Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole - Engineers in Korea - Three of them earned the Medal of Honor - Oct. 17th, 2005
Posted on 10/16/2005 10:47:48 PM PDT by snippy_about_it
are acknowledged, affirmed and commemorated.
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Combat Engineers are builders by trade, but in Korea they also served as infantrymen.
Three of them earned the Medal of Honor posthumously - Korean War
In Korea, one side or the other seemed always in forceful advance--or hasty retreat. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure that one day served an attacking U.S. Army might the next day merit destruction to slow a pursuing enemy. Building, demolition and rebuilding became daily routine, and invariably these tasks fell to the Army's combat engineers.
But these men were much more than contractors in uniform. Never far from their bulldozers and blasting caps were the rifles and grenades that might at any moment turn them from engineers into infantrymen. Over and over, combat conditions led engineers to fight bravely, hit the enemy hard and pay the ultimate price. No fewer than three engineers received the Medal of Honor for battlefield heroism.
Engineers in Korea had two main tasks--get American troops and materiel to where they were needed and frustrate similar enemy movements whenever possible. Combat engineers built roads through rice paddies and over mountain passes, often under extreme weather conditions and enemy fire.
"One road we built over a mountain took so much dynamite that we called it Demolition Drive," recalls Dan Teoro of the 2nd Engineers. They also constructed scores of bridges over the largest rivers in Korea--including five separate spannings of the Han and a 2,400-foot railroad-ready crossing of the Taedong.
More than once, engineers built roads and bridges to facilitate an American advance only to destroy those same structures later during a withdrawal. "It didn't always seem to make much sense, but that's what the Army needed" says Ray Miller of the 62nd Engineers.
In their "spare" time, the engineers built airstrips and training facilities, assisted with the landing at Inchon, created sewage and drainage systems, rehabilitated war-torn railroads and buildings, and set up water towers and POW camps. One engineering unit established a telephone exchange. Another built a 500-bed, 62-building hospital campus. Yet another constructed a Korean "Boys Town" for war orphans. And for Christmas 1953, engineers even built a nativity scene.
Ready to Fight
But these men were trained for combat as well as construction. "We were always ready to fight" says Teoro. "When a big bunch of Chinese would come in, the infantry needed all the help they could get."
In July 1950, the 2nd Engineers helped defend Yongsan, not far from Pusan. In August, the 14th Engineers fought as infantry on the Naktong River line. When the push north came in September, the 3rd Engineers were in the thick of the fighting. And so it went throughout the war--engineers building one moment and fighting the next.
In September 1950, Pfc. Melvin Brown (8th Engineers) showed just how good an engineer could be at fighting. Under attack by North Korean troops at Kasan, Brown found himself atop a 50-foot wall that protected the American position. With an automatic rifle, he raked the attackers with deadly accuracy. When his ammunition ran out, he lobbed grenades into the advancing enemy at the base of the wall, and when his own grenades were gone, other GIs began tossing him theirs.
With the grenade supply exhausted and the attackers still trying to come over the wall, Brown held his position, smashing each enemy in turn with a shovel as the attacker climbed to the top of the wall. Eventually, however, a shovel was no match for bullets, and Brown was killed.
Sometimes engineers served as the final rear guard, holding a road or bridge open in the face of advancing enemy while other GIs and artillery withdrew.
In July 1950, the 3rd Engineers were the last U.S. soldiers to cross the Kum River during the brief Allied defense of that line.
And in November, the 2nd Engineers held off attacking Chinese troops while elements of the U.S. 8th Army withdrew from the Pyongyang region of North Korea. Once the last American artillery units had passed safely southward, the engineers pulled out, too, but with tremendous casualties. When the battalion eventually regrouped, only 266 of its original 977 men remained.
During another American withdrawal--from Taejon in July 1950--Sgt. George Libby (3rd Engineers) became the sole uninjured survivor of an enemy attack on a troop truck. Hailing a passing artillery tractor, Libby helped several wounded aboard.
Then, as this makeshift ambulance lumbered down the road--stopping repeatedly to load more wounded--he positioned himself between the driver and the intense enemy fire. Though wounded almost immediately, Libby continued to blaze away at the enemy as the vehicle broke through hostile roadblocks.
When multiple wounds made it impossible for him to fire any longer, he used his body to shield the driver. Eventually, the tractor and its precious cargo broke free of the enemy, but Libby later died from his wounds.
Cpl. Dan Schoonover was another hero engineer. In July 1953, Schoonover (13th Engineers) was in charge of a demolition squad working with an infantry company to dislodge the enemy from Pork Chop Hill. When hostile fire prevented his men from performing their engineering job, Schoonover led them, as a rifle squad, up the steep hill.
For the rest of that day and into the next, he made victory his personal goal, killing an untallied number of enemy with rifle, pistol, grenades and machine gun. Even when the infantry company was relieved, Schoonover remained on the hill to fight. He was eventually killed while mowing down attacking troops with an automatic rifle.
Brown, Libby and Schoonover all received the Medal of Honor--posthumously--for their bravery.
In all, engineering units in Korea suffered 2,706 battle casualties, including 850 battlefield deaths.
But even when the war ended, the engineers' work did not. In August 1954, the 84th Engineers sculpted two terraces on a hillside just north of the Imjin River, and in two weeks created a miniature city there. With great solemnity, the bodies of American war dead were brought to this lonely place and afforded the respect and dignity they deserved.
The Navy had its own version of combat engineers--the Seabees. Created during World War II, the Seabees became a potent force in Korea, too, as their strength grew from 3,300 to 14,000 men during the war. Although officially called "amphibious construction battalions," the Seabees operated wherever they were needed and quickly became known for their daring, can-do approach to solving problems.
Seabees saw their first Korean action in September 1950 at Inchon, where they succeeded in building a flexible, floating causeway from ship to shore--despite heavy enemy fire, swift currents and 30-foot tides.
Then, with American troops and materiel bottlenecked at the port, a handful of Seabees sneaked through enemy lines. They commandeered a pair of locomotives abandoned by the North Koreans and triumphantly braved enemy fire to deliver the engines to the Army for moving men and supplies inland.
Another Seabee specialty was airfield construction and repair. In 1952, waves of Navy planes daily attacked targets inland from the North Korean port of Wonsan. Many of the aircraft took hits, often forcing the pilots to choose between ditching at sea or landing in enemy territory.
In 16 days, the Seabees built an emergency airstrip on Yo Do Island in Wonsan Harbor, under the very nose--and pounding fire--of the enemy. Within hours after the 2,400-foot runway was complete, seven U.S. planes had made emergency landings.
I just wish I could recall where I put that book!
It's in a book I have, and I can't remember where it is!
Sounds like MsDrby is going to have to write up a little piece of the family history for the Foxhole. :-)
Oh I've found the book alright. Folks online want from 50-200 for a copy. Yikes. Better search the library where we can read it for free!
I am just in awe of what those three soldiers did. I still haven't read a MOH story that didn't make me tear up.
Perfect weather in this foxhole. Yesterday was a 75 degree high, crystal clear skies, no wind, and a full moon rising with the evening. Today is close to a re-run. "Tis a privilege to live in Colorado."
Thanks for the acknowledgment.
We've got nice fall weather here. 60's during the day, 50's and sometimes upper 40's at night. Nice weather!
Hi ct. It's true what you say about reading these MOH stories. Just amazing!
Awwwww poor little girl, sure is having a good nap though.
I like the way you think. LOL
but Monday still feels like Monday
Don't you mean Sunday part 2?
Monday, it's no way to spend 1/7th of your life.
ROTFLOL. So much for your cooking!