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Korean War Veteran Paul Elkins Shares Story, Part 2

on July 13, 2017 - 6:21am

Korean War veteran Paul Elkins of Los Alamos on Hill 324 in Korea in 1952. Courtesy photo

Outpost Yoke was the first place Paul Elkins served in Korea in January 1952. Courtesy photo

 

By MAIRE O'NEILL
Los Alamos Daily Post

When we left MSgt. Paul Elkins in Korea in Part One of this series, his regiment had arrived and he had led two squads to the Company outpost, which was about three-quarters of a mile ahead of the front line and Chinese troops were manning the line they were facing. By this time, it had started to snow and the conditions were miserable. There was no heat and frozen C-rations had to be chipped out of a can with a bayonet.

The men soon became accustomed to the sound of artillery fire as it passed over their heads. They watched as a patrol from the Intelligence and Recognizance Platoon approached the T-Bone Complex in the snow, wearing white uniforms.

“In late January 1952, my 2nd Platoon went on an ambush patrol near the lower Alligator Jaw. We left after dark in a heavy snowfall, heading down the jeep road passing through what was called ‘the gate’. When we came upon a destroyed village, we realized we had gone too far so our lieutenant turned us around and after retracing our steps for a short distance, we cut across some frozen rice paddies to our objective,” Elkins said. “After reaching it, the 3rd squad was sent about 100 yards out front and the rest of us set up positions at the base of the Lower Alligator Jaw. It was approaching midnight and still snowing. Soon, we noticed that some men began to doze off. To remedy this, we made snowballs and threw them at the sleeping GI’s – waking them up.”

Elkins said at around 4 a.m., they received a call telling them to return, but when they stood up, they got quite the surprise.

“We had been sitting in the same position in the snow for about four hours. The snow had melted only to later freeze to the seat of our pants. So, when we stood up, each one of us had a large chunk of snow and ice about the size of a bicycle tire attached to our trousers,” he said.

Jan. 24, 1952, Elkins received a request for volunteers to take some ammunition to Company C, which was engaged in an attack on the T-Bone Complex. A platoon was providing support fire on the Alligator Jaw and they were running low on .30 caliber machine gun ammunition. Elkins took three men and proceeded to the Gate carrying two boxes. After half a mile, they were about to move into open view of the Chinese troops on the T-Bone.

“Proceeding to our objective, walking at 15-yard intervals we met a patrol returning from this same area. We should have realized this junction had been zeroed in, but we didn’t. Now as we met the returning patrol, the Chinese had a target they couldn’t turn down – us,” he said. “As they began to drop mortar fire down on us, we took cover in a ditch beside the road. Our guide was just over the bank from me in a rice paddy and after a few minutes of continuous firing, I asked him what he wanted to do.”

Thinking the four men would get up and deliver the ammo, the guide told them to throw all the ammunition to him and get back to their lines.

“Since the mortar fire was getting closer, I agreed. Suddenly, a vintage sergeant from World War II arrived on the scene and began directing traffic. Listening for the mortars to fire, he would time them and yell for us to “hit the dirt” before they hit. We were able to return to our lines with only one minor casualty, a cut to the back of the hand of one of the men,” Elkins said.

“In early February 1952, we moved off the line to a reserve area. We had only been there one or two days, when our 2nd platoon received orders to attack Hill 260, which was part of the T-Bone Complex. Most of the details of Operation Dark Baldy have faded over the years, but this 21-year-old kid inherited more responsibility that night than he ever wanted so the events of that night are forever etched in my mind,” he said.

Feb. 6, 1952 Lt. Clifford Rogers was assigned the mission of attacking Hill 260 with Lt. Lamb’s 2nd Platoon in the assault role and 1st, 3rd and 4th Platoons in support roles. The men disembarked from their trucks, formed a column of twos and headed into “no man’s land”. The 2nd Platoon climbed up the steep, ice-covered ridge just south of a small knob.

“After getting orientated, Lt. Lamb gave the order to advance. I monitored SFC Callaway’s 3rd squad, which was on the left, with SFC Arians monitoring Sgt. Kimsey’s 1st squad on the right; the 2nd and 4th squads were in reserve. As we reached the top of the small knob, PFC Rodriguez called out, ‘Elkins I’ve got one’.”

Elkins said PFC Patrick followed him as he went to investigate. They reached the hole where Rodriguez was standing and found a man lying in the bottom, a soldier who was apparently killed in an earlier action.

“Suddenly, a thunderous explosion blew all three of us through the air into a long narrow trench. While still flying through the air I shouted, ‘throw a grenade into the hole”, thinking the man in the hole had caused the explosion. After landing on top of each other, I heard Lt. Lamb call out that he had been wounded. As I ran over to his position, the aid man was already attending to his wounds. Lt. Lamb had stepped on a mine, losing both legs above the knees. At this time I assumed command of the platoon and all attached personnel, about 60 men,” Elkins said.

​While waiting for the support platoon to arrive Sgt. Kinsey and Elkins cleared six or eight holes just north of their position. When he returned to their line, some of the men were standing.

​“I encountered Don Sarrette standing and he pointed at the ground saying, ‘Sarge, we can’t move. There are mines everywhere. See that tripwire at your feet?’,” he said. “I looked down and thought it was a root and kicked it. This got the men moving.”

After the 1st Platoon arrived some 45 minutes later, the 2nd Platoon continued its advance under Elkins’ command following the original plan to a place overlooking the enemy trenches on Baldy, about 100 yards away.

“It was eerie looking and deathly quiet. There was no cover between us and their trenches and we knew they were lying in wait,” Elkins said. “Before starting the assault, I called in a barrage of artillery fire. I then informed the squad leaders the attack would begin when the artillery support stopped. The first round came in high and right, of the target so I adjusted the fire three or four times then requested fire for effect.” Elkins said. “Two of the three guns must not have been properly setup as one round dropped into my right flank which caused the 1st Squad to leave their position and probably killed PFC Higbee. As they ran past me to the rear, I stood up trying to stop them to no avail. Then the last round came in killing or wounding 16 men. I was standing near the point of impact and it momentarily knocked me unconscious. When I came to, I ran to the phone requesting cease-fire.”

As Elkins surveyed the area all he could see were dead and wounded. Only one man from the 1st Squad had not been killed or wounded but that would change because he, Sgt. Kimsey, also was injured when he severely burned his hand while removing a burning white phosphorus grenade from the unconscious body of another soldier. The walking wounded were taken by Sgt. Kimsey to the area of the 3rd Platoon, then Elkins deployed the 3rd Squad about 25 yards forward to provide protection for the “litter bearers” gathering up those who had been killed or wounded. Soon orders came to withdraw.

“It had been two and a half hours since Lt. Lamb had stepped on the land mine and now the forward progress of the 2nd platoon was not stopped by enemy forces but by friendly fire,” Elkins said. “I have lost a lot of sleep over the years for the events that happened that night. It wasn’t my fault but it still haunts me.”

“In March 1952, we were to move up to the extreme left flank of the division so on the last day in reserves I went with the scouting party to check out our new position. Needless to say I missed the last shower run and it had been two weeks since my last shower,” he said.

The following day the platoon moved to its new position occupying a long ridge that ran down to a two-man listening post and tied into the 65th Infantry Regiment which was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. The 3rd Platoon was to their right and my platoon had two tanks and a Quad .50 caliber M2 machine gun dug in on the left half of it. 

“The tanks and Quad .50 drew enemy fire like magnets. This gave us a lot of grief. The fire was so heavy that to minimize the effects of shell shock we had to rotate a few men out of the area,” Elkins said.

After meeting their new company commander, they were ordered to attack Hill 192. Elkins was the platoon sergeant and the plan was to destroy any fortifications they could and return back to their lines. He was to take a support squad up Hill 190 to cover the attack force on their climb up and down Hill 192. That night they headed up the east side of the ridge that extended out to both hills.

“At night you weren’t always able to make out natural landmarks so we passed our objective, Hill 190,” Elkins said. “As we did, we began to sense we had company in the rice paddy to our right. About 50 yards to our left we could hear the Chinese moving in the grass and making their familiar cat and bird calls. We continued on until we spotted one about five yards away crawling in a ditch and threw a grenade at him.”

The lieutenant halted the column and decided they should go back and as they retraced their steps they began to climb Hill 190 still not realizing it was Hill 190. When they reached the top Elkins’ squad went left and the other squad went right. With only about two-thirds of the men in their position, the Chinese hit them in force.

“They were well dug-in and began firing at us with burp guns and throwing grenades at us. When the attack began, Bob Arians was about five yards away from the Chinese and I was about 15 yards to his left. In the opening moments of the attack, two others got injured but were able to make their way back to the ridge, but we couldn’t find Arians,” Elkins said. “We called for flares but were still unable to find him.”

Elkins was told to take two men and go find Arians but after some time, the lieutenant called them back. Before they left the hill they called in mortar fire on the valley. They arrived back at their lines at 2 a.m. April 17, 1952. As he prepared to lie down, Elkins was told a patrol would be leaving at dawn to find Arians and they needed a guide so Elkins volunteered to be their guide.

The following morning Elkins overslept and as he ran to the line, he saw the patrol about 200 yards ahead in dense fog. He and the platoon aid man ran and caught up with them. By the time the captain spotted Hill 192, they were receiving sporadic small arms fire from the rear so after looking at his map, the captain decided they needed to turn back.

“On our way back I noticed the spot we were looking for so with the captain and myself leading we ran to the top of the ridge leaving the rest of the guys in the valley. We looked around the area and saw no sign of life, so reluctantly we decided to leave,” Elkins said. “On Aug. 5, 1989 I saw Bob Arians for the first time since the night of the attack. He had been severely wounded, but had survived one-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war.”

A few days after their rescue attempt, Company L moved to the ridge that extended up to Old Baldy. The Chinese spotted Company I leaving as Company L was moving in and unleashed a barrage of 120mm mortar fire on them. They were in a small grove of hardwood trees and they were getting tree bursts as well as direct fire. They were there for about two weeks and suffered several Chinese night probes and a lot of mortar fire. During this time there were several minor casualties including Elkins.

“One evening as the men were beginning to line up in the trenches to eat, I got a call from the company CP to inform us of incoming mortar fire. As I jumped on a trench bank to warn the men, a mortar round hit about 15 yards away blowing me into the trench. After I took cover in a bunker, someone told me my knee was bleeding,” Elkins said.

Several days later when he was at the company CP for a platoon leaders meeting, the captain suggested Elkins take his jeep and go get a shower. This would be the first shower he had in 60 days. While he was there he also went by the battalion aid station to get his knee attended to.

During the afternoon of April 30, 1952, a heavy fog fell over Old Baldy so the 179th moved up a day early to relieve them. Since May Day was a big Communist holiday everyone expected a Chinese attack, but it never materialized. The night Company L moved off the line, Elkins slept on the hard ground instead of in a hole. The following morning they began their two-day march to the reserve area.

“I walked most of the way with a festered knee however I didn’t really care because I knew I would be going home soon. We spent one night near the 120th Engineer Battalion so I visited with my cousin, Dan Morton,” Elkins said. “Early the next morning we moved out passing through the bombed-out town of Yonchon and arrived on a ridge that overlooked our new reserve area.”

The next morning they moved down to their new home of 16 by 32 foot squad tents. Within a few days word came down that Elkins and two other men would be rotating home. Elkins had to choose his successor.

“The next morning I watched as he took ‘my troops’ out while I stayed in my tent. It was a sad day,” he said.

Later that day, the three men went to Yongchon to board a train to begin their journey home. They finally arrived at Yongdong-po where they reported to the processing center.

“They doused us with DDT, took all our clothes and searched our personal belongings for contraband. Next we hit the showers and were given new clothes,” Elkins said. “After a few days we moved to Inchon where we spent our last night in Korea. The following day we boarded a ship bound for Sasebo, Japan. We stayed in Japan for two weeks before boarding a ship headed for the good old U.S.A.”

They arrived in San Francisco in early June and went on to Camp Stoneman where Elkins boarded a train for Fort Sill, Okla. In mid-June of 1952 he was discharged.

​“I applaud President Truman for entering into the Korean War even though we were unprepared both in men and material. The poor guys that had to do the fighting during the first year paid a very heavy price; Task Force Smith being an example,” Elkins said. “The peace talks started during the summer. The CCF took advantage of them to rebuild. We had them on the ropes before we stopped pushing north. The war really ended because Joseph Stalin died, not because we lost.”

Elkins concluded by saying he thinks his experience in Korea helped him succeed in life by going back to college and getting his Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering.

“It was a struggle but I made it,” he said.

A map of the area in which Paul Elkins spent his service time during the Korean War. Courtesy photo


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