Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Hill - Night Terrors

A pair of M-40 155mm Gun Motor Carriages of Battery B, 937th Field Artillery Battalion, providing
fire support to U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division, Munema, Korea, 26 November 1951.

Sauer was nervous, not about combat, he'd seen plenty of that, but a lot of the men in this unit were very green. Most of them were new to the army, quite a few draftees among them. There were only a few WWII vets, like Hernandez and apparently the company commander. They were among the very few that had seen combat. Other than Sauer himself.

"Hey Fred, can you see anything down the slope? I swear there's someone there. Straight in front of us." Private Jeb Turley was one of those green troops.

Sauer scanned the slope to their front, he guessed that Turley had been staring at a clump of low brush about 50 meters below. "Don't look directly at something, Jeb. Look to one side or the other, if you stare at something long enough in the dark, your brain will be convinced that it's moving."


"Trust me, I remember my first night on the line. You get used to it." Or you died, but Sauer didn't say that out loud.

"Was that in Normandy or were you in Africa?" Turley was getting too chatty, it was nerves, but he needed to quiet the lad down.

"You need to be quiet, Jeb. Sound travels a long way at night, especially in this cold."

And in truth, it was getting colder.

"Cap, wake up." Hernandez was gently shaking Captain Paddock's shoulder. The man had been dead on his feet so Hernandez had convinced him to put his head down for an hour or so.

"Huh, where ..."

Sitting up, Paddock removed his gloves to rub the sleep from his eyes. It felt like he'd been asleep for only a few minutes, even though he figured it had been at least an hour. Hernandez wouldn't wake him unless it was important.

"What's up, Top?"

"I just got off the radio with battalion, here's our artillery concentrations for tonight. Seems we lucked out, we've got two batteries of self-propelled 155s on call."

Paddock took the proffered notebook and scanned it by the dim light of the nearby battle lamp. "Nice, this'll give the Chicoms some fits, won't it?"

"Sure will, according to ..." Hernandez paused, "Ah, shit, you hear that?"

Paddock cocked his head, he did hear it, in the distance the two men heard the tinny sound of a Chinese bugle. Followed by others.

Many others.

1LT Masterson came down the trench line, he wanted to make sure the men were ready.

"Don't fire until I give the order. Have your grenades ready. Aim at your targets."

One of the Privates looked at his buddy, "How the heck are we supposed to see what we're shooting at?"

PFC Mac McLendon just shook his head, "Don't worry Joey, just wait."

The noise emanating from the bottom of the hill was getting very loud, and closer. The bugles were unnerving to some of the new men, their sergeants kept telling them that a bugle couldn't kill them. But still ...

Sauer felt the lieutenant pat him on the back, he heard a muffled, "Stay alive, Freddy, I'm gonna need ya."

He waited, it had been a while since he'd held a rifle in his hand about to go into combat. The one he was holding had been shooting at him the last time he'd been in battle. Now he was carrying the Garand and truth be told, he really liked this rifle. But he wondered, could he still take the stress of battle?

Multiple streaks lifted into the air from behind their position, a series of muffled pops ensued, then the battlefield was lit by the strange swaying lights of parachute flares.

Sauer looked down the hill, there were scores of Chinese infantry advancing up the hill. He had the momentary thought that they would soon be swept away by this human tide. Then he settled his cheek into the stock of his rifle.

And waited.

Captain Nate Paddock was watching down the hill, shortly after the flares lit the landscape, he turned to his 1st Sergeant, "Concentration Able Foxtrot."

Hernandez spoke into the radio and within moments the screech of outgoing rounds crested the hill and began to explode on the slope below. Hernandez winced as he heard the screams over the roar of  the explosions. Men were dying out there.

Sauer heard his lieutenant bellow, "Open fire boys, let the bastards have it!"

All along the line the men opened fire, carbines and Garands popping away over the roar of the artillery. With the Chinese going to ground, or simply being blasted to atoms, the officers felt that the muzzle flashes wouldn't give much away. They did, however, keep their machine guns quiet. Those the Chinese would pay attention to.

Sauer carefully picked his targets, the first round he fired was at a man who was running up the hill, ignoring the explosions around him. Either an officer or a sergeant from the way he kept beckoning to the rear, urging his soldiers forward into the maelstrom.

Sauer couldn't tell if he'd hit the man or not as an artillery round detonated at the same time, right over the man and his comrades, as he felt the kick of his rifle.

Damn it these fellows were brave, they kept coming on, heedless of the devastation in their ranks. As the flares began to flicker out another round were sent aloft. In the flickering shadows of the dying flares, Sauer spotted another man, this one carrying a rifle.

The man looked towards the American positions, then looked back down the hill, he decided that advancing was better than falling back into the bombardment behind him. Sauer aimed, then squeezed the trigger.

This time he knew that he had killed a fellow human being. The Chinese soldier stopped in mid-stride, a look of surprise on his face, very clear in the new round of flares. Then he fell to the ground in a heap.

As Sauer looked for another target, there were many, he heard the machine guns open up. Things must be getting desperate.

1LT Masterson had decided that the damned Chinese were close enough, no grenades just yet, he'd use his machine guns to sweep the enemy from the field. As he was directing the fire of one gun, he felt a tug on his field jacket.

Then he felt an enormous weight fall upon him as he dropped to one knee. "Bobby, I'm hit."

Sergeant Bobby Winthrop turned from the machine gun, as he did so he said to the crew, "Short bursts, kill 'em all."

He looked for the lieutenant, where the hell was he? He'd heard the man yell his name As he moved back, his knee pressed into something soft at the bottom of the trench. He looked down.

"Ah Jesus, L.T."

The bugles sounded again, the Chinese were starting to fall back, they had lost too many men and their attack was breaking up into small groups of men trying to advance but mostly dying in clumps.

"Hold your fire!" the cry went up and down the line.

In the Company CP, Captain Paddock watched the Chinese falling back, he turned to Hernandez, "Concentration Baker Hotel."

Hernandez spoke into the radio. Moments later the artillery lifted and then shifted fire to the base of the hill, hoping to catch the Chinese as they tried to reinforce and regroup.

It did.

"Freddy." Sauer heard his Americanized name and turned, it was Sergeant Winthrop.

"L.T. Masterson's dead. I gotta take the platoon, take the squad, will ya?"

Sauer was puzzled by that, he thought Winthrop didn't like him, always referred to him as "that f**king Kraut."

"Me Sarge?"

"Yeah you. You're the only f**ker in the platoon with any combat experience other than me. Hell, you survived Dubya Dubya Two being on the wrong side ..." Winthrop paused.

"Jesus, Sauer, just get down to the machine gun and take charge. The guys are expecting you."

Winthrop then slapped Sauer on the shoulder and headed to the platoon CP.

The Chinese did not come back up the hill for a long while. Every man in the American line wondered, "Was that it? Is that all they've got?"

Then in the distance, well behind the Chinese lines, a number of men saw flashing lights. Some wondered what it was, the few combat veterans in the company immediately began screaming at the men to take cover.

Seems the Chinese had artillery too.


  1. Dad was a 17 year old Iowa farm kid in 1950 when he joined the Corps. (Grandma signed off on his permission) Radio operator with the 1st Marines at Chosin. More than once I saw him break through the ice into our waist-deep duck hunting pond while out setting decoys. NEVER saw him complain about getting cold, he'd clamber back into our blind, strip off his pants and hang 'em above a little coal bucket we kept for warming up. Different time and I'm glad to have been raised by that generation. Weren't many non-combat vet fathers in my neighborhood. Fun guys but they didn't take shit off anybody.

    1. Also, you'll notice the bird dog in my avatar... Another lifelong affinity I learned from those gentlemen that's served me well, my whole life.

    2. lol no #1 - The Frozen Chosin, any man who was there deserves massive respect.

    3. lol no #2 - Things learned at a young age will follow you through life. Sounds like you had many good experiences in your youth.

    4. It did not suck, Sarge. ;) The ass-kickins I got were richly deserved... and plentiful.

    5. Sometimes you take the bad along with the good. It's all in the learning!

  2. Bugles.....not a sound I'd like to night...and artillery too. Tense post Sarge.

    1. Pretty eerie to hear that on a frozen hillside in Korea.

    2. And sound bounces weirdly on frozen ground, making things more weird and eerie.

    3. I can hear it bouncing around the hills and down the valleys.

  3. The cold. That comes across in almost any history one reads of North Korea.

    "But he wondered, could he still take the stress of battle?" I cannot imagine the stress of surviving one war, only to go back into another one.

    1. Some men get a taste of war, and cannot resist going back for more. In Sauer's case it's a hatred of tyranny and the will to resist it that drives him.

    2. My Dad once told me the only time he really thought he'd die in Korea was from the cold, not the Chinese.

    3. It does get that cold, especially at the higher elevations.

  4. Raw draftees and a handful of vets. The LT got that "to whom it may concern bullet" and now Chinese Artillery.

    Trial by Fires sounds so noble, so clean, written by men who were often not there. You're doing awesome work showing the raw nature of war.

    1. Trial by fire is terrifying, messy, and an experience no one in their right mind should want to experience.

      Kind words, Michael, thanks.

    2. All war stories are written by the living. That is one hell of a selection bias.

    3. Even worse is the histories written by following the writings of a person, through letters and orders, until said person is dead. Some of the Civil War collections are heart-rending for just that reason.

    4. @Beans. I just finished a collections of diaries written by a Wermacht soldier on the Ostfront. Knew full well how it ended and it was still disconcerting when the daily entries just, well, stopped. Wish I could recall the books name, found it on amazon. 3 solid years of suffering, violence, hunger, fear and cold and then, he just isn't, anymore. Kids should have to read this stuff in high school.

    5. Make the damn politicians read it too!

  5. Helluva thing, from "buck-ass private" to effective staff sergeant in one swell foop. Sauer doesn't seem quite up to speed on Americanisms, though, "that f**king Kraut" could be grudging respect. And it sounds like Winthrop, despite maybe hating Germans in general, has genuine resect for his "f**king Kraut." Relationships can get complicated.

    Lt. Bromhead..ah...Michael Caine....has this to say about his time in Korea:


    "die expensive"

    1. Sauer has much to learn about Americanisms and our, at times, odd sense of humor. Don't let anyone tell you differently, but Germans have a wicked sense of humor, it's just a little different from ours. At least that's my experience.

      I look forward to watching those videos, probably later tonight. Michael Caine has always been a man I have a great deal of respect for, not just his talent as an actor but that in his youth he was really a soldier, who saw combat. He's a real mensch!

    2. IIRC (from reading his autobiography) he favored the USGI M1 steel pot in Korea

    3. Much better than what the Brits had.

  6. It is a trial by fire; sadly, those wanting the trial are usually far from it.

    1. Yup, those who want war should be in the front line from the beginning.

  7. I guess growing up, I kinda felt that way. I always wondered if I could do what dad did. He was drafted in the 50's then was a peace officer. I was 4F from a youthful injury, and he made me swear to never be a city or county officer. He saved me a lot of heartache, I reckon. I "found" other ways to be tested.

    I'm really enjoying the read about Sauer. Lots of men I knew were in Korea. My son served there in 2007. He had a great visit with one of the men I knew. Both were 2nd ID. Buck had been there in the war...

  8. Your writing is excellent, Thank You for posting.

  9. Well done as usual.
    Illumination rounds are very hand to have, absolutely essential in the days before everyone had night vision gear. Using it is bit tricky as the arty has to fire at a different elevation than the HE rounds, so you are either shifting one gun back and forth to provide illumination, or keep one tube dedicated for that, reducing the volume of HE you can put out. Timing is important, so you keep one flare going at a time. Not enough, it gets dark; too many and you will run out. (Burn time is about 25 seconds for 60mm mortars, about 90 second for 105mm Howitzers and 90-120 for 155mm. Today they have illum rounds with either "visible" light, or infrared light which are useful if you have night visoin gera bu the other guys don't.
    John Blackshoe

    1. Ooh, I like the infrared light thing. With our night vision gear, "Charlie" no longer owns the night.

    2. Pop some illum and you'll smoke NVG's. Thermal is really the way to go IMO.

    3. Even a nearby muzzle flash will wash your NVGs out.

    4. And along with illumination in WW2, there was "artificial moonlight" (you have probably mentioned this already Sarge). Under the right conditions, batteries of searchlights miles behind the lines would focus on the cloud cover at the front line. The effect was to change total darkness over a fairly large area into an approximation of a full moonlit night.

  10. Sarge,
    I'm really liking this story line, having been there, it's a lot easier to build a mental picture as the story progresses.
    I've been to several cold places in the world, IMHO none of them was as cold as I felt in Korea.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. I'm enjoying it as well, also because of the Korean connection.

      I still remember, vividly, having to remove a front radar scope on a bitter cold day. To remove the cannon plug on the right side of the scope, you had to squeeze your arm through the bracket holding the ECM scope (which had to be removed first, trivial). Guess what you couldn't be wearing when attempting to do that. Let me see, field jacket/parka off, check, fatigue shirt off, check, long john top off, check. Ah, now I can get my arm through the bracket. Quickly before your naked flesh froze!

      Good times.

    2. Cold, really cold just sucks.
      Having to strip half down to get to what you have to work on in the really cold is one of those memories that I'm glad you have rather than me!
      I do realize that what happens to a huge extent is (in your stories or in life) luck of the draw...
      Great story!

    3. And as juvat is wont to say, "I'd rather be lucky than good!"

      Thanks, Rob!

  11. Hey Old AFSarge,

    Excellent Story, Yep the Chinese had artillery, Soviet stuff, plus what they captured from us and the nationalist Chinese, they were not as accurate as we were but they used the same model as the soviet, "quantity had a quality all its own", I think they had Katusha rockets too.

    1. Yup, they had Katyushas, a lot of their equipment was Soviet in origin. They even used Japanese stuff from that war, IIRC.

  12. my dad was int the Brit Corp, Radio Operator for his general. They were overun and spent a few days on the run, likely before this period. Dad never hunted, never held me back and invited friends to take me along. Except once; we had a woodchuck eating the Brussel Sprout he had planted (don't judge: before roasted sprouts in balsamic vinegar were a thing and he was English) Anyway, that one time he borrowed a single shot 22 fron his bud and sat out on the edge and waited for a couple sunsets and put one in the head. Told me a lot about my dad as the years passed. We fished together a lot, so didn't miss the hunting, but took the lesson. Thanks, Dad.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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