THE VALLEY

THE VALLEY

From Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

The Valley

One man with courage makes a majority.

Andrew Jackson

April 1951. A cool, somewhat frosty, but clear spring morning. We are “Charlie Company,” Sixty-fifth Combat Engineers, attached to the Twenty-seventh “Wolfhound” Regiment, Twenty-fifth Infantry Division.

Our assignment, just handed to us by regimental headquarters: Locate and find a missing heavy tank company, report their location and position, and ascertain their fitness and ability to carry out whatever assignment they had.

Our company commander echoed our thoughts: “How could a company of approximately ten sixty-five-ton ‘General Sherman’ class tanks and their full complement of jeeps, command vehicles, heavy supply trucks and over ninety GIs become lost?”

We were told they had been “pushing north” into enemy territory—rugged, mountainous and hostile country.

So we set out on a one-way dirt road in the same direction. We were very uneasy about our prospects, to say the least. We were huddled in “deuce and a half” trucks, dressed in full battle uniforms, and followed by two Caterpillar D-8 bulldozers, two half-tracks with their quad-fifty machine guns, and last but not least, a truck carrying some grave registration boys and their body bags.

After about four hours (the tractors held us back some, because of their relatively slow rate of travel), we rounded a sharp curve on the steep mountain road we’d been negotiating and halted abruptly.

The “panorama” before us was easy to read: ten tanks, large support trucks and jeeps—all black, completely gutted and burned out. The ninety-four soldiers, likewise, were all dead, most burned beyond recognition, some hanging out of tank turrets, others in and outside the trucks and jeeps.

The air was extremely quiet. Only some buzzards circled overhead. There was no sign of any North Korean or Chinese soldiers. Plainly, the element of surprise had been utilized. From a vantage point on the cliffs, the enemy had thrown bottles of flaming gasoline down on the unsuspecting GIs and caught them in a narrow area where tank guns were useless.

We had the miserable realization that these men never even had a chance to fire their weapons at their attackers.

We were turning to make our gloomy way back the way we’d come when someone spotted him. Partway up the hill, off to the left side, was a dirt and rock overhang forming a shallow cave. At the mouth of the cave, kneeling down, was a dead GI. We could see that he had not been burned, but shot numerous times. From his shirt, we could also tell he had been a staff sergeant. In front of him was a Browning automatic rifle. It had been fired so many times, so rapidly, that the barrel appeared warped. That explained why the Koreans hadn’t taken it with them. Shell casings and bandoliers littered the area.

The sergeant, knowing he was likely the only GI still alive, must have run to the cave, firing his weapon at the dozens of Korean and Chinese soldiers, probably killing a number of them until, finally, their bullets found him.

What bravery in the face of insurmountable odds! Staring down imminent death himself, he vowed to take as many of the enemy with him as he could. It was a scene vividly etched in my mind—in all our minds—that day. Indeed, it was all we could think or talk about.

Our company commander found out the sergeant’s name, personally put in a recommendation for a posthumous Silver Star and Purple Heart, and requested that the battalion commander write a letter to the sergeant’s family in the States.

God bless him—he stood alone in battle, yet in the company of those who gave their all in the name of peace and tranquillity in those terrible times.

Barry Vonder Mehden

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