combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2005

Friendly Fire: September 1950
excerpted from Invisible Scars

We have now been in Korea for more than three months and the end does not appear to be in sight. The North Koreans have pushed us into a relatively small corner on the southeastern coast of South Korea.

Our defensive lines are not well defined and there seems to be fighting all over the place. Company F of the 27th Infantry Regiment has been very fortunate, with our casualty count relatively low, compared to other units. I strongly believe this is due in part to some good luck, but mostly due to the capabilities of our experienced sergeants and officers, many of whom have World War Two experience. They are good leaders, set a good example, and have taught us a few tricks about fighting in a war. Yet, we all worry about what is going to happen next ... are we going to make it?

A couple of North Korean divisions have rolled down the west coast, turned easterly and are headed toward the port city of Masan. This is only a few miles from the seaport of Pusan, our major defensive perimeter. This advance has been accomplished with little opposition from our forces. Should they reach their objective, we have been told that the situation would be worse than Dunkirk ... a World War Two battle resulting in the evacuation of Allied forces from the European mainland with heavy loss of men and materiel.

Our division, the 25th Infantry, was pulled out of the Taegu front, together with other outfits, to halt and destroy the enemy, who by now were only a few miles from Masan. We did not set up defensive positions ... we went on the attack as soon as our recon elements made contact with the North Koreans and reported their estimated strength and location.

The area was mountainous and fighting was going on all around us. At night the sky was illuminated by artillery and mortar fire. We were surrounded by heavy fighting ... flashing three hundred sixty degrees. Our outfit was in contact with the North Koreans inside the Pusan perimeter. This was not a comfortable situation but our luck still held, and in the next two days and nights we had few casualties.

Daybreak of the third day found us near a road that led to a dry riverbed. We setup our mortars to give support to our company as it moved into position to assault across the riverbed and rout the North Koreans from a nearby hill.

We were waiting for our Forward Observer to radio a fire mission back to us, but none came, since the artillery FO had already zeroed-in on the NK positions. Suddenly, a shell landed near our position ... where we had setup the mortars. We assumed it came from the NK, but our Command Post informed us that the enemy we faced did not have any heavy weapons. Another round landed nearby, and we realized that this was our own artillery. Word came from the FO that he had two short rounds, and to stay down. He had called the artillery battery and ordered them to cease fire ... however, he thought that one more round was on its way. This one might not be a short round, but regardless, we should stay under cover. The round did come, but passed overhead about three hundred yards to fall near the dry riverbed. There were calls right away for a medic and men to help with the wounded. The short round had landed in the middle of Fox Company's Command Post.

Our platoon leader called two guys by name to go and give as much help as possible in evacuating the wounded. The guys called did not respond ... they did not move. He then called my name and Thomas. Without hesitation we ran toward our buddies who needed our help. I can honestly say that throughout the whole ordeal I was not scared, nor did I think about getting hurt or killed. The mind works in strange ways, and will automatically take over. I remember thinking that my buddies were down there and could be among the casualties needing help.

I did have a good buddy in the CP, Robert Hatfield. We had met at Fort Knox during basic training and attended leadership school together. We shared some real good times and enjoyed each other's company very much. We shared our problems and looked out for each other. When Thomas and I got to the scene where the round hit, we saw scattered bodies and heard cries for help. I checked a couple of guys and they appeared to be alive, but had serious shrapnel wounds. I kept looking for Bob. Our commanding officer, who was not seriously wounded, told me that my buddy was off to my right. I found Bob. He was moaning, his eyes were closed, and he was not talking. He was peppered with little holes ... spotting his chest, stomach, legs, face, and arms. He was not bleeding ... but I knew he was seriously hurt.

I called out to Tom for help in getting Bob up the hill where a medical evacuation jeep waited. The jeep did not come down to the riverbed because our commander was afraid that it would draw more sniper fire. Until it was mentioned, I did not notice the shooting but now I became very much aware of it! As we started to pickup Bob, an officer ordered me to get our company orderly out first, since he appeared to have more serious wounds. Tom and I obeyed, and under intense enemy sniper fire, we took Lighty up the road to the waiting jeep. I had to leave Bob laying on the riverbed ... with all those little holes, all over his body.

The jeep driver asked for one of us to ride as shotgun guard on the way to the battalion aid station, because there was scattered enemy fire along the way. So I volunteered to stay with him. Riding back from the aid station, I saw Bob passing in another jeep and I waved to him, shouting some encouragement, "Hang in there buddy!".

That night we heard that Bob and Lighty and four others did not make it. Both Bob and Lighty died from internal bleeding while the others died from more obvious wounds.

For many years I have not talked about this event. Anytime I hear the phrase friendly fire, this whole scene goes vividly through my mind.

by Milton R. Olazagasti
... who is a Korean War combat veteran, a retired analytical chemistry laboratory supervisor, a former translator for the Delaware Public Defender's Office, a certified soccer coach, and a National Referee Assessor for USSOCCER, now composing a memoir of war. This work is excerpted from Invisible Scars, a collection in progress.

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