During the withdrawal from northern Korea in December of 1950, U.S. Eighth
Army outdistanced the pursuing Chinese and North Koreans and broke contact with
the enemy. By the end of January 1951, as a result of firm orders from its
commander (Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway) the army turned and took up defensive
positions near the 37th parallel, and from there sent feeler patrols northward
to locate the enemy again and reestablish contact.
The 24th and 2d Infantry Divisions occupied adjoining positions near the
center of Eighth Army's line. Late on the 27th of January, the commanding
general of U.S. X Corps directed the 2d Division to send a reconnaissance patrol
northward to the vicinity of two railroad tunnels a few miles south of
Chipyong-ni. It was to join forces at Iho-ri with a group from the 24th
Division, after which the composite patrol would proceed to the objective.
Because the order reached the divisions so late, the 24th Division was unable
to make arrangements for crossing the unbridged Han River in time to effect the
meeting. A patrol from the 23d Infantry (2d Division) reconnoitered the Twin
Tunnels area, however, and returned to its base without incident. 
At 2240 on the night of the 28th, X Corps directed the 2d Division to run the
same patrol on the following day, again in conjunction with a patrol from the
adjoining division. This time the 2d Division was to furnish five additional
jeeps to carry the men from the 24th Division, which was still unable to get its
vehicles across the river. 
First orders concerning the patrol reached the 23d Infantry at 2300. They
were passed on down to the 1st Battalion which, in turn, called Company C and
gave preliminary instructions to Lt. James P. Mitchell (one of its platoon
leaders), asking him to report to battalion headquarters the following morning
at 0600 to get complete orders. 
It was still dark, the sky was clear, and the temperature was a few degrees
above zero when Lieutenant Mitchell reached the S-3 tent on the morning of 29
January. Here he was given the mission of making another reconnaissance of the
Twin Tunnels area-by road, about thirty miles north of Company C's location-and
told to make contact with the enemy, if he could, but to avoid combat with any
large enemy force. He was ordered to move out as soon as possible since he was
scheduled to meet the 24th Division's patrol at 1030. By 0630 Lieutenant
Mitchell had returned to his company to organize his group.
Plans for the patrol were being made and changed while the members assembled.
Battalion headquarters called three times between 0630 and 0800, each time
adding men and weapons to the patrol. There were also difficulties and delays in
securing enough vehicles and radios, both of which were acutely scarce as a
result of heavy equipment losses which the 2d Division had sustained during its
withdrawal from northern Korea. The 1st Battalion finally arranged to borrow
three jeeps, with drivers, from another battalion of the same regiment, and
extra radios from an artillery battalion. Lieutenant Mitchell had two SCR-300
radios, neither of which worked well, for communications within the patrol. To
help maintain communications between the patrol and its headquarters, the
regiment had arranged for an L-5 liaison plane to circle above the patrol and
act as a radio relay station. It was therefore necessary to have an SCR-619
radio to communicate with the plane. To be safe, the 1st Battalion borrowed two.
On the morning of 29 January, however, the artillery battalion complained
because two of its radios had been damaged when loaned to the infantry the
previous day, and insisted on furnishing its own operators with the radios. It
was 0900 before the artillerymen reported, and the patrol was ready to get under
Lieutenant Mitchell was in command of the patrol. As finally organized, it
consisted of forty-four officers and men, most of whom were members of his
Company C rifle platoon. Nine members of the patrol, including an officer, were
from Company D; the others were the artillery radio operators and the drivers
from the 3d Battalion. These men were mounted on two 3/4-ton weapons carriers
and nine jeeps, five of which were for the 24th Division men. Mitchell's men
carried two BARs and either rifles or carbines, plus a 75-mm and a 57-mm
recoilless rifle, a 3.5-inch bazooka, a 60-mm mortar, and two caliber .50 and
three caliber .30 machine guns mounted on the vehicles, and two light machine
guns with tripod mounts.
For 20 of the 44 members of the patrol, this was their first combat action
since they had joined Company C only four days before. They were from specialist
schools-listed as draftsmen, mechanics, and techniciansand had received little
training as infantrymen.
Another officer joined the patrol just before it left. Capt. Melvin R. Stai
(battalion assistant S-3) went along only to be certain that Lieutenant
Mitchell's patrol met the men from the 24th Division as planned. He was told to
return to battalion headquarters after the composite patrol departed for the
Lieutenant Mitchell, with four men in a jeep mounting a caliber .50 machine
gun, made up the advance party and led the patrol by about fifteen hundred
yards. The main body, under the control of Lt. William C. Penrod (a Company D
platoon leader), followed, with intervals of at least a hundred yards between
vehicles. For Korea, the road was good but movement was slow because of heavy
snow in shaded spots and patches of ice that covered some sections of the narrow
The liaison plane circled above the vehicular column as far as Iho-ri where
it lost visual contact because of the haze that frequently filled the narrow
Korean valleys during the morning hours.
At 1115 the column reached Iho-ri, a small village on the east bank of the
Han River, where the patrol from the 24th Division was waiting. The group from
the 24th consisted of Lt. Harold P. Mueller and fourteen men whom he had
selected from his platoon of Company F, 21st Infantry. In addition to rifles,
the men had six BARs and a light machine gun. They had reversible parkas which
they wore with the white side out, including white hoods over their helmets,
whereas the men from the 2d Division were dressed in fatigue clothing and field
jackets. The combined patrol now numbered 4 officers and 56 men, including
Captain Stai, who decided at Iho-ri to accompany the patrol instead of returning
to battalion headquarters. It proceeded at once toward the objective, which was
still approximately fifteen miles away.
The Twin Tunnels were located about three miles southeast of Chipyong-ni and
less than a mile northwest of a little village named Sinchon. As Lieutenant
Mitchell in the lead vehicle neared the objective, he passed a large hill that
rose steeply on the left (west side of the road, dominating the entire area.
This was Hill 453. Skirting the base of the hill, the road crossed a ford in a
shallow stream and then split at the base of another, smaller hill. One fork of
the road turned right to Sinchon; the other fork went west for several hundred
yards, then turned north for another two thousand yards where it crossed the
railroad track between the two tunnels.
At the ford Lieutenant Mitchell stopped to wait for Lieutenant Mueller and
Captain Stai, who were riding in the two jeeps immediately behind. Since the
patrol was already behind schedule, Captain Stai offered to go alone into
Sinchon while the rest of the patrol went on to investigate the tunnels, after
which they would be ready to return. Accordingly, the two lieutenants and the
men with them proceeded to the railroad track, turned their vehicles around in
position to go back, and then waited near a farm house. The tunnels were not
side by side, but were, instead, end to end, cutting under two steep ridges, one
on each side of the road and narrow valley. On the west side the ridge rose
toward the south to the hill mass of which Hill 453 was a part; the ridge on the
east side of the road sloped north to Hill 333. Between these two ridges were a
stream, terraced rice paddies, and scattered Lombardy poplars, all typical of
the Korean landscape.
Captain Stai left his driver and vehicle by the road, walked alone toward the
cluster of drab houses in Sinchon and disappeared. The time was about 1215.
Trouble started within a minute or two after the two jeeps stopped by the
railroad tracks. Men from the 21st Infantry patrol spotted 15 or 20 Chinese
soldiers running from a small hill just north of the railroad crossing, and
opened fire on them. The others of the patrol ran up to see what was happening.
Soon after the first shots, ten or twelve scattered mortar rounds fell near the
road, landing just south of the two parked jeeps and in front of the other
vehicles which were now closing into the tunnels area.
At about this time the liaison plane appeared overhead again. The battalion
executive officer (Major Millard 0. Engen) was in the plane which, after it had
turned back at Iho-ri because of ground haze, was now returning since visibility
had increased. Major Engen saw the same enemy troops whom Lieutenant Mueller's
men had taken under fire, as well as another company-sized group on Hill 453. He
immediately reported this over the SCR-619 radio together with instructions for
Lieutenant Mitchell to turn his patrol around and get out of the area at once.
 Lieutenant Mitchell did not receive this message because of faulty radio
By the time the last vehicle in the column crossed the ford near Sinchon,
Mitchell also saw enemy movement to the south and suspected that his patrol had
been caught in a well-planned ambush. He realized that from the fingers of Hill
453, which dominated the road and even the ditches along the road, the Chinese
could see when the last vehicle of the patrol closed into the tunnels area. Hill
453 also blocked the route of retreat. Further advance of the column was stopped
by enemy positions on Hill 333 northeast of the railroad crossing. Lacking radio
communication with the liaison plane and also within the column, and since the
ridge tips crowded so close against the road that the men in the trailing
vehicles could not see ahead, the vehicles and the entire patrol bunched up in
the area just south of the railroad crossing.
Lieutenant Mitchell had decided to make a run for it before the last vehicles
in the column had come to a stop.
"Let's get out of here!" he shouted to the men, most of whom had dispersed
to seek cover when the first mortar rounds fell. "Let's get out of
Before the last vehicles to arrive could be turned around, however, the men
could see Chinese soldiers running from Hill 453 down toward the ford.
In the plane overhead, Major Engen also watched the Chinese moving to cut off
the patrol. He radioed new instructions, this time directing Mitchell to head
for the high ground east of the road. He then left the area since it was
necessary to refuel the plane. No one received this message either.
Men in the get-away jeep, which having turned around was now in the lead,
opened fire with their caliber .50 machine gun, but the gun was cold and had so
much oil on it that it took two men to operate it, one to jack it back and
another man to fire it. It had little effect. Lieutenant Penrod tried to get the
75-mm recoilless rifle in position to fire, but gave that up when he saw that
the Chinese had already cut the road and that they were racing for the high
ground on the east side of the road. He called back to Mitchell to say they
couldn't get through.
After Captain Stai had walked off toward Sinchon, his driver followed him in
the jeep for a hundred or two hundred yards and had then stopped in the
single-lane road to wait. When the enemy force began running from Hill 453
toward the east side of the road, the driver left, apparently trying to join the
main body of the patrol. He was shot and killed before he had gone far, the jeep
overturning by the road.
When the firing commenced, Lieutenant Mueller looked at the hill on the east
side of the road. Realizing they had no chance of breaking out of the ambush by
following the road and, wanting to get on defensible high ground, he started up
the hill, calling for his men to follow. 
A single, narrow ridge rose abruptly at the east edge of the road, and then
extended east for nine hundred yards to the high part of the ridge. The ridge
was only about four hundred feet higher than the road, and both it and the ridge
leading to it were covered with low brush and, on the northern slopes, a foot of
wet snow. After climbing a short distance, Lieutenant Mueller stopped to study
the area through his binoculars. To the south he saw the Chinese running toward
the same hill for which he was heading.
"We're going to have to get to the top of that hill," he called back to
Lieutenant Mitchell. "The Chinese are coming up from the other side! This is
our only chance!"
From this time on it was a race for the high ground, with the Chinese
climbing the south slope of the hill from which the snow had melted.
The patrol, well equipped when mounted, was forced to abandon most of its
heavy and crew-served weapons now that it was on foot. Penrod and Mitchell
loaded their men with as much ammunition as each man could carry, and with the
tripod-mounted caliber .30 machine gun and the 3.5inch bazooka. Mueller's men
had another light machine gun with them. The two recoilless rifles, the 60-mm
mortar, the five machine guns mounted on the vehicles, and the ammunition that
could not be carried, were all left on the vehicles which were abandoned on the
road, their engines still running. 
Seven of Lieutenant Mitchell's men, all from the group of replacements,
stayed in the ditch by the road. They had become frightened at the outbreak of
the enemy fire, had taken cover in the ditch, and refused to leave when the
other men started for the high ground. All seven were killed in the same ditch
later that afternoon. With Captain Stai and his driver, nine of the original
sixty men were out of action. It was after 1300. The remaining fifty-one men
were climbing the steep northern side of the ridge.
The climb was agonizingly slow. Since enemy soldiers were climbing the hill
on the south side of the same ridge, Mitchell's men had to stay on the north,
steep, snowy side. Even so, they were under fire from several enemy riflemen and
an enemy machine gun located to the north. Men from the 23d Infantry were
conspicuous targets since their dark clothing made them prominent against the
bright snow. Much of the way they moved on their hands and knees, pulling
themselves from one scrub brush to another. Enemy fire was so accurate they
would often pretend that they had been hit, deliberately roll a short distance
down the hill and lie quietly until the enemy rifleman shifted his fire to
someone else. They did this in spite of the extreme difficulties of carrying
their heavy loads up the steep, slippery ridge.
Within a short time all of the men were wet, either from the snow or from
perspiration, and several of them were injured on the way up. PFC Bobby G.
Hensley, who was carrying the light machine gun and tripod on his back, stumbled
and fell forward over a pointed stump, breaking several ribs. Sgt. Alfred
Buchanan, who was with him, carrying four boxes of ammunition, rubbed snow in
Hensley's face to revive him, and had him on his feet a few minutes later when
Lieutenant Penrod came along and told Hensley to throw away the bolt and leave
the machine gun. Hensley said he didn't think he could make it any farther.
"You've got to make it, son," said Penrod. "Just keep
Sergeant Buchanan left the ammunition and helped Hensley part way up the
Lieutenant Mitchell also became a casualty before reaching the hill. During
World War II he had received an injury to his spine, which left his back and
legs weakened. Three fourths of the way up the hill one of his legs became weak
and numb. Mitchell slid himself along the ground for a while but finally sat
down in the snow to rest. While he was sitting by the trail a jeep driver (PFC
William W. Stratton) stopped and urged Mitchell to go on. Stratton was one of
the recent replacements and this was his first day in combat. When Lieutenant
Mitchell explained that he couldn't move for a while, Stratton offered to stay
with him. Just about this time, three Chinese riflemen appeared on top of the
ridge and stopped about fifteen feet from where the two men were sitting.
Mitchell was hidden partially by brush. Stratton saw them first and fired seven
rounds from his rifle, missing each time. Mitchell fired one round and missed.
His carbine jammed then and he had to take out his bayonet and pry the cartridge
from the chamber. Meanwhile, a bullet from one of the Chinese guns hit the stock
of Stratton's rifle and then his hand, tearing it badly. Then the enemy gun
jammed. The other two Chinese had turned their backs and appeared to be
listening to someone who was shouting to them from the opposite side of the
hill. Lieutenant Mitchell finally got his carbine in operation and killed all
three of the enemy. The two men slid down the hill a short distance to a small
gully that offered more cover from enemy fire. Hensley (the machine gunner with
the broken ribs) was already sitting in this gully, having been left there by
Sergeant Buchanan. The three men sat there for about a half hour.
Except for one man, the remaining forty-eight men left in the patrol reached
the crest of the hill. Sgt. John C. Gardella, loaded with machine-gun
ammunition, slipped in the snow and fell down a steep part of the ridge. Since
he was unable to climb back at that point, he circled to the north looking for
an easier route. As it happened, he went too far north and suddenly came upon
several enemy riflemen and a crew operating a machine gun. He was within twenty
feet of the group before he noticed it and, although he was in heavy brush at
the time and had not been seen, he was afraid to move back. He lay there for the
rest of the day and throughout the night.
Lieutenant Mueller and his fourteen men were the first to reach the top of
the hill. Once there, they learned that it afforded little protection from the
enemy guns, which both to the north and to the south were located on higher
ground. The ridge, which extended south from Hill 333, was made up of several
pointed peaks connected by narrow saddles. The hill Mueller's men now occupied
was approximately sixty feet lower than the top of Hill 333, nine hundred yards
to the north, and a little lower than another hill not more than one hundred and
fifty or two hundred yards to the south. The Chinese reached the hill to the
south about the same time Lieutenant Mueller occupied the center high ground. In
addition to the two narrow saddles that connected Mueller's position with the
enemy-held ground both to the north and to the south, there was another narrow
saddle between his hill and a smaller mound of earth to the west, on the ridge
that the patrol followed toward the high ground. This mound of earth was within
grenade-throwing distance. All three of these saddles were under enemy fire.
The useable area on top of the hill was so small it could have been covered
by a squad tent and was tilted so that it sloped toward the east side of the
hill, which was so steep that there was no danger of enemy attack from that
direction. However, the hilltop was too small to accommodate all of the men, so
Mueller and Penrod put some of the men along the saddle toward the north. Even
then, it was crowded. There were no holes and the ground was frozen too deep to
Enemy activity commenced almost at once, with machine-gun and rifle fire
coming from both the Chinese north and south positions. The activity from the
south was the more serious threat for two reasons. The enemy machine gun on the
southern hill, being only slightly higher than the hilltop occupied by the
American patrol, fired from a flat angle. Its beaten zone, therefore, was long
and almost exactly covered the hilltop. In addition, the saddle connecting the
two hills was so deep that the Chinese would be able to move under the
machine-gun or other supporting fire until they were within a few yards of the
patrol before they would mask their own fire. This would place them within easy
grenade range. Fortunately, this same path was so narrow that the Chinese would
be limited to small groups for each assault. Lieutenant Mueller, realizing that
this was the critical part of his perimeter, placed his machine gun to guard
this approach. (The machine gun was the only one left to the patrol by this
time. There were eight BARs and the 3.5-inch bazooka.) The first enemy assault
was prepared by mortar fire while the Chinese moved under the machine-gun fire
until they were within easy grenade range. Mueller's men stopped it just below
the rim of the perimeter with the machine gun and a concentration of BAR fire.
The Chinese backed away and the enemy was comparatively inactive for about
Meanwhile, the three injured men-Lieutenant Mitchell and Privates Hensley and
Stratton-worked their way up on the hill to join the rest of the men in the
perimeter. Stratton, pleased because he thought his shattered hand would be
sufficient cause for returning home, crawled around the perimeter and showed it
to some of the men.
"Give me your telephone number," he said to several of them, "and I'll call
your wife when I get back to California."
Soon after the initial thrust from the south, the enemy gun to the north
opened fire, wounding seven men at that end of the perimeter. The men lay as
still as possible to avoid this fire, except for an eighteenyear-old squad
leader (Cpl. LeRoy Gibbons) who already had been wounded six times during the
Korean war. Gibbons wanted to talk with Lieutenant Mitchell, who, by this time,
had reached the small, flat part of the perimeter. He stood up and walked erect
through a string of tracers that went past him. Several of the men yelled at him
to get down.
"Aw, hell," he said, "they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn," and
After this demonstration, Sgt. Everett Lee decided to take the enemy gun
under fire. He crawled about fifteen feet farther north, saying to the other men
nearby, "I'm going to get that son of a bitch." He fired two rounds to zero in
his rifle, then killed two of the men operating the machine gun. Other men near
him joined in the firing and the enemy gun went quiet and did not again fire.
Sergeant Lee stood up and walked back to his position on the line. This relieved
much of the pressure on the north end of the line and, from then on, the main
enemy efforts came from the south and from the west.
Lieutenant Mueller's machine gun, the only one to reach the top of the hill,
was the main strength of the defense. Five or six separate assaults were
directed against the south side of the perimeter during the afternoon. Each time
the men held their fire until the enemy soldiers were within close range and
then directed all available fire at the narrow enemy approach route. The machine
gun was effective and Mueller's chief concern was keeping it and several BARs
operating at the south end of the line. Seven men firing these weapons were
either killed or wounded during the afternoon, all hit in the head. When one man
was hit others would pull him back by his feet and another man would crawl
forward to man the machine gun.
One of the machine gunners (Cpl. Billy B. Blizzard) raised his head not more
than six inches from the ground and was struck by a bullet that went through his
helmet, cutting into the top of his head.
Lieutenant Mitchell noticed Blizzard's head jerk and saw the hole suddenly
appear in his helmet. He yelled to him, "You aren't hurt, son. That was a
Corporal Blizzard turned so that his platoon leader could see the blood
running across his forehead. "Like hell it's a ricochet," he said.
Mueller put another man in Blizzard's place. "For God's sake," he kept
saying, "we've got to keep this gun going."
During one of the attacks, a Chinese crawled close to the perimeter, stood up
and fired a continuous burst from his burp gun. He hit five men, including
Mueller, before one of the Americans killed the enemy soldier. 
When Major Engen (executive officer of the 1st Battalion) and the liaison
pilot left the Twin Tunnels area to refuel their plane, they immediately
reported to the 23d Infantry that the Chinese had ambushed and surrounded
Mitchell's patrol. The regimental commander (Col. Paul Freeman) immediately
requested an air strike, ordered the 2d Battalion to send relief to the patrol,
and directed that a liaison pilot make a drop of ammunition to the patrol.
The 2d Battalion occupied a patrol base forward of the regimental line and
was already about ten miles (road distance) nearer than the remainder of the
regiment. The order reached the 2d Battalion commander (Lt.Col. James W.
Edwards) at 1300.  Colonel Edwards immediately called Capt. Stanley C.
Tyrrell, whose Company F had performed a similar rescue mission the day before.
Even though Company F was available at once, it required a little more than two
hours to assemble the vehicles, weapons, and necessary supplies for the company,
which consisted of 3 other officers and 142 enlisted men. Colonel Edwards added
a section of 81-mm mortars, a section of heavy machine guns from Company H, and
included an artillery forward observation party because its radio was necessary
for communications with the liaison plane. Thus reinforced, the total strength
of the force amounted to 167 officers and men. 
Captain Tyrrell's mission was to rescue the ambushed patrol and to recover
the bodies and the vehicles. Since darkness was not far off, Colonel Edwards
instructed Tyrrell to form a defensive perimeter and proceed with the mission
the following morning, if he could not gain contact with the ambushed patrol
that night.  Company F started north at 1515.
Back at the perimeter, the afternoon wore on with occasional lulls between
enemy assaults. Toward late afternoon ammunition was getting scarce and the
officers kept cautioning their men to use it sparingly. Medical supplies were
exhausted three and a half hours after the fighting had begun.  More than a
third of the men had become casualties, although many of the wounded men
remained in the perimeter fighting.
Private Stratton (the jeep driver with the shattered hand) had taken over a
BAR from another wounded man. He fired it with his left hand. During quiet
periods he crawled around the perimeter telling the other men not to worry about
their situation. "We'll get out of this all right," he kept saying. However, by
evening few of the men there expected to get out alive.
Lieutenant Mitchell pulled his men back several feet to the rim of the
hilltop. There were advantages to this move. There, the Chinese could not spot
American weapons so easily, and from the new position the Americans could not
see an enemy soldier until his head appeared a few feet away. This saved
ammunition since the men could not fire until they could see a Chinese head. As
a frozen crust formed over the snow, the men braced themselves for the heavy
blow they expected as soon as the darkness was complete. Said one of the men,
"I'll see you fellows down below."
The first help for the surrounded patrol members came late in the afternoon.
A Mosquito plane appeared above the patrol about 1730, just before sunset. The
men watched as it circled above them and then screamed with delight when the
first fighter planes appeared. Altogether they were two flights of four planes
each. The first planes were jets, and they came in so low the men thought they
could have touched them with the tips of their bayonets. Enemy activity stopped
abruptly and, for the first time that afternoon, the men could raise their heads
from the ground and move around freely in their crowded perimeter. The first
planes fired machine guns and rockets. The second flight carried napalm bombs
that burst into orange blossoms of flame among the enemy positions. It was
excellent close support, and Lieutenant Mitchell and the members of his patrol
grinned with appreciation during the half hour that it lasted.
Immediately following the air strike a liaison plane came over to drop
supplies to the patrol. It made four runs over the group of men, each time
flying no higher than fifteen feet above their heads, so low the men could see
that the pilot had pink cheeks. And because the enemy hills were so close, the
plane had to cross the enemy positions at the same height. The pilot dropped
thirty bandoleers of rifle ammunition, two cases of machine-gun ammunition and
several belts of carbine cartridges and then, on the last run, an envelope to
which was fastened a long, yellow streamer. Except for one box of machine-gun
ammunition, all of this fell beyond the tiny perimeter and, now that the air
strike was over, in an area that was under enemy fire. Nevertheless, several men
dashed out to retrieve everything that was close.
A young soldier raced after the message, which fell well down on the eastern
slope, and took it back to Lieutenant Mitchell. The message said, "Friendly
column approaching from the south. Will be with you shortly." Mitchell read it
and then crawled around the perimeter to show it to the rest of the men.
About the same time, there was the sound of firing to the south. A few
minutes later mortar rounds exploded on the top of Hill 453. Hopes of survival
soared suddenly and the men shouted for joy. This, they decided, was the
friendly relief column.
The airplanes left just as darkness began to set in, and Mitchell and Mueller
warned their men to expect an enemy assault just as soon as it got dark. They
also told the men not to yell out if they were hit because they did not dare let
the Chinese know how many of the group were wounded.
Several mortar shells fell in the area, and one exploded in the center of the
crowded perimeter, wounding one man seriously. The Chinese added
automatic-weapons and rifle fire, building up the volume fast. There was the
sound of bugles and of enemy voices and, between bursts of enemy fire, the sound
of enemy soldiers walking over the crusted snow. Four men crawled forward until
they could see the enemy approaching across the narrow saddle from the south.
One of them, Sgt. Donald H. Larson, began yelling: "Here they come! Here they
come!" They opened fire but within a few seconds all four of the men were hit.
They crawled back.
Sergeant Larson pointed to his head wound-his fifth for the day-as he crawled
past Lieutenant Mitchell. "That's enough for me," he said.
The situation was grim. The fire fight that had flared up in the vicinity of
Hill 453 had stopped, and there was now no evidence of friendly troops nearby.
Gradually, the men who had been looking anxiously toward the area from which
Captain Tyrrell's men had been firing lost their hope of getting out of their
perimeter. It was colder now. Their wet clothing was freezing to the ground.
Several men were suffering from frostbite. More than half were casualties. Those
with serious wounds had been dragged to the rear (east) part of the hilltop
where they were laid on the frozen earth. The hill was so steep there that if
grenades were dropped they would roll on down the hill away from the wounded
Those men who were less seriously wounded kept firing on the line or loading
magazines for automatic rifles and carbines. One man with a large hole in his
stomach loaded ammunition for an hour and a half before he died.  Lieutenant
Mueller, who had been wounded earlier when a bullet struck his leg, was hit a
second time-this time in the head-injuring his left eye. He began to see flashes
of light and occasionally lost consciousness. 
Instead of the expected help, a second night attack hit Mitchell's patrol. It
began with the usual mortar and machine-gun fire, worked up to grenade range,
but again stopped a few feet from the edge of the perimeter when faced by the
concentrated fire at the south end-fire from the machine gun and from several
BARs. Private Stratton fired one of the automatic rifles with his left hand.
When the Chinese were close, he stood on the rim of the perimeter, leveled his
BAR at them and emptied the magazine. He was hit a second time, this time
through the chest. Someone pulled him back toward the center of the perimeter.
Soon afterwards a grenade exploded between his legs. Stratton screamed.
"For God's sake," said Mitchell, "shut up! "
"My legs have just been shot off," Stratton complained.
"I know it," the Lieutenant answered, "but shut up anyway."
Soon after this Stratton was wounded a fourth time, and died. 
While all of these events were taking place on the hill, Captain Tyrrell's
rescue mission was progressing even though Mitchell's men could see no action.
Company F had arrived in the Twin Tunnels area between 1720 and 1730-as the air
strike was in progress and a few
minutes before darkness. The vehicular column of eight 3/4-ton trucks and
thirteen jeeps, with all of the trucks and some of the jeeps pulling trailers
loaded with extra mortar and recoilless rifle ammunition, followed the same road
used by the patrol. While the column was en route, an observer in a liaison
plane dropped a message giving the exact location of the ambushed patrol, its
vehicles, and also several positions where he had observed groups of enemy
soldiers in that vicinity.
Nothing important happened until the two jeeps that formed the point of the
column were within one hundred or two hundred yards of the ford near which
Captain Stai had disappeared earlier in the day. Two machine guns on Hill 453
opened fire on the jeeps, bringing them to a quick halt. The occupants scrambled
into the ditch for protection.
Captain Tyrrell, in the third jeep, soon appeared. He dismounted and walked
back toward the rest of the column while his driver, already in the ditch,
called after him, "You'd better get in the ditch, Captain. The Chinks will get
Tyrrell walked on back toward the 2d Platoon, which was next in column. "To
hell with the Chinks," he said. 
Deciding he could not proceed to the patrol with enemy machine gunners in his
rear and riflemen on the highest hill in the area, Tyrrell hurriedly prepared to
attack Hill 453. He ordered his 2d Platoon to dismount and lay down a base of
fire to support an attack by the other two platoons. The 2d Platoon was firing
rifles at Hill 453 within three to five minutes after the Chinese began firing.
In the haze of dusk, Tyrrell sent his other two platoons toward the top of the
hill, attacking up two of three spur ridges which extended generally east from
Hill 453 and ended abruptly at the road. The heavy-machine-gun section was in
action by the time the infantrymen started up the steep ridgeline, and before
they had gone far the 81-mm mortar section began firing. Captain Tyrrell told
the mortar crew to plaster the hill during the attack, moving the shell bursts
up the ridgeline just in front of the advancing platoons. All of this had taken
place in no more than twenty minutes, and in the midst of brisk enemy fire.
The first sergeant of Company F, in the meantime, had all vehicles turned
around and parked in a closed column near the mortar section so that the drivers
and other men not actively engaged at the time could guard both the mortar
section and the vehicles.
There was no fight for the top of Hill 453; the Chinese abandoned it and fell
back in front of the mortar and machine-gun fire. In fact, enemy fire fell off
sharply after the first half hour, and thereafter there was negligible
opposition. Darkness, however, retarded the advance, which was already difficult
and tedious because of the snow and the steepness of the ridge. It took two
hours or longer for the 1st Platoonthe one that attacked straight west-to gain
the top of Hill 453. Once there, Captain Tyrrell told it to form a hasty
perimeter for the defense of the hilltop and then send one squad south to
contact the other platoon, which was coming up along the southern of the three
spur ridges, thus making certain that the top of the hill was free of enemy
soldiers. At 2030 these two platoons made contact. 
From the hill to the north came the sounds of grenade explosions and heavy
firing as another enemy attack fell against Lieutenant Mitchell's patrol.
Having secured Hill 453 and eliminated the threat from his rear, Tyrrell was
ready to go ahead with his original mission. His 2d Platoon, which had been in
support so far, was on the road and ready to head straight north toward the
surrounded patrol just as soon as the rest of the company could be maneuvered
into place to support the attack. By radio Captain Tyrrell ordered one of the
platoons on Hill 453 to return to the road by the most direct route, and told
the other one to move northeast to a point approximately two thirds of the way
down the northernmost of the three spur ridges from that hill mass. When this
platoon reached a position from which it could support the 2d Platoon by fire,
it was to hold in place. He also sent the heavy-machine-gun section up the
northern ridgeline to join the platoon that was to form the base of fire.
This re-positioning of his force required time, and in the meanwhile Tyrrell
went to the area of his 2d Platoon to work out the complete plans for its
advance and to make certain that all men of the platoon knew of the movements of
the other platoons so that units of his company would not get into a fire fight
among themselves. Having done this, he walked off to choose new positions east
of the road for the heavy mortars, which he intended to displace forward. It
was, by this time, 2100 or later.
While Tyrrell was thus engaged, he heard a voice coming from the direction of
Sinchon: "Hey, are you GIs?" It sounded like an American voice.
Captain Tyrrell called back, "Who are you?" and received an answer that they
were three wounded Americans.
Returning to the road, he alerted the platoon there to the possibility of
some incident occurring on its right flank, moved a squad into position about a
hundred yards east of the road and then, with his runner and radio operator,
walked forward toward the direction from which the sound of the voice had come.
They stopped at a ditch and Tyrrell called for one man to come forward to be
recognized. Someone answered, claiming they could not come forward separately
since two of them were wounded-one seriously-and could not walk alone. Tyrrell,
by this time reasonably certain that they were Americans, told them to come
forward together. It was so dark that Tyrrell could distinguish objects only a
few yards away and although he could see nothing, he could hear the three men
stumbling through the crusted snow. He saw them first when they were only a few
yards away, halted them, and asked who they were.
The three men explained that they were members of Mitchell's patrol. They had
escaped from the perimeter and had made their way down the steep east side of
the hill to the railroad tracks, which they had followed south. All of them
appeared to be excited and suffering from exhaustion. One was bleeding badly.
Tyrrell told them to get into the ditch with him and remain quiet while he
listened for the sound of any enemy soldiers who, he thought, might have
followed them. The six men sat quietly. There was no sound anywhere in the area,
only darkness and stillness. After several minutes of waiting, they returned to
the road and the area of the 2d Platoon. 
Everyone else in the patrol, according to the three men who reached Company
F, was dead. They described the last attack which ended with Chinese swarming
over their perimeter, shooting and throwing grenades. Only the three of them had
escaped and there was nothing on the hill now, they claimed, but "hundreds of
Chinese." Although Captain Tyrrell questioned them in detail, they were emphatic
in stating that the entire patrol had been overrun and all members had been
The last fire fight on the hill had ended abruptly after what seemed to
Tyrrell like a half hour of heavy fighting. He now decided to wait until morning
before continuing, since his battalion commander had told him that if he could
not make contact with the patrol before dark, to form a defensive perimeter
until morning to prevent falling into an enemy trap or getting into a fire fight
with friendly troops. He advised his platoon leaders of the change in plan.
Ten or fifteen minutes later the leader of the 1st Platoon (Lt. Leonard
Napier), which was moving down the northern ridge from Hill 453 with the mission
of establishing the base of fire for the next attack, called his company
commander by radio.
"If you had talked with a man who just came into my position," he told
Tyrrell, "you wouldn't believe the patrol was wiped out."
This was Lieutenant Mueller's aid man who had run out of medical supplies
during the afternoon and had left the perimeter after dark to try to get back to
the vehicles where he hoped to find more supplies. For some unaccountable
reason, he had gone too far south and there encountered Napier's platoon.
Captain Tyrrell, questioning the medic over the radio, learned that the patrol
was still holding at the time he left, even though three fourths of the men were
At once, Tyrrell issued new orders for his 2d Platoon (Lt. Albert E. Jones)
to head north up the end of the long ridge toward the ambushed patrol. In the
path of this platoon were three high points on the same ridgeline. Moving as
quietly as possible, without preparatory or supporting fires, Lieutenant Jones
and his platoon started forward, experiencing only the difficulties of moving
and maintaining contact over steep terrain. They could hear another fire fight
starting at the perimeter. They reached the first knob an hour later. The next
knob ahead was the one from which most of the Chinese attacks had originated.
Beyond that was the slightly lower knob where the patrol itself was located.
There was no firing going on at the time Jones's 2d Platoon arrived at the
southernmost knoll. Afraid that he might be walking into an ambush with his own
platoon, he halted and then decided to go forward with one squad while the rest
of his men formed a defensive perimeter. 
Several hours had passed since Company F had done any firing. To the
surviving members of Mitchell's patrol there was no evidence of the promised
rescue. Enemy attacks, however, continued. Between first darkness and about
2100, the enemy made four separate assaults, all of them against the south end
of the perimeter. It was the last of these that Captain Tyrrell had heard end
abruptly while he was waiting for two of his platoons to get into position. Like
the others, this attempt was preceded by heavy machine-gun and rifle fire with a
few men making the final assault. It was broken up by Cpl. Jesus A. Sanchez, one
of Lieutenant Mueller's men from 21st Infantry. Sanchez loaded two BAR
magazines, waited until the Chinese were almost upon them, then jumped up and
forward a few feet, and emptied both magazines at the Chinese. He ran back and
lay down again.
There was respite for an hour before the enemy struck again, this time as
Lieutenant Jones's platoon began moving north. For this assault the Chinese
shifted to the small mound just west of Mitchell's hill, and attacked from that
direction. Ten or fifteen enemy soldiers crawled up under the mortar and
machine-gun fire and attempted to overrun the American position. Since
Lieutenant Mueller's machine gun was still guarding the south end of the line,
five men with rifles and automatic carbines waited until the Chinese were at the
rim of their perimeter, then fired at full rate for a minute or less. There was
another brief lull before the Chinese made one more assault. This time three
enemy soldiers succeeded in getting into the perimeter where they caused
considerable confusion in the darkness. One Chinese soldier stood erect among
Lieutenant Mitchell's men.
"Get the son of a bitch!" one of them yelled.
Several men fired at once, killing him. They killed another one who appeared
immediately afterwards. A third Chinese walked up to within a few feet of SFC
Odvin A. Martinson (Mueller's platoon sergeant) and fired at him with a burp
gun. Sergeant Martinson, who already had been wounded five times that day, fired
back with a pistol. Neither of them hit the other. PFC Thomas J. Mortimer, who
was lying on the ground immediately behind the Chinese soldier, raised up and
stuck a bayonet into his back as someone else shot him from the front. Sergeant
Martinson picked up the body and threw it out of the perimeter.
"I don't want them in here," he said, "dead or alive."
The time was now 2230. There were between 27 and 30 wounded men in the
perimeter, including those who were unable to fight, and several others, like
Martinson, who had been wounded but were able to keep fighting. Lieutenant
Mueller, having become conscious again, kept experiencing flashes of light in
front of one eye. Ammunition was nearly gone, the effective strength of the
patrol was low, and several doubted if they could hold off another attack. A few
of the men wanted to surrender.
"Surrender hell!" said Sergeant Martinson who was, by this time, thoroughly
Two red flares appeared toward the west and thereafter it was quiet. The
patrol members waited for a half hour or longer while nothing happened. Then
they heard footsteps again, the same sound of men approaching over frozen snow.
This time the sound came from the south again. When the footsteps sounded close,
Lieutenant Mitchell's men opened fire.
"GIs!" someone below yelled. "Don't shoot! GIs!"
For several seconds no one spoke or moved. Finally Corporal Sanchez called
down, "Who won the Rose Bowl game?"
There was silence again for a few seconds until someone below called, "Fox
Company, 23d Infantry, by God!"
Lieutenant Jones and his squad from Company F moved on up, following the same
snow-beaten path over which the Chinese attacked during the afternoon and
evening. Sanchez, the BAR man, stood up.
"We're relieved, fellows!" he yelled. "We're relieved!"
The others who could also stood up and, from then on, they disregarded the
Chinese who had, apparently, moved back for the night.
A thin moon came up and furnished a little light, which made the evacuation
of the wounded men easier. Nevertheless, it required more than three hours to
move everyone off of the hill. Corporal Sanchez took charge of the top of the
hill and supervised the evacuation from that end, searching the hill to be
certain no living men were left behind, and emptying the pockets of the dead.
Some of the men whose wounds were not serious complained about the cold and
the hardships of walking over the difficult terrain in the dark, but those men
who were wounded seriously expressed only their gratitude, and tried to help
themselves. Sergeant Martinson, with five bullet wounds, left the litters for
the other men and hobbled out with two other men. Private Hensley, who broke
several ribs while climbing the hill at the beginning of the action and had
received help himself at that time, now helped carry another man down the hill.
It was 0330, 30 January, before Company F men had carried down all surviving
members of the patrol. Captain Tyrrell gave the word to move out and the column
started south with one platoon of Company F marching ahead of the column and
another following on foot behind the trucks. 
The sun came up as the column reached Iho-ri.
An army is a team. It is composed of many subordinate teams, called
organizations or units, which make up the whole. An army operates by teamwork.
Only under extreme circumstances should subordinate units be broken up and
The patrol to the Twin Tunnels area was not a team. It had a rifle platoon,
three drivers from another battalion, radio operators from an artillery
battalion, attached heavy-weapons men, fourteen men from a platoon of another
division, and an extra captain. Eleven All Stars do not make a football team
until they have worked together. Fifty-six men and four officers do not make a
Security for a motorized patrol may be provided by speed, by regulated
movement, by reconnaissance and observation to the front and flanks, and by the
use of a proper formation. Either this account lacks detail or the patrol
commander depended almost entirely on speed. No mention is made of movement by
bounds from one position of observation to another. No patrols or individuals
were sent out from the column to reconnoiter. No system of observation from
within the column is described. The patrol leader-more courageously than
wisely-is a part of the sole security element-four men in a jeep a hundred yards
ahead of the main body.
It is doubtful, although the patrol followed the same route as a patrol on
the preceding day, that the Chinese had prepared an ambush. A more probable
explanation is that the patrol blundered into Chinese forces moving into or
through the area. By any standards an organized ambush when sprung should have
placed more immediate and more destructive fire on any enclosed patrol. If the
enemy is to be credited with skillfully executing an ambush he must be
criticized for permitting his prey to escape. If the enemy had not prepared an
ambush, then he must be commended for his prompt and vigorous reaction.
In spite of the organizational handicap facing the patrol leader, he had
almost unanimous support in his obviously good plan to break out of an awkward
position. Only unity of effort and courageous leadership saved the patrol until
a well-coordinated and skillfully executed attack by the Company C *team*
 23d Infantry Regiment: S-2 journal, entry 12, 27 January 1951; 23d
Infantry Regiment: special report, Patrol Ambush and Rescue Action, 29 January
(hereafter cited as 23d Infantry: Patrol Ambush).
 23d Infantry: Patrol Ambush.
 2d Infantry Division: G-3 journal and file, entry 107, 28 January
 Unless otherwise mentioned, the account of the Twin Tunnels patrol action
is based upon interviews by the author with the following officers and men who
participated in the action: Lt. James P. Mitchell, Lt. William G. Penrod, PFC
Bobby G. Hensley, Cpl. Billy B. Blizzard, PFC Thomas J. Mortimer, PFC Bernard L.
Dunlap, and Sgt. John C. Gardella
 Major Millard 0. Engen: comments and notes. Major Engen was executive
officer of the 1st Battalion, 23d Infantry, at the time of the patrol
 Engen, Op. Cit.
 An enemy radio broadcast made in March or April 1951 mentioned a Capt.
Melvin R. Stai, claiming he was a prisoner of the Chinese Communists.
 Engen, op. cit.
 Statement of Lt. Harold P. Mueller. Lieutenant Mueller and his men
reached the top of this hill some time before the men from the 23d Infantry.
 Although several reports indicate these vehicles were destroyed before
they were abandoned, Lieutenants Mitchell and Penrod, in Twin Tunnels
interviews, say they were not destroyed then, and that the engines were left
running since they thought there was a possibility that they might later escape
and need the vehicles. The next day (30 January) the 2d Division requested and
got an air strike to destroy the vehicles. See Capt. William G. Penrod, letter
to the author, 6 May 1953; also 2d Division: G-3 journal and file, entry 36, 30
 Lt. Harold P. Mueller, letter to the author, 30 January 1952.
 The narrative of the action of Company F, 23d Infantry, is based on an
account by Lt.Col. James W. Edwards, CO, 2d Battalion, "Patrolling at Twin
Tunnels," and upon two letters from Major Stanley C. Tyrrell to Major Leonard 0.
Friesz, dated 5 March and 9 September 1952. These letters were written in answer
to questions submitted by OCMH.
 Statement of Lt. Col. James W. Edwards.  Tyrrell, op. cit., 5 March
 Mueller, op. cit.
 Statement of Lt. Harold P. Mueller.  Mueller, op. cit.
 In order that his family may not suffer unnecessary anguish, "Stratton"
has been substituted for the real name of this brave soldier.
 Edwards, op. cit.
 Tyrrell, op. cit., 9 September 1952.  Ibid.
 Tyrrell, op. cit., 5 March and 9 September 1952.  Ibid.
 Edward, op. cit., p. 11.
 Mueller, op. cit.
 Tyrrell, op. cit., 9 September 1952
Causes of the Korean Tragedy ... Failure of Leadership, Intelligence and Preparation
The Foundations of Freedom are the Courage of Ordinary People and Quality of our Arms
Combat Actions Index