Andy Ellul of Emerald Point condos in Punta Gorda, Fla. arrived in this country from the island of Malta on Christmas Eve 1950 as a 21-year-old immigrant. He went to work for the Ford Motor Co. in Detroit. Two years later he found himself serving as a private in the 461st Heavy Mortar Battalion holding a defensive line along a river near the 38th Parallel that would separate North and South Korea.
“After basic training I was given a chance to become part of a Dixieland band in the Army because I had played the clarinet professionally. All my Michigan buddies were going to Korea and I wanted to be with them, so I turned the Army band job down and went to Korea,” the 80-year-old former soldier explained. “I was young,” he shrugged and smiled.
“I volunteered to be a spotter for our 4.2-inch mortar battalion. Lt. Darby and I were put on a hill for about a week calling in mortar rounds on the North Koreans and Chinese from our position,” Ellul said. “We were always supporting a Republic of Korea (South Korean) division. They were no good, they were zero soldiers.
“It was July 13, 1953 and we were on Hill-612 when we were attacked by hordes of enemy troops who came at us in waves firing their weapons at us as they charged,” he said. “We started firing our mortars at them about 4 p.m. and we stopped firing at them at 4 a.m. when they were about to overrun our position.
“The ROK (South Korean) troops with us had bugged-out in the face of the enemy leaving us outnumbered about 300 to 1. Our backs were to a river along the 38th Parallel we were supposed to be protecting,” Ellul recalled.
“By this time enemy soldiers were swarming our position like ants. We had fired so many rounds in our mortars we had to cool the barrels down by pouring water on them,” he said. “We couldn’t hold the line against such overwhelming force and there was only one road out of there paralleling the river.
“Finally we destroyed our weapons, jumped on a couple of deuce-and-a-half trucks and a Jeep and trailer and got out of there before the Chinese caught us. You either jumped aboard the trucks or Jeep or you were left behind.
`“When the shooting was all over 80 percent of our company had been killed or captured. We lost 150 to 180 soldiers to the enemy. We escaped at night along the river road until we reached another ROK division about a mile or two away. It had been a disaster,” he said.
The next day what was left of Ellul’s battalion was attacked once more by enemy troops. They were forced to withdraw to the south side of the river. The North Koreans wanted to claim the stream as their own.
“We were on Hill-406, near Kumsong-Hwachon, during the second attack. We weren’t backed up against the river, so we had the opportunity to fall back over a mountain ridge to escape the enemy,” Ellul said.
“It was the same thing all over again. The ROK troops were going to bug-out once more. “The ROK soldiers were backing up like they did during the first attack. I took my BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and pointed it at them. I was gonna start slicing ‘em up,” he said. “They got my message, but only advanced when my BAR was pointed at ‘em.”
Three days later the truce was signed on July 28, 1953 that brought the fighting in Korea pretty much to a halt. A few weeks later Ellul and what was left of the 461st Heavy Mortar Battalion was headed home.
They arrived by ship at Seattle, Wash. and were discharged at Fort Carson, Colo. He went back to work for Ford for another 30 years. Then Andy and his wife, Jessie, came to Punta Gorda in 1983 and moved into Emerald Point where they’ve lived ever since.
The old soldier is proud he has played his clarinet in the Charlotte County Band for years.
Name: Andrew Ellul
Place of Birth: Malta
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 1952
Discharged: August 1953
Unit: 461st Heavy Mortar Battalion
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. Thursday, December 24, 2009 and is republished with permission.