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.
You know, we were discussing the day the French were taking our positions at Heartbreak Ridge, and while we were pulling out we really got creamed. I have often wondered what was in battal-ions' mind that day, they they could not wait until nightfall. I can't recall we did anything special that day. So what was the hurry?
The French lost a company commander, and over 100 men were killed and wounded.I don't blame the French Major for being ticked off. I would be too. I don't believe that is the first time the French were mishandled. If I had been in their shoes, I believe I'd have saddled up and went back to France.
Hellfire, Hal, you don't throw away crack troops like that. I don't believe the North Koreans or Chinese would have pulled a caper like that.
From the logs you sent me, it strikes me as if the French were pretty well operating on their own, both at Heartbreak and Chip-yong-ni. They seemed to be running patrols and setting up ambushes all on their own. So why didn't they tell battalion where to head it in, especially when they saw mortars whaling in as they neared our positions? But they didn't, they walked right in to that man made hell like lambs to the slaughter.
What we were doing was vacating one hole at as time. When it came to your turn, you bugged out like the hounds of hell were after you. As we vacated a position, the French would take it over. Silly. We should have all got out of there, then the French could have moved in. We were bunched up like crazy. Man, when you bunch up on line you are asking for trouble. On Heartbreak, it was courting disaster.
One day along toward the end of the fighting on Heartbreak, I am with one squad of my section in a trench and bunker, about 50 yards west of 931. I have the squad in position covering a ridgeline coming up from the Mundund-ni valley. The Easy Company CP is perhaps 75 yards from me. We have soundpower telephones between the positions, and I get a call that we have mail over at the CP. We hadn't had any mail in some time, and this comes as welcome news.
I have a Jap kid who hasn't been with us very long and his mail hasn't caught up with him yet. He say's he will go get it, but I tell him to wait until the 105's that are firing a mission out in the valley let up. I try to tell him I don't want him blown away with a short round.
Well, the kid is bound it's safe, and keeps bugging me to let him go. I take his nagging as long as I can, but finally can take no more and tell him alright, go ahead.
He takes off, out of the bunker into a twelve foot trench, hops out of the trench and takes off across the ridge. I hear another salvo going over and crossing fingers that I haven't made a mistake.
Wham! A round hits the ridge. The instant it hits I start to cuss and make it outside as quick as I can. Fact is, I make it so quick the dust and smoke is still swirling as I look out of the rench and see "Ike" lying curled up holding the inside of his right thigh.
In seconds I am by his side and screaming for a medic. He has a hunk of meat out of his thigh the size of a porkchop. Four inches higher and he'd have lost his jewels. He's bleeding badly and I jerk off my belt to make a tourniquet. I am just tightening the belt when the medic coming from the CP hits me broadside and sends me sprawling. He hits me so hard I see stars. I come up cursing. The medic acts as if I'm not there and goes about his business like the pro he is.
Thank God it is early in the day, and we are able to get him off the ridge. It has to be done in a hurry as a main artery has been severed and the medic cannot completely stem the flow of blood. But Ike puts up a kick, and demands I check the mail to see if he has any. He does, and I stick it in his fatigue jacket, and Ike is happy as a lark, and smiling weakly up at me, he says, "I'm sorry, Hoppy, shoulda listened to you."
I assure him it was alright, shook his hand, and said, "Good luck, Ike."
For Ike it was that million dollar wound. I don't believe he ever came back to the outfit. He was a good little joker, always a smile on his face and would do anything he was told with never a kick.
I guess that is the only thing I ever did that I can look back on with regret. Well, you can't win them all. But when I think about it I try to console myself with the fact that my nerves were shot and I let his nagging get to me.
Oh what the hell, I might as well tell you this one, too. It's a tragic mistake that lead to a rifleman loosing a foot.
It happened a few days later as we were moving into position for the attack on Hill 520.
Lieutenant Riddle is already up the the jumpoff point and from where I am I can see him looking over Hill 520 with his binoculars. I make sure all my men stay on the path. As we are tired from the climb up the side of the ridge, we all just sit down in place.
Well, here I have the presence of mind to remind my men to stay on the path and not wander off to either side for fear of booby traps or anti-personnel mines and what do I do?
Sit there and look at an anti-personnel mine which resembled a wooden Codfish box with Russian wording on top. I just sit there and stare at it, and it never registers on me what I am looking at. I have seen probably hundreds of them and knew perfectly well what I was seeing. Instead, I sit there as if in a trance and stare at it. There is only a little dirt on it.
Lieutenant Riddle has his radio man yell for H Company machine guns to come forward. I yell for my men to saddle up and we move forward. Just as I reach Riddle, I hear a thump behind me. I whirl around and see a cloud of dist and smoke. For a split second I see a body in a flipflop.
My God, then it hits me. God in Heaven, what have I done? I say nothing to anyone. But I have a sense of guilt that just will not go away. For a while the thought of it will leave, and then someone will say something and the memory will come flooding back. Several times I am tempted to tell someone but cannot bring myself to do it. I form in my mind what I am going to say. But my ego gets in the way, and I say the hell with it and let it ride.
Well, the night before I leave for home, I finally get up the courage, swallowed my stupid pride, ego, or whatever you choose to call it. I go to the Protestant Chaplain and spill my guts. Make a fool of myself, and cry like a baby. The Chaplain allowed that under the conditions there was no way I could blame myself for what had happened. The Chaplain and I say a prayer together for Gods' forgiveness and it is like an anvil has been lifted off my head. I walk out of the Chaplains' tent feeling like I'd been reborn.
Hal, I couldn't bring that home with me. I had to tell someone. Something just kept prodding me to go see the Chaplain, and I'm glad I did.
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