Authors: Bob Drury,Tom Clavin
THE LAST STAND OF FOX COMPANY
Also by the authors
THE LAST STAND
OF FOX COMPANY
A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat
Atlantic Monthly Press
Copyright © 2009 by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin Maps © 2009 by Matthew Ericson All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, or the facilitation thereof, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003. Published simultaneously in Canada Printed in the United States of America
FIRST EDITION ISBN-10: 0-87113-993-6 ISBN-13: 978-0-87113-993-1
Atlantic Monthly Press an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc. 841 Broadway New York, NY 10003 Distributed by Publishers Group West www.groveatlantic.com 09 10 11 12 13 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To the United States Marines who fought and died on Fox HiU
"If we are marked to die, we are enough."
NOVEMBER 2 TO 4, 1950
Only the officers knew that the dark railway tunnel a few hundred yards up the road marked the official entrance to the Sudong Gorge. The enlisted men didn't carry maps, but they sensed it. Over the past several miles the broad rice paddies and vineyards, the neat rows of persimmon trees, and the tiny farmhouses with their empty oxcarts had disappeared and had been replaced by the stark granite hills of upper North Korea. "Injun Territory," one of the Marines said. A few others forced a grim laugh. To most of the Marines, hostile terrain had begun as soon as they'd crossed the 38th Parallel and started the long slog north. Still, that dark tunnel looked ominous.
They were Fox Company, and just before they rounded the sharp bend in the road and humped into the tunnel they spotted Dog Company engaged in a firelight, maybe half a mile to the west, along the slopes of one of the broken-tooth mountains. They found this strange. By this point in the war-more than four months since Kim Il Sung's invasion of South Korea, and six weeks after the United States' successful counterattack at Inchon-the North Koreans could be counted on to cut and run at the first sign of Americans. But Dog Company seemed to be meeting serious opposition, and some of the Marines in Fox Company began to wonder if the regimental commander's warning hadn't been the usual shinola; perhaps the Chinese had indeed crossed the Yalu River and entered the war.
In any event, that was Dog's problem, at least for the time being, and as Fox emerged from the north end of the tunnel and into the dusk, the sheer hills on either side of the company loomed high and tight.
It was a good place to call a halt, and the outfit's enigmatic commander, Captain Elmer Zorn, decided to bed down the column for the night. One of the actions that had Zorn's men often glancing at him warily was calling in an air strike uncomfortably close to their own position. On another occasion he mistakenly radioed for artillery support on Fox Company's own coordinates. The sun was dipping over the stout, charcoal-colored western hills, and an eerie gray mist shrouded the forbidding taller mountains to the north. Fox was still four miles south of its objective, the tiny crossroads hamlet of Sudong, but Zorn's men had slept hardly at all for two days. The CO considered the odds: with the First Battalion out in front, and the Third Battalion following close behind, he expected no trouble. Before assigning night watches, however, Zorn did take one precaution. He ordered the leaders of his three rifle platoons to have each of their men take a good long look at four Marines from the First Battalion who had been bayoneted in their sleeping bags twenty-four hours earlier. Their cold bodies, laid in a small depression between a creek bed and the dirt road, were still wrapped in their bloody mummy bags. Sergeant Earl Peach of the Second Platoon spat. He'd seen worse, on Tarawa and Iwo. Still, he never got used to the sight.
As darkness fell and the temperature dropped, Fox was strung out perhaps four hundred yards along the road, with sentries snaking up the overhanging ridgelines. All the scuttlebutt about the Red Chinese spooked the company, and scattered small arms fire and an occasional howitzer report punctuating the cold air from up ahead didn't help. At midnight a rumor started that a North Korean tank was prowling the area, and this put everyone's nerves on edge. But there were no incidents.
Not long after sunrise, a few Marines spotted the column of soldiers exiting the tunnel, seventy-five yards south of their bivouac. These were definitely troopers, maybe 200 all told, marching in twos with a brisk, jaunty step-far too crisp for them to be the weary Marines of the Third Battalion's rear guard. And they were wearing unfamiliar uniforms. But Fox Company had been relieving numerous South Korean infantrymen all along the road north, and these were most likely more of the same. The Americans had taken to calling their allies ROKs, after South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.
Corporal Alex "Bob" Mixon, a forward artillery observer attached to Fox from the Second Battalion's 81-mm mortar unit, was the first to see them-and the first to sense that something was not right. They were no more than forty or fifty yards away when he hollered, "Halt. Who goes there?"
The answer was a fusillade of automatic weapons fire. Mixon dived behind a rock. When he emptied the clip of his carbine into the two columns, they broke to both sides of the road and assumed firing positions. Mixon was impressed by their discipline-a trait heretofore lacking among most of the Reds he'd encountered. Now Mixon could hear Captain Zorn running toward him, yelling, "Hold your fire! Friends! Friends!"
But the bullets snapping over Bob Mixon's head were far from friendly, and as he shouldered his carbine and squeezed off another clip he watched Fox Company's civilian interpreter tackle the captain and pull him down into a ditch on the side of the road.
By now the Chinese-as Mixon had concluded they were-had set up two heavy machine guns on either side of the tunnel entrance and were pouring fire into the company's mortar squad strung out along the creek bed. Half a dozen Marines fell instantly. Mixon was debating what to do when a helmet popped up beside him. It was Sergeant Peach, who had crawled through a culvert under the road.
"Gotta keep 'em off those mortar men," Peach said. He began picking off enemy soldiers with his m 1. Mixon reloaded and joined in with his carbine, aiming especially for the machine gunners. When they had both run out of ammunition they fell back to Captain Zorn's ditch. The captain was on the field phone, ordering several fire teams to take the high ground and secure the main ridgeline on the east side of the gorge. Simultaneously, a large unit of Chinese broke off from the gunfight in the valley and began scrabbling up the steep hills.