Attack Along a Ridgeline
* The first break in the Naktong defense line at the central sector of the
Pusan perimeter occurred during the early morning of 6 August 1950 when an
estimated one thousand enemy troops crossed the Naktong River and penetrated the
zone of the 34th Infantry (24th Infantry Division). The regimental commander
immediately committed his reserve and counterattacked, but the North Koreans
clung to their bridgehead on the east side of the river. During the night the
enemy moved sufficient forces across the Naktong to replace their losses and
increase their strength.  When the division commander (Maj. Gen. John H.
Church) learned that the enemy had crossed the last good natural barrier in
southern Korea, he committed his reserve, the 19th Infantry (24th Infantry
Division), in an effort to drive the enemy back across the river. During the
next few days General Church attacked with all the troops he could muster from
his own under-strength division and from units attached to it by Eighth Army.
The North Koreans, however, continued to build up their forces east of the
By 8 August North Koreans, totaling a reinforced regiment had waded the river
and pulled raftloads of heavy equipment including trucks, across with them. Two
days later they appeared to have two regiments in strong positions east of the
Naktong.  Consolidating all troops in the southern part of his division zone
under the command of Col. John G.
Hill (whose 9th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division, was attached to the
24th Division to help restore the Naktong line), General Church ordered a
counterattack on 11 August.  Task Force Hill's attack ran squarely into
strong enemy attacks, and the entire operation lost its direction and impetus in
the resulting confusion. With communications lacking much of the time and enemy
forces scattered throughout a large area, one regimental commander summed up the
chaos by saying, "There are dozens of enemy and American forces all over the
area, and they are all surrounding each other."  During this period of grim
combat, a desperate effort was made to prevent collapse of the Naktong line,
while North Koreans fought back with equal determination. Task Force Hill, now
comprising three infantry regiments, launched a full-scale attack again on 14
August. It failed once more.
General Church ordered the attack to continue at 0630, 15 August. It would
commence on the left (south) flank of the task force zone where the 1st
Battalion, 34th Infantry, was to lead off in a column of companies. The
battalion commander chose Company A to lead the attack.
Eighth Army planned maximum artillery support and gave Task Force Hill
priority on tactical airplanes. Early that morning, however, it began to rain,
and thick clouds along the ridgelines interfered with effective operation of the
Soon after first light on the morning of 15 August, the commander of Company
A summoned the leader of the 1st Platoon (Lt. Melvin D. Schiller), to whom he
briefly outlined the plan of attack. Lieutenant Schiller, whose platoon was to
lead the company column, had time only to take his squad leaders to high ground
where he could point out to them the objective and the general route to be
followed. The 1st Battalion's objective was a ridgeline a mile and a half long
and approximately four hundred feet higher than the stream and the rice paddies
at the ridge's base. There were several separate peaks along the crest of the
Followed by the rest of Company A, Lieutenant Schiller's platoon proceeded to
the southeast end of the ride, took up its attack formation, waited a few
minutes until the end of a fifteen-minute artillery preparation, and then
started up the ridge in a general northwest direction. Members of the platoon,
knowing that the North Koreans had repulsed a similar attack that Company B had
made two days before, expected trouble. For about a quarter of the distance,
however, the platoon moved up the ridgeline without interference. Then two enemy
machine guns, firing from the left, forced the platoon to the ground. When this
happened, the company commander called Lt. Edward L. Shea and told him to take
his 2d Platoon through the stalled unit and continue the advance. Lieutenant
Shea and one of his squad leaders (SFC Roy E. Collins) exchanged dubious
glances. Their platoon consisted of 9 inexperienced men and 24 replacements who
had joined the company three days before.
Motioning his men to follow, Lieutenant Shea started up the ridge.
"Let's take a look at it," he said, as he strode off erectly. As he neared
the 1st Platoon's position, enemy fire forced him to the ground. He crawled up
beside Lieutenant Schiller who was lying on his stomach behind a native
grave mound which was about four feet high, four feet in diameter, and
covered with neatly trimmed grass. Lieutenant Schiller was trying to locate the
two enemy machine guns that were holding up the advance. He and Lieutenant Shea
suspected that the guns were located on the short hill on the left flank, since
the string of enemy bullets seemed to cross just above the grave. Just as the
two platoon leaders reached this conclusion, a bullet struck Schiller's helmet.
It cut his head, followed the curve of his helmet, passed through his shoulder,
and emerged to lodge in Shea's leg just above the knee. The two officers, both
casualties, immediately directed their platoons to open fire against the enemy
guns. Friendly fire caused the enemy guns to suspend fire, and the attack moved
forward along the ridge top with the company commander (Lt. Albert F. Alfonso)
directing the platoons.
The two platoons worked well together, one group moving forward while the
other fired at the enemy positions. Moving steadily, Company A soon reached the
first high peak at the southwestern end of the ridgeline. It was about 0830 when
the company stopped to plan for the continuation of the attack. There were
freshly dug holes, but no enemy in the area.
Beyond this point the narrow crest of the ridge dipped slightly before rising
again at the next peak. Formed by a spur ridge, the next high point appeared to
be a rocky cliff, about four hundred yards away, which lay athwart the long
ridgeline and the direction of attack. Just in front of the point where the
cliff joined the main ridgeline, there was a depression, or saddle. During the
few minutes that the company spent preparing to continue the attack, several of
the men observed enemy soldiers moving near the saddle. On the previous day,
members of Company A had seen an enemy machine gun firing from the top of the
Lieutenant Alfonso pointed out the saddle in front of the rocky cliff and
told MSgt. Willie C. Gibson (now leading the 2d Platoon) to secure Lt. Alfonso
then lined up the 1st Platoon behind an embankment on the high ground and
assigned to it the mission of firing at any enemy interference, and especially
to silence the enemy machine gun, if it fired. Under the protection of the 1st
Platoon's base of fire, the 2d Platoon would dash along the 500-yard-long ridge.
Once the 2d was in the saddle, the 3d Platoon would follow and reinforce it.
Sergeant Gibson lined up his four squads in the order they were to leave. He
planned to follow the 2d Squad. He detailed Sergeant Collins at the end of the
line to make certain that every man in the platoon moved out. Cpl. Leo M.
Brennen (a squad leader and veteran of the Pacific war who had joined the
company three days before) straightened and partially pulled the pin on a
grenade he carried.
"I'll be the first man to go," Brennen said. "The rest of you guys follow
Brennen jumped over the embankment and started running toward the objective.
Sergeant Collins checked his watch. It was 0845. Three other men followed
Brennen at fifteen-yard intervals, all of them running just below the crest of
the ridge since enemy guns fired from the opposite, or southwest side of the
ridge. Just after the fourth man left, the North Koreans fired several short
bursts from the machine gun on the rock cliff, hitting two men from the 1st
Platoon, one in the eye and the other in the neck. Both were killed at once.
"After that," one of the surviving men said, "it was just like jumping into
But the rest of the platoon followed, each man about ten or fifteen steps
behind the man in front. No one was wounded until the next to the last man-Cpl.
Joseph H. Simoneau-rose to go. A burst from the North Korean gun struck him in
the leg and shoulder. He yelled, "I'm hit!" and fell back toward Sergeant
Collins. Collins pulled him back, called the medics, and then, after notifying
the leader of the 3d Platoon that he was the last man from the 2d, jumped over
the protective hump of dirt and ran.
This had taken no longer than five minutes. Sergeant Collins had gone only a
few steps when Corporal Brennen, the lead man, reached the end of the ridge.
After running the entire distance, Brennen looked over the low, pinched ridge
separating him from the enemy-occupied ground and saw three North Koreans
sitting around their machine gun as if they were relaxing. The gun was about
twenty yards in front of him. Brennen had one grenade ready to throw and he
tossed it. As he did this, he noticed movement to his left and turned to see
another enemy light machine gun and its crew nearer than the first. He fired one
clip from his rifle at them at the same time the machine gun fired at him.
Corporal Brennen hit both enemy soldiers manning the gun, and believed he killed
them, but not until they had shot him through the leg. He slid down the hill a
short distance to a protected area. A brief period of noisy, confused, and
furious fighting followed.
As the members of the 2d Platoon reached the saddle, they formed a firing
line along their side of the little ridge. Lying close to the ground, they
peered over the ridge frequently to observe and fire at the enemy, who was often
only a few yards away. Three or four men who became casualties within a few
minutes slid down the slope to join Corporal Brennen. There, Sergeant Gibson and
a medic were now caring for the wounded.
Sergeant Collins, whom Lieutenant Shea had appointed second in command,
reached the combat area a few minutes after the first burst of activity and took
over the direction of the 2d Platoon. Like Corporal Brennen, Sergeant Collins
carried a grenade with the cotter pin straightened and the ring over his index
finger so that he could flip out the pin quickly. A few seconds after he reached
the saddle there was a burst of fire from an enemy burp gun on the left flank.
Collins ran back toward the bank on the left end of the firing line and looked
over the ridge just as a North Korean raised to fire into the American line.
Collins dropped his grenade on the enemy side of the hill and jumped to one side
as a burst from the burp gun dug into the ground near him. His grenadeburst
threw the burp gun into the air, and as Collins raised up to look over the
ridgeline again another North Korean picked up the gun and tried to reload it.
Sergeant Collins shot him with his rifle. At this moment SFC Regis J. Foley of
the 3d Platoon came up to Collins.
According to the plan, the 3d Platoon was to follow immediately after the 2d
Platoon. Sergeant Foley, the first man behind Sergeant Collins, reached the
saddle, but the next man mistakenly turned into another narrow area about two
thirds of the way across. Consequently, the entire 3d Platoon was lost to the
action since it came under such heavy enemy fire that it could move neither
forward nor to the rear.
"Foley," said Sergeant Collins, "you watch this end and don't let them get
Collins then started back along the line of riflemen where several gaps had
occurred as men became casualties. Some men were already yelling that they were
out of ammunition, even though each rifleman had carried two bandoleers and a
full belt of M-1 clips-a total of 17 rounds. Sergeant Collins knew they would
need help to win the battle they had started. Unaware that the 3d Platoon had
gone to the wrong area and was now pinned down by heavy enemy fire, and
believing that it would soon join him, Collins sent a runner to the company
commander asking for more help and for more ammunition. He especially wanted
grenades, which were easy to toss over the ridgeline. While he waited for word
from the company commander, he went along the line, taking ammunition from those
who were wounded or dead and distributing it to the men who were effective. By
this time most of the men in the platoons were calling for help, wanting either
ammunition or medics. In addition to the close-in fighting that continued, the
enemy machine gun up on the rocky cliff had turned and was firing at the exposed
rear of the 2d Platoon. Fire from this gun varied according to the amount of
fire that the 1st Platoon's base of fire delivered against it. When the covering
fire was heavy, the enemy gun was quiet; but it resumed firing as soon, and as
often, as the 1st Platoon quit.
It took Sergeant Collins's runner eight minutes to make his round trip. He
returned with a note from Lieutenant Alfonso which read, "Pull out."
At the far right of the line, Cpl. Joseph J. Sady yelled for a grenade.
?They're pulling up a machine gun here," he shouted.
Collins threw Lieutenant Alfonso's note down and took a grenade to Corporal
Sady who tossed it over on the enemy gunners.
"That took care of them," he said.
An enemy rifleman, firing from a distance of ten steps, hit Corporal Sady in
the head and killed him. The next man in the line killed the North Korean.
Sergeant Collins worked back along the line. At the left end Sergeant Foley,
who had been stationed there to hold that flank, came sliding down the ridge
bareheaded and bleeding. He had been hit by a split bullet that had apparently
ricocheted from a rock and had cut into his head. Collins bandaged him and told
him to go back and ask the company commander for more help. But as soon as he
was gone, Sergeant Collins realized that because his ammunition was so low, and
because less than half of his original strength remained, he had no alternative
but to break contact and withdraw. He called down to tell Sergeant Gibson to
start getting the wounded men out. Six men were wounded, two of them seriously,
and Gibson started to evacuate them by moving them down a gully between the two
hills to a road at the bottom.
Near the center of the saddle a Negro rifleman, PFC Edward 0. Cleaborn,
concentrated on keeping an enemy machine gun out of action. Standing up on the
ridgeline and shooting down into the enemy side of the hill, he kept killing
North Koreans who tried to man the gun. He was excited and kept firing rapidly,
calling for ammunition and yelling, "Come on up, you sons of bitches, and
Sergeant Collins told him to get down on the ground, but Cleaborn said,
"Sergeant, I just can't see them when I get down."
About this time an enemy soldier jumped over the little ridge and landed on
top of Sergeant Collins who was stripping ammunition from one of his men who had
just been killed. The North Korean grabbed Sergeant Collins by the waist and
held on tightly. Seeing this, Cleaborn jumped down and started after the North
Korean who kept hiding behind Sergeant Collins. Collins eventually persuaded
Cleaborn that the enemy soldier wanted to surrender, and Cleaborn went back to
the firing line. Collins pushed his prisoner down to the ditch where Gibson was
evacuating the wounded. Sergeant Gibson loaded the prisoner with the largest
wounded man who had to be carried out, and started him down the gully toward the
By the time Sergeant Foley returned with a renewal of the company commander's
instructions to withdraw, the evacuation of all wounded men was under way. As
men left the firing line, they helped the wounded. Only six men remained in
firing positions and several of these were so low on ammunition they had fixed
their bayonets. Sergeant Collins told the six to fire a heavy blast at the
enemy's position, and then move out quickly. All but Cleaborn fired a clip of
ammunition and then started to leave. He reloaded his rifle and said he wanted
to fire one more clip. As he jumped back on the ridge to fire again, he was
killed by a bullet through his head. Sergeant Collins and the remaining five men
ran back along the ridgeline, the route of their advance.
It was 0932 when the men reached the little spur from which the 1st Platoon
had been firing, just forty-seven minutes after the attack had begun. Of the
original 36 men in the 2d Platoon that morning, only 10 were unharmed. Nine
wounded men walked or were carried down the ditch to the road, three dying
before reaching the road. The other members of the platoon were dead.
The 1st Battalion's attack had been stopped. Other elements of Task Force
Hill encountered similarly stubborn resistance, and during the afternoon the
commander of the force recommended to General Church that the attack be
discontinued and that the force dig in to defend the ground it occupied. 
While the American soldier is typified by courage, he is, at the same time,
universally marked as an impulsive, intelligent individualist. Thus it is that
strong leadership and guidance are necessary to weld a group of American
soldiers into a singular unit of specific purpose. Without this directing
strength at command level, each in the group will nobly carry on in his own
merry way; and though the individual conduct of each might be highly
commendable, the unit's mission can end in complete failure.
This fact is the underlying cause for the failure of Company A, 34th
Infantry, in its attack on 15 August 1950.
If the aggressiveness and heroism of Brennen, Collins, Cleaborn, Sady, and
others had been organized into a single, vigorous effort against the enemy, the
objective would have been secured. Instead, each of these able fighters carried
on his own private war, while the acting leader of the 2d Platoon was caring for
wounded, and the company commander was entrenched with a base of fire five
hundred yards away.
Correct and successful command at the platoon and company levels is not
conducive to long life, because the commander must constantly expose himself in
order to lead and maintain control. The commanding officer of Company A was
conspicuously absent in action and decision from the time that he failed to join
the 1st Platoon when it was first hit by longrange fire, until the very end of
the engagement when the survivors of the 2d Platoon withdrew from the bloody
threshold of victory.
It was unfortunate that the leading platoons lost their brave but reckless
lieutenants when the battle had hardly begun. Had the leader of the 1st Platoon
considered the enemy's point of view for only a moment, he would have realized
that a conspicuous grave mound would be top priority for a machine gunner firing
from a distance of several hundred yards. Taking extreme ranges into
consideration, it is highly possible that the North Korean gunner did not even
see the lieutenant, but was merely firing at a likely target. The 2d Platoon
leader committed a grave error and set a poor example by joining the other
officer within the narrow confines of the tempting target. What more bitter
lesson against bunching up could be learned than to have two unit commanders
become casualties as a result of one bullet? This disaster was an appropriate
climax to the scene which just previously found the 2d Platoon leader walking
erect along the crest of a hill that was under fire.
A study of the terrain would indicate that the company commander could have
moved his entire unit into position on the high ground of the larger hill. Had
he taken advantage of he natural cover afforded by the ridgeline his company
might have accomplished this movement without sustaining a casualty. Then, with
the company organized in the area which was used for the base of fire, the
commander could have devised any number of plans involving maneuver, supporting
arms, and assault for seizing the remainder of his objective.
But he first set a bad precedent when he allowed the 1st Platoon to halt as
it came under long-range machine-gun fire. Instead of directing that unit to
continue the attack, he impulsively pushed the 2d Platoon into the lead. It is
noteworthy here that another platoon became lost and immobilized later, during
the crucial stage of the battle.
The company commander should have been the key figure in the final phase of
the attack; he should have been the spirit of a two-platoon assault which never
materialized. Instead, remaining five hundred yards behind with the base of
fire, he was so unable to control the two leading platoons that one of them even
became lost and completely ineffective.
Judging from the fact that the 2d Platoon fought a large number of enemy at a
distance of only a few yards, it is evident that the Americans were practically
in the heart of the North Korean position when they came to a halt. Then, for
several minutes, bravery and sacrifice-which could have won the day-went for
naught; and a great number of casualties was sustained without a decision being
Had the company commander followed the 2d Platoon, he could have spurred it
into an assault. With men like Cleaborn and Collins setting the pace, the North
Korean soldiers probably would have reeled back and retreated or surrendered.
Moreover, it is probable that the 3d Platoon would not have strayed into
temporary oblivion had it been following on the heels of a watchful company
commander. Even after this unit had wandered into the draw, it certainly could
have been retrieved under sufficient prodding. Could it have fared any worse
than to lie exposed and immobile under the barrels of two enemy automatic
Although the enemy force could have been eliminated by a combination of
aggressive leadership and small-arms fire, the apparent lack of artillery
support during this attack is enough to shake the foundations of The Artillery
School at Fort Sill. In the introduction to the battle account, there is mention
of the fact that Eighth Army planned "full artillery support." Where was it? Why
was it not employed when a relatively small group of enemy on a prominent
terrain feature held up a battalion attack? If the enemy's guns were
periodically silenced by sporadic bursts from Company A's base of fire, surely
white phosphorus and high-explosive shells would have wrought havoc with such
Once again the big gap between tactical theory and practice is glaringly
exposed by the bland statement: "After an artillery preparation, the attack
moved off about 0700." Company A then had to proceed a mere one and one half
miles, while unmolested enemy gunners lolled pleasantly in their holes and
fingered their triggers expectantly.
When once the area occupied by the enemy was known, not only artillery, but
also mortars and recoilless rifles could have rained a devastating barrage of
steel and fire into the hostile position. The layout of the terrain and the
location of the enemy's defenses were ideal for maximum fire support throughout
all but the assault phase of the attack. Shielded with covering fire, Company A
could have retained excellent control to a point from which the final,
victorious assault could have been launched.
Another deadly, disquieting annoyance for the North Koreans might have been
in the form of flanking and frontal machine-gun and rocket-launcher fire
delivered from the center and northwest portions of the larger hill. Such
weapons would have been able to give added protection to the 2d and 3d Platoons
until they were in position to assault.
Why small-unit commanders overlook the life-saving potential of supporting
arms, and why higher commanders tolerate that oversight, are questions which cry
futilely for logical answers.
In general, nothing but the highest praise is sufficient for the individual
conduct of the soldiers of Company A throughout this action. Although their
lieutenants were wounded early, leaving them nothing in the way of leadership
except long-range encouragement from their company commander, they closed with
the enemy, clung tenaciously to a position of bitter attrition, and inflicted
many casualties on a foe who was flushed with victory and confidence. When
ordered to withdraw, they did so in an orderly fashion, ensuring that wounded
comrades among them were first removed to safety. Even in this last, most
distasteful of all military maneuvers, they acquitted themselves with honor,
despite the fact that they had no really effective covering fire.
It was indeed fortunate for the men of the 2d Platoon that the flame of
natural leadership in Sergeant Collins burned brightly during this engagement.
Had it not been for his initiative and exemplary action, the plight of the
platoon might have ended as complete catastrophe.
Noble as his sentiments might have been, the NCO acting as 2d Platoon leader
picked a poor time to work as a medic. While his command was being decimated, he
should have played a role far more active than that of comforter to the
That Cleaborn and others were probably carried away by temporary
fanaticism-to the point of paying for it with their lives-is certainly not to
the discredit of these men. Had an experienced commander been present to
maintain control and demand discipline, it is very possible that these soldiers
might still be alive. Or, at least, they would have had a victory in return for
their supreme sacrifice.
 24th Infantry Division: war diary, 6 and 7 August 1950.  Ibid., 6-8
 Ibid., 7-10 August 1950.
 Ibid., 10 August 1950.
 Ibid., 8-11 August 1950; 24th Infantry Division: periodic operations
report No. 36, 112400 August l950.
 Unless otherwise noted, all information about the combat action was
obtained from Capt. Edward L. Shea (the platoon commander at the time of the
action) and First Sgt. Roy E. Collins (the platoon sergeant on 15 August 1950),
in interviews by the author.
 Statement by Lieutenant Schiller in first draft of this account, OCMH
 Morning reports of Company A, 34th Infantry, 14-20 August 1950. The
report for 15 August lists 35 casualties for Company A, including 17 missing in
action, 13 wounded in action, and 5 killed in action. At least one man known to
have been killed on 15 August is listed on the morning report for 14 August.
 24th Infantry Division: war diary, 15 August 1950.