which the aircraft just dropped on Nori:

My assistant gunner and I prudently took cover behind the bunker and left our mortar in the leaning rest position as you see it in the photo. That was okay because the air strike had begun to do our job for us and our side reoccupied Nori shortly after the air strike.

Someone took three photos of that action and they were preserved and loaned to me 50 years later by SGT Sam Kellogg (#29). I put copies of the three photos together to make the composite photo you see here. Thanks, Sam, for the memories!!

MK note: I had remembered watching the air strike on Nori even before, maybe two years ago, Dudley Snyder, the nephew and namesake of my best buddy (Gerald) Dudley Snyder (#8), was so kind as to mail me a video tape and a video CD made from some movie camera shots taken by "my" Snyder in 1951/52. The air strike is briefly shown in those videos. No, you Bunker guys, don't bother to ask me for a copy of the tape or CD - I don't have  the proper machinery or the wherewithal to do that job. As always, I have some sad thoughts while I mention to you that "my" Snyder was KIA 31 Jul 1952 at the base of Outpost Kelly. MK.

In the lower left corner of this photo is the ferry across the Imjin and the steep ravine just above it. The ravine was located between the left flank of the 65th Inf Rgt and the right flank of Able Company of the 15th Inf Rgt.

The peak of the tallest hill in this photo has a very special meaning to me because of events that did not happen until 1963. At the bottom of this page, after I finish my report of this patrol into the 1951-1952 Co A area, I'll tell you about those 1963 events.

In the early spring of 1952, that steep ravine down to the ferry had, except for one "safe" lane, been filled with massive concentrations of wire. Also installed in the ravine were some barrels of napalm with a hand grenade wired to each of them. Also attached to each hand grenade was a trip wire which ran to a 1st Plt bunker. The plot was that, by pulling on the trip wires, the barrels of napalm could be detonated as the occasion arose.

MK note: Earlier, during that very hard winter, the high brass had decided that the same type of Rube Goldberg explosive devices should be installed on the bluffs in front of the 2nd Plt area (shown in 2nd photo from the top). Of course, the ground was hard frozen at the time and the detail assigned to do the job, me included, made little headway in digging the holes to hold the cans of napalm. We managed to get only a very few of them only partially buried; an entrenching  tool (for you civilians: a small, folding shovel) just ain't the right tool for the job we had. After the night fell, some unknown but enterprising marauders requisitioned at least one of those cans of napalm. I can't identify the culprits, but I must admit that the napalm came in handy when poured into a spent artillery shell having holes punched in it half way to the top. That made a helluva great stove. I think that, later on, a different detail was able to do the ordered task properly. You can ask the 3rd Bn guys if those explosive devices ever worked as planned.  MK.

When the 65th first moved into its position to the right of A Co, Cpt Pearson established wire communication with them and visited with LTC Wilson, the then CO of the 65th. Cpt Pearson briefed him on the situation in the ravine between our units and arranged for periodic commo checks between the adjoining flank elements on either side of the ravine.

One night about two weeks later, our light machine gun crew in the area reported to its Plt Sgt, Oscar Jones, that an unknown unit of about ten men was entering the ravine from the river.

After checking with higher and adjacent units to assure that no friendly troops were in the area, Sfc Oscar Jones ordered us to fire our 60 Mortar in pre-fired concentrations  into the ravine. At the same time we began to do that, the machine gun opened fire. Lt Axelrod, the Forward Observer for the Division Artillery, called for and got us a MOONBEAM. That light disclosed about ten bodies. Evidently, it was a Chinese probing force.

MK note: Poe says that the MOONBEAM deal produced a light of millions of candle power. I never saw it used but regularly did see the valley lit up brighter than any full moon ever did. It was the effect of several bright flares being fired high in the air by artillery and coming down slowly by parachute. MK.

Here I must pause to salute the most amazing memory of Captain/Major Pearson. He still remembers the details of many events along the Imjin and the names of the participants in them. His Letter of 28 Nov 2000 to Poe talks about the stringing of the "fish net" near the island and a "Smith" concertina wire barricade across the Imjin and mentions the fact that I was along on both occasions. That letter also describes two other events in which he remembered my participation. One was the fracas of 17 Jan 1952 (a typo of 1951 in the letter) and the other was the occasion on which I was one of the ten men who went out in the valley to retrieve the body of an assistant patrol leader, who had been KIA by a mine, and a very seriously wounded Sgt Oscar C. Jones (#22) also.

MK note: For actions on that patrol, Sfc Jones received an award of The Silver Star. You may click on that link to read the award and see a photo of it being received by Msg (by then, later a Lt) Jones. The story about Hill 117 becoming known "Christmas Tree Hill" is told by Cpt Pearson in his Christmas Day 1951 tale. MK.

This photo shows the part of the Co A area which was on the high ground just to the rear of the 1st Platoon, and also was fairly close to, across a small valley from, and to the right of the area of the ferry and ravine as you viewed them in the photo next above.

The left arrow points to the bunker where I once tried to get some quiet rest after an all night fracas on Nori.

The 2nd and 3rd arrows from the left point to the positions of the Forward Observer, 3rd Division Artillery, and the Bn's 106mm Recoilless Rifle unit.

The 3rd arrow from the right points to our (camouflaged?) 40mm Twin Track vehicle.

The 2nd arrow from the right points to the command bunker from which the then Cpt Pearson had a panoramic view of the 65th's MLR positions on our right and the entire area of "our" hills as far as the position of Baker Company on our left. His view included such landmarks in between as Hill 317, Kelly, Tessie, Betty, Nick, Nori, and Hill 117 (Christmas Tree Hill).

The arrow on the right points to our Quad 50 Half Track vehicle, not too well camouflaged. You may be able to make out two of our support tanks and some of their men in this photo as well.

This area may be easily located found on the map on which I noted all the main landmarks of the Able Co position. That map, which is the second map on the  "Our Hills" from Kelly to Nori page, pinpoints with arrows the 3rd Division Artillery's FO, the 106 Recoilless Rifle, and the Co A Command Post positions that you see in this photo.

About ten yards to the right of the bottom right of the photo, was the slit trench latrine into which our cook dived escaping rifle fire from a brand new Sgt frightened out of his frigging mind. The whole story of that deal is told by Cpt Pearson on the page The Lighter Side of Front Line Duty.

I think that the fracas which caused me to sneak away and borrow the bunker in this photo happened on the night of 17 Jan 1952 remembered by Maj Pearson in his Letter of 28 Nov 2000 to Poe. All those who wear the CIB will know the feeling that comes after sleepless nights like that one or after the one of stringing the concertina and barbed wire as I mentioned above. The feeling includes the thought that, without some needed sleep, I may not be able to stay awake on the coming night when the need is likely to arise.

I carried my sleeping bag to that empty bunker without telling anyone and with the hope that I would not be disturbed for at least a couple of hours; but, I was barely asleep when one of the tanks from the 64th Tank Bn began to pull atop my bunker. As the  damned bunker began to cave in around me, I rolled out of  it and down the slope while still in my sleeping bag. Also, I was yelling at the top of my voice as the tank stopped right on top of the bunker. I never knew if the tankers heard or noticed me because I returned as quickly as possible to my mortar bunker home. I was wide awake but  glad to be there without being squashed.

On a line from the FO position, at the point of the 2nd arrow from the left, through the bunker, at the point of the first arrow to the left, and on down the hill a ways towards the river was, roughly, where we were when we gave fire support for the 65th when it had a problem with the Chinese "volunteers".

Merv asked me to provide an abbreviated version of Cpt/Maj Pearson's story about that supporting operation as told by him me. I said "can do" and here is his tale along with some of my own memories of that event.

About a week after the Chinese incursion into the big ravine as mentioned under the photo just above this last one, the Chinese launched a massive attack on the 65th Bn's position. After about an hour of heavy fighting, the Chinese had control of the 65th's sector in the front line (MLR).

Cpt Pearson contacted LTC Wilson and he confirmed that the 65th had indeed lost its MLR. Cpt Pearson told LTC Wilson that Co A had a well trained reserve platoon consisting of clerks, drivers, cooks, and the mortar section of the Weapons Platoon, that the reserve platoon's personnel had been trained by 1sg Welcome, and that it could hit the enemy's flank and drive them from the 65th trenches on the MLR.

LTC Wilson said no to that offer because he had a company all ready to counterattack, but if Co A could place the vacated line under fire as the counterattacking company moved up, it would help a lot. The Chinese force was thought to be, at least, a reinforced Battalion, so Cpt Pearson responded, "CAN DO, SIR".

Meanwhile, we already had moved into the preplanned firing positions as already described to you, and I ask you to consider the full force of the response that was brought to bear on the Chinese.

First, please consider that, in our firing area, there were: three heavy tanks, each with one 50 Cal and two 30 Cal machine guns; a Twin 40mm Track; a Quad 50 Half Track; several more 30 Cal (both water cooled and air cooled) and 50 Cal machine guns; and three 60 mm mortars already set up like the one pictured on the page Poe at Work. That's a lot of itchy trigger fingers.

Please consider also, that each of our three mortars had twelve rows of mortar rounds with of three rounds in each row - all laid out within reach and with their charges already set. We were able to fire three rounds, level the bubbles, and fire three more rounds while walking our fire left or right and forward without pause until the tubes became too hot for safety and a short cooling down wait was required.

Then, please add to your consideration that, from the rear, came the fire for effect at pre-fired targets from three batteries of artillery with a total of eighteen guns.

Now, knowing the extent of the fire power let loose on Cpt Pearson's order for ten minutes of continuous fire, all of you IBB fans will realize that the devastation wreaked on the target area was such that not even a healthy mosquito would be expected to survive its effect.

After about ten minutes of that devastating fire power, LTC Wilson called Cpt Pearson to say that all of the enemy were either dead or out of there, that he should cease fire, and that the 65th would immediately reoccupy its position on the MLR.

Cpt Pearson told me that, on the next day, LTC Wilson had personally come over to our company area to express his thanks and asked, "Captain Pearson, where the Hell did you get all that fire power?" and that, on that same day, LTC Wilson visited the 64th Tank Bn and got a company of tanks attached to his Bn.

Able Co's reserve platoon, as trained by 1SG Welcome and mentioned above, was very special to me as a member of that lean, mean, fighting machine that, in small groups or as a unit, had the mission of supporting the three rifle platoons whenever it would help.

Maybe two years ago or so, Maj Pearson wrote me a letter saying:

"About three days after supporting the 65th, I asked the CO of the 1/15th Inf for permission to test fire all our Able Company weapons, along with those of all attached and support units, on our planned final protective line. Permission was given for Able Company to conduct the test that night and all friendly forces were directed to stay out of the valley to our immediate front.

"At 2400 hrs, midnight, the Tank Company, DIVARTY support, and all the Able Company weapons on the MLR opened fire. Lt Axelrod, our DIVARTY Forward Observer, brought MOONBEAM into the valley. The display was AWESOME and, for the remainder of the time Able held that position, the enemy never pulled a direct attack on our front line.

"I might add that the Infantry School taught that a rifle company was only expected to defend a 400 meter front. Able Company had a 2800 meter front and that was the reason for our great collection of additional automatic weapons and justification for the presence of a company of tanks and availability of massive artillery support on call.

"Furthermore, we were told that we would hold our area at all cost and, when under attack, pull back only on the direct order of the Commander of the 3rd Inf Div, because our line controlled the easiest most direct route to Pusan. I might further add that we constructed tall and large concertina SMITH fences to our front on the enemy side of the river. These fences were designed to funnel any enemy attack into our planned, final protective fire lanes.

Lendon P. Pearson

MK note: Poe has never understood why I couldn't remember the night of the fire power display. Well, maybe I did remember it, but without realizing that I did. I do remember a night when everyone started blasting away and so I joined in without knowing why. Not yet a machine gunner, I was standing in the trench with my trusty M1 rifle near the machine gun bunker which was occupied by a gunner named Klaus, or something like that, when the sound of an exploding grenade came from the bunker.

Someone must have come to aid the unfortunate gunner because, as I found out later, he had been wounded in his rear end by his own grenade which he had unsuccessfully tried to toss out the aperture of the bunker while peering out to watch the effect of the grenade when it exploded on down the slope, as he expected, instead of in the bunker with him as it did.

Not knowing all that at the time, I was frozen in position except for peering here and there while awaiting the first Chinaman that I expected to show up any minute. I stayed in place and in that frame of mind, still scared stiff, even after all the firing stopped and for the rest of the night.

Upon daylight, I crept carefully down the trench and to the 2nd Platoon CP or, maybe, the Co warm-up bunker without seeing a soul. When I got there, I spied a group of cohorts sleeping soundly away - that is, until I let loose a string of Army vernacular which questioned the marriage of their parents and their relationship with their mothers.

The fence across the river I remember only because, returning dead tired from a night patrol someplace, I fell into the fence and cut a small gash through my fatigue pants, OD pants, long handles, and one of my legs. Nah, no Purple Heart then or ever.

Come to think of it, maybe I did see the MOONBEAM and just don't remember it. MK.

Having finished the mission Merv assigned me, I want to tell you why the hilltop which is visible in the photo with the ferry (the second photo just above) has special meaning for me.

In 1963, I had a 2nd tour of duty in Korea eleven years after my 1951-52 tour. During my 2nd tour, I was the Bn Liaison Sgt for the 82nd Artillery Battalion which was attached to the 1st Cavalry, stationed at Camp Pelam, near Monsanee, Korea, where the cease fire agreement which ended the war was signed.

An ATT (Army Training Test) of the 82nd's firepower and proficiency was held at Camp Casey and the hilltop with special meaning for me chanced to be the Forward Observer Position for that training exercise.

For the better part of an hour, I was on the hilltop with the Battalion CO to observe three Forward Observer Teams as they directed artillery fire on various targets in an impact area within the DMZ. As luck would have it, that impact area happened to be from Nori across the valley to Nick.

From my hilltop position, I had most of an hour for a retrospective view of all the landmarks of interest from Hill 317 on the left to the old 65th Inf position on the right. Of primary interest to me was the 1951-52 Able Company MLR position along the Imjin.

I must admit that the hair on the back of my neck bristled and cold shivers traveled all over me as I peered down at the familiar mortar positions, the mess area, the command bunker, the warm-up bunker, other bunkers, and many other features already etched in my memory.

My experience that day in 1963 also revived in me memories of long past events, both good and bad, that had happened in those same places.

I imagine that the feelings I had that day may be something like those that some of you who also spent some time in the old Able Co area may have as you recognize the view in the photos on this page.

MK add-on: Here is a another chance for you to see Poe's notations on a map, the second one down on the "Our Hills" from Kelly to Nori page, and get the "big picture" and mapped locations of all of the places and things talked about on this page or shown in its photos.  MK.

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