Korea -- 50 years ago this week, July 17-23; Truce talks reconvene as Reds turned back
By Jim Caldwell
July 15, 2003
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 15, 2003) Sgt. Gilbert C. Collier of the 40th Infantry Division earned the Medal of Honor 50 years ago in Korea as a Chinese offensive was driven back and truce talks resumed.
SEOUL, Korea, July 17-20, 1953 -- The South Korean counteroffensive that began yesterday continues to drive Chinese communist troops northward. By July 19, ROK troops they hold the high ground south of the Kumsong River after chasing the Reds back across. The terrain on the north bank is not critical enough to risk more soldiers' lives. The ROK 6th Infantry Division digs in to hold the line for the rest of the war.
The enemy had gained six miles and deflated the Kumsong bulge in the Eighth Army line above the river, but they had lost about two divisions worth of men doing it. Eighth Army officials estimate that the Chinese suffered 28,000 casualties.
June 19-20 -- A six-man patrol sets out from the 40th Infantry Division line near the Punchbowl in X Corps. Sgt. Collier is the point man on the moonless night, and occasional showers make visibility even worse.
About two miles into no-mans land, Collier takes a step into thin air, gives an involuntary yell and falls down a 60-foot cliff. Patrol leader, 2nd Lt. Richard S. Agnew, comes forward to investigate why Collier yelled, and he, too, goes tumbling down the cliff. He lands beside Collier.
In addition to scrapes and bruises, Collier suffers a wrenched back that makes it painful to stand. Agnew has a twisted ankle thats too painful to stand on. They still had their weapons and canteens, and Agnew held onto his radio.
Agnew radios the patrol to get back to their lines before daylight, after failing to convince Collier to go with them. The patrol radioman says theyll return that night to retrieve them.
The two men realize they cant just lie at the bottom of the hill until their buddies return, so they start the painful climb up the cliff. Agnew falls once, losing his rifle and radio. Collier, despite the painful back injury, goes back down and helps Agnew back up the steep slope.
As they suffer through the day, each mans injury worsens. Agnews ankle balloons to twice its size. Colliers back is excruciatingly painful.
After dark falls, they decide to head back to their line. About 300 yards from their goal, theyre found by a six-man Chinese patrol. Collier screams a warning to the lieutenant.
He fires at the enemy, hitting two. The remainder lobs grenades at the Americans, wounding both. Collier begins crawling away from Agnew, to draw the enemy to him. He shoots until he runs out of ammo. Then the Chinese fall on him, stabbing and beating him with feet and rifle butts, and Agnew can only watch.
Even while hes being beat over the head with a rifle, Collier manages to draw his bayonet and bury it into one mans stomach. The other three continue to pound him, but he lashes out and stabs another in the throat.
Thats enough for the last two enemy soldiers, and they run away, leaving Collier pulverized and bleeding.
The rescue team has heard the beginning of the fight and arrives right after the enemy leaves. They get Collier and Agnew back to the aid station. On the way, Agnew tells them repeatedly about Colliers actions.
Collier has lost too much blood and has sustained fatal injuries from the beating.
Maj. Charles A. Brown, battalion commander, tries to ask Collier about what happened to him, but receives little in reply
Although he was dying, Sgt. Collier kept asking me if Lt. Agnew had been rescued and if he was all right, Brown says.
Collier dies later that night.
His wife will receive his posthumous Medal of Honor in the Pentagon Jan. 12, 1955.
Collier is the last soldier to earn the Medal of Honor during the Korean War.
July 19-23 -- Truce talks reconvene at Panmunjom July 19. With the Chinese latest offensive stopped, the Reds seem ready to arrange a cease-fire.
Lt. Gen. Nam Il, North Korean head of the communist team, has several items yet to settle. South Korea has denied Indian troops permission to enter the country to carry out their duties of caring for the non-communist prisoners who dont want to go back to North Korea or China. Nam wants to settle that question before the truce is signed.
He also, as was expected, wants to renegotiate the demarcation line.
Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison Jr., U.N. chief delegate, tries to hurry the process along. He tells Nam that the Swedish and Swiss members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, whose personnel will watch the non-communist prisoners, are ready to begin their duties. Nam will not say when the Polish and Czech teams can be ready.
The cease-fire is set to begin within 12 hours after parties sign the truce agreement.
That afternoon the communists suggest that the chief delegates retire and let staff officers work out the details of the four remaining areas to settle. There is a team from each side determining the demarcation line and the demilitarized zone; where the prisoners from both sides, as well as the anti-communist prisoners will be taken; time when the commissions created by truce will begin operating; and arrangements for signing the cease-fire documents.
Staff officers start working immediately.
On July 22 ROK President Syngman Rhee releases a statement that he keeps the right to follow our own course of action if the political conference that follows a truce does not produce results within 90 days.
The statement also says that he considers written promises made to the U.S. government to be conditional on certain promises made by the U.S. government, which have not yet been delivered.
Also on July 22, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles tells reporters that Rhee has twice promised in writing to abide by a truce arranged by the United States, even if he doesnt agree with it.
Peking Radio charges July 23 that Rhee is trying to wreck peace efforts, but that he could only do so with American connivance and encouragement.
July 20-22 -- U.S. government officials are discussing plans with their Indian counterparts July 20 to fly 2,000-3,000 Indian soldiers to the neutral zone in Korea. They will guard the non-communist U.N. POWs there. On July 22 the U.S. assures the Indian government that its troops will be safe there.
July 22 -- The Defense Department announces that there were 1,026 American casualties in Korea for the week ending July 17. That brings the overall casualty figures to 139,272, including 24,965 dead.
(Editors note: Jim Caldwell is a senior correspondent for TRADOC News Service. Sources are Facts on File, 1953; Truce Tent and Fighting Front by Walter G. Hermes, Office of the Chief of Military History; and Korean War Heroes by Edward F. Murphy, Presidio Press, 1992.)