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.