combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 04 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2006

The Dike: August 1950
excerpted from Invisible Scars

Our outfit, the 27th Infantry Regiment, had been operating behind our Main Line of Resistance. This was called the Pusan perimeter, which was on the southeastern coast, and extended a few miles past Masan in the west, with Taegu in the center, and Yondok on the east coast. This was to our advantage, our supply lines were much shorter with reinforcements and resupplies arriving through the port of Pusan.

We were kept very busy acting as General Walker's fire brigade. Wherever trouble developed, and we were available, the General called upon us ... or at least, it seemed that way, since we were never in one spot for too long. We found ourselves breaking up roadblocks, and even in a few cases mounting counterattacks to plug up gaps in the MLR.

In early August, we moved into position to break up a North Korean roadblock that was creating havoc with our supply lines and inflicting heavy casualties on a convoy and Anti-Aircraft Artillery half-tracks. We were told that the enemy was still in position and engaged with our troops. We were attack and destroy the roadblock, take prisoners, free any friendly troops, and secure the area. Then, we were to pursue the enemy and take the high ground, attacking at night if needed, in order not to loose contact with the enemy. This was easier said than done, since the majority of our company, and possibly the battalion, had not trained for night fighting. To the younger guys, this meant little, because we did not know any better. The World War Two vets were very disturbed at this possibility ... however, we had our orders, and forward we went.

The area was very picturesque with wide green rice paddies on each side of the dirt road that led to and through a dike that held water for the rice fields. This scene was all around us. The temperature was over a hundred degrees with a clear blue sky above. We'd left most of our personal gear with the vehicles that took us up to the Point of Departure. This beautiful scene was marred by the sound of machinegun and rifle fire. The area near the dike and road spoiled the blue sky with dense pillars of black smoke.

When we got to within about a thousand yards of the dike, we could see vehicles on the road beside the dike, and all were on fire. Between us and the dike, we also spotted a Jeep that was overturned in the ditch. We had not yet received enemy ground fire, but soon enough, as we got closer, fire began to pass over our heads. This had to be from a high-caliber heavy weapon ... a machinegun. That's when we began to take casualties.

We had spread out away from the road and into the wide ditch and rice paddies. Our fourth platoon setup the 60mm mortars while the rest of the company started moving toward the dike by platoons in skirmish formation. This meant approaching the dike, where the enemy was entrenched, in a frontal assault through the muddy rice paddies. But, it was not an assault, since the advance was very slooow. It's really hard to move quickly through sucking mud. Our mortars could not fire, since we really didn't have a definite target, and friendly troops may have been too near the dike. We began taking more casualties. This frontal assault made us sitting ducks.

Our .30 caliber machineguns were now firing constantly at the skyline above the dike, hoping to keep the enemy down, giving our advancing troops a chance. We heard a call for machinegun ammo and I was ordered to take two boxes forward. I started running along the ditch where I could see our guys moving bravely forward through the rice paddies. As I watched, a few of our men were getting hit and going down ... some silently, others not ....

Suddenly, I started to hear the zip of rounds going past me. I'd been spotted. I kept moving forward, as close to the ground as I could get. Eventually I went into a rice paddy and was low enough for cover, avoiding getting hit. I saw the overturned Jeep and decided that it might give me added protection and a safe spot to catch my breath. I dove under the Jeep and was startled to see a trapped GI. I assumed he was dead and felt very uneasy ... it was the first time that I had been that close to a dead comrade. I felt that I had to get out of there as soon as possible ... I was scared. Strangely, I preferred to face the enemy's bullets rather than spend the time with a fellow GI, not knowing if he was already dead. My uncertainty and discomfort forced me to keep moving. I never learned his true fate. I regretted my action, or lack of it, to this day and for the rest of my life.

I finally reached the machinegun crew, who had run out of ammo. I stayed with them, telling a radioman that there was a GI trapped under the Jeep, and that I didn't know if he'd passed out or was dead. Using my carbine, I joined in the firing toward the dike. When the order came to move forward, I stayed with the mg team.

As we approached the burning vehicles, a strange odor permeated the air. I had never smelled anything like it. Still smoldering, the bodies in the half-tracks were burned to a crisp black carbon. Until that moment, it was the worst scene I had witnessed in my short life. Little did I know that this war had more in store for me .... I reluctantly stayed in this area waiting for my platoon to catch up with me.

In the meantime, I heard someone hollering for help. It appeared to be a GI waving his t-shirt and calling from a hole dug into the dike. A couple of our men cautiously approached and brought him back to our position. He'd been part of the ambushed party, telling us that they'd sustained heavy casualties, including several captured. We turned him over to friendly support troops and continued with our attack.

We reached the higher ground of a small hill and secured the area by setting up for a possible counterattack. None came. The next day we were pulled out for another assignment.

The GI under the Jeep and the smell of burning bodies has stayed with me ever since. And are forever, invisible scars.

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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