1st Battalion 5th Marines
Left to right:
Lt Col George Newton, Bn Cmdr 1/5, 1st Provisional Marine Brigade
Maj. John Russell, CO Weapons Co.
Capt John Stevens, CO Able Co.
Capt Ike Fenton, CO Baker Co.
Capt Walter Godenius, CO H&S Co.
(Photo courtesy of John Stevens, Dixon's former commander,
used with permission)
September 30, 1950
In June 1950, the North Korean Army crosses the 38th Parallel into
South Korea. After the United Nations Security Council votes to authorize force
to repel the surprise invasion, U.N., South Korean and U.S. troops establish a
150-mile-long defensive perimeter around Pusan, a port on the southeastern
One of the central characters in the early weeks of the war was Captain
‘Ike’ Fenton. Captain Fenton was the Baker Company Commander of 1st Battalion,
5th Marines during the Korean War, the same unit in which his younger brother
Michael served and died in during World War II.
U.S. Marines had been in Korea barely two weeks when the 27-year-old
Fenton, who had fought in World War II, is plunged into a critical battle.
Fenton’s company is sent into a breach in the perimeter and ordered to “hold at
all cost,” lest the attacking North Koreans flank and rout the allies. “The only
marines coming off that hill are dead marines,” Fenton says to his commander.
Using bayonets and grenades borrowed from another company nearby, Fenton’s men
hold the line
Combat Photographer David Douglas Duncan takes Captain Fenton’s
picture. Duncan, a former marine, is on assignment for Life magazine. He gets as
close to the action as possible, trying to show, he says, “what a man endures
when his country decides to go to war.” Duncan’s photographs are among the best
known of the war, and a few, including that of Fenton, are ranked among the top
American combat photographs ever. The photograph captures a weary Capt. “Ike”
Fenton, whose radio had just expired, being told his unit was low on ammunition,
and ponders his and his unit’s fate.
Excerpted from Donald Knox’s book, is this remembrance of Captain ‘Ike’
“When daylight arrived, I discovered that I was the only officer left
the in company. The previous afternoon the company counted 190 men and 5
officers. In the morning 88 men were left on the line. The 2nd Platoon, which
had borne the brunt of the night attack, but had 11 men left.
First Lieutenant Nick Schryver from the 1st Platoon was reported to
have been killed. My gunnery sergeant, Ed Wright, said he’d had been hit by a
grenade burst. I thought it would be demoralizing to the men to have a dead
lieutenant lying around, so even thought we were only evacuating the wounded, I
told Ed, “Put Schryver on the first available stretcher and take him off the
ridge”. A short time later I looked up and, gee whiz, I thought I was looking at
a ghost! There stood Nick. With all the bandages wrapped around his head he
looked like a mummy. “My God,” I said, “what are you doing here? They told me
you were dead.” He told me, “Skipper, back in the aid station I got to thinking.
The last couple of days we’ve seen a lot of action. I though your number would
be up. You know, Skipper, very seldom does a young lieutenant get to command a
company. Since you’re long overdue, I just figured if I could get back here, I’d
get myself a company”. ”
After Pusan, Fenton sees more action in Korea and goes on to serve in Vietnam before retiring in 1970 as a much-decorated colonel. He settles in Peachtree City, Georgia, works as an executive for National Cash Register and vigorously promotes the cause of Georgia golf. He dies in 1998 at age 76, leaving two daughters, three sons, 12 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Captain ‘Ike’ Fenton was the oldest son of Marine Colonel Francis “Ike”
Fenton, 1st Marine Division. In 1945, his father, Marine Colonel Francis “Ike”
Fenton, 1st Marine Division, and his youngest brother, Pvt. Michael Fenton of
Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, served together in combat. A
photograph of the two, delayed by the war, accompanied a story in the May 31,
1945, edition of the San Diego Union. It showed the son holding his M1 rifle
beside his father. The caption noted that Okinawa was the son’s first combat
experience, while his father had been in the Battle of Peleliu in 1944.
The story reported that the Colonel said, “Hello, Son,” while the
Private said, “Glad to see you, Sir.” They talked about mail from home.
Another photograph taken not long after showed the Colonel, a helmet
between his arm and body, kneeling in the dirt with his head bowed over a
stretcher. A U.S. flag covered his son Michael, who was killed in action on 7
May, 1945, while fiercely repelling a vicious Japanese counterattack.
Marine Father, Marine Son
The faces of the Men in the background register the horrible sadness of
August 17, 1950 2030
1st Battalion 5th Marines
Throughout 17 August the evacuation of dead and wounded had been a major concern of every Marine, from fire team leaders up to the Brigade commander. Men risked their lives dragging casualties off the blazing slopes of Obong-ni Ridge to relative safety at the base. Litter bearers plodded back and forth across the fire-swept rice paddy, and a steady stream of wounded passed through the 1st and 2nd Battalion aid stations behind the road cut. Medical officers of the two battalions, Lieutenants (jg) Bentley G. Nelson and Chester L. Klein, worked tirelessly with their corpsmen.
In the rear, Lieutenant Commander Byron D. Casteel had to commandeer every ambulance in the area—including 16 Army vehicles—to evacuate wounded to and from his 5th Marines aid station. So acute was the shortage of hospital corpsmen that the Brigade’s Malaria and Epidemic Control Unit was used to reinforce the regimental medical staff. Even so, the hospital tents were busy for a straight 18 hours.
The small number of deaths from wounds attested to the speed and effectiveness of helicopter evacuations; for the pilots of VMO–6 were ferrying the more serious casualties from the regimental aid station to the Army’s 8076 Surgical Hospital at Miryang, some 20 miles away.
While medics toiled to save lives, the spiritual needs of casualties were filled by the inspiring labor of the 5th Marines’ naval chaplains, Lieutenant Commander Orlando Ingvolstad, Jr., Lieutenant William G. Tennant, and Lieutenant (jg) Bernard L. Hickey. A familiar figure at the front, frequently exposed to enemy fire as he administered to fallen Marines, was Lieutenant Commander Otto E. Sporrer, beloved chaplain of 1/11.
Two serious obstacles to the various missions behind the front were the dud-infested area east of Observation Hill and a section of collapsed MSR in the river bed occupied by the 5th Marines CP. First Lieutenant Wayne E. Richards and his 2nd Platoon, Able Company Engineers, spent most of 17 August at the tedious task of removing unexploded missiles from the forward assembly areas. The engineers’ 1st Platoon had to tear down part of an unoccupied village for material to reinforce the sinking road over which the jeep ambulances and supply trucks were struggling.
As the sun dropped behind Obong-ni Ridge, activity on the MSR continued unabated, although the battle for Objective One had diminished to a crackle of rifle fire and occasional machinegun bursts. Company A had been unable to take Hill 117 and 143, still bristling with enemy automatic weapons. At 2030, shortly after the smashing victory over North Korean armor, Captain Stevens contacted his 1st Platoon and learned that it was on the saddle between peaks 109 and-117. Although tied in on the right with Company B, the platoon was separated by a 100-yard gap from Stevens’ other two platoons on the slopes to the left.
The company commander called Fox (3rd Plt), Lawson (2nd Plt), and McMullen (1st Plt) together near the base of the ridge to consult them on continuing the attack. All platoon leaders advised against it, since darkness was falling and their units needed rest, food, water, and ammunition. Moreover, the enemy’s bold tank attack had convinced the infantry leaders that a larger counter-stroke by the Communists was imminent, and they wanted time for preparation.
Stevens informed Newton of the situation by radio, and the battalion commander ordered him to discontinue the attack and tie in with Fenton’s unit for the night. It was already dark when the 2nd and 3rd Platoons shifted to the right from their positions below Hills 117 and 143.
Company B had been busily consolidating its high ground since the seizure of Hills 102 and 109 earlier in the evening. While Fenton’s machineguns dueled with those of the Reds on 117, his 1st and 2nd Platoons deployed defensively on the forward slopes of the two captured peaks, and the 3rd went into reserve on the reverse slope.
Company A’s front extended left from the southern part of Hill 109—where the 1st Platoon was linked to Fenton’s unit—to the center of the saddle toward 117. There the line bent down in an arch, formed by the 2nd Platoon, to the spur below the enemy-held peak. Able Company’s left was actually perpendicular to the ridgeline, for Fox’s 3rd Platoon was deployed up and down Hill 117’s spur.
To complete the Brigade front, Headquarters Company of 1/5 was to have extended across the rice paddy from Observation Hill and tied in with Company A’s left flank. Due to the casualties and workload of the headquarters troops, this connection was never made, with the result that Fox’s platoon remained dangling.