Posts Tagged ‘korea’
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
Residents of Alexandria, Va. can honor an American hero with a tip of their hats to Francis C. Hammond Middle School on Seminary Road this Friday. It was 62 years ago on Friday when that school’s namesake, a young Alexandria man, performed “great personal valor in the face of overwhelming odds” while taking care of wounded members of the 1st Marine Division in South Korea.
Hammond was born Nov. 9, 1931 to Harry and Elvira Hammond, in Alexandria, Va. Harry worked at a pharmacy, and after high school Francis joined him, planning to become a pharmacist.
Then, on June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations Security Council called the invasion a “breach of peace” and President Harry S. Truman quickly committed American troops to a combined United Nations force to defend the 38th parallel.
Francis decided to enlist, joining the Navy. First, he headed off to the Navy’s Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, Ill. Once a medic, he proceeded to California for more training. Anticipating he would be sent to Korea, Francis married his girlfriend in June 1952. The following year, Feb. 1, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Hammond was assigned to the 1st Marine Division in South Korea.
On the night of March 26, Hammond and the 1st Marines were trying to retake Combat Outpost Reno, which the North Koreans had overrun earlier that day. The Marines encountered heavy mortar and artillery fire as they neared the outpost.
“We kept going forward and finally gained posts in a small shallow trench,” said Marine Sgt. William R. Janzen from a series of articles collected by B.J. Sullivan a librarian at the school which bears Hammond’s name.
Undeterred and undaunted by the mortar and artillery fire, Hammond got to work.
“He was all over the place patching up the wounded, no matter how slight their wounds,” Janzen remembered. “Even after he himself was wounded he continued moving about the area, ignoring his own wounds, and giving as much aid and comfort to the other wounded as he possibly could under the circumstances.
“The bravest man I saw out there that night was Corpsman Hammond.”
As a relief unit showed up, Hammond’s division was ordered to pull back. Hammond refused. According to the Virginia War Memorial’s website, “[he] did not want to leave his men, so he stayed behind to help evacuate the wounded, refusing care for himself. While assisting the units relieving them, [Hammond] was mortally wounded by enemy mortar fire.”
Four months later, an armistice would end the conflict.
For his actions, Hammond posthumously received the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor. His Medal of Honor citation concludes, “By his exceptional fortitude, inspiring initiative and self-sacrificing efforts, HC Hammond undoubtedly saved the lives of many Marines. His great personal valor in the face of overwhelming odds enhances and sustains the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
In his honor, the Navy commissioned a frigate named for him on July 25, 1970, the USS Francis Hammond (FF 1067). She served her country until decommissioned in July 2, 1992.
The Francis C. Hammond High School, which opened in 1956, was named in his honor. Now a middle school, “the school crest (donated by the Class of ‘62) still graces the floor of Hammond’s central hall with the motto ‘Vivat Academia’ (Long live Academics) and is protected by four sparkling brass 3-inch .50 caliber ammunition shells (simulated) donated by the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory, Dahlgren, Virginia,” according to a city of Alexandria website. There is also the Francis Hammond Parkway, a street in Alexandria lined with tidy brick homes.
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Francis C. Hammond never saw the middle school named in his honor. But no doubt another legacy Hammond would leave behind — Francis C. Hammond Jr., born a few months after his father’s death – would see the school named for his father’s selfless action.
Posted by Michael Ford
Tomorrow, the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, dedicates a Korean War display in the Pentagon. In honor of those who served and gave their life protecting freedom, today we remember the Navy Medal of Honor recipients for actions during the Korean conflict: Hospital Corpsman Third Class Edward C. Benfold; Hospital Corpsman Third Class William R. Charette; Hospital Corpsman Richard David De Wert; Hospital Corpsman Francis C. Hammond; Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas Jerome Hudner, Jr.; Hospital Corpsman John E. Kilmer; and Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch. (For more information on naval history during the Korean War see http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20Highlights/Korea/index.htm and http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/kowar/kowar.htm
Hospital Corpsman Third Class Edward C. Benfold, United States Navy
For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving in operations against enemy aggressor forces. When his company was subjected to heavy artillery and mortar barrages, followed by a determined assault during the hours of darkness by an enemy force estimated at battalion strength, HC3c. Benfold resolutely moved from position to position in the face of intense hostile fire, treating the wounded and lending words of encouragement. Leaving the protection of his sheltered position to treat the wounded when the platoon area in which he was working was attacked from both the front and rear, he moved forward to an exposed ridge line where he observed 2 marines in a large crater. As he approached the 2 men to determine their condition, an enemy soldier threw 2 grenades into the crater while 2 other enemy charged the position. Picking up a grenade in each hand, HC3c. Benfold leaped out of the crater and hurled himself against the on-rushing hostile soldiers, pushing the grenades against their chests and killing both the attackers. Mortally wounded while carrying out this heroic act, HC3c. Benfold, by his great personal valor and resolute spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of almost certain death, was directly responsible for saving the lives of his 2 comrades. His exceptional courage reflects the highest credit upon himself and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for others.
Hospital Corpsman Third Class William R. Charette, United States Navy
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against enemy aggressor forces during the early morning hours. Participating in a fierce encounter with a cleverly concealed and well-entrenched enemy force occupying positions on a vital and bitterly contested outpost far in advance of the main line of resistance, HC3c. Charette repeatedly and unhesitatingly moved about through a murderous barrage of hostile small-arms and mortar fire to render assistance to his wounded comrades. When an enemy grenade landed within a few feet of a marine he was attending, he immediately threw himself upon the stricken man and absorbed the entire concussion of the deadly missile with his body. Although sustaining painful facial wounds, and undergoing shock from the intensity of the blast which ripped the helmet and medical aid kit from his person, HC3c. Charette resourcefully improvised emergency bandages by tearing off part of his clothing, and gallantly continued to administer medical aid to the wounded in his own unit and to those in adjacent platoon areas as well. Observing a seriously wounded comrade whose armored vest had been torn from his body by the blast from an exploding shell, he selflessly removed his own battle vest and placed it upon the helpless man although fully aware of the added jeopardy to himself. Moving to the side of another casualty who was suffering excruciating pain from a serious leg wound, HC3c. Charette stood upright in the trench line and exposed himself to a deadly hail of enemy fire in order to lend more effective aid to the victim and to alleviate his anguish while being removed to a position of safety. By his indomitable courage and inspiring efforts in behalf of his wounded comrades, HC3c. Charette was directly responsible for saving many lives. His great personal valor reflects the highest credit upon himself and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Hospital Corpsman Richard David De Wert, United States Navy
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a HC, in action against enemy aggressor forces. When a fire team from the point platoon of his company was pinned down by a deadly barrage of hostile automatic weapons fired and suffered many casualties, HC De Wert rushed to the assistance of 1 of the more seriously wounded and, despite a painful leg wound sustained while dragging the stricken marine to safety, steadfastly refused medical treatment for himself and immediately dashed back through the fireswept area to carry a second wounded man out of the line of fire. Undaunted by the mounting hail of devastating enemy fire, he bravely moved forward a third time and received another serious wound in the shoulder after discovering that a wounded marine had already died. Still persistent in his refusal to submit to first aid, he resolutely answered the call of a fourth stricken comrade and, while rendering medical assistance, was himself mortally wounded by a burst of enemy fire. His courageous initiative, great personal valor, and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds reflect the highest credit upon HC De Wert and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Hospital Corpsman Francis C. Hammond, United States Navy
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a HC serving with the 1st Marine Division in action against enemy aggressor forces on the night of 26-27 March 1953. After reaching an intermediate objective during a counterattack against a heavily entrenched and numerically superior hostile force occupying ground on a bitterly contested outpost far in advance of the main line of resistance. HC Hammond’s platoon was subjected to a murderous barrage of hostile mortar and artillery fire, followed by a vicious assault by onrushing enemy troops. Resolutely advancing through the veritable curtain of fire to aid his stricken comrades, HC Hammond moved among the stalwart garrison of marines and, although critically wounded himself, valiantly continued to administer aid to the other wounded throughout an exhausting 4-hour period. When the unit was ordered to withdraw, he skillfully directed the evacuation of casualties and remained in the fire-swept area to assist the corpsmen of the relieving unit until he was struck by a round of enemy mortar fire and fell, mortally wounded. By his exceptional fortitude, inspiring initiative and self-sacrificing efforts, HC Hammond undoubtedly saved the lives of many marines. His great personal valor in the face of overwhelming odds enhances and sustains the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas Jerome Hudner, Jr., United States Navy
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, while attempting to rescue a squadron mate whose plane struck by antiaircraft fire and trailing smoke, was forced down behind enemy lines. Quickly maneuvering to circle the downed pilot and protect him from enemy troops infesting the area, Lt. (j.g.) Hudner risked his life to save the injured flier who was trapped alive in the burning wreckage. Fully aware of the extreme danger in landing on the rough mountainous terrain and the scant hope of escape or survival in subzero temperature, he put his plane down skillfully in a deliberate wheels-up landing in the presence of enemy troops. With his bare hands, he packed the fuselage with snow to keep the flames away from the pilot and struggled to pull him free. Unsuccessful in this, he returned to his crashed aircraft and radioed other airborne planes, requesting that a helicopter be dispatched with an ax and fire extinguisher. He then remained on the spot despite the continuing danger from enemy action and, with the assistance of the rescue pilot, renewed a desperate but unavailing battle against time, cold, and flames. Lt. (j.g.) Hudner’s exceptionally valiant action and selfless devotion to a shipmate sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Hospital Corpsman John E. Kilmer, United States Navy
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against enemy aggressor forces. With his company engaged in defending a vitally important hill position well forward of the main line of resistance during an assault by large concentrations of hostile troops, HC Kilmer repeatedly braved intense enemy mortar, artillery, and sniper fire to move from 1 position to another, administering aid to the wounded and expediting their evacuation. Painfully wounded himself when struck by mortar fragments while moving to the aid of a casualty, he persisted in his efforts and inched his way to the side of the stricken marine through a hail of enemy shells falling around him. Undaunted by the devastating hostile fire, he skillfully administered first aid to his comrade and, as another mounting barrage of enemy fire shattered the immediate area, unhesitatingly shielded the wounded man with his body. Mortally wounded by flying shrapnel while carrying out this heroic action, HC Kilmer, by his great personal valor and gallant spirit of self-sacrifice in saving the life of a comrade, served to inspire all who observed him. His unyielding devotion to duty in the face of heavy odds reflects the highest credit upon himself and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for another.
Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with a Navy helicopter rescue unit. Although darkness was rapidly approaching when information was received that a marine aviator had been shot down and was trapped by the enemy in mountainous terrain deep in hostile territory, Lt. (j.g.) Koelsch voluntarily flew a helicopter to the reported position of the downed airman in an attempt to effect a rescue. With an almost solid overcast concealing everything below the mountain peaks, he descended in his unarmed and vulnerable aircraft without the accompanying fighter escort to an extremely low altitude beneath the cloud level and began a systematic search. Despite the increasingly intense enemy fire, which struck his helicopter on 1 occasion, he persisted in his mission until he succeeded in locating the downed pilot, who was suffering from serious burns on the arms and legs. While the victim was being hoisted into the aircraft, it was struck again by an accurate burst of hostile fire and crashed on the side of the mountain. Quickly extricating his crewmen and the aviator from the wreckage, Lt. (j.g.) Koelsch led them from the vicinity in an effort to escape from hostile troops, evading the enemy forces for 9 days and rendering such medical attention as possible to his severely burned companion until all were captured. Up to the time of his death while still a captive of the enemy, Lt. (j.g.) Koelsch steadfastly refused to aid his captors in any manner and served to inspire his fellow prisoners by his fortitude and consideration for others. His great personal valor and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice throughout sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
On July 27, 1953, the Korean War Armistice Agreement was signed at Panmunjon, Korea, and the Korean cease-fire went into effect at 10:00 PM, ending three years of combat. The following article, published in the July 1952 issue of Proceedings, gives an account of what it was like to be a part of a Naval reserve group in the Korean war.
By LIEUTENANT W. H. VERNOR, JR., U. S. Naval Reserve
IF you’ve ever driven between the Texas cities of Fort Worth and Dallas on a Sunday morning, chances are you’ve seen some of the rugged, old Navy TBM torpedo bombers lumbering into the air from Dallas’ nearby Naval Air Station. You’ve seen these planes on weekends because they’ve been turned over to the Navy’s Air Reserves, civilians who use their weekends to renew their proficiency in the art of flying and keep up with the latest developments in Naval Aviation. These air reserves, many of them Navy veterans, have maintained more than a nodding acquaintance with the Navy over the past few years. Not only at Dallas, but at other similar Naval Air Stations scattered over the nation, these Sunday flying reserves have become known as the “Weekend Warriors.”
This program was set up by foresighted regular Navy airmen at high command levels. Since the end of the last war, it has kept available a trained and ready pool of organized squadrons-at a fraction of the cost required to maintain a large, continuously active air arm. When fighting broke out in Korea, certain of these standby squadrons were quickly activated; the practical test of the plan was underway. And now that several air groups of these all-reserve squadrons have been operating from aircraft carriers off Korea for many months, the test results are clear: the Navy’s “Weekend Warrior” plan has paid off.
THE SUDDEN CALL
Among those units selected for sudden activation was Attack Squadron 702, one of several reserve units based at N.A.S. Dallas.
All over Dallas that evening of July 20, 1950, telephones began to ring in earnest, and the calls continued well into the night. The wire services picked up some government business contacting those members of Squadron 702 who could not be reached by telephone. Teams of Navy and Marine personnel set about combing the city to inform hard-to-reach squadron members. Lights burned late that night at the air station.
Typical of the enlisted members called was a certain aviation engine mechanic whose civilian job was right in line with his air reserve duties. He was a mechanic for Pioneer Air Lines at Dallas’ Love Field, so it was logical that he was an important crew member of the squadron’s maintenance organization. He was just getting settled down in a new home, and Navy records had not caught up with his change of address. Efforts to reach him during the day had failed, and he worked on in blissful ignorance of the changes being wrought in his future. His only inkling of the impending call was a terse item he saw in the afternoon papers, stating that an undesignated Navy reserve squadron was being activated.
That evening, he stopped by the Pioneer hangar to have a coke and a chat with the boys on the night shift. News of the recall was bandied about at some length, but he dismissed the idea with the suggestion that it must have been another unit; he went on to take his family to a drive-in theater. Meanwhile, the Navy was getting hot on his trail, and at one the following morning, a Navy team appeared at the Pioneer hangar looking for him. He was at home, enjoying the sleep of a peaceful citizen. With some consideration, the representatives left word for him to report the next morning!
Within 48 hours, some eighty enlisted men, twenty pilots, and four ground officers of the squadron had reported in at the Dallas Naval Air Station. Some even came all the way from Sweetwater, out in West Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma; others came from the distant towns of Kilgore, Longview, and Corpus Christi. A dispatch bristled up the chain of command, reporting Attack Squadron 702 mobilized and ready for further assignment. At higher levels, plans were already well made. The unit was given a few more days at Dallas to prepare for continuous active duty. At the station, there was much activity. Records had to be completed and brought up to date, gear, files and publications were packed, clothing was issued, and everyone received physical examinations and the inevitable inoculations. . . . Pay records, allotments, wills, powers of attorney, and government insurance were among other numerous details that had to be taken care of.
The effects on the personal lives of the men called up were obviously far-reaching and, in some cases, violent. Everyone had his own personal affairs to wind up and set in order, and only a few days to do it in. Civilian jobs and businesses were set aside or discontinued. Family living arrangements were shuffled about and changed; homes were sold, rented, or closed up. Careers were sidetracked. New financial problems were created which were not easily solved-for all, the call to active duty meant considerable personal sacrifice.
THE SQUADRON MOVES WEST
After a week of hectic preparation the unit was ready to move. Navy transport planes, loaded with the entire complement, took off into the early dawn, headed west. Soon, these planes, manned by other reserves, were touching down at North Island, the Naval Air Station at San Diego, California. Headquarters for ComAirPac (Commander. Air Force, Pacific Fleet), this facility was to be the reserves’ training base for a few months to follow.
That afternoon at North Island was a busy one as reserve-manned transports from many parts of the country flew in every few minutes. The accents varied from midwestern to deep southern, but the look of the reserves was the same, as they piled in from Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, New Orleans, Atlanta, Alameda, Los Angeles, Memphis, St. Louis, and other cities. Within only a few hours, newly-activated squadrons sufficient to man more than two large carrier air groups had been air-lifted, en masse, to the focal point at San Diego. This, in itself, was a striking demonstration of naval airpower!
Only the day before, the North Island air facility had been practically deserted-for the regular Navy air groups stationed there had been rushed forward to fire the first shots in the Navy’s air war in Korea. Now, North Island again teemed with activity; two great hangars had been hung with large banners bearing the words, “Welcome Weekend Warriors!” To make the welcome more timely, the word “Weekend” had been painted over with a big red “X.”
ComAirPac welcomed the reserves: “There’s lots of work ahead of us. I want you to get yourselves settled and to relax. When the time comes for you to go forward, we want you to be as polished and as ready as we know how to make you …. I know you are all here at great personal sacrifice and I admire you all the more for it. Welcome to the team.”
As the squadrons set about their refresher training in earnest, businesslike flights of Corsairs, Skyraiders, and Panthers became commonplace around San Diego. Squadron 702 pilots began “checking out” in the AD Skyraiders which replaced the rugged, but slow, old TBM Avengers. These new attack bombers were now fleet standard-bigger, faster, more powerful flying platforms for lifting tons of bombs and projectiles from decks of fast carriers at sea.
There was much work ahead. Ordnancemen and electronicsmen attended service schools to study the new equipment built into the planes. Maintenance men and check crews worked day and night readying the new planes for service. Green plane captains were given the word on their duties. Pilots were also kept busy: at first, with lectures and classes, altitude indoctrination, instrument refreshers with Link trainer hops, and additional training in navigation and electronics. There were new tactics to be studied. As more planes became available, ground schools gave way to flight operations with instrument and navigation training, nightflying, gunnery, rocketry, dive and glide bombing, and close air support. There were days of “bounce drill” (Navy parlance for practice carrier landings on land), followed by real carrier landings at sea, along with division and group tactics. In short, everything possible was done to bring the veteran pilots up to date in all phases of their training, to put them on a par with regular Navy “ready” squadrons.
SEVEN HUNDRED TWO JOINS THE FIGHT
The training days are long past now. In March, 1951 Attack Squadron 702 began flying from the decks of the U.S.S. Boxer, a 27,000 ton aircraft carrier. The Boxer’s air group was an all-reserve air group, the first carrier-based reserves to represent the Navy with United Nations forces in Korea. Snows still covered the ground in Korea when Boxer joined Navy Task Force 77, and her blue planes went right to work. In daily strikes against the enemy, three all-reserve fighter squadrons joined tbe Dallas Group flying from the Boxer’s decks. These units hailed from Olathe, Kansas; Glenview, Illinois; and Memphis, Tennessee. The appearance of Boxer and her air group in Korean waters meant that another fine aircraft carrier and her regular air group, which had been hitting hard at the enemy for many months, could return to the states for a well-deserved rest.
NAVY AIR OVER KOREA
When the blue planes of Navy Task Force 77 appear over Korea, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate the efforts which put them there. Somewhere at sea, mighty ships, manned by thousands, exist for the sole purpose of launching these aircraft. Each individual in the great team comprising the fast carrier task force contributes to the effort, for the planes are the long range “guns” which enable the Navy to strike deep into the enemy heartland.
Long before dawn, ordnancemen on the carriers work in total or semi-darkness, hoisting heavy bombs and rockets onto the aircraft wing racks. Others operate carts and hoists which bring the loads up from the innards of the ship to the planes on the deck. During these same dark hours, “pushers” trundle the loaded aircraft aft on deck to complete the re-spot for the early morning launch. Planes are crowded together with wings folded and only inches to spare, for space, even on the largest of carriers, is always at a premium. Loaded planes must have every possible foot of deck run to struggle into the air with thousands of pounds of explosives.
Below decks, there is activity during every hour of the day. Technicians labor at many tasks: keeping engines in top shape, checking flight gear, tuning and maintaining electronic equipment, and repairing damaged aircraft. Hundreds of other members of the ship’s company work at the myriad tasks of running the ship, which exists to support the air group and its mission. In the ready rooms, where pilots stand by before flights, there is also a hum of activity. Flight leaders and air intelligence officers brief pilots on the day’s operations. Late navigational and weather data reach the ready rooms by teletype from the ships communications centers. When a pilot leaves the ready room to man his aircraft, he carries a fund of the latest information needed to enable him to perform the mission.
The launch of aircraft is a critical period. When every ounce of available power is needed, engine failure during take-off usually means the loss of an airplane. In spite of every possible precaution, such failures sometimes occur. It is then that the ship’s “angel” -the plane guard helicopter, always hovering near the carrier, can swoop down and pick up the wet, shaken pilot. Rescue of the pilot can be effected within seconds if a plane with a faltering engine “hits the drink.”
Minutes after the first plane is aloft, the entire strike group is airborne. Remaining planes are moved or taxied about on deck to make room for the next launch or recovery. While this goes on, departing flight leaders rendezvous their planes while circling the force and the groups then proceed toward their target areas; returning flights “break up” their formations into the closely timed interval of the carrier landing pattern. Aircraft recovery aboard a carrier is one of the most striking demonstrations of teamwork, precision, and split-second timing to be seen in any naval operation. A smartly executed recovery brings eight to ten planes aboard in something like four minutes-spectators who have never before witnessed such a performance never fail to be impressed, and rightly So.
Over Korea, Navy carrier air missions fall into two general categories: close air support, and interdiction. Both are strictly tactical. The first contributes to the primary objective of UN forces in Korea: to kill as many of the enemy as possible. The purpose of the second is to keep the enemy from getting supplies and reinforcements to his front line forces.
Close air support might better be termed mass annihilation. Fortunately, our front line forces have met with little enemy air opposition, and this has enabled our own tactical air to account for a staggring total of enemy casualties. The effect of close air support weapons is devastating; the fragmentation bombs and jellied gasoline (napalm) bombs have done much to help suppress the enemy’s human sea tactics. When burning napalm does not actually contact enemy troops, it has been known to cause deaths by suffocation, since the fiercely burning liquid exhausts much of the oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere.
Air Force, Marine, and Navy air all combine talents at this mass annihilation. Under control of Air Force personnel, planes flying close air support drop their death-dealing loads wherever directed by these target seekers. The Air Force controllers themselves work in close contact with ground units which may call for air support as the tactical situation dictates. They direct the attacks of the close air support planes by radio, either from jeeps or from ” mosquito” planes-light trainer or liaison type aircraft which can fly low over the terrain, seeking out the targets. Dense foliage, rugged terrain, and camouflage conceal enemy troops and gun positions, making it difficult, often impossible, to determine accurately the results of close air support attacks. Only when a known enemy gun position ceases fire, or after friendly troops move into an area and find enemy dead, are the true results known.
Once a group of Corsairs and Skyraiders from the Boxer worked several consecutive days over a stubborn enemy-held ridge near the 38th parallel. Their controller reported “good coverage,” but added that heavy enemy ground fire made it impossible to fly down close enough for an actual evaluation of results. On the final day of that action, the same group of Boxer planes returned to the area and was greeted by the controller with the news that friendly troops had taken the ridge during the night and had counted over a thousand enemy dead. This total, credited to close air support planes flying in that area, was an impressive demonstration of this use of tactical air.
INTERDICTION AND THE BRIDGE BUSTERS
Sharing importance with the tasks of close air support, the mission of denying the enemy supplies and reinforcements also is a big job for carrier based Navy air. Breaking railroad and highway bridges is the primary part of this task; most of these installations in North Korea have taken a terrific pounding since the war began. Mountainous Korea offers many good bridge targets, and the enemy effort to move his supplies is severely strained by the loss of so many of these bridges. But the enemy is ingenious, patient, and unremittingly persistent. He may carefully nurse one supply trainload over the few miles of track between two broken bridges, unload and ferry the load across the break by pack animal, cart, or truck, reload it onto another train to traverse the next stretch of track to the next break, repeating this process until the destination is reached. When bad flying weather hampers the interdiction program, he works feverishly by day and night at repairing his routes and bridges, reconstructing and bypassing with amazing dispatch. Then the weather clears a bit, and the Navy’s bridgebusters go at it again-the pilots have devoloped remarkable bombing accuracy, and there are few bridges in North Korea which have not suffered therefrom.
When the aircraft of a bridgebuster mission have finished off their target with heavy bombs, they continue to hammer at railroads and highway junctions with their remaining light bombs. A strike group will usually finish off a mission on armed reconnaissance-attention is given to seeking out “targets of opportunity,” such as locomotives, rolling stock, trucks, tanks, pack animals, carts, troop concentrations, fuel, ammunition, and supply dumps. A skilled eye is needed to pick out vehicles and supplies concealed under foliage, straw, or refuse-the enemy is an ingenious camoufleur. Adroit at rapid concealment, he can often completely hide a vehicle after it has already been spotted from the air-in the space of time required for the pilot to maneuver into position to make a strafing run. This is often done by simply driving the vehicle through the side of any convenient house, until the vehicle is well under cover. If no suitable habitation is available in the vicinity, the next resort is to rapidly pile scrub brush and straw all around and over the vehicle . . .. One pilot, attempting to describe the way a camouflaged vehicle appears from the air, commented, “Really, they look just like piles of rubbish.” Pilots soon learned that many such innocent-looking rubbish piles respond to strafing by bursting into livid orange flame!
They come from many walks of lifenearly all are married men with families. Any one of them could have been your next door neighbor.
Although most of the men are civilians at heart, they maintain a healthy spirit and capacity for getting the job done in the Navy. They are fully aware of their value to the Navy as aviators, and of their obligation to the government which spared no expense to make them the best aviators in the world. Some of these reserves face a personal decision which is closely involved with the Navy: to remain reserve, and plan on getting back home to civilian pursuits again, or to go “regular,” if and when the opportunity is presented. The average reserve has spent four or five years becoming established in the civilian world. In the sudden recall, he drops the civilian career by the wayside, and again takes up the exacting tasks for which the Navy trained him. His formidable array of awards and decorations represent years of naval experience which will be valuable to him if he stays on, as will the gradual accumulation of seniority. Yet there are those who find the demands of the naval career too far removed from ‘civilian ways of life; they are ready and willing to join in the fightbut when their services are no longer needed, they want to be civilians again. And they may suffer a little from the fact that there are few civilian jobs which make use of the special talents the Navy has developed in them.
The older pilots may often joke about approaching the age when they should be put “out to pasture,” but their record on this tour has certainly demonstrated that the younger pilots are not necessarily the best pilots. All these reserves go about the job with an unflagging enthusiasm, while the regular Navy people smile patiently and indulgently at their concern with the “when” of their return to inactive duty and civilian life.
ENEMY FLAK, DANGEROUS AND EVER PRESENT
Searching out the targets, either on close air support or interdiction missions, is no picnic for pilots. Enemy anti-aircraft defenses have multiplied tremendously since the war began. Pilots have to fly low, often too low for safety, to find cleverly hidden targets. A continuous compromise must be forced between flying low enough to find targets and presenting the enemy with a good target by flying too low. Naval airmen are advised by the Task Force Commander that no target in Korea is presently worth the life of a pilot. Yet, the toll on the enemy attests to the daring of these flyers, who are finding the targets, often at risks beyond the call of duty. Enemy flak takes its toll.
The first 702 pilot to be downed by AA fire over enemy lines was flying close air support when his Skyraider took a hit which starved his engine oil supply. The pilot stuck to the ship and rode it down to a skillful ditch job in a rice paddy. An Air Force helicopter pilot hovering nearby saw his plight, and before he could yell, “Pancake!” the angel was alongside–soon the naval aviator and his Air Force comradein-arms were flapping their way back to Seoul-and safety.
Two days later, another pilot of 702 was rescued from a position some 200 miles deep in enemy territory; he was also a victim of enemy flak. He was flying with his division on a bridge buster strike when an enemy AA hit set fire to his plane; things rapidly got so hot that he was forced to hit the silk. While he parachuted down into some scrub pine, his plane dug its own fiery grave on a hillside. The division finished off their job on the target while escorting Corsair fighters buzzed angrily over the downed aviator to discourage would-be enemy snipers. Meanwhile, the pilot climbed painfully to a better protective position. A couple of hours later he was picked up by a helicopter from a Task Force 77 carrier; and whisked back to the Boxer-he received prompt medical treatment for his second-degree burns, and lived to fly again. Entitled to an early release from the Navy (he was a volunteer reserve) he is now Mr. “Civilian.”
The heavy cruiser U.S.S. Toledo has twice played host to one of 702′s pilots following similar disagreements with enemy flak near Wonsan. The first time, his division, “Thurston’s Raiders,” had just finished knocking out three bridges, and was finishing off ammunition by strafing railroad cars-during a run, a flak hit disabled his engine. He elected to bail out and parachuted into a pine grove. Just off Wonsan Bay, the cruiser Toledo was pounding shore installations with her heavy guns, so the downed pilot’s flight leader, radioed the Toledo for help. The Toledo helicopter was soon on its way, and the naval aviator was aboard the cruiser in time for lunch.
Less than a month later, enemy gunners forced a repeat performance in the same locality. This time, the pilot was able to stay with his plane, making a ditch landing in Wonsan Bay. Again the Toledo’s angel was summoned by radio, and flew only a short distance to reach him. He was made an honorary crew member of the Toledo, but the captain of the cruiser remarked that the next time he visited his ship, he would be expected to come aboard in a more orthodox manner-via the gangway!
Sometimes pilots have had to nurse their planes, badly damaged by flak, to friendly landing strips south of the 38th parallel. Others with less damage have returned to make skillful landings aboard ship in spite of having controls partially shot away. The threat of enemy anti-aircraft fire over Korea is continuous, and growing; more than one pilot has admitted to the feeling of “butterflies” in the stomach before takoff on such missions.
Three basic types of aircraft have been flying from the fast carriers of Task Force 77 on missions over Korea. Grumman F9F Panthers are jets, used for fast reconnaissance and fighter cover. Chance Vought F4U Corsairs, veterans of the last war, are fighterbombers, known to pilots as “Hawgs.” And the superb Douglas AD Skyraiders, attack bombers and workhorses of the fleet, carry the greatest bombload of all three types. Skyraiders are affectionately known as “Able Dawgs.” Working together, the “Hawgs” and “Able Dawgs” make up the Navy’s efficient close air support and interdiction teams.
Skyraider pilots of 702 show continued amazement at the capabilities of their own planes-that a single-engined plane such as this AD can lift the bombload of a wartime, four-engined B-17 flying fortress from a few hundred feet of carrier deck-run! Once this load has been dropped, the Able Dawg becomes as fast and agile as the best conventional prop-driven fighter. Among all services, the Navy’s Able Dawg is recognized as the airplane best suited to the close air support role. These prop-driven planes can carry greater loads and spend more time over the target than can the jets. Should enemy air opposition enter the close air support picture, then more of our own jets will have to be used for fighter cover. Prop-driven attack bombers, powered by gas turbines, will eventually replace the Skyraider; their development is now being pushed ahead by the Navy. For obsolescence, arch-enemy of all military craft, makes this development vital. The Skyshark, a turbo-prop version of the Skyraider, is a promising result of this development program. Meanwhile, the versatile Skyraider continues to be the most welcome sight to ground forces in Korea when they need close air support.
THE ENLISTED MEN
Without the enlisted men, there could be no planes, no squadron, no air operations. In 702, their manifold skills are devoted to one end: to keep the planes in the air. There are many specialists-hydraulics and engine experts, radio and electronicsmen, parachute riggers, instrumentmen, and metalsmiths. Maintenance is their job. Responsible for all aircraft guns, bombs and armament are the hardworking ordnancemen; they load the guns and hang the heavy bombs. Their tasks are often backbreaking, and are frequently done at night on the unlit carrier decks, no matter what the weather.
Every airplane on the carrier is assigned a man who is its “plane captain.” He is with the plane constantly, whenever it is not aloft; ministers to its every need, and helps the pilot in and out of the cockpit with flight gear. He is responsible for making hundreds of “checks” on the plane daily, keeps it fueled and wiped down, maneuvers it into position when it is moved on deck, chocks the wheels and ties the plane down wherever it may end up. Arising before dawn on busy strike days, he puts in many hours, leaving the plane only after it is finally loaded and spotted for the next day’s launch. He rests while the plane is over the target-at the same time, he “sweats out” the mission from take-off to recovery-as if plane and pilot were his own personal property.
SIDE GLANCES AT 702
Men and pilots from other states had enlarged the squadron complement, but the unit still retained its identity as the Dallas squadron. Nearly every original member had a hand in the design of the squadron insigne, which depicts a wiry, charging longhorn steer with smoke puffing from his nostrils. The steer’s scraggy tail brandishes a rocket. Bombs and torpedoes are hung from his horns. A large “D” is branded on the steer’s hindquarters, and a lone star sets off the design.
Although flying daily strikes over Korea is a deadly serious business, morale is high … humor is not absent, and it eases over some of the rougher days. For a time, the squadron lacked a good watchword. There was a great need for a colorful exclamatory statement pilots could use to describe a successful strike-correspondents and public information officers are always looking for an expression with a touch of originality that is suitable for publication. Fictional Navy pilot Crewson’s classic of the last war (“There I was, on my back, at 30,000 feet .. . “) was outmoded. At last, and quite naturally, an expression was evolved. In truth, there was a lack of originality since the expression was gleaned from some of the more sanguine Air Force releases, but it seemed appropriate from every standpoint. It is now a rare thing to hear pilots, back from a flight, enter the ready room without uttering those hallowed words, “Boy, we clobbered ‘em!”
Similarly, there is a new appellation for the pilot who really “clobbers ‘em”. To earn the designation of “tiger,” he must have scored many direct hits on a bridge, or must have had outstanding results on his mission. No pilot can be a tiger if he can report nothing but near-misses on a bridge, even if he sarcastically adds, “But the bridge is still shaking!” This is reserved for a bad day, when a strike may not have been too successful, due to flak, weather, or other factors. More often, the first thing the air intelligence officer hears from his interrogation is, “Boy, we were all tigers today!”
One day, one of the 702 pilots was launched in an Able Dawg which developed engine trouble as his division was joining up to head for the target. He radioed for permission to return aboard ship and turned into the landing pattern with his engine power rapidly fading. On the final turn, things became so critical that he lost control and spun into the sea. The Boxer’s angel quickly fished him out of the drink. Unfortunately, the Able Dawg sank quickly and ingloriously. A few days later, a unique ritual took place in 702′s ready room. The pilot was awarded a citation unprecedented in the history of Naval Aviation:
15 May 1951
From: The Commissar-Awards and Decorations
To: The Working Masses of the World
Subj: Assistant Hero of the Soviet Union; awarding of
To LT. (now Midshipman) John R. Toughluck USNR, for his outstanding skill, dexterity and intrepid technique in handling an aircraft, the Kremlin, by direct order of that true comrade, hailed by all, our own Uncle Joe, bestows and confers on Lt. (now Midshipman) John R. Toughluck, USNR, the order of Assistant Hero of the Soviet Union; said order to be worn henceforth and forevermore and Lt. (now Midshipman) John R. Toughluck, USNR, shall be entitled to all its rights and privileges from this date forward.
Lt. (now Midshipman) John R. Toughluck, USNR, above and beyond the call of duty, did, in keeping with the highest purging traditions of the Soviet Union, against the inherent stability of the filthy capitalistic Douglas Skyraider aircraft, on 11 May 1951, maneuver said lousy capitalistic aircraft into such a position as to effect total and complete destruction of said degenerate aircraft.
/s/ Ivan Michailovitch
Airman Recruit (1/2 class)
Soviet Air Force
Amid a background of boisterous laughter, the duty officer pompously read the citation, and the pilot accepted with a few words in Russian (he had studied the language in college). A tape recording of the entire proceeding was made by a journalist from the Navy’s public information offices in Tokyo. Later the recording was released and broadcast by Armed Forces Radio Service in Tokyo as a part of a Navy program. When the news came back to the Boxer that there were some red faces in the Navy public information office because the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo protested against this “slanderous” broadcast, the participants were even more amused!
Incidentally, that group of “filthy capitalistic” Douglas aircraft which Toughluck started out with that day succeeded in knocking out two key railroad bridges in northwest Korea, cutting vital supply lines to the enemy west sector; another addition to the remarkable record the reserves are setting. Since arriving in the combat zone, every 702 pilot has averaged, in terms of distance flown, more than once around the world at the equator. The total weight of bombs dropped by the Boxer’s air group has long since exceeded that expended by any aircraft carrier during World war II.
From the youngest plane captain to the squadron skipper, the reserves have a common desire; to finish up the job in Korea and get back home. It is fortunate that there are many other trained and ready reserves on tap to join the fight when needed. This very fact may be the blessing that will prevent their being called. Meanwhile, the standby squadrons, part of the team that is the Navy, join the United Nations bulwark against the seas of aggression.
A GRADUATE in mechanical engineering from Rice Institute, Lieutenant Vernor was commissioned in the Naval Reserve in 1944. He served in the U.S.S. Burke (APD-65) with AmPhibsPac. In 1947-50 he worked as a test engineer with Chance Vought Aircraft, joining the Naval Air Reserve in Dallas, Texas, in 1949. He was called to active duty with reserve squadron VA-702 in 1950, serving as air intelligence officer during their combat tour off Korea, based aboard the U.S.S. Boxer (CV-21). He is now an assistant air intelligence officer on the staff of ComAirPac.
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So I spent a week on Vietnam, I’m on to Korea now.:) I’m going backwards, I guess!
I found this article on Eisenhower’s campaign and the issue of Korea:
“The biggest fact about the Korean war is this: it was never inevitable, it was never inescapable. No fantastic fiat of history decreed that little South Korea—in the summer of 1950—would fatally tempt Communist aggressors as their easiest victim. No demonic destiny decreed that America had to be bled this way in order to keep South Korea free and to keep freedom itself self-respecting.