Friendly Fire: September 1950
excerpted from Invisible Scars
We have now been in Korea for more than three months and the end
does not appear to be in sight. The North Koreans have pushed us
into a relatively small corner on the southeastern coast of South
Our defensive lines are not well defined and there seems to be
fighting all over the place. Company F of the 27th
Infantry Regiment has been very fortunate, with our casualty
count relatively low, compared to other units. I strongly believe
this is due in part to some good luck, but mostly due to the
capabilities of our experienced sergeants and officers, many of
whom have World War Two experience. They are good leaders, set a
good example, and have taught us a few tricks about fighting in a
war. Yet, we all worry about what is going to happen next ... are
we going to make it?
A couple of North Korean divisions have rolled down the west
coast, turned easterly and are headed toward the port city of
Masan. This is only a few miles from the seaport of Pusan, our
major defensive perimeter. This advance has been accomplished
with little opposition from our forces. Should they reach their
objective, we have been told that the situation would be worse
than Dunkirk ... a World War Two battle resulting in the
evacuation of Allied forces from the European mainland with heavy
loss of men and materiel.
Our division, the 25th Infantry, was pulled out of the
Taegu front, together with other outfits, to halt and destroy the
enemy, who by now were only a few miles from Masan. We did not
set up defensive positions ... we went on the attack as soon as
our recon elements made contact with the North Koreans and
reported their estimated strength and location.
The area was mountainous and fighting was going on all around us.
At night the sky was illuminated by artillery and mortar fire. We
were surrounded by heavy fighting ... flashing three hundred
sixty degrees. Our outfit was in contact with the North Koreans
inside the Pusan perimeter. This was not a comfortable situation
but our luck still held, and in the next two days and nights we
had few casualties.
Daybreak of the third day found us near a road that led to a dry
riverbed. We setup our mortars to give support to our company as
it moved into position to assault across the riverbed and rout
the North Koreans from a nearby hill.
We were waiting for our Forward Observer to radio a fire mission
back to us, but none came, since the artillery FO had already
zeroed-in on the NK positions. Suddenly, a shell landed
near our position ... where we had setup the mortars. We assumed
it came from the NK, but our Command Post informed us that the
enemy we faced did not have any heavy weapons. Another round
landed nearby, and we realized that this was
our own artillery. Word came from the FO that he
had two short rounds, and to stay down. He had called the
artillery battery and ordered them to cease fire ... however, he
thought that one more round was on its way. This one might not be
a short round, but regardless, we should stay under cover. The
round did come, but passed overhead about three hundred yards to
fall near the dry riverbed. There were calls right away for a
medic and men to help with the wounded. The short round had
landed in the middle of Fox Company's Command Post.
Our platoon leader called two guys by name to go and give as much
help as possible in evacuating the wounded. The guys called did
not respond ... they did not move. He then called my name and
Thomas. Without hesitation we ran toward our buddies who needed
our help. I can honestly say that throughout the whole ordeal I
was not scared, nor did I think about getting hurt or killed. The
mind works in strange ways, and will automatically take over. I
remember thinking that my buddies were down there and could be
among the casualties needing help.
I did have a good buddy in the CP, Robert Hatfield. We had met at
Fort Knox during basic training and attended leadership school
together. We shared some real good times and enjoyed each other's
company very much. We shared our problems and looked out for each
other. When Thomas and I got to the scene where the round hit, we
saw scattered bodies and heard cries for help. I checked a couple
of guys and they appeared to be alive, but had serious shrapnel
wounds. I kept looking for Bob. Our commanding officer, who was
not seriously wounded, told me that my buddy was off to my right.
I found Bob. He was moaning, his eyes were closed, and he was not
talking. He was peppered with little holes ... spotting his
chest, stomach, legs, face, and arms. He was not bleeding ... but
I knew he was seriously hurt.
I called out to Tom for help in getting Bob up the hill where a
medical evacuation jeep waited. The jeep did not come down to the
riverbed because our commander was afraid that it would draw more
sniper fire. Until it was mentioned, I did not notice the
shooting but now I became very much aware of it! As we started to
pickup Bob, an officer ordered me to get our company orderly out
first, since he appeared to have more serious wounds. Tom and I
obeyed, and under intense enemy sniper fire, we took Lighty up
the road to the waiting jeep. I had to leave Bob laying on the
riverbed ... with all those little holes, all over his body.
The jeep driver asked for one of us to ride as shotgun
guard on the way to the battalion aid station, because there was
scattered enemy fire along the way. So I volunteered to stay with
him. Riding back from the aid station, I saw Bob passing in
another jeep and I waved to him, shouting some encouragement,
"Hang in there buddy!".
That night we heard that Bob and Lighty and four others did not
make it. Both Bob and Lighty died from internal bleeding while
the others died from more obvious wounds.
For many years I have not talked about this event. Anytime I hear
the phrase friendly fire, this whole scene goes vividly
through my mind.
by Milton R. Olazagasti
... who is a Korean War combat veteran, a retired analytical
chemistry laboratory supervisor, a former translator for the
Delaware Public Defender's Office, a certified soccer coach, and
a National Referee Assessor for USSOCCER, now composing a memoir
of war. This work is excerpted from Invisible Scars, a
collection in progress.