Reality had caught up with the Marines

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachThe Marines paused to consolidate after each move forward along the Main Supply Route, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

The terrain made it impossible for the division to remain intact, but at each successive plateau along the MSR, units were consolidated at regimental or battalion strength, with supporting artillery able to fire in any direction.


This consolidation, and the fact that most Marine officers had had experience with Oriental warfare, learning the importance of keeping tight, steelringed perimeters by night whatever happened in the rear, did much to save the division.


The moon came up, huge and swollen, rising clear and bright over the swirling ground mists. It came up behind Easy Company, silhouetting the company positions for the enemy, but not throwing enough light along the dark corridors to reveal the lurking Chinese. On the hill, the temperature had dropped to twenty below.

Easy’s men heard monstrous shuffling sounds through the dark, as of thousands of boots stamping in the snow. They heard sounds, but they could see only ghostly moon shadows.

Yancey asked Ball, on the mortars, to fire star shells.

Ball had little 81 ammo, but he tried. The flares wouldn’t work — lifted from crates stamped “1942,” they fizzled miserably.


The enemy mortars fell first, bursting with pinpoint precision among the foxholes on the forward slope of Hill 1282. Then, in the moonlit hills, bugles racketed; purple flares soared high, and popped. The shadows suddenly became men, running at Marine lines.

The Chinese did not scream or shout, like North Koreans. They did not come in one overwhelming mass. They came in squads, yards apart, firing, hurling grenades, flailing at the thin line across the hill, probing for a weak spot across which they could pour down into the valley beyond.

Again and again they were stopped; again and again Chinese bugles plaintively noised the recall. The icy slopes were now littered with sprawled figures in long white snow capes.

Again and again, while the Marines’ guns grew hot, they came back to flail at the hill. Looking down into the shadowy valley, John Yancey could see hundreds of orange pinpoints of light, as the enemy sprayed his hill with lead.

The night seemed endless. A grenade exploded close to Yancey, driving metal fragments through his face to lodge behind his nose. Many of his men were hit. Those who could stand continued fighting; those badly hurt were dragged some twenty yards behind the company position, where a hospital corpsman worked over them in the snow.

There was no shouting or crying. Now and then a man gasped, “Oh, Jesus, I’m hit!” or, “Mother of God!” and fell down.

The attacks whipped the hill. By the early hours of morning, most of Easy’s men had frozen noses or frozen feet in addition to their combat wounds. Yancey’s blood froze to his moustache, dried across his stubbled face. Snorting for breath through his damaged nose, he had trouble breathing.


The platoon, all Easy Company was in desperate straits. Captain Phillips, who had carried ammunition to Yancey’s platoon during the night, and who had said again and again, “You’re doing okay, men; you’re doing okay!” took a bayoneted rifle, and ran out to the front of Yancey’s line.

“This is Easy Company!” Walt Phillips said. “Easy Company holds here!” He thrust the bayonet deep into the snowy ground; the rifle butt swayed back and forth in the cold wind, a marker of defiance, a flag to stand by.


John Yancey realized that some sort of counteraction had to be taken to push them out. He ran back of the hill, found half a dozen able men coming up as replacements. “Come with me!”

With the new men, he charged the breach in Easy’s line. His own carbine would fire only one shot at a time; the weapons of two of the replacements froze. The other four dropped with bullets in their heads—the Chinese aimed high.

Beside the CP, Lieutenant Ball, the exec, sat cross-legged in the snow, firing a rifle. Several Chinese rushed him. Ball died.

Now Yancey could find only seven men in his platoon. Reeling from exhaustion and shock, he tried to form a countercharge. As he led the survivors against the broken line, a forty-five caliber Thompson machine-gun slug tore his mouth and lodged in the back of his skull. Metal sliced his right cheek, as a hand grenade knocked him down.

On his hands and knees, he found he was blind.

He heard Walt Phillips shouting, “Yancey! Yancey!”

Somebody he never saw helped Yancey off the hill, led him back down the rear slope. He collapsed, and woke up later in the sick bay at Yudam-ni, where his sight returned.

Behind him, on 1282, Captain Walt Phillips stood beside his standard until he died. Late in the afternoon, a new company relieved Easy; of its 180 men only twenty-three came off.

But they held the hill.


Reality had caught up with the Marines, as with all men, but they had faced it well. Everywhere, the Marines had held.

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