Military history



        Lordy, Lordy, listen to me,

        While I tell of the battle of Kunu-ri!

        We're buggin' out—

        We're movin' on!

— From the "Bugout Boogie," a folk ballad preserved in the 2nd Division despite its proscription by the powers that be.

SOUTH OF THE broad, shallow Ch'ongch'on, some thirty miles northwestward from the Yellow Sea, the forlorn village of Kunu-ri—on some maps shown as "Kunmori"—sat drably across the junction of the north-south road from Sunch'on and the lateral road running from Huich'on to a connection with the main coastal highway at Sinanju.

To the east, or right, of Kunu-ri the mountains rose, high and terrifying in a foggy sky, becoming virtually impenetrable at Huich'on. And to the east, along the road, on both sides of the river, spread the 2nd Infantry Division, from Kunu-ri to Kujang-dong to Sinhung-dong. On their right were deployed the two divisions, the 6th and 8th, of the II ROK Corps. West of them the rifle regiments of the 25th Division held the line, on a front generally facing northwest toward Huich'on and the forbidding mountains.

Generally behind the 2nd Division's rifle regiments, facing eastward, the artillery dug in its supporting base on the only flat terrain they could find, an exposed flat draw near Kujang-dong.

The battalions and companies were scattered along the river in weird array, for this was no country for a modern, mechanized army. The hills were not high here, but they were endless. There were no side roads, and no flat spaces anywhere, where command posts, medical aid stations, or anything else could be set up. The hills ran into each other; they overlapped; they blocked vision and hearing in every direction.

Because the terrain was compartmented by the hills, some units stood too close to others; others were out of sight and hearing of those supporting them. Wire often did not reach; the ancient radios did not work. The units of the 2nd Division were not far from each other in yards and miles—but each moved, fought, and worried in almost complete isolation, in a tormented vacuum of its own.

Men who have never walked these hills will never adequately understand what happened to the 2nd Division. Because among these endless ridges the 2nd Division was brought to battle the day after Thanksgiving, 1950, and it was, in detail, defeated.

During the next five days every unit of the division, combat and support alike, would know its moments of danger, of fear and death and destruction. All would suffer, some more than others. What each company, each platoon suffered, is a story in itself.

Enough of the whole, perhaps, can be glimpsed from the ordeal of a few.

The 2nd Division sat on the hill,

Watchin' Old Joe Chink get set for the kill—

Captain Frank E. Muñoz, commanding George Company, 9th Infantry, knew that his division was attacking across the Ch'ongch'on. He had no idea that across that same river another, hostile, army was also poised to attack.

In ninety days all the faults of the American Army had not been corrected—there were still men in the ranks who were poorly trained, and replacements who had no stomach for Korea, north or south. The old men had learned, the hard way, but many of the older men were gone. The inexorable law of combat is the disintegration and replacement of rifle companies, and the pool from which replacement came was the same as that which had furnished the first men into Korea.

Because the fighting had lessened in recent weeks, because all believed the war was ending, the hard-won discipline in the ranks had lessened, too. Men had discarded their steel helmets, because they were heavy and awkward over their pile caps. Disdaining their use, most men of the 9th Infantry had tossed aside their bayonets. Few carried grenades, or much ammunition. There were few entrenching tools, and not much food, because in these goddam hills, man, you had to go light.

Because most men equated discipline with the infrequent nonsense of digging six-by-six trenches to bury cigarettes, or scrubbing coal bins white, practices the Army had wisely discarded, many men had discarded discipline, too. They—those who lived—would have to learn again that discipline means keeping a full bandoleer of ammunition and a full canteen, despite their weight, and all the equipment men wiser than they had issued to them.

Over George Company Frank Muñoz and his trusted deputies, such as Sergeant Long, worked to exercise their will. It was a never-ending and a thankless job.

But George Company had good clothing: OD trousers, with field cotton pants to go over them, field jackets, parkas, combat boots with overshoes, and arctic sleeping bags. They were eating good food as yet, and they had no real trouble with the bitter weather.

Muñoz knew very little of the tactical situation. He knew the Chinese were in. He thought: We'll have to fight them. We'll push them back to the Yalu, and there we'll draw a line to keep them out.

He figured the enemy units in front of George were only a screening force. For that matter, so did Colonel Foster, the Division G-2.

On the night of 25 November, 9th Infantry's front began to come apart, but Frank Muñoz and company didn't know it. Baker was hard hit; King and Love virtually wiped out. Chinese were pouring into the 2nd Division along the natural corridors by night, seeking the American rear. Where they met no opposition in the dark, they flowed through; where they hit, sometimes by accident, an American unit, they flailed it from all directions. Some, decimated and shaken, held; some broke.

Men could hear the firing, but not even the regimental commanders, with no communication, knew what was happening.

At dawn, 26 November, 9th Infantry, except for 2nd Battalion, which was separated from the other units by the river, was ready for the scrapheap. The 23rd and 38th regiments were heavily engaged in their own areas. And 2nd Battalion's turn was coming.

Dug in along a high hill beside the river, George and Fox companies had been missed by the Chinese as they streamed through. With daylight, the dawn cold and clear, they made contact. Fortunately, George saw them first.

In the first, shadowy winter's light, Master Sergeant William Long, leading George's 3rd Platoon, saw a body of men walking openly along a creek from the area where K and L of the 3rd Battalion should be. Because the troops moved in the open, with no attempt at concealment, the men with Long decided they must be Americans, and ignored them.

Warned by the sixth sense old hands develop in battle, Long kept his eye on the approaching men. They closed to within three hundred yards, and suddenly Long yelled, "Chinks! They're Chinks!"

Quickly, men holding rifles and BAR's swiveled toward the visitors. Long let them come within two hundred yards; then he leveled his own carbine, and let fly.

The first burst of fire knocked down nearly half the Chinese. The remaining jumped behind rocks of the creek bed or plunged into the half-frozen rice paddies. There was a small village nearby, and a few Chinese raced for cover among the huts.

Quickly, a furious fire fight built up.

Muñoz tapped his runner. He sent the man scurrying to First Lieutenant Kavanaugh of Fox, dug in farther along the hill, to get Fox to hit the Chinese in the flank.

Kavanaugh sent one of his supporting tanks rumbling down toward the village. The tank opened fire, killing at least ten Chinese. Others came out with hands up.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Long led his platoon around the ambushed men and struck them in the rear. In a brief, sharp fire fight, Long wiped out the enemy column: seventy-odd killed, and twenty captured.

Frank Muñoz and Long looked over the dead Chinese carefully; they were the first they had seen. The corpses were clean-looking, solid, muscular. Each soldier had carried a pack complete with entrenching tool, blankets, and extra ammunition; they had had a miscellany of weapons—American, Japanese, Russian—and plenty of stick grenades. Some of them had carried a pot and a great quantity of rice—their rations.

Because they had thought all the American line companies had been wiped out during the night, the Chinese had walked blithely into a trap.

Muñoz and Long had no time to celebrate their easy victory. Now, bloody, exhausted survivors of K and L companies straggled in, and learning what had happened to his front, regimental commander Colonel Sloane moved his remaining companies from the east to the west side of the Ch'ongch'on, to reinforce his intact 2nd Battalion. Then Sloane ordered all his units, including 2nd Battalion, westward down the river, forming them again approximately two miles downstream.

They held the west side of the river; across from them the 23rd Infantry held the eastern bank.

The day passed swiftly with the moving about, but without significant action. No one knew what was happening elsewhere in the division zone.

Then, not long after dark, a strong enemy column from the north burst into the 23rd's perimeter. The regiment's CP was overrun and the Headquarters Company shattered. Its 2nd and 3rd battalions retreated several hundred yards downriver before they were able to get hold of themselves once again.

Sloane, learning this, immediately realized the Chinese might wade the Ch'ongch'on from the east and take Fox and George in the rear. He called Major Barberis, the 2nd Battalion C.O., and told him to move his battalion to the east side of the river, onto the ground where the 23rd had been.

The river was not deep, but it was swift, and Sloane ordered Barberis to move his men across on all available vehicles.

Barberis relayed the message on to Fox and George, dug in on high ground about six hundred yards west of the river. Fox left its holes, beginning to trail down to the river, while George remained on the high ground, covering, and How, the Weapons Company, kept its mortars emplaced to support in case of trouble.

Precisely at this moment, from three sides, rifle fire blazed up at George's hill. Unseen in the dark, Chinese skirmishers had crawled less than fifty yards from George's foxholes.

Muñoz had positioned the company for all-around defense. His 1st Platoon faced toward the Ch'ongch'on; his 2nd was on the crest of the rise, looking north. The 3rd Platoon, Sergeant Long, was on line with the 2nd, to its right. On a slightly lower rise, some hundred yards distant, a platoon of Easy Company had been stationed to protect the company's west, or left, flank.

The first fire fell on the left, on Easy's platoon, then bounced all along the line, around the hill. A blaze of gunfire and sound came from F Company, nearing the river. They had been hit, too. The Chinese seemed to know the location of each of George's strongpoints.

Then, weirdly, the bugles began to blow. Having pinned the enemy, the Chinese were talking to each other. The shrill sounds, riding the cold night wind, puckered Muñoz's boys a bit. Second Lieutenant Danny Hernandez, his 2nd Platoon leader, ran over to where Muñoz stood.

"Captain, the Chinese are all over us!"

Coolly, the short, dark Muñoz said to him, "Let's see what happens."

Suddenly a red flare soared high over the ridge, rising from the west.

"Well," Muñoz said, as calmly as he could, "here they come!"

He was right. The Chinese attack, perfectly planned, coordinated, and executed, burst against George's hill. The hill slopes flamed and roared with the sounds of firing.

"Notify Battalion we're under attack—" Muñoz said. But his radio operator could no longer raise Battalion; they were across the river and out of range.

The firing slackened momentarily, and Muñoz got to one of Lieutenant Haywood's supporting tanks. He contacted Regiment, and ruined whatever peace of mind Colonel Sloane had briefly enjoyed, over the tank radio.

Then the enemy brought their small 57mm mortars up on the fingers of the ridge, firing into George's positions. With a mighty rush forward, Chinese burst over the lower parts of the hill and leaped into the holes of the 1st and Easy's platoon. In a wild melee, the two American platoons disappeared.

George's rear was now unprotected.

Meanwhile, George's 2nd and 3rd platoons had not yet been engaged. Up on the crest, they could see and hear the uproar in the other platoon areas, but could not tell what was happening.

Then men ran toward Long's 3rd Platoon, shouting, "GI's! GI's! Don't shoot, GI's!"

Long figured that stragglers from the overrun platoons were trying to join the men on the crest. He shouted, "Don't shoot—don't shoot!"

His men couldn't have shot anyway, because so far they had seen nothing in the dark to shoot at. But now, oddly, Long thought he heard the same voices that yelled not to fire yammering in unmistakable Chinese.

While Long strained his eyes into the night, a bugle rapped sharply. Tatatata—tatatata. Whistles blew.

One of Long's men yelped: "I can see 'em! I can see 'em! Here they come!"

He hadn't told William Long anything—Long could see them, too. Hunched over, moving up the hills with their centers of gravity low to the sloping ground, the Chinese were coming silently through the night.

Long and his men opened up. Immediately, grenades burst among his holes. Under heavy pressure, Long remembered what Captain Muñoz had told him—if he got in heavy trouble, to join up with the 2nd Platoon, because in the final extreme the 2nd Platoon's area was better for last-ditch defense.

Under Long's shouted command, his men dashed to their left, along the ridge toward Danny Hernández's platoon. Just as they joined, fire from a machine gun tore through 3rd Platoon's line, knocking many of Long's men down.

Now all Muñoz's men were together, what was left of them, but the Chinese kept coming. Three big waves of Chinese boiled up out of the dark, hammering at George's men with rifles and submachine guns, hurling dozens of grenades. Muñoz's men needed grenades now, badly, but they didn't have them. As the Chinese poured up the fingers and fell into their holes, they needed bayonets—but they didn't have these, either.

Captain Muñoz, meanwhile, was on the phone, talking to Kavanaugh of Fox Company. "I'm being hit heavily—I'm in danger of losing the hill—can you help?"

"God, Frank, I need help, too!"

Fox was waist-deep in Chinese, trying to fight its way to the river.

The mortars of How, the Heavy Weapons Company, had been throwing up a continuous curtain of fire in support of the beleaguered riflemen. Now the tubes ran out of ammunition. The mortarmen dropped thermite grenades into their tubes, and ran for the protecting tank platoon that was covering by the river.

Muñoz, down in the ravine beside his CP, could see the action on the hill in silhouette. He could see the dark shadows of hunched-over Chinese coming over the ridge, only to be chopped down. But others jumped the crest and tumbled into the foxholes of his men. He could hear screams and shouts, punctuated by the occasional blast of a grenade.

From the positions that had been overrun, Chinese machine guns began a crossfire over the remaining company area. Now Muñoz's men were pinned down.

Muñoz realized the battle could not go on much longer. George was being overwhelmed. The friendly mortars had ceased fire. The tank platoon, down by the river, could not support in the darkness.

One of the tankers called to him; there was a radio message from his Battalion S-3, Major Woodward: "What's happening?"

Muñoz filled him in. He told him the company was almost shot, and the position ready to give way.

"Okay, Frank, bring your men back across the river—tell Fox to do the same. The 23rd Infantry's on line behind you, somewhere—be careful!"

Muñoz passed the word to Kavanaugh at once.

"I'm with you!" the Fox Company commander said.

But Muñoz never gave the order to pull out; he had no need to. The platoons on the hill had thrown their last grenade; most of the small-arms ammunition was gone. Sergeants Long shouted for his men to try to roll off the hill back into the protecting saddle, and under heavy fire the survivors scrabbled down.

Only some twenty minutes had elapsed since the first shot, but George had lost more than seventy men.

Several men did not get off the hill one private named Smalley and two ROK KATUSA's were swarmed upon by Chinese, who put rifles in their backs and forced them to surrender.

In bits and pieces, Fox and George companies straggled to their vehicles waiting behind the hill. The supporting tanks and Quad .50's threw up a hail of fire now, to keep the Chinese off their backs. But the enemy did not immediately pursue. They paused to reorganize on their newly won ground.

Behind Fox and George the river was fordable by vehicles only. Ice-rimed and swift, it was four feet deep, with enough current to sweep a wading man from his feet. Muñoz ordered all the wounded who had been salvaged, some thirty to forty, to be put on the tank decks. Then, the tiny column started to move back to the Ch'ongch'on. As they moved out, mortar shells began to whistle down on them.

One tank, sighting the enemy tubes up on the hill, fired a 76mm shell into them and put them out of action.

In the darkness, all was confusion and terror. Trying to round up his men, Muñoz heard sobbing sounds coming from a wood shack—there were a number of shabby Korean dwellings scattered along the river by the crossing site. Muñoz went into the hut, saw an American soldier sitting on the floor, tears streaming down his stubbled face.

"What're you doing in here?" Muñoz shouted.

"I don't know—I don't know!" the soldier sobbed.

"Come with me."

"Captain, I don't want to go out there—"

Muñoz grabbed the man, dragged him to his feet. He was rough and impatient. "Get your ass on one of those tanks!"

Outside, another enlisted man, shot through the foot, was whimpering with pain. "Hang on, you'll be all right," Muñoz told him. The soldier shut up.

Muñoz still had ten to fifteen POW's they had captured earlier. Not knowing what to do with them, he had forced them into one of the Korean huts. Now, pulling out, an H Company officer shouted to Muñoz that they'd better kill these prisoners right away.

On this, Frank Muñoz put his foot down. When the company pulled back, the POW's were left unmolested in the hut.

Under scattered fire, seeing Chinese crawling over the small ridges like ants in the gun flashes, the column ground slowly toward the river. Suddenly, a rocket launcher flared in the night, and the lead tank stopped, started to smoke. The men riding it leaped off; the crew bailed out, and both groups dashed wildly toward another vehicle.

The stopped tank caught fire, its engine flaming up with a loud whoosh. In this light, and behind the cover the steel hull afforded, Muñoz gathered five or six of his men. "Stay here! Fire on the Chinks! We'll cover the others; then they'll cover us—"

There were two more tanks, and most of Fox company, still behind. Now, under the covering fire Muñoz's small party threw against the hills, the others streamed through. But they did not stop to cover Muñoz's withdrawal—they kept on going.

Bullets whined off the damaged tank as the Chinese in the ridges kept up a steady fire, and the gasoline in the tank engine blazed up so high Muñoz began to worry that the tank might explode.

"Let's get out of here," he said to the men around him. "Stay close to me—there's safety in numbers!"

But one of the men, First Sergeant Lester Heath, had been shot in the foot, and crippled. He could barely walk; he could only hobble along, leaning on Muñoz's shoulder.

The little party could not run for the river; hampered by Heath, it moved along at a snail's pace.

The Chinese rushed. Firing coolly with his .45, Muñoz knocked five of them down, while the other men used carbines and M-1's. There was no hope of bringing out the dead, Muñoz knew—but he was not leaving any wounded behind. They brought Heath out.

For this action Frank Muñoz would be decorated.

By the time Muñoz and his party reached the river, the Quad .50's had burned up all their ammunition, and could be used only to ferry men across. The tanks, also, took the wounded across the icy river, then returned to carry more.

From the other side of the river, an artillery battalion was firing now in support, but the fighting was so confused in the dark, and so close-in that the howitzers could not be effective.

Having made the east bank, both the tank officer, Lieutenant Haywood, and Kavanaugh of Fox Company returned to scour the hostile side for wounded and stragglers. The tanks made several trips, and gradually the remnants of the 2nd Battalion formed west of the river. Muñoz and his men were brought across—but many men, despairing of crossing on a tank, waded into the Ch'ongch'on and splashed to safety. In the ten-degree weather, most of these men immediately became weather casualties.

On the east bank, trying to reorganize his company, Frank Muñoz could at first find only twenty men. And it was here he first discovered that his own trousers had been cut by bullets in two places. He had neither heard nor felt the bullets' passage.

At daylight, after losing two more tanks to enemy action, Lieutenants Kavanaugh and Haywood finally came back across the Ch'ongch'on. They were the last men to cross, except one.

Captured up on the hill, Private Smalley had been ordered into his sleeping bag. There, exhausted, he had fallen asleep under Chinese guard while the battle raged. At dawn, a slender Chinese officer shook him awake. Speaking perfect English, the officer began to question Smalley and the two ROK soldiers who had been taken with him.

Smalley refused to open his mouth. Seeing his example, the two KATUSA's were silent, also. At last the Chinese officer snapped his fingers. While Smalley watched, horrified, the Koreans were marched a few paces away and shot down.

Then the officer said to Smalley, "We know all about you." And he did—down to Smalley's unit, and who commanded it. "Now go back and tell your commander not to use fire bombs—napalm—against us. Your outfit is over there"—he pointed to the river—"take off!"

Fully expecting a bullet in the back, Smalley ran for the river. Though he was forced to hide twice to avoid Chinese patrols, he reached the Ch'ongch'on and splashed across.

During this time the Chinese released many such prisoners as Smalley, undoubtedly for propaganda reasons. In Private Smalley's case the propaganda backfired. Finding Captain Muñoz, he said bitterly: "I saw what they did to those ROK's. Gimme a machine gun!"

During the day, George and the other units received dry clothing and hot food. But the 9th Infantry was rapidly becoming disorganized. The night before, 2nd Battalion had been its strongest remaining force. Now 2nd battalion could account for only nine officers and slightly more than two hundred men.

During the day the Chinese lurked in the valleys, burying their dead, cooking their rice. Frank Muñoz and Company could use the respite, but there were limits to what it could do, even with a few hours.

So far, however, there had been no talk of retreat.

While the left and middle of the 2nd Division line had undergone their nights of fire, and were getting chopped up badly, on the right, or eastern, flank sheer disaster had struck, as yet unknown to either division HQ or Eighth Army.

The II ROK Corps, guarding the 2nd Division's right, had come under the heaviest attack. Badly trained, weapon-poor, the frightened ROK's had been split apart, and were fleeing southward in complete panic.

There were KMAG officers with the ROK's, and as many of these as possible were flown out by American liaison planes. But the complete picture of the disaster was slow in coming through the American staffs in the west.

On the 2nd Division right, Colonel Peploe's 38th Infantry had been strung out south of the Kunu-ri-Huich'on road, in contact with the ROK II Corps. Very soon, the Chinese were all over the Rock of the Marne. Again, this action followed that in the middle of the line—Chinese units prowled down the natural corridors by night, slashing through to the American rear. In some areas they collided violently with American companies on line; in others there was no contact.

There was massive American weapon power among these hills. There were regiments, battalions, a whole division. But only companies fought, and each company fought alone, out of sight, often out of knowledge of any other American unit. The battle boiled down into how long individual companies, singled out and enveloped on all sides by overwhelming numbers, could hold out.

It was weird fighting, such as the United States Army had not seen since the days of Fort Phil Kearney, the Washita, the Little Big Horn. And what the Army had learned on those fields had long since been discarded on the battlefields of Europe. Unable to maneuver where its wheels could not go, unable to emplace and effectively use its big guns, unable to see or communicate in these hills, the United States Army was being bitten to death rather than smashed down by numbers.

While on 26 November Colonel Peploe was having trouble finding out what had happened to his front-line platoons, he soon learned what had transpired in the ROK sector, on his right flank. A little past noon, an entire ROK regiment, the 3rd, came wheeling across his lines, causing great confusion among American riflemen unable to tell friend from foe.

The ROK colonel, his own division dissolved, had sent his men retreating into the American sector in an effort to save them.

Peploe called Major General Keiser at once. "I've got a whole ROK regiment coming into my area. What the hell shall I do with these people?"

Keiser, along with Division HQ, was unquestionably suffering from a certain amount of shock. Against the 2nd Division's own abortive offensive, an enemy blow had landed with stunning speed and ferocity; communications were disrupted, and the inevitable friction of war was slowing Division's reactions. Keiser, worried with other problems, told Peploe, "Take command of 'em and use 'em, dammit!"

This, Peploe was most happy to do. In these hostile hills friendly faces were scarce. He also adjusted his flank against the new menace.

But Keiser, who earlier had pointed to Eighth Army's east flank and said: "Goddam it, that's where they'll hit! That'll be their main effort, off our flank and against ROK II Corps!" along with his staff was slow to react to the tidings of disaster. His own division was in deep trouble, the extent of which he could so far only imagine. His own running sores required such attention that the slings and arrows falling upon the ROK's seemed far away and hardly felt.

So that when IX Corps, concerned with the ROK collapse, sent the newly arrived Turkish Brigade up the Kunu-ri road to Tokch'on to guard 2nd Division's flank, the Turks were left dangling. Their mission required close contact and coordination with 2nd Division, at the very least. Furthermore, the Turks, seeing their first action in Korea, had at this time no idea of which side was up or down, or even where the ball park was.

Beset by the crisis within his own front, the 2nd Division commander left the Turks to shift for themselves; no ranking American officer visited them or briefed them.

Floundering about in a morass of uncertainty and a fog of ignorance about everything that was happening, the Turkish Brigade, 5,000 strong, marched east. Near the village of Wawon the Turks became engaged in battle, and ringing reports soon came back that they had routed the enemy, taking many prisoners.

But, tragically, they had blundered into fleeing ROK's, and the "victory" was over these miserable, panic-stricken remnants of II Corps.

Then, still at Wawon, the main strength of the Chinese burst over them. The detail of what happened will probably never be reported; the essence has been: The Turkish Brigade was destroyed.

Tall, pale-eyed men with dark faces, in heavy greatcoats, wielding long bayonets, the Turks refused to fall back. There were observers who said some officers threw their hats to the ground, marking a spot beyond which they would not retreat, and, surrounded by the enemy, died "upon their fur." There were others, all else failing, who threw cold steel at the enemy in bayonet charges. Rarely has a small action, dimly seen, sketchily reported, sent such intimations of glory flashing across the world.

But the Turks died. On 28 November, when the Turkish Brigade at last fell back southwest and linked with the 38th Infantry, only a few of its companies were combat-fit.

It was deeply ironic later, when the American Government, badly concerned with Turkish public opinion concerning their losses, sent quiet apologies to Turkish authorities. The Turks hardly knew what the Americans were talking about. The Turks, however badly used, had come to fight, and above all else Turks were proud of what their men had done.

Americans had forgotten that only a generation before one of their own generals, Pershing, could stand on the soil of France and say to Clemenceau: "We are here to fight and be killed. Do with us as you will, without counting."

Colonel Peploe, meanwhile, sooner than Division HQ, had seen the way the tide was running. The first of battle he had four line companies broken, and a reserve company badly battered. His only real error as to the gravity of the situation was that he thought his 38th was standing off the enemy's principal strength. He did not really understand that the ROK's and Turks were meeting that, or that the Manchu Raiders were suffering far worse in the middle of the division zone than was his Rock of the Marne.

Only gradually he learned that he had no right flank at all and that the Chinese were south of him.

He wanted to rearrange his units so that his right flank was refused to the enemy, and concerning this he again called Keiser. Unless Peploe pulled back to the southwest, the Chinese would be in position to cut the American main supply route running south.

Keiser, though not really understanding the seriousness of the situation, told him to use his own judgment. Peploe's move, while it could not break the web of fate closing in about 2nd Division, diverted complete disaster.

Rolling with the punch, fighting a battle royal, the men of the 38th pulled back astride the Ch'ongch'on during the night. As Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall put it, writing of this night of battle, "It is … a pity that young Americans have to die bravely but inconspicuously on a foreign hillside in a national cause and have no better words than these spoken of them."

Slowly, the 2nd Division was contracting back toward Kunu-ri. While the 38th was being pushed back on the right and south, the 9th, across the Ch'ongch'on, was also being sprung backward. Strung out along the river and road, the division hourly neared being taken by a double envelopment, a fact that was only slowly being appreciated in higher headquarters.

To the north and east, 25th Division, also bloodied, though not to the extent of the 2nd, was falling back toward the Kunu-ri junction.

For once, things were actually worse on the ground up front then on the maps at Division HQ.

When the mortars started falling 'round the CP tent,

Everybody wondered where the high brass went.

They were buggin' out

Just movin' on …

While the men of the rifle companies had no idea of the enemy's grand scheme of maneuver, or what their own leaders planned, they could look about them, see the missing faces, and know the extent of their hurt. Battalion and regimental staffs, looking for fresh units with which to plug the gaps left by broken ones, were scraping the bottom of the barrel.

East of the Ch'ongch'on and after its first savage night of battle, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, did its best to recoup. Easy Company, Lieutenant Joe Manto, was in bad shape. Fox was down. Frank Muñoz's George was a mass of doll rags. Only the Weapons Company, How, was more or less intact.

But hearing that the enemy had slipped into his rear, establishing blocking positions west of the river, Colonel Sloane had to send the battalion back across the Ch'ongch'on opposite Kujang-dong.

Sloane ordered Major Barberis to move George, How, and Fox into a blocking position against the Chinese, and to try to make contact with the 24th Infantry, 25th Division, which was supposed to be wandering about on the division left.

Muñoz's men moved west of the river again, and took a small hill, driving away a squad of Chinese. But they saw neither hide nor hair of the 24th Regiment. In these hills, across the valley was the same as being in the next county. And the men of the 2nd Battalion, shivering in ten-degree cold, hungry, without sleep for several nights, were reaching the point of exhaustion.

Worried, Sloane called Division HQ. He wanted to know what the further mission of the 9th Infantry would be. "I can't keep these men going till dark, then give them orders to consolidate ground where they stop. They need a decent chance."

The officer at the other end of the line told Sloane not to get his bowels in an uproar; Division had problems, too.

After dark, what was left of Lieutenant Colonel Hill's 1st Battalion was hit and pushed back across the icy river. The wet, freezing men were given dry clothing, then put back on line immediately.

The 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry, fighting a die-hard action, was driven back into Major Barberis' battalion. All at once, some of the supporting 105's were running short of shells. Painfully, a new day passed.

Frank Muñoz, on the hill west of the river, received a radio message from the battalion exec, Pete Birmingham. "Go to Easy Company CP where we can talk by phone."

Muñoz walked back to Manto's command post, which had wire, a more secure means of communication, strung back to Battalion HQ. Here Birmingham ordered George Company to come back across the river and to take up new positions. "We're beginning an organized retrograde movement."

Muñoz could figure that out. For a great many hours, as far as he was concerned, all signposts had been pointing south.

After dark, he moved back across the river, and with Easy on his right, Fox on his left, began leapfrogging back some two miles toward Kunu-ri. And on this movement began the next-to-final act of the continuing tragedy.

Retreating toward Kunu-ri to the southwest, the companies heard the ring of Chinese bugles from the direction of the river, five hundred yards away. The enemy was already across, in regimental strength.

Something went into the air, bursting redly like Roman-candle balls. Exactly sixty seconds later, behind heavy firing, long waves of Chinese charged frontally against the retreating 2nd Battalion.

Working their weapons desperately, Muñoz's boys knocked the onrushing Chinese back. Just short of his line, the Chinese charge was broken—but some of Muñoz's men were beginning to get the shakes. He saw several get up to try to run to the rear.

"Hold it! Hold it!" he bellowed. At his side, Lieutenant Hernández was trying to help, but Hernández had had it. A brave man, the lieutenant had been commissioned in the field, but he was so worn down by cold and exhaustion he was almost through.

Then the weirdest experience of Muñoz's career took place—suddenly, the battleground was lighted with a brilliant white light, much more intense than that of an artillery flare. He never knew where the light came from, but in it both he and his men had a panoramic view all the way to the Ch'ongch'on. And framed in the white light were more Chinese, in coffee-colored quilted tunics, then Muñoz could count.

The low ground along the river was swarming with thousands of enemy, all headed toward him. It was the most terrifying sight Frank Muñoz was ever to see.

He saw some of Easy's people start to run from their positions. Later, he learned that Joe Manto had been hit, and was left to be captured. The two tanks supporting Muñoz had seen the Chinese sea, too. Now, their engines roaring, they took off to the rear.

Muñoz knew it was hopeless. He shouted for his people to move down from their high ground, and to move back through the valleys. His commo was out. fire had no idea where Battalion HQ was.

The Chinese hordes did not press them as they fell back, though they drew some fire. Stumbling through the dark, Muñoz led his men back more than two miles, and at last came into his Regimental post, quite by accident.

Here he reported to the regimental adjutant. He told him what was happening, and Muñoz said that it looked as if the whole line was gone. He then went back into the tent to report to the S-2, the Intelligence Officer, Captain Murphy.

Regiment began to talk with Division via radio, one phrase Muñoz overheard being that "the situation is fluid all over."

Then men started to take the big CP tent down.

"What are my orders?" Muñoz wanted to know.

He was told to attach his command to the 23rd Infantry, "just down the road."

Muñoz went back to his company, seething. What the hell was this, every man for himself? He located some ambulances and put his wounded aboard; he found he had about a hundred men still with him. He moved down the road until he located a battalion command post of the 23rd. The battalion commander ordered him to hold his men there until morning.

At 0400 he was able to get breakfast for his people—dry cereal and black coffee—from the 23rd. The night before the battle began west of the river, Muñoz's men had ambushed and butchered a Korean steer. Rangy and tough as the animal had been, it was their last good meal for a long time.

Muñoz reported to Colonel Paul Freeman, C.O. of the 23rd, at daybreak. Freeman said, "Take up a position on our right flank." But then a staff officer from 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, bumped into some of George's people along the trail, and this officer ordered George Company to rejoin.

The 2nd Battalion CP was just up the road.

Muñoz went back to Freeman, who accepted the loss of these unexpected reinforcements cheerfully. "Go on, rejoin your outfit," Freeman told him. Moving up the frozen dirt road, Muñoz saw Major Barberis standing beside a clump of vehicles. The tall, slim battalion commander's eyes lighted as he saw Muñoz lead George by.

"God, Frank, I'm glad to see you! I thought you were gone."

Barberis, one of the most capable infantry officers in Korea, had somehow got most of his battalion back together—all that was left of it. Now he started these men on the final march back toward the road junction at Kunu-ri.

That day, while the 23rd held the door, the shattered 9th pulled back around Kunu-ri. When night came, it was bitterly cold, but the men were allowed to light no fires. When ordered to stop, men fell down on the frozen earth and lay stiffly in little clumps, unmoving. Most of them had been fighting incessantly for more than forty-eight hours.

That night the firing on all flanks died away, and after midnight it grew strangely peaceful across the frozen wastes. Gratefully, the cold and exhausted survivors did not question the peace and quiet.

But had they remembered the history of the United States Army in their own West, they might have guessed the next step in this anachronistic war. Taking a leaf from the Cavalry's book, the enemy was flowing past the 2nd Division, to cut them off at the pass.

The final horror was yet to come.

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