Platoon Leader, Delta 2/5
With the backdrop of a flatcar of M26 Pershing Heavy Tanks, Lt. Sullivan and D/2/5 1st Mar Brigade move toward the Brigade's savage battles with the veteran PLA 6th and 4th Divisions in the Naktong Bulge region of the Pusan Perimeter.
Within a few days, Lt. Sullivan would be seriously wounded while knocking out a PLA Maxim Heavy Machine Gun, with a 3.5in bazooka.
Rejoining his company when "the scabs got hard", Lt. Sullivan would be wounded twice more: During the Perimeter battles, the invasion at Inchon, the fighting around Seoul, and the epic fight-out from Yudam-ni at the Chosin Reservoir.
Well. Guess this as good a time as any.
The afternoon of 7 Aug when we were on the road just a couple of miles out of Chindong-ni moving north, we were hit by fire from a rice paddy across from our right front. Since we understood that we were needed on the massif ASAP we continued to move in the ditch up to a ville where we had earlier been hit by a 40 man NKA charge.
Art Oakley (he would die the following morning), our first platoon commander, got to the ville first, and set up his platoon to return fire. He had a section of LMGs with him.
In the meantime old Eagle Eye had spotted where the fire was coming from, and yelled up to Art to watch my tracers because I'd mark first the flanks of the position, then fire two rounds into each of the three auto weapons positions I'd been able to pick out. In the meantime my crazy buddy, Fritz Emmelman, who had the third platoon and who was the only man in the company not in the ditch, walked over to where I was firing with my rifle resting on the road, and stood just in front of my right elbow with his binocs spotting for me. I had just about finished and was about to move out to get up the ditch to the ville when a burst of fire came in.
Remember, tracers work both ways. This wasn't the first burst, there had been others, but it was like 20 or so red hot marbles suddenly struck on the road, went over my head, but generally were centered exactly where I was shooting from.
Good shooting, that, and the machine gunner should have been congratulated.
Several rounds kicked up right in front of me, and I was hit on the left side of my helmet, with about the same impact as having been hit by a baseball bat when the batter had really teed off. This slammed me into the ditch wall on the west side of the ditch. I was momentarily stunned. When I came to there was a tall, skinny kid at my feet, face down and kicking in the sludge and water of that ditch and yelling bloody murder.
Then appeared Nigger Reeves like a deus ex machina. He flipped the kid over, picked him up by his shoulders and looked at his neck. The kid had a through and through wound that penetrated just behind his adam's apple. His eyes were the size of silver dollars. Nigger kept cussing at him and telling him he was OK, got him to his feet, shoved him toward the ville and the kid stumbled forward.
While all this ruckus was proceeding I was doing some exploring. I could feel my left eye closing, and blood beginning to flow down my face on the left side. I then looked down and saw a through and through hole in my helmet, which had rolled between my legs when I slammed into the wall of the ditch. From the way my head was beginning to feel it must have taken half the brain with it. I reached up gingerly to see what I would find, and to my satisfaction noted that my skull was intact. Later my left shoulder would become painful, but I've always believed that this had to be from either a piece of my helmet which was deflected or possibly a part of the copper jacket of the bullet.
My left eyebrow was sort of dangling, which is what was causing my vision problems, and minute bits of something had made a sort of mince meat just under my left eye for maybe a total of one square inch. What caused the latter? The only thing I could ever figure is that one of the rounds had hit right in front of me and caused tiny stones to hit me in the face.
Fritz Emmelmann didn't get a scratch, but would lose the back of his skull the following morning at the same time the other two platoon commanders were killed.
About an hour later I developed a pounding headache, and had periods of double vision. Worse, this began what I described as a sort of "Dream Sequence" where I really wasn't with the program, and this went on for about two days through the fight on top of that hill. I seemed like I'd be fine, in full possession of whatever had been bestowed on me in the first place, and then I'd drift back into la-la land. Many years later I was studying the clinical indications of depressed skull fractures, and my case, as I recalled it, was identical.
Had I a brain I'd have hopped on a stretcher and gotten the hell out of there. Hell, I had an honorable wound.
I've mentioned Wally Reid before, and how he was my best friend and the older brother I never had. Everybody loved Wally, he was just one of those guys. Anyway, when he was killed I was still back with my mortars and rockets holding the minor ridge south of the summit of the massif. When I did get to the top hours later, and looked for Wally's body, it was pointed out to me, and also that there was a Maxim laying on him from a distance of 50 meters or so.
The gun was extremely well camouflaged, so that from my position 75 meters from the gun I absolutely could not see it unless he fired. Then I could get a fix on him.
Remember, the NKA had smokeless ammunition. (We, the representatives of the greatest industrial nation in the world, did not. When one of our LMGs opened up it looked like someone had thrown an HC Smoke Grenade down beside the gun. Like the gunner was saying, "Here I am, come and get me.")
As the only officer present I had relieved Nigger Reeves, and gone out to look at the company lines. At that point I sent back for a rocket team, still down on the ridge where I had been, and it probably took a half hour to get them up. I passed the word that I didn't want them to come over the top, but stay in the Company CP area until they heard from me.
When I was told they were in place I felt the best chance of getting the weapon and a couple of rounds from down there would be to break down the 3.5 and have one man attempt to get it to me. To say that it was dangerous on that ridge is a masterpiece of understatement. Anyway, that's how it happened.
The gunner, moving from position to position, and there were lots of them, got the 3.5 to me and we assembled it in the two man foxhole.
Then who would take the shot? He was the gunner, but you have to realize that we got the 3.5s the day we boarded ship at San Diego, and got 8 rounds per tube when we reached Pusan and were told that there would be no resupply. I had ordered two rounds put through the roof of a building down to our right front when we were holding a ridge line at least partly because I wanted to see if the damned things would work. And those were the only two rounds we had fired. So, like in basketball, who takes the shot?
The gunner could hardly be considered expert with the 3.5, nor could I, but I had the advantage of having watched that damned Maxim for 30 minutes or so. Come to think of it (and I just remembered) the gun was first spotted by watching ammo carriers move to the position since the gun didn't fire unless he had a target. On the other hand, we were taking sporadic rifle fire on a continuing basis, and sustained bursts from several HMGs and LMGs at various ranges whenever they thought they had a target.
So I decided to take the shot. And maybe, in the back of my mind, I was looking for a little pay back for Wally. Now later there was a legend that got started that the HMG I killed was the one that got Wally. Don't think so, but that's not important now. Whatever.
I knew that to stand in that hole was certain death, so I found a place where I could just get 4" or so of the tube exposed. Obviously, given the terrain and the situation, it was better to load the round first instead of from the rear as the training films showed. Anyway, I took careful aim with my remaining right eye, since my left eye was closed, and got the round off. Very satisfying whoosh!
I aimed at where I reckoned the center of the tripod was, about a foot below where the barrel was. I missed, but thank God caught what I figured later was the upper right shield of the Maxim. In spite of the poor hit on the gun, the round threw the gun and a couple of crew members up in the air and to their left. There was a scurrying around in the weeds, although we could see nothing, and the rifle fire from the Marines poured into the area.
The NKA returned fire, and it turned into quite a fire fight. But only for a few minutes because every Marine on that hill knew we had to conserve ammo. So it wasn't like no one else was there to take the shot. I just hogged it.
The word got out that I had killed the MG and a story built up about me going out gunning to get the crew that killed Wally. Nice myth, but not true. This was even relayed back to Wally's widow and two sons by a classmate, John Patrick.
In the meantime everyone thought I'd been fatally wounded at Taedobok Pass. And that's the troop scoop. Just a selfish officer taking a shot after some other poor SOB had jackassed the weapon up the hill.
The following morning the 1st and 2d Platoon Leaders were KIA and the 3d Platoon Leader had the back of his head shot off.
The Company Commander was hit between the horns, and in his left shoulder by HMG fire. (In this case a shot in the head was the equivalent of a flesh wound.) The Company XO had gone down from heat exhaustion and did not recover until well after the sun went down. The MG Officer had been left behind to guide up the Army company that was to relieve us.
All but two of the Staff NCOs were down, and one of those two had been painfully hit in the hand. Many if not most of the Sergeants and Corporals were dead or wounded. That's what happens in combat.
So you could observe that D Company went from strong leadership to no leadership in a matter of a few minutes. Those officers and NCOs who had been responsible for D Company at 0800 that morning by 0815 had not been decimated, they'd been eliminated.
Lieutenants Oakley and Reid, so far as I could tell, were felled by bursts of machine gun fire and having been multiply hit in the upper thoracic area. I don't believe anyone at the time got within closer than a few feet of their bodies, and that was probably when they were first struck down. Again, I was not on the hill.
I don't know to this day if Finn, the Company Commander had put the platoons on line or had the usual two up and one back to go over the top. It was obvious that with the enemy strength to our front that the company should have stopped on the topographical crest, but I'm not going to criticize anyone because I wasn't there and know not what situation they thought they were facing.
Fritz Emmelman's platoon was sort of to the left (south) of the other platoon positions. The first time I had gone over the ground to see the positions we were holding on assuming command I had to see Fritz' body, but paid it no heed. It had to appear to me to be just another freshly dead body, and there were many bodies on that hill.
Shortly after I did the 3.5 thing and about the time I was going to repair to my air conditioned, upholstered CP area, not, someone shouted over that Lt. Emmelman was still alive. Someone had reported that they had heard him groaning. I only had one corpsman left of the three the Company had started off that morning with, and when I assumed command I told him that he was to stay in the CP area and off the forward slope or I'd shoot him myself.
Ed Emmelman was my old buddy, going back to our days in 1/5 in North China. We had gone to Guam together, and returned to Tsingtao together, had been commissioned at the same time and then been classmates in Basic School. We had then driven together to Camp Pendleton to again report to the 1stMarDiv. On the way I'd stopped for a week in Gary, Indiana, my home town, to be with my pregnant wife, and in that week Fritz had thoroughly ingratiated himself with both my family and Mary Jane's. So Fritz was a lot more than just a casual acquaintance.
I got myself out to where he was lying, face down, on the lip of a foxhole. It was a wonder that he hadn't been hit again just lying there for the incoming fire was at times vicious, and by that time he had been there for some four hours. As I eased myself into the foxhole that Ed was half in and half out of I took one look at the head wound and didn't believe that he could be alive. I put my hand on his shoulder and he was obviously not into rigor, as he should have been.
I shook him slightly and he said: "Who's that?" I told him "Sully. You're bad hit Ed, and we've got to get you out of here." He said that was OK but then told me he couldn't see and asked me if I had a cup of coffee? I told him no, and began to consider what we could do with him.
I left him right where he was, and used his and my battle dressing, a gauze pad about 4" square, to try to get a dressing over the hole in his head which was losing what looked like to me gray matter. I had to lift his head to get this tied, and he complained of the pain, which I considered a hopeful sign. When the single battle dressing didn't get the job done, I used his to attempt to cover the rest of the fracture. Then, what to do? I couldn't turn him because I feared the leakage from the back of his head would increase. Finally the Marine who was with me and I grabbed him by the arms and gave him the bum's rush over the topographical crest to the CP area. Once there the Corpsman tidied up my sloppy work on the forward slope.
The night before we had gotten an air drop on the ridge and someone brought up a parachute, and we put Ed in it face down. There wasn't a prayer of carrying him down that slope, so we knew that he would have to be dragged down on his face in that parachute. Ed kept moaning and asking for a cup of coffee. I told him that he'd get his coffee at the bottom of the hill, then gave him two 1/4 grain amps of morphine.
Now you'll ask, where did I get the morphine? All the officers had been in combat before, and we knew how often Corpsmen did the disappearing act since they tended to get a might careless. So we decided that we would all carry a 10 ampule kit on our web belts. And we did, and used them as required. And now you're gonna say: Didn't he know that men with belly and head wounds shouldn't be given morphine? Of course I did.
But frankly, I didn't give Ed a prayer of getting to the bottom of that hill alive, and thought to myself that the morphine might well ease him out. And no one who was not there on that hill at that time can be my judge. And that was the end of that.
Sequel 1: When I got down the hill the 1stSgt joined us (he had taken the Company Commander down the day before and not returned). This was a little over a day later, late in the afternoon of the 9th. The 1stSgt asked about specific men whose bodies we had not recovered and I gave him the best information I had. I then asked him how Lt. Emmelman was, knowing that he had not made it to the bottom of the hill alive.
The Top told me that the last time he had seen him was sitting up in a stretcher, drinking a cup of coffee.
Sequel 2: In September, 1955, I was in the bar at the Marine Memorial Club in Frisco waiting air transportation to Japan to do a tour with the 3dMarDiv. I was looking out the window and contemplating once again crossing the Pacific when I heard a voice behind me say, "Hello, Sully."
Turned around and there was Ed.
He'd retired in '51 as a 1stLt and had various diversions since then. We then began a two day tour of Frisco, and things had changed little since the last liberty we'd pitched together in Tientsin.
Ed went on to have a full career in the Indianapolis Police Department and long since retired. The last I heard he is beginning to suffer from the ravages of age, as are all of us, but in Ed's case more particularly his eyesight is a problem. The entire back of his head is a silver plate, he told me. And as I told him, "Ed, don't ever let anyone tell you that you don't have any brains, because I saw them."
Danse macabre indeed, but that's how Marines are wired.
A real dumb Swabbie once told me he thought injuries like the ones I'd taken then, and later, must have caused me to finish my career with severe physical impairments of different degree. But, no. Not really. I actually finished my career with a rousing, thoroughly enjoyable year in command of an infantry battalion and then as Division Operations Officer, 3dMarDiv.
I can recall one very hot day when my battalion was moving out of the Ap Co Bi Thanh Tanh area north of Hue to a new CP location closer to Route #1. I had put the battalion in a column of companies, with each company on a different route of march so we'd cover the waterfront one last time on the way out. I was with the Headquarters Group, which included the 81 mm mortars.
My pattern on breaks was to break out a canteen and walk to the back of the column, sucking on that canteen and exchanging pleasantries about the heat, the leeches, the condition of the feet, and the lack of enemy contact. As I regained the head of the column and the "Saddle Up" was shouted down the line I could overhear one of my NCOs say in a stage whisper something like this: "Look at that old son-of-a-bitch up there. If that old bastard can hack it you shouldn't be havin' any trouble."
Of course I wasn't packing a base plate, tube or ten rounds of ammunition, but rank doth have its privileges.
So anyway, you can't say that anything that happened to me in Korea slowed me down long term. I will admit that it took me until '55 before I really got going again, but maybe part of that was psychological. I don't know.
When someone asks me about being a three time loser, I always tell them that the Marine Corps has a system. Attend two wars, and in the third one they give you a really good job. And that's how I always looked at it.
Korea, Summer 1950