- Historic Sites
Winter Of The Yalu
A soldier remembers the freezing, fearful retreat down the Korean Peninsula after the Chinese armies smashed across the border
December 1982 | Volume 34, Issue 1
The Chinese set the trucks on fire, and several hundred helpless men burned to death with them. Most of the men who escaped managed to do so by dashing across the ice of the frozen reservoir under heavy fire. It was at this time that the term human wave to describe Chinese attacks came into use. It was best described to me by a sergeant from A Battery of the 57th who got out. He believed he had manned the last howitzer in action.
“The Chinese rushed my gun in platoon mass. I would cut the fuse to zero, fire into the middle of their platoon, and kill the whole bunch with one round. Then there would be another platoon right behind. I ran out of ammunition before they ran out of men.”
Fortunately our A Battery had not yet joined and was still near Hamhung when the Chinese cut the Marine MSR. Their advance party was cut off with the Marines, but all of them got out when the Marines broke through.
On the fourteenth the order was given to start blowing up replaceable supplies. The main ammunition dump was blown this day, but we did not know it was to take place and we were surprised by the loudest noise I have ever heard, followed by the sight of a huge mushroom cloud rising over the area. Everyone’s first thought was that the Chinese had dropped an atomic bomb.
On the seventeenth we occupied our last position, near the beach. Naval gunfire passed over us here. The wind was strong and biting cold. It whistled down from Siberia loud enough to make shouting necessary in ordinary conversation, and all orders to the guns had to go over the phones. Everything except the absolute minimum equipment needed to fire was loaded on the vehicles. We were told that the guns and trucks would be loaded on a cargo ship. The men were to carry only their carbines, a small pack, and their sleeping bags.
I decided to stow the arctic shoe pacs on my truck and wear my combat boots. Even if my feet did get cold, I was not going to let that fine new pair of boots out of my sight. I stuffed everything else into my sleeping bag and tied it into a horseshoe roll. It was not much. Just some spare socks and underwear and my shaving gear; and I had my pistol and bayonet, canteen and compass.
Although we had been alerted to leave on the seventeenth, for some reason our departure was canceled at the last minute, and we spent the night firing “H & I” (harassing and interdiction). Making the rounds of the guns that night, one of the men who had made the trip to the banks of the Yalu and duly left his mark on the ice thereof spoke to me about that piece of business: “You know, Lieutenant, if I had known it was going to make the Chinese that mad, I never would have done it.”