My Time with the 63rd Artillery in July 1950, James William Bolt
My name is James William Bolt; I am 77 years old and I live in Laurens, South Carolina. I joined the Army in April of 1948, took basic at Fort Jackson, spent some time at Ft. Dix, and then in August 1949, went to the 63rd Artillery in Japan.
I received my Artillery training on the job from a good Sergeant by the name of “Barefoot” who ran a tight Firing Battery. In late August of ‘49, we went to the island of Kyushu near the city of Fukuoka, to an old seaplane base called Camp Hakata.
We had a movie club and a grand beach, where I spent most of my off duty time. What a great life! I was just going on 21, and a PFC.
But that all changed suddenly in July 1950, when we were called to defend freedom in a place I had hardly heard of, Korea! LST’s carried us and our worn-out equipment to Pusan on the morning of July 6.
We arrived in the combat area the next afternoon; it was a dry riverbed just south of Chonan. We moved into a firing position and dug in for the fight that was soon to come.
Our 63rd field Artillery Battalion was armed with 105mm Howitzers, and we were in support of the 34th Infantry Regiment.
On the first fire mission, I was sent to one of the other Howitzer crews to show them how to open the ammo! I remember thinking “This is going to be a long war!”
The 24th Division was under strength; we received replacements from the 1st Cavalry, and the 7th and 25th Divisions. By the morning of the 21st most of them would be either dead or missing in action. We didn’t even learn their first names!
On the morning of the 8th we got our first incoming artillery fire from the North Koreans. This lasted for about two hours until about 1100, when six of our light recon tanks came up the road. We had tanks! Now we would show those T34 tanks that chewed up the 21st and the 52nd (Task Force Smith)!
The North Korean’s out-flanked our 34th, forcing it to fall back and so we also had to move back.
I was sent to set up a 2.36-inch rocket launcher anti-tank outpost in an apple orchard. Just before sundown, I heard tanks coming. They were our tanks - the two of the six that were left after engaging the bigger T34’s.
We had nothing to stop the T34’s. And people wonder why we didn’t stand our ground!
Darkness came. I was standing on the side of the road when Major Barter, our S3, came along and told me to get on the jeep.
More troops were moving up and there was only one-way traffic so we spent the night on the side of road. This was my first day in combat!
The morning of July 9 dawned clear; it was going to be a hot day! Major Barter came by with our new Battalion sites on a Korean 1:50.000 map sheet.
After we reached our assigned area, our Commander came by each Howitzer and told each Section Chief “Dig every thing in deep.” The Kum River line was to be held at all cost!
We spent the next three days preparing our positions, putting in outposts and running wire so that our switchboard could talk with a crank of the handle. We dug high angle firing pits for each Howitzer; at the same time we fired a mission on the river line.
Above Kongju, where the Kum River makes a big bend around the city, the 34th was positioned on the left, while the L Company was to the right. There was a big gap between L Company and the 24th Recon along the river. There had been a lot of rain and the Kum River was running full to its banks
We were as ready as we could be. The new Battalion Commander, William E. Dressier, inspected the Battery on the afternoon of the 13th. In less than 24 hours he would be dead, along with his driver, Cpl McCall.
We had a day of rest; it was our first real rest in six days!
We cleaned up the best we could. We changed, washed out the dirt
and sweat from our clothing and hung them to dry from the empty ammo
boxes we had placed end.
Late in the day, Major Barter stopped by for a short time at the Fire Direction Center. He wanted to be sure were firing on the same target as the Battalion. This way, all of our fire-power would be brought to bear on the same target.
While I was on Howitzer guard duty around 2300 hours, one of our outpost guards began screaming and throwing rocks at the other guards. Some of the HQ people ran him down, tied him to a stretcher, and carried him back to the rear.
The 3rd Engineers had blown the bridge over the Kum River. While we sat behind our water barrier, one of our outposts reported troop movement to the west bringing the battery to “Full Alert.” But it turned out to be just another dry run.
One became edgy after being on alert for 24 hours a day and all the tension in the air. If a frog was croaking in the rice paddy and a crane flew in the frog would stop. You’d strain to see if there was human movement. This builds up over time and you’re drained until you become numb to everything that goes on around you.
That morning I had a cup of black coffee, folded the clothing that I had washed the day before, washed my feet and changed my socks. It would be the last time until July 21st.
The Wire crew from HQ Battery came by and stopped for a cup of coffee. They were having trouble with the wire because the lines had been cut leaving us with no direct communications to HQ Battery. One of the men, Jimmy E Henness, told me he had switchboard duty at 1300 hours and would get a few catnaps that afternoon. He was later captured and died at the hands of the NK.
All that morning there was a Korean on the hill above the Battery. When we approached him he would wander away but he would be back on another hill as soon as we went back to our positions. We were told he was just a farmer checking his rice crop. But it seemed to me that his clothing was too clean to be a farmer. He turned out to be an advance scout from the NK l6th Division.
Since we had mistakenly had a fire-fight with the South Koreans, we had become gun shy. Our orders from above were: “DONT SHOOT TILL THEY SHOOT AT YOU.” That was fine; although when they walk into your position, it’s a little too late to start a fight when they’re right on top of you!
I had Telephone and Howitzer Duty from 1000 to 1200 hours. My job was to get the word out if we had a fire mission. When I was relieved at 1200 hours by one of the new men, I went over to the mess truck for chow. The cook broke open the C-ration carton and put a can of beans and franks in some boiling water to heat and also gave me a can of fruit cocktail.
We lost contact with HQ Battery a little after 1300 hours and the Battery Commander sent a jeep over with one of the new men that had arrived the night before.
Joe Duran was at the wheel and James Thomas was riding shotgun. As they left, Joe shouted, “I will try to find some extra C-rations.” I wouldn’t see Joe again for 54 years when I retired from the Army in 1969. He told me Thomas and a Lt. were killed in a roadblock and, though shot in the face, Joe was able to fight his way out.
I sat on the trails of the Howitzer to eat; an empty shell casing was my table. I had finished the beans and franks, and began to open my fruit cocktail. But the empty bean can slipped off and fell so, I set the cocktail can on the shell casing and bent over to retrieve the fallen can. In that instant, a sniper’s bullet exploded my can of cocktail throwing sticky juice all over me! I thought for a moment that I was hit!
Men in the Battery began screaming “Sniper” and in just a short time some of them would be wounded. After the sniper fire stopped, the wounded were sent on to HQ Battery but all were killed at a roadblock on the way.
A short time later the Battery Commander came to the gun pit with a new guy; he had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen! His name was Boyd Tucker. The Commander told us to go set up a 30 cal Machine Gun on the hill behind the Battery to give us covering fire if we had to fall back.
Tucker carried the gun while I carried the tripod and three boxes of ammo. I dropped the ammo and bent down on my knees to pick them up. I heard Tucker grunt. I looked up to see him turn sideways and suddenly drop to the ground.
Then all hell broke loose! Mortar rounds set fires in the pits, and in a Korean house where we had our ammo stored. I was frozen in place and a man had just died!
An NCO rushed up the hill and we set the machine gun. But it was too late. The North Koreans took over the outpost guns and they were raking the Battery with a withering fire. I went back to the Howitzer pit to pick up my small arms.
We were told to “Pull the firing lock and Fall Back.” I raised the locking catch and removed the shaft and rotated the firing lock until it slid out of the breechblock.
Then I grabbed my carbine and raced up the hill. When I reached the crest, I dropped to the ground and tried to catch my breath. There were a number of men there, and we left and went down the valley. I had the machine gun in the middle to cover the flanks and we had scouts on either side.
On the morning of the 14th, the North Korean troops from the 16th Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division began crossing the Kum River below L Company on barges. Some 500 had made it across by 0900 hours.
There was an L19 aircraft spotting the troops crossing the river, but a Yak fighter drove it out of the sky. The 11th field Artillery had been firing at that crossing for a short time until they were blinded as to what was going on in that sector. This left the crossing open for the North Korean’s.
L Company pulled off the line at about 1100 hours. A Sergeant from L Company reached the 63rd and told an officer about the crossing, but the officer paid little attention. By 1300 hours, the 16th regiment slammed into the right flank of HQ and A Batteries. After taking over our outposts, they turned the outpost machine guns on HQ and A Battery. Mortars took out all communications with the other Batteries and set fires in both HQ and A Battery. By 1400 hours both Batteries were overrun.
Then the North Korean’s turned their fury on B Battery. By 1500 hours the 63rd had lost 11 officers and 125 enlisted men, ten 105mm Howitzers, and 60-80 trucks and trailers. In total, their losses were 23 killed in action, 24 missing in action, and 89 prisoners of war!
We fell back to a roadblock manned by the 21st Infantry Regiment and spent the night. We put a sign on a C-ration box to the side of the road, “63 BN.”
I didn’t rest much that night; I drifted in and out of sleep all night long. Men were showing up without their boots, shirts or even their small arms, asking. “Have you seen so and so?”
By dawn, trucks and other vehicles arrived with four 105 Howitzer replacements, and ammo; we were back in the war!
As the 63rd drove away, these dejected men, with nothing but their memories of what had happened to them - what they did or did not do, only they would knew for sure - let them judge themselves! Today, some are still judging themselves harshly after all this time.
We spent the next several days unsuccessfully defending our positions around Taejon. Then on 21 July, we pulled out of combat and retreated to the city of Taegu.
We looked like vagabonds. I slept most of the way. There was a small creek running through our bivouac area creating a large pool of water maybe 10-12 feet deep, just like a large swimming pool.
We dismounted and fell in to listen to the Battery Commander. A small truck drove up and handed out a package from the Red Cross. A Service Battery truck drove up and unloaded C rations. I took my ration and package and walked to the pool of water. I took off my boots and with all my clothes on waded into the water with a bar of soap. I tried scrubbing away the blood, dirt and the memories of the last 14 days.
The blood and dirt I was able to remove, but the memories won’t go away. Nor do they fade. They remain with me still today; as strong now as if it had just happened. It’s as if time stands still - so long ago and in a place so far away, called “The land of the morning calm.” ###
Bolt, James William, 2007, The Taro Leaf, Vol 61(1&2), Winter-Spring, pp 41-43.
A more complete memoir of James Bolt's whole military and subsequent life may be viewed at: http://www.koreanwar-educator.org/memoirs/bolt_james/