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From Chapter 1 - Sunflower How


3rd Squad, 2nd Platoon How Company Korea 1951
Now here on our first night out, weary from the long march and climb up the mountain, I had fallen asleep promptly even though two rocks like spear points were poking me in the back and my head was below the level of my feet because I had tied the strings at the bottom of my sleeping bag to the roots of a tree so I wouldn’t roll down the mountain.

I couldn’t have been in my goose down sleeping bag much more than an hour, just long enough to get warm in the only place I would ever get warm that winter, when someone kicked my feet and yelled, “Get up! We’ve got patrol!” I couldn’t believe it.

After being jolted out of my deep sleep I crawled reluctantly out of my warm sleeping bag and pulled on my boots and laced them up. I slept in my shirt and pants and socks, so dressing was not that much of a chore. There was no snow on the ground but it was bitter cold. I rolled up my gear, donned my parka and mittens, and picked up my aid kit and my M2 carbine and fell in with the squad members who were gathering around Lt. Lowe. When a squad patrol went out like this often the platoon leader and his runner and the hospital corpsman went along while the other two thirds of the platoon would be exempt. Leaving our gear under the protection of the rest of the platoon, we moved out following a trail down the mountain in the moonlight.

The descent to the valley was not difficult and before long we found ourselves moving along a white dirt road with dry frozen rice paddies on our left and a spur of the mountain we had just descended rising to our right. We moved along the road in two columns keeping our interval in the moonlight. Lt. Lowe told the runner to contact the company CP on the walkie-talkie radio. Once the contact had been made, the lieutenant took the radio and reported on our position and progress. There was considerable static in the communication but I could hear the voice from How Company confirming receipt of Lt. Lowe’s report.

We continued down the road as it curved to our right around the mountain spur and then began to angle away from the mountain and leave it behind. We had now been on the road for thirty or forty minutes. The bright moon was past its zenith, and we could see off to our left across the frozen stubble of the rice paddy a dark line of trees that marked a creek or a dry creek bed perhaps a hundred yards away. We had been making an effort to be quiet; when we spoke we spoke in whispers and were careful to avoid the clanking of arms and gear. We were moving along to the sound only of the shuffle of our boots in the dry dirt when we heard voices. They came from the line of trees to our left, and the words were not English. We all heard them, and as a man, we stopped for perhaps three seconds and looked toward the tree line.

At once a line of fire broke out from all along the creek bed. Just as suddenly fifteen Marines hit the ditch closest to the source of the gunfire and hunkered down to get the maximum benefit of the twelve to sixteen inch embankment the ditch offered. I propped the tip of my carbine over the rim of the ditch and rolled over on my back and turned my face from left to right. I could see the Marines on either side of me, and, inches above our heads, a steady lacing of orange tracer bullets. The deafening explosions of rifle and machine-gun fire engulfed us.

After a minute some Marine several down from me yelled out, “Is anyone hit?”

Word was passed from man to man and I was relieved to hear that miraculously no one had been hit. I was disappointed in myself, however, for as corpsman, I should have been the one to ask that question. But I was relieved that I didn’t have to expose myself to that withering fire to get to a wounded Marine.

I could hear Lieutenant Lowe down the line trying to get through on the radio
“Sunflower How this is Sunflower How patrol, over!”

Static

“Sunflower How, this is Sunflower How patrol. How do you read me? Over!”

More static

“This goddamn thing! It’s useless. We came around that mountain and this goddamn thing only works line of sight. Piece of shit. Here! Keep trying to make contact!” And he gave the radio back to the runner who frantically kept trying to reach our CP.

Although the gunfire was coming from about a hundred yards distance, it sounded as though our attackers were only a few feet away. And no Marine was contributing to the intensity of the roar of battle because none of us had fired a shot. The fire was so intense and so close that sticking your head above the ditch seemed a certain way to get it blown off.

I had begun to pray the moment I hit the ditch. My prayers weren’t imaginative or altruistic or premeditated. They were the basic prayers of man confronted with momentary extinction, a mindless incantation.

“God, don’t let me die! Oh, please God, don’t let me die!”

I could see clearly the brief notice that would appear in the Daily Times Herald and the Dallas Morning News. I could see my family reading the telegram and hear the condolences coming in. I was resentful that I would die in my very first firefight. And there seemed little doubt that we all would die. Here we were exposed on a flat road while our more numerous assailants were firing at us from the cover of the tree-lined creek bed.

After some time Lieutenant Lowe yelled out, “Will someone volunteer to try to make it back to our CP? We can’t reach them on this goddamn radio and I don’t see any way we can fight our way out of here outnumbered as we are. Will someone try to make a run for it?”

There was no answer. No volunteer

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