MY CHOSEN HELL
by Donald H. Summer
PURPLE HEART MAGAZINE July/August 2013
I was born and raised in the mill town atmosphere of Pittsburgh, Penn., where you did not necessarily need higher education. You could marry and raise a family on good union wages. Having a year with the Rockwell bumper plant, and aware of the draft, my smartest move I thought was to take advantage of the two-year enlistments available and return to the plant with three years seniority.
So it was off to Fort Knox, Ky., in 1949 for eight weeks of basic training, a furlough before going to San Francisco, then a boat ride to Japan. I was assigned to CO. C, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, located at Camp King outside of Toyko. I began training with the real Army. Some were combat vets and career men. Training was tough and thorough. At that time I had no idea how important this training would be.
Fifteen months later, North Korea had attached across the 38th parallel and we were headed for Korea on LST’s. We landed at Pohangdong unopposed on July 18, 1950 and quickly moved into position at Yongdong. We were not fully aware of the vast odds in favor of the North Koreans. By the morning of the 24th, we were attacked by elements of the NKPA 3rd Division. They were supported by Russian T-34 tanks. We were equipped with 3.5 rocket launchers that were capable of stopping tanks. The 77th Field Artillery behind us helped slow their advance. We were able to hold for two days, but the fact that we had been deployed with no contact with our Second Battalion on our left, we were outflanked and forced to withdraw.
This was my first battle; my first view of a bloody friend in agony or death. Moving people were harder to get in your peepsight than a 10-inch bullseye. You had to fight the fear that made your leg shake or your teeth chatter when you tried to pray. And so it went, ever southward, hill by hill, day by day. Finally we came to rest at a river called the Naktong. This was soon to become a part of the Pusan Perimeter, the last line of defense. We would hold here and repel the attacks across the river, buying time while more troops and supplies landed at Pusan. It was during this period that I was hospitalized for ten days at Teagu for malaria.
On September 15, the marines and infantry landed at Inchon Harbor near Seoul. North Koreans across the Naktong, upon learning of the landing, began to withdraw. This enabled us to break out and spearhead north, linking up with landing troops and trapping many NKPA troops in the south.
The morale was now very high. We had broken out of the perimeter, advanced 106 miles in three days, and were assembling at Kaesong for a possible attack into North Korea. Our regiment, the 8th Cav., would spearhead the drive to capture Kumchon. It was during this attack that our Battalion Commander, Col. Kane, was severely wounded. On the 14th of October, we had captured Kumchon. Now we were ready for the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. We were slowed up trying to cross the Teadong River.
We were to occupy the Old Imperial Palace in Pyongyang and took advantage of a hot bath and cooked food, but our joy was short lived. It seemed that a large enemy force had mauled an ROK Division in the hills above Unsan and we would help clean them out.
On October 28, our 8th Cav. Regiment moved up behind the 1st ROK Division. Our 1st Battalion went through the town and took up positions north of Unsan and to the left of the ROK Division. Our 2nd Battalion was to our left; our 3rd was to the southwest. Little did we know that we were being encircled by a large Chinese field army, whose movements had been concealed by forest fires. By that afternoon, the main road behind our regiment was cut off by Chinese troops isolating us from our 7th and 5th Regiments. It was getting dark and suddenly all hell broke loose. The Chinese appeared about 30 to 50 feet from us, as if they had come out of the ground. Fortunately, three boxes of grenades and some boxes of M-l bandoliers were left at our position. The pins on the grenades were hard to pull and we loosened them with a bayonet. By midnight, we had been pushed back down the ridgeline. I knew by the yelling and direction of fire that they had broken through our perimeter. I was trying to keep my men together. I could hear the tanks down in the riverbed and the call to pull back.
Suddenly a wave of Chinese with fixed bayonets came over the ridgeline and into my squad. I sidestepped the one nearest me and he pivoted toward me and shouted something. My finger tightened on the trigger and I stopped him.
My squad had disappeared in the darkness and suddenly I was alone. Again I remembered: pull back. I ran down the hill until I reached the rice paddies at the base. I could see the road and a line of tanks and trucks moving to the south. Now Unsan was lit up like a torch. The line of tanks had stopped as I ran down the road and I yelled “coming up” and a trooper gave me his hand. No one said a word, but it was written on every face what had happened. Shooting had again started ahead in Unsan and by the time our tank had reached the main street, the Chinese had taken up positions in windows and doorways. We returned fire as best we could without falling off. I was hit with shrapnel in the arm and neck. We transferred the wounded into the trucks.
After this, I continued on with the 1st Cavalry and participated in all the remaining operations against the Chinese until they were pushed back once again across the 38th parallel. Around June 5, 1951, I was rotated back to the States.
I am proud to have had a part in the forgotten Korean War, and I am proud of the officers and men of the 1st. Cavalry Division. But it is with deepest humility that I write about this part of my life, for I am a survivor. Every survivor leaves a part of himself with the real heroes of any war. Yes, Unsan was our hell and even 60 years later I dream and I am all alone as the Lone Bugler is playing taps for them.
CASUALTY TYPE – KOREAN WAR
- Killed in Action: 23,613
- Died of Wounds: 2,460
- Missing in Action – Declared Dead: 4,817
- Captured – Declared Dead: 2,489
- TOTAL HOSTILE DEATHS: 33,739
- WOUNDED – NOT MORTAL: 103,284
- Current MOPH Members who served in the Korean War: 4,256
If you, your family member or friend has been the recipient of a Purple Heart, we would like to hear your story.