In World War II and the Korean War, the life expectancy for a forward observer was about six weeks – I didn’t know this in January of 1952. I was one month shy of my 20th birthday…
Forward observers were the men out in front of the infantry directing artillery and mortar fire on the enemy.
I had been loading shells in a 105-artillery gun for about a week after being assigned to the 10th field artillery of the 3rd Infantry Division when a forward observer team came looking for a replacement for the third member that had been killed.
I volunteered because it was a pretty good pay raise – almost $50 per month extra combat pay. The three of us were in a jeep in an area that was a target for a Chinese F.O., and he was firing on us.
The jeep got stuck in some deep snow, and the officer and I ran for cover while the sergeant stayed in the jeep until he got it unstuck with the shells falling all around him. I was running when I saw an arm of a dead Chinese soldier sticking out of the snow. I remember thinking that the arm was going to grab my leg when I suddenly fell into a gully full of dead Chinese soldiers.
After parking the jeep in a protected area, we made our way up the hill and to a line of trenches and out in front of the infantry into a hole covered with logs and sand bags.
The Chinese had dug tunnels through the hills where their artillery guns were protected from air attacks. We would watch for a gun flash and count the seconds till we heard the sound of the gun to judge how far away it was.
Two of the F.O. teams I served with were killed while I was with another team, and two times I was with U.S. soldiers and two times with South Korean soldiers. But for five months I was with Company B of the Belgium Army, attached to the 7th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division, and I was with that Belgium team when they got killed while we were on the way at night to aid an outpost under attack.
Forty-one years after the Korean War, the Belgium Army awarded me their Korean War Combat Medal.
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