combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 04 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2006

Mixed Emotions: Winter 1950-51
excerpted from Invisible Scars

Most combatants, at one time or another, wish for that special wound, the one that is not too serious, but will get you out of the front lines and away from the danger and horror that is combat. We called it the million dollar wound. When this happens you can be very thankful and happy, or very sad but worst of all a feeling of being very selfish ... since, it removes you from the men that count on you, and need you the most. It also means that someone you are leaving behind has to take over the job you are doing, and possibly his own, until a replacement shows up.

This is an event that stays in your mind forever ... it happened to me!

The winter of 1950-51 had been extremely cold in Korea. The ground was frozen 2-4 inches deep. This made digging our foxholes with our entrenching tools almost impossible ... but dig we did! At times we tried digging a small hole to fit a grenade into to blow open the ground to give us a start in digging the foxhole. We discontinued this because it gave away our positions and our CO was not very happy with our innovation ... although I am sure soldiers had tried this trick before.

As we got closer to the Yalu River, at the Manchurian border, we had been kept on the move ... withdrawing and holding ... by the Chinese troops who had entered the war. We Allied fighting men were caught by surprise as we prepared to launch an offensive that was to end the war, and allow us to "return to Japan by Christmas" ... to quote General Douglas MacArthur.

We did not have the winter clothing, footwear, gloves and other equipment for dealing with temperatures way below freezing. The heavy snow made us easy targets, since we did not receive camouflaged gear until late February. We suffered high casualties from the weather, and constant attacks by massed Chinese troops. These were well prepared, experienced, and determined troops. Most of the ChiComs were veterans of the war against Imperial Japan and the Nationalist Chinese Governments. Their leaders were dedicated communist and military knowledgeable.

The Chinese soldier knew how to get maximum effectiveness out of his automatic weapons. They had several in a squad and were trained to pick up and use weapons discarded by our troops and recover those left by the dead and wounded. Their training and experience was much better than ours in such an environment, plus we had been trained to be Occupation troops.

The ChiComs pushed us south of the 38th parallel, past the South Korean capital of Seoul, across the Han river to a few miles south of the town of Osan ... where our forces had first met the North Koreans in June 1950. Our three regiments ... the 27th, the 24th, and the 35th ... together with division support withdrew. Withdrawal was executed, most of the time, in an orderly manner using regimental and battalion leapfrog tactics. We did manage to disengage the enemy south of Osan. I believe the enemy had also overextended their supply lines.

During these moves I managed to received some minor shrapnel wounds. After treatment at the battalion Aid Station, I was quickly returned to my platoon. This was not the million dollar wound that I would have preferred. However, I was grateful that it was minor, and also grateful for the four hours away from the front line.

Early in December I transferred to a rifle platoon from the weapons platoon, containing the company's organic machineguns and mortar section. I became the assistant squad leader with a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). I managed to find an extra automatic rifle, so now my new squad had two, which increased our fire power considerably. I must have been out of my mind to leave the relative security of the 60mm mortar platoon and become a BAR man. My new platoon leader told me that I had a good opportunity to become the squad leader since the present leader came from the field artillery and had very little infantry experience. Our commanding officer (CO) made him a squad leader because he had the rank of Sergeant First Class. Whenever necessary, I was also to act as squad leader. The assistant BAR man was Art Cisneros from Texas, who was with me most of the time. The squad got along just fine, and assisted each other as much as we could.

Our mission now was to consolidate our Main Line of Resistance (MLR) and to patrol in front of our line and look for the enemy. Word was out that we would be mounting a counterattack very soon. General Matthew Ridgeway was our new 8th Army commander. He had replaced a very capable General Walker ... who was a top notch tactician and leader. I believe he was responsible for saving the 8th Army during the Pusan Perimeter battles, and the tactical winter withdrawal from the Chinese mass offensive.

Since we had been in almost constant motion ... defend, withdraw, defend ... we had been kept very busy by the enemy and had very little time to take care of personal needs, such as, eight weeks without bathing, changing clothes, or checking our feet for frostbite or other damage. Once we were secure word came from battalion that our feet were going to be inspected by medics to determine their condition, as well as seeing to our other bodily needs or injury. I was the last one to be looked at in our platoon. I told the medic that I was OK ... however, he had a job to do. I took off my right boot and could have scraped off the sock .... to my surprise the big toe of my right foot had a black blister. The medic asked me if I had felt pain, which I had, a few days earlier. I told him it was nothing ... he did not think so and started writing on a tag, and decorated my chest with it. He said I was to report to the battalion Aid Station to be evacuated to the rear. I was glad and happy that I was going to get two or three days of rest, and a complete change of clothing.

As I gathered my gear, I passed my automatic rifle and pistol to Art Cisneros. He gave me his M-1 rifle. I told him and our squad leader not to get a replacement for me, since I would be back in a day or two. I waved at Art and to others in the squad. I kept my smile and joy hidden, knowing that they also needed a couple of days away from the front.

As I took the trail that would take me to the road leading to our battalion Command Post, I again waved at Cisneros and said "See you buddy.". On my way to the Aid Station, I was joined by another casualty whom I did not know, and who was not from my platoon .

I had said "See you buddy." to Art Cisneros ... and I never saw him again! Art was killed in action a few days later. He had taken my place! The KIA should have been me!

To this day all I remember is leaving our position and joining another soldier on the way to be treated at the battalion Aid Station. I have no idea, nor do I remember the events that occurred, until I found myself, alone, in a ditch along an unknown road more than 24 hours after I left my position to go to Battalion. I was aiming my rifle at a jeep carrying three soldiers coming in my direction. I blessed myself and decided to take a chance that they were friendly troops. I got out of the ditch with my rifle at port arms, hoping that they would accept this as a sign that I had no intention of shooting ... unless I had to ... even though I knew I did not have a chance against the three of them with my M-1 rifle. I had made up my mind not to surrender if it turned out that they were Chinese. The jeep was pulling a trailer with supplies. It was stopped about 50 yards in front of me. I identified myself, and was able to read the ID numbers and letter on the front bumper. It read: 65th INF 2nd BN. They were from G Company ... a tear came down my cheek when I asked in Spanish if they were from the 65th from Puerto Rico and they answered "!Si!". More tears. Shaking hands and embracing, and exchanging greetings. We all got very excited after one soldier said he was from Santurce and had graduated from Central High School in '46, the same school I had graduated from in 1948. They dropped me off at the CP of E Company and the First Sergeant said they would take me to the 25th Division clearing station at daybreak.

We had some minor action that night involving potential infiltrators. I had a good night's rest, and helped with guard duty for a couple of hours. At daybreak, I was taken to the 25th's clearing station, which was several miles away. I was questioned about why it took me more than 24 hours to get there. I explained what happened. The Officer of the Day (OD) was not happy with the difference in the evacuation tag time and my arrival time. However, my explanation was accepted, and I was told to get on a truck that was leaving for the train station. They gave me another tag that said: For evacuation to Osaka Army Hospital.

I have no recollection as to what happened to me or the soldier who had joined me. Everything has been a blank and I have made very little effort to recall those events. However, I do feel guilty, and uncomfortable, since in my mind I am indirectly responsible for the death of Art Cisneros. I was part of the chain of events that led to his death. Also, I can not comprehend why, with such a minor wound or injury, I was evacuated to Japan, and did not return to the war.

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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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones