Military history


Changjin Reservoir

Easy Company holds here!

— Captain Walter Phillips, commanding E Company, 7th Marines, on a hill above Yudam-ni.

THREE DAYS after Walton Walker's Eighth Army found the hostiles along the Ch'ongch'on, X Corps met a Chinese buzzsaw in the east. Here again occurred some of the most savage actions in the long history of land warfare. In many respects, the fighting in the east resembled that in the west—U.N. forces were flanked, some brought to battle while others remained unscathed, and the whole position rendered untenable.

But there were differences, too.

While Eighth Army attacked on a broad front, Almond's X Corps advanced north in four main columns. On the eastern side of Korea there were no relatively flat valleys, only deep and tortuous corridors fingering their way through bare and brutal mountains. The roads—such as there were—were dirt. In many places the arteries of communication were only cliff-hanging trails leading along the mountainsides.

Because of the terrain, contact even between the various units of X Corps was fragile. On the left, trying to close the gap with Eighth Army, advanced the American 3rd Division. Above them, the 1st Marine Division marched northwest, toward the Changjin Reservoir. The U.S. 7th Division, east of the reservoir, went straight north for the Yalu. On the far right, the ROK I Corps of two divisions moved along the coast.

It was not a steady line advancing across the savage reaches, but rather four separate fingers thrusting upward into the narrow mountain corridors. The progress made during November by each column varied greatly.

Attacking against crumbling remnants of the NKPA, the ROK Corps galloped freely toward the maritime province of Siberia. In the ROK zone no Chinese ever appeared.

The 7th Division, on the ROK's left, met scattered opposition. By 21 November Powell's 17th RCT of that division reached Hyesanjin on the Yalu. The village's connecting bridges with Manchuria had been shattered by U.N. Air, and it was a ghost town. The wattle huts were deserted, and cold cattle, abandoned, lowed in misery in the frozen fields.

The Marines, marching northwest from Hungnam toward the Changjin Reservoir, met Chinese in force first week of November. But these Chinese, part of Lin Piao's First Phase Offensive, were defeated in sharp fighting, and pushed back. By 8 November they too had melted into the looming mountains to the north. But General Oliver Smith, of the Marine Division, and his regimental commanders, Litzenberg, Murray, and Puller, were now highly dubious of what might lie ahead of them in the mysterious north.

Deliberately, the Marines slowed their advance, even though Ned Almond fretted at their lack of progress. The Marines felt that, strung out as they must be in such terrain, a pellmell rush to the Yalu was highly dangerous. The whole Corps plan of maneuver was ill advised, if more than broken, remnants of the NKPA faced it.

But, like Walker, Almond had his orders from Tokyo: push on, and end the campaign. Under Almond's prodding X Corps, including the reluctant, exposed Marines, pushed on.

North from the Korean port of Hungnam on the cold, gray waters of the Sea of Japan, a narrow, dirt and gravel road snaked into the hills. For some forty-three miles—the distance from Hungnam to Chinhung-ni—the road contained two lanes and moved across reasonably rolling ground.

But at Chinhung-ni, the aspect changed. The remaining thirty-five miles north by west to the sordid little hamlet of Yudam-ni became a multiple nightmare.

Beyond Chinhung-ni the road rose 2,500 feet into cold, thin mountain air. The second lane disappeared; now the road crept ribbonlike into the soaring wastes, a yawning abyss on one side and a precipice on the other.

It climbed and climbed, struggling upward to the Kot'o plateau, on which sat the single, miserable village of Kot'o-ri. From Kot'o-ri the road crept through mile-high hills to the city of Hagaru, straggling near the southern tip of the thirty-mile-long Changjin Reservoir.

Hagaru, an important center before the war, but now broken and blackened by U.N. Air, huddled in a bleak bowl of frozen earth some three miles across. Here the road forked.

One fork, the right hand, passed north and east into equally miserable terrain. The other skirted the reservoir and turned west; it climbed the 4,000-footpeaks of Toktong Pass, and after fourteen miles through sullen gorges it devolved into a broad valley ringed by five great ridges.

Here, in this valley, sat the lowly village of Yudam-ni, 3,500 feet above sea level, hardly sheltered from the bitter winds and snows of Siberia by its mile-high ring of peaks. Here, and along the whole length of the road from Hung-nam, the land is barren and bleak in winter. The grass dies, and rustles sere and brown in the sharp winds; snow falls repeatedly, and ice covers the gorges and craggy ridges.

And here, in November 1950, winter came early, howling off the roof of the world, screaming across the frozen Yalu, the worst winter the world had seen for a decade. There was nothing on Marine and Army maps to indicate such weather—but Korea is not sheltered by the surrounding seas from the cold that sweeps the northern land mass of Asia. On a parallel with climes that are moderate in Europe or America, Korea is arctic when winter comes.

Moving up this road, fighting sharply to reach the Kot'o-ri Plateau, winter struck the men of the 1st Marine Division the night of 10 November. The mercury dropped to ten below. At the first shock, men became dazed and incoherent. Some grew numb, others cried with pain. No amount of clothing, even good GI issue, could entirely keep the cold out.

Many Americans were used to much worse weather—but not to fight in, without fires, shelter, or warm food. Water froze solid in canteens; rations froze in their cans. Plasma froze; medical supplies could not be stored more than eight feet away from a roaring stove at any time. Vehicles, once stopped, would hardly run again. Guns froze solid—all oil had to be removed from them; and many automatic weapons would fire but one shot at a time.

While the first, worst shock of winter soon wore off, the problem of the cold continued. It was to be an enemy as much to be feared as the Chinese lurking in the dark hills and passes. Feet and hands of the men exposed on the ridges turned white with frostbite, and a man who was wounded suffered agonies. The cold, through the bitter days of December, would destroy as many American fighting men as enemy bullets.

The ground froze eighteen inches down. To dig a hole with chapped, numb hands was prolonged agony; each night each man had to dig his shelter nonetheless, and lie shivering in its shallow length through thirteen hours of darkness.

Into this bitter land in November 1950 marched the Marines, and sundry Army troops. They called the road the MSR—the main supply route. To those who lived, there will never be any other.

They could not move together; on this MSR there was not room. The 5th and 7th Marine regiments pushed far ahead, reaching Yudam-ni, securing its ringing ridges. Behind them they left a battalion and its supporting troops in Hagaru, to build and defend an airstrip. Fox Company, 7th Marines, held high ground in Toktong Pass between the towns to protect the road. Far behind, Puller's 1st Marines held Kot'o-ri, and sections of the road below.

And up this MSR came the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry, Lieutenant Colonel Don G. Faith. At Hagaru on 25 November, Task Force Faith, numbering 1,053 officers and men with attached troops, turned right, marching east of the reservoir. Plans called for Faith to push to the Yalu on the right, while the Marine effort moved left, to sweep each side of the now-frozen stretch of water.

A few miles north of Hagaru, Faith detrucked his men, and allowed them to warm up in special tents. The troops of the 32nd Infantry were numb, but morale was high, because all knew the war was almost over. The next day, 26 November, Faith relieved Marine units in this area, and on the 27th he pushed north. The relieved Marines informed Faith they had heard that three Chinese divisions were in the area.

These regiments and battalions, Marines and Army, were spread over many miles of bleak terrain, joined only by a fragile thread, the road. There was no one on their flank to east, no one to west. Eighty miles beyond the horrendous peaks lay the Eighth Army. What lay in between no man knew.

On 25 November, men of the 1/7 Marines took a prisoner, a subdued, wounded Chinese, who said he was a private soldier. Under interrogation, this humble POW became a fount of information. Among other things. he described the CCF plan of battle:

In the mountains above the reservoir were two CCF armies, of three divisions each. When the Americans reached Yudam-ni, this was to trigger an attack. Three divisions would strike at Yudam-ni; one from the north and one from the west were to attack the two regiments there, while the third flowed around to the south and cut the road to Hagaru-ri. A full division would throw itself against Hagaru and its defenders, while a fifth broke the road between that city and Kot'o to its south, and also isolated Kot'o from Chinhung-ni.

Marine field grade officers hardly knew as much of their own battle plans, and the Chinese' information was greeted with suspicion or ironic amusement. It was never credited. Unfortunately, it was correct.

And while this sufferer from delusions of grandeur was being questioned in a hut at Yudam-ni, General Sung Shih-lun was briefing his senior officers in the shadow of Paemyangji Mountain, ten miles to the north. Sung Shih-lun was just forty years old this 1950, the Chinese Year of the Tiger, and he had led men in battle for most of those years.

One of the bravest men in the Chinese Communist Forces, Sung had tired of formal instruction in the Whampoa Military Academy at the age of seventeen. Since then he had had his training in the field, with the Communists. In November 1950 he commanded the CCF IX Army group, twelve divisions of 120,000 men, and beside the fingers of Changjin Reservoir he had poised six of these divisions.

Hardheaded and quick-tempered, Sung had driven his men across the terrible mountains from the Yalu in fourteen nights of marching. By any standards, it had been a prodigious feat for the Chinese hordes to clamber across the icy mountains unseen. Unable to bring across his heavy artillery, Sung gambled. He drove the men, with rifles, mortars, and machine guns, on ahead, leaving his big guns behind.

At Paemyangji-san, General Sung Shih-lun had perfect intelligence of each movement of his enemy. He knew where they were and what they would do. He knew that the massive blow against Eighth Army had already been launched in the west, and he himself was ready to move.

He described to his senior officers how the divisions would infiltrate across the mountains, to take Hagaru and Kot'o-ri from both flanks and rear. The road, the American MSR, was to be cut in a dozen places. Chinese troops then would dig in above the road beside the American supply and escape route. As for the two regiments near Yudam-ni, they would be flailed to pieces once isolated.

It was a very good plan, trading on the strengths of Sung’s Chinese hordes and on the supposed weaknessed of the American enemy.

"Kill these Marines as you would snakes in your homes," Sung instructed his officers.

As the moon, swollen and gibbous, rose over the harsh, frozen peaks on the night of 27 November, the hills beside the Changjin Reservoir swarmed with dark figures. Long, antlike columns of men, their gloveless hands huddled in the sleeves of their mustard-green quilted jackets, marched down the corridors toward Yudam-ni. At first they chanted and sang in wailing minor keys, the music of all Chinese on the march. Then they fell silent, waiting for the horns and bugles to summon them to the kill.

On the eastern fingers of the frozen reservoir, Lieutenant Colonel Don C. Faith had dug in his rifle companies in a perimeter facing north. The road ran through them, and on all sides there were reasonably good fields of fire. Dark came early here on the roof of the world in winter; and with it came intense cold. Huddling in their miserable, icy holes, the men of 1/32 Infantry shivered, waiting.

Shortly after nine, the first Chinese reconnaissance patrols touched the fringes of their perimeters.

Chinese advanced until they drew fire, then retired. One officer, realizing that the enemy was trying to smell out American positions, ran up and down shouting, "Don't fire—don't fire!" But he was too late. Nervous, the men had fired at the slightest sound, and the Chinese learned what they wanted to know.

By midnight, the enemy was in position. Suddenly, Faith's company's perimeters erupted in orange-purple streaks of fire, resounded with the clatter of machine guns. Striking head on into the American lines, the Chinese also kept trying to probe a soft place between units, and to slip men past into the rear areas.

Some platoons held; others were forced out of position. Meanwhile, the supporting 57th Field Artillery came under small-arms fire; the wire to the front-line companies went out. With its own worries, the 57th was unable to continue its support mission with any authority.

At dawn Task Force Faith was still in place, but it was grievously hurt. There were gaps in the line, and the men were badly shaken. The night had been stingingly cold, and everyone now realized that something new was in the wind.

The attacks had not been those of a defeated, fleeing enemy.

The sun came up, but it did not warm. Men pulled their sleeping bags around their feet, and kept hands on guns, shivering in their holes. Later, on Colonel Faith's order, some of the higher ground lost to the Chinese during the night was retaken—only to be lost again. Through the day, more than sixty casualties were gathered at the battalion aid station.

In the afternoon, a helicopter whirled down out of the skies, settling beside the hut that was Faith's command post. General Almond stepped out. Faith reported to him, and the two men talked to one side for several minutes.

Then Almond mentioned that he had three Silver Stars with him. One was for Faith himself—and Almond wanted Faith to select two others for the award.

What Faith did next indicated something of his frame of mind. He snapped to a wounded young officer, Lieutenant Smalley, sitting on a five-gallon water can and waiting evacuation, "Smalley, come over here and stand at attention!"

Bewildered, Smalley obeyed.

The next man to pass by was Sergeant Stanley, a mess steward. Faith called, "Stanley, come here and stand at attention next to Lieutenant Smalley."

A dozen men, clerks, wounded, and the like, were assembled to watch, while General Almond pinned Silver Stars on Faith's and the other two men's parkas. Almond then shook each man by the hand. He said:

"The enemy who is delaying you is nothing more than some remnants of Chinese divisions fleeing north. We're still attacking—and we're going all the way to the Yalu. Don't let a bunch of Chinese laundrymen stop you!"

Then Ned Almond got into his waiting copter and whirled away over the snow-covered hills. Almond was neither a fool nor an ass—he had orders from Tokyo to move to the Yalu—and he intended to comply, whatever his own doubts.

Lieutenant Smalley went back to his seat, muttering, "I got a Silver Star, but I don't know what the hell for."

As soon as Almond's copter disappeared, Faith ripped his own decoration from his parka and hurled it into a snowbank. His S-3, Major Curtis, approached him and asked obliquely, "What did the general have to say?"

Faith looked at him. "You heard him—remnants fleeing north!"

When darkness fell across the bleak, icy landscape, Task Force Faith began another night of battle. Alone, exposed to the full weight of the Chinese assault pouring against its front, flanks, and rear, after more than one hundred hours of incessant combat Task Force Faith dissolved. Colonel Faith was killed by a hand grenade.

The Chinese tide had risen everywhere; X Corps could not help; the Marines at Hagaru were undergoing their own nights of fire. But the bitter-ness of the men who fought east of the reservoir, hoping for rescue, would never be erased.

Survivors stumbled back over the frozen road to Hagaru. Others were seen by Marines wandering across the ice of the reservoir; they had fled across the lake itself. Of the original thousand officers and men, less than two hundred returned. The others, killed, captured, or frozen, had been swallowed up in the frigid wastes.

Late on the evening of 28 November, General Almond flew to Tokyo at General MacArthur's request. Almond reported to the Dai Ichi one hour prior to midnight, and at this time he was told to break off the corps offensive, to withdraw, and to consolidate his forces.

For Task Faith, already isolated, the order came too late.

The Marines, admittedly advancing reluctantly into the unchartered wastes, had paused to consolidate after each move forward. The terrain made it impossible for the division to remain intact, but at each successive plateau along the MSR, units were consolidated at regimental or battalion strength, with supporting artillery able to fire in any direction.

While the road link connecting the units was tenuous, the broad valleys at Yudam-ni, Hagaru, and Kot'o-ri allowed the Marines space to form solid perimeters. The ground, while higher than that in the west, was not characterized by the endless washboard of hills that had broken the United States 2nd Division into a hundred separate fragments.

This consolidation, and the fact that most Marine officers had had experience with Oriental warfare, learning the importance of keeping tight, steelringed perimeters by night whatever happened in the rear, did much to save the division.

On 27 November, as the 7th Marines attacked westward from Yudam-ni, the 5th Marines moved west of the reservoir and joined them. It had first been planned to move only two battalions through Toktong Pass, following with the third on 28 November, but at the earnest suggestion of the motor transport officer, the entire regiment moved together. Thus, at nightfall on 27 November, two full regiments of Marines, less one company holding high ground above the pass, and a weapons company left at Hajam, were able to operate in conjunction at Yudam-ni.

Before the night passed, both regiments were deep in crisis.

Again, the story of one company, one platoon, tells the story of all.

At dark, the seventy men of First Lieutenant John Yancey's platoon of Easy Company, 7th Marines, was dug in frozen earth facing north along the brushy, rocky slopes of Hill 1282. Each foxhole, painfully scrabbled out of the frozen shale, held two men, and machine guns protected the flanks. Yancey's platoon was in the middle of the hill, with Bye's to his left, Clements' to his right. Behind Yancey's position the company skipper, Captain Walter Phillips, was positioned with his exec, Lieutenant Ball, to fight the company.

The moon came up, huge and swollen, rising clear and bright over the swirling ground mists. It came up behind Easy Company, silhouetting the company positions for the enemy, but not throwing enough light along the dark corridors to reveal the lurking Chinese. On the hill, the temperature had dropped to twenty below.

Easy's men heard monstrous shuffling sounds through the dark, as of thousands of boots stamping in the snow. They heard sounds, but they could see only ghostly moon shadows.

Yancey asked Ball, on the mortars, to fire star shells.

Ball had little 81 ammo, but he tried. The flares wouldn't work—lifted from crates stamped "1942," they fizzled miserably.

"Oh, goddam," Yancey said. Yancey, a reservist, had been a liquor-store operator in Little Rock when the war broke. He had a baby, born on the day For Task Force Faith, already isolated, the order came too late. he went ashore at Inch'on, whom he had never seen. He had a Navy Cross from Guadalcanal, and he had washed off the mud of Okinawa. He did not consider himself a fighting man. But he had learned his own lessons in a hard school, the hardest there was.

The ranks of the Marines were now diluted with reservists, at least 50 percent. Few of them were mentally prepared to fight, or physically hardened to war. Inch'on, luckily, had been easy.

But now, on the frozen hills above Yudam-ni, the Marines, regular and reservist alike, faced reality.

Because their officers were tough-minded, because their discipline was tight, and because their esprit—that indefinable emotion of a fighting man for his standard, his regiment, and the men around him, was unbroken—weak and strong alike, they would face it well.

The enemy mortars fell first, bursting with pinpoint precision among the foxholes on the forward slope of Hill 1282. Then, in the moonlit hills, bugles racketed; purple flares soared high, and popped. The shadows suddenly became men, running at Marine lines.

The Chinese did not scream or shout, like North Koreans. They did not come in one overwhelming mass. They came in squads, yards apart, firing, hurling grenades, flailing at the thin line across the hill, probing for a weak spot across which they could pour down into the valley beyond.

Again and again they were stopped; again and again Chinese bugles plaintively noised the recall. The icy slopes were now littered with sprawled figures in long white snow capes.

Again and again, while the Marines' guns grew hot, they came back to flail at the hill. Looking down into the shadowy valley, John Yancey could see hundreds of orange pinpoints of light, as the enemy sprayed his hill with lead.

The night seemed endless. A grenade exploded close to Yancey, driving metal fragments through his face to lodge behind his nose. Many of his men were hit. Those who could stand continued fighting; those badly hurt were dragged some twenty yards behind the company position, where a hospital corpsman worked over them in the snow.

There was no shouting or crying. Now and then a man gasped, "Oh, Jesus, I'm hit!" or, "Mother of God!" and fell down.

The attacks whipped the hill. By the early hours of morning, most of Easy's men had frozen noses or frozen feet in addition to their combat wounds. Yancey's blood froze to his moustache, dried across his stubbled face. Snorting for breath through his damaged nose, he had trouble breathing.

Slowly, painfully, day began to spread over the bleak hills. Now, Yancey thought, surely it must get better, with daylight.

Instead, things grew worse.

A fresh wave of Chinese, in company strength, charged the hill. Yancey's men fired everything they had—rifles, carbines, machine guns. The Chinese fell in rows, but some came on. At his line of holes, John Yancey met them with as many of his men as he could muster, including many of his wounded. Somehow, he threw them back.

The platoon, all Easy Company was in desperate straits. Captain Phillips, who had carried ammunition to Yancey's platoon during the night, and who had said again and again, "You're doing okay, men; you're doing okay!" took a bayoneted rifle, and ran out to the front of Yancey's line.

"This is Easy Company!" Walt Phillips said. "Easy Company holds here!" He thrust the bayonet deep into the snowy ground; the rifle butt swayed back and forth in the cold wind, a marker of defiance, a flag to stand by.

The wounded lay helplessly behind Easy Company; there was no way to get them out. And Easy Company was not going to leave its own.

The Chinese came again. Now they stumbled over their own dead, scattered like cordwood a hundred yards down the slope. And on the hill, Americans also fell over their own dead, moving to plug the leaks in the line. Small leathery-skinned men in quilted jackets leaped into the perimeter, and over-ran the command post.

For over an hour, close-in fighting raged all over the hill. The Chinese wave was smashed, but Chinese dropped behind rocks, in holes, and fired at the Marines surrounding them.

John Yancey realized that some sort of counteraction had to be taken to push them out. He ran back of the hill, found half a dozen able men coming up as replacements. "Come with me!"

With the new men, he charged the breach in Easy's line. His own carbine would fire only one shot at a time; the weapons of two of the replacements froze. The other four dropped with bullets in their heads—the Chinese aimed high.

Beside the CP, Lieutenant Ball, the exec, sat cross-legged in the snow, firing a rifle. Several Chinese rushed him. Ball died.

Now Yancey could find only seven men in his platoon. Reeling from exhaustion and shock, he tried to form a countercharge. As he led the survivors against the broken line, a forty-five caliber Thompson machine-gun slug tore his mouth and lodged in the back of his skull. Metal sliced his right cheek, as a hand grenade knocked him down.

On his hands and knees, he found he was blind.

He heard Walt Phillips shouting, "Yancey! Yancey!"

Somebody he never saw helped Yancey off the hill, led him back down the rear slope. He collapsed, and woke up later in the sick bay at Yudam-ni, where his sight returned.

Behind him, on 1282, Captain Walt Phillips stood beside his standard until he died. Late in the afternoon, a new company relieved Easy; of its 180 men only twenty-three came off.

But they held the hill.

Everywhere it had been the same. Dog Company was driven from its hill three times, and three times it charged back. Captain Hull, Dog's skipper, had fourteen men left, and he himself had as many wounds.

To the east, above the pass, Barber's Fox Company was in like shape. Barber was down, but still directing the defense.

Reality had caught up with the Marines, as with all men, but they had faced it well. Everywhere, the Marines had held.

The shock of tactical defeat struck the Marines as hard as it had the Army—for tactical defeat it was, despite all the noises that went up later. Three Chinese divisions had enveloped Yudam-ni. The road to Hagaru, except where Barber's Fox Company held fast, was cut. Hagaru was surrounded, its supporting artillery firing to the four winds until paint peeled from the guns. The main body of Puller's 1st Regiment was unable to push forward from Kot'o-ri. Everywhere the road was cut; everywhere the Marines were surrounded.

Lieutenant Colonel Ray Murray, of the 5th, summed it up: "I personally felt in a state of shock, the kind of shock one gets from some great personal tragedy, the sudden loss of someone close.… My first fight was within myself. I had to rebuild that emptiness of spirit."

For the Marines at Yudam-ni were now ordered to retreat. It would be called an attack to the south—and attack it would be, all the way—but the field had to be left to the enemy.

There was great toughness, however, in the Marine commanders, and no sense of panic. Homer Litzenberg, of the 7th, a senior colonel already posted for brigadier, and the younger Ray Murray, a junior lieutenant colonel, men who on paper held equal commands, conferred. Together, the two men worked very well.

First, their perimeter was consolidate. Their thousand wounded were brought down from the bitter hills for care. Then they discussed getting out.

Litzenberg felt Fox Company must be relieved; it was the key to Toktong Pass. But he knew the road across the sullen cliffs was infested by Chinese. He wanted to send one battalion attacking across the hills themselves, above the road.

"I don't think the Chinese will expect us to move overland. They think we're roadbound. They think we'll have to stay with our vehicles; furthermore, they think we won't attack at night. I want to prepare to move out tomorrow—"

To which Ray Murray replied, "Make it so."

With the temperature standing at twenty-four degrees below zero, Ray Davis' 1/7 Marines moved out into the horrible mountains. Each man was given rations for four meals—mostly canned fruit and biscuit, which could be thawed by body heat—and each man, in addition to his weapons, ammunition, and sleeping bag, was ordered to carry one 81mm mortar shell.

As one Marine said, "If the Chinks can run the goddam ridges, so can we."

Tired, frozen, weakened from poor diet and shot through with raging dysentery, the battalion went over the hills, while a second, the 3/5 attacked along the MSR itself. All day the battered men fought, to clear one hill after another.

When night came, Colonel Davis knew his men, tired, sweaty, listless after a day of hard combat, might never get up again if he allowed them to bed down.

For most of the night, Davis marched his men through the hills. At dawn, they attacked again, and broke through to Barber's beleaguered company, carrying their twenty-two wounded with them. When contact was made, neither Davis nor Barber could talk coherently.

Barber still held, after five days of fighting, but he had only one officer, and he had suffered 26 killed, 89 wounded, and 3 missing. All his survivors had either frostbite or dysentery.

Behind them, and on their flank, Taplett's 3/5 Marines carried the pass in heavy fighting. With Davis' men running the ridges, knocking the Chinese back, enough of the pressure was removed for the Marines of Yudam-ni to break through.

When Davis had joined Barber on his lonely hill, word came from Litzenberg: "Assume the point and lead the way to Hagaru."

At Yudam-ni only the wounded and those who could not walk were placed aboard vehicles; many men who were hurt had to walk. Then, the infantry battalions leading the way, the regiments came out through Toktong Pass.

They came out intact, with their jeeps, guns, tractors, and trucks. Strapped to the fenders and hoods of vehicles lay bloody, half-frozen Marines. Others lay across gun barrels, or were carried in ox-drawn sleds taken from Koreans.

It was not a motor march. It was a tactical battle most of the way, against Chinese who held the hills in depth. But the Marines came out, for three reasons:

One, Davis' and Taplett's men were able to climb the encircling mountains, knock the enemy off the ridges, drive them across the high timber. Moving by night, attacking cross-country in savage terrain and savage weather, these Marines took the Chinese in the flank, and by surprise. In the face of incredible hardship, the Marines were able to mount offensive action—and Barber's Fox Company, 7th Marines, had been able to hold off two enemy regiments for six days, preventing the Chinese from closing their ring. If Barber had not held, the way would have been much more difficult.

Two, Marine air from the 1st Air Wing near Hamhung, carrier pilots from Philippine Sea and Leyte, and Air Force supply planes flew constantly over the column. Marine aircraft strafed, bombed, and napalmed as close as fifty yards from the leading elements. Marine air, flying so low as to touch the mountains, knocked out roadblock after roadblock, as fast as the Chinese assembled them. Marine pilots volunteered to fly night missions in the dangerous mountains.

Hour after hour, the sky above the American troops was black with friendly aircraft, and without them, in spite of their courage, in spite of all else, the ground troops would never have come out.

Third, General Sung Shih-lun had gambled. In the horrendous terrain, he had never been able to bring his full manpower to bear on the embattled Marines, outnumbered though they were. By pushing his men across the mountains from the Yalu in fourteen days, he had had to leave most of his supply and artillery behind—and as the battle continued day after day, stinging night after night, even Sung Shih-lun's sturdy peasants neared collapse.

The Chinese had come into Korea well fed and well clothed, but they were without supply, depending on the countryside for future livelihood. Near-starvation and dysentery hit them, too. The hardy Chinese peasant, while brought up to hardship, was no superman. As the Marines neared Hagaru, weary CCF units deserted their peaks under air attack. The Marines found some who had thrown away their arms and who lay huddled together in the snow, freezing and apathetic, trying only to stay alive.

But others fought to the end, and it was not until the morning of 3 December, a morning obscured with a stinging curtain of snow, that the advance guard fought in sight of the Hagaru plateau. By late afternoon, the main column reached the summit of the mountain ridge separating Yudam-ni from Hagaru, and suddenly men could see the friendly perimeter, and the airstrip, eleven miles away.

Now it was downhill all the way. Brushing aside roadblocks, snipers, and attempted ambushes, the two regiments crashed down toward Hagaru. Coming toward the friendly lines, some of the Marines tried to sing. Others marched in, erect, in column, picking up a cadence without order. Men so tired they could hardly stand, who had fouled themselves repeatedly from raging dysentery, who had frostbitten faces and fingers, and who were weak from hunger, made one final effort—and marched in like Marines.

More than one grown man broke down and cried as the Marines of Yudam-ni came together with those of Hagaru.

From their encirclement at Yudam-ni, Litzenberg and Murray had brought out all their wounded—six hundred of them stretcher cases. They brought out all their equipment, with the exception of one quarter-ton truck and four medium howitzers that had slid from the icy road into a chasm.

But an airstrip had been completed at Hagaru, and the thousands of ounded could be flown out. Ammunition and supply could be flown in. Without this, the retreat would have become a debacle, for 5,400 men were flown from Hagaru, all of them too hurt to march.

Relieved of his wounded, issuing all his stocks of candy and food to the troops, Marine General Smith ordered the march south to Kot'o-ri on 6 December.

Nine heavily defended roadblocks barred the road; bridges were gone, the road mined. But Marines and Army troops—the survivors from east of the reservoir—swept out from the road, clearing a frontage of seven hundred yards right and left, from which distance even Chinese machine guns could not fire accurately. The Marines would not repeat the tragedy of Kunu-ri.

It cost the column twenty-two hours of agony to cover the nine and one-half miles from Hagaru to Kot'o-ri. On arrival, there were six hundred more wounded.

At Kot'o, these wounded were flown out, and the dead were buried in shallow graves torn out of the frozen ground by bulldozers.

On 8 December, the column moved south again. The air cover droned over them by day, scouring the hills, but even the hospital units were sometimes attacked by sporadic Chinese assaults, marching out.

But air, ground action, and hunger had taken their toll from the attackers, and now many Americans saw isolated units of Chinese, often merely wandering along the American flanks, making no determined effort to stop the column.

On 9 December the advance guards of the men from the reservoir and the forces trying to move north to relieve them linked up on a windswept ridge north of Chinhung-ni.

Now no power on earth could prevent the Marines and Army from coming out. Marching down the frozen road, men picked up a song, roaring, as one observer put it, until the North Korean hills rang like bells of ice. It was a parody of the old British Indian Army song "Bless 'Em All":

Bless 'em all, bless 'em all,

The Commies, the U.N. and all:

Those slant-eyed Chink soldiers

Struck Hagaru-ri

And now know the meaning of U.S.M.

But we're saying goodbye to them all,

We're Hany's police force on call.

So put back your pack on,

The next step is Saigon,

Cheer up, me lads, bless 'em all!

Down into the level ground beside the Sea of Japan came the Marines; from the north the 7th Division left the Yalu and hurried south, and the ROK I Corps scurried back from the fringes of Siberia. With the enemy massed in force on the left flank, any other course would have been madness.

Before the ports of the gray-blue Sea of Japan, X Corps massed, under the cover of its air and far-reaching naval guns. The Chinese, starving in the hills, made no attempt to push them into the sea. Such an attempt would have failed, and Sung Shih-lun and his generals knew it.

But X Corps was now isolated in North Korea. To its west, the Eighth Army was in full retreat; it had already abandoned P'yongyang and was moving south toward the parallel. While General Almond and the Navy said they could hold their beachhead indefinitely, Tokyo saw no point in this.

It was a new war, and already men in Tokyo and Korea were beginning to think in terms of a solid line of defense somewhere south of the 38th parallel.

To X Corps came orders to embark from Hungnam and Wosnan for redeployment in South Korea. Under an encircling ring of artillery, tanks, and naval rifles, X Corps went aboard ship, taking its equipment and supplies, even its gasoline, with it. It was not a Dunkirk—there was no pressure against the embarkment.

Thousands of North Koreans, anti-Communist and desperate to leave with the Americans, were taken aboard. Hungry, freezing, with little medical aid or facilities, hundreds of these unfortunates died during the embarkment and passage to Pusan.

Day after day, the corps perimeter shrank down to the icy sea. At last the field pieces were firing at the hills from the wharf area; then they turned and were trundled aboard ship.

Hungnam was blown up, and the city set afire. Even the docks were destroyed. On Christmas Eve, with the coastline a mass of flame and billowing dark smoke, the convoys stood to sea, leaving the shore to the enemy.

A gallant page had been added to the history of American arms from Yudam-ni to the reservoir, from Hagaru to the cold plateau of Kot'o-ri.

But though thousands upon thousands of his frozen corpses dotted the hills, and the survivors would be long without effective combat power, as in the west the enemy had won the field.

Ominously, the precarious balance on the remote shores of Asia had turned again.

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