To read the prologue and previous chapters of the series, click here. "Pride and Courage" is a fictionalized account of the experience of Puerto Rican soldiers during the Korean War.
Chapter 8: The Fall
After learning of the withdrawal from Jackson Heights, Colonel DeGavre placed Lieutenant Porterfield’s A Company, under control of Colonel Betances for a counterattack. “A” Company was reinforced with a volunteer squad from B Company. Captain Cronkhite’s F Company would also participate in the attack and 1/65’s C Company, led by Lieutenant Stevens would be ready to support if necessary.
Colonel Betances summoned Captain Cronkhite to the battalion command post and briefed him. Betances’ plan called for F Company to retake the hill. A Company would follow F Company, pass through its positions, and man the hill. F Company’s job was to secure Jackson Heights, providing A Company with a jumping off point to launch its own attack. The objective of A Company was a knob running north-south along a finger beyond Jackson Heights. With this accomplished, F Company would withdraw and come back to the MLR.
At 0645 hours, and after a 10-minute artillery preparation, the attack began in columns of companies with F Company crossing into no man’s land.
F Company reached the base of the hill and began its ascent. The Chinese offered some resistance but less than two hours after the operation started, F Company reached Jackson Heights. F Company had suffered only two casualties during its climb. Once on the hill, however, F Company started to suffer heavier losses as the Chinese begun pounding Jackson Heights from Camel Back.
A Company began to move toward the hill in columns of platoons with the 3rd Platoon in front followed by the 2ndPlatoon, the Weapons Platoon, and finally the 1st Platoon under First Lieutenant Juan E. Guzmán.
After advancing roughly 500 yards, A Company ran into heavy mortar and artillery fire, forcing the men to take cover in ditches and holes. About half an hour later, A Company began to move again, only to be caught in another artillery barrage. The 1st Platoon got the worst of it and was cut off from the rest of the company.
Lieutenant Porterfield, who had started the climb with the rest of A Company ordered Guzmán to stay at the base of the hill until he called for him. Soon Porterfield lost communication with Guzmán, who remained pinned down at the base of the hill.
Porterfield and the rest of A Company reached Jackson Heights at 1010 hours. As A Company joined F, the men of both companies intermingled and the situation became confused. Cronkhite and Porterfield had not met to coordinate the attack after receiving their orders. Both company commanders thought that it was the other’s responsibility to stay on the hill. This proved to be a fatal mistake.
An hour later, battalion radioed a message instructing A Company to stay. Thinking that he was not supposed to occupy Jackson Heights, Porterfield had prepared neither to stay nor to continue the attack beyond the heights.
By 1115 hours, Chinese artillery had inflicted some seventeen casualties on the two companies. Porterfield told Cronkhite that he did not know how he could evacuate his wounded and continue the attack. Cronkhite then ordered his men to assist in the evacuation of A Company’s wounded. Since it had been resolved that F Company would retreat to MLR, Cronkhite also ordered his men to begin their withdrawal as they evacuated A Company’s wounded.
Around 1200 hours, Porterfield decided to hold a meeting with his platoon leaders and forward observer. They took a direct mortar round. A single round decapitated A Company’s command.
The shelling continued.
Men started filtering down the hill in small groups.
Some of these men filtered through Guzmán’s platoon, which still pinned down at the base of the Guzmán and Sargent Morales ordered those men to return to the battle, which they did. When they reached the outpost, they found Sargent Camacho organizing the few men still at the crest. There was no use in preparing for a defense, the Chinese were not sending infantry to take it. The outpost had become the perfect killing zone. Every shell impact was augmented by hundreds, thousands of pebbles and rocks turned into deadly projectiles.
For the first time since he arrived to Korea, Camacho did not know what to do. Casualties were mounting. There were no officers left alive. The Chinese were not coming but the shelling would not end.
He looked around and saw men cowering and trying to become as small as possible to avoid been hit by the artillery barrage. He saw one man walking aimlessly- visibly in shock. Rivera and Colón tackled and pinned him down. He saw González pulling a wounded soldier down the southern slope and then coming back up.
“What are we doing here? What are we doing here?”
Colón and Rivera needed help to control the man. González ran to them. A shell landed on them disintegrating the tree men instantly.
Camacho tried to run to them but his legs would not move. It could had been an eternity—that is how it felt for Camacho at least- as the smoke of the explosion dissipated. He tried to control himself; there was no use. Tears ran down his face. The men of the 65th were his family but him and González had become inseparable.
The smoke finally cleared and out of it—González came out limping towards him with shrapnel on his legs but otherwise ok.
González screamed at Camacho “Sargent we need to get out of here!” Camacho could not respond.
“Sargent, we need to get out!” he repeated as shells kept exploding behind him.
“Yes, let’s get out of here! Everyone move out. Move out, help the wounded.”
Camacho and González came down with another twenty-two wounded men. It took a while. Chinese commanders were no longer contesting the outpost, but they had patrols hunting for survivors. After a couple hours they reached the base of the hill and crawled that long mile to the main line of resistance.
Meanwhile, F company had been ordered to go back to the hill and to bring any survivors from A Company. Camacho and González could not believe it.
“What, we just escaped from there!” all the survivors agreed.
Camacho dropped his rifle, all the others did the same.
“We are done sir. We are not cowards but there is no way we are going back up there to be killed without a chance.”
Colonel Betances told the men “Pick up your weapons and go back—that is an order!”
The men refused.
“Sargent Mencias, take this men’s weapons and put them in the stockade—now!”
This battle was over for them but their ordeal was only beginning.
Harry Franqui-Rivera, a former Centro researcher, is a a Professor of History at Bloomfield College. His forthcoming book Soldiers of the Nation: Military Service and Modern Puerto Rico, 1898-1952 will be published by Nebraska Press University.