Crossing the Line
by Cpl. Rick Kennedy, C-1-5, Korea
In early April of 1951, the front line of Korea was not well defined due to a strong enemy offense after our success in Operation Killer. Some of our allies could not repress the enemy, and the entire front line had to reverse its movement to prevent a void in our front lines across the peninsula of Korea. It was not known exactly where the enemy was positioned, and Charlie Company was sent through the front line of the First Marine Division sector in hopes of locating advanced segments of the Chinese and North Korean Armies.
Charlie Company looked sharp as we crossed the line of the 7th Marine Regiment on a company patrol of several days duration in no man’s land. We had recently turned in our parkas, shoe packs, and heavy sleeping bags due to the return of warmer spring like weather. Our Marines had camouflaged helmet covers, tan leggings, and green field jackets. Our sleeping bags with blanket inserts were rolled tight with our half tent, and formed in a square U shape against our knap-sacks in a very thin roll. There was a very confident bounce to our step as our company formation proceeded north. We were Charlie Company, the pride of the 5th Marine Regiment, and we knew it.
We moved fast along the Korean countryside, and stopped periodically for five minute breaks. This was a forced march that lasted most of the day. Rolling hills were on our flanks, and fire team patrols covered the high ground to prevent an ambush. This was a grueling march, but all of our Marines were in top shape after climbing mountains all winter long, and this walk in the valley was not tortuous as the January march to Chachong-dong. As the day passed, it became obvious that we were fifteen to twenty miles ahead of our front lines, and maybe nobody else around except Charlie Company and the entire Chinese and North Korean Armies. We seemed to be in a very vulnerable position. There was a saying by the Marines of Charlie Company that we would “go to hell and back” for our great Company Commander Captain Jack R. Jones. I thought he must be taking us up on our word and volunteered us for this seemingly very dangerous mission.
We finally arrived at our final destination about dusk to a hill about 600 feet in elevation that seemed to be sitting all by itself in the valley with good vision on all sides. We promptly dug our fox holes making a perimeter around the crest of the hill. The situation had the earmarks of Custer’s last stand. We would certainly be in deep trouble if we were attacked by a regiment or a division of enemy troops. The only escape route appeared to be a very deep fox hole. One thing for certain, Charlie Company would fight to the last man. Being a prisoner of war was not an option for Charlie Company.
I remember waking up the first morning after a watch throughout the night. It was almost like spring with small green sprouts of fern growing near my fox hole. The weather was sunny and clear for miles with no sign of the enemy. Squad patrols were sent out each day in different directions from our command post, but without enemy contact. On the third day one of our platoon sergeants placed a bright colored banner in the center of the valley, and one of our planes made a food and ammunition drop. If the enemy did not know of our whereabouts they surely did now.
The next day I was sent to get water, and I tied nine canteens to a small branch and proceeded to a clear stream at the bottom of the hill. I filled the canteens in a wide part of the stream near a small house hidden in the trees. As I knelt along the bank with my M-1 rifle across my knee a beautiful young Korean lady appeared accompanied by an old Papa San. They were both dressed in the customary long white garments, and the man wore the native tall hat. They kept their eyes focused on me as I filled the canteens, and I never took my eyes off them. Fifty seven years have passed since that day, and often I think about this beautiful lady and wonder of her whereabouts.
On the fourth day we were told to saddle up and move out. We buried our debris and leveled our fox holes, and nobody could tell we lived here. Soon we left this distant outpost and marched back across our lines. No loss of life, and nothing happened of consequence during this operation. This was a silent combat zone experience. Free of artillery and machine gun fire, but full of anticipated danger with severe life threatening potential. The experience gave this rifle company a renewed feeling of self-sustaining confidence, and a very important training ground that prepared us for the more perilous things that were to follow for Charlie Company.
This story also appeared in The Graybeards, the official publication of the Korean War Veterans Association (Vol. 23, No. 2), March-April, 2009.