“Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm, All is Bright,” Central Front North Korea, 1951.
Christmas Eve 1951, a most interesting evening.
We were still in that Chinese bunker, the "mansion" along the trail of a side road looking up to hill 747. Everyone was just certain that the Chinese would attack us on our "Christian" holiday.
Shortly after full darkness set in, the Chaplin’s troop drove a 6-by truck up the main valley and stopped on the road about 100 yards or so behind our position. They brought with them a well amplified speaker system. The photo caption in 24th Forward reads: "Chaplains and officers of the 19th 'Rock of Chickamauga' Regiment caroled on Christmas Eve....Bitter cold did not dampen the celebrant's ardor." Click on the photo to enlarge.
Soon they were vigorously singing Christmas carols for us grunts in the foxholes!
My mind drifted back to family and friends, to Mass and to gifts.
The last thing I wanted to be reminded of at that moment was that I was in Korea on Christmas Eve! And I yelled my displeasure as loud as I could and “suggested” they depart and leave us to ourselves. Others yelled their same displeasure. And none of us was too kind or polite either! I was sullen; I was mad!
The carolers soon retreated, they probably had other places to go and grunts to sing to.
But No Man’s Land Was Alive, or so We Thought!
There was something going on out there in no man’s land a few hundred yards in front of the barbed wire barricade in front of our foxholes. We could hear noises. At least we thought we heard noises. And we thought we could detect movement. But we really could not see anything.
We all “just knew” that the Reds would hit us on Christmas Eve, especially after all that caroling they would figure we were ripe for the taking. There was some sporadic rifle fire along the lines where the riflemen were deployed, but I believe this was totally the product of antsy GI’s just like we were.
And there was no enemy fire coming into our positions!
Our bunker was connected to Easy Company’s sound powered telephone system and there was a lot of voice traffic about the disturbance. Somewhere on the circuit, some Easy Company GI said they wished they could see what was out there. They wanted our artillery support unit to fire a flare.
When we had prepared our defenses I had set out a number of tripwire flares in front of the barbed wire barriers in front of us. These were simply a base plate onto which was affixed a small tube into which we inserted the flare, perhaps similar to a fireworks rocket. We then ran a piano wire from the flare to our foxhole. All I had to do to fire a flare was to simply yank the wire.
I pulled wire one!
The projectile soared up a couple hundred feet in the air, ignited and floated slowly back down on a parachute. Our whole area was well lighted for perhaps 15 seconds or so.
(This was not the intended application of these flares; they were to be placed along a trail with the tripwire strung across the trail about 10 inches above the ground. When an enemy soldier came along they would inadvertently trip the flare and disclose that they were in our area, and their location.)
I couldn’t see anything or anybody out there while the flare lighted the area, but voices on the telephone cried that my flare was just what they needed.
I jerked wire number two!
And the scenario was repeated. A bit later our 81's began to launch much larger flares, again with the same result.
No enemy troops ever appeared that night. And sometime after midnight the excitement eventually died down. But we remained on high alert nevertheless!
By then I suspect the carolers were snuggled back at Headquarters into their warm squad tents with cots and sleeping bags! Their intentions were in the right place and I should have been more appreciative, but I hated where I was!
Merry Christmas GI; You Go Home The War Will Cease!
We formed a patrol to go out to see what was there. Much to our surprise we found a large poncho the Chinese had left on the road. It was was filled with Christmas cards and gifts!
After determining that they weren’t booby-trapped, we brought the poncho with gifts and cards back to our lines. The gifts were mere trinkets and didn’t make much of an impression on us. I didn’t keep any, I wish now that I had.
But I did keep one of the greeting cards the Chinese troops left for us. It has remained in my deteriorating photo scrapbook 59 years now! Its front is shown above; and its inside is shown below. Click on them to enlarge them.
It certainly had a sobering effect on this 21 year-old draftee GI
There was another version of Christmas Card left for us by the Reds. It was even more thought provoking! I was not able to get one of those; but years later was able to obtain a copy of one from E Company's 4th Platoon Sgt. Mel Frederick of Minnesota. What do you think of this one?
But none of us did! Years later we realized that Korea was not a "Forgotten War," not a "Lost War." Quite to the contrary; we drove the first nail in the coffin of Communism! We won!
There were no casualties on that trip to the front line.
And for our Christmas Day 1951 dinner, we ate cold C-rations!
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Tom J. Thiel, Korea 1951-52 Easy Company, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division Heavy Weapons Platoon, 57mm recoilless rifles, 3.5 bazookas, and 60mm mortars.
The Taro Leaf, Vol 61(3&4), Summer-Fall, 2007, pg. 21.