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Leo '50
Leo '50
USS Diachenko, APD 123
Hungnam, 12/25/50
Crewman Describes Hungnam Evacuation
Frogmen prepare

Dear Folks,

Today in this part of the world is Christmas. You'd never know it without looking at the calendar however. Right now we are underway with other units of the fleet for Pusan.

The last week or two I have witnessed something I'll never forget, or be able to forget. You've probably heard on the radio about the retreat of our forces to Hungnam under the pressure of the Chinese Reds. Well I saw everything that went on and our ship was so close to the ground forces at times that small arms fire could be easily heard. With the naked eye our tanks could be seen in action and with field glasses you could pick out the man loading a 75 mm artillery piece and the one firing it and so forth. Again we were fortunate for the enemy had no planes, ships or artillery of any size.

About a week ago it was comparatively quite at Hungnam with bomb and shell explosions in the distance from our planes and big guns from the Missouri, several cruisers and other ships. The merchant marine was well represented and the ships were continually moving into the docks, loading and moving out.

This went on for several days and nights.

Two Korean ships loaded with civilians tied alongside the Askari for temporary repairs and we escorted them one night down south. They had 8400 Koreans on one of them and you can imagine how crowded it was. The cooks on the Askari boiled GI cans of rice for them and they nearly killed one another to get it. When the weather is cold enough for spray from the sea to freeze on your clothes, it's pretty chilly. Some of the little children had only enough clothes to cover the upper portions of their bodies. The dead people were stacked on the bow and why they were not thrown overboard is beyond me, unless the people believe in sacred burials. When we were underway on the high seas with them, we'd look over at the people huddled on the open decks in the icy wind and realize how lucky we are. Those jammed below decks were fortunate to be out of the weather, but if I would have had to be on a crowded dirty ship among dead, wounded, dirty and sick, I would have taken an airy spot. I imagine they all consider themselves fortunate to be taken out of Hungnam however.

We immediately returned to Hungnam and in the two days we were gone the enemy had advanced considerably, for now our shells and bombs were dropping as close as the other side of Rattlesnake would be to you. During the day the Navy planes continually bombed and rocketed the enemy advancing up the hillsides all around the city and we were able to watch it from one end to the other. At night the planes would all return to their carriers and the fleet would take up with the bombardment. It takes time to make an evacuation and the Reds were pressing harder and harder upon the city. The St. Paul was anchored near to us and when she would fire over our heads the concussion would rock the ship. Every night was a Fourth of July that as a civilian I would never have seen. One night the Reds were taking advantage of the darkness and making a big siege on the city. The rocket boats that used to sit so useless with us in San Diego went into action and sprayed the beaches with rockets, which repelled the Reds. The enemy forces were lit up by flares fired from other ships.

On the 24th and also the 23rd we were lucky for our ship was made control ship of the inner harbor. We had special trained personnel aboard for directing evacuation boats etc. In other words, we were a traffic cop for the ship and boat units in behind the breakwaters. From here we could see our men on top of the hill looking down upon the enemy numbering about 120,000.

On the 23rd it was realized that we needed at least another day to complete the "strategic withdrawal" so the gunfire was stepped up. Without sea and air support the Reds would have run over our ground forces like nothing. All the evacuating boats from our area had to stop by the ship for directions and even though the soldiers looked weary and beaten, you could tell they were happy to get off the beach and go aboard a clean, warm ship where they could shower and eat a Christmas meal. Some of the army's amphibious tractors came along for fueling and the soldiers said the Reds weren't taking any prisoners and were stealing their clothes and weapons. They said some of the Reds were armed with things like shot guns.

On the 24th the last troops were being taken off and the artillery was blazing away at the Reds who were now coming down on our side of the hills. All the ships were out of the docking area by now and only the amphibious boats and tractors were left on the beach to take the last troops.

A mile and half from us explosions began rocking the city for fires had been set to destroy everything of value, and ammunition and other explosives began going off. In another area, a huge ammunition dump went off unexpectedly or prematurely and the troops were showered with debris and things were still dropping in the water a half a minute later in and around our evacuating boats. Our two hospital boats were hastened to the scene to aid in medical attention.

Thousands of civilians were now jamming the docks and beaches begging for transportation that never came. Others rowed out into the bay in sampans to escape the fire and explosions. We watched the figures clad in mostly black and white rags running around in the city and on the beach; not going anywhere in particular but trying to escape somewhere. Another explosion went off that nearly knocked the sightseers on our ship down. The different colors of flame and smoke were quite awesome and burning material dropped all over the fleeing Koreans and started fires in a wide area.

While the Reds were held back by Naval gunfire and bombs, our last troops could be seen coming out of the hills and proceeding to the last boats which were loading others. Soon the transports were commencing to leave the area and the cruisers and destroyers began shelling the area. A terrific explosion all along the waterfront went off and when the smoke cleared, the harbor area was in a shambles and burning. These charges were set by demolition crews and consequently the enemy will have a job on his hands before the docks can be used again. The rocket boats moved in apparently to flatten the whole city, but they decided not to evidently. A destroyer came in by us and began shelling oil storage areas. She kept hitting the same place and soon we wondered why she was using ammunition on what appeared to be nothing of value to us. Soon we knew, because an oil explosion threw barrels of fuel all over hell. It was like lighting a string of firecrackers and throwing them in the air. The shelling of the destroyer caused two more like explosions and where I once looked at the first United Nations flag flying, there was nothing but fire.

We finally got underway and after a quick check of a certain area for any remaining soldiers we joined the column of ships going out to sea.

Everyone is feeling low about not being home for Christmas, but everyone is a lot better off than other people I'll never forget. At least we are all dry, warm and have our bellies full.

I have found that movies, pictures or even letters can never point out how devastating war can be. If it ever comes to The States, people will learn something back there.

Well I only hope that next Christmas won't be like this one even though I'll remember this one more than any I have ever seen. Next year at this time I hope I can be home with a big bottle of champagne. I hope everyone else will too.

No mail yet.
Love, Leo

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