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.
Bob Shelden Called
Memorial Day 1987
Bob Shelden called me yesterday, the 17th of May, and we had a few laughs. I really needed that call. I was really down, depressed, and being as it was the 36th anniversary of that blood bath up at Hill 1051. You know, the "May Massacre". The command post was in a small village called Chaun-ni. I was thinking of Bob, Phil Ogan, and the others, and thinking of how lucky we were to come out of there alive.
At about 5:20 PM the phone rings and it is Bob. Said he'd been driving down the highway and "Hoppy" kept popping into his mind. Hoppy and the May Massacre. Finally he said to his wife, "I think Hoppy's down today. When we get home I'll give him a call to cheer him up."
We had a good laugh when he told me something I don't remember to this day. But it was something that stuck in his mind all these years. He said when we got down off the high ground down where the battalion was trying to get organized for the trek out of there, he and I were standing arms length from each other at one point when one of those anti-tank guns the Chinese used to snipe with let fly. It barely missed me and men scattered. As Bob and I take cover and I exclaim, " Oh goddamnit, now start that shit. What the hell are you shooting at me for? Why don't you shoot at Bob? He's bigger than me."
Bob frowned at me and said, "Thanks, Hoppy, you're all heart!"
I knew probably that I'd made a mistake because he said I replied, "Oh, I'm sorry, but them 51's been after my ass all day."
He said we lay there awhile and figured the snipers attention was diverted by someone else, so we decide to move. We no more than stand up and that sniper puts one right by Bob's head. We dive for cover and Bob's mad as hell. "Goddamn you Hoppy!" he hollers. "Now look what you went and done. The bastard's on my ass now!"
Now those elephant guns were bad shit. They'd knock a tank tread off. Blow your head off. Take your guts out your back and strew them all over the landscape. So you can see when you had one of those babies on to your ass you'd better keep down, keep moving, or throw in the towel. I mean some of those guns had scopes mounted on them and if conditions were right you wouldn't hear the report when they went off. Shoot a mile they would, and I mean they were accurate. We tried them. Wish we'd had something like that.
Up at Chaun-ni those big slugs were thicker than Bob ever remembered them being. He said it was amazing one could get shot at so many times by those SOB's without getting hit.
He couldn't remember where if even was, but a bunch of us were behind an embankment and one of those big guns had us cold turkey . Bob said he really had us zeroed in. Said he could remember me plainly saying in the snipers direction, "Why you one way SOB! Here I am with a goddamned carbine and you with that goddamned cannon you got! Of all the one way SOB's I've ever run into you take the cake you slopeheaded SOB!"We had a hell of a time up there. Bob said once he saw Chinese coming over a barbed wire entanglement and called Lieutenant Kloc's attention to them. From a standing position, Kloc nailed one after the other. He'd bet Kloc nailed 16-18 of them. Never seemed to miss.
When we went on the attack on the 21st of May, we had artillery support like we'd never seen before. Artillery, tanks, and air. The whole country was on fire. The Chinese had nowhere to hide. Everywhere you looked they were fleeing. Bird-dog spotters calling in fire on them. Planes getting right down on the deck with them. Strafing, firing rockets, dropping napalm and 500-1000 pound bombs.
Way ahead of us it sounded like rolling thunder. Bombers, B- 29 or whatever, raising hell. Blowing holes big enough to bury a house. Some filled with water, and were full of bloated chinks.
They tried hiding in houses. Packed in like sardines, and here comes a napalm bomb. Never knew what hit them.
The chinks would pack a ravine full and a tanker would ease into position and put a 75mm round in with them. Imagine that. Imagine what that tank gunner saw through his sight? Men packed three deep. Maybe a platoon and blam! Shit on the moon!
We hit one area ( 22 May? ). The hills were rolling, not high, and as bare as a pasture. We chased chinks over these hills until it got comical. Get on a hill and the forward slope for the next hill would be crawling with chinks. Hose them down until the survivors got over the top and onto the backslope. We'd displace forward and do the same thing all over again. Wholesale slaughter. No prisoners.
Phil Ogan refers to those two or three days as "Chasing Chinks." Good name.
The whole country was a sea of dead. The hillsides, roads, and ditches were filled to overflow with bodies, bloated and stinking. Gutted, decapitated, without arms or legs and body parts laying all over the place.
The chinks made a crude attempt to bury some of the dead. Probably at night. If you had to go underground, you had to drag them out and pull them down the forward slope. A very disagreeable job.
The flies were as big as honeybees. And at times the stench was overpowering. Maggots at their work made the whole hill hiss. You think that's an exaggeration?
Ask Shelden, ask Ogan, ask anyone who was there. What the flyboys would do is run the chinks off a hill into a ravine, or they'd take cover before the flyboys got there. Enemy would herd into ravines like cattle in stockyard pens and they'd get napalmed there. All you would see were burned pine trees and dead chinks black as coal. Some bloated from the tremendous heat. Some you could put in a shoe box.
We're on one hill and can see only about 100 yards of road. The rest is hid by ridges. We see a chink running up it full tilt. He reminds us of a pet chimp running on his hind legs, or maybe a penguin. Up the road ahead of him we can see smoke and dust from artillery fire. I ask Shelden where the chink was running. "Must be off his trolley!"
Shelden says, "He's running into some bad shit going that way!"
In a minute or two an American tank grinds into view on the road. Shelden remarks, "That answers that, poor bastard is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea."
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