by Don Thomas, K Company, 23rd Regiment
One Small Victory
This is what the division's rear guard, 23rd Infantry Regiment had to do to hold the vital Anju Road Junction while the 2nd Infantry Division ran the Kun-ri Pass roadblock to the south.
The sub-title of the S.L.A. Marshall's book The River and the Gauntlet is "Defeat of the Eighth Army by the Chinese Community Forces, November 1950, in the Battle of the Chongchon River, Korea." Not all units of the Eighth Army were defeated in that battle. On the contrary, there were many small victories. This story is about one of those. It is a story about Lt. Col. Kane's Third Battalion of the 23rd Infantry Regiment.
On the morning of the 29th of November he started his battalion forward on foot to set up a road block on the foothills and on the north-south road coming out of Kunu-ri. This would position them north of the vital Anju Road Junction. They marched all day long and arrived well after dark. The Third Battalion took up positions on the west side of the road the other two battalion's were on the road and on the east side of the road. There were five hundred yards of flat rice patties between their position and the Kaechon River.
The village of Kunu-ri was on the north side of the river. A concrete bridge spanned the river to the east of the village. While the infantrymen hacked at the frozen ground and sweated in the 15 degree below zero temperature, they could see 200 Chinese troops standing around three large bonfires on the railroad embankment between the river and the village.
They were a scant six hundred yards away and in plain sight. The Chinese retired to the village near midnight. The men of the battalion continued to chip away at the frozen ground until just before dawn. By then most of the holes were only about one foot deep. They added rocks and dirt to build up the front protection. The battalion was tied in so tight that Captain Hayne's 95 man King Company had to set back every other hole to avoid making the position one long trench. K Company was understrengthed to the extent that there was no 3rd Rifle Platoon.
At dawn the activity in the battalion's position stopped. Every eye and ear was directed towards the village. They appeared just after full light. The Chinese were in single file spaced a few feet apart. They were walking unhurried. They crossed the bridge and turned west on the near river bank and began to pass in front of the battalion's position. The defenders then knew that the Chinese had not seen them. Platoon Sergeant George Chamberlain, of King Company's first platoon passed the word down the line to hold the fire until the machine-gun on the left flank opened up. The enemy line finally turned south and started towards the west end of the battalion's position. They still did not know the battalion was there, waiting for them.
The silence was finally shattered when the machine-gun began to rattle on the left flank. The entire line then opened up with everything they had. The Chinese line broke. Some of them hit the ground, never to get up. Many of them tried to run back to the bridge. A few made it, most did not. The incoming fire was light and sporadic.
By mid-morning the column was no more. At about that time some Air Force B-26 Bombers came over and dropped bombs and napalm on the village and reduced it to a smoldering ruin. The jet fighters followed a few minutes later. A few survivors had reached the bridge and were standing under it. One of the jets made a run on the bridge and cleaned it out. The defenders received light sniper fire the remainder of the day.
At about dusk word was passed down the line to withdraw. The men quietly slipped off the ridge one by one into the draw. As the platoons formed they moved east to the main road. They quickly marched south to where the men and the trucks of the Fifteenth Field Artillery patiently waited. The battalion's casualties were very light. The enemy's very heavy. The Division's rear guard action in that area was made up of many such small unit fights. This action by the Third Battalion of the 23rd Infantry Regiment was one of the more successful ones.