August 27, 1951.
"Again from Korea. Again from a mountain top.
Yesterday I took out a patrol. It was Sunday...a Sunday without services...a Sunday out in that troubled land that lies between two armies. There is no room for a church on our misty hill in this lonely land of many battles.
No, the day seemed only like a wet, slick day anywhere, and I wondered, as we moved down the slopes to seek out our enemies, why the feeling of Sunday had so completely deserted me. But the ridges, and the woods, and brush, soon pulled our bodies into a shallow sort of fatigue, and thinking became tiresome. We wandered far, under the fitful skies.
Then, a group of Chinese who had been waiting, opened up and shot our lead man...and we suddenly became involved in a short, sharp struggle of grenades and bullets. But we, at a disadvantage, had to pull back without our dead soldier.
Yet we knew what we had to do, and soon we set out again to risk much to get to him. This time we moved - not to gain knowledge, for we knew about our foe - not for ground, for we were turning back - not for glory, for we had been there a long, long time. We returned into a holocaust of bullets to recover the symbol of someone who had been so alive a short while before - and we returned in the hope that we, too, would be treated in the same way, were we ever there.
We set out, taut in every nerve, moving in a high-tension sort of way. I happened to look at the wet, bony wrist of someone beside me. He gripped his rifle with a chalky hand. Flesh and caution, against the savagery of bullets and sharp little fragments...
We set out...an intense group of men..under that terrible.. broken sound of artillery, and the snicker of machine guns in the bushes. Then, in a final, fearful second of confusion - in a second of awful silence, one gutty private crawled up, and with the last ounce of his courage, pulled our soldier back to us.
We had succeeded. We started back, rubbery legged and very tired...feeling a little better, a little more certain there would be a tomorrow. We had done something important. We were bringing our soldier with us. Then it was night, and the rain was soft again. We drew up on a nameless ridge and dug into the black earth to wait for the enemy, or for the dawn. The fog moved in among the trees. I sat for a long time looking at the end of the world out there to the north.
Nine months in a muddy, forgotten war where men still come forth in a blaze of courage. Where men still go out on patrol, limping from old patrols and old wars. Weary, jagged war where men go up the same hill twice, three times, four times, no less scared, no less immune but much older and much more tired. A raggedy war of worn hopes of rotation, and bright faces of green youngsters in new boots. A soldier's war of worthy men - of patient men - of grim men - of dignified men.
A sergeant sat beside me. For him, twelve months in the same company, in the same platoon, meeting the same life and death each day. Rest? Five days, he said, in Japan, three days in Seoul...and three hundred and fifty-seven days on this ridge! Now he sat looking, as I was, at the same end of the world to the north.
Nine months, and I am a Company Commander now, with the frowning weight of many men and many battles to carry. A different, older feeling than of a platoon leader. New men...I must calm them, teach them, fight them, send them home whole and proud...or broken and quiet. But get them home. Then wait for new replacements so the gap can be filled here, that gun can be operated over there.
There is much work to be done. I must put this man where he belongs, and I must send many men where no man belongs. I must work harder and laugh merrier...and answer that mother's letter to tell her of her lost son. Yes, I was there...I heard him speak...I saw him die. So, in many ways, I must write the epitaph to many families.
There is always that decision to make as to whether a man is malingering or sick...whether to send him out for his own sake, and for another's protection, or return him for a necessary rest. And one must never be wrong.
One must be ready and willing, always, to give his life for the least of his men. Perhaps that is the most worthwhile part of all this...the tangible sacrifice that an infantryman, a soldier, can understand.
I see these things still I am slave When banners flaunt and bugles blow Content to fill a soldier's grave For reasons I shall never know
Now it is raining again. The scrawny tents on the line are dark and wet, and the enemy is restlessly probing. It will not be a quiet night.
-- Lt. David Hughes"
David Ralph Hughes, graduated with the Academy's Class of '50 less than three weeks before the In Min Gun, the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) crossed the 38th parallel, to launch a massive, surprise attack against the Republic of Korea. For David Hughes it had been a long, tortuous road to August 27 near Chorwon, Korea, and he traveled it with a celebrated group of men. They were the men of '50, who covered themselves with a different form of glory, in "...the forgotten war."
Go onto Part 2 - The Fateful Class of '50
Return to Menu