Military history



A diplomat's words must have no relation to actions—otherwise what kind of diplomacy is it? Words are one thing, actions another. Good words are a concealment of bad deeds. Sincere diplomacy is no more possible than drywater or iron wood.

— From the Russian of Josef V. Stalin.

ON 22 AUGUST 1951, the Communist negotiators had broken off the talks at Kaesong on the pretext that the U.N. had dropped bombs in the demilitarized zone declared about that town. For two months there were no plenary sessions, but the proceedings did not wholly end.

Liaison officers from the two camps met continually, to try to find a basis for new negotiations.

And in the meantime the U.N. Command carried out its line-straightening operations, leaning on the enemy. The U.N. Command, to the strident screams of the other side, refused to agree to the 38th parallel as a new line of demarcation, even though Secretary of State Acheson had mentioned this in a speech in June. The parallel was not easily defensible in most places, and the U.N. Command preferred the line of contact as a territorial basis for a cease-fire. In the meantime the Eighth Army proceeded to improve the line from the U.N. viewpoint, punching out bulges, knocking the enemy back off high ground, at heavy loss to both sides.

The losses at Bloody Ridge, Heartbreak, and elsewhere had some result. On 22 October the enemy offered to meet in full plenary session once again, and to accept the U.N. preferred site of Panmunjom for future discussions.

Panmunjom was not in Communist territory, but a tiny village of deserted huts along a dirty road in true no man's land, between the opposing lines. Here incidents or accidents, like the alleged bombing of Kaesong, could easily be avoided; the new neutral zone was tiny and easily marked by captive balloons; and the Communists could no longer gain propaganda value by bringing U.N. negotiators through their lines. Here no one was host.

On 25 October 1951 Major General Lee Sang Cho, Inmun Gun, faced United States General Hodes across the bargaining table. Item Two—where the cease-fire line would be drawn—was still as they had left it in August, undetermined.

"Now we will open the meeting," Lee said.

"Okay," Hodes said.

"Do you have any idea about the military demarcation line?"

"We ended the last conference before the suspension by asking for your proposal. Do you have one?"

"We would like your opinion first."

Hodes said wearily. "We gave our opinion many times, and asked for your proposal based on our proposal. As it was your proposal to have the Sub delegation meeting, we expected you to have a proposal. Let's have it."

"You said you had made a new proposal, but we have heard nothing new that would break the deadlock."

"That's right," General Hodes said. "You haven't."

After almost an hour of this, a recess for fifteen minutes was called.

And finally, in desperation, the U.N. proposed a four-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone for the cease-fire line, to be based on the current battle line at the time of signing.

The other side went into a propaganda tirade. They wanted the cease-fire line drawn now, before the firing ceased.

"You … are trying to escape the righteous solution and trying to shirk the duty which has been specified in the agenda item. You use in these discussions and also in your press and radio the sophistic argument that the time of signing is unknown. By doing so you have truly revealed your true color.… I sincerely hope and think that you and we are bound in duty to show our sincerity to the peace-loving people of the world by your acceptance of our proposal of establishing a military demarcation line… ."

What the enemy wanted was to fix the armistice line irrevocably before the remainder of the agenda was solved. This, of course, would effectively relieve the Communist powers of any further military pressure while the negotiations continued; the United Nations Command could hardly launch an offensive for ground it had already agreed to relinquish.

It would enable the Communists, as Admiral Joy saw and mentioned, to talk forever if they chose, with freedom from the grinding pressure they had been experiencing at Bloody and Heartbreak ridges.

He was loath to agree, unless he had to.

The limited attacks of the Eighth Army during August, September, and October 1951 had unquestionably improved its military stance, and had unquestionably inflicted deep wounds on the enemy forces.

But as Boatner said, "Everybody was sick to death of the casualties."

Men die to make others free, or to protect their homeland. They do not willingly die for a piece of real estate ten thousand miles from home, which they know their government will eventually surrender. Nor do the generals appointed over them, nor the governments they elect, willingly spend them so.

As the thousands of notification telegrams to next of kin went out, so soon after the high hopes raised by the negotiations, Washington grew more and more concerned. The public had accepted the end of the war, but continued casualties were rapidly becoming unacceptable.

In Tokyo, General Ridgway was so informed.

And Matt Ridgway had to put his foot firmly on Lieutenant General James Van Fleet's neck.

Now field commanders writhed under a new restriction: Fight the war, but don't get anyone killed. Such orders were never issued—but they were clearly understood.

The United Nations Command had learned a great deal from Heartbreak and Bloody ridges. They had learned that, with the new enemy fortifications and the newer, greener troops in the Eighth Army, effective pressure on the enemy could be achieved only at a cost in blood unacceptable to Washington.

On 17 November 1951, the U.N. Command agreed to accept the Communist position on the cease-fire line, provided the armistice was signed within thirty days. The Communists eagerly assented.

They had a thirty-day reprieve. They utilized it by reinforcing their defensive lines in depth until they were almost impervious to attack. With a flank firmly anchored on each side by the sea, in broken ground, it would now require an effort equivalent to that of the Somme, or Verdun, to dislodge them, short of use of nuclear weapons.

Three hundred thousand French and British troops fell trying to breach the German fortifications at the Somme in 1916. No Western power had the heart for such useless slaughter, ever again.

On 27 November the cease-fire line, the present line of contact, was formally ratified by each side. Initialed maps were exchanged.

The Communists had a great part of what they had wanted from the first hour they had requested peace talks. They had dissipated the danger of a U.N. march to the Yalu, or a disastrous defeat in the field.

From this time forward, smarting under the losses they had taken in the abortive attacks of later summer, having agreed to a firm line, and despairing of breaching the enemy lines anyway, the U.N. took no more large-scale offensive action.

At the end of thirty days the enemy was no nearer signing the armistice than he had been in July. He now felt free to delay as long as he pleased, and it was soon apparent he intended to do so, reaping whatever propaganda coups he could.

In Korea the U.N. had granted a sort of cease-fire, but there was no peace.

It was now, not openly, but in mess tents and private gatherings along the brooding lines of entrenchments, that some men began to say, "MacArthur was right."

Captain Arthur B. Busbey, Jr., a slightly built, dark-hazel-eyed advertising executive with thinning black hair and faint East Texas accent, was recalled to the Army in September 1950, at the age of twenty-eight. He had served from 1941 through 1946, before becoming a partner in an agency in Wichita Falls, and now, with his orders, Busbey decided the hell with it.

He decided to try to stay in the service. He would be one of the more fortunate ones who took this course, since eventually he would be integrated into the Regular Army.

He had always done Public Information Officer work in the Army, but had never particularly cared for it. When in March 1951 he received orders for Korea, he resisted all attempts of his commanders to keep him in this slot, insisting he be given a rifle company.

Because Busbey had never had combat in World War II, like many such men, he had a faint feeling of guilt. In Korea, he was one of the few who asked for line duty.

He joined the 7th Infantry Division in June, in the east-central sector north of the Hwach'on Reservoir, near Kurnwha. He took command of Baker Company, 32nd Infantry, just as the 7th Division was finishing Matt Ridgway's Operation Killer against the Chinese.

And, like all newcomers, at first the hills bushed him. A man who has never climbed the thousand-foot slopes of the Taebaek Range cannot appreciate their steepness, or the difficulties they caused an army used to mechanization.

Almost as soon as he arrived, there was rumor of peace talks. He spent July dug in, in a combat situation, while the Eighth Army marked time.

Then, in August, Baker of the 32nd became involved in the line-straightening designed by the Eighth Army in the Punchbowl area.

On 27 August, Lieutenant Colonel Woods, 1st Battalion C.O., briefed the officers for the operation: it was conceived as a battalion attack against light resistance, to erase a bulge.

"A Company will jump off, take this first hill—then B Company will take the ridge line on its east, up to this high point on that larger ridge. After these are secured, A and B will furnish fire support for C, which attacks to seize the final ridge beyond."

On its face, it was simple infantry operation. The 32nd Infantry had been doing things like it all spring, with great success.

But Busbey, looking at the map, pointed to a huge hill mass just beyond his own objective: "Who will take care of that monster?"

Woods said, "Division's worried about that, too."

But intelligence estimates stated that few enemy were in the area and that the battalion would meet only weak resistance. Intelligence was not aware that these hills were held by five enemy battalions and that the easy days were almost over.

Early in the misty morning, the attacks jumped off. A Company took its objective within the hour, and Busbey's crowd shoved off. For the first three hundred yards, moving along steep slopes, they encountered nothing, and they advanced in a column formation of platoons.

They arrived at a very steep rise at the base of their objective. And halfway up, Lieutenant Petsche's leading platoon drew fire.

It drew fire such as the battalion had not seen in Korea. The whole ridge was covered with artillery fire, an experience new to 32nd Infantry.

Dirt from a near miss by a Russian-made 76mm covered Busbey, as he dived into a hole.

Petsche's platoon was stopped cold. Approximately half its men went down The platoon leader's ankle was broken, and his messenger killed standing beside him.

Busbey, just behind, ordered the company to advance. But he quickly realized he was stretched out along a long ridge, attacking into a "T"—the worst position possible for a rifle company. He could put little fire down on the enemy, while they could enfilade him from each side.

He requested C Company be committed to assist him. Battalion wouldn't buy that, and finally told him to hold where he was, and to consolidate for the coming night. "Hold every inch you've got!"

B Company was in a lousy position to form a perimeter, strung out along the sides of a steep rise. But Busbey dug in, deciding if he were hit hard he would have to pull back.

Across the small valley from him, A Company dug in, also. So far, Able had had no troubles.

Under shelling, Busbey held until nightfall.

At 2300 the men of Baker Company heard firing and saw flares ascending from Able's ridge. Fire seemed to rush at Able's perimeter from three sides. Soon things in Able were a mess. The C.O. was killed, the perimeter broken. Then the firing died away, while Busbey's men waited tensely.

At exactly 0200 it was his turn. The enemy rolled out of the night at him from three sides. He called his outer platoon to come in, and for the artillery to fire flares over him for the rest of the night.

As the big artillery flares, throwing whitish light, popped over him, giving his men light to shoot by, someone at the artillery position complained that this was expensive.

"Who the hell cares?" Busbey told them, by radio.

With light and gunfire, Baker Company held off the attacks till dawn. Then someone wanted to know how many Busbey and company had killed.

His answer was, "How the hell would I know?"

With daylight, he was ordered to attack.

But the big hill he had been concerned about was feeding Chinese clown onto the ridges he assaulted, faster than the friendly artillery could destroy them. Baker took a very bloody nose trying to move up the T-bone, and finally, Busbey received orders to pull back before dark.

He was lucky to get out. A sergeant from the supporting Weapons Company D, firing from a supporting finger ridge, realized his machine gun could not hold off the enemy long. This N.C.O. sent his crew back, while he fired to give them cover, staying on the gun.

As the Chinese pressed in, the machine gun snapped empty. Unable to load a fresh belt in time, the sergeant emptied his .45 at them. His body was found later; the Chinese had left it and taken the gun.

The sergeant, whose name Busbey thought was Henderson, got a posthumous D.S.C., while Bushey and his men, under heavy pressure, got out.

Later, both the corps and division commanders came down to the battalion, apologizing for the operation. They had had no intimation that they were sending 1st Battalion into a buzzsaw.

During September, Busbey replaced his casualties and held the MLR around Artillery Hill—so named because enemy shells always fell at chow time. Then, in October, a battalion of Colombians relieved his battalion, and the 32nd Infantry took over from the 2nd Division on Heartbreak Ridge.

During the last days of October, the 7th Division tried to police up the litter left at the scene of that battle. Equipment and material lay everywhere; enemy dead were strewn across the hills. And even some American dead still lay in the ditches beside one road. How they came there Busbey never knew.

Tied in with the ROK 7th Division, Busbey's company was given the mission of covering the valley beyond Heartbreak, a two-hundred-yard-wide defile through which flowed a small stream, and up which American tanks patrolled each day.

By day Busbey could cover the valley by fire, but at night it was a matter of setting up ambush patrols near the stream and on the fingers of the covering ridge to prevent the enemy from mining the valley floor and stream bed.

On the third night, one of Busbey's patrols hit the jackpot.

Several of his men with a light machine gun manned by an assistant gunner who had never fired in combat were sitting close by the stream. They heard the stealthy noises of approaching men, and through the dark were able to make out a mining patrol, 2 NKPA officers, and half a dozen enlisted men carrying AT mines.

"Wait till they're closer," the machine gunner whispered.

To fully load a round into the chamber of a light machine gun, the bolt must be pulled to the rear and released twice. The assistant gunner, who had pulled the bolt back once, thought the gun full loaded—until the pressure on the trigger produced only a terrifyingly loud click.

By the time the patrol figured out what was wrong, the North Koreans were six feet away. The first shot tore off the top of an NKPA lieutenant's head. Swiveling the gun rapidly, the blond young man who had waited just a bit longer than he had intended cut down all of the surprised unfortunates before they could escape.

Next morning Major General Claude Ferenbaugh, the division commander, who visited front positions regularly, was shown the stiff and blasted Korean corpses. "By God," Ferenbaugh said, "I get these reports all the time, but this is the first time anyone has had the bodies to prove it!"

He decorated the blond gunner before he left.

Now there was no offensive action taken against the enemy—but an army could not sit still. It had to patrol, even as the enemy had to patrol, to keep contact, to see what the other side was doing, and to attempt to keep the other side honest.

It was this patrol action, this continual flirting with danger and death, for reasons many of the enlisted men thought flimsy, that soldiers all across the Eighth Army's line came to hate. But there was no help for it.

And while the front was still, except for patrols, there was the shelling. The enemy, who had to bring his precious ammunition under air attack over many miles, did not care to waste it. But he was not loath to shoot it, if he had a target.

One of Busbey's platoon leaders, Jack Sadler, was restive at the inactivity. "How about letting me snipe at them over there with my 75mm recoilless?"

"Hell, you'll make 'em mad, Jack," Busbey told him.

"Aw, just one round, anyway—"

Sadler fired one round at the enemy lines, with indeterminate effect.

Then, immediately, the enemy shelled his platoon, heavily. Two of Sadler's men were killed—and forever afterward Sadler held himself responsible. After that, a sort of gentlemen's agreement held—each side left the other alone during the day.

It was a weird war now, not so dangerous, but more frustrating than ever. Now and then, by night, the enemy made limited attacks.

The U.N. almost never returned them.

It began to grow quite cold by night, as winter neared. And since the men had to be alert at night—everything in Korea happened at night, whether the Americans liked it that way or not—orders came down for each man to get his sleep during the clay, so that he could remain alert at night without hardship.

There was nothing else for the troops, holding a line of foxholes and bunkers until the boys of Panmunjom could come to agreement, to do. Bored and restless, they didn't like the schedule, particularly the standing guard each night.

One night, as the temperature dropped to near zero, Lieutenant Sadler called Busbey's CP by phone at 0200. "Captain, I have a fully armed NKPA here who has turned himself in—"

Quite a few North Koreans, from time to time, when they could slip past their officers, came voluntarily into U.N. lines. This was nothing new.

But Sadler continued. "He surrendered to the tanks back of me—"

Busbey snapped, "How'd he get past you?"

"By God, I hadn't thought of that—I don't know, Captain."

"Well, think about it!" Busbey told him, hanging up.

Sadler roused his platoon sergeant, Trexler, and they got a ROK to query the enemy soldier. He had walked down the road in the valley—right through an area where Sadler had two standing patrols, two foxholes containing three men, with absolute orders that one man remain awake at all times. Sadler and Trexler looked at each other, and went out into the night.

Jack Sadler went up one side of the trail. Trexler the other. On both sides they found all men zipped up in their bags, sound asleep.

If the Inmun Gun had probed that night, they could have walked to Seoul for the weekend, as Busbey said.

After listening to the lame, stumbling stories, Busbey, furious, preferred charges against four enlisted men.

And two nights later, while the four were awaiting trial, the NKPA attacked down through the same valley. The outposts were alert; they were repulsed at the main line.

A 76mm artillery round killed Sergeant Trexler, however; and the Division Judge Advocate General said he would have to drop the case against the two men Trexler had caught sleeping on outpost—there was now no witness against them. The two were released.

But the remaining two, with Sadler's testimony, were convicted by a general court-martial at Division HQ. Each was given ten years at hard labor, and dishonorable discharge.

Because of their stupidity, and their lack of responsibility, hundreds of their comrades might have died. During the American Civil War they would have been shot.

But it was a long time since the Civil War, and with the Korean War a new factor had entered American military justice: during a crusade, or a war with fervent popular support, a soldier's malfeasance is almost always regarded severely by civilians. Whatever the effect on his comrades, the public then regards his failure as treason, or close to it.

Vengeance, indeed, is futile. It is not the purpose of justice. But when—as happened—an officer or man refused to go into combat, or threw away his weapon, crying, before ever a shot was fired at him, and then was permitted to resign, with honor, or had his sentence rescinded and his rights restored on petition at a later date, the nation is playing with disaster. There is a certain percentage of men who will always do their duty, just as there is a small percentage who will never do it, or even recognize it. The majority of men, however, will do unpleasant duties only if their society makes them, whether it is the study of English as children or service with the colors as men.

Busbey's two men received ten-year sentences—in itself unfair, since equally guilty men got off—but the matter did not rest there. For the father of one of these men was a man of some political influence in an Eastern state. Learning that some got off, while his son did not, this gentleman understandably raised hell.

The papers picked up the case, from Newark to Dallas.

An INS man came down to 32nd Infantry from Tokyo, looking for a story. He interviewed the men of B Company, still licking wounds from the night attack. Every man he talked to told him, "Those men didn't get half what they deserved." B Company had learned its lesson.

The INS man went back to Tokyo and phoned his chief. But he didn't have the kind of story his chief wanted. Many editorials were taking the tack that ten years for sleeping on sentry go was rather rough, even barbaric.

One year later, the son of the Eastern man was granted a new trial. The Civil Court of Military Appeals had discovered a flaw in the original proceedings. The president of that court had asked the law officer, present at all general courts-martial, "What is the maximum sentence that can be given?" while neither the accused or counsel was present, a violation.

The new trial was held in Fort Meade, Maryland. The witnesses were now the other enlisted men who had been in the hole with the accused.

Jack Sadler, at this time in Baltimore, was not called, then or later. The verdict, understandably, and to everyone except Captain Busbey's relief, was reversed.

In itself, this case was nothing new. Justice, either military or civilian, can never be perfect.

But inevitably, sooner or later, a people will get the kind of justice and military service they deserve.

Before Arthur Busbey returned to the States on emergency leave—on the death of an infant child—with too many points to be returned again to FECOM, one incident occurred that he would never forget.

In the valley behind Heartbreak, where his company had now built fairly decent living bunkers for the winter, his patrols were just eating a hot meal at dusk before going in front of the ridge, down into the no man's land under enemy surveillance. He noticed a short soldier, unknown to him, trudging up the hill, a heavy pack on his back.

"Hey, soldier," he called, "come here."

The man, just a kid, reported to him.

"Where're you going, soldier?"

"To the front lines."

"What unit?"

"Any unit, sir!"

"Well," Busbey told him, "if you go around that ridge line you will be in the gooks' front lines. What's your outfit?"

The young soldier told him the 187th Airborne.

"Now I know you're lying, kid. The outfit's in reserve in Japan."

But the young man was not lying. The 187th had made a practice jump near Pusan—and some men had immediately taken off for the front. The 187th— paratroops are a sharp but fragile tool, which, since they cannot be used and then put back into the bottle, are best reserved for special missions—had been out of action a long time, and these men wanted to fight. Any fight, anywhere, would do.

Busbey called Battalion. Battalion informed him he couldn't keep the young man, who was AWOL. But before he was sent back to the rear, Busbey gave him a letter of acceptance to B of the 32nd Infantry, In reply to case the paratrooper's C.O. would release him.

Just before Arthur Busbey went home, in December 1951, he got a letter from another man in the 187th Airborne, wanting to know if this man could have a letter too.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!