THE NORTH KOREAN GREAT NAKTONG OFFENSIVE Page 455
The 1st Battalion ordered Rodriguez to withdraw the company that night. Lieutenant Fern's 2d Platoon led the A Company withdrawal immediately after dark, moving eastward along the ridge crest. At the eastern tip the platoon started down. Near the bottom the leading men saw a column of about 400 North Koreans marching on the road some 200 yards below them with a number of machine guns mounted on wheels. Rodriguez ordered the company to circle back up the ridge and away from the road. Fern was to bring up the rear and carry with him the wounded, two of whom were litter cases. Transporting the wounded over the rough terrain in the darkness was a slow and difficult task and gradually Fern's platoon fell behind the others. By the time he reached the base of the ridge he had lost contact with the rest of the company. At this juncture a furious fire fight erupted ahead of Fern. Enemy machine gun fire from this fight struck among the 2d Platoon and pinned it down. For their safety, Fern decided to send the wounded back into the ravine they had just descended, and put them in charge of Platoon Sgt. Herbert H. Freeman and ten men. Several stragglers from the advanced elements of the company joined Fern and reported that Rodriguez and the rest of the company had run into a sizable enemy force and had scattered in the ensuing fight. Lieutenant Rodriguez and most of the company were killed at close range. In this desperate action, Pfc. Luther H. Story, a weapons squad leader, so distinguished himself by a series of brave deeds that he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Badly wounded, Story refused to be a burden to those who might escape, and when last seen was still engaging enemy at close range.
Of those with Rodriguez, approximately ten men escaped to friendly lines. Fern decided shortly before dawn that he must try to escape before daylight. He sent word by a runner back to Freeman, who should have been about 500 yards in the rear, to rejoin the platoon. The runner returned and said he could not find Freeman. There had been no firing to the rear, so Fern knew that Freeman had not encountered enemy troops. Two men searched a second time for Freeman without success. Fern then decided that he would have to try to lead those with him to safety.
A heavy ground fog, so thick that one could hardly see twenty-five yards, developed in the early morning of 2 September and this held until midmorning. Under this cloak of concealment Fern's group made its way by compass toward Yongsan. From a hill at noon, after the fog had lifted, the men looked down on the battle of Yongsan which was then in progress. That afternoon Fern brought the nineteen men with him into the lines of the 72d Tank Battalion near Yongsan. Upon reporting to Lt. Col. John E. Londahl, Fern asked for permission to lead a patrol in search of Sergeant Freeman's group. Londahl denied this request because every available man was needed in the defense of Yongsan. As it turned out, Freeman brought his men to safety. Upon moving back from Fern's platoon during the night battle, he had taken his group all the way back up to the top of the ridge. They had stayed there in seclusion all day, watching many enemy groups moving about in all directions below them. Freeman assumed that most of A Company had been killed or captured.
For five days and nights he maintained his squad and the four wounded behind enemy lines, finally guiding them all safely to friendly lines. [24-1]