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Chapter 8 Massacre Valley

From: Chapter 8 Massacre Valley

Doc Hughes 1951
The next day we moved down from the mountain where the 1st Battalion had taken so many casualties and began to move once more in pursuit of the enemy. The delay the Chinese holdouts had provided with that battle gave their comrades time to clear out of the area. Now it was our objective to move quickly and reestablish contact again and keep them off balance.

When How Company made it to the valley and got back on the road we had come up the day before, we turned north. A cold rain was falling as we formed our two columns, one on each side of the road, and settled into that old hypnotic rhythm of the march. The other companies of the 3rd Battalion soon joined us and before the day was done the entire 7th Regiment was moving north.
The UN’s victories at Chipyong-ni and Cloverleaf Hill at Wonju, had stopped the Chinese, but the offensive the Communist forces had launched on February 11th leading up to those battles caught our forces by surprise and exacted a heavy toll. As we began moving through the narrow valley north of Hoengsong our regiment was the first to see how costly that Chinese offensive had been and to witness directly the aftermath of a horrible military miscalculation.

A regiment is a large body of men, somewhere between three and four thousand, and on this day a number of Marine units had preceded the 2nd Platoon down the road where engineers had plowed and pushed the slush and debris to the side. We were used to seeing dead Chinese and North Koreans, but we were not prepared for what we saw as we followed the curving road around a steep bluff. What came in view were American vehicles headed south, but they weren’t moving. They were in the ditch. There were jeeps, trucks, and M-16 half-tracks, most of them riddled with bullet holes. There were tanks as well, some with their tracks blown off.

The 7th Regiment Marines ahead of us had discovered hundreds of dead GI’s in this narrow Hoengsong valley, some of them still in their riddled vehicles, others lying in the ditches alongside the road. Many of them had been stripped of their clothes and boots. A few had been executed with their hands tied behind their backs. Tanks were found with the whole crews dead inside and others tanks and vehicles had simply been abandoned. The stark and grisly convoy we discovered had been frozen in time since that awful night three weeks earlier, its members no longer aware of the cold rain and sleet that had since continued, sporadically, to fall on their rigid bodies.

The first Marines going through had to drag dead soldiers off the road so they wouldn’t be run over by our vehicles. They were assisted by an Army recovery team from the 2nd Infantry Division, which had been sent to retrieve the bodies of Support Force 21 and the equipment that had been lost when that unit was overwhelmed by the Chinese offensive.

By the time the 2nd Platoon passed through the area the bodies had been pretty much collected, but whiffs of decaying flesh were in the air. For a few weeks now we had noticed that the bodies that had been frozen in the winter were beginning to thaw. We humans like to set ourselves off from other creatures as being different, maybe with some justification, but in death there is no distinction. All decomposing mammalian flesh smells the same. We had to this point been exposed mainly to enemy dead, bodies left unattended or hastily buried. Sometimes there was the smell with no bodies—only flesh and fragments of bone and teeth and tatters of brown uniforms mixed in with dirt and gravel that graders had pushed to the ditches as they cleared the road.

What we saw and smelled on this day drove home the realization that it is much easier to look upon the dead “them” than the dead “us.” These were Americans who had died here. This realization fell on us like a pall. All banter stopped as we marched through the valley. We looked quietly to the left and right as we passed through the scenes of destruction, each man deep in his own thoughts.
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