Return To Heartbreak RidgeReturn To Heartbreak Ridge is the story of a sons' search for his fathers' past, and a series of letters received from Korean War Veteran SFC Seymour "Hoppy" Harris, a gunner with Company H, 23d Infantry Regiment, 1951. It is a complex story.
Warning: Strong language, pejorative terms, and honesty.
The fight for Hill 520 ended my days of fighting in Korea. My 180 days on line. 10 October 1951. That isn't very much line time compared to line time men have had in other wars. But, believe me, it was about all I could handle. Perhaps if I could have had 30 days rest away from it all, then gone back, I could have handled more. But then we will never know, will we?
I got the word from First Sergeant Walker, our first soldier, who was calling from our battalion aid station that my time on line was up, along with Bob Shelden and Phil Oghan. I was elated, to say the least. I remember Walker asking me if I wanted to extend my tour on line three months and make master sergeant.
I said "Hell no, man."
I didn't tell him, but I was on the verge of cracking as it was.
He asked Phil the same. Phil said the same as me.
Well, when we first got the news we laughed, shook hands, laughed again, and carried on like children. I guess to others we acted as if we had gone nuts.
We made the rounds and said our good-byes to everyone and wished each other luck. We made our way down the hill to the aid station where Walker waited in a jeep. On the way down I noticed Phil got carried away emotionally. I was walking behind him and noticed his handkerchief came out several times.
I didn't really get to thinking very deeply until we started the ride back. And then I commenced to do some thinking. How lucky I was to have had so many close calls. Close calls that would normally have wiped a person out. How lucky I was to have a sixth sense that seemed to guide and protect me. I felt a sense of guilt having made it while others did not.
But then I searched my mind as I had many times before to see if I could find any place that I had let my men down. Or someone had died because of something I did or didn't do. I have always, always done my job, and my conscience is clear on that count.
I have lost track of the number of times men thought I was overly rough and demanding, and then later saw that I was right. And admitting it to me afterwards, saying that if it hadn't been for me, they would have been killed, captured, or God knows what!
I guess I felt hate boil up inside me because I had been to the rim of hell and had a good look in, and I knew deep down in my heart that the people back home would not appreciate it.
My government had sent men to Korea to fight who should never have been in the Army, let alone in a combat zone. While others who were able-bodied were allowed to stay home and go to college. Or came from affluent families who could pull strings so their candy-asses wouldn't have to lay their precious lives on the line. No. Let the poor, the uneducated, spill their guts like they have done in all our wars.
And when they get home, treat them like garbage. I was not indulging in self pity here, because I had asked for it. But a lot of those kids hadn't. They had no choice. Some of them had neither the mental or physical capacity to be Boy Scouts. And nobody cared. "Send them to the meat grinder. If we lose them, what have we lost? Nothing! We have gotten rid of the chaff, the culls. The mentally and physically defective."
I guess I was full of resentment that day, and still am to this day.
You can believe this or not, but I had kids who couldn't write a letter home, or read a letter when they got one. I had one kid come in with a hernia, another who was stone blind without his glasses. And one guy in his early twenties who was a hemophiliac. Isn't that just lovely?
I believe his name was Phillips, and every time we'd get in a firefight, he'd throw his weapon down and bug out. We were down in the Punchbowl one day, got to swapping lead, and Phillips takes off. When we pulled back, I found him lying along the path we were taking to get back to our positions on the Kansas line.
Well, I proceeded to raise some hell with him, having repeatedly warned him about bugging out every time the crap hit the fan. Then he tells me he's a hemophiliac. At that time I didn't know what a hemophiliac was. He kept saying that over and over again, until I thought he had gone off the deep end. He saw I didn't understand. He says, "I'm a bleeder!" Christ, I couldn't believe it. I sent him down to battalion aid, and we never saw him again.
It's strange, but I don't remember thinking of home at first. My thoughts were more with those who would not be going home. A feeling of extreme sadness nearly overwhelms me.
On Heartbreak Ridge alone, I went up there as a section leader with twenty odd men, and when it was over I had eight left. And some of those came in after the battle started. I wondered if what we had done over there had all been worth it.
We went home by ship, unloaded at San Francisco, and processed out at Camp Stoneman. Those of us who were going to the East Coast went by air. We would not make it home for Christmas, and on the way over the Rockies we started to wonder if would make it at all. Hit a snowstorm and the prop job we were on really had a rough time. They passed out puke bags and when they ran out, cups. I was sick as a dog but managed to keep from puking. I was too damn mad to puke.
"Damn!" I thought. "I made it through Korea, now I'm going to go west in a damn plane. Damn. And they probably won't even find my body. Maybe not even the plane. Damn, ain't that hell."
Well, we made it to Oklahoma City. Had breakfast, at least a few of us. I saw the pilot trying to drink a cup of coffee. He had to use his saucer to keep from slopping it on the table. I went over, shook his hand, thanked him for a job well done. I know he appreciated it.
We flew on to Newark, and I left Camp Kilmer for Rochester, New York, arriving the day after Christmas.
Had a 30 day leave, but remember little of it. Stayed drunk most of the time. Had crying spells when I told of things I'd seen and done in Korea.
The attitude of most of the people at home was negative concerning the war in Korea. I remember remarks like, "What the hell are we doing over there anyway?"
I would watch someone pick up a newspaper and turn to the sports page, and pay no attention to the front page carrying the latest news from Korea.
I should say here that when we arrived in San Francisco, there was no one to welcome us home. No well done. No nothing.
After the termination of my leave, I reported back to Camp Kilmer, and ended up being assigned to Fort Riley. I ended up going to school learning to be an infantry weapons instructor. I graduated after about ten weeks of training with an 88 average out of a possible 100.
On 2 August 1952, I married a WAC in Junction City, Kansas, and from the beginning the marriage was a disaster.
We both drank like we were trying to drink Kansas dry. We pulled a few strings and were given quarters on post over others on a list several sheets long.
Well, the wife worked as a telephone operator on the post and nights we would have parties and raise hell. Our place would be full of WAC's and their dates. I told them we could have fun with these parties, but to keep it clean. Any hanky-panky and no more parties. Well, it finally happened, so that ended the parties.
Soon after that, my wife received orders to SHAPE Headquarters in France. I wrangled a transfer to the 2nd Armored in Baumholder, Germany. My problems began.
All the time in Germany, I was trying to get a transfer to France, and my wife was trying to get a transfer to Germany. I started to have trouble, or rather got tired of being trained how to fight by somebody who had never seen combat, and I was forever getting myself in hot water mouthing off at officers in classes. To see men trained to fight one way when you know damn well they are being taught wrong was too much for me, and I couldn't keep quiet.
Then some private would gave me some lip, and first time I caught him alone I cleaned his clock. Of course, he blew the whistle on me, and I had to stand before the CO, and lie like hell. Never did any such thing. His word against mine. I'd come out smelling like a rose, but it was nerve-racking. All the while I'm drinking like hell, and brooding over not being with my wife.
I managed to get a three day pass to go to Paris to see the wife. Ended up getting stoned and going AWOL for three days. Came back and received a Summary Court Martial, and lost a stripe.
Loosing the stripe didn't do my temperament any good, and I became meaner than ever. I got so bad the CO sent me for psychiatric evaluation. He thought I had a screw loose. I came out of that smelling like a rose. A personality defect, possibly stemming from my Korea service.
More fights. More lies. More evaluations. "Too much Korea."
I wanted to be with my wife.
One night while on charge of quarters, I'm going through books on Army and Special Regulations, and come upon a regulation that says two people both in military service shall be stationed where they may obtain quarters and live as man and wife.
My CO said, "No. This regulation does not apply to you."
I wrote my state senator. Three weeks later, I'm transferred to Hanau. And lo and behold, my wife is transferred to Frankfurt.
We are together at last. I take a machine gun squad and whip a bunch of eight-balls into shape. I'm as happy as a skunk in a hen roost.
But then my wife gets pregnant again. She carries the baby for a time, but miscarriages. The miscarriage really tears her up, and her doctor thinks it best if she is sent home for discharge.
So home she goes and I am left to serve out my time in Germany. Well, at least I am in a good outfit and that means a lot to me. I'm entertaining thoughts of staying in the Army.
But then on Christmas day, 1953, my wife steps into the bathroom of her parents' home in Macon, takes a revolver to her head, and ends her life.
I get the message by telegram which is read over the phone to me. I go into a state of shock. It is an hour before they can get me back where I can tell them what has happened.
Believe me, some of the men in my squad had met my wife and thought her the greatest. They cried unashamed. I am able to fly home and make it in time for the funeral.
On completion of leave, I report to Camp Kilmer, where I am assigned to the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a National Guard outfit that has been activated to full time duty at Fort Devin, Massachusetts.
When my separation date nears, I was asked to re-up. A promise of promotion. But no certainty. Just promises. So on August 29, 1954, I was separated from military service. It had been four years of adventure. Good times. Bad times. I look back on it with a lot of pride.
I marry again in 1956 and try to make the best of civilian life, but it is a struggle. To this day, I am still fighting the war in my dreams. Have had and lost several jobs. Drank up a storm for years. Tried to commit suicide twice. Spent nearly a year in the Syracuse Veterans Administration Hospital locked ward. Am now drawing 50% disability for my feet I froze at Chip-yong-ni, and for post-traumatic stress syndrome.
My heart renders me unable to work and I draw 100% disability from Social Security. So ends to me a very pathetic story. What a mess, huh? Just the wife and I. No friends. Just loneliness.
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