My First Reunion
1st Platoon, Company “A”, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, on July 31, 1950
by Gerald F. Brown
May 18-20, 1995 the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division held its first reunion in Nashville, TN. It was 45 years after the BN had seen action in Korea during 1950-51.
The Battalion was stationed at Sasebo, Japan when North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. Within days the UN Security Council voted to intervene, and the 24th was dispatched to Korea, entering combat action on July 5th.
The 24th took very heavy casualties those first weeks, many on the first day, July 5th. They fought a gallant delay action to help keep a foothold in Korea while more units were coming to help.
I was fortunate to miss that first month of hell. I was RA Private Gerald F. Brown and became part of the 1st Platoon, Company “A”, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, on July 31, 1950. We were on a hill near the Naktong River.
We occupied this hill for two days repelling North Korean attacks, mostly at night. Just before daylight and just after nightfall our company jeep and trailer would bring all the rifle ammo and C-Ration meals it could haul, but a small jeep and trailer doesn't haul much.
Why were we new replacements always hungry? The original company guys were in poor health from fatigue, lack of sleep, missing meals and had diarrhea so bad many could eat only the cracker portion of the meals. I never really understood how they kept going. They drank water from rice paddy streams. Halazon tablets were available with the C-Rations, but thirst often would not wait the 30 minutes necessary for purification.
On my third day in combat our company went in the attack to take the next two hills, about a mile across the valley. The first platoon lead the attack, and a very young Pvt. Brown was sent ahead as the lead scout. This was a sobering experience for a young boy in his first attack. I tried to remember my training, but I was SCARED!
We took the first ridge line with light losses and then our platoon was to hold it and cover the second ridge line while the second platoon attacked. Now things became lively and the second couldn't get anywhere; we were taking casualties.
In a couple of hours we got word that an air strike would be made on the North Korean positions. Soon the P-51 Mustangs flew in, made a good dry run over the NK positions, circled up and over to make the live strike.
But they came in on US instead, Their rockets, 50 caliber machine guns and napalm bombs hit us instead of the NK forces! We were the ones softened up and suffered lots of casualties.
Then the NK forces took advantage of this mishap and we were driven down the hillside. We took up a defensive position behind a rice paddy dike at the base of the hill.
We had lost many, many men and were pinned down, but we were able to keep the position until nightfall.
After dark we withdrew about four miles to a small ridge line and set up a perimeter of defense. Some vehicles got to us to take out the wounded we were able to get out. I really don't know how many didn't get off that hill.
We defended this ridge into the next night. About midnight a Marine Battalion, about 1,500 strong and new in Korea, took over our company position (we were down to about eighty in strength now).
We marched to a different sector some twelve miles westerly and took a new defensive position late in the day. We soon heard that the Marines had been attacked by an overwhelming NK force and had suffered severe losses. I shuddered at the thought of how we might have fared!
This was my first week in combat; I was seventeen!
During August our role was to try holding onto the southern tip of Korea. The battalion was placed in a "Mobile Reserve" status and we went from one firefight to another plugging holes in the line.
In September 1950 the 34th Infantry Regiment was de-activated and the "Colors" retired, and we became the 3rd Battalion of the 19th Infantry Regiment. Our “A” Company was now Company “I” of the 19th. Replacements began arriving.
General Mac Arthur's September Inchon invasion was successful and broke the North's supply lines. It facilitated our drive north.
By October the word was that the war would end before Christmas and we could go home. Happy days were ahead!
Late October 1950 found us in the far north near the Yalu River, which separates China and Russia from North Korea. Almost a week went by with little action. Company sized patrols took a few prisoners. The war appeared to be over.
Suddenly, there were enemy attacks all along the front. Where did they get the equipment and fresh troops? Our answer was quick. China had entered the war and had massed a large strong army on the Korean side of the Yalu River.
They mounted a massive full front attack in early November 1950 and we were driven back into South Korea. When their supply lines became long and ours short, we began pushing them back to the north.
Winter COLD was upon us and blizzards of snow. In mid December we had pushed into North Korea again and the ground was covered with snow. I don't know just how far north we had gotten, but it had become very cold.
We were on a defensive position through Christmas. The company kitchen was brought up and we had a hot Christmas turkey dinner.
Our company front was strung out over a mile and we didn't attack the Chinese and they didn't attack us. We had fires going to warm by and so did they.
But that all changed about 10 p.m. on New Years Eve when the Chinese made an all out front line attack . We held for a couple of hours and then moved back to the next ridge line and fought them again. This ridge line to ridge line hopping continued until a secondary line was set up and we withdrew through it.
We were pushed back inside of the city of Seoul where we regrouped and held. We began gaining ground again in January through the bitter cold. The positions were all out on the mountain tops in the blizzards and the snow was sometimes a foot deep.
I don't think we would have fared as well without the fires we built. I personally think the Chinese were in the same shape except they had winter clothing.
On the third of February we began an attack to push the Chinese into a tighter ring. The Eighth Army had begun to surround what we were told was several hundred thousand Chinese. Our battalion began our attack and pushed north several miles. The only problem was our flanking forces didn't fight up along side of us and we were soon surrounded.
We were beyond artillery support and it was night-fall before we learned the flanking units were far behind us. We didn't think we were in too bad of a situation, then during the night the Chinese continually attacked in force.
We had the entire battalion in position around one large mountain top and we were able to keep from being annihilated.
We lost many men during the night. At daylight we got word by radio an air strike would come to our assistance. We waited until the planes came before putting out the identifying air panels. But the aircraft sent word there were identical panels on all the hill tops in our area and with all the fighting going on they could not tell which was ours. They declined to fire.
From experience, I knew that no air support was better than us being hit by our own planes.
We were then ordered to fight our way out. We placed Companies L and M in the middle of the battalion, K company fought the rear action and our company, Company I, led the attack out. L and M carried the dead and wounded.
We made it to the last ridge line and then switched places with K company. Our Company held the hill and Company K fought down the ridge across the stream to friendly lines, L and M followed with the dead and wounded.
Once they were safely across we began our fight out; the Chinese had closed in around us again. We took lots of casualties making our way out. We broke through the ice over a stream while crossing and those of us with worn out shoe packs got our feet soaked in the ice water.
Once we got safely behind the lines we continued to the rear some ten or twelve miles to recover. We immediately built fires and tried to dry out and warm up. My shoes and socks were solid ice and my feet felt very numb and cold.
Our Battalion was then put into reserve just behind the lines and we made company-sized patrols several miles toward the enemy lines to see where the enemy was.
After returning from one of these patrols I took off my shoe packs to try to dry the sticky ooze from around my toes. The Company Commander saw me and told me to go to the aid station.
The doctor evacuated me for frozen feet. I went to the 10th Station Hospital in Pusan and was gone from my company for six weeks.
While I was gone, our forces tightened the ring around the Chinese. In March our forces inflicted great losses to the Chinese in an action near the Iron Triangle.
Early April saw another massive Chinese attack, and we were driven back south near Taujon. Again the Chinese supply lines faltered and we began another offensive campaign to the north.
In May the Chinese surrendered in large numbers. For a while we had more prisoners than our own strength. I wondered how China could come up with so much manpower, but then China has many, many people and their value of life was small in 1950-1951.
July and August 1951 became a more stable front line type of fighting than we had previously seen.
In July I was assigned as the Communication Sergeant at battalion headquarters.
The troop rotation program began in the spring; my turn came about the first of September. I arrived at San Francisco and boarded a troop train to Fort Riley on Sep. 11, 1951.
I would become 19 years old on October 21. I had spent nearly fourteen months in combat and had participated in six of the ten campaigns of the 24th Division.
At the reunion, would anyone wonder why I was happy to just stay at our reunion meeting room for the entire three days to reminisce?
I completed a twenty year, six month and twenty two day active duty career in the Army, retiring from Fort Sill, OK on July 1, 1970 as a Master Sergeant at age 37. I had served in the Viet Nam War and had duty stations at Fort Sill, OK (four times), Fort Carson, CO, The University of Missouri (ROTC Instructor) Columbia, MO, The Univ. of Kansas (ROTC Instructor) Lawrence, KS, and two tours of three and a half years each in Germany.
I must acknowledge the great support I received from my wife, Vee , and my family. Without this I would not have made it.
Gerald F. Brown
1607 Pleasant Street
Hutchinson, KS 67501
The Taro Leaf, Vol 64(2) Spring 2010, pg. 10-12, 46.