More than 50 years after the rifles fell silent and the cannon fire ceased in the hills north of the 38th Parallel dividing North and South Korea, no one who was there seems to know why both sides put so much stock in controlling Pork Chop Hill during the closing months of the Korean War.
It was a nondescript knob of dirt not much more than 675 feet above sea level. Because of the pounding the hill received from American and Chinese forces that bled rivers of blood in their attempt to control the turf, there was hardly a single blade of grass on the mound of clay.
As a member of the 48th Field Artillery Battalion attached to the 7th Infantry Division, 2nd Lt. Ron Freedman, now living in Punta Gorda, Fla., arrived in the Pork Chop Hill area during the summer of 1953. In early July he was assigned as the regimental forward artillery observer.
The 22-year-old college graduate had recently completed Officers’ Candidate School. He was paired with 1st Lt. Ray Barry, a West Pointer, acting as liaison between Freedman’s artillery outfit and the 7th Division’s infantry units.
On July 10, Freedman was sent to Hill 347 that overlooked Pork Chop Hill and towered 400 feet over the contested real estate. It was his job to select an observation post of his liking atop the taller hill. He chose OP-13. It had two windows with unobstructed views of Pork Chop Hill to the north.
Directly in front of him was the Chorwon Valley that provided easy access for Chinese soldiers on their march south to Seoul. On the far side of that hill, not visible from where he observed, was the Rat’s Nest. This was a staging area at the base of the hill that enemy forces used just before they attacked American troops dug in on Pork Chop Hill.
Freedman and Barry moved into their observation post atop Hill 347 in early July. It was also inhabited by a half-dozen or so other soldiers including Maj. Billy Fritts, executive officer of the 1st Battalion 17 Infantry Regiment.
Gen. Maxwell Taylor, commander of the 7th Division, decided to pull his men off Pork Chop Hill the same day Freedman and Barry arrived at their observation post. It was a heartbreaking experience in many ways for the soldiers in the trenches who defended the badly scared hunk of scorched earth so valiantly for so many moths to leave the hill without a fight.
This was a hill held by 12 infantry companies from the 17th and 32nd Regiments. This was the hill in which 243 Americans gave their lives for their country and 916 more were wounded trying to hold it during the fighting in July alone, according to Bill McWilliams’ book, On Hallowed Ground.
This is the hill where an incredible 115,000 rounds of artillery were fired in support of the outposts during a five-day battle in July. The volume of fire was much greater than the amount of firepower used during the April battle, which was the basis for the 1950 Gregory Peck movie Pork Chop Hill.
It was at this hill that Cpl. Dan Schoonover and Lt. Richard T. Shea Jr. fought and died and received Medals of Honor posthumously, and 10 other American soldiers were awarded Distinguished Service Crosses, the second-highest decoration for valor under fire a soldier can receive.
The battle for Pork Chop Hill resulted in more than 6,000 Chinese soldiers killed or wounded, McWilliams notes in his book.
The day Freedman and Barry moved into OP-13, they could see American forces leaving the hill in armored personnel carriers. Change was in the wind, but all the two young lieutenants knew was that they had been detailed as artillery spotters atop Hill 347.
“What I was told to do was keep artillery fire on the Rat’s Nest,” Freedman, who is now 74, said. “I kept pounding the Rat’s Nest every minute or two with artillery rounds from my 105 millimeter battery.
“Things began to heat up later in the afternoon on our hill. More and more incoming rounds kept hitting around our observation post. Nothing we could see seemed to be happening on Pork Chop Hill.”
By radio, Freedman told his artillery controller back at the fire base that they were really beginning to take a lot of incoming 120 millimeter enemy mortar fire. By this time, 30 of these projectiles a minute were hitting near their OP.
“About 4 p.m. I was looking out the front window of our OP and Ray was standing at the other window. The pounding we were taking was so loud I couldn’t hear my radio. So I crouched down below the window with my back to the wall so I could hear better, but hearing the radio was no better down there than it was standing.
“As I started to get up, the next thing I knew I was lying on a pile of dirt with both my legs pinned down. I was apparently unconscious for a while. When I woke up I said to myself, ‘I don’t think I’m dead.’
“As I lay there, I noticed Maj. Fritts was on his back in the dirt. He had been decapitated.”
The OP was in shambles. The roof had caved in from the concussion of the exploding enemy mortar. There were nine people in the bunker before the direct hit. Freedman wasn’t sure where anyone else was now.
“I heard this moaning. I didn’t know where it was coming from, but I turned to my right, Ray was lying there. He had been standing at the window and got hit in the face with shrapnel.
“I wiggled my legs out from under his body and said, ‘Ray I’ll be right back.’ I ran out of our damaged bunker screaming for a medic. I ran around the box trench outside our OP, but found no one. When I returned to Ray, a medic was working on him. He had apparently heard me screaming for help.”
Eventually Barry and Freedman were taken down to an aid station at the base of Hill 347 in a personnel carrier, where doctors worked on both of them.
“Ray was on an operating table. I watched them cut his flak jacket off him. The next thing I knew they had him on a stretcher and they were taking him out somewhere.
“They started working on me, pulling out the little splinters of shrapnel that had penetrated my leg and arm. I wasn’t seriously hurt, but they put me in an ambulance with a bunch of seriously wound guys.”
Freedman ended up in a regimental clearing station with dozens of injured and dying soldiers. A corporal was going around getting names to send telegrams home to let parents know their sons had had been injured in battle.
“I didn’t want my folks to find out I had been injured. I rolled off the stretcher when the corporal wasn’t looking and crawled to the front entrance,” he said. “Using my carbine as a crutch, I got out of there and thumbed a ride back to regimental headquarters.”
After a few days off to recover from injuries, Freedman was made assistant executive officer of the artillery battery. He was in charge of seeing that the 105 millimeter cannons were fired on command at enemy positions located by map coordinates.
“One afternoon I got a call from Lt. Armour in K-Company. He wanted me to go with him up to the front for morale purposes.
“’Why should I go up there and get killed?’” I said to myself. I knew the war was about to end, so why should I go up there?
“They lined us all up, started handing out ammo and then began putting us in trucks. When you got ammo, you knew you were going to the front,” Freedman said.
“Then we heard a whistle. We all got off the trucks. The Chinese had pulled off the hill. The war was over. That was it. I never went back to the front.”
Name: Ron Freedman
Age: 75 (at time of interview in January 2004)
Hometown: Newton Center, Mass.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: May 1951
Discharged: November 1953
Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Unit: 48th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division
Commendations: Purple Heart, Silver Star, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Medal, National Defense Medal, Korean Medal
Married: Nancy Smith
Children: Bruce Freedman and Lynn Byrnes
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, February 2, 2004 and is republished with permission.
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