May 31, 2004
Dog SevenBy Douglas Hanson
As the USS Thomas Jefferson and USS Bayfield pulled into Inchon harbor, the young Marine Fire Team Leader peered toward the dock area and the city beyond. What had been a bustling seaport and center of commerce with 250,000 residents had been rendered unrecognizable. Eleven days before, the 'softening up' for the amphibious assault on Inchon had commenced with a fierce aerial attack by Marine Air Wing Corsairs and Navy Panther Jets. Then on D—2, the naval bombardment started a little before 1 PM. The shelling was so intense that one destroyer alone fired 998 of its 5—inch rounds.
The next day, the heavy cruisers of the US and British Royal Navies opened up with their 8—inch and 6—inch guns, to be followed up again by the destroyers, which sent 1,732 more 5—inch rounds into the landing area. Historians have noted that this single bombardment of the destroyer flotilla alone was 'only marginally less than the 5—inch shelling which had hit Omaha Beach on D—Day in 1944.' And there was more to come as rocket firing landing ships (LSMRs) and AD Skyraiders were added to the mix.
Finally, on September 15th, the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments of the 1st Marine Division landed on Green, Red, and Blue Beaches — the ground phase of Operation Chromite had begun. The Marines seized Inchon, soundly defeated several North Korean People's Army (NKPA) counterattacks, and moved east and north in preparation to retake the South Korean capital. On D+3, the 5th Marines secured Kimpo Airfield across the Han River from Seoul itself.
On September 21st, one day shy of his 21st birthday, the Marine Corporal disembarked with his Fire Team belonging to 3d Platoon, Company D, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. The unit was the follow—on regiment of the division, and 'beheld a scene from hell' as a result of the bombardment and fighting in Inchon. As the Marines boarded trucks to take them to their forward assembly areas around Kimpo Airfield, the young Corporal and others in Dog Company reflected on the swirl of events that, a few short weeks earlier had turned the young reservists' lives upside down, and had sent them around the world to fight in Korea.
Called 'Dog Seven' for short, the company was part of a regiment that had been hastily thrown together during the crisis situation that summer. In June 1950, the NKPA had launched their attack south to unite the entire Korean peninsula under Communist rule. General MacArthur's plan to conduct an amphibious attack into the west flank of the enemy required more troops than the Marines could hope to provide from their active forces. All services had suffered as a result of the post—WW II demobilization and drawdown, but the Marines were particularly hard hit due to the prevailing notion that amphibious operations had been technically rendered obsolete by nuclear weapons, and by the assumed theory that air power would rule over all.
The 7th Marines were formed from active units of the 2d Marine Division from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, including the 6th Marine Regiment commanded by Colonel Homer L. 'Litz the Blitz' Litzenberg, Jr. Once the units arrived at Camp Pendleton on August 17, 1950, they were re—designated as the 7th Marines with Col. Litzenberg commanding. The regiment was still woefully short of its authorized wartime strength, so the Marine Corps activated all of the deployable reserves available. Less than two weeks later, the regiment was near or at authorized strength with fully one—half of the unit composed of reservists. In fact, Dog Company had the distinction of having the most men from the same hometown, with the exception of only one other Marine rifle company in Chesty Puller's 1st Marines.
Training and preparation at Camp Pendleton was frantic and catch—as—catch—can, since some units had only five days to gain new personnel, draw gear, and embark on transports at Naval Station San Diego. The reservists of Dog Company had only their previous home station drill time and the annual summer camps at Pendleton for training; they had not even attended formal boot camp. Also, there were the usual military goof—ups that happen in chaotic situations such as this. For example, two brothers were essentially flip—flopped in duty assignments from what they had been in their reserve unit. Richard Alexander had been a Fire Team Leader in the reserves, but was assigned to the Machine Gun Platoon at Camp Pendleton. His brother Stephen, meanwhile, had been in the Machine Gun Platoon in the reserves, and was now assigned to a rifle platoon. Having attended high school with the Alexander brothers, the young Corporal could only laugh at another typical Marine Corps 'snafu.'
Only 13 days after activation of the regiment, the 7th Marines embarked on ships at San Diego and sailed west. Fortunately, the combat veterans of both the active and reserve components of the regiment made the best use of the time available on board the ships, conducting weapons familiarization and maintenance, and continuous unit organization and shakedown exercises. Experienced Marines, such as Sergeant Dave Amos, Headquarters Section, 3d Platoon, who had been in the regular Marines, helped tremendously in this effort. On D+6, less than 40 days from the activation of the regiment in California, Dog Seven was rolling towards Kimpo Airfield and its baptism by fire.
It became apparent that as the 1st and 5th Marines attacked into Seoul, that the backdoor to the north of the city was wide open, which would allow the defending NKPA units to escape. The 7th Marines were ordered to move to the north of Seoul, maintain contact with the 5th Marines on their right, and block any escape attempt from the city. As the regiment maneuvered north however, the actual link—up with the 5th Marines never developed. The 2d Battalion, 7th Marines received the order to send an element to effect the link—up. Dog Company received the task, turned south along the Seoul—Kaesong highway, and headed into Seoul and the Sudaemun Prison area.
As so often happens in war, the intelligence was incomplete and the situation was misunderstood. Captain Richard Breen, the Company Commander, had received word that Seoul was secure; the cheering South Koreans lining the road seemed to reinforce this notion. The 2d Platoon was moving in the lead, then 1st Lt. Paul Sartwell's 3d Platoon, Breen's command group, and then the remainder of the company brought up the rear. All was quiet as the lead platoon passed the main prison area, then, as the company main body came abreast of the prison complex, the enemy opened fire from the concrete prison guard towers, reinforced street—level bunkers, and from houses on both sides of the highway. As the green Fire Team Leader in 3d Platoon would later say, most of the 2d Platoon was literally 'shot in the back.'
The lead platoon fought back valiantly. A small team of Marines assaulted and destroyed enemy positions with hand grenades, and the enemy fire slackened a bit. Sartwell's 3d Platoon was ordered to maneuver to penetrate the prison grounds and destroy the enemy, but came under heavy fire from multiple directions. Lt. Sartwell was then hit in both legs by machine gun fire, but continued to direct the action until he passed out from blood loss and exposure. Unable to get support from Marine Pershing tanks because of a knocked—out bridge, Captain Breen ordered the company to withdraw to high ground and establish a defensive perimeter. Once the defense was set, the forward observer called in air and artillery for the remainder of the day and throughout the night.
Five of the seven officers had been wounded, including Captain Breen, who later received the Navy Cross for his actions that day. The next morning, Dog Company moved out, now under the command of 1st Lt. William Goodman, and found that the enemy had withdrawn. Later, they finally linked up with the 5th Marines, but the cost had been high — 13 KIA and 27 wounded. What should have been a combined arms assault with engineers and Marine armor, had, without adequate planning or intelligence, become a hellish ambush. It was a battle that Dog Company men would remember for the rest of their lives, but of more immediate importance, it burned tactical lessons learned into each man's psyche that would be critical to their success in the coming weeks.
With Seoul finally secured, the 7th pursued the retreating enemy north to Uijongbu. Opposition was mainly restricted to enemy delay positions as the NKPA tried to keep their escape route open to the north. On October 2, the 7th Marines became the main effort of the division in the drive to the 38th parallel. Passing though the 1st and 3d Battalions, the 2d Battalion of the 7th attacked through a defended defile with Dog Company in the lead. By 1700 that day, Dog Company entered Uijongbu completing one of history's most successful pursuit operations. The men of Dog Company were expecting a little break, but MacArthur had other plans for the 1st Marine Division.
MacArthur sent the entire X Corps, including the 1st Marine Division, to conduct an amphibious assault on Wonsan, on the east coast of Korea. After fits and starts, and spending basically a worthless two weeks aboard a Landing Ship Tank (LST) sailing back and forth with no purpose in mind, Dog Company landed at Wonsan on October 29. In fact, the Republic of Korea (ROK) 3d and Capital Divisions had already captured Wonsan on October 10. On November 1, the 7th Marines were in the vanguard of the 1st Marine Division as they began their trek north to the Yalu River.
Despite optimistic predictions from MacArthur and his staff, downplaying the possibility of Communist Chinese intervention en masse in North Korea, ROK units were capturing Chinese prisoners with increasing frequency as early as October 31. The 7th Marines marched north with continuous reconnaissance, aware of the Chinese threat. As Dog Company moved forward to relieve ROK units in place, ROK soldiers were 'observed running south, abandoning their positions and pointing north and saying 'Chinese.'' The first direct confrontation between the Marines and Red Chinese forces began on November 2, 1950, in the vicinity of Sudong.
Dog Seven was ordered to seize Hill 698 on the west side of the main road. The Company Commander called for air strikes, and the weapons platoon machine guns raked the hill to provide cover. As the company attacked up the steep hill, the Chinese fire increased, and friendly casualties mounted. The slopes of the hill consisted of rocky boulders which the Marines used for cover. However, the intense Chinese machine gun and small arms fire hitting the rocks multiplied tenfold the tiny missiles flying through the air. Leading his fire team in the assault up Hill 698, the young Corporal was peppered with ricocheting bullets and rock fragments penetrating his left arm and skull. If the Marines thought that going up the hill was difficult, going down was just as treacherous, especially carrying a casualty. Several times, the litter bearers fell, dropping many of the wounded Marines to the ground. Seriously wounded, the Fire Team Leader made it to a medevac jeep, and then to the battalion aid station, which was described as 'next to nothing.'
Meanwhile, Dog Seven seized the hilltop, only to have the Chinese direct deadly fire onto the company from expertly camouflaged positions. Finally, the company CO recalled the two lead platoons from the eastern slope and requested supporting fire, but there was none available. That night at 10PM, Easy Company passed through Dog Seven to continue the attack. Once down from the hill, the Marines expected a breather, but the next day they were instead ordered to assist the 1st Battalion on the other side of the road.
At dawn on November 3, Dog Seven attacked to seize Hill 727 in a coordinated attack with air support and artillery. However, the situation was so fluid that the Red Chinese and Marines were attacking and counterattacking at the same time throughout the regimental zone of action. Ultimately, Dog Company secured its assigned sector on Hill 727.
Meanwhile, the now—veteran Corporal made it back to Wonsan, where he was evacuated by plane to a hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, and from there to a rest camp further north. While he was recuperating, Dog Seven fought its signature battle against the Chinese Communists. By November 27, the company was moving to establish defensive positions on Hill 1240 in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir. Already whittled down from attacks by Chinese forces in the movement to the hill, the Marines finally settled into their positions as darkness fell.
Then at 11PM, with the temperature down to minus 20 degrees, two Chinese regiments started probing attacks against the lone Marine rifle company; shortly after one in the morning, the Reds initiated a full—scale assault. Dog Company repulsed three assaults, before the fourth broke through their lines. The company command post came under attack and hand—to—hand fighting raged across the hill. Even though the Chinese were taking hundreds of casualties, Dog Seven was gradually being reduced to a shadow of its former self. The Marines were also running out of ammunition. Captain Hull, the company CO, had little choice but to withdraw to the foot of the hill.
Once there, he took account of the situation. There were only 40 combat effectives remaining, the Captain himself was wounded twice, and the Reds were crawling all over Hill 1240. There was only one thing to do. Captain Hull ordered the remaining Marines to re—supply with ammo and grenades, and 'with a roar, personally led them in an attack that succeeded in recapturing the hill.' All throughout the night of November 27—28, Dog Seven continued to attack the Chinese in their holes, often in hand—to—hand combat. The company was down to 16 men, when at 4 AM, a platoon from the 5th Marines were able to join Dog Company to clear the rest of the hill.
At 11AM, the Reds counterattacked with two battalions, but the Marines held. Finally, at five in the afternoon, the exhausted Marines were relieved by B Company, 5th Marines.
Sergeant H.A. ''Hans' Hanson returned home, and like many other veterans, married the love of his life, raised a family, and thought of friends on distant battlefields. Sgt. Dave Amos continued on the march north to the Chosin, but was evacuated with severe frostbite on his hands and feet. Thankfully, he was still able to be my Dad's best man at the wedding. Of course, this all wouldn't have been possible without the assistance of PFC Tom Cassis, Machine Gun Platoon, Dog Company, who with his wife prior to the war, had first introduced my Mom and Dad.
All of the Marines in Dog Company were heroes; and many of them had not even been through boot camp. Recognizing the high level of proficiency from their 'on the job training,' the Marine Corps finally remedied the situation when in September 1997, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), San Diego awarded the surviving Marines with a boot camp Certificate of Completion.
As Americans, we owe them and all of our service men and women our deepest gratitude. I would especially like to give my Dad my deepest thanks for his service — and all my love.
Author's note: The complete story of Dog Company, Seventh Marines can be found in Colonel (Ret.), USMC R.D. Humphreys' Triumph On 1240. A highly detailed account of Operation Chromite is found in Inchon Landing: MacArthur's Last Triumph by Michael Langley.