© Copyright 1996-2005
by David H. Hackworth
All Rights Reserved
The Wolfhound Raiders
I've had scores of requests for information on the Wolfhound Raiders that were formed and fought in the Korean War.
Here is an extract from Gung Ho magazine and two chapters from ABOUT FACE that cover the Raiders during the Korean War. I don't know Major Jackson, the author of the Gung Ho magazine piece. He wasn't a member of the Raiders while I was in it. There are several minor mistakes in the piece which is to be expected from most war stories written decades after the fight. Overall it is pretty good and will give the reader a decent appreciation of the 27th Raiders and the fine men that made it up.
The two chapters extracted from ABOUT FACE are far more accurate as my cowriter, Julie Sherman, had the opportunity to interview a number of Raiders and other Wolfhounds who were familiar with that fine unit. Julie is also an incredibly detailed researcher and a fanatic for total accuracy.
The Raiders were formed by Infantry Divisions across the Korean front to replace the gallant Airborne Ranger Companies which had been deactivated because qualified replacements couldn't be obtained to replace the casualties and those rotating home.
Raiders were the forerunners of the LRRPs employed in Vietnam. The
first battalion-level LRRP unit in Vietnam was the 1/327th Airborne
Infantry's Tiger Force. Their organization and employment was modeled
on my Raider experience. I was the battalion XO and the Tigers were
my brain-child. I merged the assets of the Bn. Recon and Mortar platoons
and formed the Tigers who were later merged into the 101st LRRPs and
subsequently reflagged as 75th Rangers.
Wolfhound Raiders In Korea
By Major John S. Jackson, U.S. Army Ret.
In the predawn darkness of 4 November 1951, men of the elite 27th Wolfhound Raiders (Provisional) silently moved up the forward slope of CCF Hill 400 in an unsupported night raid to surprise the entrenched Chinese communist enemy and grab one or more prisoners for intelligence purposes. With vegetation completely lacking from the upper portion of Hill 400 due to weeks of shelling, the alert enemy spotted the climbing Americans. Bursts of automatic fire and grenade explosions shattered the stealthy approach of the Wolfhound Raiders.
As the element of surprise vanished. the Wolfhounds immediately returned fire with Ml rifles, BARs, and carbines. Shouting out to the Chinese defenders, the Korean civilian interpreter attached to the Wolfhound Raiders was cut down by automatic fire and died instantly. Numerous Chinese" potato masher" stick grenades were thrown from the CCF trench-line at the advancing Americans. Two Wolfhound Raiders were blinded by grenades, and others received bullet and fragment wounds. There were no armored vests issued to the infantry in those days.
Rapidly moving up the steep slope, the 27th Wolfhound Raiders reached and entered the CCF bunkered trench-line which encircled the top of Hill 400. The point-blank night fire-fight now evolved into hand-to-hand combat. One brave Wolfhound, upon reaching the Chinese trench, had his spinal cord severed by withering CCF fire. Paralyzed, he used his body as a human shield to protect another wounded Wolfhound and maintained deadly fire against the enemy until killed.
Fanning out in both directions along the Hill 400 trench-line, the Wolfhound Raiders found the going tough. On the reverse slope, a CCP tunnel bored deep into the hill, giving shelter and complete cover to the defending Reds. From this position, a communications trench ran to nearby CCF Hill 419, from which Chinese reinforcements were hurrying to battle the Yank raiders. With his small command group, Lt. David H. Hackworth knew his assault force was in for a hard fight.
Committing his command group to combat, Lt. Hackworth charged the hostile trench-line. Fighting with him was SFC Fred Crispino, a former member of Mussolini's Blackshirts who deserted fascism for democracy. Crispino, twice awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action. fought furiously against the Chinese until seriously wounded for the third time. Hackworth, wounded in the arm, kept on fighting.
PFC Donald Neary. Hackworth's RTO, dropped his SCR-300 radio and entered the enemy trench. Spotting a Chicom firing a burp gun from a trench bunker, Neary rushed into the bunker unarmed. smashed his heavy fist into the Chink's head, and yanked the SMG from his hands. Pulling the stunned Chinese from the bunker, Neary slung him over his shoulders and headed back down the hill with a live POW from the CCF Special Duty Regiment. Other Wolfhound Raiders hauled 10 dead Chinks from the trench-line and rolled them down the forward slope of Hill 400.
Neary's prisoner attempted to pull a grenade from the Wolfhound's web belt. Neary tossed his POW on the ground, stomped him a few times, and reslung him over his shoulders. Once again the Chicom tried to get a grenade. The same process was repeated. Unfortunately for the Chinese POW, he was DOA when Donald Neary dumped him on the ground at the Wolfhound aid station set up for the raid.
Despite his wound. David Hackworth entered another communist bunker and emerged with a second Chink prisoner: this one survived for interrogation purposes. Enemy fire was still intense, and stick grenades continued to explode about the portion of trench-line captured by the Americans. Chinese reinforcements from Hill 419 prevented the complete capture of Hill 400 by the Wolfhound Raiders. Having successfully completed the mission of taking one or more prisoners, and with the approach of morning nautical twilight. Lt. Hackworth and his Wolfhound Raiders conducted a fighting withdrawal from the embattled Korean lull.
The 4 November 1951 raid on Hill 400 was the most costly operation of the 27th Wolfhound Raiders in Korea. Of the 33 Raiders making the assault, three were KIA and 24 were WIA, plus the dead Korean interpreter. At 8l percent casualties, it was a costly affair. Hackworth, Crispino, and the other wounded Raiders were hospitalized. Some would never return to combat, but not so Crispino and Hackworth. They would return to further distinguished service in Korea and elsewhere.
For the capture of two prisoners, even though one died, the Raiders were awarded two cases of beer in accordance with a policy of one case per POW as set forth by Colonel George B. Sloan, CO, 27th Infantry. For his outstanding combat ability and superior leadership traits, PFC Donald Neary was named acting platoon sergeant of the 27th Raiders, even though there were still five unwounded corporals in the unit. There were no complaints over Neary's appointment.
FORMATION OF THE WOLFHOUND RAIDERS
At the early phase of the Korean War, each U.S. Infantry division had an attached Ranger company. Due to costly fighting, many Ranger units were committed to line infantry combat where casualties were high. In many cases Ranger companies were broken down, with one Ranger platoon being assigned to an infantry regiment. Ranger replacements couldn't keep pace with losses. By the summer of 1951, the Ranger units in Korea were disbanded.
As a consequence, division and regimental commanders sadly missed the elite Rangers. In several U.S. divisions, provisional replacement units for the decimated Rangers were organized from gung-ho volunteers - many of whom were ex-Rangers or ex-paratroopers. In the 25th Infantry Division. a volunteer raider platoon was formed for each regiment. Having had the dubious distinction of serving as co-commander of the 24th "Deuce Four" Raiders and observing the 35th Raiders in action by my Sniper's Ridge sector, the honor of commanding the 27th Wolfhound Raiders fell on my shoulders, following the expensive 4 November raid.
WOLFHOUND RAIDER OPERATIONS
With the activation of the 27th Wolfhound Raiders (Provisional) in the summer of 1951, Lt. David Hackworth was carefully chosen to organize, train, and lead in combat this select group of gung-ho fighters from America's finest Infantry regiment. Organized as an assault unit with four squads and a command group, the Wolfhound Raiders were armed with an assortment of weapons. While not on operational missions, the Raiders were training --normally for the next assignment. Operationally, the 27th Raiders were directly under the regimental commander and the regimental S2 (intelligence officer). In many respects they were the forerunners of the LRRPs in Vietnam, except they specialized in Ranger-type raids rather than reconnaissance missions -- a task left to the Regimental Intelligence & Reconnaissance Platoon. Wearing their own special Wolfhound Raider insignia patch on the right shoulder, the 27th Raiders were granted five days R&R in Japan for successful completion of 10 missions. They were also granted authority to wear the Ranger flash for superior battlefield performance.
LIEUTENANT DAVID H. HACKWORTH
In Korea, the name of Lieutenant David H. Hackworth became synonymous with that of the Wolfhound Raiders. A born fighter and adventurer. Dave Hackworth joined the U.S. Merchant Marine at age 13 during World War II. Two years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army after dropping out of Santa Monica High School. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Corporal Hackworth volunteered for Korea to serve with the famed Wolfhounds. Rapidly promoted during the regiment's bitterest fighting, winning two Silver Stars and being twice wounded, David Hackworth was granted a battlefield commission in 1951.
As CO, 27th Wolfhound Raiders, Lt. Hackworth won a DSC and a third Purple heart, plus two Bronze Stars for valor. He stayed in Korea for the war's duration and returned to the USA in 1953 as a captain. In 1966. Major Hackworth went to Vietnam as a paratrooper with the 101St Airborne Division. After six year's of combat in 1972 as a Special Forces colonel, having won a total of 75 U.S. decorations, including two Distinguished Service Crosses, nine Silver Star Medals, two Legion of Merit Medals, eight Bronze Star Medals for valor, eight Purple Hearts and 46 Air Medals -- which makes Colonel Hackworth the most decorated soldier in U.S. Army history.
WOLFHOUND RAIDERS IN ACTION
Fighting along Korea's Iron Triangle base from Kumhwa to Chorwon, and often infiltrating CCF lines toward the northern apex of Pyonggang, the Wolfhound Raiders under Dave Hackworth gained an excellent reputation as highly proficient night fighters dealing high losses to the enemy with minimum casualties for themselves. Many of their night fire-fights were conducted at point-blank range, in one of them. Hackworth's M2 carbine stopped a bullet which would have otherwise ended his distinguished career.
It's not a simple matter to get a company of infantry and say, "You guys are going out on a patrol tonight to capture some Chinese prisoners"; the average military unit doesn't have the unique skills necessary for the conduct of successful night operations against an entrenched enemy. We decided we needed a specialized unit, for the specific purpose of conducting patrols against enemy positions all along the regimental front, with the specific mission of taking prisoners as a means of gathering intelligence and information. The question of who would command this unit, which we called the Wolfhound Raiders, of course, received a lot of attention, and I recall being surprised that the name of this young lieutenant percolated right up and everybody said, "Yeah, that guy is something else," and it was Hackworth.
George B. Sloan, USA, Ret.
Raider volunteers came from every outfit in the regiment, about four hundred in all. Colonel Sloan had not set a strength limit, but -hundred we did not need-our requirement was more like forty.
Other than the guys from G and E, the volunteers were a mixed bag super gung-ho types who did not like trench warfare, eight balls a cunning topkick was trying to unload, bored troops just looking for adventure. We had little time to cull through the herd of would-be warriors--we were on a short fuse to get ready, with our first raid scheduled within a month--so I relied on a few of the former E and G NCOs (who knew what we looking for) to conduct the initial interviews. They quickly sent the jerks and thrill seekers marching; the best and bravest they sent to me. Crispino whom I'd made Raider platoon sergeant, sat in on my sessions with these, "first cut" candidates, and between the two of us it was usually easy to asses a man's mettle. For the times when it wasn't, Chris had devised a brilliant screening technique that instantly separated the men from the boys.
He'd taken the powder out of a frag grenade and fired the primer cap separately. Then he'd reassembled the thing, and now, as I interviewed potential Raiders, Chris would sit there playing with this dummy grenade. Near the end of the session, if I still wasn't sure about a man, I'd give Chris a wink and he'd "accidentally" drop the grenade. The safety pin would fall out and we'd jump back--horror and shock on our faces--meanwhile studying the guy's response to this "live" grenade spinning around on the floor. If the volunteer froze, we knew we didn't want him. If he threw himself on the grenade, we thought he was nuts (or at least suicidal) and we didn't want him either. But if he grabbed the thing and threw it out of the tent, or if he cut a trail out of the place himself, we knew he had good sense--he was a cool hombre, and real Raider material.
We were faced with the same dilemma a high-school football coach faces each fall, when every freshman expects to make the varsity squad. Probably three hundred volunteers were weeded out with our shotgun approach--a lot of good men, too. Some, the persistent, kept coming back and finally made it as we needed replacements. After Chris's and my cut, we still had far too many people, but at least it was a manageable number, and I knew that, as with parachute or Ranger training, more than half of these men would fall by the wayside over the next few weeks.
Training started the minute an individual was accepted. The first week was all basic individual stuff--how to scoot and shoot. My foundation was solid: Crispino, Costello, and Wells from George and McLain, Smalling, Ropele, Lipka, Sovereign, Bill Hearn, and Jimmy Mayamura from Easy were all seasoned combat warriors. The Raider NCOs taught most of the classes--all hands-on, no classroom shit--and every hour of every twenty-hour training day became a test in which someone was eliminated. The weak fell out, the strong made it, and by the end of the week we were down to sixty guys.
The second week was squad training. "Your squad," I'd say to an NCO, "train it." The men practiced ambush and counterambush techniques until they could do them in their sleep. The volunteers progressed from the basics to the more specific skills needed when operating behind enemy lines: how to cut throats, use a garrote, and toss a razor-sharp hand ax with pinpoint accuracy. Attitude, motivation, discipline, intelligence and common sense, Physical fitness, and the ability to think under pressure were harshly measured: more men fell out, and we were down to fifty.
The final week we trained as a unit, repeating, repeating, repeating until everything was second nature. Well-planned raids on U.S. and South Korean installations served as the final exam. I figured if novices could infiltrate friendly positions protected by armed and shaky clerks who'd shoot to kill, then operating behind enemy lines would be a piece of cake. When one Raider "patrol" managed to uproot and abscond with a thirty-foot flagpole from a South Korean Corps HQ while guards goose-stepped around the joint, I knew we were ready. We'd bottomed out at forty-seven lean, mean, and damn proud Raiders--the graduation exercise was a ten-mile run with full gear.
Colonel Sloan had given us a blank check. His word alone was the magic key to all the fat supply depots, and what could not be obtained legally we bartered, scrounged, or stole. The training had already paid off: stealth, plenty of it, made the Raiders the best hand of thieves ever assembled in U.S. Army. We knocked off tents, trucks, jeeps, beds, and even a complete operational field kitchen; we had enough rations and other goodies in our larder to keep a regiment going for a few days, including a bunch epicurean rations from the General's kitchen, which we scrounged while making off with two stoves. Nothing was safe and nothing was sacred; we sharpened our skills while improving our life-style. Life at our camp was good, and promised to get even better--and our Raider flag (a skull and crossed bones) flew high.
The Raiders' initial organization was four eleven-man squads, all identical in organization and equipment. Later, based on lessons learned and mission change, we would add a scout squad and beef up the assault force with a couple of LMGs. I decided that every guy could carry the weapon of choice, as long as it was automatic. The M-3 submachine "grease" gun was easy to get and, despite its weight and the weight of its ammo, was a favorite, but better still (if you could get one) was the snazzy, more reliable Thompson, which was in short supply.
The Thompson had been phased out of the U.S. Army after WW II. Chiang's Nationalist Chinese Army had had them for a while (before the Red Chinese kicked Chiang's ass in 1949 and took them away); now we were getting them back from dead Reds in Korea. Musical Thompsons. And since both sides were dug in and the war was no longer one of movement, the game continued, with combat soldiers swapping the weapons for firewater with noncombat types who wanted to play out the role of a tommy-gun-toting warrior. MPs confiscated the Thompsons from the rear-echelon commandos as unauthorized weapons, and because automatic weapons could not be sent back to the States as war souvenirs, piles of them were ending up on the floors of Ordnance depots. To the Raider way of thinking, this was a real waste, and Chris took it upon himself to make a deal with an Ordnance sergeant in Seoul: one jeep for his Thompsons. The 25th Signal Company graciously provided the jeep (when the driver failed to chain-lock the vehicle and pull the distributor), and the next morning two Raider jeeps bumped down the main road to Seoul to make the swap The ex-signal-Company jeep's paint job wasn't totally dry, but with its new Raider markings, it had no problem clearing the checkpoints where MPs were always on alert for hot vehicles.
Our little convoy consisted of Chris and me and Bobby and Johnny two Korean kids whose last names we never knew. Bobby was about twelve, an orphan, his parents having been killed in the winter of l950. He'd adopted me and the 3d of Easy when we were at Uijongbu; now he was the Raider mascot and had come along today to find out what was left of his family outside Kimpo. Johnny was a sixteen-year-old Korean chogi bearer who'd been with us in George. He'd followed Chris to the Raiders and was in his own words, Chris's "number-one fix-it man." Chris was virtually the Buddha incarnate to young Johnny, and the boy tagged along everywhere including raids, wearing a constant, lopsided grin.
The weapon swap went well, netting us eighteen Thompsons and several hundred magazines. Bobby's family turned out to be two very lovely sisters about seventeen or eighteen years old, who wanted to be Raiderettes. Chris and I figured they'd be great in the kitchen and even better with other housekeeping functions, so we quickly scrounged fatigues and headgear for our new recruits. I remembered the time in Trieste when the I&R had relieved a unit on the Jug border. We'd gotten there before the guys in the outfit had awakened, and we'd been amazed because, zipped up in their fart sacks, all the men looked as big as Paul Bunyan. As the camp came to life we'd discovered (and had been even more amazed) the reason the soldiers appeared so gigantic: as each sack was unzipped, out crawled not just a trooper but a Yugoslav girl who'd kept him warm all night. The platoon sergeant of the outfit explained that the girls were just part of the hill property" and now they were ours. Prazenka had said, "You can't break up a good thing, can you?" and let them stay, for a few days at least. Like the Jug girls, Bobby's sisters couldn't speak English, but they giggled and jabbered with their brother as they pushed long, black hair inside helmet liners and slipped lovely bodies into baggy green fatigues. Glancing at the girls hunched down in the back of our jeep (they looked like two green Korean soldiers on the way to the front), I inwardly thanked Prazenka for setting such a considerate precedent on that hill in Italy. In every way now, the Raiders were ready to go.
* * *
Our first mission, kind of a crawl-before-you-walk thing, was chosen our immediate boss on Colonel Sloan's staff, Major Willard Stambaugh the regimental Intelligence officer. Chink snipers were coming down from the hills before dawn and setting up in the flat ground facing B Company the 27th. By first light they'd be in position and masterfully concealed; they used smokeless, flashless ammunition, making them impossible to spot. The men of B Company were afraid to stick their heads up, and rightfully so. Our job was to eliminate the snipers, and try to snag a prisoner.
The role we were about to perform was one previously fulfilled by Ranger companies across the front, whose very raison d'être was this sort of mission. But as of 1 August, all Ranger outfits in Korea had been inactivated. One of the Pentagon-stated reasons for this move was that if there's only one guy in a regular unit squad who wants to fight, he's needed there to influence the other men; this same guy, went the logic, was the one who would join a Ranger unit, thus leaving the squad "bare of inspiration."1 It sounded reasonable from Washington, but it seemed like a big mistake for the war as it was. If nothing else, Colonel Sloan's urgency in getting his ad hoc Raider unit up and running within a month of the Rangers' shutdown attested that.
Our shakedown cruise began at dusk on 28 August. We assembled behind B Company, where I had a chance to talk to Lieutenant Jerome "Jim" Sudut, whose platoon we'd go through at dark. Good man, Sudut--World War II vet, twenty-six years old, a battlefield commission-really a stud a guy. Sudut's platoon was dug in along a raised railroad line that ran east-west along the Kumhwa Valley. Fortunately, the position's rear slopes provided good cover from the sniper fire, and relative ease of movement as long as you kept your tail down and moved fast. Unfortunately, there was patrol path going out. Earlier another U.S. unit had seeded the area knee-deep in antipersonnel mines without keeping a record of where they were buried. Their short-term protection meant only long-term agony for subsequent units, who had to find uncharted mines the hard way. It was a problem that had confronted infantry since the introduction of mines, and now it was ours.
When it was dark Sudut guided us to the edge of his wire and wished us good luck. "I'll have you know, Hackworth, I volunteered for your job," he said. It had turned cold; I hadn't brought my field jacket and Sudut took off his, insisting that I wear it. "There'll be coffee waiting for you in the morning," he added. I gratefully slipped on the jacket and eased out into the darkness.
Crispino and I swapped turns at the lead. It was good to work with him again. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed him since I'd gone to Easy three months before. Chris had come to George in March, when the 8th Rangers (which is where I'd first met him) broke up. He was about five years older than I, but we had a great affinity. Destined to win two DSCs, two Silver Stars, and five Purple Hearts over two tours of Korea ("I don't fuck around with the small change," he'd say, years later, when asked why he'd never won a Bronze Star, too), Chris was a first-class fighter and, from our experience in the 3d of G, one of the finest point men I'd ever seen. He was also the unit's lead singer around those inspiring "Closer Walk with Thee campfires. He was a really talented musician who could play anything -- beer bottles, spoons, whatever was available, but mostly it was his guitar. Chris also liked to gamble, fight, screw, and generally raise hell, which suited me right down to the ground. He was a great guy to have for a friend but not the sort you'd take home to Mother--or to an Officers' Club, for that matter.
A few days before this first raid we'd gone back to Kimpo for supplies We had a little time to kill, so we thought we'd get a drink and some decent food while we waited. But Chris, an NCO, couldn't get into the Officers Club; the only way around it was to give him a phony commission. I took an extra insignia out of my pocket and pinned it on him. "Just do what I do, Chris" I said. "They'll never know." That got us into the club. We had a few drinks at the bar and then sat down to eat.
Now, when a waitress asks, "Would you like mushrooms on your steak?" the average guy might say, "Yeah, that sounds great." But not Chris. He was working overtime to be a proper officer. His response was: "Mushrooms [rolling his eyes to the ceiling] . . . ah, yes . . . mushrooms. Yes I do believe mushrooms would be just fine. Thank you so very much, miss and would you mind terribly bringing us another bottle of that most delightful red?" I could not believe my ears (nor could the Korean waitress who probably spoke ten words of English), and I couldn't wait to get him out of that club so I could bust his ass back to sergeant.
Well, neither of us is a proper officer now, I thought, creeping along through the dark. After almost a year of combat each and a big chunk of it together, here we were still leading patrols, still playing point man still probing through minefields. We had little choice about the minefields. Few Raiders as yet were trained for this kind of work (let alone when it was black as a coal digger's ass), and it was not a job to delegate to green guys. Even combat engineers got spooked by the task, and that was after training, and in daylight conditions.
The first mine disarmed was a Bouncing Betty on a trip wire, but there were others to contend with, too--pressure types, which were the worst, those mean little bastards with small pins barely sticking out of the ground. We crawled on hands and knees, clearing the area to our direct front, then carefully sweeping one hand in a long, slow arc. If a wire was found it would be followed to the mine; the mine would be disarmed and set aside. If no wire was found, then we'd probe with trench knives. Anything solid would be dug up; sometimes we'd sweat out a rock and sometimes it was real thing. After "all clear," we would crawl another yard and repeat the process. I didn't need Sudut's jacket now. I was soaking wet.
The day before, I'd conducted my first aerial recon. We'd overflown the patrol route just once, and the path I'd seen coming off one particular hill confirmed Sudut's suspicions that the snipers were operating from a knob to the west of Hill 1062. To a groundpounder, seeing the battlefield from the air had added a tremendous new perspective, but the whole time up there I couldn't help thinking there must be better ways of spending an afternoon than flying over enemy lines in a canvas-and-aluminum shell with a lawn-mower motor. I didn't like it. At least on the ground I could always find a hole. Up there I felt altogether too vulnerable.
But there must be better ways of spending a night, too, I thought, when we finally finished clearing the minefield. It had taken three hours to cut through that uncharted maze of death. We'd cleared ten mines and my gut ached as if I'd done a thousand sit-ups. It wasn't work to keep you young.
We high-stepped through tall grass--a silent, single file of ghostly night marauders, now a mile behind Chinese lines-toward the ambush site; a spot where the path I'd seen from the air intersected a well-used north-south trail. As we set up our killing zone we found horseshit, no more than twenty-four hours old. When the Chinese first came into the war, they'd used horses in Genghis Khan-like, sword-swinging cavalry attacks. Since then, many of their horses had gone wild (in George Company we'd captured a few riderless beasts ourselves, but with nothing for them to eat on the bare winter's ground, after a few days we'd let them go); the ones the Chinese had managed to hold on to (or had infiltrated throughout the year) were for the sole purpose of resupply. So the horseshit on the trail was a good sign: most likely, we were going to have visitors.
We waited--forty-seven men, including rear and flank security--lying prone in a killing zone about one hundred yards long. Our weapons were on full automatic with safeties off; grenade pins were straightened, too. All the Raiders were connected to one another by way of a thin wire running from hand to hand. Three quick pulls on the wire meant ENEMY, then one pull for each joker entering the gauntlet. I was in the center of the ambush. I'd trigger it with a blast from my submachine gun only when the fish were well into the net, with Don Neary, my RTO, simultaneously firing a hand flare. Our SOP then called for each Raider to fire one mag, toss two grenades, and pour in another mag.
After three hours of waiting, the only blood drawn was our own: the ambush site was in mosquito country--big mosquito country. None of us used repellent (Chinks could smell it as easily as after-shave, soap, tobacco, and toothpaste); we couldn't slap at them (noises traveled loud and far at night). So we waited and reluctantly contributed our blood. I was well protected. Jim Sudut was a giant of a man, and his jacket was like a tent. I could almost crawl up into it. A lot of the guys who, like me, hadn't thought they'd need their field jackets were not so lucky, but just as they'd set up the ambush, now they were maintaining it like pros, despite the thousands of little stinging bites on hands, faces, and necks. We made no contact. The mosquitoes finally won by a TKO -- we had to get home by daybreak.
We saddled up and took a different route back to avoid the possibility of a Chink ambush along the path we had taken out. We had about four hundred yards to go when the sun started to peek its nose out of the eastern sky. Chris was leading and I told him to pick up the pace. Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. He slowly turned and whispered in my ear, "I smell gooks."
I took a long sniff. "Chris, you're hallucinating. There are no gooks here."
He insisted, "No, I smell them. They're around here somewhere."
The sun was really starting to make its move now. I had the monkey on my back--we had to return to our lines in a hurry or we'd get the shit chopped out of us in the middle of no-man's-land. No one had told me the Raiders' maiden voyage was code-named "Titanic." "Let's get the hell out of here," I whispered.
Good soldier Crispino started off again with me breathing fire down his neck. He took one more step. "Look, Hack, they're here. I smell 'em no shit."
"Chris, get behind me, I'll take the point."
I had taken no more than five steps when I heard a metallic click. I knew the sound: a bolt going back on a weapon. A fraction of a second later little red flames licked out of the darkness from a distance of five feet--slugs leaving a Chinese burp gun. I felt the slugs smashing into my stomach even before I heard the report. I hosed down the flames with a long burst of .45-caliber slugs, simultaneously jumping to the right and hitting the deck. The Raiders took up their antiambush positions automatically, as I tossed two grenades while spraying another mag. After one more grenade I charged the ambush, blasting away. Steve Prazenka, look out--you taught me well. Moments later, six dead Chinamen were stretched out in the tall grass. But Chris was also down, and very still, about five feet away. It was light enough now that I could see his head was covered with blood.
I felt sick as I slowly turned him over. Chris looked up at me with vacant eyes. Then, slowly, a sly, mischievous grin crossed his face. "See, Hack told you I smelled 'em," he said.
And the enemy did smell. "Having a nose" for trouble on the battlefield, for contact, was not just an instinctive thing. Particularly at night: smells seemed to carry as far as sound in the darkness. The Chinese had a smell of rice and garlic, a putrid, unmistakable odor that started the adrenaline flowing with the first whiff. Curiously, the intelligence value of the enemy's smell seemed apparent only to the troops on the ground; the rear-echelon commandos took little stock in it, as evidenced by a story Phil Gilchrist told me some time later.
After Phil won his DSC, he'd been moved to Division as the assistant Operations officer. He was in the division tactical operations center (TOC) when I once reported--through Regiment--that my Raider patrol was close to the enemy because we could smell them. According to Gilchrist, the boys at Division thought this was funny and asked one another, "Just how many can he smell?" Phil (who was the only one there who had smelled the enemy on a night patrol) kept his mouth shut, having learned long before, in his own words, that "the last thing a combat officer can do is intrude up the ruminations of the nonfighting elite of the Army." Was it any wonder then, that the average U.S. fighting man in Korea was sent into the field smelling like the corner drugstore? Of course, I wouldn't let the Raiders that way; we went as natural as Tarzan in the jungle. It didn't bother me if our aroma wouldn't have set well with the folks back home; I was concerned about the Chinese. After all, their enemy smelled, too.
When I realized Chris wasn't dead and there was no chance of him dying I had another look at the dead Chinks. They looked like an FO team, but a number of them were armed with SKSs. They had not set up yet, but looked as though they were just going into position when we surprised them by coming up from behind. Their mission had probably been to put a little heat on the main line with some well-directed H&I fire and selective sniping. Well, not this time, I thought. It was broad daylight by the time we scooped up their radio, weapons, and papers and made tracks to the cut in B Company's wire. When we arrived, Sergeant Costello, another G Company stud who'd also served in the 8th Rangers, loaded the Raiders on our waiting trucks and took them home. Sudut took Chris and me to his CP so the doc could go to work.
I felt no pain. Hell, I should be dying with multiple slugs in the gut, I thought, but except for my hands, which were covered with small wounds and swelling to the size of mini baseball gloves, there was no blood gushing from anywhere. Doe Brakeman said, "Lie down here, Lieutenant, and let me have a look."
I glanced over at Chris. He was kneeling a few feet away, drinking the steaming hot coffee Jim had promised (and which I wasn't allowed to have with my gut wound). He was a casting director's dream, old Crispino-the wounded warrior, blood still dripping down the side of his face. "No, no, doc, don't worry about me. Take care of Crispino. Take care of the enlisted swine. The doc went over to Crispino. Chris said, "Oh, no, doc! I'm just a lowly enlisted man. Take care of the officer. The officer is far more important. We EM can always be replaced." We continued playing the game, ricocheting poor, confused Doc Brakeman back and forth. The doc didn't really know us yet and couldn't understand our warped sense of humor. Finally he gave up trying, and took care of Chris.
It turned out his wounds were not serious--they just bled like hell. One slug had clipped his earlobe and the other had grazed his skull like a razor slash. By the looks of things, the Chinese gunner must have panicked. He hadn't held his weapon down, and the recoil had lifted the fire from my gut to Chris's head to the stars. But we were just damn lucky the Chinaman wasn't a pro. He could have cut both of us in half and done some serious damage to the Raider column, too.
Then it was my turn. But when the doc laid me down and cut open the side of my jacket, he found no wound. He unbuttoned the jacket and pulled back the other clothes. There was no blood, no nothing. I had small cuts and lots of steel splinters all over my face, neck, chest, and the backs of my hands, but no bullet holes. But I'd been hit in the gut--I knew it--unless I was the one who'd been hallucinating.
It was time to call it a night. We said good-bye to Sudut and his gang, and gave them a couple of SKS rifles for their hospitality. Between my blood and Doc Brakeman's knife, the jacket Sudut had loaned me was pretty well done for; I promised to send him a new one with something fluid in the pocket. But I never saw him again. He was killed two weeks later leading a platoon attack against a firmly entrenched enemy position. When his body was found, there were half a dozen or so enemy dead scattered all around him in the trench. The lieutenant had run out of ammo but not out of fight: the last of the enemy defenders had been killed with Sudut's trench knife.*
* Sudut was awarded the Medal of honor, posthumously, for this action.
The doc at the regimental aid station patched us up properly. Chris would be down for a few weeks, but my wounds were superficial, nothing that couldn't be fixed with a few shots of penicillin, Tennessee whiskey, and some deft strokes with a scalpel to get the steel out. An easy Purple Heart, but I still couldn't understand it.
My next stop was Regimental S-2. Major Stambaugh had set up his Intelligence shop in a large, sandbagged general-purpose (GP) tent surrounded by concertina wire in the Regimental Headquarters complex. I placed my weapon on the table out front, following SOP: magazine out, bolt back, weapon on safety (too many well-armed clerks had blasted each other with "unloaded" firearms inside tents), and went inside. With Stambaugh I covered everything that happened after we crossed the LD: the minefield, the terrain, the vegetation, the horseshit, the smells, the noises, the contact. At the end, in passing, I told the Major how certain I was about getting in the gut. He jokingly suggested that I'd "gone Asiatic," whatever that meant, and I left, picking up my weapon on the way out. But when I flipped the grease gun over to close the bolt and insert the magazine, there, staring up at me, was a jagged hole the size of a fifty-cent piece. So I wasn't crazy; I had been hit, and the steel splinters were bits and pieces from my all-metal M-3. I couldn't resist running back into Major Stambaugh's tent so he could have a look at it. He told me to go home and get some sleep.
Dell Evans heard I'd been hit, and he came to visit the Raider camp later that morning, to check on friends and get the full scoop. He disassembled my damaged weapon, and upon examination we saw that three slugs had ripped through the trigger housing assembly. The slugs had gone through the oil thong case, then through the bolt retracting mechanism, and smashed into, but not penetrated, the other wall--the wall that was against my gut. My weapon was an M-3 Al, modified with a recess in the bolt to draw it back; the retracting mechanism had been made redundant by this modification, and shouldn't even have been there. So it was almost though some thoughtful Ordnance man had left it in, somehow knowing that it would be perfect to slow down three 9-mm Communist slugs, and thus save my life.
Chris managed to get out of the hospital early. I think he was worried that I, of all people, would take advantage of living alone in our tent with the two lovely Raiderettes (who'd gotten tired of the full-time Army life, but who visited on occasion). The thought had not crossed my mind, because Costello had moved in with me as acting platoon sergeant while Chris away.
Costello was actually on his way home, through normal rotation. Because his days were numbered, I wanted to be sure he experienced the best of Raider life, and on one particularly hot day between the early raids, I was dismayed to find him stretched out on his rack, sleeping. I woke him up. "Costello, let's go for a swim."
"Fuck that," he mumbled. "I want to sleep." He was wearing only a pair of GI shorts, and his cock was hanging out his fly and down between his legs. I couldn't resist. I grabbed my little patrol pistol, a 9-mm Beretta, off the top of a nearby field desk and pointed it at his cock.
"Costello, I'll blow your cock off if you don't get out of that sack and come with me."
Costello knew I'd pulled the clip and emptied the thing upon returning from the previous raid, so he told me to get fucked. I took careful aim and squeezed. BANG. The son of a bitch was loaded. The slug missed Costello's dick by an inch and blew a hole in his air mattress. I don't know who was more shocked as we both watched his bed slowly deflate--but he did go swimming. I doubt I've ever seen anyone happier to rotate home. Jack Speed--my favorite Tennessee wheeler-dealer and, at twenty-three, the oldest Raider besides Chris--took Costello's place, and watched me like a hawk.
By the time Chris got back, the Raiders had completed six successful missions with no casualties, save on the first one. The tasks had been varied and chosen by Major Stambaugh according to Intelligence needs; all required stealth and skill, but not every one required the full Raider force. We only took as many men as needed to do the job, be it taking a prisoner for interrogation, getting enemy uniforms for line crossers, raiding an outpost--whatever the S-2 assigned to us--and from each raid we learned more and got better. The missions gradually became more difficult, taking us farther and farther behind enemy lines, or into territory so hot it might take five hours to crawl a hundred yards. Advanced training was dictated by mission requirements, and anyone with experience shared in the teaching (like Costello and Crispino, who'd both been Ranger-trained at Benning, and McLain--who, in some hard Pacific fighting, had taken shrapnel from a Jap round right in the face--and his fellow Texan, "Tex" Carvin, who were both WW II ex-Marines). My own "snooping and pooping" I&R experience was invaluable, too, and we'd all sit around and discuss techniques, the old pros adding much to the ever-growing repertoire of Raider tricks.
With Chris's return came a mission to destroy four caves burrowed into the side of a hill deep behind enemy line--what aerial photos and the Intelligence "experts" suspected to be a supply depot. Artillery had already tried to close the place down, with zero effect; tac air couldn't get in there at all, because the Chinese had too many automatic weapons on Hill 1062, which fired on the aircraft. Our mission was simply to blow the caves and return. It sounded easy, but it wasn't--few of them were. We had to slip through the main Chinese defensive line, make it through real bad country before we even got to the caves, then blow them up and get out as if nothing had happened-all in exactly ten hours. It was not much time.
During an aerial recon (the uneasiness I'd felt during the first one had passed, and now I requested them whenever possible), I found the simplest" way to make the raid. Many trails and secondary roads crisscrossed the area around the objective, and a large creek ran almost to the caves. We'd wade up the center of that creek; it would cover any noise and simplify navigation. I would take only two squads into the objective area: Mayamura's scouts to get us there, and David Forte's demolitions people. We took lethal packages of plastic explosives (C-4) and, in addition, each Raider carried two thermite grenades. I figured if we didn't blow them up, we'd burn them out.
We registered artillery concentrations along our route, and for two nights before the raid, the gunners hammered away. We'd use them during the raid, too. The noise would help cover our movement, and the flying steel might encourage the enemy to stay in their holes. Another benefit was that the guns would be warm and gunners ready in case we needed their magic punch to get our asses out of a crack.
At 1600 hours, Raid Day, everyone was standing tall. The Raiders' standard uniform was fatigues or coveralls, and black knit caps and sneakers. Black was the order of the day as much as possible--our faces and hands, too, smeared liberally with the end of a burned cork. Loose clothes, dog tags, and anything that made noise were tied down with OD tape or held tight with rubber strips cut from inner tubes. Chris conducted the inspection, which by now was SOP: each Raider had to run in place, hit the ground, and roll without making one sound before he could board the truck.
We slipped through friendly lines at dark, and by 2000 hours we were behind the main enemy line. We moved fast, with Mayamura and two of his scouts far to our front. About a hundred yards from our objective we halted and formed a tight defensive perimeter. Jimmie insisted that he alone for a look at the caves.
There was no point in debating the issue; Jimmie Mayamura was like a cat at night-totally unafraid. We'd been together for four months in Easy and by now I was well used to his little midnight walks through enemy lines. I loved Jimmie. We all did. He was a no-bullshit gunfighter, a samurai warrior who preferred operating by himself. But he was also a quiet unassuming first-generation Japanese-American, and he had this strange thing about rank. Jimmie was a PFC when he joined the Raiders, and every time I tried to promote him he wouldn't accept it. He was ready and willing to do any job (as it was, his role as squad leader called for the rank of E-6),but he just didn't want to be an NCO. It didn't matter to me, but somehow I really felt that after he went home (which was in only a couple of months) and got out of the Army, the time would come when he'd regret his attitude about not wanting rank. So without telling him, I decided to promote him anyway, one stripe at a time, and little did he know, but PFC Jimmie Mayamura was already a staff sergeant.
An hour after he had gone, Jimmie returned with the word that there was nothing in the caves, that they hadn't been used in a long time. There was also no sign of Chinese, but the main track was well used (with horseshit all over it), and north of the caves there was a rough wooden bridge that spanned the creek we had come up. Jimmie suggested we blow the bridge. It seemed like a good idea (we had enough demo to blow up the Golden Gate anyway, and it was crazy taking the stuff back), and besides, it was good training. Jimmie provided security while Forte wired the bridge to explode when we were sixty minutes down the track; we hustled out of there, and an hour later the bridge blew with a thundering roar. Whether or not we made contact with the enemy, it was near impossible to relax, much less sleep after a raid. It took a long time for the adrenaline to stop pumping; you couldn't just flop down and switch off. Most of us would go for a good swim in the river that flowed right by our little camp; we'd play on the beach and in the water, just to let off some steam, and slowly, slowly unwind. Afterwards, we'd pick the raid apart--lessons learned, screw-ups, and who should get his walking papers--over a mighty breakfast of steak and eggs washed down with beer. Then we might play some softball, and only around noon would we crap out and sleep for ten or twelve hours. By midnight, most guys were up again and a party would be rocking the Raider camp, complete with open kitchen, 190-proof on the rocks, and, weather permitting, midnight swims. It wasn't bad duty. We raided one night and had the next three off. It sure beat the hell out of hiding in the bottom of a hole on the front and having HE dumped on you twenty-four hours a day.
One evening, for some reason I wasn't in the mood for the usual "first night after the raid" roaring party, and hit the sack early. The rest of the guys got drunker and drunker and, deciding I was a party pooper, marched into my tent to tell me so. I was asleep; I woke up to find myself weaving in midair in the pitch-black night as six Raiders held my cot over their heads and congo-lined through the darkness. I told them to leave me alone, but the more I protested, the more convinced the troops were that I had to come to the party. Then one guy got the idea to toss me, cot and all, into the river. This course of action was hotly disputed (there seemed to be two knee-knocking-drunk schools of thought on the issue: "Leave the Old Man alone" versus "Drown the bastard"); meanwhile I just swayed in the air, listening to all this and contemplating my fate. I was about to do a parachute landing (PLF) off the thing when the conflict accelerated with the introduction of firepower: one of the troopers pulled out a pistol and started shooting into the sky. Scratch the PLF, I thought, lying as flat and thin as I could in my little cot, looking at the stars and wondering if I would soon be among them.
The water was cold. But everyone jumped in to salvage my bed, my blankets, and me. And the boys had their wish-I warmed up by the fire and joined in the fun, as the Raiders continued to party on through the night. War stories flew, and we were just a bunch of kids having a big old time.
At dawn on our second day off, we'd suit up and head down the road for an eight-to-ten-mile run. Our singing, counting, and shouting woke up the regimental rear-echelon commandos, and sweated out all the poison we'd inflicted on ourselves the night before. The run would be followed by two days' and one night's hard training, and then another raid. By the beginning of October our tactical proficiency became so sharp that I cut out all training except for replacements and rehearsals. To me, there was no sense fixing something that's already fixed, and there's nothing worse than an anxious overtrained unit. Besides, it gave us more time to improve our life-style. Since the Raiders were formed, logistical units in our vicinity had begun chaining everything down. It was, of course, to no avail--we had bolt cutters--but no one ever came to our camp to look for things. Maybe they assumed that the Raiders, the darlings of the regiment, were above all that. How very wrong they were.
One night the Raiders set up an ambush on a track in front of the Battalion, about a mile and a half behind enemy lines. My guys set up a small, four-foot-high ledge that paralleled and overlooked the track, on other side of which was an orchard enclosed by a long, rectangular rock wall. It was a perfect ambush site, and with Jimmie covering our rear with his element (on a small knob to the south overlooking the track), anyone coming down the track or through the orchard would have nowhere to run.
As soon as we were in position, we saw a Chinese squad carefully picking its way through the orchard. A larger force was following this point element and another enemy squad, much closer to us, was moving in single file down the track as flank security for them all. The Chinese were careful, and well spread out.
We let the complete group enter the orchard. Just before their point cleared the southern rock wall, thirty automatic Raider weapons began to blast as our ambush force poured magazine after magazine of lethal fire throughout the orchard area. Chris called in artillery and we had some harvest; the Chinks had no cover other than behind the small trees, and we splintered them with grenades.
Suddenly, we started taking machine-gun fire from behind the northern rock wall. It peppered along the ridge but snapped far over our heads. At the same time, Jimmie radioed: "Got an enemy force, size unknown, moving between us and your rear. What's happening over there?" I gave him the details of the ambush and directed him to take the force under fire--we were about to be outflanked. I told him we were going to head down the track and into his position as soon as we could shut down the machine-gun fire; Chris adjusted the artillery, and when it was on target we moved. We joined Jimmie's perimeter and waited. The force he'd engaged took off to the northwest (which was fortunate, because Raider enthusiasm and all automatic weapons had just about gobbled up our basic load of ammo). We took no casualties, but I made a mental note: in future, Raider SOP would be, per man, an additional two boxes of .45-caliber slugs, taped to prevent them from falling apart and carried in the jacket pockets. We'd never know when we'd need the ammo, and in the meantime it would provide an excellent armored plate over each lung.
Chris scattered artillery along the enemy's probable routes of withdrawal. We kept it crashing down around us, a warm (if somewhat noisy) security blanket, while Jimmie went to have a look at our own withdrawal route to make sure it wasn't blocked. Meanwhile Chris, Speed, a few other guys, and I snuck back to the ambush site to see if anything of interest could be scrounged from the enemy dead. Not even Superman could have escaped the amount of fire we'd poured into the ambush area, and we figured we'd net a couple of Thompsons, if nothing else.
The battlefield was dead quiet except for the friendly incoming. Only a couple of hours had passed since we'd sprung the ambush, but now, to look at the orchard, it might have been days. There was not one dead Chinaman to be seen. Not one. There were plenty of pools of blood, a lot of spent brass, but no fallen warriors. Shit, I thought to myself, maybe it didn't happen. The Chinese had responded that quickly to the task of pulling out their dead, wounded, and weapons. Our final report: one bloodstained, well-Pruned orchard. No corpus delicti. The Chinese were pretty slick.
A new outfit set up across the river from the Raider camp. I did not like such close neighbors. That's why I'd selected such an isolated position in the first place, far away from any other unit so the guys could let their hair down without complaints from sleepless rear-echelon folk in the wee hours of the morning. From the start, I'd also decided we'd have no hangers-on in the camp -- no fat logistics tail to cut down on our fighting strength. Raider personnel performed such secondary jobs as cooking, driving, and administration (like Jack Sprinkler, the Raiders' clerk, who got the job because he was the only one who would admit he could type), but every swinging Richard in the outfit was a warrior first. Now, suddenly our lean, mean crew was being crowded out, and I wanted to know by whom. Chris made a quick recon and reported back that the intruder unit was the regimental bakery. 'The regimental bakery officer, he went on to say, was none other than Lieutenant Barney K. Neil, who'd saved our platoon's ass back in April when G Company was overrun.
What the hell is Barney K. doing as the regimental bakery officer?" I wondered. I didn't believe it, I refused to, until an hour later when Barn himself arrived at the Raider camp. And was he down. Just one look at him told me how badly he was hurting, but it wasn't until we sat down with a bottle of hooch that I found out why.
Simply put, he'd cracked on the battlefield, in the same attack that killed Jerome Sudut. But no story is that simple, and the one that Barney K. related told me plenty. Only days before the operation, the stated purpose which was to straighten up the lines around Hill 1062 (Papasan-that huge thorn in the United Nations forces' side, destined never to be removed), the newest battalion CO apparently decided that Barney K. was too familiar with his platoon. The night before the attack, the CO transferred him to George (which was spearheading the operation in the morning) as replacement platoon leader.
At the best of times taking over a unit isn't easy. Before a big attack, it can be a horror story. No one knows you, no one trusts you, and it'd be fair to say the reverse is true as well. The one thing Barney K. had going for him was Master Sergeant Moore, one of the few black soldiers to serve in G Company besides Jerry Boyd. Moore had come to George as an AWG volunteer from some rear-echelon quartermaster outfit, and had worked his way up from rifleman to platoon sergeant in an all-white outfit--remarkable feat in a unit heavy with Johnny Rebs. Moore was a damned good man, but it was no consolation to Barney K., who, until that moment had been the longest-serving platoon leader in the battalion. In Korean combat so far, the average platoon leader lasted no longer than a month. Barney K. must have had nine lives. In ten months straight of heavy, heavy combat with Fox, he'd never once been hit, though he'd seen his platoon turn over, through bullets, at least five times. It was almost as if he was now being punished for living so long. The new battalion commander had used his eyes but not his head: he'd seen overfamiliarity, but had not taken time to think, to realize that Barney K.'s easygoing attitude with his guys came from the platoon's and its leader's mutual understanding, respect, and trust. With one order, the CO had destroyed it all, and my friend was heartbroken.
At first light the following morning, just as they were about to jump off, Barney K.'s new unit started getting the shit blasted out of it with Chink mortar fire. A 120-mm round landed nearby, a little too close for comfort, but Barney K. wasn't touched. Scared, yes, and ears ringing, but otherwise-physically--intact. But he couldn't take it. He told Sergeant Moore to take command and walked down off the hill.
Shoot him, court-martial him, or give him a medal--no one seemed to know what to do. Probably the powers that be thought he'd gotten a bad deal (which he had, like a jockey whose horse had been pulled out from under him and another thrust in its place just moments before a big race), so they gave him the job of bakery officer.
Barney K. stayed at the Raider camp more than he did at his place of business. All the Raiders loved this infinitely lovable Oklahoman. They knew what he'd been through, and that he was a good man. So they jollied him out of his depression and gave him back his dignity. Meanwhile I got the straight skinny on the Army I could expect to find stateside: Barney K. told me all about protocol in the officers' world. I tried to put him back on his horse, too; again and again I invited him along on our raids. But while again and again he promised to be there, on the night itself he never was. Barney K.'s bottle had filled, and only time would empty it.
The regiment was changing; the old warriors were fading out and new leaders straight from the stateside Army took informality and comradeship as signs of a loose, sloppy, undisciplined outfit. The irony of it all was that while General Van Fleet was telling the world that the reason for his Eighth Army's limited, large-scale attacks was that "a sit-down Army is subject to collapse at the first sign of an enemy effort," and that he "couldn't allow [his] forces to become soft and dormant . . . and slip into a condition that eventually would cause horrible casualties," his new COs seemed to be hurrying the negative process along by punching huge holes in morale.2 One captain, for example, introduced himself as the new CO of proud George Company by telling that unit that if he saw one man from the company run (probably referring to the bullshit "bugout" tales of the past April), he'd shoot him in the back.
Fortunately, we Raiders had a patron saint in Colonel Sloan-nobody, but nobody, messed with us. We had no visits from higher headquarters, no staff inspections, no checks to see if we were following regulations right to the letter. We'd get a mission order that said "Do it" and we trained and planned as we saw fit. We wrote the book for the sorts of things we were doing, instead of blindly following field manuals that didn't always apply.
Sloan trusted me, so I had total freedom to get the job done. I trusted my NCOs to help me do it. My guys trusted me to stand up and fight if someone tried to screw us over, and I trusted Sloan not to use us as a kamikaze force.
And it worked. The Raiders were the cockiest, most gung-ho sons of bitches on the block. The men approached each raid with superhuman confidence, knowing just as well that it could be their final journey. Last-minute wills would be drawn up ("If you get killed, I want your jump boots." "Oh, yeah? If you get killed, I want your knife and watch."), but the wills weren't signed or even sealed with a handshake, and since no one was getting killed, it was a big, fun game. Sure, you'd have gotten those boots if the guy who was wearing them bought the farm. But trust was what made the guy with the boots risk his life on the battlefield when you said, "I'll cover you"--he knew you'd keep him alive because you wanted him alive far more than you wanted his goddamn boots. Trust meant you'd risk your life for your buddies, because you knew they would do the same for you, and they'd never leave you dead or dying on any hill, for any reason.
"Trust" was a magic word with the Wolfhounds, but it was falling out of use a little more as each new boatload of senior stateside officers unload. Something was happening to the combat army of the past year, but I couldn't put my finger on it. The new people knew all the cosmetic stuff: how to shine your shoes until they gleamed, how to stand ramrod straight and click your heels at appropriate moments. I'd learned all that peacetime discipline in Trieste--good stuff, at times, but it just didn't go well on the battlefield. The yes, sir, no, sir bootlicking business had gotten into our Army through the influence of the British, the French, and the Germans, way back in the von Steuben days of 1776. We'd modeled our system after theirs, and the incoming commanders knew the routine cold. They' learned everything, except that combat is no place for martinets. The Raiders were a damned disciplined unit, no less so because no one called me "sir." I treated the guys as I wanted to be treated--fair, square, and honest; we operated on mutual respect. They knew I loved them, and they knew I'd never ask a man to do anything that I had not done on the battlefield, or wouldn't do again. So we called one another by our nicknames; there was rarely any pulling rank; and even when guys had a little too much sauce, there was no breakdown of Raider authority, or submerged hang-ups ticking away like bombs, waiting to explode when sufficient booze had been slurped up. Except, I think, the night when Chief decided to kill me.
All Indians in an Army unit seemed to be called Chief. In Italy, in the 752d, it had been Chief Robert Ventura, from Texas. This "Chief" had been my Indian Al Hewitt. Ventura was an old man of at least twenty-three when I was sixteen; he'd fought through Europe and the Pacific during the war, and I was in awe of him. With or without firewater he was a powerful guy. He could lift a Sherman tank's heavy engine compartment door single-handedly, or shoot all the bottles off a wall in a village bar (like in some Western movie) and not get caught only because the barkeep was afraid to even look at him. With his friend Polk, from Georgia, Ventura taught me old-soldier tricks, among them two vital uses for gasoline: one, to kill crabs (you take a shower with it), and two, to wash tank engines (you pour a fifty-five-gallon drum into the engine compartment while the tank is revving up). They taught me the first of these outdoors in the dead of winter; I'd never forget watching Polk hold a five-gallon drum of 80-octane gasoline over Ventura's head, while the Chief stood under it, rubbing and scrubbing the crabs away in the subfreezing temperatures. It would have killed an ordinary man. The engine-cleaning shortcut was not nearly as memorable, except in its potential: one stray spark would have blown the tank, its basic load of HE ammo,* and all of us to kingdom come. But Polk and Chief weren't afraid of that or anything (and besides, that's how they'd done it the whole way from Africa to Germany), and if I was going to emulate them, I couldn't be afraid either. So I wasn't.
In the Raiders our Chief was Chief Denny from Arizona. Denny was a great, powerful stud of a guy. He was a super soldier, an original Raider who'd come from 3d Batt; he was also the silent type, who never seemed to say a word about anything. One night, we were all sitting around in a GP medium tent having yet another after-the-raid party when out of nowhere Chief decided he was going to kill me, and the only reason I could think of for him wanting to kill me was that I was an officer. All I knew for certain was that I was sitting on the ground in the center of the tent, drinking and bullshitting and leaning against the tent pole with a canteen cup of Raider booze in my hand, when suddenly I looked up to see Chief swinging a pick mattock down on my head.
Luckily, the 190-proof had not zeroed me out completely. I rolled to one side, and the pick plunged into the ground exactly where I'd been sitting. It took half a dozen Raiders to wrestle the Chief onto a nearby cot; they tied him down with commo wire and left him alone until the next morning. When we cut him loose, he didn't remember anything about the night before. I certainly wasn't going to mention it, and even though we did lock up all the picks (to be on the safe side), nothing like it ever happened again.
Every weekend I sent a few Raiders back to Seoul for a little unofficial R&R. Besides the readily available pussy there (which kept the guys happy and out of trouble), Seoul was a scrounger's paradise. On one such journey, the boys brought back a full generator and lighting set in exchange for a few captured weapons; on another, one Raider returned with a large refrigerator, which he told me fell into his truck as he was driving past a Seoul Officers' Club in the early hours of the morning.
* Seventy-one rounds of 76-mm shells and thousands of rounds of .30 and .50 caliber.
But even with the essential items that kept finding their way into our camp, I was always bellyaching that we didn't have enough vehicles. We had three jeeps (one authorized and two hot), but more times than not they were out with some joyriding Raider, and never there when I needed one. The final straw came when I had to report to Regiment--a ten-minute jeep ride--and had to drive a two-and-a-half-ton GMC truck (of which we had two--one authorized and one hot--but that was not the point). What, I asked myself is the leader of the Raiders driving a truck for? Would Lieutenant Patton drive a truck? Would Lieu tenant Rommel? I was very pissed off. I tore Chris's ass: "Three fucking jeeps and I've got to take a truck. I want one jeep here at all times! My own personal jeep that no one--but no one--will even look at. Do you understand?" I immediately regretted blowing up at him, but of course would not apologize. None too popular that night, I went to bed early to do some hardcore sulking.
I woke up about midnight to the blinding headlights of a jeep, which was sitting in the middle of Chris's and my tent. On the hood and all over the damn thing were very mellow Raiders who'd rolled up the side of the tent and pushed the vehicle through. Chris stood nearby; I knew he was still pissed over the ass chewing I'd given him, because he smartly saluted and said with the utmost correctness, "Here is your own fucking personal quarter-ton, Lieutenant." He stormed out of the tent, the other Raiders in tow. It was all quite humbling. I had to get up, reverse the jeep out of the tent, roll down the side, and wait for Chris to come home to thank him. So much for pulling rank.
In the morning, all was forgotten as the Raiders' shared mission became to make this jeep our own. Chris had stolen it early the night before from the 35th Regiment's Medical Company; all 35th markings (bumper number and Cacti insignias) had to be painted over and our markings and Wolfhound heads painted on instead. Each military vehicle had a War Department number on it as well, and we assigned the same number (RAIDERS 1) to all four of ours, so if a jeep was stopped we'd just produce the trip ticket and no one would be the wiser. The only problem was we could never park them all in one place at the same time
In the Raider camp it wasn't too much of a problem, though, because we allowed few visitors. Besides Barney K. Neil, the only people who saw the inside were Raider volunteers, buddies from the trenches (like Phil Gilchrist, whom I'd invite to watch the Raiders train--I was so proud of my boys), or poker players. Poker was still big on my list; our games were frequent, with good-sized pots and big-league pro players brought in for the challenge. I won a lot, so I always had a big bundle to donate to Dell Evans whenever he came to collect. The consensus of Raider opinion was that Dell must have been a Mississippi gambler in another life--I could never beat him. Once I had him for a few hundred bucks, but given that he'd taken thousands from me over the last year, it just wasn't enough. So I persuaded him to shoot craps. Dell wasn't too interested ("Just two guys shooting craps, Hack?"), but he took me on. A short time later I was completely wiped out, and, according to Dell, still mumbling to myself when he pulled away in his jeep.
But my brand-new RAIDERS 1 was compensation enough for any other losses. The only other person who was allowed to touch it was Bobby, who loved it as much as I did. The two of us were like little kids with a new toy; Bobby washed it, polished it, and kept it shiny for his combat "dad," and in return, whenever I went for a drive I took him along. One afternoon we decided to pay Dell a visit at the 2d Battalion Forward CP. We picked him up and spun down the main supply route (MSR) through the 2d Batt positions and on toward the U.S. main line.
The battlefield was deadly quiet, as if the war had been shut off. It was a lovely sunny day, perfect for Dell to see and feel my new set of wheels, and he was suitably impressed. Then out of nowhere roared a P-51 fighter. It was in trouble; smoke was pouring out its rear, making a trail across the sky as the plane headed right into enemy lines. We gave chase as the fighter powered to gain altitude. Right in the middle of no-man's-land the pilot bailed out. "Let's get him!" Dell shouted, and we zoomed down the road. Within moments we passed a big sign that read "You are now leaving the Wolfhounds' Lair. Northbound traffic should be able to speak Chinese," or something like that, but we could see the chute opening and the pilot coming down, and we were so caught up in the excitement of this adventure that we figured we could scoop him up and make it back to our lines before the Chinese were any the wiser.
The first round smacked in front of the jeep--a Chink SP gun was firing straight up the road. I slammed on the brakes. We unassed the thing, and by the time the next round hit (behind the jeep), Dell, Bobby, and I were lying in a ditch on the side of the road in the middle of no-man's-land. Dell gave Bobby his steel pot; the kid looked incredibly silly as he sat there beaming out from under it. The helmet had enough room for two little Bobby-sized heads.
We had to get that jeep turned around before the Chink gunner got its range, but the road was very narrow, so it wasn't a matter of a quick U-turn. I ran to the jeep, and in the short lull between incoming rounds, went forward, then backed up, and then went forward again before jumping clear of the vehicle and hitting the ground as the Chinese gun blasted away. Forward, back, forward. Over. Forward, back, forward. Short. He was having as much trouble getting our range as I was getting the jeep to head south. Finally Dell and Bobby piled in and we got out of there. I don't know what happened to the pilot--the word was the 35th got him out--but I know my hot little jeep did very well on a very hot road, and one little orphan boy had not had so much fun in a long time. I can't say the same though, for me and Dell.
Night attack. We fell out, checked gear, loaded trucks, and moved--the Raiders were about to take their first hill. Ironically, it was the same ridge I'd raided with Easy on 8 August, which had brought me to the Raiders to begin with. The big attack, which had killed Sudut and knocked the fight out of Barney K. Neil, had pushed the main line forward as it tidied up the lines, and now the 8 August ridge was the U.S. front. It was strange riding down that road in perfect safety, seeing again the familiar landmarks--the bombed-out bridge that had saved our asses, now rebuilt; the S-turn in the road, where once stood a lone Chinese sentry illuminated by a flare; the hill itself, jutting up from the ground. The front line was still far to our front.
Since September the raiding business had gotten very serious. It was no longer easy to slip through the front lines and disappear behind enemy positions. The Chinese had wised up to Raider activity, and were countering with raiders of their own, and with damn good ambushing and observation teams. Meanwhile, regular units were slowly atrophying--as Van Fleet had predicted--in long, windy trenches that snaked from one side of the Korean peninsula to the other. Barriers, booby traps, and alert listening posts (LPs) now filled the little holes that in the past we'd virtually meandered through. The enemy hugged the Allied positions with their own siegelike trenches (they had to in order to avoid U.S. superior firepower); in some places the lines were within hand-grenade range. The war had become a contest between a modern industrial state and a regime of fast-digging primitives who had little but numbers on their side. Limited major attacks by both sides "to keep the pressure on" seemed to be the politics of the peace table at Panmunjom far more so than practice for the troops: special units like the Raiders were springing up all over the front to take up the slack and carry the day-to-day fighting.
So while Truman sent the word to keep casualties at a minimum and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Omar Bradley, visited the Korean front, and while the Pentagon recommended the use of nuclear weapons if a large Chinese attack threatened our forces with military disaster and the USAF conducted simulated tactical nuclear strikes on North Korean targets,3 the Eighth Army's I Corps' 25th Division's 27th Infantry Regiment's 3d Battalion's K Company's position had become untenable in the daytime, and the Raiders were on the road again.
But then came the sneer.
"There go those big, badassed, motherfucking Raiders."
Chris slammed on the brakes, whipped the jeep into reverse, and came to a screeching halt next to the loudmouthed trooper. It was chow time for members of the 3d Batt on the side of the road. The Raiders were going to work and we weren't in the mood for eating shit, especially the shit of someone from the battalion whose asses we'd come to save. The Chinese had dug a virtual siege line only a couple of hundred yards from K Company. Their manned spider holes made it impossible for anyone in King to stick his head up during the day without drawing a sniper shot between the horns. Our mission was to get rid of the whole shebang.
I grabbed my trench knife out of my boot and held it next to the wisecracker's throat. "Alright, joker! If you're so big and bad you can come with us." Under great protest the guy was pulled into the back of my jeep. I smiled; we'd just see who was big and who was bad.
Jimmie and crew slipped through King's wire at first dark. It was more like an ominous twilight, really--the full moon was so bright I would have canceled the raid except for the fog. McLain went with them. He'd be trying out our newest acquisition, an infrared night device, to knock off the Chink OP. The scope was mounted on a carbine, and McLain assured me (with the confidence only an ex-Marine Corps Expert Marksman can) that it was accurate to at least forty yards. We needed it; artillery would cover the noise of the shots, and we'd be hard-pressed to get past the OP otherwise on a bright night like this.
Next, I pushed our captive out of the trenches and told him he was going to lead the way. The guy became totally unglued. He cried, he begged, but I wasn't having any of it. I thumped him with my weapon and shoved him up toward the enemy hill. More Raiders slipped through the wire.
By this time Jimmie and Mac were far ahead, all set up. I was getting nowhere with the kidnapped, sniveling wiseass, and he was so damned noisy I could see he was about to become more of a liability than the lesson was worth. I handed him over to Neary, with the instruction to let the bastard go after the elements had reached their probable line of deployment. Still, I figured the kid had learned his lesson. It would be a long time before the old green-eyed monster got the best of him again. Might even make him president of the Raider fan club, I thought.
Three rounds of artillery smashed into the top of the hill; I didn't hear the carbine fire even though I was only fifty yards away. Sure enough, Mac had neutralized the two-man OP with two clean shots between the eyes. We'd hold on to that infrared device.
The hill was steep and void of all vegetation. We inched our way forward, slithering along like snakes, carefully shifting loose rocks out of our path. One careless move, one tumbling rock down this artillery-battered hill could mean serious trouble; it would alert the defenders to forty very exposed and vulnerable Raiders right in their killing zone.
When we got to the first Chinese trench, no one was in sight. Our artillery had driven the defenders underground. I covered "Red" Smalling, my old friend from 3d/Easy, as he poked his head into a bunker. At the same time, two Chinks came down the trench. Smalling gave both a short burst from his stripped-down BAR, and the battle was in full swing. But the Chinks had been had--Raiders were all over their positions--and the fighting was almost over by the time the enemy at the top of the hill began their usual barrage of potato-masher grenades.
While we were mopping up, Smalling got into a jack-in-the-box duel with one die-hard, burp-gun-toting Chinaman. They went at it for a while--one popping up, firing, and going down, and then the other--until finely, both of them popped up at the same time. Smalling cut the guy in half, but the Chinaman's last burst stitched Red right up his left side with half a dozen slugs. "Hack," he said (with Arkansan understatement), "ah'm hit." His left leg was virtually shattered, but he was still mobile, so I told him to go down the hill and Doc Brakeman would patch him up. "What about my weapon?" he asked. SOP in Easy was if you were hit you passed your automatic rifle on to some able-bodied guy (you don't want to lose that kind of firepower on a hill). But we Raiders had plenty, and besides, we were almost through up there. I told him to keep it.
The cleanup continued. We had a few casualties, mostly from grenades being thrown by a couple of hardcore jokers in a bunker on the reverse slope of the hill. Johnny "S'koshi"* Watkins, a young kid of about seventeen who was the size of a jockey with the heart of a lion, got a chunk of his ass blown away, and dear old Ropele had the tip of his generous Roman nose sliced off by a shard of grenade steel. I was especially sorry about Ropele's wound. He owed me about five hundred bucks from jawbone poker, and it was a Raider rule that if you got hit you were cleared of local gambling debts. I always hated to see good money bleeding off a hill.
Suddenly Smalling reappeared. "I thought you'd gotten the bell out of here, Red."
* Sukoshi is Japanese for little.
"Yeah, Hack," he drawled in his lazy kind of way, "but I bumped into some gooks on the way out. I thought you should know." He went on to tell me that after Brakeman patched him up, he'd been heading back toward King Company's position when he'd run into six Chinese setting up a machine gun to our rear, along our withdrawal route. He'd killed them all, but then, despite the fact his left side was almost paralyzed, had felt he should come hack to tell me. What a good man. After I sent Chris to deal with the threat (his force knocked off another dozen enemy and left a squad behind to secure our withdrawal route), I turned my attention back to the reverse-slope bunker where those potato mashers were coming from.
We couldn't use artillery because we were too close. Our own grenades, thrown blind, seemed to be having little effect. The only answer was one of Forte's bunker busters *. We'd just have to keep the enemy down and stop the incoming grenades long enough for the charge man to toss the thing in. McLain, that tall, brave Semper Fi Texan, volunteered for the job. Just before he walked up the hill, he hung his patrol cap over the end of his weapon and thrust it far out in front of him. The cap dangled down like a Lone Star flag. Mac turned to me. "Right out of The Sands of Iwo Jima, huh, Hack? Sit down, John Wayne!" Grenades--ours and theirs--popped all around him as McLain made his way up the hill. He set his weapon down, armed the charge, and spun it around his head like a lasso. Yahoo. He flung it over the top. Good-bye, bunker. Good-bye Chinamen with your piss-weak grenades.
infantry platoon from King replaced us before dawn. It had been another
good Raider show-mission accomplished, four friendly wounded and no
dead. Statistics say that for every three Purple Hearts there's one
dead. God was keeping his eye on us crazy young fools.