Correspondent’s View – 2

Heartbreak Ridge

Heartbreak Ridge

5 September 1951, the North Koreans moved from Bloody Ridge to the 7 mile long hill known to the Americans as Heartbreak Ridge, just 1,500 yards away. A month long battle that would cost the U.S. 2nd Division 3,700 men. Below are two more articles written by Korean War correspondent Rafael Steinberg as he witnesses some of the action involved.

‘DO PEOPLE BACK HOME KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?’

By, Rafael Steinberg

WITH THE SECOND U.S. INFANTRY DIVISION, Korea, Sept. 28. – (INS) – When it began, there were many men, and they all said they’d rather live than be heroes.  But when it was over, there were many heroes.  The heroes who didn’t live through it were carried to the road in trucks that were seldom too large for the load they were given.  Those who lived, staggered off “Heartbreak Ridge” like fugitives from a nightmare.

They had fired their guns until their ammunition was gone, charged the enemy until the moment the enemy died, battled with knuckles and sinew.  The men of one group told the story today.  For the past few days they had fought as a bobtailed outfit because there were not enough officers or noncoms or men left to fill out the whole unit.  This conversation took place:

“Say, listen, buddy.”
“Yes?”
“Do the people back home know what’s going on here?”
“Some of them might.”
“Yeah?  Well tell them about this damn mountain.  Tell them this ain’t no patrol contact.  If they knew about it they’d stop this stuff.  This here’s a war.  Tell them about this damn ridge.”
 

The ridge is steep and the peaks along it are high and the North Koreans have burrowed themselves into the mountain the same way termites eat their way into a log.  For two weeks, the 23rd Infantry Regiment battled for the highest peak.  The first battalion crawled and climbed and battled and died on one slope.  The second battalion crawled and climbed and died on another.  The third battalion crawled and climbed and died on the peak just above.

The North Koreans still hold the highest peak.  But the Communist army is missing four regiments as a result of the death-grip the Reds kept on their mountain, the Americans who were wounded and died took more than their share of enemy with them.

Men of the Second US Inf. Div. back down from Heartbreak Ridge

Men of the Second US Inf. Div. back down from Heartbreak Ridge

The Communists held because they had a mortar and artillery piece aimed at every piece of ground the 23rd held or took.  They held because their commander sent four regiments, one at a time, up to the peak from the west without regard for losses.  And they held for the elementary tactical reason that a defender of high ground almost always has the advantage over his attackers.

But the men of the 23rd kept at it.  Said one company commander:  “They were charging up the hill with bayonets…”

The captain, James Dick of Elizabeth, NJ, came off the hill today and told his fellow officers:  “There were individual acts of courage the like of which I’ve never seen.  There was one kid on his way to the top, got his foot blown off and got some machine-gun fire in his chest.  Then a mortar knocked his jaw off and still the ______ kept going.  Then he almost got to the top and just collapsed, just collapsed… and we we will never know who he was.”

No American dead were left on the hill, the captain said, but there is no time to look at a man’s dog tags and write down his name when the mortars are coming in.

“I had my radio,” said one officer, “and each time we had to fall back because of the machine-guns or mortars, I asked for instructions.  They said ‘you will take the hill by dawn.’  So we try a few more times and lose a dozen more men each time and I make the same call and ask the same question and get the same answer.  Finally I left my radio near a tree and a mortar blew it up and then I had to use my own judgement and that meant get back to the perimeter.  We got back just in time, too.  I’m telling you, you can’t take that hill.  There’s no place to maneuver.  There’s just one or two ways to get up and they’ve got them zeroed in.  And their bunkers are so deep that a big shell won’t get into them.”

But the men stayed on and fought.  By this time they were usually in a state of shock.  For two weeks no one of them slept more than an hour or two at a time.  For days whole companies stayed alert on guard all night with no sleep.  There was no hot food, no change of clothes, no outlet for the tension and fear and worry that built up day by day until some men fell apart and had to be led down the hill and other men fell apart and led screaming charges up the hill.

Said one officer:  “There were two wild idiots.  Men screaming in the bottoms of their foxholes – and they had good reason to be screaming but what good were they to me?”

One small group lost 15 killed and 70 wounded.  Another smaller group had only five men hut by this afternoon.

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Personal note – I believe stories such as these from men who were there more than cover the question as to whether these three years was a conflict or a war.

Resource:  http://nightowlsnotebook.wordpress.com

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Farewell Salutes – 

Ben Smith – Seattle, WA; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Barbara Hooven – NJ; US Army nurse, WWII

His helmet, rifle and ammunition belt mark the spot where an unidentified soldier was killed on the Korean front

His helmet, rifle and ammunition belt mark the spot where an unidentified soldier was killed on the Korean front

Samual Brickman – Delray Bch, FL; US Army, WWII ETO, Forward Brigade

Edward Huth – Denver, CO & Phoenix, AZ; US Army, WWII

David Rechenbach – VA; US Army, Vietnam

Robert Hortie (83) – Salisbury, MD; USMC (Ret.) GySgt.

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on October 19, 2013, in Korean War, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 70 Comments.

  1. Great information! I’m going to share your Heartbreak Ridge posts with my mom. As I mentioned to you before, my dad fought there but is deceased so I have very few details. However, his story is starting to come together through some information that I found. In addition, my mom is going to help me by going through his military papers. : )

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  2. Amazing reading . . .

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  3. Mr. Steinberg brings it all down to a level we can understand – the very personal stories, told by those who lived them, to someone who was there. Bravo !!!

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  4. Amazing and interesting reading, both the story and the followup comments from everyone as well. I learn so much from your posts! thank you for all your hard work!

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  5. The WordPress app for Android is flaky and crashing. So I am reading all articles from PDF. Then going back and liking them in batches. Hopefully WordPress will fix the app soon.

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    • The strangest thing happened. While I was on your site watching your videos, I could tell by my notifications that you were on mine – what are the odds? I hope they fix your app soon for you – have you notified Support about the problem?

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      • Yes… They don’t care… I can see their point however, There are so many different versions of Android And integrating the app with every user has to be a real nightmare! It certainly keeps me on my toes! One good thing to come out of it is I have learned how to save things to PDF for viewing later And saving favorite things.

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  6. Through my ignorance, I thought Heartbreak Ridge was a Marine show. Thanks for the education… and it must be true they never knew who that got hit many times was still alive.

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  7. You do so much wonderful research. I always learn new things when I read your posts.

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  8. Nobody asked the question but in case anyone is wondering about those numbered arrows on the photographs of the ridges, they are the altitudes of the peaks, in meters. The contour maps used by the military always noted the height of each peak and that’s how the military officially referred to them, so there would never be a mistake as to which hill they were talking about. The names like “Heartbreak” and “Bloody” were often picked up by the correspondents from something a GI said, and often just made up by a correspondent on the scene in order to give the readers back home some sense of the battle.

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    • Thanks for adding, Night Owl. Could you possibly answer the question from Linda Arthur Tejera? I think she wants to know where the newsmen of your caliber are today. (No blushing.)lol

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  9. Stunning entry.

    In 2006 when I was visiting China with my father (who is Chinese) we had a conversation with a PRA Korean War veteran. Like many American vets, this man was down on his luck, reduced to panhandling on the Simatai section of the Great Wall. In his late 70s, he wore an ancient army uniform. He asked Dad how old he was, and discovering he was six months younger than Dad, the soldier addressed him as Da Ge, Eldest Brother. Naturally we gave him some beer money. I could barely follow his Mandarin but was struck by his humble, philosophical mien.

    It stretches my mind that he and men like him participated in bloody engagements like this.

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  10. Where are our Mr. Steinbergs today? I don’t have cable TV anymore and try to fast from the news for the most part because I’m not the least bit interested in what’s happening in Hollywood but I never seem to hear reports anymore about how the current war is faring.

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    • Maybe Mr. Steinberg can answer this one himself. I’ll notify him.

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    • Linda, there was some good reporting on Iraq and Afghanistan in the beginning of both wars, but then the press and the country got tired of them.
      Several reasons. The length of these wars today, television, the end of the Cold War (which means the absence of a clearly identifiable enemy–terrorism does not equal communism as an enemy to worry about.) But the biggest reason, in my opinion, was the draft. WWII, Korea, Vietnam were fought with draftees. So everyone knew somebody who was there, or could be sent there. So the war seemed closer. Today it’s the professional soldiers and, unfortunately, most of the country has no direct connection with professional soldiers. At any time during the Korean war I would guess there were at least 20 to 30 American civiiian correspondents such as myself in Korea, for the wire services, the radio and TV, the newspapers, the news magazines. My guess is that there are not more than half a dozen in Afghanistan, and at any given moment I bet that most of them are in Kabul, not with the troops. And you can’t blame the media bosses too much for that, because the coiuntry just isn’t interested.

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  11. Well, I used to think I got a pretty decent education! I suppose I understand why you can’t teach some things to children but when you’re older…. I can’t imagine how much history has been rewritten in textbooks. Oh, well. So many lives lost and, like you say, a war pretty much forgotten. So sad. I enjoyed reading CJ’s comments too!

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  12. Very moving journalism by a gutsy war correspondent. Helps to bring home the unimaginable horror of the slaughter of a battlefield. The visual image of the two men screaming in the foxhole is one that hits home as does the comment of the officer ” and they had good reason to be screaming but what good were they to me?”…The number of vets from every conflict who still live with post traumatic stress syndrome is an ongoing tragedy. Thanks for sharing.

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    • I felt Mr. Steiberg’s writing brought the war into reality far better than I could with the dates and facts listing. The emotions these men go thru are indescribable.

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  13. A reblogué ceci sur Lest We Forget and commented:
    Great writing

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    • Merci, Pierre, only this time Mr. Steinberg deserves the credit. I can usually “take-it or leave-it” when it comes to newspaper writing, but this war correspondent put the war right into perspective and in your home. I’m certain your readers will enjoy this first hand account from a horrible month-long battle.

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  14. What a horrible story, what happened to the use of air support?

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  15. So many years later and North Korea is still a pain in our collective sides. I couldn’t imagine living in such a state of repression. Thank you for your service 🙂

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    • I agree, but must correct you on one point; this site is dedicated to my father was the paratrooper and served, I am merely a member of the 11th Airborne Assn. and the reporter of what research I locate. Thanks again and smooth cruisin’.

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      • Sorry for my mistake, I thought you were as well. So I pass that thank yo on to your father and all of those who have kept us free and safe. Your father was quite a man, you must be a very proud son to take up a blog in his name. I still thank you for a very informative and enlightening site 🙂

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        • Thank you so much for your comment. I wanted to be service, but… well that’s a long story. I appreciate your visits and hope you enjoy yourself while you’re here.

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  16. Heartbreak Ridge sounded like a place where souls were crushed as well. What a vivid description of the terrors of war.

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    • Thank you for reblogging, I’m certain your readers will enjoy the articles Mr. Steinberg wrote as a war correspondent. I read your posts and this does seem to be an excellent fit for your site.

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  17. Wonderful reporting. I am so glad these were given to you and that you are sharing them with us.

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  18. Oh God, we owe them so very much…

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  19. Thanks again, GP. You have no idea how satisfying it is to me to know that what I saw and heard and wrote 60 years ago can help people who were not even born then to understand and appreciate what that particular war was like. At my age we don’t often get recognition of old accomplishments. I am ever grateful to you for enabling this one.
    And here is a bit of extra information that you and your readers will appreciate. In the second paragraph of this piece it notes that the men of one “group” had fought as a “bob-tailed outfit.” This was the censor’s re-wording of what I had written. It was the men of an entire battalion had quickly been reorganized and fought as a company because there were only a handful of officers and non-coms left. That was the kind of censorship that we all accepted because the battle was still going on and it was important not to let the other side know exactly how much damage they had inflicted.

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    • You are more than welcome. When I read these pieces – I HAD to get permission from you to reprint them. It is I in your debt. Thanks for the added bit of info, I’m certain everyone understands the censorship of war time.

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  20. Heartbreak, indeed. Was this the beginning of our being so “removed” from war as citizens? I know from my parents that daily life during WWII meant being conscious that our nation was at war. I was a teenager and young adult during the Viet Nam war, and I remember it being said that the fact we could get television reports from the war zone made foreign war “real” to Americans for the first time, and led to more general protest. But what can account for a nation that simply takes it for granted that our military is fighting “somewhere over there” and then gets back to pursuing pleasure and demanding things go our way? Is there historical evidence of America having a similar attitude to any other wars? Or is this a newer phenomenon?

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    • When the Korean War opened up, you had a generation that went thru the Great Depression, then a World War – they were tired. They had deprived themselves and labored for 2 decades to finally get 5 years peace, a chance to build a family and give their children the lives they never had – and the government gets into another international conflict? Not happy. The draft was still in force, the boys were going, but back home it helped their sanity to make believe it didn’t exist.

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  21. I don’t remember the battle of Heartbreak Ridge as I was eleven years old when it was fought. I do remember the Clint Eastwood movie that came out in 1986 but that was about the invasion of Grenada.

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  22. “I had my radio,” said one officer, “and each time we had to fall back because of the machine-guns or mortars, I asked for instructions. They said ‘you will take the hill by dawn.’ So we try a few more times and lose a dozen more men each time and I make the same call and ask the same question and get the same answer …

    I’m not really up with the state of play overall—but the obvious question begged here is: “How important actually was this ridge—or was some Bigwig waaaaaaaaay back trying for more medals, promotion, or simply a good writeup in his hometown newspapers?”

    One wonders, who were ‘they’ … ?

    Which is why I keep calling for the folks that want wars (politicians especially, those with the finger on the buttons of authorisation) to be the first sent off—as basic grunts at the front—to fight them.

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    • The area was important to the enemy – reason we had to get it. As far as your wish for the politicians to go to war first – I used to ask my dad that one when I was a kid.

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    • The question of WHY we expended so many lives for Heartbreak Ridge has never been satisfactorily answered, in my opinion. Military historians disagree. All I knew then and there, on the ground, was that the 2nd division had been ordered to take it, and take it they did–after a month. I think the answer lies in what was going on in the truce talks at that moment. They were about to settle the line of demarcation between the armies, and both sides wanted that little edige of a mile or so, one ridge or so, for a future advantage in case the armistice broke down. The armistice did not break down, once it was signed, so it really made very little difference in the long view of history which side of the ridge the demarcation line fell on. All this is just my opinion, open to argument, as I have not done any reporting or research on the reasons for that battle. But don’t forget, when a war is ongoing it is almost impossible to find absolute reasons for any particular action.

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  23. Thanks for sharing this! Reminds me of reading With the Old Breed.

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  24. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it, why people keep thinking this stuff is such a great idea. Of course, they’re usually not the ones out there.

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  25. Win at all costs? My Nam Vet friend thinks not.

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  26. History has named and praised one of the ancient Greek military contingents as the “Spartan 300” as heroic and from what I’ve read it was. But few compare to the countless American military engagements in the past 100 years that nobody knows about that were even more heroic. Hopefully future historians will be more enlightened and fair. The people who were on the front lines of those events are the ones who should be running our government.

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  27. Very informative and interesting stuff!

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