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VFW Magazine November/December 2016 : Page-26

IGNITES ‘SECOND KOREAN WAR’ Flag-draped coffi ns of the six GIs killed in the Nov. 2, 1966, DMZ ambush are readied for departure aboard an Air Force cargo plane at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, for the journey home. STARS AND STRIPES PHOTO DMZ FIREFIGHT On Nov. 2, 1966, a seven-man U.S. patrol was nearly wiped out by North Korean commandos, sparking three years of armed clashes. This is the 50th anniversary of that action, yet the peninsula still remains on edge today. B Y D AVE N EWMAN “NORTH KOREANS KILL 6 GIs SOUTH OF DMZ,” screamed the “Second Korean War.” And it led to lethal, heightened hostilities along the demilitarized zone that didn’t end for three full years. Nov. 4, 1966, Pacifi c Stars & Stripes head-line. Considering the military escala-tion in Vietnam, the nation was shocked to read such a headline about a hostile action so far to the north. “Because of duty, six of them died … from communist gunfi re on the almost forgotten front of the 38th parallel in Korea,” proclaimed President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago. This was the first and deadliest ground action for GIs of the so-called ‘ONE-MAN COUNTERATTACK’ In the pitch dark of Nov. 2, 1966, two four-man squads (one including a South Korean soldier) moved out from Camp Wally to patrol north of the Imjin River. The men belonged to A Co., 1st Bn., 23rd Inf., 2nd Inf. Div.—the famed “Indianhead” Division. They were typical of the era’s Army, a mix of volunteers and draftees ranging in age from 17 to 20. Two were barely out of high school. The seven came from Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Missouri and Washington. They had the misfortune of patrolling the South Tape—the edge of the south-ern buffer zone—28 days after the North Korean communist dictator Kim Il Sung had blustered that “the U.S. imperialists should be dealt blows and their forces dispersed to the maximum in Asia…” Members of the elite North Korean 17th Foot Reconnaissance Brigade were lying in wait near the Liberty Bridge spanning the Imjin River just outside the village of Changpa-ri. It was eight miles southeast of Panmunjom in the 2nd Division’s 20-mile-long sector. The two American squads were forced to combine because one of their radios malfunctioned. It proved a fateful decision, one that allowed the enemy to concentrate its fi re on the unsuspecting KOREAN DMZ BARBED WIRE PHOTO BY LILIAN MUNCH 26 • VFW • NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016

DMZ Firefight Ignites ‘Second Korean War’

Dave Newman

On Nov. 2, 1966, a seven-man U.S. patrol was nearly wiped out by North Korean commandos, sparking three years of armed clashes. This is the 50th anniversary of that action, yet the peninsula still remains on edge today.

“NORTH KOREANS KILL 6 Gis SOUTH OF DMZ,” screamed the Nov. 4, 1966, Pacific Stars & Stripes headline. Considering the military escalation in Vietnam, the nation was shocked to read such a headline about a hostile action so far to the north.

“Because of duty, six of them died … from communist gunfire on the almost forgotten front of the 38th parallel in Korea,” proclaimed President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago.

This was the first and deadliest ground action for Gis of the so-called “Second Korean War.” And it led to lethal, heightened hostilities along the demilitarized zone that didn’t end for three full years.

‘ONE-MAN COUNTERATTACK’

In the pitch dark of Nov. 2, 1966, two four-man squads (one including a South Korean soldier) moved out from Camp Wally to patrol north of the Imjin River. The men belonged to A Co., 1st Bn., 23rd Inf., 2nd Inf. Div.—the famed “Indianhead” Division.

They were typical of the era’s Army, a mix of volunteers and draftees ranging in age from 17 to 20. Two were barely out of high school. The seven came from Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Missouri and Washington.

They had the misfortune of patrolling the South Tape—the edge of the southern buffer zone—28 days after the North Korean communist dictator Kim Il Sung had blustered that “the U.S. imperialists should be dealt blows and their forces dispersed to the maximum in Asia…”

Members of the elite North Korean 17th Foot Reconnaissance Brigade were lying in wait near the Liberty Bridge spanning the Imjin River just outside the village of Changpa-ri. It was eight miles southeast of Panmunjom in the 2nd Division’s 20-mile-long sector.

The two American squads were forced to combine because one of their radios malfunctioned. It proved a fateful decision, one that allowed the enemy to concentrate its fire on the unsuspecting squad in the rear area of a guard post. Hit at 3:15 a.m., it was all over in a matter of minutes.

But one man was able to put up a fight. Pvt. Ernest D. Reynolds was that GI. Hailing from Kansas City, Mo., he was drafted in May 1966 and shipped to Korea Oct. 13, his 20th birthday. His mother would later say, “We felt so lucky when he went to Korea instead of Vietnam.” He survived Korea only 17 days.

News week reported : “Reynolds had been posted some distance away [30 yards at a road junction] from his comrades and might well have saved himself. But instead he chose to launch a one-man counterattack, blazing away at the North Koreans until they cut him down.”

Indeed, Reynold’s Silver Star citation confirms this report. “For gallantry in action while engaged in military operations,” he sacrificed “his own life in the defense of his fellow soldiers… As a rear security man, he had occupied a concealed position and opened fire upon the enemy, and he continued to fire until he himself was killed.”

Not content to merely kill the Americans, the communists fired 40 to 50 bullets into their bodies, reported the New York Times. They smashed in their heads, bayonetted them and mutilated the corpses.

SOLE SURVIVOR REVEALS DETAILS

The story of what happened was left to tell by the only survivor: Pvt. David Bibee, a 17-year-old from Ringgold, Va., who had been in-country only three weeks. “We just didn’t have a chance,” he said. “They seemed to come from behind. The only thing I could make out was that there were at least six of them. They caught us off guard.

“The first thing I knew a hand grenade hit right beside me. I was blown airborne, some 40 feet down the side of the hill we were on. I was shocked and dazed by the blast of the grenade, and then I heard more grenades going off, and automatic weapons were firing all around with the chatter of burp guns [7.62mm machine guns].”

At the time of the incident, Bibee told reporters, “The only reason I’m alive now is because I didn’t move when a North Korean yanked my watch off my wrist. … I played dead. I didn’t reckon it lasted more than 15 or 20 minutes.”

Shortly after, Bibee was able to wave down a truck. The driver asked where the other members of his patrol were. “Dead! They’re all dead! I am the only one left. Get going fast,” he told the driver.

After spending about a month in the hospital—he was hit by 48 grenade fragments— Bibee was assigned to a unit in the Seoul area. He never returned to DMZ duty to serve again as an infantryman.

NEVER FORGOTTEN

Memories of that day so long ago remain not only with Bibee, but also with family members and fellow servicemen. Pvt. Morris L. Fischer, who had enlisted in March 1966 and arrived in Korea that August, was only 17. He left behind broken-hearted parents and three sisters.

Pvt. Leslie L. Hasty had grieving relatives in Palestine, Texas. A niece wrote in 2011: “We were so young when Uncle Buddy was killed—the adults didn’t share much with us. Then as we got older, they didn’t talk about it.”

Yet some relatives derived a measure of satisfaction. In 1986, the family of Ernest Reynolds saw him recognized when visiting Seoul for the dedication of Reynolds Ridge.

In a moving tribute in 2006 to the six young Americans in “Letters to the Lost from Korea,” Will Johnson wrote: “I was CQ [officer in charge of unit headquarters] on Nov. 2, 1966, when the initial ambush took place. I can only trust that

I performed my duties as was expected of me. Yet I have been haunted all these years that my communication skills were not up to par and that response time was lost. Such is the burden I carry.

“Never a day goes by that I don’t reflect on your memory and the sacrifice you yielded for our freedom. I thank you for my family and the opportunities I have had these past 40 years. But for your personal sacrifice and service to America, it would not have been the same.”

John Sylvan, a member of the Recon Platoon of the 23rd’s 1st Battalion, seconded the notion. “I personally knew three of the men killed that November day,” he said. “Fifty years later, they deserve at least to be remembered.”

DAVE NEWMAN is a Korean War vet (1952-53) and a member of VFW Post 647 in Danville, Va. He interviewed David Bibee in 1998.

Read the full article at http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/article/DMZ+Firefight+Ignites+%E2%80%98Second+Korean+War%E2%80%99/2600826/343594/article.html.

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