My Operation Nomad
by Joe Abernathy, 4th Platoon, “K” 19th
In early October, 1951, rumors began circulating that we were about to jump off on a fall offensive known “Operation Nomad.”
The first big battle was attacking Hill 460, known as “Baker,” was on Oct. 13, 1951. After securing the hill we continued to get occasional machine fire from the high ground to our right flank.
I was 4th platoon Sgt. in “K” Co. 19th Regiment. We were a heavy weapon platoon consisting of 57mm Recoilless Rifles and 60 mm Mortars.
A 57 Recoilless team was attempting to knock out a machine gun; the 57 gunner, Arthur Hartnanft, address unknown, was shot in the head. The round went through his helmet, but luckily he only received a flesh wound.
Charles Foster, of Escalon, CA (See 62(3) Summer Taro Leaf TAPS page 9) received a “States-Side” wound that day, possibly by that same machine gun.
It was late afternoon and we began digging in for the night. We heard that a battalion-sized Chinese Force was headed in our direction, and that we would probably get hit about midnight.
Sure enough, about 11:45 we began to smell garlic, and we knew they were getting close. All hell broke loose about midnight.
After about two hours of continuous firing, we began to run low on ammunition. I called Company Commander Capt. Bridges, and told him our situation, and that we needed to withdraw.
He said that artillery had been called in, and Battalion would have to authorize withdrawal. A few minutes later he called back and told me to begin withdrawing back to “I” Company on the higher ridge line to our rear.
Our artillery began coming in so close you could hold a match up and strike it on the rounds. It kept the Chinese down long enough for us to withdraw.
As we went down the hill, we suspected that the Chinese had us surrounded. But we were lucky; there was a full moon that night and we could see almost as clearly as day.
When we finally proceeded thru “I” Company, I learned that Capt. Bridges had been wounded just after we had talked on the phone. I saw him on a stretcher; he told me that Lt. Perkins and Lt. Schauss had also been wounded; he asked me to help carry him to the Aid Station.
When I hesitated, he said “I Order You.” He said these SOBs (Korean Carrying Party) will get me down this hill, they will shoot me.
But as we were going down the hill, I turned and went back to my men, and never saw him again. I learned later on that he returned to the Company after the Division went to Japan in February.
After regrouping, getting a re-supply of ammunition, a new CO, Lt. Andros, and other officers, we again jumped off.
This was probably on Oct. 14, 1951, at or near a place called Chip-o-ri, North Korea. We headed down a hill and across a valley toward our next objective.
At the same time “I” Company secured the hill from which we had withdrawn the night before; they received little resistance.
One of my men cracked up while we were going up the valley. After getting him settled down, we moved on and came upon a flat field about 50 yards long.
When I was about in the middle of the field, a Chinese machine gun fired on us; bullets and dirt flew everywhere.
I hit the ground, and the firing stopped. How he missed me I will never know.
A rifle platoon that was bringing up the rear sent a squad up the edge of the field and took out the machine gun. It was in a shack.
We approached our objective in early morning, and were told that the hill would probably be easy to secure. But the Chinese had other ideas. We fought all day, and then dug in for the night, which we spent on full alert.
The next day the fighting got even worse. We received lots of heavy mortar and artillery fire. The hill was steep on both sides of the finger we were on.
A young kid, from a rifle platoon, and I were lying close together. I told him to move about ten yards so that we could see better. He replied that he couldn’t; he was too scared. I yelled: “Do it!”
We moved, and almost immediately an artillery round landed right where we had been lying.
After heavy fighting all day, we finally reached the top of the hill in late afternoon. There were trenches, head deep, all around the hill.
It was about then that four of our jet fighters came in for an attack – on our hill! The first one strafed the hill, and the second dropped a bomb. By then we were set to try to shoot down the third. Thankfully, the pilot of that plane pulled out quickly. The flag man did not have his flag down until the third jet started his approach and saw it.
We did not have to do much digging that night as we used the trenches the Chinese had dug.
The next day we were on the move by daylight. We went down the hill into a valley, crossed a plateau, and began receiving artillery fire.
We took cover in a dry creek bed. PFC Lloyd King, Jr. from Kern, CA. and PFC William D. Aviles, from Pima, AL and I were lying close together. I was in the middle.
As we were looking up the hill toward our next objective, an artillery round landed just behind us. Both King and Aviles were killed instantly!
A large piece of shrapnel from that round hit my shovel; it cut the handle and split my steel shovel blade. I’m sure that shovel saved my life; I took King’s.
In addition to King and Aviles being killed, Mitchell Mulhem and Richard McDonald (12 Peace Ct., Plainville, CT 06062-2836, 860-747-4281) who were Section Leaders, Richard Mohler, Robert O’Brian, Canton Warren and Sylvester Beverly; all were from the fourth platoon.
I was with Mohler while Medic Dan Foskey treated his wounds, which looked very serious.
For forty-eight years I wondered what happened to him. Then we met each other in 1995, at the reunion in Nashville, Tennessee. That was a great day; Dan Foskey, the medic, was there along with five other men who also were in the 4th platoon of “K” Company that terrible October 1951 day.
The fighting continued to be tough for the next few days; combat flared around the clock! But the enemy seemed to be about ready to head north until we crossed the Kumsong River and got on the ridge line leading up to hill 770.
Bob LeBlanc from my platoon came to me that night and said he was afraid to go out the next day. He only had two days before he was to be rotated home. I talked to the Company Commander, and we agreed he should go back with the carrying party.
I saw him in 1998 , and he said the Chinese fired on the carrying party as they were going down the hill. He thought he was going to be killed while leaving. We stayed in touch until he died in 2005 of cancer.
Hill 770 was a fortress with deep trenches, bunkers, and machine gun encampments. The Chinese fought hard not give up 770 and the long mountain range leading from it.
The 3rd Battalion finally secured hill 770 about the 21st of October. After all units secured their positions, we began improving and setting up defensive positions for the winter.
I arrived in Korea on May 5, 1951, and got my first hot shower in late November, 1951. During warm weather we washed in creeks. This was also our drinking water; we used water purifying tablets. The entire country had a terrible odor and polluted water because they used human waste for their rice paddy fertilization.
It is amazing how much weight a soldier can lose in 15 or 20 days - of continuous combat, trying to live on C-rations and little or no sleep. Food and sleep was secondary; survival was primary!
Joe Abernathy, Jr.
695 Center Point Road
Carrollton, GA 30117
The Taro Leaf, Vol 62(4) Fall 2008, pg. 27-29.