- 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
Captain Klaniecki led in his jeep, and I came next in my three-quarter-ton. The guns were behind me, followed in turn by the ammunition trucks. The remaining vehicles brought up the rear, with a radio truck last of all. We had only four radios in the battery, which was not enough. Two of the radios were in the jeeps of the battery commander and the reconnaissance officer, both of whom were often absent at the same time. One other was in my truck and was the base set; another was in the chief of detail’s three-quarter-ton. The radios were on, and the operators checked in from time to time.
The first thing I discovered about my three-quarter-ton was that it had lost its windshield. This caused me and the driver to get the full force of the breezes wafting down from Siberia. The truck was open, but the rear was to some extent sheltered. Lieutenant Moon rode in the back, and as I got colder and colder, I suggested he might like the prestige of the front seat from time to time. “I am only a humble second lieutenant and am unworthy of such a great honor,” he answered. As the cold sharpened, I offered to give my seat of honor to any man who wanted it, but the FDC crew was unanimous in declaring that they would never disgrace the battery by making an officer ride in the back while an enlisted man rode up front.
The road was a single-lane dirt track that ascended the mountains in a breathtaking series of switchbacks and was barely wide enough for the gun tractors. The mountains were wild and rugged, and by this time of year all vegetation was bare or dead. Looking back down at the battery strung out on the loops and hairpin curves below brought a catch to my throat. It was an imposing sight, and I felt a surge of pride at commanding such a formidable array. I was very young, and it was my first real command.
The 31st Infantry was in the process of clearing the area to protect the western flank of the force driving north; after that it was to push west and establish contact with the Marines working their way north along the Changjin Reservoir. The 1st Marine Division and the 7th Infantry Division made up Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond’s X Corps. The ROK I Corps was also under General Almond’s operational control. It contained the ROK Capital Division and the ROK 3rd Division. All told, General Almond commanded some fifty thousand Americans and thirty-five thousand Koreans. (The 7th Division had about eighteen thousand Americans and eight thousand Koreans.) We were not a part of Lieutenant General Walker’s 8th Army operating on the west coast; General Almond reported directly to General MacArthur. This unusual command arrangement was due partly to the two elements being separated by impassable mountains, but according to officers who had served in Japan, the main reason was that General Walker and General Almond could not stand the sight of each other and were not on speaking terms.
We laid on Compass 5600 (due northwest), but received no fire missions that day. Lt. Col. Embree, commander of the 57th Field Artillery, visited us the next morning, and we soon began to get missions assigned. Our position was not too good for our purposes, and after conferring with Colonel Embree, Captain Klaniecki left to look for better gun sites. We began our registration on the 57th’s base point after Klaniecki left, so I was on my own. To my great embarrassment, the first round slammed into a ridge in front of us. I had calculated the minimum quadrant necessary to clear the ridge, and a check showed no errors in the gun settings. Myself, Lieutenant Moon, and Sergeant Baskhill put our heads together and finally decided that the cold was so intense that the powder was not behaving the way the tables said it should. That night the temperature started dropping even more. We read it at thirty-two degrees below zero on the powder thermometers, highly accurate instruments carried by each gun section to measure the actual temperature of the gunpowder.