Korean Service
Purple Heart
     Infantry Weapons     
     THE WHOLE SITE     
     Combat Photos     

The Foundation of Freedom is the Courage of Ordinary People

History  Bert '53  On Line

The god of war hates those who hesitate.


South To The Naktong, North To The Yalu


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. [1] 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 Naktong. [2]

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. [3] 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. [4] 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." [5] 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 planes.

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 ridgeline. [7]

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 rocky cliff.

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 me."

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 ice water."

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 up here."

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 fight!"

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 road.

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. [9]


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 forced.

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 weapons? Hardly!

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 cautious defenders.

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 afflicted.

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.


[1] 24th Infantry Division: war diary, 6 and 7 August 1950. [2] Ibid., 6-8 August 1950.

[3] Ibid., 7-10 August 1950.

[4] Ibid., 10 August 1950.

[5] Ibid., 8-11 August 1950; 24th Infantry Division: periodic operations report No. 36, 112400 August l950.

[6] 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.

[7] Statement by Lieutenant Schiller in first draft of this account, OCMH files.

[8] 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.

[9] 24th Infantry Division: war diary, 15 August 1950.

Causes of the Korean Tragedy ... Failure of Leadership, Intelligence and Preparation

        KOREAN WAR TIME LINE         
     Tanks and Fighting Vehicles     
               Enemy Weapons              

     Korean War, 1950-1953        
  Map and Battles of the MLR   
                 SEARCH SITE                  

The Foundations of Freedom are the Courage of Ordinary People and Quality of our Arms

Combat Actions Index

-  A   VETERAN's  Blog  -
Today's Issues and History's Lessons

  Danish Muslim Cartoons  

  Guest Book