Bryant "Woodie" Wood, Jr., " If I’m gonna die, let me die trying."
Transcription taken by Merry Helm, Association Historian, from Mr. Wood on July 27, 2011 for the 24th IDA POW/MIA identification effort.
me just tell you the story of what happened, and then you decide.
You can talk to some of our other people and decide whether my
information is of value.
I know there’s something to it, because I saw it with my own eyes.
When you were in a spot like we were in, we got overrun up there. They just wiped us out and killed everyone they came to.
Photo: Woodie and Dottie Wood, Jr.
We were dug in on the bank of the Kum River up there where they blew the bridge. They blew the bridge, I don’t know – about the 12th or somewhere like that – of July (1950).
So then, on the 16th the Communists had moved way down south of us and came up behind us. Because we were the only people there, you know, the 24th Division. At that time, we had nobody to guard back behind, all around us. But anyway, they came in on the rear of us.
Now understand, the artillery is set up in the rear seven, eight miles behind us. They wiped out our artillery before they came up and got us infantry. I was dug in on the river bank along with the rest.
I know Company A was there, because I was in Company A, 19th Infantry Regiment. We were dug in on the river bank. That was our front line unit. The Communists, were dug in on the river bank on the other side.
The first guy they captured was Roger Zunk. He was in my squad. They came across the river and got him. They took him back to the other side of the river. He screamed for us, and all. Still brings nightmares if I think about it hard.
in a couple days the push came. They came in on us. The G-2 said there was 97,000 coming in. So, there was what – about 5,500 of us, see? So they wiped us out there in two days.
I was on the river. I got machine gunned there in a rice paddy. Took three slugs in my right arm. Blew off pieces. I could not fight anymore, so I laid there and I went to sleep. Before I went to sleep, I heard the North Koreans fixing bayonets and killing everyone they came to.
Like I said, our company was on the riverbank. The reason I keep going back to that river thing, I had struck up the mountain to where that priest [Father Herman Felhoelter] was that got killed, the one with all the wounded guys he was waiting with for out troops to rescue.
I could have waited with them, but I didn’t. I backed off the hill and I went back into the river. I figured if I got in that river, I can go downstream. I can float. I can’t do anything else. I don’t know how far down the river I went, but I went almost to where the artillery was, back there, and I came out.
All my time in the river, I saw bodies. I couldn’t tell who they were in the night, but I saw ‘em all in that river. I saw ‘em that day! And I just figured it was whoever got killed in there.
It was about, I guess, midnight or one o’clock in the morning when I got out of the river and on the bank. I was just about half-dead. I’d been bleeding all that night.
I saw trucks and tanks and stuff up on the ridge, they were on fire. I came out of the river there, and I ran into two boys. One of them was blind – got shot in the head, and he was blind. And another guy. I was helping them along. When I saw the trucks, I didn’t know who was on them trucks and stuff, So, I hollered out to see if it was Americans. When I did, I got an answer with a .50-caliber. It was like lightning bolts coming down, the tracers.
I took off like a helicopter, I went straight up the hill. I don’t know how I got to the top. I got up there and got into a crater – one of those 155s that blew out at the top.
Communist troops came up there hunting me. Six of them. I could’ve reached out and touched them. But I led them away from them two guys, you see? Where they wouldn’t bother them. They’d have to come hunt me. Because I’m a backwoods boy anyway.
I jumped in that crater, and I just rolled up, and I didn’t hardly breathe. The North Koreans came real close to me and they stopped. Had a smoke. Had a talk. I’m wondering "Why don’t you guys go?" Because I couldn’t start a fight with them. I wasn’t able to fight. So anyway, they went on. They went one way. I went the other.
I had told those two boys before hand – I pointed out the light of Taejon, and I said, “You follow that light. If we get separated, you go toward that light. Cross those mountains and go toward that light. You’ll come out there.” I don’t know if they ever did or not, because I never saw them anymore after that.
It has always been in my mind, if that darn river goes to the ocean, or it goes somewhere where it’s backing up water – I don’t know what the terrain is of the other end, see? I don’t know where the Kum ends at or what it dumps into. I just know a lot of bodies went in that river. And wherever they went, I cannot tell you. I don’t know.
Because the Communists would kill you – like that priest, he said he’d stay there with that group. They had an article in the 24th Taro Leaf about that here a few months back.
I thought if I had waited with them, I’d have been one of them, you know. Dead. But they said they’d leave them and come back? You never leave anybody. You don’t leave ‘em. I’m telling you.
I hid beside the road, and the next morning I seen these people coming – about 70 people together, and I didn’t know who they were. We called them gooks – the communists. I didn’t know if it was gooks or our guys, you know? There was a major, he was the leading the group. I hollered, and this sergeant came over there and found that I was there. And this sergeant, he helped me because I was just about gone. I didn’t know him, but he helped me.
We started out walking, and the major stopped the column and said, “We’re going to have to leave all the wounded behind, we’ll send someone out back for you.”
That sergeant said, “You're not going to leave anybody. We don’t leave anybody. We all stay, or we all go. We are not leaving anybody.” Because they never come back, see?
They were moving so fast on us, if you hold back, you’re gone. They’ll knock you out. That’s what happened to preacher (priest) up there where I said I'm not waiting. I won’t wait.
As long as I can move, I'm not waiting. If I’m gonna die, let me die trying.
Anyway, I always wondered about them guys in that river. I watch the news, and I see how many guys in the Korean War that are missing. And I think to myself that I know a lot of those guys were washed away. If there was a stopping place somewhere, you might find something, you might now. That was 61 years ago. What do you say, you know?
They brought me back here, the U.S. They flew me back. And my goodness, it took two weeks to fly from Japan back to America with all those stops they made. Rest stops, they called it. But we were all patients in a wheelchair or on a litter.
I was so weak, I couldn’t walk. I’d lost so much blood it took me about two months to get my strength back. I wound up in Army-Navy General in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
I grew up close to where I’m living here, in Ocala, Florida. Silver Springs – Ocala. I was 16 when I went in. There was nothing here for anybody, really. It was after WWII. When I turned 16, I told my daddy I wanted him to go in and sign for me.
He said, “How old are you?”
I said 17. He said, “That’s right.”
He had 14 young’uns, he couldn’t keep track of all of them, so I had a number on him. (Laughter)
I left that morning. He give me some money and he said, “Listen. Go find you a job. Stay out of the service.”
I said, “No. I’m telling you I’m going. I don’t know where I’m going to get in, but I’m signing up for the Army.”
I messed up with a man after I finished basic. He said, “Where you want to go?”
I said, “Send me just as far from the United States as you can get me.”
And he did. I went to Beppu, Japan. I got there about March of ‘49. We took combat training the whole time. There wasn’t nothing BUT combat training. Every day.
[I mentioned how people talked about the troops had gotten soft and hadn’t been trained well when they went to Korea.]
That’s a lie. We had the best training a man could have. I’m going to tell you, and I’d tell everybody today – I'd tell the president and I'd tell any general standing up there, I don’t care who they are. I'd say, “Listen. You people might not know anything. But them old sergeants, if you listen to what they’re teaching you, at least part of you will come back. And you’ll come back breathing. But you have to do what you’re told. You have to go on your instincts and do what you’re told. And you have to listen.”
My daddy told me, when I was real young, he said, “If you listen, you’ll learn. I don’t care how old you get. If you listen, you’ll learn.”
They were teaching us these combat tactics to stay alive, and me, I had no problem with that. I mean food, or what have you, because I always lived off the land anyway. I lived in a swamp down here. We lived on that place. About 5,500 acres. It had a river running through it, and that was the Ocklahawa River and the Silver River. Silver River is a real nice river.
[I suggest he was well prepared for living in a nature environment.]
Yeah, but when you duck out into a world you never heard of before – never heard of. See, all the time, from the first of ‘49 to the middle of ‘50, I’d never heard the word Korea. I didn’t know it existed. Never did hear it. And most of us never heard of it. When we loaded on the LST, and were sent over there and put out, that was a terrible place.
I don’t know why they do that, when they got A-bombs and stuff to use. That’s what they’re for, to protect us. And protect the people we went to help. Use them! That wouldn’t bother me a bit. I said to drop one up where we are and wipe that bunch out. I know we’d get wiped out too, you know, but it would clean up the place for other people.
But I still know there’s a lot of guys unaccounted for in those rivers. Not only the Kum River, but the Han River up there.
[We go over his information on Roger Zunk.]
We were in 1st Platoon, A Company, 19th Regiment. We were in the squad with the light .30 caliber machine gun. That’d be the 4th Squad of the 1st Platoon. I think Mendoza was the captain. Our platoon sergeant was Sergeant Lundee (Lundey? Lundy?).
I have found no one from my platoon alive since I came back to the States in 1950. No one. The only one was Sergeant Smith. He called me from California – Palo Alto or somewhere. He told me he saw my name in the 24th Division book when I joined. And he told me he probably wouldn’t make it out of the hospital. He’s the only one I spoke to who was in my company. I couldn’t find any of them.
We went up to the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War up in Washington. And they had computers up there, and my baby daughter, she identified all these guys. Roger Zunk, Edward Yost, and William Mitchell, and Gerald Winter. I can’t remember all of them.
When I came out of Korea, I had the fatigues I had on, my combat boots, my steel helmet. That’s all I brought out of there. I don’t know where all of my belongings went.
[We go over some names from the POW/MIA list he has. He states Mitchell was in his squad. Also Gene Wagner – he couldn’t remember if Wagner was in his squad, but “We were close buddies, anyway.” Gerald Winter, also a good friend, was in Wood’s squad. Also Yost.]
I remember Yost was from Pottsville, PA.
And Roger Zunk, that’s the day they got him as MIA. He was the one that they first came over and got and carried across the river. [One unintelligible sentence.]
I can find nobody from the other squads – guys you got drunk with or they were foxhole buddies. I can’t find anybody. And I don’t have a book listing their names. If I did, I’d recognize the names. I went through all these in A Company.
We had a boy named Young who was a machine gunner. We called him Baby-San. He was about the size of one of them itty-bitty Japanese boys, so we called him Baby-San. He was the best machine gunner in town – he and his ammo bearer. I can tell you he was from Virginia or West Virginia.
Then there was Lonnie White. God only knows what happened to all them boys. I never read about them in the Taro Leaf at any time, and I’ve been with them forever. And I go to these reunions. Never.
Mitchell (William B.) was from Mississippi. There were two other boys I knew – I’ve forgotten their names until I see them. I think they came from Arkansas or Mississippi. And one's brother – I read an article about his brother, and I called him. I told him the last time I saw them and Mitchell was in the rice paddies. They were going the wrong way. I think they got killed, but I couldn’t see over the embankment. I read here that he was a POW and died in the prison camp, I guess. A lot of them did. Because they overtook us, and they took what they could get.
The first thing I saw – that morning we got overrun – was a 2nd Lieutenant from the Air Force. He had washed out. They sent him up front.
We got him up there, and he told us who he was. And when the gooks broke loose on us that morning, they broke our lines and came in, he said, “Everybody for their self.” And he took off, and that’s the last I saw of him.
He was something to do with the platoon – platoon leader or whatever. That sure happened that morning, and I never forgot that. He came by the foxholes and says, “We’re getting overrun. Everybody for their self.” He took off, but he took off in the wrong direction, I think they probably killed him. He didn’t know anything. That’s why they threw him out of the Air Force, I think. That’s the word we got on him. I only know the man for what he said. Maybe when he introduced himself I knew what his name was. He didn’t last long. Just 2-3 days, and he was gone.
We were overrun. That’s the only way it could’ve been. You couldn’t stop a force that big.
[I asked whether they came across the river and overran them?]
They went down below us and came across. See, they went miles down below us and came in behind us. Like I said, they knocked out our artillery and all that stuff in the back. They knocked all that out. Then they worked on us. We didn’t have any big outfit to stand guard back there. There was nobody there.
And I blame MacArthur for every bit of it. Damn his hide, he didn’t have any business sending us in there to fight a force like that.
When the G-2 told us there was 97,000 North Koreans on the front lines – and feeding us in there by the handful. The 21st went in first, and they wiped them out. Then the 34th, and they also were wiped out. There was so little left that they assigned them to the 19th." ###
Appleman, SOUTH TO THE NAKTONG, NORTH TO THE YALU, Chapter. X. Disaster on the Kum River Line.