Mixed Emotions: Winter 1950-51
excerpted from Invisible Scars
Most combatants, at one time or another, wish for that special
wound, the one that is not too serious, but will get you out of
the front lines and away from the danger and horror that is
combat. We called it the million dollar wound. When this
happens you can be very thankful and happy, or very sad but worst
of all a feeling of being very selfish ... since, it removes you
from the men that count on you, and need you the most. It also
means that someone you are leaving behind has to take over the
job you are doing, and possibly his own, until a replacement
This is an event that stays in your mind forever ... it happened
The winter of 1950-51 had been extremely cold in Korea. The
ground was frozen 2-4 inches deep. This made digging our foxholes
with our entrenching tools almost impossible ... but dig we did!
At times we tried digging a small hole to fit a grenade into to
blow open the ground to give us a start in digging the foxhole.
We discontinued this because it gave away our positions and our
CO was not very happy with our innovation ... although I am sure
soldiers had tried this trick before.
As we got closer to the Yalu River, at the Manchurian border, we
had been kept on the move ... withdrawing and holding ... by the
Chinese troops who had entered the war. We Allied fighting men
were caught by surprise as we prepared to launch an offensive
that was to end the war, and allow us to "return to Japan by
Christmas" ... to quote General Douglas MacArthur.
We did not have the winter clothing, footwear, gloves and other
equipment for dealing with temperatures way below freezing. The
heavy snow made us easy targets, since we did not receive
camouflaged gear until late February. We suffered high casualties
from the weather, and constant attacks by massed Chinese troops.
These were well prepared, experienced, and determined troops.
Most of the ChiComs were veterans of the war against Imperial
Japan and the Nationalist Chinese Governments. Their leaders were
dedicated communist and military knowledgeable.
The Chinese soldier knew how to get maximum effectiveness out of
his automatic weapons. They had several in a squad and were
trained to pick up and use weapons discarded by our troops and
recover those left by the dead and wounded. Their training and
experience was much better than ours in such an environment, plus
we had been trained to be Occupation troops.
The ChiComs pushed us south of the 38th parallel, past
the South Korean capital of Seoul, across the Han river to a few
miles south of the town of Osan ... where our forces had first
met the North Koreans in June 1950. Our three regiments ... the
27th, the 24th, and the 35th ...
together with division support withdrew. Withdrawal was executed,
most of the time, in an orderly manner using regimental and
battalion leapfrog tactics. We did manage to disengage the enemy
south of Osan. I believe the enemy had also overextended their
During these moves I managed to received some minor shrapnel
wounds. After treatment at the battalion Aid Station, I was
quickly returned to my platoon. This was not the million
dollar wound that I would have preferred. However, I was
grateful that it was minor, and also grateful for the four hours
away from the front line.
Early in December I transferred to a rifle platoon from the
weapons platoon, containing the company's organic machineguns and
mortar section. I became the assistant squad leader with a
Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). I managed to find an extra
automatic rifle, so now my new squad had two, which increased our
fire power considerably. I must have been out of my mind to leave
the relative security of the 60mm mortar platoon and
become a BAR man. My new platoon leader told me that I had a good
opportunity to become the squad leader since the present leader
came from the field artillery and had very little infantry
experience. Our commanding officer (CO) made him a squad leader
because he had the rank of Sergeant First Class. Whenever
necessary, I was also to act as squad leader. The assistant BAR
man was Art Cisneros from Texas, who was with me most of the
time. The squad got along just fine, and assisted each other as
much as we could.
Our mission now was to consolidate our Main Line of Resistance
(MLR) and to patrol in front of our line and look for the enemy.
Word was out that we would be mounting a counterattack very soon.
General Matthew Ridgeway was our new 8th Army
commander. He had replaced a very capable General Walker ... who
was a top notch tactician and leader. I believe he was
responsible for saving the 8th Army during the Pusan
Perimeter battles, and the tactical winter withdrawal from the
Chinese mass offensive.
Since we had been in almost constant motion ... defend, withdraw,
defend ... we had been kept very busy by the enemy and had very
little time to take care of personal needs, such as, eight weeks
without bathing, changing clothes, or checking our feet for
frostbite or other damage. Once we were secure word came from
battalion that our feet were going to be inspected by medics to
determine their condition, as well as seeing to our other bodily
needs or injury. I was the last one to be looked at in our
platoon. I told the medic that I was OK ... however, he had a job
to do. I took off my right boot and could have scraped off the
sock .... to my surprise the big toe of my right foot had a black
blister. The medic asked me if I had felt pain, which I had, a
few days earlier. I told him it was nothing ... he did not think
so and started writing on a tag, and decorated my chest with it.
He said I was to report to the battalion Aid Station to be
evacuated to the rear. I was glad and happy that I was going to
get two or three days of rest, and a complete change of clothing.
As I gathered my gear, I passed my automatic rifle and pistol to
Art Cisneros. He gave me his M-1 rifle. I told him and our squad
leader not to get a replacement for me, since I would be back in
a day or two. I waved at Art and to others in the squad. I kept
my smile and joy hidden, knowing that they also needed a couple
of days away from the front.
As I took the trail that would take me to the road leading to our
battalion Command Post, I again waved at Cisneros and said "See
you buddy.". On my way to the Aid Station, I was joined by
another casualty whom I did not know, and who was not from my
I had said "See you buddy." to Art Cisneros ... and I never saw
him again! Art was killed in action a few days later. He had
taken my place! The KIA should have been me!
To this day all I remember is leaving our position and joining
another soldier on the way to be treated at the battalion Aid
Station. I have no idea, nor do I remember the events that
occurred, until I found myself, alone, in a ditch along an
unknown road more than 24 hours after I left my position to go to
Battalion. I was aiming my rifle at a jeep carrying three
soldiers coming in my direction. I blessed myself and decided to
take a chance that they were friendly troops. I got out of the
ditch with my rifle at port arms, hoping that they would accept
this as a sign that I had no intention of shooting ... unless I
had to ... even though I knew I did not have a chance against the
three of them with my M-1 rifle. I had made up my mind not to
surrender if it turned out that they were Chinese. The jeep was
pulling a trailer with supplies. It was stopped about 50 yards in
front of me. I identified myself, and was able to read the ID
numbers and letter on the front bumper. It read:
65th INF 2nd BN. They were
from G Company ... a tear came down my cheek when I asked in
Spanish if they were from the 65th from Puerto Rico
and they answered "!Si!". More tears. Shaking hands and
embracing, and exchanging greetings. We all got very excited
after one soldier said he was from Santurce and had graduated
from Central High School in '46, the same school I had graduated
from in 1948. They dropped me off at the CP of E Company and the
First Sergeant said they would take me to the 25th
Division clearing station at daybreak.
We had some minor action that night involving potential
infiltrators. I had a good night's rest, and helped with guard
duty for a couple of hours. At daybreak, I was taken to the
25th's clearing station, which was several miles away.
I was questioned about why it took me more than 24 hours to get
there. I explained what happened. The Officer of the Day (OD) was
not happy with the difference in the evacuation tag time and my
arrival time. However, my explanation was accepted, and I was
told to get on a truck that was leaving for the train station.
They gave me another tag that said: For evacuation to
Osaka Army Hospital.
I have no recollection as to what happened to me or the soldier
who had joined me. Everything has been a blank and I have made
very little effort to recall those events. However, I do feel
guilty, and uncomfortable, since in my mind I am indirectly
responsible for the death of Art Cisneros. I was part of the
chain of events that led to his death. Also, I can not comprehend
why, with such a minor wound or injury, I was evacuated to Japan,
and did not return to the war.
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.