Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: US Second Infantry Division (page 1 of 2)

Hoengsong and “Massacre Valley” — February 12, 1951

I first learned about Hoengsong and “Massacre Valley” when I read Stanley Sandler’s Korean War history, No Victors, No Vanquished in 2000, but it wasn’t until May 2001, when I had the chance to sit down with Oscar Cortez, when I learned more about “Massacre Valley” and what happened to elements of the 2nd Infantry Division.

When I started to write my Korean War novel War Remains in the fall of 2009, I remembered that interview I had with Oscar on our way to another Korean War battlefield, Chipyong-ni when he described the battle he was in north of Hoengseong in February 1951. That’s when I knew how my novel would begin and end and one of the battles which would figure prominently in the book. I wanted readers to know about this battle and to remember the men who lost their lives there.

This is anotheMassacre Valley Nov 6 2010 012r view of the valley and the monument which was dedicated to the United States Second Infantry Division (which is still stationed in South Korea). That’s another irony of this so-called “forgotten war.” One of the divisions which fought in the war, is still here and ready to fight.

And let’s not forget that there are still over 7,900 American service members from that war still listed as MIAs.

Of course, for the family members still waiting for their loved ones to come from that war, it has never been a forgotten war for them.

Three of my Facebook friends and their families are waiting for their loved ones to come home. One of those friends lost an uncle in this very same battle.

Massacre Valley Nov 6 2010 003

It’s been almost four years since I published this novel about the Korean War. I am proud of it and the lives it has touched.

Courage Under Fire

Brothers in Arms

Of all the articles, I would write about Korean War veterans returning to Korea, there are two, which stood out the most: the one about a veteran who saved his buddy during the war and other about a former POW returning to the bridge he had walked across to freedom when he was repatriated with other prisoners at the end of the war. Both of these articles were very near and dear to me because I was able to focus more on the personal side of the Korean War.

As a writer and a novice historian, these two articles were the kind of writing that I wanted to do. Writing feature stories about the human element or the personal side of the war came a lot easier for me than writing a straight news story—having to worry about a lead and space, not to mention a deadline. Ever since one of my former Eureka College professors, Dr. Sheila Bartle talked about writing creative non-fiction when I had visited the campus the year before, my interest in this kind of writing grew.

I’ll never forget that May night in 2001 when I sat down with a couple of Korean War veterans from San Antonio at the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon, and listened to them talk about their experiences during the war. A couple of them became misty-eyed, when they recalled the horrors of battle and the men who did not come back. Of all the reasons why veterans would want to travel back to the countries and battlefields where they once fought, I would like to think one of them is the chance to lay to rest the ghosts of their past with men who were there with them.

On that night in May, many ghosts were finally laid to rest. Two of the veterans in particular, had one very special story to tell: how one of them had saved the other during a battle, which would become a turning point for the war.

Courage under Fire

CHIPYONG-NI, South Korea – Last week, on a peaceful verdant hill overlooking a fertile valley of rice paddies and fields sprouting an assortment of vegetables, Eduardo “Ed” Fernandez returned to the battlefield where he had been wounded 50 years ago.

This time he walked back up the hill.

“That’s where the airdrops landed,” Fernandez said, pointing to a freshly tilled field that had been readied for spring planting.

Fifty years ago, on that same field, Fernandez and other men of the 23rd regimental Combat Team of the US Second Infantry Division were surrounded by the four Chinese divisions. Airdrops in a valley just a couple of hundred yards from the perimeter re-supplied the besieged forces of the 23rd Regimental Combat Team and other units. Getting them would not be easy because a Chinese mortar had zeroed in on him and Lou Jurado, as they hurriedly recovered badly needed medical supplies and ammunition.

Severely wounded and passing in and out of consciousness, Fernandez was carried by Jurado—who also had been hit by shrapnel from the mortar—a couple hundred yards back to their perimeter.

 They have a name for that: “courage under fire.” However, Lou was only doing what anyone would do in that situation when someone’s life was in jeopardy. 50 years later, time has not diminished the memories of that battle and of that camaraderie under fire.

Both Fernandez and Jurado were back in Korea for the first time to commemorate the Battle of Chipyong-ni and perhaps, heal some of those emotional wounds of 50 years ago. 

“It’s a little scary being back here,” Fernandez said.

Jurado, on the other hand, had harbored mixed emotions as he walked across the battlefield where he and Ed had fought 50 years ago.

“It’s bittersweet,” added Jurado.

After being pushed back south in November and December of 1950 following China’s entry into the Korean War and suffering many casualties, U.S. UN and ROK forces found themselves on the defensive again, but that was all about to change at places like Chipyong-ni and Wonju about two hours southwest of Seoul.

It was on February 13, 1951, when the Chinese—following a cacophony of bugles, bells, whistles, and drums—first hit according to historian Roy Appleman with a “mortar and artillery barrage from the north, northwest, and southwest that hit the perimeter and inside it at the center. At the same time, enemy infantry ran into the outer defenses of trip flares, antipersonnel mines, and booby-traps in front of C Company at the north end.”

You don’t have to be a military historian to realize that what exactly was happening at that moment: all hell was breaking loose.

 “They were coming at us by the thousands,” said Fernandez. “The Chinese were good fighters. They were somebody to be reckoned with. We were surrounded. I never thought we were going to come out of it.”

Twenty-four airdrops helped restock ammunition, rations, and medical supplies. Every available man helped in retrieving the airdrops. Regimental medics worked steadily to relieve the suffering of the wounded and helicopters shuttled in and out of the tight perimeter throughout the day, evacuating the most seriously wounded.

Others were treated and made as safe and comfortable as possible to await the opportunity for evacuation when the roadblocks ringing the garrison could be broken.

“Our supply sergeant had been killed; the mess sergeant had been killed. Everything was in an uproar,” recalled Fernandez who was then a Sergeant First Class. “I gathered the guys who were around me. I said we got to pick up this stuff before the enemy won’t let us.

“They missed the drop zone. The supplies landed in this open valley and the enemy had the high ground. I made the first trip with a couple of guys. One guy had been killed on the first trip. We had to get out of the way because we had this ammo on us. I was on my second or third trip when Lou showed up to help.”

Fernandez and Jurado made two trips together to retrieve the ammo and medical supplies. Jurado knew that by the second trip, the Chinese had zeroed in their mortars. 

“I knew that we were either going to be dead before we made it back or we were going to get badly wounded,” recalled Jurado.

When the mortar hit, the first thing Fernandez recalled was that the blood on the snow looked like a cherry ‘snow cone.’

Jurado saw blood coming out everywhere when Fernandez was hit. His one leg was just dangling when Jurado tried to pick him up. Although one of the first things you’re taught in first aid is to put a tourniquet on to stop the bleeding, Jurado had no time to think of such things. When he went to pick him up, he fell down.

At the same time, Jurado didn’t know that he had also been wounded because he had been knocked down by the concussion. The only thing he could think of was to pick Fernandez up and get him to an aid station inside the perimeter.

“So I picked him up again,” said Lou, in a broken voice, as he held back the tears. “I said, ‘God help me.’ I picked him up and I could feel that he was moving. I told Ed that we’re getting out of here. I could see that one leg was just dangling. Somehow or another when things like that happen you get super strong, the adrenaline flows.

“I was able to carry him to the aid station. He had bled so badly that I thought he was going to die on me. So, I told the medics to give him so blood. I didn’t know if he was dead or not. To this day, I don’t know how I was able to carry him.”

But Jurado did and later, Fernandez was evacuated to a hospital in the rear. He didn’t know what happened to Ed who was immediately evacuated and whether or not he had lost the leg or if he had died.

“I was at the field hospital for three days. I thought, boy this is a terrific wound. I’ll probably get back to the States on this thing. They patched me up and sent me back to the front lines,” said Jurado. “I never did find out what happened to him. We finally met in 1995 at one of the reunions. He cried; I cried. The wives cried.”

Fernandez was one of the lucky ones. He was evacuated out, but his ordeal was far from being over.

“I had a number of guardian angels with me,” recalled Fernandez.

On his way back to the aid station, that ambulance that he was on was hit by enemy fire. Fernandez, who was sandwiched between two other wounded men, escaped being hit again; the other men weren’t so lucky. Fernandez thinks that they might have died from these rounds. Then, when he arrived at the aid station, he was mistakenly placed with the dead. A French Priest noticed that he was still alive and had him moved.

“They gave me some blood and put me on a chopper,” said Fernandez. Then that chopper got hit. There were two litters. The guy who was on the opposite one got hit a couple of times. The pilot was also hit. They were firing at the chopper. I guess you might say that I had a couple of narrow escapes.”

Fernandez would be in out of hospitals for the next couple of years. All total, he would undergo over 76 operations—minor and major—including skin grafts. He gets around these days with the use of a cane.

According to historian Max Hastings, “the Chipyong-ni battle represented not only a fine performance by American units, but also an important stage in the rehabilitation and revival of the morale of the 2nd Division, which had been so desperately mauled at Kunu-ri.” This battle was China’s first tactical defeat during the war, and served to bolster the flagging morale of UN troops.

“It was the first battle we whipped the Chinese,” said Jurado. “It made us feel good and boosted our morale.”

However, Fernandez and Jurado almost didn’t come back for this special commemoration trip. It was only after their family members persuaded them to come back as well as knowing that the other one would be here—that they finally decided to come. 

“I had no desire to come back,” said Fernandez, “but my wife was instrumental in persuading me. Of course, I needed Lou to be here.”

The trip also helped both men deal with those ghosts from the past.

“It brought us closer together,” said Jurado whose kids played a big part in convincing him to make the journey back to Korea with Ed. “It was a healing process for the both of us—to know that we had come out of this.”

Fernandez was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during the Battle of Chipyong-ni. Part of his citation read: “Sergeant First Class Fernandez during the ‘siege’ of Chipyong-ni, repeatedly and under intense hostile small arms and mortar fire, secured the supplies that were delivered by air from the drop zone and brought them into the 23rd Infantry’s perimeter.”

But some things are just hard to forget. Even 50 years later.

“It’s emotional knowing that in this immediate area you lost guys that you had known and were attached to,” Fernandez said with a shaky voice, “guys that talked about their wives and their babies. We lost so many good men.”

Fernandez, who wanted to remember this trip back to Korea and his special friendship with Jurado offered a small token of this remembrance and friendship forged in blood on the Chipyong-ni battleground.

Sitting in the lobby of their hotel later in the evening after they had returned from Chipyong-ni, Jurado pulled out nondescript beige stone from his pocket.

“Look at this. Ed gave it to me today,” Jurado said, his voice shaky as he ran his thumb over the smooth stone, a tear in his eye. “He picked up one for himself and me from the battlefield. I thought that was really special.”

Memorial for US Second Infantry Division — Hoengsong, South Korea

Located in “Massacre Valley” a few miles north of Hoengsong, is the monument for the US Second Infantry Division, which suffered hundreds of casualties here on February 12-13, 1951.

In War Remains, this is where some of the story takes place.

Once upon a war

“When the cold, biting wind howls down from the mountains, I can almost hear their screams and cries riding upon that cold wind.”

When I’ve walk across the frozen Woosong campus here in Daejeon, South Korea (approximately two hours south of Seoul) on my way to school the past few weeks—when it has been so bitterly cold here—and have seen the snow-capped and pine-dotted mountains in the distance, I think about the war, which was fought north of here sixty-one years ago. I think about the men who had to traverse some of those mountains, trying to keep warm and dry during one of the coldest winters on the Korean peninsula. I think about the American blood spilled on the snow-covered ground of Korea, the same way that blood was spilled at Valley Forge and Bastogne. I think about the young men who died here far away from home and loved ones, who would never know warmth again.

And when the cold, biting wind howls down from the mountains, I can almost hear their screams and cries riding upon that cold wind.

Sixty-one years ago, as January came to a close; the Korean War still could have been lost for South Korea and the UN forces, which had come to Korea’s aid. Since November 1950, when the Chinese entered the war, the conflict had become, according to General MacArthur, “an entirely different war.” Those Chinese forces, an unstoppable juggernaut since Kunu-ri and Chosin, had pushed UN forces south of Seoul during the New Year’s Offensive. Poised to strike again around Wonju—a key transportation hub—men of the US Second Infantry Division, as well as French, Netherlands and other UN Forces, were about to turn the tide of the war at the Twin Tunnels and Chipyong-ni. It would not come easy and without cost, especially the casualties, which would befall the Second Infantry Division at Hoengsong February 12-13, 1951.

These were not the names of faraway places, which would become the vernacular of a nation remembering gallant stands and battles. For the generals sending men into harms way, these were names—marked by tiny flags and grease lines on crinkled, yellowed maps. For the hundreds of men who would lose their lives in “Massacre Valley” alone, they would be a cold, scribbled number written under KIA or MIA.

This is what I think about every day, when I see those cold, dark mountains shivering in the distance and the men who could have come from towns like LaSalle, Illinois; Vassar, Michigan; Waterbury Connecticut; San Antonio, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; Charlotte, North Carolina; Indianapolis, Indiana; Cleveland, Ohio; Wheeling, West Virginia—who found themselves on those hills and mountains, in those frozen paddies and valleys of that so-called “forgotten war.”

This is why I wrote War Remains.

I haven’t forgotten.


Today I was honored with the comments left by the son of a Korean War veteran who discovered my post about the US Second Infantry Division monument at Hoengsong and the battle that was fought there in February 1951.

His father served with the 38th Infantry Regiment and fought in the battle that I described in my novel.

He wanted to know the exact location of the monument because he is planning to visit Korea on the 60th anniversary of some of the battles his father fought in during the war.

I am honored because that was one of my original intentions all along, when I first started writing War Remains, was that I wanted to honor all Korean War veterans and their loved ones and especially, those who served with the US Second Infantry Division and the 38th Infantry Regiment.

How I discovered a "forgotten war"

I confess, when I came to Korea 20 years ago, I didn’t know much about the Korean War. I knew of the war, but not much. Even though I minored in history, my knowledge of the conflict was severely and sadly limited.

Most of what I knew, like most Americans from my generation, was from what I gleaned from watching M*A*S*H. Two of my uncles fought in the war, but I never recalled them at any time, when the family got together for holidays or birthdays, regaling us with any “war stories.”

What I knew and what I didn’t know would all change that cold day in February 2000 when I bought Retrieving Bones.

If there is any penance for my ignorance, or autobiographical underpinnings in War Remains, look no further than the character of Michael. Much of what Michael does to learn about the Korean War was what I did after I read Retrieving Bones and the other books I read and reviewed for the Korea Times, as well as the articles that I would eventually write about the Korean War Commemorative events in Korea.

I knew when I started writing my novel that I could never really accurately describe combat or know what it was like because I have never been in combat. But what I could do, and what I knew I could do well in the novel was write about what it would be like for an ordinary person to learn about a war the way that I did and the way that Michael does in the novel.

This book is dedicated to….

That was easy.

I knew from the beginning, when I sat down and started writing War Remains that I would dedicate the book to my mother, my eighth grade English teacher, Arlene Gandolfi and Oscar Cortez.

My mother was proud of me when I started writing for the Korea Times in 2000 and went around LaSalle-Peru showing everyone the clippings from the newspapers I had sent her with my articles in them. She was always after me to write a book but I never knew what to write about and kept on telling her, one day mom, one day.

Mrs. Gandolfi first encouraged me to write when I was in the eighth grade at Washington Grade School 1971-1972. It all started with his science fiction story we read in class and some extra credit for writing a short story. I started writing a serialized story about invaders from Mars that Mrs. Gandolfi read in class. I included all my classmates battling Martians and saving Oglesby, Illinois from destruction. Very early on in life, I understood the meaning of, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Of course, my classmates were not too thrilled when Mrs. Gandolfi gave quizzes on my story; they felt I had an unfair advantage as the author.

Interestingly, Norman Mailer’s first story, written when he was in elementary school, was also about an invasion from Mars.

I first met Oscar Cortez in 2001 when he visited Korea with a group of Korean War veterans from San Antonio. His story about his military service in the Korean War, was one of the inspirations for War Remains. His story could have been the story of any man who was thrust into extraordinary circumstances during the war.

The book is also dedicated to all Korean War veterans and their families, as well as those families who lost a loved one during the war, or who are still waiting for a loved one to come home.

And finally, I dedicated the book to the men and women of the US Second Infantry Division who to this day, still help to keep peace on the Korean peninsula.

It all started with a book

51o8iIGZEJL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_The day I held Retrieving Bones—a collection of short stories and poetry written by Korean War veterans—at the Kyobo Book Centre in downtown Seoul one cold February afternoon in 2000, was the day I started writing War Remains.

As I stood there in Kyobo, debating whether or not I should pay the 39,000 Won for the book, I convinced myself that if I bought the book, I could maybe write a book review for the Korea Times; after all, this was 2000 and the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Maybe, the editor would go for the idea. He did and asked me if I could write more book reviews. I said I could. And that is what got me started down the road as a feature writer for the newspaper and covering many Korean War commemorative activities in Korea from 2000-2003.

It’s true, I was an accidental journalist, but for the first time since college, I was writing almost on a daily basis and at the same time becoming a part of history while learning about history and above all, discovering a forgotten war.

In May 2001, I had the opportunity to meet some Korean War veterans from San Antonio who came to Korea to commemorate Chipyong-ni, an important battle of the Korean War in February 1951, which turned the tide of the war for the US Second Infantry Division (2ID). Most of the veterans had served in the 2ID, including Oscar Cortez who was captured by the Chinese on February 12, 1951 north of Hoengsong—east of Chipyong-ni.

When I sat down a little over a year ago to begin writing War Remains, I had in mind that battle. Although the battle itself would not be featured prominently in the novel, it was part of the inspiration.

It’s a good thing I bought that book that day. It changed my life forever.

I saw a movie and wrote a book

Well, not exactly.

What I mean is that when I sat down and started to write War Remains in September 2009, I saw or envisioned the story as a movie. I knew how the book would begin and how it would end, and I saw these two scenes as scenes in a movie, kind of like bookends. Having never written a novel before, seeing the book as a movie made it easier to write.

Other than a few short stories and some feature articles for the Korea Times, I had never attempted anything quite as ambitious, so seeing the novel as a movie helped me in terms of how I would move the story along, especially with some of the flashbacks.

Maybe those two semesters of film classes at SIU (Southern Illinois University) finally paid off, as well as being a film buff my whole life.

Oh, one more thing: I thought about writing a screenplay of the story while I was writing the novel.

You know, I can see a Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks Korean War movie collaboration once they finish WWII. The Second Infantry Division and 38th Infantry Regiment would be very good units and subject matter for Spielberg and Hanks to cover.

A war was once fought here

“Massacre Valley” — Hoengsong, South Korea

Earlier this month, I went to Hoengsong north of Wonju to visit “Massacre Valley” a Korean War battlefield that was the sight of a major battle from February 11-13, 1951 and one that figured prominently in my novel.

This a monument/memorial dedicated to the US Second Infantry Division

The inscription on the back of the monument/memorial

There’s an interesting sidebar to my trip to Hoengsong to visit this monument. I had no idea where it was located; I had come across a photo of it in the Korean War book, Wonju: The Gettysburg of the Korean War. I kind of figured that the monument/memorial would be located somewhere in “Massacre Valley” but I wasn’t sure where. While riding in a car, heading north through the valley, I just happened to glance to my left when I saw the monument/memorial on a small bluff overlooking a stream bed.
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