Digging on 355 and Bathing in the Imjin

MK comments (14 Nov 2002):

Leroy in basic training at Camp Roberts, California.

About this basic training photo, Leroy told me:

"The arrow on the left points to me and the arrow on the right points to Richard Killion, who went to Korea with me. He was sent to Co F, I was sent to C, and, although it wasn't known to me at the time, he was captured not long after that.

"The first time I got a chance to go to F Co to look for him, I found out that he had been captured. His other buddies showed me a letter he had written from prison camp and asked me to verify his hand writing. It was his letter alright and he said he was being treated well; but, you know how that goes.

"I know he came back home, but I have not been able to find him."

I found this entry in the 3rd Division Casualty lists:

KILLION RICHARD E Rank=PFC Serial Number=RA19414784
State of Record=  CA     County of Record=  Alameda
Race=  1     Year of Birth=     Branch=  Infantry
Military Occupation Specialty= (4745) Light Weapons Infantryman
Assigned Unit= 7th Inf Rgt - 3rd Inf Div
Place of Casualty=N Korea Date of Casualty (Year/Mo/Day)=  1951/09/11
Casualty Description= 
Captured - Returned to Military Control

Leroy just before shipping out to Korea.
The trip starts in Marysville, California.

Here is what Leroy gave me to say about his experiences on Hill 355:

"When Charlie Co (and I) got to the top of Hill 355 on 25 Nov 1951, there was a lot of incoming artillery and lots of dead soldiers were there already.

"The hill was almost solid rock and all of us still alive were trying to find a hole to jump in. I found a small hole with two dead men in it. One of my buddies and I pulled them out of the hole and took their places in it. I had the impression that those two dead soldiers that we replaced were not American and, for sure, they were not Chinese. A short time later a medic got hit right beside us. We pulled him in that hole and had to find another.

"I have often thought about those two dead soldiers and can still, almost, remember their faces. I still wonder who and of what nationality they were. At the time, I thought they were British, but now I realize that I may have been wrong about that.

"Does anyone know of what nationality and unit those two soldiers might have been?"

I asked for help to find an answer to Leroy's question. "Arc" Arculis (#6), "Reg" Kitchener (#41), Frank Pearson (#45), "Charley" Haynes (#49), David Strongin (#50), and Mark Pease (#53) all pitched in and furnished clues. Clues is all I had so far because I had my Thanksgiving Day (what they called) dinner somewhere near the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In 1951, Thanksgiving Day fell on 22 Nov.

From those Bunker guys I learned that: between 16 and 22 Nov 1951, the 3rd Division was relieving the Commonwealth and other units all along the MLR (Jamestown Line) from just west of Hill 355 to and across the Imjin River and then along the Imjin to the east of Nori - in other words, "our" hills; during that period of time, the 2nd Bn of the 7th Inf Rgt (3rd Inf Div) relieved the 1st Bn of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry on Hill 355, and the 3rd Bn of the 7th Inf relieved elements of the Commonwealth Division just to the east of Hill 355; shortly thereafter, that entire section of the MLR came under heavy attack by Chinese forces; Hill 355 was completely overrun except for some remaining elements of Co F of the 2nd Bn of the 7th Inf; and, beginning about 25 Nov 1951, the 1st Bn of the 7th Inf and elements of the 15th Inf Rgt (3rd Inf Div) successfully launched a counterattack to retake Hill 355.

Then, I woke up and realized that Mark Pease (#53) was in Co F of the 7th Inf and, therefore, must have been on Hill 355 from the time his 2nd Bn of the 7th Inf had relieved the KSLI until after the successful counterattack. I yelled for help and he answered thusly:

"The memory is rusty but this is what I remember.

"We did relieve British troops on Hill 355. They left us some items, such as mortar rounds and grenades, which really came in handy later. We also found out that some of them did not like the spaghetti that was part of our C rations; the bunker I moved into had the walls lined with cans of the stuff. That was all right with me because I loved it.

"The Brits were fully off our area of the hill when we were attacked. I can't remember the exact dates, but it doesn't seem as though we were up there very long before we were attacked.

"I can't imagine the Brits having left anyone behind. I will look through some other stuff I have put away to see if I can get the dates of our time on the hill more firm. If I find anything, I will pass it along. Sorry I couldn't be more help. Mark. 

Well, It looks like we are back where we started, Leroy. I'll stretch my editorial privileges to the limit by now quoting or, to be more accurate, paraphrasing something Somerset Maugham wrote about life in general. What he wrote seems to me to be even more apt when applied to the recall of long ago events. Maugham wrote something like, "With a great deal of fortitude and a little common sense, one may make a fairly good job out of what is, after all, a matter of very little consequence."

After some gentle prods, Leroy gave me this other tale to tell for him:

"On my last day in Korea with my company, we went on patrol somewhere beyond the front line. I have no idea where we were, but I know it was near the Imjin River. We had been in reserve for several days and used some hills in the rear to train for the patrol.

"For the patrol, we had three reinforced squads of maybe ten or fifteen men each. I was Squad Leader of the 1st Squad. Its objective was to take the first hill and set up a blocking action for the other two squads.

"As they passed through our blocking position, their mission was to advance over two forward hills, kill anybody they saw, and then withdraw back through our position; but, those of you who have been on patrol in Korea know too well that attacks don't always work out as planned.

"It was total confusion. My squad took our hill without much of a problem and set up the blocking position. My squad had a buddy system - each man had a buddy and was not supposed to come back without their buddy, dead or alive. We had several new guys and one of them was so young looking that I made him my buddy so I could take care of him. When we took our hill, I was busy doing my squad leader's job of setting everything up when I got the word that the buddy I had assigned to myself was crying. When I went up to where he was, I found out that he was crying because he didn't know where I was. So, I gave him a new buddy.

"We were supposed to be out of there before daylight, but you can't believe how many problems we had, including the temporary loss of contact with one of the forward squads. We finally pulled out to a fallback position that we had set up earlier. It was in a high fire area that no one would want to be in during daylight.

"I decided that we would go out and look for our missing squad; but, before we could leave, it showed up. So, I decided that, instead, we would go to look for a LT and his radio man who were missing also, which was no surprise because radios never worked very well over there. Luckily, we didn't have to go very far before we found them.

"When we came back across the MLR, we had to walk across a kind of a foot bridge. There were some tanks just across the river with a general in command. He thought they were going to have to go and rescue our patrol.

"The general shook my hand and apologized to those of us who already had our orders to go home. He said it would never happen again, that anyone with only a few days to go would not go out on patrol again.

"We caught a ride on those tanks back to the rear. The tanks took us to a place on the Imjin where it was set up for us and we were to take off our clothes and throw them in some trucks because clean clothes were coming soon. We were given soap so we took baths in the Imjin River. The trucks with the clothes were late coming and we had to sit around in the nude for the rest of the day, even while eating the food they gave us.

"Finally, the trucks DID show up and took several of us far enough to be on the first leg of our way home."

Later, Leroy emailed me something that was nearly like this:

"Merv, I have thought about that patrol several times since 1952. The kid I was so worried about on that hill was probable older than I was. I had not yet turned 17 years old. But, you grow up fast in Korea and I had been there longer than he had.

I'm sorry for the misspelling and bad grammar - I never was very good at it and I've been drinking a bit.

I sure would like to hear from someone else who was on that patrol. I'm sure it was an experience which anyone who was there would well remember. Leroy."

Leroy, sometimes it's hard not to have a nip or two when reliving those days around the Imjin.


Leroy said that this photo must have been taken after he returned home because he is wearing his Combat Infantryman Badge.

I was tactful enough not to have asked him how the photo got so crumpled up because he wrote me something like this:

"In the early 60's, I lost everything I owned and had with me in San Diego, including nearly all of my pictures. That was back in my wilder days and another story.

"So, you may do as you wish with all of this stuff or do nothing at all with it.

"I just appreciate the IBB and am glad to be in the bunker with you and the other guys. I'm very proud to be part of the group. THANKS. Leroy Keeney."

Leroy, we are proud to have you in the Bunker with us. I knew that you were our kind of guy when your ante to the IBB Last Man Club was a "double sawbuck" instead  of a "tenner" and your cover letter said that you didn't have change. I suspect that you had some guilt feelings over being nearly three years younger than anyone else in the club and five years younger than most of us, but don't worry. Each of us is a hardy old cuss and figures that he'll be one of those few who will "have a cup of kindness yet" from our bottle of fine cognac.  MK.

MK add-on (15 Nov 2002): Leroy has furnished more information re the identity of the two dead soldiers he came across on 25 Nov 2002:

"The two men I'm talking about looked like Anglo-Americans in the face and they had light colored hair; but they had different uniforms and insignia, so we were sure they weren't Americans.

"They had no weapons so, at the time, we thought the Chinese had taken their weapons. Now, I wonder if they could have been Forward Observers because  they were in a place where they had a good view of the whole front line.

"I remember that night well. We could see our front line in both directions and could see dirt being thrown out of all the holes by the digging men in them. The incoming artillery would slack off for a while, almost quit, and then would come again. Leroy Keeney.

Also, Mark Pease (#53) added this information:

"Hi Mervin. Looking through some old stuff of mine, I have found out that F Co relieved elements of the 1st Commonwealth Division and the relief was completed late on 20 Nov 1951.

"The Chinese started hitting us with artillery on the 21st and attacked on the 22nd. The battle lasted through the 26th before it was all over.

"The Chinese continued to shell us for a few days after that, maybe three or four. I think it was men of C Co of the 15th that broke through to us sometime early on the day of the 25th.

"Noah Knight of F Co was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions on the 23rd and 24th. Hope this info helps. Mark."

I hope these add-ons help our searching party, Leroy.  MK.

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