The photo at the top of the post was taken on about Feb. 5, 1951 showing some of the soldiers of the 23rd Infantry Regiment taking a break on a hill in Korea. Eight days after this picture was taken, they would face the fight of their lives in the Battle of Chipyong-ni. It was the turning point in the Korean War and has gone into the history books as one of the greatest defensive actions of modern warfare.
The 23rd Infantry Regiment, less than 4,500 men strong, was surrounded at Chipyong-ni by an attacking force of four divisions totalling 25,000 Chinese soldiers. The Chinese started their attack on the night of 13 Feb. By the time the smoke cleared on the 15th, over 5,000 Chinese dead and wounded littered the battlefield, the Chinese march south from the Yalu was ground to a halt, and the UN forces were able to permanently regain the offensive, driving the Chinese north of the 38th parallel and stopping there only on the order of President Truman.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when 245,000 soldiers of the North Korean Army attacked south, ripping through the under-equipped South Korean (ROK) forces. U.S. forces soon began arriving to reinforce the ROKs, but by August, 1950, both the U.S. and ROK forces had been driven back to the Pusan Perimeter (the small pink area shown in the southeast corner of Korea on the map below). It was a last stand defense and there was a real danger of the North achieving a complete victory in the war.
On 15 September, in a move of strategic brilliance, McArthur executed the Inchon landing, an amphibious attack far behind enemy lines in the vicinity of Seoul, cutting the North’s lines of supply. Simultaneously, the U.S. units in Pusan started a breakout offensive. Within a few weeks, the North Korean Army was destroyed. Of the 245,000 North Korean troops that had taken part in the attack on South Korea, only 25,000 of them were estimated to have made it back to North Korea.
McArthur, intending to capture North Korea, began an advance to the Yalu River separating North Korea from China. As the lead UN forces neared the Yalu in October, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army – a horde of over 900,000 troops – crossed the Yalu and made their way into the Korean mountains. The U.N. command had no idea that the Chinese had entered in force until, on 26 Nov. 1950, the Chinese, with vast numerical superiority, caught the U.N in what amounted to history’s largest ambush. The Chinese decimated UN forces and began an advance southward. As the situation is described in the video below, it was dire.
[Note: Both videos below start with points irrelevant to this post. In both videos, the relevant points start about a third of the way in.]
By 4 January, 1951, the Chinese retook Seoul. As discussed in the below video, their march to the south seemed unstoppable.
On about 5 Feb., the 23 Inf. Reg. was ordered to Chipyong-ni, a tiny village at an important crossroads to the east of Seoul. They dug in, awaiting further orders. A Chinese offensive drove back the units on the flanks of the 23rd, leaving the 23rd isolated miles to the north of all other units. On the 11th of February, the 23rd’s Regimental Commander, Col. Paul Freeman, requested permission to withdraw to the south. The answer from Gen. Ridgeway – “No.”
Terrain and Weather
Korea, as shown in the satellite photo below, is very mountainous.
The mountains are separated by flat valleys, virtually all of which are used for rice farming. These valleys vary from 100 meters to a mile or more across. At the time the Korean war was fought, the terrain was largely denuded of trees because of massive lumber operations during the preceding 40+ years of Japanese occupation. The picture below gives some idea of the terrain and the lack of trees in Korea as of 1951.
The small village of Chip Yong Ni sits in a wide valley virtually all of which was farmland. The village itself was surrounded on three sides by low hills. Having only 2,500 infantrymen, Col. Freemen elected to defend along the small hills in a box formation.
Below is a recent picture of one of the hills defended by the 23rd at Chipyong-ni.
Below is a recent picture of the “fields of fire” looking out from the crest of another of the hills defended by the 23rd.
Here is a map of Chipyong-ni showing Col. Freeman’s defensive positions and the five avenues of attack by the Chinese forces.
The Korean winter of 1950-51 was brutally cold. The temperatures around Chipyong-ni were well below zero during the battle. Snow that had fallen days before the battle lay thin and crusted on the ground.
The 23rd Inf. Reg. / RCT:
The 23rd consisted of three battalions of U.S. infantry, a company of Rangers, some artillery/mortar units, a tank company, an engineer platoon, and an incredibly gallant group of legionaries who formed the French Battalion. As much as I have made fun of the French military on this blog, not a wit of it applies to the French Battalion. They were brave beyond measure – warriors who truly covered themselves in glory during their service in Korea.
This recounting of the battle of Chipyong-ni from Ansil Walker, who commanded an infantry company in the battle:
As daylight faded on February 13, G Company observed Chinese crawling, walking and trotting around the railroad tracks, creek bed, road and hills to the south. The supply road from Wonju was closing, as elements of the Chinese 40th and 66th armies shied away from Wonju and advanced on Chipyong-ni from the south and east. Parts of the 39th and 42nd armies were closing in from other directions.
The Chipyong Valley was surrounded. The Chinese were bent on revenge because the hated 23rd Infantry had bloodied their noses previously at Kunu-ri during the winter retreat in North Korea and at Twin Tunnels a few days before.
The command post of D Company was on full alert. As a U.S. Army captain and company commander, I had just scanned the ominous, red-penciled arrows on Captain Sam Radow’s situation map at 1st Battalion headquarters. Ponchos covered the primitive windows of the hut. Sergeant First Class Joseph Loy tended the portable switchboard, while Lieutenant William Penrod checked the alternate communication wires in the command dugout just outside the hut. D Company was ready for the part it would play.
Sergeant Loy and I stepped outside just as rifle fire flared in the southwest. A burst of machine-gun fire answered in the south. Chinese bugles and whistles were heard in front of Captain James Raney’s C Company. In the west, red and green flares hung in the air over the French. A number of trip flares lighted the rice paddies in front of A and C companies. The machine guns of my own D Company chattered as shadowy figures tried to escape the illumination. Suddenly the wild whistle of a single 120mm mortar shell sounded directly overhead. Loy and I dived for the command post’s trench, and it landed with a mighty ker-whomp on an unoccupied hut about 30 feet away. Rocks, frozen clods of dirt and shell fragments rained down as the hut collapsed.
In the nearby command hut, someone yelled, Outta here! and ran for the door and leaped into the dugout. An officer picked up the switchboard, ran for the door and gained the relative safety of the new command post. An instant later, another incoming whistle ended in a booming explosion on the straw roof of the vacated command hut. The building vanished in a shower of debris.
Whistles, horns, sirens and bugles sounded all around the perimeter now. Chinese mortar and artillery fire slammed down on our interior position as well as the forward positions. Chinese infantry began to close in, probing for weak spots. A platoon, charging and screaming a battle cry of Manzai! was repulsed by Companies E and G. Slightly after 11 p.m., enemy forces moved down the slopes of Hill 397, approaching E and G companies again. As they started to attack, G Company soldiers detonated a series of fougasse drums in front of their positions. (First used extensively during World War I, “fougasse” was a 50-gallon drum planted in the earth at an angle and half-filled with gasoline and oil.) As a group of the enemy came within range, the defenders pulled wires attached to grenades under the drums, exploding them and spraying the attackers with a fiery bath.
Blogger’s Note: I had the good fortune to walk this battlefield with some of the men who fought in this battle some years ago. Some points that they all made were that the fougasse explosion was incredibly loud, that it shot out a tremendous flame, and that it turned a large number of Chinese into horrific, screaming roman candles. As one retired soldier described it: “Everybody that was in that battle can tell you what they were doing the exact moment the fougasse went off.”
By midnight the entire perimeter was under attack. Sergeant First Class Charles Klein of D Company was killed, and Private John Hansen, Corporal Leon Dubinsky and Pfc Denvil Meadows were wounded. D Company’s machine guns were directing fire along the 1st Battalion perimeter, while Captains James Raney and Glen McGuyer of C and A companies, respectively, were calling for the supporting volleys of 1st Lt. Donald Hoskin’s 81mm mortar platoon.
Sergeant Harley Wilburn, a forward observer for a 4.2-inch heavy mortar on the perimeter, was adjusting devastating fire for effect on the charging groups in front of A and C companies. The automatic weapons of Captain Clyde Hathaway’s Battery B, 82nd AAA, were being called to critical points along the perimeter throughout the night. Chinese units struck Captain Ed Haynes’ K Company, dominating the road leading westward and north into Chipyong-ni with such intensity that the wounded of K Company could not be evacuated to the medical station. A wave of assailants reached the foxhole line, and a squad of Captain Leander O’Neil’s I Company swung over to help in hand-to-hand combat.
An ambulance jeep raced down the road leading to K Company, but it was raked by machine-gun fire–the driver and a medical aidman were wounded. The driver was captured by the Chinese, but the medic crawled to an E Company foxhole. A squad from E Company, supported by a tank, was unsuccessful in an attempt to reach the wounded soldiers of the 3rd Battalion.
A noisy party of Chinese seemed about to fall upon the French in the west. Hearing the preparations, the legionnaires leaped out of their positions screaming a battle cry, fixing bayonets as they charged, and cranking a shrieking Chinese siren of their own. They set upon the surprised and terrified enemy. Survivors turned to escape, only to be tackled, caught, and hauled back by the French as prisoners of war.
Chinese infiltrators penetrating between A and C companies were met by machine-gunner Corporal Charles Sherwood of D Company. He was wounded and his machine gun was destroyed, but other men held fast, including Pfc Donald Byers, until a replacement gun could be brought up. Adamantly refusing evacuation, Sherwood said: I’m not coming out, Captain. Where would I go, anyway?
At daybreak, 37 enemy dead were counted in front of his emplacement.
Just after midnight, three incoming mortar shells landed in quick succession on dirt-filled sandbags in the 81mm mortar positions of D Company, covering two mortar tubes temporarily and wounding mortarmen Vernon Stout and Chester Darling. At the same time, a thundering salvo bracketed the command post, and Pfc Frank W. Perry was mortally wounded. Sergeant Loy ran for a litter as I cradled Perry, deep in the dugout. Two men finally carried him to the medical station.
At about 2:30 a.m., two flares in the south signaled a third assault on the hills of G Company. Squads of enemy attacked along the series of three hills, concentrating on Curtis Hill (named after an officer of the 1st Battalion) with showers of grenades. Just after 4 a.m., a fourth attempt was beaten back, but fighting flared anew just west of the hill, where only a few men held the line between G Company and the French. A group of artillerymen with a machine gun moved up; only five survived, but they did plug a potential entryway leading directly into Chipyong-ni. A regimental tank was finally dispatched to augment the thin line.
As dawn peeped over the hills around the village, enemy pressure eased–except in the 3rd Battalion’s area, where Chinese commanders continued to order charges at I and K companies. Finally, at 7:30 a.m., a bugler sounded again and the Communists withdrew. They would soon return with additional forces–and renewed hatred for the 23rd Infantry.
A light mantle of snow cast a veil over the Chinese dead in front of the perimeter. Soldiers climbed wearily out of the earth to count more than 500 slain just beyond their positions. Private First Class Marion Augustyniak’s camera clicked away, recording the chaos and various positions of violent combat death. Along with the clusters of stiffened, nearly frozen Chinese bodies outside, a number of Americans and Chinese were sprawled side by side alongside American foxholes, and a few more shared dugouts in death, apparently having succumbed after frenzied hand-to-hand struggles in the darkness.
American and French wounded and dead at the medical station awaited evacuation by air.
He brought us in, he’ll take us out, muttered a company rifleman, shivering in his hovel next to Corporal Sherwood’s new gun. He was speaking of Colonel Freeman.
A 120mm projectile slammed in close to the regimental command post. A staff officer, Major Harold Shoemaker, was killed, and Paul Freeman was wounded.
It was St. Valentine’s Day.
Moving about painfully on a bandaged leg, Colonel Freeman later walked the perimeter, urging officers and men to continue the fight. Observer planes reported that great numbers of enemy soldiers were massing outside the range of Chipyong-ni’s artillery and mortars. In the afternoon, General Ridgway himself flew in by helicopter, promised help and asked Freeman’s soldiers to hold for one more night. A terse note was scribbled in the D Company diary: One more night. Ammo low. Cold and snowy. How can we….
Early in the evening of February 14, we were subjected to a furious bombardment, the prelude to an all-out assault. Although many foxholes had at least a partial overhead covering of railroad ties, timbers and sandbags, a direct hit often would blast some of the cover away, and the detonation itself would create casualties. At midnight, a Chinese attack wave struck A Company, then veered over into C Company and the 1st French Company. Soon the entire perimeter was under siege for the second consecutive night. Casualties continued to deplete the ranks, with no replacements available. C-47 cargo planes, called Fireflies, dropped parachute flares, which cast a momentary, garish light over the battlefield before fading into eerie shadows.
Corporal Sherwood’s second machine gun was destroyed, and he was mortally wounded. In the southeast corner, E Company was repelling endless numbers of Chinese trying to break through barbed-wire obstacles out in front. Firing along the rows of wire, the machine guns of H Company stopped fanatical charges that hurled bodies against, up to and over the wire, building human bridges of the dead. By 1:30 a.m., the wires were choked with bodies snagged and hanging on the barbs.
Chinese infantry erupted from Hill 506, frontally assaulted K Company and flowed over the foxholes of I Company. Elements of Captain Chester Jackson’s L Company counterattacked, supported by the machine guns and 81mm mortars of M Company, and the line was restored. A blazing firefight raged across McGee Hill, located in G Company’s sector, and its platoon leaders soon were calling for help. A dozen artillerymen were brought forward, but by 3 a.m. the hill was lost.
Lieutenant Paul McGee and two other men retreated to the G Company command post. Curtis Hill was captured by the Communists, and only 16 men were holding the third hill, which tied in with the French lines. A squad from Captain Stanley Tyrell’s F Company shifted over to help; within minutes all were killed or wounded, and the hill was lost.
Just before 4 a.m., Lieutenant Robert Curtis led a composite force of a Ranger platoon, a platoon from F Company, 14 G Company men and three tanks in an assault that temporarily regained the crests of McGee and Curtis hills. On the way, Captain John Ramsburg, who had just joined the force, was wounded and limping; Lieutenant Thomas Heath, G Company commander, was seriously wounded; and the two platoon officers of F Company and the Rangers were killed. At this critical moment, the three tanks on the road below unleashed a heavy fusillade on the hilltops, assuming that they were blasting the enemy. Only Curtis’ running, raging screams and waving arms halted the fire. Suddenly a Chinese counterattack overwhelmed the handful of shocked men and regained the crests.
Curtis and five men backed down the hill, where the lieutenant formed a last-ditch ring of 15 men in front of the 155mm howitzers.
The Chinese now owned the hills of G Company, but inexplicably failed to exploit the passage to victory. Looking down the shadowy road leading into the village, they began to dig in. Possibly their officers felt that the coup de grâce could easily wait until later in the day that February 15, not knowing that the U.S. Air Force would soon darken the sky around Chipyong-ni, and that a relief column of Sherman and Patton tanks was being organized on a road a few miles south.
Just after daybreak, Freeman ordered his reserve, Captain Sherman Pratt’s B Company, and the remnants of G Company and the weakened Rangers to report to Colonel Edwards’ 2nd Battalion; then he limped away to a waiting medical helicopter for evacuation. Lieutenant Colonel John Chiles had already arrived to replace him.
Led by Lieutenant Richard Kotite’s platoon, the reserve force was thrown back three times during the day as it clawed and grappled uphill in efforts to reclaim the lost hills of G Company. Finally, the 23rd’s staff made a desperate, crucial decision: to send four regimental tanks under Captain Perry Sager a very short distance south, down the Yoju road, then have them swing left to blast the exposed flanks and rear of the Chinese on Hill 397 and the reverse slopes of the G Company hills. At the same time, the reserve force would assault the crests in one final, frontal attempt.
Meanwhile, other help was on the way. Colonel Marcel Crombez, commander of the 5th Cavalry Regiment, moved out with his tank-infantry team on the Yoju-Chipyong road at 3:45 p.m. The force consisted of 23 tanks, with 160 infantrymen of L Company, the 5th Cavalry and four engineers riding on top. At least twice during the wild, harrowing, six-mile drive, the column was forced to stand and fight, with infantry dismounted. The Chinese incessantly lashed the tanks and their riders with a hail of gunfire along the way, often rushing the tanks with explosives. The running battle reached a crescendo as the tanks entered a deep road cut and another enemy gantlet just east of Hill 340.
Finally breaking through with sirens screaming, the Chinese came upon the four 23rd Infantry tanks, which had just opened up on the enemy-held hills.
Under this combined assault, the Chinese began running away from the perimeter battlefield and abandoning the hills. Many of them headed for their Hill 397 stronghold, but soon the Crombez tanks were bombarding Hill 397, as well. As the thin line of B Company crawled and plodded back uphill, a contagious panic apparently was triggered among the remaining Chinese everywhere at the sight of the mighty, cannonading tanks and their fellow soldiers running away, surrendering their hard-earned hills. Thousands of Peng’s soldiers started a mad stampede toward north and south, leaving the battlefield and being pursued by the fiery napalm bursts and strafing gunfire delivered by U.S. tactical-fighter planes. Most were throwing away their weapons, and the 23rd Infantry was firing at their backs.
Twenty-one 5th Cavalry tanks now rolled into the Chipyong-ni perimeter. Of the original 164 infantry-engineer riders, only 23 remained, and 13 of those 23 were wounded, clinging to the hulls.
As night came on, gunfire ceased. The Battle of Chipyong-ni was over. During the next few days, more than 5,000 Chinese dead were counted around the perimeter and in the hills and valleys beyond. Chinese divisions totaling 25,000 veteran soldiers had been mauled and defeated by a single American regimental combat team of less than 5,000.
This was a turning point, a pivotal, singular moment of the Korean War. Rising from the wintry ashes of defeat and humiliation, Americans had won a victory, and the myth of Communist invincibility was finally shattered.
Standing before a joint session of Congress more than a year later, in May 1952, General Ridgway stated: I shall speak briefly of the Twenty-third United States Infantry Regiment, Colonel Paul L. Freeman commanding, [and] with the French Battalion….Isolated far in advance of the general battle line, completely surrounded in near-zero weather, they repelled repeated assaults by day and night by vastly superior numbers of Chinese. They were finally relieved….I want to say that these American fighting men, with their French comrades-in-arms, measured up in every way to the battle conduct of the finest troops America and France have produced throughout their national existence.
Total U.S. casualties in the battle were 93 soldiers, killed or MIA, and another 250 soldiers injured.
Another fascinating account of the battle, this from the perspective of an enlisted soldier, comes from a letter composed after the first night of battle:
I’m in a machine gun bunker and it is cold. Brutally cold. It must be at least -10, but seems colder. There is not a cloud in the sky, and if you walk around the snow creaks under your feet. This is good, for if it creaks under our feet, it creaks under theirs.
By theirs, I mean the Chinese divisions around us. We are surrounded. . . .
I am on watch, staring until my eyes burn. The mouth of the draw is about 50 yards away and has a barbed wire entanglement covering its mouth. It is so moonlit that I can see for over 1000 yards to the foot of a high hill known as Hill 397. If the Chinese come, this is supposed to be the most likely avenue of approach. I cannot but help wondering how anyone could be that stupid. To come down a draw, with no cover, not over 50 yards wide, and have to chogie over 1000 yards to get to us. To me it seems the most insane thing I’d ever heard of.
But O’Shell had said, “These are not ordinary people we are dealing with.” . . .
Our guns are set up, two heavy 30’s and two light 30’s, on an embankment 8 feet high overlooking the mouth of the draw. We are in heavily constructed bunkers that may even withstand a direct hit by a 120 or 122 mortar. They are about three feet deep with thick rice straw covering the bottoms.
The cold is the thing now, and it is the feet that suffer the most. We wear shoe-pacs, with two pair heavy duty work socks, two pair ski socks besides the felt liner that goes in the shoe-pac, and still the feet get so cold they ache. Only the brave or stupid have the nerve to remove their pacs to massage their feet.
The one thing we do have in abundant supply is canned heat. Upon arrival, our sleeping bags are taken and we are issued two blankets. Sleeping bags keep troops just too damn warm, and men go to sleep when they get warm. And men who go to sleep are liable to end up with a bayonet up their ass.
So now I sit to the front of our bunker with my back against the left front side, my two blankets covering me as best they can. My companion is snoring like a hog. . . .
Way off in the distance to our left front I hear a fire-fight break out. What sounds like a Quad 50 or maybe two of them are really cutting loose. The sky lights up like heat lightning as some sort of shells explode. Faintly I hear the sound of a bugle and what sounds like someone pounding on a washtub. Now and then I hear the sound of a whistle. I remember what I’d been taught in basic, that this was the way the gooks sometimes directed their men.
Every now and then I see a flare, a red one probably thrown by artillery. Each time I see a flare, the volume of fire increases. I cannot be sure, but it seems I hear the sound of tank motors. Then I hear what I believe to be the sound of a 70mm tank gun. To me it seems the tanks are moving, as the flashes keep moving slowly toward our front. Fact is, the whole fire-fight is moving. Red and green tracers arch into the sky like roman candles. . . .
It is about 2200 hours when we commence to get mortar fire in our area. It seems as if we are getting it from at least three directions. Northeast, north, and southeast. None of the stuff hits our bunkers, but close enough so the concussion is a bitch. Then I start to hear small arms fire crackling. I put out my canned heat and wake my companion. . . .
I glance at the luminous dial of my watch. It is 2400 hours.
Off to the northern sector of our perimeter, mortar and artillery fire is pouring in. I remember someone saying that was Charlie Company area. For a few minutes the mortars and artillery cause the ground to shake as if by an earthquake. The does not bother me, but then I hear bugles and whistles, and hollering piercing the night, and I commence to feel very lonely.
The hill behind us partially blocks off the racket, but I can see tracers ricocheting through the sky by sticking my head out of the bunker.
I keep thinking that any moment I’ll see Chinks coming over the hill from the rear. . . .
Shortly after midnight the firefight eased off for awhile. But then in a short time it starts up again. Lasting only a few minutes this time, then all is quiet.
I can hear our artillery pouring out fire so fast it sounds like automatic weapons. “I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that shit,” I think.
The French over to our right near the village of Masan keep cranking a fire siren and yelling and singing. They yell in French, but now and again a few English words can be heard. “Hey, come on and fight!”
I cannot help but envy the French. They came to Korea for one purpose. They do not ask why. The are one for all, all for one. . . .
I may die in the next few minutes, but I will not crawl. I will die for what I believe in. I will not let someone else do my fighting and dying for me. . . .
It is getting on toward first light and our area is still as a grave. I strain my ears for creaking of snow or any other sound that will warn me of approaching enemy. From the racket made by the French Battalion and the 1st Battalion to the north, they are going at it with the Chinese tooth and nail.
The artillery is pouring out fire so fast I wonder how their guns crews keep from falling from exhaustion. And I cannot help but wonder what sort of an ammo supply they must have to keep firing at that rate.
We get 120mm mortar fire in our area throughout the night. Some land so close dirt showers down and the concussion makes me fell like I want to vomit. Every time a round lands real close, my companion acts like he’s trying to climb up his own ass. . . .
“Christ,” I think, “if one of those big bastards hits this bunker, not even the lice will survive.”
I can do nothing but sit and stare up the draw and wish I had the confidence Colonel Freeman had shown as he was making the rounds of the perimeter all by his lonesome.
Stu O’Shell had asked, “Well, what’s the situation, Colonel?”
“Oh, the stupid bastards have got us surrounded, Stu. God I hope they try to come in here! We got their asses right where the hair is short. We’ll bloody their noses but good!”
Now, if that is not confidence, I don’t know what is. Chinese divisions surrounding a regiment, and we have them by the ass. Who’s gonna bloody whose ass. Or was it just a soldiers’ soldier instilling confidence in his men?
I had met Lieutenant Colonel Edwards upon first coming into the battalion area, and he seemed just as cock sure. His .45 hung low, nothing seemed to bother him. Close mortar rounds just caused him to frown and maybe say, “Here! Cut that out! Spread out men! One round will get you all!”
I had heard nothing but praise about Colonel Freeman, our regimental CO, and Lieutenant Colonel Edwards, our battalion CO, and at least I could be thankful we had them to lead us through this nightmare. . . .
First light slowly brings dawn to the valley, and liaison planes start to appear overhead. Then sorties of jets and prop jobs. In the southwest, I can see smoke billowing up as napalm is dropped, and also hear the swoosh of rockets being poured into the Chinese. It is my guess that they had been a little too determined to pierce our defenses during the night, and now probably some were caught out in the open as daylight overtook them.
I can only hear high flying bombers. But distant explosions tell me that sticks of bombs are also plastering key positions.
The Chinese have hit us during the night in the north, northeast, south, and southeast, and have taken terrible losses. Only one breakthrough, but a counterattack was launched and the ground retaken. Some Chinese had managed to infiltrate the regimental perimeter, but these were quickly run down like rabbits and slaughtered to a man. Prisoners could be counted on one hand.
The Chinese seem to be contented to throw 60mm mortar rounds into the perimeter. Nerve racking harassing fire designed to restrict our movements and cause us a steady list of casualties.
During the night we had one man killed. He and another had asked permission to go back for carbine ammo, and had been told to stay in place. They went anyway, and it caused one man to be killed in a saddle behind us by an incoming 120mm mortar round. A piece of shrapnel enters the back of his head and comes out the right eye. Death is instantaneous.
The words of Colonel Edwards flash through my tired brain. “Do as your told and 90% of you will come out of this thing in one piece. Try it your way and you will die.”
Through someone else’s death, I have learned a lesson.
A few minutes later, I learn another lesson about death. And again someone dies for me to learn.
With daylight comes the snipers. If you keep moving, you will seldom be a target. The word comes that a hot breakfast is set up on the backslope. My companion is too chickenshit to move outside the confines of the bunker. Rather starve than face the danger outside. . . .
A man in the bunker next to me decides he will go with me. I crawl from the bunker, and we start out. The guy suddenly realizes he has forgotten his canteen cup. The cup is handed to him from the bunker, and for some reason he stands and monkeys with the handle. I walk back toward him. Four feet from him, I hear a squeak, and something warm hits my face.
The guy hits the ground. With every pulsation of his heart, a stream of blood the size of a lead pencil spurts from a hole in his neck.
I cannot move. I am spell bound. I stand and stare down at the sight at my feet. Someone shouts. I run up the hill and down the other side. I am covered with blood and shaking like a leaf, my guts in a knot.
I cannot eat, but manage a hot cup of coffee. . . .
There are other good and detailed accounts of the battle. One such one is drawn from a detailed after-action review and is centered on the actions of G Company that bore the brunt of the Chinese attack on the night of the 14th. Additionally, a very good article on the 23rd Regiment and their actions in Korea appears in the May 19, 1951 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.
Two final notes on this battle.
One, it was one of the first battles in Korea where helicopters made an appearance to ferry out wounded soldiers after the fighting concluded on the 15th. A blog post here from retired Col. Robert Hall, MD discusses in detail the medical aspects of treating and evacuating wounded soldiers from Chipyong-ni.
And lastly, one soldier earned a posthumus Medal of Honor for his actions above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Chipyong-ni. This from the Medal of Honor citation for SFC Sitman:
Rank and organization: Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army, Company M, 23d Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division
Place and date: Near Chipyong-ni, Korea, February 14, 1951
Entered service at: Bellwood, Pennsylvania, Birth: Bellwood, Pennsylvania
G.O. No.: 20, February 1, 1952
Sfc. Sitman distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against an armed enemy of the United Nations. Sfc. Sitman, a machine gun section leader of Company M, was attached to Company I, under attack by a numerically superior hostile force. During the encounter when an enemy grenade knocked out his machine gun, a squad from Company I, immediately emplaced a light machine gun and Sfc. Sitman and his men remained to provide security for the crew. In the ensuing action, the enemy lobbed a grenade into the position and Sfc. Sitman, fully aware of the odds against him, selflessly threw himself on it, absorbing the full force of the explosion with his body. Although mortally wounded in this fearless display of valor, his intrepid act saved 5 men from death or serious injury, and enabled them to continue inflicting withering fire on the ruthless foe throughout the attack. Sfc. Sitman’s noble self-sacrifice and consummate devotion to duty reflect lasting glory on himself and uphold the honored traditions of the military service.
To SFC Sitman and to all those who fought so bravely and heroically against great odds, and who changed the course of history by their actions, we salute you.