Page Back here
  Sparks sees Cream of G.I.s Shot Down in Forward Drive.  (This is the account of the "Battle of Inje", by Pulitzer prizewinner Fred Sparks, that appeared in the Chicago Daily News on June 4, 1951)     
  WITH THE 187th PARACHUTE REGIMENT, Korea --- For nine days this regiment of paratroopers attacked the Chinese foe.  In a dashing move they drove a wedge into the tail of the retreating Communists, capturing and killing thousands.   
  To hold open an escape corridor north of Inje, the Chinese organized strong defensive positions and halted the paratroopers.  In an ugly battle (which I followed from the day it began) many paratroopers, the very cream of our military youth, were killed or wounded.  These tough lads are trained to jump out of planes; instead, here they have been motoring, hiking and mountain-climbing to catch the Chinese.  UNTIL NOW, for logical security reasons, I could not write that the Jumping Joes were on the line.  By today, the Oriental foe knows (Ouch) that paratroopers are shooting at them.  So it's no longer hush-hush.   
  Parachuting around this part of Korea, with its thousands of rocky peaks, would be like tap-dancing barefooted on a spiked fence.  The previous two jumps the 187th made here were in pancake terrain.  I was at 10th Corps Headquarters six days ago when General Edward Almond, his military sixth sense working overtime, guessed correctly that Mao's mobsters were winded.  Their great spring offensive had bled itself against unbreakable ramparts.  He ordered the paratroopers, then in reserve, to make a dramatic 60-mile motor march through Inje to the town of Kansong on the coast of the Sea of Japan.  This would be an end around run through the Red badlands, actually behind a main body of Chinese and North Koreans, which were still south of the road that their rapidly retreating were to use.  Thousands of Communists in the eastern part of South Korea figured Almond would try to get back to their cozy collective cribs in North Korea via Kansong.  
  STANDING in a rice paddy, in a steady downpour, I heard the troopers told:  "Get your vehicles on the road.  The convoy will be 12 miles long, spiced with tanks.  Keep going!  If your jeep is shot up, push it off the road and climb into the next one.  Don't delay!  Delay might mean disaster".  Parachutist Gen. Frank Bowen told me:  "This is a typical Airborne operation...on wheels instead of wings."  Get the big picture around Inje: Chinese were retreating north along several roads -- like a line of ants -- which cross at Inje.  The lead battalion of paratroopers drove right up the same road, shoving the surprised Chinese into the ditches.  They actually ran down many!  By moving so fast they prevented enemy mine-laying units from operating.  Then -- trouble -- and our casualties began.  Apparently the Chinese sniffed a plan to cut through them.  Other battalions had to run an actual gauntlet.  Chinese got on the hills on both sides of the narrow road and zeroed-in machine guns and artillery.  In one instance a fanatical Chinese stood on a cliff and simply dropped a grenade down on a jeep.  I saw mortars bursting on the road behind my vehicle.  Scores of vehicles were knocked out.  Chinese snipers wearing green uniforms and using no-flash rifles peppered us at will.  They couldn't be seen in the thick growth.  
  One jeep driver ahead of me quietly slumped over his wheel, a sneak bullet in his right ear.  Several "Suitcase Charlies" -- fanatical Chinese carrying valise-shaped explosives -- ran up to a few tanks and tossed their packages between the treads.  But like a covered-wagon train in the wild west Indian days we pulled our way through the comparatively primitive foe.  
  THE CHUTIST never got a break.  The heavens simply wept.  The roads were huge mud pies.  A bridge was washed out, forcing the convoy to crawl.  At one point we made 8 miles in 10 hours.  Part of the motor march was made at night.  Whew!  Riding through mountain valleys after dark with positive knowledge that an armed enemy is on both sides of the road is hardly calculated to lower your blood pressure.  I can now author a book entitled, "I was a Duck in a Shooting Gallery."  
  BARRELING up the road to Inje, the chutists collected straggling Chinese.  One lad went off the road a moment and saw four Chinese cooking rice.  He pitched a grenade right across home place and broke up the dinner.  During a pause another Jumping Joe caught two Chinese swimming in a brook.  Like the old swimming-hole trick, he simply collected and sat on their clothing -- and waited -- until they peddled in for capture.  The paratroopers traveled as lightly as escaped convicts.  Typical attire:  Weapons, ammo, jump boots, fatigues, toothbrush and comb and their wicked "jump knife", a snapping affair ordinarily used to cut away chute lines when you dangle from a tree -- used for more deadly purposes in this operation.  YES, MANY of these fine lads, picked for telephone-wire nerves as well as bulging biceps, will never come down that winding road from Inje.  
  Blitz technique means condensing ordinary infantry fighting into a few furious days.  You lose more men quickly that way, but in the long run you might lose less.  Furthermore, the Airborne is a "hold until death" outfit.  It is the infantry plus that added something that makes elite troops like our Marines or the British Commandos.  PERSONALLY I believe that if they had been so ordered, the chutists would have got through to the coast...they would have kept going as long as one man could stand.  One company, loaded a convoy and headed north out of Inje (still seeking the sea) made four miles.  It then ran into thousands of Chinese dug in around and over the road.  The chutists gave not one inch of this drenched Korean soil.  They stood pat until relief columns with tanks walked up on both sides of the road just before dark.  Several troopers wounded in one hand kept firing with the other.  An artillery liaison officer radio-directed the cannon (inside Inje), while lying on his stomach, under a tank, with 10 shrapnel chunks in his body.  The Paratroopers physical stamina kept them going with hardly a wink for five days -- another testimonial to brass-knuckled training.  Even after the drive to the sea was canceled (Kansong later fell to another U.N. force which advanced up the coast line with naval support) morale remained as high as a Hollywood starlet with a freshly inked five-year contract.  They sought no chair-borne jobs when they asked for Airborne...a shooting war is their career.  When the Chinese fanatics attacked, one group screeching "Shanee" (Peipingnese for Banzai) the paratroopers screeched back  "Airborne".   
  PERSONALLY my pigeon chest is stuck out as far as it will go.  I am proud to have been with the paratroopers in this end-run operation and see them pen yet another classic chapter in their adventurous archives.  I sniffle a bit when I think of those chutists who died around bloody Inje fulfilling their assigned mission.  
  Ed note:  Cpl. Rodolpho (Rudy) Hernandez, from G-187th RCT, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his action against the enemy during the Battle of Inje.  This article was reproduced from a flysheet, (handed out to me, Leo Kocher) and most of the 187th troopers that participated in the “Battle of Inje.”    
  Copyright © Leo F. Kocher  
  G-511th Airborne