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.
Have been reading the papers you sent describing the 2nd Battalion actions on Heartbreak Ridge. Believe me, they were enlightening. In one of my letters to you I recalled the French relieving us, and while we were trying to pull out of there hole by hole the mortars started coming in. We were so bunched up it was a mortarman's dream. I remember the name of the lieutenant who was killed. Lieutenant Frederick Van Fradenberg. I've been trying to think of that name for years. What a fine man he was.
I recall that the digging was rather easy that day, and we all had good deep holes. But against mortars, a high trajectory weapon, this doesn't always help. Two kids next to my hole were dug in together, and seemed to be good kids. During a lull in the shelling, we got to talking baseball. They said they were from St. Louis and were Cardinal fans. I told them I was from near Rochester, and Rochester being a Cardinal farm club at the time, I was a great Cardinal fan. We talked only a few minutes and then I heard the poop poop of mortars leaving their tubes and I said, "See you later."
And I ducked down in my hole, and like everyone else, prayed a round wouldn't come in the hole with me. They hit us real good that time, seems they were firing in salvo's. As soon as you heard the poop, you could start counting the seconds on your watch and it usually reached twelve before the rounds hit. Van Fradenberg had asked us to count as it would give him some idea of the range of the weapons.
When the salvo let up I lay there in my hole awhile before getting up. Suddenly I heard someone say, "Ah, they're both dead! What the hell you think? Landed right in the hole with them." I stand up, and it is the two kids I'd just been talking baseball with. The round had blown them out of the hole. They were a terrible sight. One was blown nearly in half. I look up at Van Fradenberg, and he merely shakes his head, and there is a far away, sad look in his eyes.
I had forgotten we did get some replacements from the deactivated black battalion of the 9th Infantry. I got one black replacement in my section and at first he was sullen and uncooperative, but he and I came to an understanding but quick. I recall we had a small probing attack one night and the next morning the kid who was in a hole with him came and told me the black guy had cowered in the bottom of the hole during the firefight and never fired a shot. I went over and had a heart to heart talk with him. In essence, I told him we were a team in our section, one for all and all for one. In a firefight, everyone did his part. No one lay in the bottom of his hole and let someone else do his share of the fighting. That every weapon counted and that included his. I told him that I'd heard he had not fired a shot in last nights' firefight and that just would not do. I gave him to understand in the future that I would expect him to do his share.
I told him, "If we have a probing attack tonight, and I look over here and see you are not firing, I am coming over here and blow your fucking head off. Now you take that for what it's worth. My life means a lot to me and the thought that I might lose it because you screwed off doesn't exactly tickle me pink!"
He starts to give me his crap about this not being his war and all that old jargon and I cut him short. Told him I didn't want to hear that crap. I'd heard it all before. That he could write his senator but in the meantime he was going to fight or I'd settle his hash so quick it would make his head swim. I walked off and let it go at that.
After I'd left the kid in the hole with him said the guy said, "Do you think he'd do that?"
"Hoppy has been here a long time and by God, if he told me if I didn't cut the mustard he'd be inclined to blow my head off, I'd be inclined to believe he'd do it."
Well, this fellows name was Anderson or something like that. Slowly he came around, and became part of the team, and eventually became a good man. When one of the jeep drivers in the section went home, Anderson came to me and asked if he could have the job. I said it was alright with me and put in a good word for him. He got the job and made corporal. Turned out to be a good dependable man.
From what I observed and heard, the black soldiers while together in the black units didn't cut it very well, but when mixed with white troops, they seemed to perform much better. "White boy, I can do it if you can!" And they did. And the army was better for eliminating the black units.
As far as Koreans assigned to the 2nd Division, I can only speak of the two we had, they were very young but both excellent soldiers, a hell of a lot more dependable than a lot of GI's.
I had Kim who I treated like a son, and I say not meaning to brag that he looked upon me as somewhat of a God.
I've lost track of the times we'd have squad guard and Kim would wake me to tell me the man on watch was asleep. He'd point out the man on watch and say, "Sonbitch sheep."
If I'd stir in the night it seemed that he always awoke. If I motioned I was going to check the positions he insisted on going with me. He had ears and eyes like a cat and during an attack it was good to have him next to you as he could tell you what the North Koreans were saying out there in the dark.
I recall one night we were making a night attack and I thought we were up against two machine guns. Kim was right there beside me as usual, and said the Korean word for machine gun and I held up two fingers to indicate two guns. He touched my shoulder and held up one finger, then went on to describe how they were firing what was probably a Maxim in one spot, wheeling it to another spot and firing from there. It made it seem to us that we were up against two guns instead of one.
Both Korean boys we had with us were very good boys, but I was especially fond of Kim. Would you believe it, when I left for home he cried? I did my best to comfort him, put my arm around him as we sat on a canvas bunk together, and just let him pour it all out. Man, he really did. Sobbed like his heart would break.
You know, I've always wondered what became of him and how he made out in life. I had over $3,000 on the books when I left Korea, and I always wish I had left about $500 with the proper authorities so that when the war was over, he could have gone to school and gotten a decent education. I heard after I got back from Korea that $500 was about all it would take for him to have gone to a good school. You know, like a boarding school? He was as smart as a whip, a good looking kid ( about 16 ), and I would have liked to have seen him make something of himself. He deserved it. I think about this often as another lost opportunity, both for Kim and for me. I'd give anything to find him now.
I want to make a couple of comments on the papers you sent me about Heartbreak Ridge. Of Master Sergeant John Falconer making an attack and our supporting fire being so close that if they had lifted their hands they would have gotten it in the fingers.
Well, I recall that day well. Falconer passed right in front of my guns with his men that day and said, "Bring her in close Hoppy, will you?"
I said, "Bet your ass we will. We will shoot your helmets off if you want us to."
Falconer just grinned and started off down a ridgeline, and I yelled and asked him if his men had any tracers on them. They did and they knew what I meant when I asked.
You see, the range that day was quite a way and as how the gooks used smokeless gunpowder, it was not easy to see where their fire was coming from. Even with binoculars they were hard to spot. I'd keep an eye on Falconer and he'd give me the high sign and point, then fire a tracer into where he was getting fire. I'd take a look with my glasses, and watch where his tracer went, and in no time I'd have a gun more times than not firing directly into the bunker or hole or whatever. That day Falconers' men were crawling up under our fire and chucking a grenade into the positions. Lots of times a grenade wasn't needed.
I wish you could have seen the bunkers the gooks used. They were just high enough so a man could crawl into them and lay flat. Open on one side to enter, with a hole sometimes not over a foot wide, maybe eight inches high to fire through. A death trap. Logs six inches thick, with dirt and rocks on top, they could take a direct hit from a 105, unless it was a delay fuse, and survive. It was these kinds of bunkers that our fire would go right into, and the gook in it had nowhere to go. He was laying right in line with the front opening. You'd have thought they'd have dug down so they could duck down until we stopped firing then when the time was ripe, back up and cut loose again. But then the gook commanders thought less of their men then ours did. If that is possible.
Falconer by the way was Phil Bailey's old buddy. I got a kick out of them records saying it was only a small outpost, as only 20 soldiers at most being killed in their bunkers.
Now on page 30 it mentions a heavy machine gun with a hole in the water jacket that could be operated for only a short period of time. It was a hole made by a small piece of shrapnel.
Well, that was one of my guns and we could only fire it in short bursts, six rounds at most. And they had to be spaced several seconds apart. Then we would have to stop completely as the gun would overheat. Of course you know that metal expands when it gets hot, and with a machine gun, the guns stops, and you have to rake the bolt back by hand. This means that you are firing one shot at a time, and the gun is worthless. That is, unless you have an abundance of water you can pour on the weapon. On Heartbreak, we were lucky to have water to drink.
I tried and tried by radio and hand-written notes to my CO to get a replacement for the weapon and finally did, but I had to do everything but sit up and bark to get it.
It mentions on page 15 that as George Company and Fox Company crossed the line of departure, we encountered casualties of the 3rd Battalion being evacuated, and that some of the men became jittery.
Man, the understatement of the century. They were struggling past us on litters in a steady stream. What a mess some of them were Some were unconscious from loss of blood and were tied to the litters.
I remember turning to a kid who had never seen combat and he looked like he was going to vomit. I patted him on the back and said, "That's what it's all about, man."
He just shook his head and said, "Oh, God!"
Food was a real problem on Heartbreak.
Water was always in short supply, the same with C-rations. They made sure we had ammo. I can't remember ever being short of ammo. But it seemed we were hungry and thirsty most of the time. Once in a while they brought up thermos cans with chow and we'd get a decent meal. But not often. We usually got our meals down on the road.
You never mentioned anything about the spotter planes dropping the rations and duffle bags with canteens of water in them. Did you ever run into any info on that?
I went down a slope one day to retrieve a box full of C- ration units and as I bent over to pick up the box, a sniper put a round by my head that didn't miss by over an inch or two. I was so hungry I didn't let it bother me and just turned toward where the shot came from and said, "You SOB, you missed me!"
I made my way back up the slope and they said I was mumbling something about "the SOB's, don't they know a guys' got to eat?" The men in my section went into stitches. We usually had to wait until dark before we ventured out to pick the stuff up. But that day, by God, I was hungry.
Well, I'll close for now and get this into the mail. It's been really nice here today, up into the 50's. What a mild winter it's been here. I can't believe it.
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