3:20 | He always wanted to be a Marine. Ever since he followed the daily news through World War II, Fred Fletcher had that deep desire. He survived the abrasive Drill Instructor at Parris Island and was assigned to Subic Bay on routine station duty when the Communists from the North attacked South Korea. Soon he was in a different climate.
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The Marines were heading North when they found out that China had joined the North Koreans. Fred Fletcher was one of the men on the high plateau at the Chosin Reservoir. One of the patrols from his unit got to a ridge top and when they looked over, there were "many, many, many Chinese."
Their second night at Chosin Reservoir, they were nearly overrun. The Marines were pushed off Hill 1240 by a horde of Chinese and they regrouped and retook the hill, twice. After the enemy scattered, Fred Fletcher and his buddy Ray Fairchild were at the end of the line keeping watch over a ridge line. They had not noticed that everyone else had withdrawn. Then, a mortar shell exploded.
How close was Fred Fletcher to the enemy in the firefight? He was hitting them with his rifle butt. The Chinese had entered the war and the Marines at Chosin Reservoir were finding out just how many there were. He made it through the initial attacks but there was fighting all the way down the long steep road to the South. At Hagaru-Ri, he nearly froze his feet just before he ran out of luck dodging enemy fire.
It took a while for the doctors to figure out what had happened when Fred Fletcher was knocked out by a projectile which hit him in the back of the head at the Chosin Reservoir. He recovered and made the Marine Corps a career, although he feels the Corps pulled a fast one on his last assignment. At least the deal made him a Captain.
Fred Fletcher tells the story of his surprising meeting with the parents of Ray Fairchild, who was killed next to him at the Chosin Reservoir. It took a couple of amazing coincidences to make it happen.
Ben Malcom recalls a mission to infiltrate and destroy a 76mm gun hidden inside a North Korean mountain. During the cover of night on July 14, 1952, Malcom managed to sneak 120 guerilla fighters onto the mountain and into the bunker, and describes the combat that ensued.
It was called Hill 205. The small Ranger company was told to take and hold the hill. They did that as long as they could but Ralph Puckett and his men had to go through hell to do it. Waves of Chinese attackers had him calling in very close artillery strikes. He lay there, unable to move after three wounds, watching the Chinese bayonet wounded Rangers. Then two figures charged up the hill.
Ron Clark remembers when the Chinese would attack and how the strategies between American and Chinese differed. He also explains one detailed account of an American casualty during battle and his own major injury that permanently disabled his eyesight.
When it was time to act, Bill Minnich came through. On a night watch, as he caught sight of a Chinese patrol, the only question was, rifle or grenade? When the unit was pinned down and no one responded to the order to move out, he cussed them all out and charged forward. And when he fell wounded, it was a sure thing that he would get up and scramble through the bullets landing at his feet.
The stuttering truce talks in Korea were incredibly demoralizing for the troops, says Jim Walsh. Repeatedly, it seemed as if they would be going home and then, invariably, their hopes would be dashed. When he finally did return to America, everyone expected to see a festive hero's welcome. It was not quite that.
His father was a coal miner in Nova Scotia and it shortened his life, so Ralph McKay did not go into the mines, he joined the army as soon as he was eligible at seventeen. He was assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment, the oldest unit in Canada, and then to jump school. His first jump was memorable.
New Yorker George Bruzgis opted for the draft instead of enlistment because it required a year less, just in case he didn't like the Army. Trained in armor, he was deployed to Korea where he was unnerved by the destruction he saw on his way to the front. There, the tanks were dug in and essentially acted as artillery pieces.
Jim Walsh had the term "Killer From a Distance" applied to him by his squad leader, Ron Smith. Walsh had used his heavy machine gun to suppress Chinese fire and allow the squad to move forward. Later, Walsh would write a book with that title, referring to artillerymen on whom the infantry depended. Of all the weapons used in Korea, napalm was the most horrendous.
George Bruzgis received a non-combat injury in Korea when his platoon sergeant, who had a grudge because George was a Yankee from New York City, assigned him to midnight refueling duty. He fell in a slit trench in the dark and couldn't walk for several weeks. That wasn't the end of it.
He was studying for the priesthood, but Jim Walsh enlisted in the Army when the Korean War began. When he arrived in country, entry into combat was immediate for the machine gunner. His weapon was an old design, but it was effective. The only drawback was the large crew required to operate it.
They got the word that the Armistice had been signed and to cease all firing. That gave Joe Nemastil a chance to find out what was actually in the no man's land below his position. Checking his weapons, he made his way down the hill and very soon, spotted a Chinese soldier walking right toward him.
The Armistice was scheduled to take effect that evening, but George Bruzgis received orders for a fire mission at dawn. The high explosive rounds were fired from the tank and, years later, he found out the significance of those rounds. He was able to revisit Korea twice due to the generosity and gratitude of the Korean people.
When the snow finally melted along the front line in Korea, there was a grisly discovery along the supply path. There were also rats. Lots of them, big ones. Jim Walsh talks about the rats and other, little known aspects of life on the line.
Ralph McKay was at Hill 355 on the front line in Korea. It was during the stalemate period and each side watched the other across the valley between them, occasionally firing artillery or mortars. One mortar shell killed the Canadian unit's cook, their first fatality. McKay was disturbed after he picked up his dead friend, but in those days, you dared not say anything about your feelings.
As soon as the troop ship cleared Seattle and headed for Korea, they hit a storm and Joe Nemastil was seasick the rest of the way. He was on his way to join the 7th Infantry Division at the front. It was only three months before the armistice was signed but it was three months of combat on the static lines. For Joe, the worst enemy was not North Korean or Chinese. It was something in the bunkers.
It was on Hill 440 that Jim Walsh nearly got hit by an incoming round. It killed the two men next to him and completely deafened him for a while. Sent back to the MASH unit, he felt guilty for being there as he walked among the bloody wounded.
Canadian soldier Ralph McKay describes the attempts by the enemy in Korea to overrun his position. He still used his British single shot rifle, but many had traded with the Americans for better weapons. The men were ecstatic over the peace agreement, but they had to stay in country until their 14 month tour was up. At least no one was shooting at them.
The advance on Hill 440 was stalled due to a well dug in bunker. After a couple of hours of getting nowhere, Jim Walsh saw a GI running up the hill with a flame thrower. During that same battle, the misfit of the unit also rose to the occasion.
The area where Joe Nemastil was sent as a replacement had seen plenty of action. Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill had been hard fought over and then abandoned. Sent to reinforce an outpost on the next hill over which had been attacked, he saw the aftermath of the worst of war.
He shipped out to Korea and, right away, he was disturbed by something he saw in the streets of Pusan. Ralph McKay knew then he was somewhere very different from his home in Canada. It was 1953, late in the war, but the shelling was nearly constant on the front line.
When Joe Nemastil arrived at the front in Korea, his platoon leader gave him a short talk, then disappeared, not to be seen very often again. Joe was assistant gunner on the 75 mm recoilless rifle and quickly learned how to use it in combat. That was just one heavy weapon on the line, and it was really something when they were all firing at once.
President Truman had long ago given the order, but it was in 1951 that integration finally came to 35th Regiment in Korea. Two black GI's were assigned to Jim Walsh's squad and they proved to be tremendous assets. They were both miners and they taught the men how to better perform one of their primary tasks.
They were a little short of funds to continue in college so Joe Nemastil and his cousin talked to a recruiter to see what they could get in the Army. Promised a place in Officer Candidate School, he went off to basic training. The conditions were rough and the Kentucky winter came blowing right through the wall boards of the old barracks. Then, surprise! No OCS and orders for Korea.
Fred Webb was enjoying his Marine Corp Reserve meetings, but then the Korean War broke out and it was back into the service. The trombonist played in the band at Camp Lejeune and finally got some overseas duty of sorts. He spent a month in the Caribbean on maneuvers.
He had been a Radioman for the Navy and when Turner Harris was called to active duty during the Korean War, they sent him to Adak, Alaska, where he monitored Russian Morse Code for Communications Support Activities, a Naval signal intelligence agency. He missed his wife, but the chow was good.
Evarist LeMay recalls the capturing of a group of Chinese soldiers by his regiment and the actions they took for retribution. While scouting, LeMay and his fellow scouts come across a group of American soldiers that had been brutally executed. He credits these types of situations for the PTSD that happens to guys like him when they come home.