Pork Chop Hill: Where Courage Reigned

Article excerpt

Sixty years ago this month, the world and the media turned their attention to the site of the Korean War peace talks at Panmunjom and the beginning of the prisoner of war exchange. Called Operation Little Switch, the United Nations Command and the communists agreed to begin the first exchange on April 20. It heralded, perhaps, the end of the nearly three years of fighting on the Korean peninsula - but not quite.

Not too many miles to the east, a battle was raging that would turn out to be one of the costliest of the Korean War: the struggle for possession of an outpost position stuck out in front of the main line of resistance (MLR) called Pork Chop Hill. It had been a matter of contention for several months but now had heated up to a full-blown inferno. The battle fought at Pork Chop Hill has been recorded in American military history as one of the most courageous battles the U.S. Army ever fought. It is a tribute to the American fighting man but whether it was worth the cost is questionable.

Pork Chop was a sore thumb that stuck into the enemy's ribs, and they were willing to pay a huge price for it because possession would give them an advantage at the Panmunjom conference table. The U.N. Command was also beginning to realize the political value of these "strategic hills" that would have to be abandoned in the event of a cease-fire. It became apparent then that to win at the conference table, or even to gain a small advantage over the communists, these hills had to remain in U.N. hands.

By all military logic, Pork Chop was untenable. It was dominated by surrounding enemy-held ridges, including Old Baldy, which had been lost a few weeks before. Pork Chop was located in the southwest corner of the Iron Triangle near the old iron-ore capital of Chorwon and was occupied by an understrength company of the 31st Infantry Regiment of the 7th Division. Two other outposts to the left of Pork Chop - Dale and Westview - were occupied by two platoons each. Farther to the right, along the valley floor, stood outposts Arsenal and Eerie.

In early April, some Chinese soldiers approached Pork Chop, but alert guards spotted them and called in artillery, forcing them to return to their positions. The next night there was another probe, and a week later an element of Charlie Company ran into a Chinese squad and engaged them in a brief firefight, sending them back to their positions. Enemy probes and minor clashes were also noted around Outpost Dale when a Baker Company patrol engaged an enemy force approaching the friendly position. It was met by a reinforced platoon sent out from the MLR, and following a two-hour firefight the Chinese withdrew, with both sides suffering casualties.

For the next few nights all was quiet along the outpost line. Very little artillery fell on friendly positions, and no contact was reported. It was an apparent attempt by the Chinese to give the impression that they were not interested in any further action - but that was not the case.

Intelligence received from Division and the number of enemy soldiers moving about in front of the 31st Infantry's sector indicated to its commander, COL William B. Kern, that a major enemy attack was imminent. He notified his battalions during the early evening hours of April 16. Unfortunately, the guards in front of the outposts never received the message. LT Thomas U. Harrold, who commanded understrength Easy Company on "the Chop," considered the warning lightly, thinking the attack would fall farther to the east. In fact, he had dispatched a scheduled patrol out in front of Pork Chop to reconnoiter and take some prisoners.

At about 2300 hours on April 16, the Chinese, closely following an intense artillery and mortar barrage on the hill, poured out of the tunnels they had dug close to U.N. lines and hit Pork Chop with at least two companies. The guards saw them coming from the enemy-held ridge, Hasakkol, but were unable to alert the defenders on Pork Chop because the phone lines had been severed by artillery fire. …