Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Rations are on My Back

The next post on this blog, “The Two Terrible Nights of the 23rd” reproduces an article that appeared in the May 19, 1951 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, which has kindly given permission for it to be shown here. The article was written by Harold H. Martin, who was the first reporter to visit us. He did a superb job of reporting the battle.

What follows is an explanation for the seeming inconsistency of the caption for the first photograph, which states, “Dr. Bob Hall gets rations loaded on his back by Major Robert L. Newell before moving up front.”

The article was about the battle, and I didn’t have to move to get the front. I was in the middle of it. The photograph, however, was taken by the Post’s photographer, Ollie Atkins, at another location. This was a couple of weeks later, and it does show me on my way to the front.  

The 23d RCT was replaced by units of the 1st Cavalry Division two days after the battle  at Chipong-ni ended. The RCT then moved east-southeast to a mountainous area and took part in a series of operations designed to drive the Chinese and North Koreans back to the north. The 23rd RCT had the job of driving them from the area and then preventing them from remaining as guerilla fighters.

The area had no roads. Due to thawing snows and rains the trails were passable only to tracked vehicles and humans. The Air Force could not supply forward units by air because its efforts were needed more urgently elsewhere The re-supply of forward units with food and ammunition had to be done by manpower, and troop units were used for this purpose. Korean civilian units were being organized and would be used later, but were not yet available.          

The Regiment’s first battalion had taken and was holding a mountain several miles from other division elements. This mountain was covered with snow and ice, and its peak was cloaked with clouds. Re-supply of the battalion by using the Army’s small, two-seat aircraft, the L-19 was not very successful. On one such mission a case of C rations hit a soldier on the ground in the abdomen.

The surgeon of the First battalion was not with the unit. He had been the first individual evacuated from the 23d Infantry Regiment because of the disabling and often fatal condition that appeared during the spring of 1951 and became known as Korean Hemorrhagic Fever. Captain Claude A. Scott became critically ill shortly after the battle of Chipyong-ni. He refused to allow himself to be evacuated to a hospital for the treatment he needed desperately. I had to go to the First battalion aid station and order him to come with me before he would leave “his” battalion. I then by-passed the division clearing station, and took him to the hospital supporting our division for treatment.

[Nothing was known at this time of the Hanta virus, or the means of its transmission to humans from its animal reservoir.  Despite this, Captain Scott made an astonishingly accurate diagnosis of the source and means of transmission of his illness before he left us.]

Captain Scott’s replacement had not yet arrived. His assistant had declined the opportunity to accompany his battalion to the mountaintop I would have to go there, but getting there through enemy territory posed some problems. 

I had met Captain Joseph Bowler, one of the Army’s first medical helicopter pilots at Chipyong-ni. He would become a legend before leaving Korea. I asked him now to try to land me on the mountain top. He agreed and he tried. The mountain top was hidden in a thick cloud, however.  He tried several times but could not land the helicopter.

He then let me off at the nearest 23d RCT unit, which was several miles from my destination. It was there that I joined a detail of soldiers that was carrying rations to the first battalion on the mountain’s peak. This is why I am shown having rations loaded on my back, “before moving up front.”

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