Journal & Herald, November 10, 1997

Memories of Korean War


They are the "Chosin Few," all that remains of a failed offensive at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, 1950, the Chinese entered the Korean War and struck with 33 divisions - 300,000 troops.

At the Chosin Reservoir, more than 120,000 Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) soldiers surrounded and attacked 15,000 United Nations (U.N.), mostly American, troops.

Howard Schuette of Plato was one of the few who escaped the day hell froze over.

Schuette had enlisted in the Army in August 1949 and was assigned to the 32nd Infantry Regiment. Of the 120 men in his company, today only six or seven are left.

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when the Communist North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel. On June 27, the five year-old United Nations approved a U.S. resolution to "render such assistance to the Republic of Korea as necessary to repel any armed attack."

Schuette thought there was a chance he would not be sent to the ROK - Republic of South Korea.

Pete Stockman of Plato had been sent to Germany. Schuette's brother, Stan Schuette, had enlisted on Aug. 2, 1948 and was a radio operator in Japan.

Howard Schuette was not as lucky. He was one sent, and took part in the Inchon Landings, which began Sept. 15, 1950. The landings were a major victory for the U.N. and was personally supervised by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

The success of the Inchon Landings led to the retaking of the capital city of Seoul from the Communists on Sept. 26. Schuette was one of the soldiers who fought there, and he participated in the Hamhong Landing.

In those fights the loss of life was "some, but not much." Schuette said. "You were usually with the same people day after day."

The winter of 1950 was bitter cold. The sub-zero temperatures, snow and gusty winds took their toll on both man and machine. At times, the temperature dropped to 20 degrees below zero, north wind gusts reached 40 miles per hour.

Perspiration in boots turned to ice, blood froze on wounds before it could coagulate.

On Oct. 25, 1950, the CCF had forced a fight with the South Koreans, less than 40 miles from the Yalu River that divides North Korea from China.

Since then, there had been encounters with Chinese troops, but nothing significant in the three weeks before Thanksgiving.

The mostly American U.N. forces continued to move northward, reaching the frozen Chosin Reservoir on the Yalu River.

No one expected a major offensive from Mao Tse-tung, the Chinese Communist leader, but he had given a secret order for "volunteers" to "resist the attacks of U.S. imperialism" in massive numbers.

The United States had refused to recognize Mao's government and he believed the U.S. forces would cross into China if offenses in North Korea were successful.

On Nov. 27, at about 4 p.m. the 125,000 Chinese attacked the 15,000 U.N. troops at Chosin (called Changjin by the Koreans) Reservoir. The U.N./U.S. troops were unaware the entire reservoir was surrounded by nine divisions, comprising 23 regiments of CCF troops.

"They knew we were there," Schuette said. "The Chinese knew who we were. We could hear them shouting 'rotation Able company.' Rotation meant you were in rotation to go home. They were telling us to go home," he said. "They had better intelligence than we did. I don't know why the U.S. didn't know the Chinese were there."

The 32nd Infantry Battalion was under the command of Col. Faith and was east of the reservoir.

When the Chinese attacked Able, Baker, Charlie and Headquarters companies of the Battalion were sent north as rear guard - to hold back the enemy to give the others time to get out. Schuette was part of the Able company.

"At one point I had a Chinese tank dead to rights. I could have had him, but I was told not to fire because it would give away our position. I could have had him and there wouldn't have been anyone to give our position away. But I was told not to fire," Schuette said.

At the south tip of the reservoir, U.S. Marines were at at a place called Hagaru-Ri. Those that could make it out went there. "I know the Marines tried to save us, but they couldn't. There was nothing they could do," he said. "It was just hell, that's all it was."

Schuette carried a 57 recoilless rifle. The shell came out the front and the blast came out the back, but it was useless as he was out of ammunition.

"There was a guy who was shot in the stomach. I gave him my sidearm and he gave me his rifle. I don't know what happened to him. There was Chinese swarming all over the place. I don't know, maybe he shot himself," Schuette said.

Even help from the U.S. forces was fraught with problems. "There were hundreds of Chinese in the ditches and our place was supposed to drop Napalm on them. (Napalm is a gel-like fuel for fire. It clings to whatever object it lands on.)

"The planes dropped it short and it landed on our G.I.s. I don't blame the pilots. The sky had such a low overcast they couldn't see," he said.

A short time later the U.S. planes came back, and again their good intentions were short. This time they hit the G.I.s with machine gun fire.

Because the CCF attacked in the evening, the G.I.s were literally in the dark during the fighting.

The wounded were loaded into trucks in an evacuation attempt, but the CCF had blown up the only bridge to the south. The CCF riddled the trucks with 50 caliber machine gun fire and burned them with the G.I.s still inside.

The troops from the rear guard that remained, including Schuette, were retreating to the south. Next to Schuette was Corporal Stadvik from South Dakota. "We were going up a hill and he was shot in the hip. He was a big guy. There was nothing I could do. I had to leave him," he said.

The CCF troops were poorly clad for the cold weather, their clothing being of a thin quilted material. Anything they could take, mostly boots and clothes, the CCF took off the dead and wounded G.I.s.

At the top of the hill Schuette fell into a foxhole and it saved his life. As he fell in a bullet hit his lower leg, about eight inches above his ankle. It ripped through his combat boot, five buckle overshoe, socks, field pants, and winter pants.

"I didn't feel any pain," Schuette said, just the sensation of a hard tap from a finger when the bullet hit.

If he hadn't fallen, the bullet would have hit him in the torso.

Schuette got up and a CCF troop was poised to kill him. "I exterminated him," Schuette said, looking down at his hands. "That's war. It's you or them."

The bullet had traveled up his leg and lodged in the ligament behind his knee, preventing Schuette from bending his leg.

In this condition he ran down a hill and to the swampy area at the edge of the reservoir. He and other soldiers tried to make it across the ice. Even there the CCF continued to pick off the troops with 50 caliber machine guns.

From the south the Marines were crossing the reservoir with Jeeps, picking up who they could, including Schuette.

Schuette was evacuated to Japan, where his brother Stanley visited him in the hospital. Schuette was back on the front line by February.

He doesn't remember being scared during the attack, just numb. "I think you're like a wild beast, you just try to avoid everything to stay alive."

Many things still bother Schuette about the massacre at Chosin Reservoir and the Korean war.

At Chosin, there was nothing to do but flee. "You couldn't do a damn thing and it bugged you for the rest of your life.

"I wonder what happened to some of the guys. I wonder how many shot themselves so they wouldn't be taken prisoner. There are a lot of things I wonder about and there are no answers. I don't think there ever will be."

"I've never understood why we were there. This was a war that could not be won. It was a war that never should have been," he said.

The war ended on July 27, 1953 and almost as many U.S. soldiers were killed in those three years as were killed in the 14 years of fighting in Viet Nam.

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