Winter Of The Yalu

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Division artillery headquarters was only about five miles away in the town of Pungsan, and Brig. Gen. Homer Kiefer the division artillery commander paid us a visit and was present during the firing. It was fortunate he did since we had been having much trouble with our radios. Our last operating radio, the one on my three-quarter-ton, went out twice, but we were able to continue the mission by using one of the radios in the general’s party until we got ours on the air again. General Kiefer promised to send someone from his own headquarters to work them over, and the next morning the division artillery communication chief and one of his radio repairmen showed up. It took them most of the day to get our sets working again since they had to stop every four or five minutes to thaw their hands out. They said the cold was just too much for the radios. That intense cold meant dead batteries. We kept the motors of at least two trucks running at all times and used jumper cables from them to start the other motors as necessary. Flashlight batteries had to be kept in somebody’s pocket when not in use. During night fire missions a cannoneer had to periodically run out to the aiming posts carrying warm batteries for the night lights. My notes show a total expenditure of one hundred and thirty rounds on the seventeenth. The trucks from the ammunition train were sent back to the corps ammunition dump to replace our supply. That day I was afflicted with some type of intestinal disorder. The discomforts of dysentery in the open at more than thirty below are best not described. For some reason it stopped troubling me by night.

Our worst shortage was of gloves. It was impossible to touch any metal with the bare hand without having the skin stick.

My notes for the eighteenth of November begin: “Snow, almost a foot has fallen. The snow, however, seems to have warmed up the country somewhat.” Warmth is, of course, relative. In this case it meant the temperature was only about twenty degrees below zero. This day we sent a wire crew on foot into the mountains in an attempt to lay a phone line to the front lines to supplement our erratic radios. They were not able to push through and ran into an enemy patrol. Only a few shots were fired, and the North Koreans surrendered. The wiremen brought in a total of six POWs. The patrol might be better described as stragglers, and they were so cold they gave up to keep from freezing to death.

That night a major worry hit me. Captain Klaniecki came down with something very close to pneumonia, and the battery aidman made plans to evacuate him to the rear. To put it bluntly, the prospect of having the full command of the battery scared the daylights out of me. Lieutenant Moon would be a tower of strength, but I am sorry to say that our other first lieutenant, who would move up to acting executive, would be something else. I never felt so young and inexperienced in my life as I did that night while we watched over Klaniecki and tried to keep him warm.

Early the next morning we received notice that our mission with the 31st Infantry was to end, and we were to move even farther north and support the 32nd Infantry Regiment in protecting our ever-lengthening MSR (main supply route) as the division neared the Yalu. Colonel MacLain’s Infantry got two battalions to the Marines, and the 57th, less Battery C, joined him there. Captain Klaniecki was somewhat better, but still very sick. Sick as he was, he insisted on going up to the 48th Field Artillery Battalion, with the 32nd Infantry, to make the necessary arrangements. I begged him to let me go in his place, but he refused to consider it: “Reconnaissance is the battery commander’s job, and as long as I’m commanding this outfit I’m doing it.” The aidman’s protests had no effect, and we bundled him into his jeep.

MY NOTES SAY Captain Klaniecki was gone from 0930 to 1700. He was a physically strong individual and somehow pulled himself out of his illness. Company E of the 31st Infantry came down into our battery position about dark after a hard march over the mountains. The company commander told us he had had no way of carrying anyone who fell out, and since anyone who did would either die in the snow or be killed by the enemy, he took a drastic step. The first sergeant marched at the rear, and he was ordered to use his rifle sling as a whip. Any man who fell was lashed until he got up and kept going. The captain said he had more difficulty keeping his ROK’s going than his Americans. We had always regarded them as tough, wiry men who could keep going longer than anyone else, but we concluded that, at a certain point, physical condition gives way to basic stamina. The Americans were going on a lifetime of beef and potatoes, while the Koreans were going on a lifetime of fish and rice. One man suggested that this proved bourbon was a better conditioner than sake.

We parceled infantrymen out among the gun sections to get warm at our fires and sent off a hurry-up call to the nearest quartermaster for more rations. Our cooks prepared a meal for them. It was hashed corn beef and bread, but the hot food did wonders for them. Trucks arrived sometime after midnight to take the company away, and they left expressing deep thanks for our hospitality.