- 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
This still left the division at only about two-thirds strength, so General MacArthur had taken the unprecedented step of filling up the 7th Division with Korean conscripts. These poor souls had been pressganged off the streets and rice paddies, told they were now in the army, and shipped to Japan for incorporation in American units. The lucky ones got ten days’ training and a chance to fire a carbine before being sent into action. We had organized a platoon of ROKs (for Republic of Korea) for local security of the headquarters under an American sergeant and two Koreans, both named Kim, who had been appointed sergeants when they claimed to have been noncoms in the Japanese army. I have a vivid memory of trying to call their roll on the beach after dark. A third of them were named Kim, but no matter what name I yelled out, the entire platoon chorused, “Yes!” each time. So I gave up and just counted the total number.
On November 9 we learned the division was under orders to push north all the way to the Yalu. The 31st Field Artillery would stay near the coast, but one battery was to be detached to take part in the drive. Since this battery would operate its own Fire Direction Center (FDC) with very little supervision from anyone, it was mandatory that both the battery commander and his executive, who would command in his absence, be well qualified in field artillery gunnery. Gunnery had been undergoing extensive changes over the preceding year and a half due to the introduction of the target grid system. Modifications were still being made faster than changes could be issued to the gunnery manual. This had resulted in only those officers who had just come from the field artillery school at Fort Sill being current on all the new intricacies of gunnery. Only two officers in the battalion had just come from Sill; myself and Captain Klaniecki, the assistant S-3. (The S-3 was the main gunnery officer in the battalion.)
Colonel Welch selected B Battery for the expedition and put Captain Klaniecki in command. Captain Klaniecki promptly asked me to be his executive. On the voyage from Yokohama to Inchon I had assisted in organizing and training the gunnery personnel, and during the Seoul fighting I had worked in the FDC when I was not out as a forward observer. The result was that I had acquired a solid if not entirely deserved reputation as a good gunnery officer. Gun-battery executives usually were very senior lieutenants. Since the battery commander would be absent for extensive periods on reconnaissance or liaison duties, his executive would be in effective command much of the time. The request was quite unexpected. I had been a first lieutenant less than three months, had been in the army only twenty-three months, and except for some of the newer second lieutenants, I was the youngest officer in the battalion. I accepted with a sense of having been given a great honor but with considerable trepidation over the responsibilities.
The march order came at 0700 on November 11, 1950. We broke camp quickly. The only tents we had were two small command-post tents and a fly for the mess. One tent was for the battery headquarters; the other for the executive post. There was no confusion. Every truck position in the column had been laid out the night before. The first sergeant sounded his whistle, and shouts of “Mount Up!” rang out from the other sergeants just as they had done since the days when the field artillery was horse drawn. The sentries came in from their posts on the double, with the cold air causing clouds of vapor to issue from their mouths. I watched the guns pull into line and then took my place in the front of the three-quarter-ton truck allotted to the executive and the FDC crew. I noted that the first sergeant only then pulled the guidon out of the ground, cased it, and carried it to his truck. As he passed me, he paused and spoke: “It’s the custom of the battery, Lieutenant. We always keep the guidon flying until the last. We plant it once more as soon as we get to the next position.” It was a fine custom, and I liked it. Captain Klaniecki’s jeep pulled to the edge of the road, and he stood up, raised his arm, and swung it forward in the age-old gesture to march. The battery moved out.