Military history


Fire Brigade

The situation is critical and Miryang may be lost. The enemy has driven a division-sized salient across the Naktong. More will cross the river tonight. If Miryang is lost … we will be faced with a withdrawal from Korea. I am heartened that the Marine Brigade will move against the Naktong Salient tomorrow. They are faced with impossible odds, and I have no valid reason to substantiate it, but I have the feeling they will halt the enemy.

.… These Marines have the swagger, confidence, and hardness that must have been in Stonewall Jacksons's Army of the Shenandoah. They remind me of the Coldstreams at Dunkirk. Upon this thin line of reasoning, I cling to the hope of victory.

— From a wire dispatched 16 August 1950 by a British military observer at Miryang.

IN FRONT OF almost three-quarters of the Pusan Perimeter of August 1950 wound the Naktong River. Flowing south, the Naktong is Korea's second river; it bends and folds its way between rice paddies and the hills running down to the water's edge. The Naktong averages more than one-quarter mile in width, and more than six feet in depth. At low water, as during the hot, dry summer of 1950, large sandy beaches and bars appear in the river, but it is at all times a formidable obstacle.

Behind the river to the east, the hills rise to twenty-five hundred feet, and on its north, across the top of the Perimeter, they reach three thousand or more. It was here, on the highest hills, that the United Nations Forces, the United States and ROK armies, organized their defense.

There was no hope of organizing a strongly held line; there were still not enough troops for that. Troops dug in on hills that overlooked the Naktong and the major avenues of approach leading east from it. By day these strongpoints served as observation posts, and by night they buttoned up into small tight defense perimeters, acting as listening posts. Between these outposts along the river ran jeep and other mechanized patrols to screen the terrain.

Some miles back from the Naktong the reserve troops were held in readiness to attack against any successful crossing by the enemy. Supporting weapons, artillery and mortars, were also emplaced back in the hills, and registered on all likely crossing sights, and prepared to mass fire against any threatened point.

The object of the defense was to hold the commanding ground east of the river, and the vital road net. There could be no practical hope of holding each inch of ground, as in the position defense, but now the mobility of the American defenders could be brought in play. If the enemy broke across the river at any point, men and firepower could be quickly assembled against him from other parts of the Perimeter.

There were four natural attack routes into the Perimeter. One was on the south through that port of Masan; another through the so-called Naktong Bulge to the important rail and road network at Miryang. A possible corridor of advance ran through the roads and rails to Taegu. Finally, on the far northeast, a valley ran down the seacoast through Kyongju.

As the enemy plan of maneuver developed, it became obvious that the NKPA would attempt all four corridors, almost simultaneously. The NKPA plan assumed that by making a multiple attack against the entire thinly manned line, a breakthrough could be made in at least one area. Because of this plan, the men defending east of the Naktong would be stretched to the breaking point, and the pressure would be felt everywhere.

There was fighting—hard, bitter fighting, along almost all the Perimeter in August. The most dangerous threat developed against the Naktong Bulge, however, and here the action was typical of the whole bitter, desperate month.

After July 1950, it becomes impossible to detail the actions of each division or regiment. Every unit in Korea had its moments of desperation, and many their moments of glory. But by detailing to some extent the experiences of certain units, to a great extent the flavor of the whole action is revealed. For what happened in one stinking paddy valley was very much like what happened in the next, from here to the end of the war.

A few miles north of the confluence of the Naktong and the Nam, the Naktong forms a wide bow to the west, enclosing a loop of land measuring four miles by five, with the town of Yongsan at its eastern base. The territory within the river bend was called by its American defenders the Naktong Bulge.

The terrain enclosed on three sides by the Naktong is at first hilly, then flattening out to the east, with three large lakes in front of Yongsan. The town of Yongsan itself is a road intersection, with good dirt roads leading east, west, north, and south.

The first serious penetration of the Pusan Perimeter was into the Naktong Bulge.

On 4 August Major General Lee Kwon Mu, Inmun Gun, surveyed the east side of the river from his command post at Hyopch'on. By August, Lee Kwon Mu was already among the greatest heroes of the North Korean People's Army. He had been made a Hero of the Chosun Minjujui Inmun Kong-whakuk, and awarded the Order of the National Flag, First Class.

His 4th Division, NKPA, had, with the 3rd, spearheaded the drive south, taking Seoul and shattering the American 24th Division at Taejon. The 4th had been given the honorary title "Seoul" Division by Premier Kim II Sung.

Lee Kwon Mu, as all the senior commanders of the Inmun Gun, had been fighting most of his life. Born in Manchuria of Korean refugee stock, he had joined the Chinese Communist 8th Route Army, fighting both Japanese and Nationalists. He had attended an officers' school in Russia. Now, at the age of forty, Lee stood at the apex of his military career.

His veteran 4th Division still contained 7,000 men, and to it came orders to attack. With almost no preparation, Lee sent his battalions boiling across the Naktong.

At midnight, 5 August, on the signal of a red and a yellow flare, the 16th Regiment, 4th Division, plunged into the broad river at the Ohang ferry, where the water ran only shoulder deep to an adult Korean. Some of the soldiers crossed on makeshift rafts, but most stripped naked, and with both clothing and rifles held high over their heads, waded into the river.

They caught General Church, 24th Division CG, by surprise. Church had felt the blow would fall farther north in his zone.

The 16th Regiment reached the east bank safely, dressed, and marched down a draw between the American defensive strongpoints. They struck into American units, while behind them more North Koreans swarmed across the Naktong. By 7 August, against a 24th Division that was at less than 40 percent efficiency because of losses of men and equipment, with attendant low morale, the NKPA had seized both Cloverleaf Hill and Obong-ni Ridge, dominating the road into Yongsan, five miles to the east. They could see far down the road to Miryang, an important center.

If Miryang fell, the Perimeter would be in deep trouble.

Now the NKPA built underwater bridges across the Naktong at the ferry site, employing an old Russian trick. These bridges were invisible and therefore invulnerable to air attack. Heavy equipment of the 4th Division poured across; their artillery began to fire by battery.

The town of Yongsan came under the North Korean shellfire.

General Church ordered counterattacks. Fresh troops from the 2nd Infantry Division were coming onto line; the 9th Infantry of that Division had arrived from the States.

Along the critical Cloverleaf Hill-Obong-ni Ridge Line vicious combat now raged for ten days. Hills changed daily from hand to hand, and along this line the Perimeter would be held or lost.

First Lieutenant Frank E. Muñoz, of Tucson, Arizona, was the executive officer of H Company (Heavy Weapons), 9th Infantry, the first week of July 1950, when the orders came to pack for Korea. The regiment—the Manchu Raiders—had been at Fort Lewis, Washington, since April 1946, and, as Frank Muñoz put it, the Raiders were at Parade Rest.

Since most of the enlisted men of the regiment had come in at one time three years before, two months before Korea many enlistments expired, and most of the men left for civilian life. On 25 June, the parent 2nd Division was at 50 percent strength, and conducting training. Some of the training was pretty basic, and all of it was peacetime.

When Muñoz heard the news of the North Korean attack, he felt the same excitement he had known after Pearl Harbor. Then he had been on active service with the Arizona National Guard. After the war he had decided to make a career of it. A middle-sized, tough, wiry black-eyed man of twenty-eight, he was what the Army called a "career reservist"—he would stick around as long as they let him. He felt a deep pride in the uniform, and a deeper pride that he had become an officer.

The army gave the 2nd Division one week to load on shipboard at Tacoma, and the same week to fill up to full strength. As Muñoz said: "We turned the vacuum cleaner on. It sucked up men from everywhere—behind desks, out of hospitals, from depots. We filled up fast."

Unfortunately, some of the men arriving were not infantrymen, and more than some were not interested in becoming riflemen.

The 9th Infantry was the first to embark for Korea, preceding the balance of the division. It landed at Pusan on 31 July 1950, but some of its vital equipment didn't land with it—the regiment had come across on more than one ship. It took a few days at Pusan to get everything straightened out.

H Company got no formal briefing on the war aboard ship, or before. The men heard newscasts, and they saw maps in the papers. Other than that, no one could tell them much. H Company's C.O., young, serious First Lieutenant Edward Schmitt, talked to the men once during the crossing.

He told them very solemnly: "Men, we're going into war. This will be a time when mistakes will cost lives." Schmitt had seen combat in World War II, and he had served in the Occupation of Korea. He talked to them about the importance of maintaining weapons and equipment, and he tried to tell them something about the lay of the land in Korea.

But at Pusan, no one would know there was a war on. The waterfront was raucous and noisy; equipment was piled high in the open; and while there was a lot of frantic activity, there was nothing to indicate things were desperate in the west.

The regiment took the train to Miryang, and above Miryang they encamped on the high ground. They made liaison and reconnaissance with units of the 24th and 1st Cavalry divisions, who held the front lines in front of them along the Naktong.

Here they got plenty of war stories. The heard about the atrocities—dozens of American soldiers found with hands tied behind their backs, shot in the head. They were briefed on the guerrilla-like tactics of the NKPA, the night operations, the probing for weak points, and the use of soldiers disguised as civilians.

To the Manchu Raiders, fresh from Fort Lewis, the 24th Division looked beat up, shoddy, and pretty nervous.

Then, five days after the NKPA crossed the Naktong into the Bulge, Schmitt, Muñoz, and company were ordered up to plug a hole that had been sprung in the 24th Division's wall. They marched over hot, dusty roads beside smelly rice paddies, and went up into a series of hills along the Naktong, called the Cloverleaf.

The heat was ghastly, especially to men fresh from the cool Northwest, and it reduced their efficiency. Many of them dropped out.

Lieutenant Colonel Harrison, the six-foot, gray-haired 2nd Battalion commander, like Frank Muñoz a career reservist, spread the Heavy Weapons Company and its automatic weapons and mortars among the three rifle companies, E, F, and G. The battalion occupied its assigned hills just back of the 24th, and for two days nothing happened.

There was heavy fighting all around, but H Company did not become closely engaged. It rained on 14 August, momentarily breaking the heat, but also breaking up supporting air attacks. And on 14 August both 1st and 2nd battalions of the 9th Infantry were ordered to move against the NKPA positions within the Cloverleaf complex.

After heavy fighting, and after heavy loss, both battalions failed to take the high crests of the hill mass. Exhausted after a day of battle in the broiling heat, 2nd Battalion dug in along the ridges, but the fighting did not cease with darkness.

With night, the North Koreans attacked.

Frank Muñoz's first contact with the enemy came when Schmitt called him at his position with the 75mm recoilless rifles in the rear. "Get our boys, the part of the Machine Gun Platoon attached to Fox Company, out of position. Fox has been overrun!"

Muñoz jumped into his jeep and told the PFC driving to make for Fox Company's hill. Coming up behind it, he saw it was under heavy fire from SP 76's the enemy had sneaked across the Naktong. At the rear slope of the hill he left the jeep and went through the dark on foot. In the valley behind the hill, Sergeant Bozarth's Mortar Platoon was firing its 81's steadily, and Muñoz located a number of three-quarter-ton weapon carriers standing by.

But F Company, dug in along the front slope of the hill, had been infiltrated in the dark, and had come apart. Many of the men had pulled back, breaking contact. The company commander was dead. Most of the officers were down. F was no longer an effective military unit.

Somehow, under fire, in the dark, Frank Muñoz got a number of the men together and moved them off the hill. Just to the right rose another hill, this one clear of enemy. Muñoz ordered the men he had collected to move to it, picking up any stragglers, and try to organize this hill for defense.

As they did so, they came across other casualties streaming around the hills through the rice paddies. These men told Muñoz that wounded men were still lying in the fields in front of his new hill. Easy Company had been hard hit, along with Fox, and it had also come apart in the night.

Once he had his scattered remnants together and dug in, Frank called Schmitt by radio. He told the company commander about Easy Company.

"See if you can help 'em," Schmitt ordered.

After a bit, Frank was able to raise E Company by radio. A master sergeant was in command. Lieutenant Schultz of Easy had been hit in the head, and badly wounded. Over the radio, Frank and Sergeant Jordan of Easy established each other's location; most of Easy's men were still down in the paddies in front of the hill.

"I'll send you help to bring in your wounded," Muñoz told Jordan. "Start moving back to me—we'll cover you by fire."

He sent five men to assist Easy, and soon fifteen enlisted men—all that could be found—joined him on the hill. He ordered the wounded out. They went down the rear slope of the hill and disappeared to the east.

He contacted Battalion HQ by radio. He learned that Colonel Harrison had been hit, and the exec had taken command. The exec ordered him to hold where he was, and said he would send him another officer, a Lieutenant Chu Mon Lee.

Lee arrived, and for the balance of the night there was only sporadic shooting around the hill. But occasionally a mortar shell dropped in, and by dawn Frank Muñoz had two more wounded men on his hands. One, hit in the leg but still able to walk, he sent down the hill.

As this man limped to the defilade area behind the hill, he bumped into the ominous, hazy shape of a T-34 tank. Staring, unable to believe his eyes, the soldier saw a tank hatch open, and a North Korean blazed away at him with a submachine gun. But the poor light saved the wounded man; he hit the ground and crawled back to Muñoz on the hill.

Hearing about the tank in his rear, Muñoz said a few unprintable words. Then he got a crew of men together, and with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher they sneaked down the rear slope. It was still dark enough to permit them to crawl within a few yards of the deadly vehicle, and with the first round from the bazooka they put it out of action.

But the crew remained inside—at least, Muñoz saw no one come out.

Warily, they watched the silent steel monster, as light grew in the east and spread across the brown and green paddies. They had no more rocket ammunition.

As it grew light, Lieutenant Schmitt came up behind the hill. For a night Muñoz had held the actual command of two companies, but now, with the arrival of his boss, he reverted to exec of H.

Pointing to the tank, Schmitt wanted to know, "What's with that?"

"The crew is still inside—won't give up," Frank said.

"Hell," Schmitt said. He stood out in the open and began to yell at the tank in the Korean he had picked up during the Occupation. "Ede wha!" Come out!

The tank stayed quiet, even when Schmitt went up beside it and banged on the turret with his hand. Then Schmitt climbed up on the sponson and tried to pull open a hatch. Suddenly, then, there. was movement inside. A crewman partly opened the hatch, thrust a pistol through, and fired point-blank at the Weapons Company commander.

Unhurt, Schmitt jumped down. "You son of a bitch, we'll fix you!" he said. "Somebody give me a white phosphorous grenade—"

Pulling the pin, Schmitt dropped the incendiary grenade on the tank's back deck, over the air intake.

The North Koreans never did come out, though they made a number of unpleasant noises as they stayed inside and burned.

As exec, Frank returned to his old post at the Company CP to the rear. When he arrived, the battalion operations officer, Major Woodard, was on the phone.

"Listen, Frank," Woodard said. "George Company is in bad shape. Captain Van Oosten has been evacuated with heat stroke. G's got only one officer left, and he's demoralized. How about taking over G?"

"Well, if you tell me to take it, I'll take it," Frank said. "But I won't volunteer." G was a rifle company, like E and F, and commanding a rifle company was somewhat different than acting as exec of a Weapons Company. For one thing, it could be a hell of a lot more dangerous.

"I'm telling you," Woodard said.

So Frank Muñoz assumed command of George Company. Joining the company on the hill, he found that George had taken several frontal assaults during the recent fighting. Many men had been shot at close range with small arms; others had been hit by mortar fragments. Out of a TO strength of 213, Frank had exactly fifty people left.

He found the remaining officer, Lieutenant Hank Merritt, and told him he was the new C.O.

Merritt seemed happy to get out from under. "Glad to have you, Frank," he mumbled.

Quickly, Frank Muñoz understood that G Company was in a state of shock. The men had not been ready for the vicious combat into which they had plunged. The original men, who had been at Fort Lewis, had been on the peacetime training schedule, with frequent half-day training, heavy on athletics and sports. The newer men, the fillers they received in July, had largely come from even softer occupation duty overseas.

It had been a pleasant half-decade since the war ended, but the time had come to pay the price. The price, Muñoz thought, was a hell of a lot of dead people.

Muñoz realized he had not only the problem of too few men to do the job; he had also a morale problem. Almost all of the riflemen, dug in along the rear slope of the hill, had jumped in their holes and pulled the zipper. They didn't want to come out even to shoot.

He knew many of the men by name, and he walked along the foxholes strung out over the ridge, talking to each man. He told them they were fighting for their country, and other things. It was a hard sell.

"Hell," one man told him, "you can't tell me we're fightin' for the U.S.A. ten thousand miles from home!"

Some of the men told him they didn't mind fighting a big war. Americans, he found, tend to take pride in doing things in a big way. But they had no interest in fighting a half-ass war like this one.

But he went from hole to hole, talking to every man, doing the best he could.

Muñoz was an officer, and a good one. He had no personal enthusiasm for this war, either; but he had taken the government's bread and the government's commission, and even for Truman's shilling he would give all he had in return.

He had just finished, and was walking back to his position in the middle of the line, when the NKPA pulled the plug.

Mortar shells hissed down on the ridge, bursting with sharp cracks, spewing gouts of greasy smoke, sending whining metal through the roiling dust. Caught in the open, Muñoz jumped into a foxhole. He had only a .45 automatic pistol. Realizing something was going to happen, he drew the pistol and threw a round in the chamber.

For two minutes the mortar rounds burst along the ridge; then, suddenly, the shelling ceased.

The instant he understood the mortar fire had finished, Frank Muñoz jumped from his hole and ran up to the top of the ridge, where he could see across the rice paddies to the front. Quick as he was, he was too late.

At the top of the ridge, he made eyeball to eyeball contact with a North Korean soldier. Muñoz moved first. His .45 slug killed the Korean at a range of inches. As he shot, he could see two waves of enemy infantry, bayonets fixed, charging up the slope, firing from the hip.

He went into the nearest hole, which was already occupied by a man with a BAR. "Fire to your right front!" he snapped at the BAR man.

The enemy boiled up over the hill and ran at George's thin line of holes. George Company met them with a blast of fire, stopping them only yards away. The first wave fell apart a few feet in front of Frank's own position.

As it did so, he got up and ran back to his regular post in the center of the line, joining Merritt. He had seen two of his own men leave their holes to run, and had seen both shot in the back and killed by rifle fire from the enemy. And he knew that George Company was close to the thin edge.

"Hank, call for final defensive fires!"

Then the second wave of charging Koreans swarmed over the crest. In a wild melee, some of the Inmun Gun jumped into foxholes with Muñoz's men, bayonets flashing.

Muñoz yelled at his Artillery forward observer to bring fire down on the hill. The FO, Lieutenant Hartman, yelled back, "No! I don't want to do it!"

But Frank grabbed a field phone and reached Battalion. He got the Artillery liaison officer there, and he got action—two salvos of 105's, to be put down on his own position.

Seconds later, the shells screamed down, bursting with ear-shattering noise. They caught most of the attacking Inmun Gun still swarming down the ridge.

Dug in, Muñoz's boys suffered no harm. The enemy, in the open, died. And, as suddenly as they had been attacked, George's men were all alone on the hill.

Muñoz reported to Battalion by phone. For the balance of the day there was only desultory firing about the hill. Only a few 82's dropped in.

That night, the higher-ups took George Company off the hill for two days' rest.

Trying to counterattack, the United States forces had employed all the men and matériel at their command—and had been able to do no more than hold their own in front of Cloverleaf and Obong-ni. Colonel Hill, commanding the 9th Regiment and all other combat forces within the Bulge, had no reserve left, and no hope of maneuver.

Both he and General Church, 24th Division CG, agreed that at the moment all that could be accomplished was a continued defense in place. By 15 August they were having their hands full just to contain the Bulge, without thought of erasing it. Earlier, on the 13th, Church had tried to tell General Walker that the entire NKPA 4th Division was across the Naktong—but this Walker steadfastly refused to believe until after the bloody stalemate along the ridge had become apparent.

Walker at this time was edgy, impatient, and abrupt—but Johnny Walker had his problems. There was trouble everywhere on Eighth Army's front, and everybody was squalling for help.

On 12 August the first United Nations counterattack, Task Force Kean, had run into serious trouble at the valley called Bloody Gulch. The front to the extreme south was in a bad way. And at the same time the Bulge was getting fatter in the west, the NKPA had also forced the Naktong in front of Taegu, and were converging on that vital center. And on the far northeast, the ROK divisions on the coast were being steadily driven southward.

There was, from the second week of August, combat everywhere, and Walton Walker lived in crisis. His command decisions had to be never-ending series of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Faced with danger everywhere along his line, he had to guess where the greatest peril lay, and guess correctly, for in war there is no prize for being almost right.

Walker's military reputation will be secure, for he made the right decisions.

On 15 August, considering the Yongsan-Miryang area the most dangerous enemy axis of attack—a feeling shared by the NKPA—he told Church abruptly: "I am going to give you the Marine Brigade. I want this situation cleaned up, and quick!"

The Marine Brigade, under General Craig, USMC, had newly arrived from the States. MacArthur had wanted to hold it back for future amphibious operations, but the situation along the Naktong had been too critical; the Marines were needed for a fire brigade. At this time, the 5,000-man Marine force was Walker's principal reserve.

While 9th Infantry was being bled and battered on the hill, the Marines were ordered to attack 17 August to erase the enemy bulge east of the Naktong.

While the U.N. situation within the Pusan Perimeter looked black indeed during these critical days, it can be truly evaluated only in the light of what was occurring with the enemy. On the other side of the hill from American forces, Major General Lee Kwon Mu's 4th "Seoul" Division faced enormous difficulties.

Attacking with three rifle regiments of approximately 1,500 men each, the 4th Division had suffered frightful casualties against the stubborn American defense in front of Cloverleaf and Obong-ni. The division received replacements—often men dragged from the villages of South Korea—but many of these arrived at the front without weapons, let alone military training. As many as 40 percent of these men deserted at the earliest opportunity. The remainder, unfit for the assault elements, were used as general labor troops, digging holes, carrying ammunition, foraging, and the like.

And east of the Naktong, Lee Kwon Mu was experiencing tremendously logistical difficulties. Food was scarce. Ammunition was increasingly difficult to get to the engaged units across the water barrier—not only had the original supply brought out of the North been exhausted, but American air interdiction was beginning to strangle his overextended lines.

Chang Ky Dok's 18th Regiment, holding critical Obong-ni Ridge, was able to procure no resupply of ammunition after 14 August.

Men of the division who were only slightly wounded were returned to duty, without medical attention. There was no way to aid those hurt more severely, and without care these men were dying in high numbers.

But the morale of the North Korean squad and platoon leaders, the men who had fought in China and Manchuria, was still firm. As long as Lee Kwon Mu and Colonel Chang Ky Dok could count on their junior officers and NCO's, they could count on the performance of their units.

Courage and fighting ability come in many creeds and colors. Whatever Americans might feel toward Lee and Chang's cruel and tyrannical system, they could not deny that the Communists' courage remained high.

Lee Kwon Mu, Hero of the People's Republic of Korea, Order of the National Flag, First Class, had no intention of withdrawing.

When the Korean War broke, somewhat less than 10 percent of the small United States Marine Corps had seen combat. But fortunately for the Corps, the percentage was highly concentrated within officer and key NCO grades; most of the Marine troop leaders knew what war was like.

And the Marines, who had always been largely a volunteer organization, had escaped the damaging reforms instituted within the United States Army at the end of World War II. The public clamor rose against the Army, during the war twenty times the small, parochial Corps' size, and ignored the Marines.

In 1950 a Marine Corps officer was still an officer, and a sergeant behaved the way good sergeants had behaved since the time of Caesar, expecting no nonsense, allowing none. And Marine leaders had never lost sight of their primary—their only—mission, which was to fight.

The Marine Corps was not made pleasant for men who served in it. It remained the same hard, dirty, brutal way of life it had always been.

The Marines may take little credit, either for courage or foresight, in remaining the way they were. The public pressure simply never developed against them in the years after the war, pushing their commanders into acquiescence with the ideals of society. Not long after the end of the Korean conflict, after an unfortunate incident one night at a place called Ribbon Creek, the commandant of the Corps showed no more ability to stand up for his rights in front of a congressional committee than had the generals of the Army.

It is admittedly terrible to force men to suffer during training, or even sometimes, through accident, to kill them. But there is no other way to prepare them for the immensely greater horror of combat.

In 1950 the Marines, both active and reserve, were better prepared to die on the field of battle than the Army.

Asked immediately for a full division by the Joint Chiefs, the Corps could at first put together only a brigade out of the 1st Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force. Ships and shore were scoured for men; all ground reserves were called to the colors. While the Corps made every effort not to send unprepared men into combat, it was still forced to consider the needs of the service first; a certain number of new recruits with less than desired training sailed for the Orient, both in the summer of 1950 and later. And a large number of reservists, just getting started in civilian life, found the callup just as painful as the reserves of other services.

Bitter feelings remain in the Corps, as in other arms, but they have not been so well publicized.

But bitter or not, believing in the reasons for the war or not, the Marines went, and they obeyed orders.

The 5th Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L. Murray, moved from dusty Masan in the south to Miryang. Here Murray and General Craig discussed their attack plans, while the tired and sweaty Marines bathed in the brownish waters of Miryang's river, received new clothing and equipment to replace that which had rotted in the slime of rice paddies, and speculated on their mission.

These men had seen only limited combat in the south, but they had already sweated off their shipboard fat, and were beginning to lick the heat. At first they had been no better prepared for the violent sun than had the Army, but, like the Army, they were adjusting.

And these men walked with a certain confidence and swagger. They were only young men like those about them in Korea, but they were conscious of a standard to live up to, because they had had good training, and it had been impressed upon them that they were United States Marines.

Except in holy wars, or in defense of their native soil, men fight well only because of pride and training—pride in themselves and their service, enough training to absorb the rough blows of war and to know what to do. Few men, of any breed, really prefer to kill or be killed. These Marines had pride in their service, which had been carefully instilled in them, and they had pride in themselves, because each man had made the grade in a hard occupation. They would not lightly let their comrades down. And they had discipline, which in essence is the ability not to question orders but to carry them out as intelligently as possible.

Marine human material was not one whit better than that of the human society from which it came. But it had been hammered into form in a different forge, hardened with a different fire. The Marines were the closest thing to legions the nation had. They would follow their colors from the shores of home to the seacoast of Bohemia, and fight well either place.

General Church, to whose 24th Division the Provisional Marine Brigade was attached, considered both Cloverleaf, where the 9th Infantry was engaged, and Obong-ni Ridge parts of the same enemy hill mass; however, Colonel Murray asked for permission for the Marines to reduce Obong-ni before a general assault was made upon the Bulge. Murray felt the Ridge could be quickly and easily reduced, and, secured, it could be used as a line of departure for a general attack. In this he was wrong, but General Church agreed to the proposal.

The Marine order of attack was organized. Lieutenant Colonel Harold S. Roise's 2nd Battalion would lead, followed by 1/5 and 3/5 in that order. A little after midnight 17 August, 2/5 moved into an assembly area in front of Obong-ni Ridge.

D and E companies of 2nd Battalion had been selected to lead the assault. They moved forward in the freshness of early morning, and by 0700 were in position to see their objective, a long, unprepossessing ridge, covered by shale and scrub pine, with six riblike spurs running down from it into the sodden rice paddies. Between the spurs and the low hills behind which the Marines gathered lay a long expanse of open rice fields.

The maps issued to the Marine Brigade, as all the maps used by the United Nations in 1950, were based on old Japanese surveys, and inaccurate. The Marines did not know exactly where they were. Conferring with Captain Sweeney of Easy Company, Captain Zimmer of Dog called the ridge "Red Slash Hill." From the Marine attack position a fresh, gaping landslide scar could be plainly seen in the reddish earth near the center of the ridge.

Andy Zimmer told Sweeney, "I'll take the area right of that red slash." Sweeney agreed. Each company would attack with two platoons forward at 0800, after the air and artillery preparation.

There were only 120 riflemen available to send forward in the first assault wave.

Now, far out in the Sea of Japan, the Navy carriers Badoeng Strait and Sicily turned into the wind and launched a total of two squadrons of eighteen Marine Corsairs. The gull-winged planes, clumsy under heavy bomb loads, could carry no napalm because of a shortage of fuel tanks.

For ten minutes, artillery of the 24th Division burst on the rear approaches to Obong-ni Ridge, and along the reverse slopes of the ridge itself. Then, when the artillery pounding ceased, the Marine air swarmed over the hill, blasting Obong-ni's spine. Dirt, dust, and flame spurted up in great gouts all along the ridge. To General Church, watching, it seemed as if the ridge were floating away in smoke.

Then, their bomb load exhausted, the Corsairs roared away. At 0800, the four thin platoons of Marines went forward, across the valley and toward the ridge, one thousand yards beyond.

Several war correspondents, watching from the attack positions, asked officers the name of the objective. None seemed to know, and one correspondent wrote "No Name Ridge" on his release.

The Marines splashed across three rice paddies and skirted a cotton field, and they drew fire, not from the ridge, but from automatic weapons on their flanks. The fire grew heavier, and now gaps opened between the attacking platoons.

In spite of the fire, the platoons reached the slopes of Obong-ni. Here mortar shells crashed down on them. And here the ground steepened sharply,forcing the Marines to climb slowly and painfully toward the crest.

Only one platoon, 2nd Lieutenant Michael J. Shinka's 3rd of Dog Company, made the top. Just to the right of the big red slash Shinka found a small rain gulley leading upward, and through this his men crawled, bent over, panting, to the crest. Shinka reached the top of Obong-ni with only two-thirds of his original thirty men—while the other platoons, faced with steep ground and heavy fire, stalled halfway up the slope.

The twenty men atop Obong-ni had no protection to either flank. They found a line of empty foxholes dug by the NKPA, and poured into them, just as a hail of machine-gun fire whipped at them from enemy positions to their right. And then hand grenades soared through the air from enemy holes down on the reverse slope.

The Marines could handle the resistance below them on the slope, but they couldn't stop the enfilading machine-gun fire from their right. Any man who came out of a hole was hit. Within minutes, Mike Shinka had five men down.

There were no Marines supporting him, either to left or right. He realized the ridge was too hot. He shouted to his platoon sergeant, Reese, to get the wounded down, and ordered 3rd Platoon back down the hill.

Pulling the wounded men on ponchos, the Marines slithered back down the gulley to a position halfway down the hill, where they had reasonable cover. Shinka raised his company CP by radio.

"We can reach the top and hold it," he told Zimmer, "if you can get that flanking fire off our backs." Shinka, counting, saw he had fifteen men left out of thirty. "Give me an air strike and more men, and we can make it."

"I can't give you any more men," Andy Zimmer said. "But the air strike is on the way."

All of the platoons of Dog and Easy had been stopped along the ridge, and Dog's reserve had had to be committed to assist the platoon on Shinka's flank. Waiting for the Marine Corsairs to return and plaster the hill, Shinka and the other platoon officers did their best to coordinate a fresh attack.

The Marine aircraft buzzed over Obong-ni once again, blasting the snaky spine with high explosives until the ground trembled underfoot. When they finished, American tanks moved out into the open valley east of the ridge line and hurled shells into the sides and crest of Obong-ni.

The decimated Marine platoons went up the hill again. Again the enemy fire blazed up, much of it coming from the Cloverleaf hill complex on the north. North Koreans rushed back into their holes along the top of the ridge, which they had abandoned under the air strike, and rolled hand grenades down the front slope.

Again Mike Shinka and platoon were the only Marines to make the crest. Shinka arrived this time with nine able-bodied men. They saw moving men on the ridge to their left. The platoon sergeant, still on his feet, called, "Easy Company?"

A blast of automatic fire answered him.

"Son of a bitch!" Sergeant Reese yelled, and returned the fire with a BAR.

Again Shinka's platoon was in an untenable position, enemy fire chopping at it from left and right, and from the reverse slope of Obong-ni. Reese fell shot through the leg; another man took a bullet in the stomach.

On the crest a bullet shattered Mike Shinka's jaw. Choking on his own blood, he bent over and hawked to clear his throat. He was unable to use his radio. He motioned his men to get back down the ridge slope.

As he checked the ridge to make sure no wounded Marine had been left behind, a new bullet took Shinka in the arm. The impact knocked him rolling down the slope.

As Shinka and his bloody survivors crawled back to their covered gulley, a storm of fire shattered the entire Marine attack against Obong-ni. By 1500, of the entire 240 men who had been committed against the enemy, 23 were dead and 119 wounded in action.

They hadn't taken Obong-ni Ridge—but a lot of them had died trying.

At 1600, Colonel Newton's 1st Battalion relieved the battered remnants of 2/5 in front of the ridge.

In command of the l8th Regiment, NKPA, holding Obong-ni Ridge, Colonel Chang Ky Dok knew his situation was increasingly desperate. During the day he had suffered six hundred casualties, forcing the 16th Regiment, which defended Cloverleaf, to reinforce him with a battalion. His ammunition supply was dwindling at a frightening rate. He had no medical supplies, and his wounded were dying from lack of attention.

He knew he could not withstand another day of American air and artillery pounding and a fresh Marine assault up the ridge. Because he had a captured American SCR-300 radio, tuned in on Marine frequencies, he knew that the 1st Battalion had relieved 2/5 along the front of Obong-ni, and he knew approximately where the companies of 1/5 were located, for the Marines talked a great deal over the air.

At last Colonel Murray had realized that Cloverleaf had to be taken before his Marines could assault Obong-ni, and late in the afternoon the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, had pushed the l6th Regiment from that supporting position. The American 19th and 34th regiments were pushing attacks north of Cloverleaf against the right flank of the NKPA salient with some success.

About to be flanked, Chang Ky Dok requested permission to withdraw west of the Naktong. The request was denied.

Colonel Chang, as all senior commanders of the Inmun Gun, was a veteran of Soviet schooling and the North China wars. He knew his only hope was to shatter the American attack before it started on the 18th. He was short of men, short of food, and, worst of all, low on ammunition. But he could still place superior combat power against the thin Marine lines in front of him at places of his choosing.

As dark fell 17 August, he chose to attack.

A and B Companies, 1/5 Marines, had relieved the decimated 2/5 during the late afternoon of 17 August and continued the attack. They had taken two of the knobs of the Obong-ni ridge line, and with dark, they buttoned up for the night. They adjusted artillery on likely enemy avenues of approach, and in front of their own lines they strung wires to trip flares. They expected a strong enemy reaction by night—but they did not realize that the enemy, monitoring their radio, knew exactly how they were positioned.

At 0230 a green flare rose high over the dark and blasted mass of Obong-ni, and the night exploded into a continuous flare of light and noise. Enemy squads rushed down upon the Marines, hurling grenades and firing automatic weapons furiously. As each squad dashed forward a little way, then hit the ground, fresh squads repeated the attack.

Screaming and firing, the North Koreans pushed into A Company, passed through, and slammed against B Company's perimeter. One platoon of Able was isolated, but the separate platoon positions held together. Finally, Able was forced to retreat off its knob, moving back down the slope into a saddle.

Against Baker's perimeter the North Korean attack broke. For three-quarters of an hour it was touch and go, violent, close-in fighting raging over the ridge knob. Then, gradually, the North Korean assault faltered.

Within two hours, it was growing light, and the assault ended completely as the sky brightened to the east. In the early, shadowy daylight the Marines counted almost two hundred North Korean corpses sprawled in front of the two companies' positions. The number of wounded who had crawled or been carried away could only be estimated—but the 18th Regiment was shattered beyond repair.

But the cost had not been light. Half of the Marines who had watched the evening sun go down were no longer on their feet.

With daylight, those who were took up the attack once more, following the path of the enemy's withdrawal. Soon, a machine gun held up Able's advance.

Captain John Stevens of A called for an air strike on the gun's position. But the gun was only one hundred yards in front of his men, and Battalion HQ refused to allow the Corsairs to strike so close to its own troops. Stevens argued. He said he couldn't go forward against the dug-in fire, and he would lose men trying to withdraw. He said his own men were in holes. Finally, Battalion agreed.

The Corsairs, piloted by men who were also ground officers, took no chances. One plane marked the target with a dummy run; another whistled in with a 500-pound bomb. The hillside surrounding the NKPA machine gun blew up with a tremendous wave of sound.

Stevens' Marines pushed into the smoke and falling rock and earth. They found the gun destroyed, and gunners dead of concussion. One of their own men had been killed, too—but a few minutes later they had the hill.

While 1/5 mopped up on part of the ridge line, Colonel Murray sent 3/5 into action on its north. The 3rd Battalion moved in rapidly, almost without opposition.

Behind Obong-ni, hundreds of defeated and demoralized North Koreans were streaming westward toward the Naktong. Now the artillery forward observers and the tactical aircraft overhead began to have a field day. Forced into the open by advancing Marines, dozens of enemy troops were brought under fire and killed.

By afternoon, 18 August, it was obvious to all that the NKPA 4th Division was in full flight. Marines and soldiers pushed westward, converging on the river, while artillery fell continuously on the Naktong crossings. Early on the 19th, Marines and troops from the 34th Infantry made contact on the river-bank; by that evening patrols could find no enemy east of the Naktong. The first battle of the Naktong Bulge had ended in complete American victory.

Less than 3,000 men of the NKPA 4th Division went back across the river. Its regiments had only from 300 to 400 effectives each. Behind them, they had left more than 1,200 corpses for the Americans to bury. Almost equally important, the 4th Division had left its guns: 34 artillery pieces, hundreds of automatic weapons, thousands of rifles. For all practical purposes, the "Seoul" Division had been destroyed.

The fire brigade had arrived. It had been burned in the flames, but the fire was out.

It was a bitter moment for Major General Lee Kwon Mu, Hero of the North Korean State, when, on 19 August 1950, he received from Kim II Sung the order, published several days before, that designated the 4th a Guards Division for its heroic accomplishments at Taejon.

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