Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: 2ID

War Remains — Now available as an Ebook at Amazon

More than fifty years after his paternal grandfather Robert “Bobby” Washkowiak was reported missing in action, body never recovered during the Korean War, Michael Washkowiak makes a startling discovery of what really happened to his grandfather on one of the battlefields of that forgotten war.

Old letters and photographs found in a footlocker that had been forgotten in an attic for years take Michael back in time to the opening months of the Korean War and how his grandfather fought to stay alive in some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict—from the Pusan Perimeter and Kunu-ri up to his disappearance.

Unknown to Michael, an ongoing search for the remains of over 8,000 service members still listed as missing in action from the conflict has recovered the remains of a service member found near the town of Hoengsong, South Korea where his grandfather had been reported missing on February 12, 1951.

Could the remains be those of his grandfather?

My novel War Remains is now available as an Ebook through Amazon’s Kindle store. If you don’t have a Kindle device, don’t worry. You can still read the novel on your computer.

Look for the paperback and hardback editions of the novel soon.

Kunu-ri

This poem is dedicated to the memory of the men from the US Second Infantry Division who lost their lives during the Battle of the Chongchon sometimes called the Battle of Kunu-ri and The Gauntlet at the end of November 1950. More than 4,900 men perished from the Division on those bleak cold hills and in those treacherous valleys in North Korea.

Kunu-ri

When the cold winds sweep down from the North

and temperatures plummet beneath a gray sky,

I think about all you men forced into harms way

on the hills and in the valleys of North Korea

in that cruel and tragic November 59 years ago.

 

Home by Christmas was what MacArthur said,

but the Chinese would have other plans for you

and when they attacked with their cacophony

of bugles and horns blaring and whistle shrills

the apocalypse had reared its frightening form.

 

Burp guns fluttered blue flame and mortars burst

shells screaming through the cold night air

as the enemy rained down hot metal and death

and the blood so many young men would spill

stained the dark sad earth a bright crimson red.

 

I wonder how many ghosts still haunt and wander

over those lonely hills and in those hallowed valleys

where so many of your brothers would not survive

those who paid the ultimate price with their lives

fighting for what they believed was a noble cause.

 

© 2009 Jeffrey Alan Miller

My 2001 interview with Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré — Part 2

It doesn’t take long for the young men and women who are assigned to the 2ID to feel part of the team, either. Honoré pointed out that although these young men and women are here without their families, they are not here without relatives. He reminds them that they join a family when they come to the 2ID. 

“We got that ‘Hooah’ thing going on all the time. And you hear us say it all the time,” explained Honoré.

‘Hooah’ is a term heard often in the 2ID. It’s a multipurpose, magical word that can mean just about anything, but more often than not is used to express something good.  

“Although the soldiers come to Korea from other great units, it doesn’t take them long after they’ve arrived in Korea to know that they are with the best,” he said.  He also had much praise for the sergeants who take many of these young soldiers under their wings, which is reminiscent of the Spartan army where senior warriors took junior warriors on.  

“Our sergeants are the keepers of the standard,” said Honoré. “By golly, we have great sergeants here. That’s what makes serving in Warrior Country so ‘Hooah!’” 

The 2ID, which first saw action in Korea during the Pusan Perimeter in the summer of 1950, came to Korea with a distinguished history and service record. The division, one of the few active units organized on foreign soil, was formed on October 26, 1917 at Bourmont, France. During WWII, the division landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day + 1. The division would prove itself time and time again as the “Indianheads” blasted their way through the hedgerows of Normandy to liberate the vital port of Brest, and later played an important role during The Battle of the Bulge. 

The first big test for the 2ID during the Korean War came when the North Koreans struck in a desperate human-wave attack on the night of August 31, 1950. In the 16-day battle that followed, the division’s clerks, bandsmen, technical and supply personnel joined in the fight. Later, the division would be the first unit to break out of the Pusan Perimeter.  

However, disaster would befall the division as it raced toward the Yalu River. The Chinese intervention in the conflict spelled disaster for the 2ID at Kunu-ri, where the division lost nearly one-third of its strength. After withdrawing south, the division repulsed a powerful Chinese offensive at Chipyong-ni and Wonju in February 1951.  

Following these battles, the division would continue to prove itself in battle until the end of the war. This strong sense of history is not lost on the soldiers who are assigned to the 2ID.  

“Here you have a unit that is forward deployed on the same ground it fought on during the Korean War. Almost anywhere you go in our area of operations you can make reference to a historic battle that the division was probably involved in,” explained Honoré. “You can say the same thing about the ROK Army here. If you go up to many of these ROK divisions, many of them fought on this same ground.”  

Following the Korean War, the Division would be deployed back to the States, but would return to Korea in 1965. During this time North Korea increased border incursions and infiltration attempts and the 2ID was called upon to help halt these attacks. On November 2, 1966 six soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry were killed in an ambush by North Korean forces. The following year, another 16 American soldiers were killed.  

In August 1976, the division took part in Operation Paul Bunyan in response to the Panmunjom ax murder incident, when North Korean soldiers in the JSA killed two American officers.  

Today, the division continues to serve an important role as part of the ROK-U.S. alliance.  

With more than 14,000 personnel assigned to it, maintaining good community relations with when soldiers are off-duty is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, incidents involving U.S. service members with Koreans have, when they occurred, created a negative image of the military and fueled anti-American sentiment.  However, as Honoré pointed out, given the number of personnel assigned to the 2ID, the likelihood of anything happening is “quite low.”  

“Things do happen, and when they do, we try to resolve the issue at the lowest level possible,” he said. “We have a close relationship with the local government. If something should occur, contact is made immediately with local officials to ensure not only transparency, but also to resolve the issue promptly by the SOFA.”  

In addition to the SOFA, Honoré stressed that the Uniform Code of Military Justice system and good leadership from NCOs and junior officers are not only strong safeguards, but work to resolve any issues at the lowest level.  Then there’s the division’s good neighbor policy with local communities, involving it in many community outreach programs. For example, the division supports more than 10 orphanages in the area. Also, this past Arbor Day, soldiers planted more than 1,100 trees. In the past soldiers have helped the farmers harvest rice. Others are participating in the Habitat for Humanity program.  

“We want to be known as good neighbors,” explained Honoré, who regularly meets with local officials.  

In times of disaster the division is ready to lend a helping hand, whether with manpower or equipment. Recently, soldiers assisted farmers in Tongduchon to pump more than 500,000 gallons of water into fields during one of the worst droughts to hit the peninsula.  Honoré believes this sends a strong message to local communities that the division is not just here to maintain peace and stability in the region, but also to help out people in time of need. 

 Being a good neighbor also means being environmentally conscious. The division is constantly working on the enduring problem of infrastructure. There are also “environmental police” that routinely inspect work areas and do on-the-spot corrections and training. Honoré stressed that NCOs and junior officers also set a good standard by being good stewards of our environment.

“Soldiers today, more than at another time in our army, are environmentally smarter,” said Honoré. “If there’s a problem, we get it fixed. When something does happen, usually with our equipment, we put every resource we have to correct the situation.  

“I think local governments are pretty comfortable with us. If they point something out to us we get right on it and fix it. I think that has been a confidence-builder for them.”  

In addition to being environmentally conscious, Honoré talked about the importance of cooperation with local governments for training exercises. Without question, with four ROK corps and a U.S. division, it’s going to get loud now and again. Honoré likened the situation to having a guard dog in one’s backyard.  

“Every once in awhile it’s going to bark,” he said.  

Honoré had praise for the local governments who have supported the division. He pointed out that they always let the local governments or farmers know the areas they are going to be in.  

“This is the most dynamic civil-military operation I have seen in my life,” he said. “The Korean’s appreciation for what it takes to maintain this military and alliance is also second to none.  

“Last year during (operation) Foal Eagle, we went out in the middle of the night. We didn’t know that we were driving over some rice on the road. We paid the farmers for the rice that was lost and at the end of the training; we invited all the farmers over for a big dinner. We know that we are going to be an inconvenience at times, so, how do you compensate for that? By coordination and cooperation, as well as being respectful of people’s livelihood.”

 Whether it’s being prepared to fight tonight, ensuring good community relations or transparency in dealing with local governments, Honoré is proud to play an important role in the ROK – U.S. alliance.  

“It has been exciting serving here. It has been the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever been a part of,” said Honoré. “This isn’t a bad gig.”  

When our interview was over, the general was not about to let me leave without trying my hand one last time at the fine art of throwing a tomahawk.  On the first throw, I miss the target completely. The second one though hits the target with a resounding thump, a few inches from the bull’s-eye.  

“Hooah!”

My 2001 interview with Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré — Part 1

While surfing the Internet today I came upon an article about Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré (pronounced ON-or-ay) who had retired from the U.S. Army this past January. 

He is best known for serving as commander of Joint Task Force Katrina responsible for coordinating military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina-affected areas across the gulf coast. Sometimes known as the “Ragin’ Cajun,” Honoré literally stepped into the national and media limelight when New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said during a radio interview on September 1, 2005, “Now, I will tell you this—and I give the president some credit on this—he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is [Lt.] Gen. [Russel] Honoré. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he’s getting some stuff done.” 

I remembered seeing this on CNN back in 2005 and I nearly fell off my chair because in 2001, when Honoré was then commander of the Second Infantry Division (2ID) in Korea, I had the chance to interview him. I am grateful for the writing opportunities that I had for a few years when I was a feature writer for the Korea Times. 

This article appeared in the Korea Times on July 15, 2001  

“We Share a Great Alliance” – says 2ID Commander 

By Jeffrey Miller, Feature Writer 

CAMP RED CLOUD, Uijongbu, South Korea – It’s cool and rainy the day this writer travels north to Uijongbu and into what is known as “Warrior Country,” to have an interview with the commander of the 2nd Infantry Division (2ID), Maj. Gen. Russel L. Honoré. 

Instead of waiting for me in his stuffy office, he waited outside at an adjacent patio. There, Honoré, with a cigar in one hand and a tomahawk in the other, was practicing for the “tomahawk-throwing contest” at this year’s “Warrior Olympics.”    

His first throw just barely misses the bull’s-eye. His second throw hits the target dead on. 

“Here, you give it a try,” said Honoré with a hint of a Creole accent as he hands the Korea Times reporter the tomahawk. “Just relax and release it when you’re ready.” 

The first attempt misses not only the target, but bounces off the backdrop. And no better on the next two tries. 

“You’re releasing it too soon,” said Honoré with the patience of a little league baseball coach. “I bet you by the time you leave here today you might get a bull’s-eye yourself.” 

The tomahawk is an enduring image of Native American warriors and symbolic of their warrior spirit. Another enduring image and symbol of warrior spirit is the “Indianhead” division patch, which has been worn proudly by the 2ID soldiers on their uniforms since the end of WWI. Up here in Warrior Country, both the patch and the 2ID motto “Second to None,” manifest a proud military heritage.

Whether he’s talking about the mission here in Korea and “being prepared to fight tonight,” or serving as commander of the 2ID, it doesn’t take long to learn how proud Honoré is to be a part of the great ROK-U.S. alliance. 

Be prepared to fight tonight. You hear that a lot up here, but this is not merely some gung-ho jargon or Spartan mentality. One has only to be reminded of the threat that has existed since the end of the Korean War, not to mention that the presence of U.S. troops on the peninsula has, for the past 50 years, contributed immensely to peace and stability on the peninsula as well as the region. 

Honoré, a native of Lakeland, Louisiana, who began his distinguished military career in 1971 when he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, assumed the duties of commanding general of the 2ID last October. This is his second tour in Korea having served here with the 2ID in 1973. In addition to various stateside and overseas assignments, he also commanded a unit that was deployed to Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Serving up here in Warrior Country, Honoré, who sees the ROK-U.S. alliance day in and day out, is extremely proud to be a part of it.

“I’ll tell you right up front, there’s no daylight between the ROK Army and us,” he explained. “We are ‘katchi kapshida.’ We go together in everything that we do. We share a great alliance.” 

Sharing this alliance also means cooperation and coordination, not only with the ROK Army, but with the ROK government as well. “We work with them, for them and beside them,” noted Honoré. 

The division works closely with local governments, who have been very cooperative in the province, from the 17 different camps located there to the places where the division trains. It is a mission that both countries have shared since the end of the Korean War. 

“There is a passion and a commitment to fulfill the great sacrifices of those who proceeded us by continuing to maintain the armistice and continuing to remind people that the cost of freedom is not free,” said Honoré.

Likewise, this total commitment is across the board.  “We attend each other’s functions, we play sports together, and the ROK Army teaches us Taekwondo,” said Honoré 

Another example of the ROK – U.S. alliance is the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) Soldier Program, initiated in July 1950, of which more than 2,000 play an essential role within the division. The objective of the KATUSA Soldier Program is to augment the 8th Army with ROK soldiers in order to increase the ROK – U.S. combined defense capability on the peninsula. It represents not only the commitment and cooperation to deter war, but is also symbolic of the ROK – U.S. friendship and mutual support.  “They add an immense combat power to the division,” explained Honoré. “They also are a tremendous resource for our soldiers about Korea.”  

Additionally, the KATUSAs play a vital role in communication with other ROK units. They give the division that capability at the platoon and company level to be able to communicate with their ROK counterparts.  Without question, training and readiness are essential to the mission of any military unit. In Korea, though with soldiers on one-year tours as well as coordination and cooperation with the ROK Army, training is extremely important.  

“We are in a constant training cycle. Soldiers come in as individuals. We have to build teams,” said Honoré. “Training is the cornerstone of what makes us ready to fight tonight.”   

Free at Last — Part 2

On Feb. 13, 1951, Oscar Cortez had become a POW. The North Koreans took Cortez after the Chinese went through. He had Korean guards all along until he and the rest of the prisoners were turned over to the Chinese in Sept. 1951. 

“The North Korean guards were brutal; they would hit you with their rifle butts and starve you to death,” said Cortez. “My weight went down to around 85 pounds.”

 One of those guards hit Cortez in the ear with his rifle butt and punctured Cortez’s eardrum. Cortez suffered not only permanent hearing loss from this incident, but also other ailments from his imprisonment during the war.  

To be sure, life in the POW camps was severe and harsh. Under the North Koreans, they had hardly anything to eat. They would eat fish heads, millet (they called it bird seed), and sorghum. If they were lucky, they could hunt for frogs to eat the legs. On the other hand, the Chinese gave them rice, pork, bean curd, bread, all cooked by other GIs. They even had tobacco and sugar rations, but when the talks went bad, the Chinese would cut those rations off.  

“We knew when things were not going good at the armistice talks,” said Cortez. “The Chinese would be in a bad mood and our rations were cut. If things were going well, they would treat us better.”  

They didn’t get any Red Cross packages. When they asked the Chinese about them, the Chinese answered that they didn’t belong to the Geneva Convention and wouldn’t allow those packages. On the other hand, when it was to their advantage the Chinese would always tell us about the Geneva Convention.  

“We were told that we could write home but we refused because of the return address, which was our name c/o The Chinese People Volunteer Army and Against American Aggression Peking, China,” Cortez pointed out. “They relented after awhile and removed the `and against’. We were allowed to write I believe one letter a month. I wrote every month but only a few came through.”  

The lowest point of the war for Cortez was when he was at Kangdong, few miles east of Pyongyang, often referred to as the ‘death camp.’ Cortez recalled that GIs were dying right and left. He contracted beriberi while he was there. His body from the waist down was all swollen.  

“I was about to give up. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die,” said Cortez. “I guess the Good Lord sent an Angel in the form of a doctor. He gave me an injection. I didn’t know what it was, but in a week or so, the beriberi went away.”  

The second lowest point of the war for Cortez was Christmas 1952, who still gets choked up when he remembers it.  

“Our airplanes had come by and dropped some tinsel-like stuff to jam the Chinese radar. The Chinese tried to burn it, but that stuff wouldn’t burn. So, we picked this stuff up and decorated the little tree that we had.

“It was at night, Christmas Eve and someone started singing ‘Silent Night.’ Soon everyone had joined in. You could hear the whole camp singing. Every time I hear that song, it gets to me,” Cortez said, as his eyes filled up with tears.  

Cortez and his Mexican-American friends spoke Spanish to each other, but when the Chinese spoke to them, they spoke in English. However, there was one incident when Cortez didn’t speak English.  

“We had this little dog,” recalled Cortez. “We gave him scraps of food. He would follow us when we went on a march for exercise. That little puppy would run between us as we marched.  

“One day, on the way back to camp, I saw that puppy on the road and picked him up. A Chinese guard came up to me and tried to take him away from me. I told him in English that he couldn’t have him. Then the interpreter came over and told me that the dog had killed a little baby chicken. He told us that this guard liked chicken and if the chicken had lived, he would have had eggs. You know the story.  

“Well, I said, no you can’t have the dog, but the guard ordered me to give up the dog. I said ‘no you s*n of a b*tch you can’t have him.’ And he said, ‘what did you say?’ And I told him again. Then the guard took my dog, swung him against the rocky side of a mountain and killed him.  

“When we got back to the camp I was called in by the Political Commissar, he started to interrogate me. I told him to ‘go to hell’ in Spanish. They told me to talk in English to them. I told them again to ‘go to hell’. I thought for sure they were going to put me in the hole.  

“They took me around the back near the backwaters of the Yalu River and I was supposed to be standing there at attention. I was picking up rocks and throwing them at the water. Finally, they told me to go back to my room.”  

Chinese camp administrators rigorously controlled the prisoners, forced them to participate in constant “re-education” and self-criticism sessions, and subjected them to severe living conditions. The Chinese also subjected the prisoners to grueling interrogation sessions and attempted to get signed confessions from them.  

“The Chinese tried to brainwash us and indoctrinate us in the beginning, but they didn’t get anywhere with us, especially the Mexican-Americans. They put us into little groups and designated one person as the monitor. We were supposed to criticize ourselves,” said Cortez. “We had to write down whatever we discussed. They were five of us Hispanics. And we sat there and talked in Spanish. We didn’t know what to talk about, so we talked about anything to just keep on talking. The interpreter came by and listened. He didn’t know what we were talking about. He didn’t know if we were criticizing ourselves or what.” 

After the war, Cortez learned that the Chinese had been afraid of the Mexican-Americans because they had always been united and the Chinese couldn’t do anything about it.  Cortez and his fellow POWs found other ways to fight back. One time, when they were being moved to another camp and had to go to the bathroom, they had to holler “benjo” to get permission to go. Then the guard watching them would tell them “OK.”  

“Well, some started hollering ‘s*n of a b*tch’ and the guard still said, ‘OK.’ Others used other derogatory words and the guard still said, ‘OK,’” laughed Cortez.  “Everyone started laughing. He finally figured out what was going on. He started hollering at us in Chinese, put a round in his rifle and that stopped our fun.”  

Once prisoners had settled into a POW camp, their lives became more of a routine. Prisoners would get up, go for a morning walk for exercise, eat breakfast, and then wait for dinner. They would eat twice a day until a few months before the Armistice was signed. They also went swimming in the backwaters of the Yalu River and unloaded the barges that brought food from China. Every day past noon they would go to the river and wait for the U.S. fighters to come over and tangle with the MiGs. Their POW camp was right near MiG alley.  

“When the armistice had been signed, we didn’t know that it had been signed,” recalled Cortez. “They got all of us together in this large building and announced that we were going to be going home. Then they told us to be sure to tell everyone in America that we had been treated with leniency and that they had been good to us. Everyone started booing. We didn’t believe them because of all the lies they told us.”

 It wasn’t until some Sabre jets flew over the camp did they know the armistice had been signed and the war was over.  

“One of them came over our camp and did a victory roll. Then we knew it was true,” said Cortez. “Everybody got so excited.”  He was one of the last POWs to be repatriated from his camp.  “There was this guy Chico and myself,” said Cortez. “We thought they were going to keep us for all the bad things we did in the camp.”  

And once he came across Freedom Bridge, what was the first thing he wanted?

 “I had a chocolate ice cream cone,” laughed Cortez.  

Cortez stayed in the army until he retired in 1970. He would also fight in another war, Vietnam. Today, though, Cortez has no regrets for being a prisoner of war. He harbors no ill feelings against the Chinese, but not the North Koreans.  

“They were the most brutal. More than the Chinese,” said Cortez. “They would beat you. They would shoot you.”  

At the same time, as Cortez looked back on the personal sacrifices he made as a POW, there is no bitterness or disdain.  “Yes, it was worth it, even after being a Prisoner-of-War,” noted Cortez. “What we accomplished in Korea stopped Communism from spreading to other places in the world. The small part I had during the war is but my part in seeing what I saw when I was there. The Koreans were most appreciative of our effort in stopping the aggressors from the north. The recognition we received was rewarding enough for me.”  

Back on the tour bus, all the veterans and their wives applauded as Cortez took his seat along side of his wife.  As the bus slowly drove away, Cortez took one last look at the bridge. 

Free at last.

Free at Last — A Korean War POW returns to Korea — Part 1

This article originally appeared in the Korea Times on June 25, 2001

Free at Last – Part 1 

A Korean War POW returns to Korea

By Jeffrey Miller

Feature Writer 

Oscar Cortez

The blue United Nations Command bus stopped just a few yards from The Bridge of No Return in the Joint Security Area (JSA)—the last stop on the tour of the JSA, and one steeped with historic meaning.  

On board today were a group of Korean War Veterans and some of their wives from San Antonio, Texas. For one of those veterans, Oscar Cortez, this was more than a historic sightseeing trip. For Cortez, it was a journey back in time.  

It was across this bridge on August 26, 1953 that Cortez was repatriated back to freedom after having spent over two-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in a Chinese POW Camp.  

With his wife at his side, he wiped away the tears and slowly walked to the center of this bridge that in 1953 was his passage to freedom.  

“I’m free,” announced Cortez to the veterans and wives on the bus, his voice shaky as he fought back the tears, “I’m free at last.” 

Fifty-one years ago, Cortez—who was only 17 years old when he enlisted in the Army on February 26, 1950—was like the thousands of other young men who joined a branch of the U.S. military so they could see some of the world.  

“A friend and I wanted to join the Air Force. We took the test, but I missed it by one point,” he recalled. “So I ended up joining the army instead.”  

After basic training, Cortez got his wish to see the world. He had orders for Japan, but the North Koreans were about to change all of that.  

“I was on my way to Seattle when the Korean War broke out,” said Cortez. “My buddies and I asked each other, ‘where the heck is Korea?’ They took a bunch of us and sent us over to the 2nd Infantry Division. I wound up with the 15th Field Artillery Battalion.” 

When the ship sailed to Korea on July 17th, it was Cortez’s 18th birthday. 

They landed in Korea at the end of July and, after they waited for their 105s and trucks, moved to the front lines a few days later. The Division had arrived just in time to take part in the Pusan Perimeter defense. Cortez’s battery was the first to fire on the North Koreans. On the way to the front lines, Cortez saw his first casualties of war: two Korean civilians, a man and a woman killed by the North Koreans lying by the side of the road.  

What Cortez remembers most about that long hot summer when U.S./ROK and U.N. forces held the line and prevented the North Koreans from reaching Pusan was the heat, getting fire missions, pulling guard and manning an outpost with a .30 caliber machine gun. However, there was one particular fire mission against the North Koreans when even the cooks helped out.  

“It was an offensive strike at the North Koreans. I counted 96 105 casings that our 105 fired on that day and I believe we did it in 12 minutes,” recalled Cortez as he pointed to his shoulders to show how high the casings had piled up. “We had every body helping out; even the cooks.”  

Following the Inchon landing and the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, Cortez pointed out that everyone thought that they had the North Koreans on the run and that they would soon win the war.  

“I heard someone say ‘that we are going north like a big ass bird,’” laughed Cortez.  

On the way north through many of the small villages and towns Cortez and others saw how much Korea had been ravaged by war.  “I remembered seeing a lot of hooches that had been burned, buildings as well, but I’m not sure if the enemy did it or if it was our artillery or infantry, but there was a lot of destruction,” recalled Cortez sadly.  

Then there were the reports of the atrocities committed by the North Koreans against South Koreans and the U.S. military. Although Cortez didn’t recall seeing firsthand the atrocities, he did remember reading about them in “Stars and Stripes.” “We had seen pictures in the ‘Stars and Stripes’ of GIs that were killed—shot in the back—with their hands tied behind their backs with wire.’’  

Following the euphoria of the Inchon Landing and the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, the general consensus was that once they reached the Yalu the war would be over. Cortez recalled that many of the men were not even issued cold weather gear—an indication that the war wouldn’t last much longer.  

“It was time of jubilation,’’ recalled Cortez, “and after General MacArthur said we were be home by Christmas, we were ready to go home. Then those doggone Chinese came in. I felt robbed of the chance of going home and felt we were going to be there a lot longer.”  

It was on Nov. 29, when Chinese forces surrounded, overwhelmed and nearly destroyed the 2nd Infantry Division. Three days later, when it was all over, the command had lost approximately 4,940 men killed or wounded.  Following the battle at Kunu-ri, the battered U.S./ROK and U.N. forces withdrew south, first to Pyongyang, and then to Seoul.  

“Everyone was confused and of course disappointed because we thought we were going home soon. No one had any idea what impact the Chinese intervention was going to have on us,” said Cortez. “We were driven back all the way to Yongdung-po, to wait for more 105s. All we knew is that we were fighting a different kind of enemy, one we didn’t know nothing about, but it didn’t take long what kind of fighters the Chinese were.”  

By early Feb. Cortez and his unit were engaging the Chinese around a small village called Hoengsong. It was to be the turning point of the Korean War, not only for the 2nd ID and other units, but also on a personal level for Cortez.  

“I could see the infantry on top of the mountain. That evening I was on guard around my 105’s. I watched some ROK units moving up to the front lines; a few hours later they were moving back. I wondered what was going on,” recalled Cortez. “Pretty soon, I heard those bugles and those drums. I still get goose bumps when I think of those doggone bugles. That was the scariest moment of my life.”  

After pulling out from their position and being pinned down for sometime, they started moving south. The Chinese were on the high ground. Cortez saw two KATUSAs hit.  

“I saw the bullets coming closer to where I was. I closed my eyes and thought, this is it,” said Cortez. “The bullet hit a stove about 10 inches away from my face, I felt something hit my face; it was some flakes from the stove. That’s as far as the bullets came from hitting me.”  

They stopped along the way, pulled in into an open field and started firing point blank at the rushing hoard of Chinese. Then they were given orders to withdraw. They moved south for a while, but they were told to leave the trucks. Cortez helped his section chief, Sgt. Barrett who was wounded. They had gone about a 100 yards when word came down that the wounded would get back in the trucks and they would try to get out. 

 “We hadn’t had any sleep since the morning of the Feb. 11th and I fell asleep in the back of the truck,” recalled Cortez. “When I awoke the engine was running, I called for the driver in a hushed voice, but no one responded.  “Suddenly from the rear, there were a lot of soldiers running towards me. I thought they were GIs, until one of them shot at me. He didn’t hit me but I returned fire with my carbine. I felt something hit me on my stomach and I realized it was a grenade, so I ran to the opposite side of the truck, hit the ground and the grenade went off.”

Cortez then heard a tank firing about 300 yards to the front, and crawled towards it, thinking that if he reached it, he could get out.  

“I crawled about 100 yards when the tank stopped firing. I lay there thinking what to do next, when someone came over, took my weapon, looked to see if I had a watch and then moved on. I lay there for quite awhile playing dead. Almost everyone that passed by me looked to see if I had a watch. Finally some North Korean soldier turned me over and shined a flashlight in my face.”

© 2019 Jeffrey Miller

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