This was no country for a modern, mechanized army

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachT. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War) what happened near the forlorn village of Kunu-ri:

The battalions and companies were scattered along the river in weird array, for this was no country for a modern, mechanized army. The hills were not high here, but they were endless. There were no side roads, and no flat spaces anywhere, where command posts, medical aid stations, or anything else could be set up. The hills ran into each other; they overlapped; they blocked vision and hearing in every direction.

Because the terrain was compartmented by the hills, some units stood too close to others; others were out of sight and hearing of those supporting them. Wire often did not reach; the ancient radios did not work. The units of the 2nd Division were not far from each other in yards and miles—but each moved, fought, and worried in almost complete isolation, in a tormented vacuum of its own.

Men who have never walked these hills will never adequately understand what happened to the 2nd Division. Because among these endless ridges the 2nd Division was brought to battle the day after Thanksgiving, 1950, and it was, in detail, defeated.

During the next five days every unit of the division, combat and support alike, would know its moments of danger, of fear and death and destruction. All would suffer, some more than others. What each company, each platoon suffered, is a story in itself.

Enough of the whole, perhaps, can be glimpsed from the ordeal of a few.


Because the fighting had lessened in recent weeks, because all believed the war was ending, the hard-won discipline in the ranks had lessened, too. Men had discarded their steel helmets, because they were heavy and awkward over their pile caps. Disdaining their use, most men of the 9th Infantry had tossed aside their bayonets. Few carried grenades, or much ammunition. There were few entrenching tools, and not much food, because in these goddam hills, man, you had to go light.

Because most men equated discipline with the infrequent nonsense of digging six-by-six trenches to bury cigarettes, or scrubbing coal bins white, practices the Army had wisely discarded, many men had discarded discipline, too. They — those who lived — would have to learn again that discipline means keeping a full bandoleer of ammunition and a full canteen, despite their weight, and all the equipment men wiser than they had issued to them.


But George Company had good clothing: OD trousers, with field cotton pants to go over them, field jackets, parkas, combat boots with overshoes, and arctic sleeping bags. They were eating good food as yet, and they had no real trouble with the bitter weather.


Chinese were pouring into the 2nd Division along the natural corridors by night, seeking the American rear. Where they met no opposition in the dark, they flowed through; where they hit, sometimes by accident, an American unit, they flailed it from all directions. Some, decimated and shaken, held; some broke.


In the first, shadowy winter’s light, Master Sergeant William Long, leading George’s 3rd Platoon, saw a body of men walking openly along a creek from the area where K and L of the 3rd Battalion should be. Because the troops moved in the open, with no attempt at concealment, the men with Long decided they must be Americans, and ignored them.

Warned by the sixth sense old hands develop in battle, Long kept his eye on the approaching men. They closed to within three hundred yards, and suddenly Long yelled, “Chinks! They’re Chinks!”

Quickly, men holding rifles and BAR’s swiveled toward the visitors. Long let them come within two hundred yards; then he leveled his own carbine, and let fly.

The first burst of fire knocked down nearly half the Chinese. The remaining jumped behind rocks of the creek bed or plunged into the half-frozen rice paddies. There was a small village nearby, and a few Chinese raced for cover among the huts.


Frank Muñoz and Long looked over the dead Chinese carefully; they were the first they had seen. The corpses were clean-looking, solid, muscular. Each soldier had carried a pack complete with entrenching tool, blankets, and extra ammunition; they had had a miscellany of weapons — American, Japanese, Russian — and plenty of stick grenades. Some of them had carried a pot and a great quantity of rice — their rations.

Because they had thought all the American line companies had been wiped out during the night, the Chinese had walked blithely into a trap.


Three big waves of Chinese boiled up out of the dark, hammering at George’s men with rifles and submachine guns, hurling dozens of grenades. Muñoz’s men needed grenades now, badly, but they didn’t have them. As the Chinese poured up the fingers and fell into their holes, they needed bayonets — but they didn’t have these, either.


Behind Fox and George the river was fordable by vehicles only. Ice-rimed and swift, it was four feet deep, with enough current to sweep a wading man from his feet. Muñoz ordered all the wounded who had been salvaged, some thirty to forty, to be put on the tank decks. Then, the tiny column started to move back to the Ch’ongch’on. As they moved out, mortar shells began to whistle down on them.


Under scattered fire, seeing Chinese crawling over the small ridges like ants in the gun flashes, the column ground slowly toward the river. Suddenly, a rocket launcher flared in the night, and the lead tank stopped, started to smoke. The men riding it leaped off; the crew bailed out, and both groups dashed wildly toward another vehicle.

The stopped tank caught fire, its engine flaming up with a loud whoosh. In this light, and behind the cover the steel hull afforded, Muñoz gathered five or six of his men. “Stay here! Fire on the Chinks! We’ll cover the others; then they’ll cover us—”

There were two more tanks, and most of Fox company, still behind. Now, under the covering fire Muñoz’s small party threw against the hills, the others streamed through. But they did not stop to cover Muñoz’s withdrawal — they kept on going.

Bullets whined off the damaged tank as the Chinese in the ridges kept up a steady fire, and the gasoline in the tank engine blazed up so high Muñoz began to worry that the tank might explode.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said to the men around him. “Stay close to me — there’s safety in numbers.”

But one of the men, First Sergeant Lester Heath, had been shot in the foot, and crippled. He could barely walk; he could only hobble along, leaning on Muñoz’s shoulder.

The little party could not run for the river; hampered by Heath, it moved along at a snail’s pace.

The Chinese rushed. Firing coolly with his .45, Muñoz knocked five of them down, while the other men used carbines and M-1’s. There was no hope of bringing out the dead, Muñoz knew — but he was not leaving any wounded behind. They brought Heath out.

For this action Frank Muñoz would be decorated.

By the time Muñoz and his party reached the river, the Quad .50s had burned up all their ammunition, and could be used only to ferry men across. The tanks, also, took the wounded across the icy river, then returned to carry more.


Muñoz and his men were brought across — but many men, despairing of crossing on a tank, waded into the Ch’ongch’on and splashed to safety. In the ten-degree weather, most of them became weather casualties.

On the east bank, trying to reorganize his company, Frank Muñoz could at first find only twenty men. And it was here he first discovered that his own trousers had been cut by bullets in two places. He had neither heard nor felt the bullets’ passage.


  1. Redan says:

    Frank E. Munoz
    DURING Korean War
    Service: Army
    Division: 2d Infantry Division
    Headquarters, 2d Infantry Division, General Orders No. 121 (May 27, 1951)

    The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Captain (Infantry) Frank E. Munoz (ASN: 0-1319532), United States Army, for gallantry in action as a member of Company G, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division, in action against an armed enemy on 26 November 1950 in the vicinity of Kunu-ri, Korea. On that date the company he was commanding was attacked and forced to withdraw by a numerically superior enemy. During the withdrawal, the first sergeant was wounded by enemy fire and was unable to continue. Captain Munoz advanced to the wounded man and placed him aboard one of the supporting tanks. When the tank was knocked out by enemy fire, he fearlessly remained in position and fired upon the advancing enemy with his pistol, killing two of them, until he could withdraw with the wounded men. Fighting his way through enemy positions, he carried his wounded comrade approximately three miles to the safety of friendly lines. He then reorganized his men and established a new defensive position to resist the enemy attack. The gallantry displayed by Captain Munoz reflects the highest great upon himself is in keeping with the fine traditions of the military service.

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