Winter Of The Yalu


Later, when I had time to think about it, I began to wonder why the City Fathers at Yongdae were so frightened. As we occupied North Korea we replaced the communist officials with ROK sympathizers; and at least in Pukchong we had held a regular election in which the people had chosen their own city government. At the time I assumed that I was dealing with our own appointees. However, the more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion I was dealing with communists. In spite of the railroad, Yongdae was a small and relatively isolated town. There were no Americans or ROKs stationed in the town, and as far as I could tell never had been. It was obvious to anyone that the U.S. Army was in retreat, and if any ROK officials had once been in charge, they were gone by then. What I had done was walk in on a meeting of the local politburo in the process of taking charge of the town. I was lucky they were so surprised, otherwise we might well have been knocked on our heads and tossed over a cliff.

“The Chinese rushed my gun in platoon mass. But I ran out of ammunition before they ran out of men.”

I was not sure I could impress a labor force, and I decided the best way to start getting one was to be diplomatic. I bowed to the man I took to be the mayor and told the ROK to “bow to the mayor and tell him I have traveled around the world and have never seen a finer town than his.”

The jeep driver looked at me as if he thought I was shell-shocked. The ROK also looked startled, but he did as told, and much jabbering in Korean followed:

ROK : Mayor, he glad to know he have number one town. He want to know if you’re going to shoot him.

ME : Tell him I’m not going to shoot anyone. Tell him he also has a very fine railroad depot.

ROK : Mayor, he glad you know he have number one railroad depot. He still want to know if you’re going to shoot him.

ME : I said I wasn’t, but his depot needs a loading ramp. Ask him to turn out the whole town and start building one from those ties.

ROK : Mayor say he glad to build number one ramp. He want to know if you not shoot him if he build number one ramp.

ME : Honest Injun, I’m not going to shoot anyone. I just need that ramp.

ROK : I not know Korean for “Honest Injun.”

ME : Never mind. Just tell him to build that ramp.

With this I bowed again, and we piled into the jeep and headed back up the mountain road. On the way I asked the ROK if he thought they really would build that ramp. “Oh, yes, sir! I tell them you most mean son-of-bitch in whole American army. I tell them you shoot all men in town of Yongdae if they not build ramp. I tell them you shoot own GIs when they no do what you say. ” Oh well; I had tried to be tactful. I do not doubt that to this day the communist mothers of Yongdae frighten their little Reds into obedience with tales of the bloodthirsty imperialist who was going to liquidate the local proletariat unless they toiled through the night.

IT WAS SOME TIME after midnight when I reached battalion headquarters. Colonel Welch was asleep, but the duty officer went to awaken him. It was then that something got to me. Cold, exhaustion, lack of sleep, nervous strain; these were too much for me. I found myself shaking and badly frightened at the prospect of reporting the loss of that howitzer to Colonel Welch. I could not understand why I was reacting this way. Colonel Welch was a considerate man; he would have been . hurt if he thought one of his officers was afraid to report to him. When he came in I made an effort to pull myself together and stop the shaking. I reported the loss of the tractor and howitzer, told him about the railroad, and described as accurately as I could the conditions on the road. He looked at me rather sharply all through my report, and when it was finished, the first thing he said was: “Quit looking so upset, Lieutenant. I know you and Klaniecki would have done everything you could.” Then he agreed that there was no way of making it by road and said he would start looking for flatcars at once. If he could not find any he would see about getting the Navy to take us off the beach.

I saluted and started to leave, but he called out: “Where are you going now?”

“Back to the battery, sir. Captain Klaniecki will need me.”

“No, you are not. I’ll get word about the train to Klaniecki. Find a place to sleep until breakfast, have a hot meal, and then start back. You’re out on your feet. If you don’t know it, everyone else does.”