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Sgt. Phillip N. Bailey . Company F, 23d Infantry, Second Indianhead Division.

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Map: 38th Infantry and Task Force Zebra positions, 16 May 1951.

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February 1989. Bunker complex of Sgt Seymour "Hoppy" Harris on May 17 and 18 1951.

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February 1989. View from Task Force Zebra tank positions east of Hill 1051, looking due west toward the Mail Line of Resistance. Ridge peak just to the left of center is the machine gun bunker of Sgt. Harris.

Additional Photographs From May Massacre
and Task Force Zebra

 Return To Heartbreak
Ridge

A Journey Into The Past

 

May Massacre

After Chip-yong-ni, the 23rd Infantry pushed northeast until May, when a defensive line was established, the "No-Name Line." On May 16, 1951, the enemy began probing attacks across a broad front in preparation for an offensive operation. Elements of the 23rd Infantry were on the high ground of a mountain mass called Kari-san, Hill 1051, near the village of Chaun-ni, Republic of Korea.

Sergeant Phillip N. Bailey, F Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, was located on a knoll just to the east of the main peak of Hill 1051.

Today, Bailey is a retired General Motors automobile worker living in Mechanicsburg, Ohio. The day of May 17, 1951, stands out forever in his mind. Bailey wrote,

    "The early morning of May 17 seemed different. The relaxed mood (of earlier days) was gone. About one hour after daybreak, one of our observation planes went over our position and on over Hill 1051. He was not gone long before he was back over us. He dropped us a message. It said, 'Enemy out in front of you in regiment strength.'"

    "He flew back over 1051. He was back shortly with another message,

    'Maybe two divisions of enemy.'"

    "He made another trip over 1051. His last message said, 'I can't see the end of them.'"

    Chinese troops began to move over the ridgeline and to the left rear of Bailey's position in a trickle, but soon grew to a flood. Hundreds of enemy were visible at any one time, and shots from the F Company troops did not seem to bother them. Bailey continued in his letter,

    "Sometime that afternoon, after thousands of Chinese had passed us going toward our rear area, we heard some big guns open up toward wherethe Chinese had been going. More and more guns joined in. The battle looked at least a mile behind us and to the left."

    "The hollow became red from the explosions and a continuous roar could be heard. We were happy that someone else had brought the Chinese under fire. This soon caused us a problem that we had not had before.

    The last 200 or 300 Chinese that had gone by us were coming back uphill to get away from those guns. They were meeting the tide of Chinese coming downhill. This caused a log jam out front of (our) outpost of more Chinese than we knew how to handle."

    "Late in the afternoon, unknown to me, Lt. Szymanski was pulling the machine guns and getting the men ready to pull out. 'Sergeant Bailey,' he said, 'you bring up the rear. Make sure everyone gets out.' He went down the ridge after giving me the last order I would receive in the23rd Regiment."

    Bailey pulled out under grenade and rifle attack, running as fast as he could east along the high ridge. Eventually Bailey reached the main F Company positions on Hill 863, over 2000 yards along a ridge leading from Hill 1051.

    "Someone in F Company came by and I asked it they needed men over in defense. He told me there were enough men there. 'Eat, replenish yourammo, and get some rest.'"

     "There was a store of C rations and ammo there on top. I headed for the food. Another man was getting something to eat. I picked up more ammo for my rifle. I told the other man,  'Let's heat up the C rations.'"

    "There were two F-80 jets approaching our position. The went over us at about 200 feet, heading out toward 1051. Within seconds, they could be seen in a turn east of 1051. They had not made any strike. They passed over us again."

 

 On the third pass, something was terribly wrong. Bailey calmly related in his letter,

    "... I saw the flashes from the lead jets' cannon. He was firing on us. The cannon shells were hitting all around us. My buddy dived into the foxhole with our cooking fire. I went into the foxhole on top of him. The jets went over our position again. The whole mountain seemed to be on fire. I wanted to get out of that fire. As I put my left hand down to get up, I felt my hand cook to the bone. I came out of a ball of fire and headed downhill."

    In a terrified frenzy, Bailey ran through a minefield. A soldier stopped him, and demanded he sit down. The soldier asked what had

    happened, and Bailey said, "Our planes napalmed us." His letter ended with painful memories,

    "...it started to dawn on me that I was burned other than my hands. He was staring at my face while talking to me. My legs were hurting also. My vision was affected but from what I could see my hands were badly burned. Later that evening I was taken to the bottom of themountain and evacuated by helicopter to a MASH unit. For me, the war was over."

Hoppy Harris was dug in with E Company on a ridgeline lower than Bailey, and still further east. Harris remembers the afternoon of May 17, 1951.

    "...I see a napalm bomb drop from each plane and before they even strike I start to cuss. Then the napalm hits and balls of fire spew up and there is a great cloud of black smoke that billows up. Men come running out of it. Some run down the steep slope beating at the flames licking at their clothing, others try to pull off clothing as they run and stumble in panic toward us."

    "The planes turn, and come almost straight toward us. I can't recall ever feeling as frustrated as I was that moment. I jumped into the bunker, readied the machine gun to fire free-traverse. I am determined to have a go at these simple bastards. But it seems half a dozen guys are yelling at me at once, yelling a dozen different things at once. I tear out of the bunker in a rage and see guys waving their field jackets and arms and yelling as if the pilot could hear them."

    "It took me a long time to get over that incident. I really don't think I will ever completely get over it."

Hoppy Harris wrote a long narrative of his experience at the battle now know as the "May Massacre." On May 18, all units along the Hill 1051 ridgeline mass were overrun, and orders were given to fall back to the low ground. During an attempt by the 23rd Infantry to escape, the main road south was blocked by the Chinese. American soldiers blew up the ammo dump, destroyed vehicles, and set out on a brutal night march under fire with only what could be carried by each man. Wounded were carried on improvised stretchers by men stumbling in the dark.

From maps I provided, Harris had located his positions on the narrow ridge. Tom Ryan and I set out to climb up 600 meters to reach those positions. Tom was 42. I was 41. Certainly not young anymore.

Ryan drove the car as far as we could up a valley parallel to Harris's old position. I felt I couldn't write about the war if I did not try to climb these hills. I will never forget that climb. 

Corn snow lay in patches on the ground, and other areas were icy. Pine needles blanketed the slopes. The path we had originally taken along a small stream stopped, and we had to climb up a steep face. We would take four steps, then slide down.

The slope changed from 30 degrees to between 45 to 60 degrees. I was gasping for air, grabbing every bit of vegetation for stability, never looking up. It was a matter of will-power and adrenaline. 

We made a ridge spur a couple of feet wide, and headed toward the main hill. Tom took a nasty fall, and broke his metal detector. The spur we were climbing dropped off on both sides at least 200 feet. It was very important to test each foot fall, and make sure each handgrip on the bushes and trees was strong. 

I slipped once, and my notebook slid down 50 feet. Goodbye notebook, there was no way I was going to climb down to fetch it. Tom knocked a rock loose, and it struck me in the leg. I decided to let him get ahead.

A half-hour later, we finally reached the ridgeline, and immediately found foxholes running in either direction. A bunker system was readily apparent. We discovered several obvious machine gun bunkers, fallen in now.

We could see a rock outcrop higher up the ridge. Tom took several coins from his pocket, and threw them into crevices in the rocks. I didn't have toask what he was doing. You do things sometimes that require no words. We were both on a personal pilgrimage.

It was all so easy, two middle-aged men climbing a ridge on a beautiful Sunday winter day in Asia in  1989. There were no exploding grenades, no screams of wounded, no blood flowing on the ground. None of our friends were dying. No frantic calls came over a radio. Our guts were not twisted in fear. We could not smell napalm, or the scent of cordite. The ground was not littered with brass casings, the air was not full of shrapnel. 

I walked west on the ridge, eventually climbing higher. Hill 863 loomed before me. Tom stayed below at the rock outcrop, and I continued upward. It was again late in the afternoon, and he called out that we needed to go down before we got into trouble. 

About a hundred yards below the peak of Hill 863, I stopped, exhausted, knowing I could climb no higher. I stood there, thinking about all the veterans I knew from the Korean War, remembering all the hours of interviews, the hundreds of letters, the outpouring of pain from total strangers. I remembered the late night calls from old soldiers who could not stand the pain any more, who had no one to talk to anymore.

I stood quietly for a few more moments, then yelled out the name "Phil Bailey". The words reverberated off the mountain.

I waited until I could no longer hear the echo, then started back down the ridgeline, in silence but for the sound of fallen leaves beneath my feet.

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Map By United States Army
All Photos Copyright Hal Barker, 1989

 

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