"An American Fighting Man" a book by and about Combat Infantrymen
A Review: John Belgarde’s book is the “blood and guts” recital by a young soldier who got into the Korean War early in the war, during the desperate weeks when all that remained of South Korea was the “Pusan Perimeter.” . . .
He grew up in North Dakota where a young boy was raised to be tough. Before he was 18, he enlisted in the US Army, little knowing like everyone else at that time that his ability to survive was to be tested in a war so soon. Though he had already been in the Army for nearly 2 years, the Korean War was different than routine duty. Very different! Landing in Korea in mid-August 1950 and assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, then further to Company "G" of the 9th Infantry Regiment, he was in the thick of battle immediately.
He didn’t expect to come out of Korea alive. But he set up some rules for himself, to wit:
- I will do the best I can as long as I can.
- I will not surrender.
- I will let no one surrender me.
Few books have been written which give you as much detail about the day to day misery that an infantryman in Korea endured from foxhole to foxhole, from rain to snow to mud, with never enough “real food,” never enough water to clean up with, slogging up one hill but to have a higher one in front of you. And all this while carrying your heavy equipment, be it a radio, a bazooka, a machine gun, until you reached utter exhaustion. Add to this your concern for stepping on a mine, getting mortar or artillery fire upon you and your emotional downer when one of your buddies or men got killed or wounded right next to you. As described by John Belgarde, it takes everything that has been taught to you as a kid to face that kind of adversity, to move forward because, as an American fighting man, you do not give up on your comrades and your country.
The book has two phases. The first one tells his story as a simple soldier. He did what he was told to do. The second phase describes him developing into a leader of men, fully cognizant of how his every move or action would affect the survival of the guys of the 1st Platoon, who were his charges. He never got emotionally close to his men in order not to have favorites and also to be less hurt when one of them was wounded or killed. He never wanted to know about their families for fear that this knowledge would affect his decisions. But he also protected them as much as he could from adversity, physical or mental.
Few books are as much a study on how a kid becomes a man at age 19. Few books, including Army manuals, describe as well how to become a leader of soldiers, and few books are as much a description of the American kid who goes off to defend his country against all odds as John Belgarde’s “An American Fighting Man.”
Ralph M. Hockley, Colonel, US Army Retired 1st Lieutenant, Artillery, in the Korean War, 1950-51 Forward Observer, 37th Field Artillery Battalion with the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division