Military history


Terror by Night

If you have a son overseas, write to him. If have a son in the Second Division, pray for him.

— Walter Winchell, 1950.

IN THE DARK days of December 1950, certain American commentators became very bitter over the performance of American troops in North Korea. American armies were, after all, being pushed about by those of a third-rate power.

Whatever its skill or courage, it cannot be argued that the United States Army still suffered from deficiencies in discipline and training. A "fair weather" attitude cannot be wiped out in a day. It was not until the Korean War was many months old that new Army trainees began to live half their time in the field, and to undergo a third of their training by night. Slowly, commanders then began to restore the old hard slap and dash that had characterized Grant's men in Virginia, Pershing's AEF, and Patton's armored columns.

This would be a bitter battle, fought against both men in the ranks and the public behind them. It would never be completely won.

But the principal reason that the Eighth Army was defeated along the Ch'ongch'on was that the men marching north had no more idea of what awaited them than had Lieutenant Colonel Custer riding toward the Valley of the Greasy Grass.

There had been the same arrogance in the march north that had characterized Braddock's movement against the French and Indians, Dade's demonstration against the Seminoles, and Custer's ride to the Little Big Horn. And it was the same conditions of terrain, low cunning, and barbarian hardihood that brought all these forces to defeat by an intrinsically inferior enemy.

It was almost as hard for minds trained on the fields of Europe to adjust to Korea as it had been for British generals to learn to fight colonials—who threw the book of civilized warfare away.

But the most ironic thing, in those bitter days of December 1950, was that the commentators who cried havoc the loudest were the very men who had done most to change and destroy the old 1945 Army. These were the men who had shouted for the boys to be brought home, who had urged the troops to exert civil rights. They were the ones who had hinted that leaders trying to delay the frenetic demobilization, or the reform of the Army, were no better than the Fascists.

And these were the men who screamed most shrilly when some young Americans on the field of battle behaved more like citizens than like soldiers.

Once irrevocably committed in motion, the single forlorn hope of the 2nd Division's motor column to clear the gauntlet sprung about it rested on its momentum. Once begun, there was gigantic power in the mechanized onrush difficult even for machine guns to stop.

But the single M-39 carrier, which forced Mace's tank to halt for half a dozen minutes, dealt this slender hope a fatal wound.

For as the long, serpentine column braked to a halt behind Mace, a hail of gunfire beat against its exposed sides like rain, killing men, exploding trucks, driving riders into the ditches. Still moving, stricken vehicles could have slued off the right of way. Destroyed while at the halt, they plugged the narrow road for those pressing on behind.

Brought under sweeping automatic fire, the tactically disorganized riflemen of Peploe's battalions could only tumble off their tanks and trucks and fight back from the roadside. But officers were separated from their platoons, and battalion commanders had lost touch with their companies upon entrucking. No organized action could be started and pushed home against the enemy firing from the flanking ridges. The movement had begun as a motor march, and a motor march it remained until the last.

When the tanks finally pushed wrecked vehicles out of the road, after each accordion-action halt, the armor and trucks, spurred by the flailing steel beating against them, often roared ahead without pausing to reload their passengers.

Wounded and dead clogged the ditches. Some lay apathetically, while others ran along in the column's dust, desperately trying to hitch a new ride. Officers had not anticipated trouble, and now, committed, they could only bore ahead, trying to bring through the few men riding in the same vehicle with them.

Some vehicles stopped, loaded hale and hurt alike. Men grabbed hold of others as they raced by, only to be kicked off by the already overcrowded riders. And each stop, when it occurred, only delayed the column more.

There could be no turning back. As the Light Brigade had ridden into the valley of death, so the 2nd Division rode into six miles of hell. The greater part of the leading serials came through safely, though blooded. Their momentum and the furious strafing of the encircling hills by the Air Force took them through. Then, as the road became more clogged with broken and burning vehicles, and Chinese fire increased at the final defile, the movement became more and more sluggish. Finally, about midafternoon, the pass itself was blocked and closed.

The major trouble, all that bloody afternoon, was that a strung-out motor convoy could have no unity of command. Tankers, who could move freely up and down the road, had no orders. Some stopped to fight; others blared through to the south. Senior officers filled their own vehicles with wounded and walked out. Some fought off encircling Chinese with rifles. No one had command; no one had control.

Colonel Peploe, his own jeep filled with wounded men, roared into the last defile before the road closed. In the pass a great heap of debris is from exploded trucks lay across the road; Peploe, holding on with all his strength, felt the jeep would never clear it.

But his driver, a young lieutenant, poured on the gas like a madman, careening and sluing across the road. The jeep bounced through. Whining down the last ridge, Peploe's quarter-ton raced around a curve and up over a wooded hill, and suddenly there were men about the truck. A friendly British voice yelled, "You can slow down now—you're safe!"

Behind Peploe, the pass closed in a fury of fire and death. Still to the north of it was the greater part of the 2nd Division.

The British, fighting their way north, were in contact with a Chinese division, stalled. A force might have been put together from the men who had first cleared the pass, and such force might have gone back and swept its sides of enemy guns—but the men who reached British lines had been fighting their own separate Little Big Horns for five days and nights. As an observer remarked, these survivors were men, not gods. No relieving force was ever organized from the south.

Within the gauntlet, each vehicle, each man, lived through an individual Hades. There were acts of immense courage, and of heartbreaking solicitude, as well as of stupidity and cowardice. As in all battles, all that reflected good or bad for the race of man took place within the pass.

These tales have been well told, elsewhere.

On the northern lip of the gauntlet, after the column started through, Colonel Sloane's 9th Infantry had run into new trouble. As the Turks, cut to pieces, reeled back from the surrounding slopes, mortar fire crashed down on the men holding the shoulders of the road.

Barberis was hit, a litter ease. The 2nd Battalion S-3 was hit. Captain Frank Muñoz, senior surviving officer, took temporary command.

The 2nd Battalion, like all the units of 9th Infantry, had been told to come out any way it could. And most of the men of the 9th secured places in the convoy as individuals as the trucks came by, so losing their lives or coming through, as their fortunes read.

Muñoz tried to keep his own men together. On the road he found some stalled vehicles, abandoned when they were stopped. Their tires had been shot away, their radiators perforated by bullets. Using the native mechanical genius of his men, Muñoz put an artillery ammunition truck in running order. Then, throwing out the heavy stuff, he loaded aboard all the small-arms ammunition he could find.

He told George Company: "We're going to fight our way through. We're going to evacuate our wounded on this truck. Anyone who can't walk, rides—"

His men were worried and shaken, but they listened to him.

A .50-caliber machine gun was in a ring mount on the repaired truck, and with his firing at the enfilading hills, Muñoz and his company started south, picking up stragglers, fighting their way through.

Some time after three o'clock, they arrived at the pass. Coming below the high slate cliffs, they walked into a swarm of Chinese bullets. The pass itself was blocked with wrecked vehicles, and from the high ground to either side of it enemy machine guns blazed incessantly at the vehicles piling up to the north.

Men had to leave their vehicles and make for the rocks and ditches, while gunfire cut them down. In the ten-degree weather, soldiers were becoming exhausted and apathetic. Americans, ROK's, and Turks lay on the ground, shocked, uncaring, while Chinese fire beat the earth about them. Their faces were dust-grimed, their eyes watering, their jaws slack.

Muñoz saw a scene of incredible confusion. The dead lay about in droves. Now and again a hurt man croaked aloud for water. Only a few men were trying to fight back at the enemy holding the hills.

On the other side of the road, meanwhile, across from Muñoz, General Keiser arrived in his jeep. He left the truck and walked up to the edge of the fatal log jam in the defile. Here he tried to bring some soft of order to the dazed men on the ground.

"Who's in command? Who are you? Can any of you do anything?"

The ROK's and Turks couldn't understand; the Americans kept silent.

Then Major General Keiser, division commander, walked on into the pass, to see what he could do. He found a few men fighting, and he saw men helping the seriously wounded. But he found no officers, and he went back to the northern edge, while bullets chipped the rock behind him.

On the way out, he accidentally stepped on the body of an American lying in his path. The man suddenly moved and said, "You damn son of a bitch!"

Surprised, General Keiser could only say, "My friend, I'm very sorry." Feeling very old and tired, he went on.

He knew that infantry parties had to be formed to attack and clear the ridges lipping the defile. Until this was done, there was no hope of clearing the obstacles in the road.

Over the pass now, Air Force jets were strumming in full fury, rocketing, napalming, stinging the rocks with machine-gun fire. They did a great deal to ease the burdens of those below, but they could not do the job alone. Still, they tried.

A plane whined in so low that the spent .50 caliber cartridges from its wing guns tinkled off Frank Muñoz's helmet. The flame from a napalm blast seared his face.

Muñoz, pinpointing a machine gun on the right side of the pass, got five men together. Frozen, exhausted to the point of hardly caring whether they lived or died, men moved as in molasses. It was almost impossible for anyone, officer or man, to do the slightest task—but Muñoz moved up the slope, and the Chinese pulled the gun away.

Meanwhile, the man who could get the job done had arrived.

Lieutenant Tom Turner, exec of the 38th's Regimental Tank Company, had had an incredible afternoon. Earlier, while directing fire against attacking Chinese, a rocket blast from friendly air knocked him unconscious in the ditch, where he lay for more than an hour as the motorcade ground past.

Coming to, bruised and shaken, he had walked more than a mile south, moving along stopped vehicles whose drivers and riders were down in the ditches, fighting. At the head of this mile-long column he found a small truck standing idle, clear road opening before it, while its crew engaged in rifle duels with the Chinese in the hills.

Turner got this truck on its way—then, under heavy fire, he moved back along the road, getting men into their trucks and moving again. It took tremendous effort, and great courage. Finally, with the trucks moving, he leaped on the running board of a two-and-a-half ton, only to fall into the ditch again as the bit of metal to which he clung was carried away by a machine-gun slug.

Again Turner blacked out.

When he crawled from the ditch once more, he saw the column had braked again approximately a thousand yards to the south. But as he stood erect, he felt a Chinese rifle in his back.

He was in the midst of a Chinese squad, some of whom were rendering first aid to American wounded lying along the road. Limping from a badly sprained ankle, Turner was told by the Chinese leader, in good English, to sit down.

Then, after a few minutes, the Chinese asked him if his ankle was good enough for him to walk back to his own lines. Surprised, Tom Turner answered, "I think so."

The Chinese then searched him—but politely, asking if he objected. They took two letters from him, leaving his money intact. More important, they missed the bottle of I. W. Harper that Turner had stowed in his jacket.

Then the Chinese leader ordered him to move down the road, collecting American walking wounded as he went. Limping, his ankle afire with pain, Turner walked away, fully expecting to be shot in the back. Instead, the Chinese faded into the bills.

Turner began to collect American wounded men who could walk, and he passed his bottle around. With three other men, all hurt, he approached the north end of the pass. Here a machine gun opened fire on the little group, and they hit the ditches. Resting, Turner passed the bottle once more.

There were wounded men all around, crawling, groaning, trying to move south into the pass. Tom Turner took another swig from his bottle, then got up. Hardly feeling his ankle, he trotted forward, under the embankment. And here American soldiers shouted to him to get down; a Chinese gun was dug in only twenty-five yards above him, spraying the road.

Turner asked for a grenade, but none of the men near him had any. Shaking his head to clear it, he then asked, "Who'll join me in rushing that gun?"

The suggestion went over like a lead balloon. One soldier told him, "You want it, you go take it, Lieutenant."

Somebody else said, "Take it, and shove it up your ass."

Giving up on the Americans, Turner went back the way he had come, shouting for any ROK or Turk who could talk English to come forward. He found one ROK who could. The man brought more than thirty other ROK's with him. Turner explained what he wanted—and the ROK's agreed.

He set some of them up as a base of fire to pin down the enemy gun, while he explained to the others that they would attack it behind him. Then he moved out. Looking back, he was shocked to see the whole group coming with him—they had not understood his orders.

Operating on his own genuine courage and the stimulus of the liquor, Turner figured what the hell. He yelled, "Banzai—Banzai!" and ran up over the covering embankment toward the enemy gun.

Turner's group swamped the gun crew before they could swivel it to meet the charge. Eager to go on, Turner's ROK's wanted to rush another gun, but he held them back, trying to get them into some kind of fighting order first.

At this moment an aircraft whistled low over the ridges, firing into them. A rocket exploded, and once again Tom Turner, bruised and concussed, lost consciousness.

But while he lay on the cold dust, other men were beginning to take charge.

The low-flying planes, howling angrily over the pass, had knocked over gun after gun as the sun sank. And both General Keiser and his assistant commander, General Bradley, now where organizing rifle parties to sweep over the enfilading ridges. Other officers, Muñoz from the 9th, and several from the 38th, got together small groups to move across the hills.

By now it was within minutes of becoming dark. The Chinese fire seemed to slacken a bit, and Muñoz moved his ammo truck with the .50 caliber forward along the road. Eight or ten Chinese suddenly appeared in front of the truck, apparently trying to surrender. But these men carried weapons, though their hands were high.

A Korean lieutenant yelled at Muñoz: "Don't trust them—they're trying to get in close!"

Muñoz and the Chinese opened fire at almost the same time. The Chinese went down, but now somebody ran up the line yelling, "Cease fire! Cease fire! The Chinese are trying to surrender!"

Farther ahead, General Keiser heard the shouts. He began yelling, "Stop that! These Commies know English! They started this—we're beginning to get them on the run!"

Now two light tanks from the 2nd Recon Company came into the defile, and with them an officer of the 38th was able to push the blocking debris out of the way. Suddenly, painfully, the serpentine column began to wind once again through the narrow pass, around the curve, and up onto the wooded British ridge beyond.

Muñoz heard Keiser say, "We've got to get through here before dark—" and the general hopped into his jeep and started through the pass. Behind him, Muñoz and the others followed.

The movement broke the will of the hovering Chinese. The ravaging fury of the American air, blasting out guns, spilling the enemy hordes trying to move up onto the hills to reinforce the defenders, the courage of a few ROK's and Americans, and the impact of a bottle of I. W. Harper had all added up to clear the pass.

As it grew dark, Tom Turner, once more on his feet, led a column of mixed allied troops through draws to the southwest on foot, reaching friendly lines at last.

Muñoz lost twenty-five of his people in the gauntlet, but coming into Nottingham, he found—miracle of miracles—his company kitchen truck. At that moment he would rather have had it than diamonds.

As the sun flared redly in the west and went out, the long jam at the pass was broken—but a great part of the 2nd Division was still north of the defile when the sun went down.

When General Keiser had first encountered the stoppage at the pass, he had tried to raise Colonel Freeman's 23rd Regiment, holding the gate north of Kunu-ri. Keiser had hoped for help from the embattled 23rd—but he could not make contact because of the hills and distance.

But Colonel Sloane, 9th Infantry, was in contact with both headquarters, and he relayed the messages.

Freeman, to the north, was under pressure equal to that of Keiser at the pass. Minute by minute, the Volume of fire falling on the rear guard was increasing; Freeman could hear the ominous bugling from surrounding hills as Chinese massed for the kill. Both he and the commander of his attached artillery, Keith, agreed that if the 23rd RCT did not soon withdraw it would never get the chance.

Freeman, sending messages through Sloane to Keiser, was thinking about his own withdrawal. He wanted permission to move out by way of the Sinanju road to the west instead of coming through the pass. In the sending and relay of messages, both Freeman and Keiser, thinking of different problems, became somewhat confused. To Freeman came the message, "Go ahead, and good luck."

Later, neither Keiser nor his ADC, Bradley, could remember having authorized the change of plan. But as Keiser told Freeman, "Thank God, Paul, that it all worked out for the best."

For upon getting the relayed message, Freeman and Keith at once decided to fire all ammunition on the ground, and to abandon the heavy guns. The road west was unfit to move howitzers by night on a fighting withdrawal.

As the riflemen of the 23rd began to leave their positions on the high ground about Kunu-ri, the cooks, clerks, and drivers of the 15th Field Artillery formed daisy chains from the ammunition dumps to the guns. Only a few thousand yards beyond, Chinese were pressing down from the hills in column. With every man in the artillery bearing a hand to bring up the ammunition, the gunners opened fire.

In twenty minutes, the battalion sent 3,206 rounds through the tubes; the earth before the advancing Chinese trembled and exploded in fire and death. Paint burned and peeled from the guns; breechblocks went dark from heat. Then, the ammunition gone, Keith's gunners' removed the firing locks and sights and thermited the tubes, and made for their trucks.

But the hail of explosives had saved the regiment. Running into such unprecedented fire, the Chinese stopped—and believing they were about to be counterattacked, they dug in. Though they would come out again later and attempt pursuit, they would never be able to catch up with the motorized column on foot.

As dark fell, Freeman's command started west, to the main coastal road, and came through intact. The last men and vehicles did not clear Kunu-ri till midnight—and after these came still the hard-pressed rear guard of the 25th Division, elements of Corley's 24th Infantry.

At 0200, 1 December, Blair's 3/24th still held Kunu-ri. While Blair was reporting to Colonel Corley by field phone, Chinese swarmed into his CP. By dawn, the 3/24 had dissolved as a fighting force, and it was every man for himself.

Ironically, the Chinese allowed those who ran toward the west to escape, and in many cases actually helped these men along by picking them up and carrying them until they were close to American lines.

Those who stayed and fought were not seen again.

The 2nd Division Artillery, less Keith's 15th Field, was the last element of the division to come through the gauntlet on the south. They had been waiting all afternoon. Because Freeman went west, the artillery became not an element in the column, but fighting rear guard for the division. Thus, the gunners had the terrible chore of moving, trying to support the column by fire, and defending the guns all at once. For a while, the artillery was in a quandary as to what to do.

Just at dark, the pass cleared, and seeing the vehicles ahead of the artillery move out, Brigadier General Haymes, Divarty Commander, realized his decision had been made for him. He ordered the artillery columns to proceed through the pass.

With the artillery came engineers, MP's, and dozens of stragglers from the infantry serials that had gone through earlier. It was a blazing fight for most of the way. Some batteries were forced to deploy and man their guns; some were overrun. All were badly shot up.

On the night march, under fire, the road became clogged with blazing vehicles. Swerving to avoid the blocks, other vehicles overturned. The first artillery battalions in the column came through best. The 17th leading, came out in good shape. The 37th, following, lost ten guns. The 503rd fought most of the night to save its 155's, finally losing them. The 38th Field, at the end of the column, lost every gun and truck, and its men came out as stragglers over the hills, if they came out at all.

Because the guns were undeniably lost, there were men who cried discredit upon the artillerymen. But the men who came through with them, of whatever arm or service, are firm in the belief that the guns were served with honor until the last.

The last men of the division to come through, arriving within the British lines of the moring of 1 December, could remember very little of what they had experienced. There comes a time when the conscious mind accepts no more; as with women experiencing childbirth, even the memory of pain is blotted out.

On that morning, thousands of allied wounded filled every field aid station and hospital even beyond Sunch'on. British and American surgeons worked until they dropped, then got up and worked again. Men lay on the frozen ground for hours, waiting for treatment.

But aside from the dead, there were still men more unfortunate than these.

All of 2nd Division did not come out.

One of the persistent myths of American arms in the middle of this century is that technicians somehow are not and should not be soldiers. But when a man dons the uniform whether he wears crossed muskets, the wheel, of the caduceus, events are apt to prove the falseness of such belief. For any man who wears his country's uniform, of whatever service, should be prepared to Suffer, and if need be, to fight.

Sergeant Charles B. Schlichter, 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, had been soldiering most of his life. At eighteen, in 1939, tall, slim, and green-eyed, he had enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard. Later, during the war, he had served forty-three months overseas with the Coast Guard, as part of a beach party with the Fleet Marine Force. He had seen Kwajelein, Eniwetok, Saipan, and Tinian, among others.

But, somehow, after the big war, he found himself married and selling furniture for a living. The service, he figured, was nothing to inflict upon a new wife. But some men are fortunate in their choice of mate—Elizabeth Schlichter had been raised in the Army, and day by day, month by month, she knew what ailed her man.

One night, while Charles was sitting in the bathtub, washing his long brown hair, Elizabeth lay on their bed, reacting the evening paper. Suddenly she said: "I see here the Army needs men. Why don't you go back into the service?"

Schlichter washed soap from his ears. "What?"

She repeated her question.

He said, "I'd love to—but it's not fair to you—"

"I like to travel, anyway."

The next morning, Schlichter called at an Army recruiting office. Looking at his records, the Army gave him sergeant's stripes on enlistment. In June, 1950, he was a surgical technician at Madigan General Hospital. When the news of the outbreak in Korea came over the air, Charles Schlichter had a premonition. In the middle of the night he told Elizabeth: "Something is going to happen to me—I don't know what, but something is going to happen. No matter what, stay where I leave you—because I'll be back." Neither he nor Elizabeth slept much that night.

In a few days, something did happen. He was diverted to the 2nd Division on 16 July, and restricted to post. He asked about a chance to make arrangements for his wife, and was told, "After you leave for Korea, she can find a place to live."

The 9th Infantry, his new unit, went aboard ship for the Far East. It was a ship diverted from civilian trade, and N.C.O.'s had staterooms, with bath and clean linen. But at sea, Schlichter and the medics of his unit received no real briefing on the Korean situation. Korea was described to them as a minor police action, which might be cleared up before they arrived. But listening to the radio, Schlichter visualized the vanishing American Perimeter.

When the regiment debarked at Pusan, the medics were issued rifles. As Schlichter put it later, this caused a certain amount of consternation in the ranks. For here they were told that the North Korean enemy considered any man in uniform fair game, whether he wore medic's armband or the chaplain's silver cross, and they should govern themselves accordingly.

Soon, in the fighting that followed along the broiling Naktong, Schlichter went to the division collecting company. He followed the division from the Naktong to the Ch'ongch'on. And here, on Thanksgiving Day he wrote his wife, like many others, that he would be back in time to buy Christmas presents in the States.

Then, suddenly, the medical collecting company was busy along the Ch'ongch'on. And just as suddenly, Major Bert N. Coers, the C.O., told the men: "We're withdrawing south. This is not a retreat, but an organized withdrawal."

In the confusion that was overwhelming the division on 30 November, Schlichter figured the medics were lucky to be told anything.

In a serial of some twenty vehicles, the company formed up on the Sunch'on road south of Kunu-ri. It was the last element of the regimental convoy, and here there was some argument. The vehicles already held 180 wounded men. Should the medics be last, so as to aid future wounded, or should they proceed out early, to take care of those they already had?

It was finally resolved that the medics would go last. After all, Coers had been told it was to be an orderly withdrawal, and no one expected trouble.

At dusk on 30 November, the medical convoy was still stopped on the road miles north of the pass. Sitting in a truck with Kenneth Beadke, the company field first sergeant, and Sergeant Wright, Schlichter could hear heavy firing ahead, see the pink and red tracers bouncing off the hills. All three wondered what was happening, and why they were stopped, but they were not really worried. They felt that the combat units ahead of them would fight through and clear the way.

It grew darker, and the thermometer fell. The firing reverberated among the hills, and in the convoy men became tired and cold and scared.

"What's the matter? Why don't we move out?"

There were many young men in the company who had come to Korea with no concept of war. Panic began to sprout.

Then an officer—for there were young men wearing bars among this convoy who were never soldiers, either—ran along the stalled line of trucks, shouting: "It's every man for himself! We're trapped! Get out any way you can!"

Men got down from the trucks and began to run for the circling hills—and the officers and sergeants followed. Here, thought Sergeant Schlichter later, we committed a grievous error. Here we broke faith with our fellow soldiers, and fellowmen.

There were 180 wounded men in the trucks, and no one said anything to these men as they were abandoned.

The two hundred-odd men of the company spread all over the hills. Schlichter and Ken Beadke were in one small group. All knew they had to move south to reach safety—but now none of them knew where south was, in the dark. No one had any idea of how to move, or how to orient themselves. Men ran into the hills until they dropped from exhaustion; they ran as long as the panic held them and their legs would carry them.

Others climbed hills, to try to see about them. Some saw moving men in the dark, and opened fire with their rifles and carbines. Sometimes agonized voices answered the shots in English.

All night the medics, none of whom possessed any infantry training, wandered aimlessly through the hills fringing the road.

At dawn of 1 December, Schlichter's small group of fifteen men rested on a cold plateau three hundred yards in length. Looking over the lip of the ridge, Schlichter could see Chinese on horseback riding through the valley. Hugging the ground, Schlichter and the men with him realized the Chinese were all around them in these hills.

To Schlichter's hill came an infantry officer named Hill; he was a major or lieutenant colonel from the 9th Infantry. This officer tried to organize a defense of the ground, positioning the half-frozen men about. He had an air panel, and as an American plane flew over, searching the ridges for Chinese in the dawn, he waved this up and down, trying to attract the pilot's eye.

The pilot saw, and radioed for help—but the Chinese also saw Hill as he exposed himself. A rifle bullet struck him in the belly, passed through, and tore a hole in his lower back.

Hill fell down and said softly, "Oh, my God!"

Schlichter ran to him, tore open his bulky winter clothing. Hill said, "My God, boy, get down—they'll kill you!"

"Hell, the SOBs can hit me," Schlichter muttered. He put a bandage across Hill's wounds, gave him morphine. There was nothing else he could do.

As he treated the officer, the Air Force roared in, slamming the ridges and valleys with rockets and machine guns. They drove the circling Chinese cavalry away.

Now, in the strengthening light, Schlichter could see he was on a ridge only a little way from the abandoned vehicles on the road—during the night his party had circled about like a running hare, ending up almost where they had begun. And here, suddenly, Charles Schlichter decided that those wounded men down below belonged to him. With the men about him, he held a short powwow.

There were Chinese moving on ridges to the far side of the road; but the senior soldiers with Schlichter's party—but not all of those senior in rank—agreed that their wounded had to go out with them.

They started back down the slope toward the vehicles standing forlornly beside the debris-littered road. But the decision of what to do for those hurt men was taken from them.

Undamaged, the vehicles stood starkly by the road, in column, easily visible from the air. Before Schlichter's party reached them, Air Force planes screamed out of the south, shooting, bombing. It was standard practice for the Air Force to destroy abandoned equipment before the enemy could profit from it. The pilots could not know what cargo those deserted trucks still held.

Schlichter was too far away to do anything, but close enough to hear the wounded men aboard the vehicles scream. Then the Air Force dropped napalm, the drums bouncing from the frozen ground and engulfing the dusty trucks in flame.

In the zero weather, Charles Schlichter's face was suddenly wet with sweat. Some of the men with him closed their eyes.

And then they all ran back into the hills. They went in small groups. There was no unity. The C.O. was unable or unwilling to do anything. Some of the men were now wounded from Chinese fire, and many had thrown their weapons away.

Yet there were many who still walked as men. One, Captain Struthers, M.C.—to whom a general had offered a job in Japan, and been refused—died in a machine-gun burst, trying to aid a wounded soldier.

But most were neither heroes nor cowards. They were ordinary men, and they went with the tide, wherever it carried them.

Within a short time, a North Korean patrol had pinned them on a hill, holding them down with submachine-gun fire. Major Coers and a second officer talked. Coers said, "It's futile to resist." He stood up, and surrendered himself and his men. There were fifteen in the little group, including Schlichter.

The North Koreans marched the captives over a ridge, then halted them before a long, narrow slit trench that had been dug in the hill. They turned the muzzles of their Russian-made submachine guns on the group, and in a blinding moment of fear Schlichter realized the Koreans were going to shoot them.

In that moment, the men holding those guns cut his line to home. The power and the glory of the United States were suddenly far away, impotent, as he stood facing death on a frozen, windswept hill ten thousand miles from home.

He had carried a small Bible in his jacket because his people had been religious, and they had brought him up in the same way. But until now he had hardly glanced at it. In the seconds he had left, Schlichter drew the book from his jacket, and it fell open at the Twenty-third Psalm.

He did not have to read it, he knew it from childhood.

The North Koreans did not fire. An officer, apparently Chinese, ran toward them, shouting orders in a high voice; sullenly, the troops lowered their weapons. The Chinese officer barked again, and with motions of their gun barrels the soldiers herded the captive Americans into motion. They headed north.

They staggered north, numbed, silent, cold, and exhausted by their ordeal. But in the little group, Charles Schlichter suddenly felt he would never again be so afraid of tomorrow. And of these men, only he would live to see again his native land.

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