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Private Joe Rattigan's little white lie.

... it came at a time when silence would be no virtue.

by Joe Sullivan

They  had moved. Joe Rattigan’s 8th Field Artillery Battalion in a lock,
stock and barrel job had pulled up stakes in its position behind Big Nori
and had relocated farther east to a place called Kumwha. It carried the
ominous name of the “Iron Triangle”. Joe didn’t know whether it was our
Iron Triangle or Joe Chink’s Iron Triangle.

The move itself was a rather inelegant operation. To Joe it looked like
everything had been picked up and tossed onto trucks. He was still the
Radio Section rookie and he had considered that things he saw might not
necessarily be what they actually were. The move was not quite so happenstance.
A small group known as the Advanced Party would go ahead of the Battalion
to check out the new location so that when the main group arrived,
everybody would know where he was supposed to be. No way do you want to be
in a line of trucks stopped on the road waiting to find out where you
were to be located.

The virtues of a swap.

Being situated in the right place was not a big issue. That’s because this
move involved a major swap of positions. The entire 25th Infantry Division
was going back on line by taking over the positions that had been occupied
by the entire Third Infantry Division. The 25th was coming off reserve and
moving into the Main Line of Resistance commonly known as the MLR. The
25th’s troopers would now be on the front line.

What helped, of course, was that the 25th would be moving into positions
that were already there. This included Joe’s 8th Field whose howitzers
would be taking over the prepared gun emplacements previously held by one
of the Third’s artillery battalions.

Joe was intrigued by the Third’s slogan, “Rock of the Marne.” He knew It
was a reference to the Third’s heroic stand at the Marne River during the
First World War. Joe’s Uncle Jimmy had fought in that war. He was now the
Rod and Gun editor of the New York Daily Mirror, the Hearst paper in New
York City.  “I wonder if he ever thinks of me and where I am.” Joe wryly
mused to himself.

Code names for everything.

All of the infantry divisions had code names. Joe’s 25th Division code
name was “Lightning”. All of the units making up the 25th had its own code
name but each one started with the letter L. The 8th Fields code name was
“Lifeguard”. Lion, Leopard, Lynx were all code name for the other
organizations making up the 25th. The same code process was used for all
of the other divisions. The 7th Division’s code name was “Bayonet”. All of
the units in the 7th had code names that began with the letter B. Joe
thought the absolute best code name belonged to the Third Division, it
was “Kaiser”. Somebody had a sense of humor.

Rookie Joe Rattigan was beginning to pick up on how things worked. When
they were behind Big Nori, the 8th Field was in general support of the 9th
Capital ROK infantry Division. ROK, as in Republic of Korea. The 8th would
be providing supporting fire to help the ROk’s own artillery units. When
the 8th moved to Kumwha it would be in direct support of one of the 25th’s
own units, the 27th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the Wolfhounds. The
Wolfhounds were an exemplary Infantry unit. It was this regiment that
became famous, in the beginning of the war when the North Korean invasion
had driven to the southernmost port city of Pusan. The North Koreans were
attempting to drive the significantly smaller American force into the sea.
The Wolfhounds, now able to defend a much smaller area, had formed and
maintained the “Pusan Perimeter” which they held under terrific pressure
until reinforcements arrived.

Greetings, from your neighbor.

Some of the Wolfhounds came back from their forward positions to say hello
to the guys in the 8th Field. It involved “Good ta’ see ya’ How ya’ doin”,
type conversations. The visiting Wolfhounds were making sure that the 8th
Field guys would see faces on the voices who were calling back for
supporting artillery fire.

The new Kumwha position was significantly different from where the 8th had
come. At Big Nori the troops were housed in 36-foot long squad tents. The
cots inside them were set up on bare ground. Kumwha involved a big-time
change. The troops would be staying in bunkers. Hand-made single-room ,
hut-like buildings covered with sand bags that made the walls and ceilings
8 to 10 feet thick. They were constructed with scavenged material.

Joe’s radio bunker was framed with railroad ties. The walls were wooden
ammo boxes that had been filled with dirt and stacked up to provide the
interior walls against which the sand bags, layer by layer would establish
the exterior. In front of the doorway there was a free-standing blast wall
which was 8-feet thick to protect the front entrance. In an effort at
decoration some trooper had found an ox-cart wheel and leaned it up
against the blast wall.

Home sweet home.

The radio section guys were virtually jubilant with their new home. Not
only would they be out of the elements, a small hole that extended up
through the roof. The hole would accommodate the sheet-metal pipe that
connected to the little pot bellied stove that sat right in the middle of
the bunker. In a couple of months this arrangement would keep everybody
deliciously warm.

Bunkers, of course, were not about withstanding the elements. They were
fortifications to protect the troops from incoming fire. A discussion
started about whether their bunker was rugged enough to withstand a direct
hit. Most everybody felt it would probably be heavily damaged by Joe
Chink’s biggest 120 millimeter artillery round. But bunkers were not so
much about direct hits but about the devastating effects of shrapnel, and
it was agreed that their Radio Bunker would be great protection.

Joe was curious about where he was now. They were definitely in the middle
of things and there had to be other organizations like heavy mortar
batteries and such in the vicinity. He had a picture in his mind of a
whole group of units that were set up close by like a little city of
armored units.

The Radio Bunker was at the extreme end of the spread-out area that
contained the Headquarters Battery bunkers. The terrain went from flat
ground at the entrance of the Battery and then gradually grew higher to
where the Radio Bunker was situated. It was even hillier behind the bunker
and extended up to the top of a hill hundreds of yards away from it.

Joe thought if he got even partway up the hill behind the bunker he would
be able to see all the units that he imagined that were there. He started
walking up the hill which was covered with shrubbery that was a little
less then knee high. The hill was considerably steeper than it looked and
the shrubbery was making walking progressively more difficult. He intended
to go in a straight line but would veer one way or another to avoid the
higher growing shrubs.

The consequences of curiosity.

When he had gone about 50 yards he stopped dead. Just to his left he
looked at something that was completely out of place. There was a little
ring about an inch in circumference that was swinging back and forth
furiously. The ring was at the end of a piece of twine that was about two
or three inches long. The string was attached to a white phosphorus
grenade. Joe had walked into a booby trap whose purpose was to alert
anybody in the bunker that somebody was approaching. Setting off the
grenade would illuminate the area and its ferocious heat would inflict
what would likely be a fatal wound to the interloper.

Joe Rattigan was absolutely frozen in fear. He was waiting for the little
ring to stop swinging back and forth. He knew why it was swinging, his
right leg just below the knee was up against the trip wire to which the
little ring was attached. He looked down to see that he had come upon the
trip wire from the side and his leg was pushing it out causing the ring
which was attached to it to bounce back and forth. He would wait until the
ring stopped swinging before he would attempt to move.

He had no idea how long it took the ring to stop swinging but it finally
slowed down until it just hung there. He now tried to move his right leg
gently away from the trip wire which was still bowed out from the pressure
of his right leg. He started by moving the toe of his right foot to the
left and then the heel of his foot to line up with the toe. He kept doing
this wiggle procedure, pausing between each move to keep his eye on the
trip wire. He was moving away from it about a half inch at a time.
Finally he felt no pressure on his leg from the trip wire. A few more
wiggles and the trip wire went slack. He stepped away. He nearly fainted
and was breathing like he had just run a mile.  He closed his eyes, “Thank
you, Jesus.”

Not home yet.

He was still not out of the woods yet. He would have to go back down the
hill and there might be more trip wires to dodge. Very carefully he picked
his way through the shrubbery. When he finally got to the bottom he
stepped out on the ground like he was debarking a ship. Standing there he
felt the pins and needles sensation that had been coursing through has
arms and legs going away.

It just wasn’t naivete that caused this episode, it was stupidity, too. One
of the first responsibilities of any military group is to conceal its
position. What the hell did Joe Rattigan expect to see? He remonstrated
himself. But he had an obligation now. He had to tell the other guys in
his section about the booby trap situation and how could he explain why he
knew about it?

Sliding the warning in.

He had a plan. He asked John Easy Nunn, a member of the Radio Section, if   
anybody had told him about the booby trap situation. Of course John Easy
said no. Joe said a guy from the Third told him just before they moved
out. That same night, after chow when everybody was in the bunker, Joe
said to the group, “Hey, did anyone tell you guys about the booby trap
situation behind our bunker?"

“Where did you hear that?”, somebody said..

“Two guys from the Third were here, and just before they left one guy said
the area behind this bunker had been booby trapped. Other guy said it was
with Willie Pete stuff.”

“White Phosphorous, and you’re just telling us now?” was the response.

Joe answered, "I thought everybody knew. But when I asked John Easy and he
knew he said no so I thought I’d better tell everybody and make sure.”

One of the older guys looked over directly into Joe’s  face, “Rookie,
that’s the kind of thing you tell everybody, you got it?

Joe dropped his head and said contritely, “Yes yes, I do.”

He felt guilty about the lie he had just told. On the other hand it was a way
to tell everybody about the booby trap situation. Guilty or not, Joe now
felt an immense relief.

   
Joe Sullivan uses the character Joe Rattigann to write about his time in
Korea.
   
 
     
  February  3, 2017      


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