Firefight at Hill 620 (continued)

In early June 1953, a group of U.S. Congressmen were choppered to the 3rd Div. front to witness soldiers in action. The action was a company-size patrol, in broad daylight, in front of Papa San mountain, where the enemy was dug into solid rock. The patrol was surrounded, and the 9th FA was called on to fire smoke shells endlessly for much of the day to cover the retreat. Beginning that night, the enemy attacked our outposts, especially Harry, every night, around 10:00, for two weeks. The coutnerattacks routinely started at 1:00 am and the fighting routinely ended at 4:00 am. The 9th provided artillery support all night. After two weeks, the attacks subsided.

Because the 3rd Div., in Kumwha valley, had taken a lot of hits during the first half of 1953, the decision was made for the 3rd and the 40th (California "Sunshine" National Guard Division) to swap places in the middle of July. The 40th was in Chorwon valley, to the west of Kumwha. The Republic of Korean Whitehorse and Capitol divisions were to the east of the 3rd, in the Kumsong area. Advanced units of the 3rd Div., including elements of the 9th FA, began to switch with similar units of the 40th around July 12. Enemy loudspeakers on the front lines screamed that the enemy was aware of our troop movements.

On Sunday evening, July 14, at 10:00 pm, Colonel Wimberley received a phone call, monitored in the 9th FDC, that enemy forces had routed the ROK Whitehorse and Capitol divisions and had driven in about six miles. Also, a US 105 artillery division (92nd?) had been destroyed during the attack, which took place in heavy rain. Around 11:00 pm, the 9th sent a 2-1/2 ton truck, in the rain, to Chorwon to begin the return of its advance party. The next morning, the 9th and the rest of the 3rd Div. assembled and moved into position for a counterattack at Kumsong. The 9th lined up, hub to hub, with other units of the 3r Division's artillery and some artillery units of IX Corps and one 8 inch howitzer battery from the 8th Army. The area was called artillery valley.

The 64th Tank Battalion sent company-size patrols into no-man's land to probe enemy positions, only to suffer rocket and mortar ambushes and, occasionally, infantry swarms. It was decided, then, that the
9th FA could provide direct support of such probes if radio communication could be maintained between the tanks and the 9th FDC. The first attempt at such a coordination was undertaken around
July 20.

Pfc. Gabriel Broussard, a Jeep driver, and Pfc. Robert Heslep, a radio operator, volunteered to set up a radio relay station betweena tank patrol and the 9th FDC by proceeding up Goat Trail, for fivemiles, to Hill 620 a Jeep, Hdqs. #7. They left Hdqs Battery at 7:00 pm and approached, at 8:45, the hill, which appeared to be beyond the infantry lines. Pfc Heslep contacted the 9th FDC and then, for security purposes, shut down his radio. While he was on the radio, Pfc. Broussard left the Jeep and went into a rice paddy to retrieve a flare chute for a souvenir. He hastily returned, saying that"gooks" were out there. Pfc. Heslep saw about 8 of the enemy, butcould not not contact the 9th FDC. Just before Hill 620, there was a road running to the left. Broussard and Heslep took it in the Jeep hoping to find friendlyforces. On their right, however, were smoldering artillery positions. After about a mile of driving, they turned around to go back where they had been. As they approached the intersection by Hill 620, they saw the enemy setting up an ambush. They stopped the Jeep, crouched behind it, and engaged in a fire fight with the enemy. Pfc Broussard was at the right rear of the vehicle armed with a Grease Gun and two clips of ammo. Pfc. Heslep was at the left rear with an M-1 and a bandolero of ammo.

Almost immediately, Pfc. Heslep saw rounds landing about a foot from his left leg. He soon saw someone shooting from a bridge in the middle of the rice paddy. He fired several rounds at that person,who quit shooting. Meanwhile, Broussard apparently killed an enemy on the right front; and then either he or Heslep, or both, killed another on the right. Then, the enemy shot out the tires of the Jeep. Heslep and Broussard, then, decided to withdraw. When they did, Broussard had only one round left in his Grease Gun; and Heslep had only four rounds in his M-1.

They quickly found a crease in the hill that went up to the 3rd Div front lines. On their elbows and stomachs and with their weapons cradled in their arms, as learned in basic training, they crawled up
the crease. From the top, they looked down and watched the enemy set the Jeep on fire. They thought about killing some of them but decided to keep their ammo for possible encounters in the future.

They decided then that they would crawl down the mountain side to the road where they had made their radio check and then work their way back to the front line. While crawling down the mountain, Broussard and Heslep became separated. Broussard went into the rice paddy, where he found one or two hand grenades, and began walking up its stream. Heslep reached the road and the crawled in a roadside ditch toward the front line. While in the ditch, he observed a friendly patrol above going out to see what the firefight was all about.

Soon, Heslep thought he was near friendly forces, got out of the ditch, and began walking toward the front lines. Enemy mortar rounds were landing nearby, and two U.S. Air Force planes were bombing enemy positions across the rice paddy valley. Very soon Heslep met up with Lt. Bacci, who, along with Lt. Taylor, had come to search for him and Broussard. Lt. Bacci said that Broussard had been located and had been returned by Lt. Taylor. Heslep protested he did not understand how he and Broussard could have become separated, considering that they were only a few feet apart when they started to crawl down the mountain. The mortar rounds persisted, and Lt. Bacci said that he and Heslep should move back.

At the 9th FDC, Colonel Wimberley interviewed Pfc. Heslep. He mainly wanted to know why he and Broussard had not defended the Jeep, Hdqs. #7. He did not readily accepte the explanation that there were only five rounds left for a defense.

In September 1953, Lts. Bacci and Taylor were awarded the Bronze Star for Valor for volunteering to look for Pfc. Broussard and Pfc Heslep. Shortly afterwards, Lt. Janover, who sometimes went on pattrol with tanks from the 64th Btn, confirmed the casualties of two enemy near Hill 620. In November 1953 Pfcs. Broussard and Heslep were awarded the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service for their action regarding Hill 620.

The NCO in charge of intellgence for the 9th FA in July 1953 was one Sgt. Simms. He acknowledged to Pfc. Heslep, the day after the event at Hill 620, that the hill had been captured the night before but he had not read the info about the capture before Broussard and Heslep undertook their trip. The 64th Tank Battalion, however, was aware of the vulnerability of Hill 620; for it did not send out a patrol along Hill 620 around July 20.

Robert Heslep, Ph. D., HQ Btry, 1953-54.

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Boom of Big Guns in Korea Still Unforgettable--Continued

A Non-Stop Thunderstorm

We were engaged in intense back and forth fire with the Chinese, the incoming and outgoing shelling went 24 hours every day with peak activity taking place in the dark and early morning hours. The firing sounded like a thunderstorm, day and night. There were six Howitzers in our battery, which was spread out over an area the size of a football field. We of course couldnÕt see the enemy and depended on forward ground and air observers for our target selection. Each gun made an ear-splitting noise when fired individually and at the beginning of each salvo, all six guns were fired together and the ground would shake as if in an earthquake. It is impossible to describe to anyone who has not actually experienced it, the volume or decibel count of the explosions from artillery pieces. It must be hundreds of times louder than you hear in the theater when you see war movies or in TV footage. Ours were 155mm Howitzers called "medium artillery." There WAS even heavier - and louder - artillery in the Korean War; 240mm Howitzers and 8-inch guns.

Most of the soldiers who had served with the firing battery for months were at least partially deaf. Some could hardly hear anything at all. They all hoped that their deafness eventually would wear off; but after the cease fire and cessation of firing there was no improvement in their hearing and they realized that they were permanently deaf.Since I was only in combat with the battery for a few days, my hearing even today remains normal.

The Battle Field Fell Silent

When the cease-fire was signed the war continued for another day and stopped at 10 p.m. on the next day. We kept blasting away until 9:45 p.m. and waited warily for the Chinese to stop firing at us. We were not certain that the war was really over. The Chinese unloaded all of their ammunition on that last night and stopped at 10:00 p.m. on the dot. The battlefield fell silent. The next day; we had to withdraw two miles despite heavy rain in which the Howitzers sunk in the mud and had to be pulled out by winches and steel cables attached to Jeeps and trucks. The area where we had been positioned became - and still is - the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. After the cease fire, I served in a variety of capacities including artillery instructor at the Third Division NCO Academy, also called the Leadership School, and at the battalion headquarters until returning to the U.S. in February. I left active duty in the Army on March 2, 1954. I remained in the Army Reserve for several years while attending Harvard Law School and then during my first years as a practicing lawyer. But to this day, I vividly remember the boom of those Howitzers!

Robert Janover, Executive Officer, B Btry, 1953-54.

On the Run - Continued

By New Year's Eve 1950. Bartett's unit had been pushed below the 38th parallel. The North Koreans and Chinese were as close to Bartlett as they'd get, about 2 to 3 miles, judging by the nearly straight-up trajectory of the shells.

"That's the only time I was really scared," he said. "New Year's Eve, we were shooting these short shells. I am freezing, and I got the phone to my ear and I'm wondering that the hell I was doing there."

Bartlett said the balance of his time in Korea was spent moving back and forth across the 38th parallel as the Third Army advanced and retreated. He guesses that his unit crossed the parallel at least 10 times in the year he was in Korea.

One day in September 1951, one of the Korean soldiers in his unit told Bartlett he'd overheard the Captain talking. "He said, 'Sargy, you going home,'" Bartlett recalled. The soldier's information was correct. Bartlet was soon on his way out of Korea. He was discharged from the Army in November.

Walter Bartlett, SGT, A Battery, 1950-51.

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