A month before the armistice was signed in July 1953, putting the Korean War on hold, Sgt. Sandy Branzei was in a bunker with his .30 caliber machine-gun atop “Boomerang Hill” when his unit, King Company, 7th Regiment, 3rd Division, was attacked and overrun by waves of Chinese soldiers.
“The Iron Triangle,” north of the 38th Parallel dividing North and South Korea, was the area they were in. United Nations forces had been fighting North Korean and Chinese troops for two years by then.
“They were attacking in force. It was night and I opened up on them with my machine-gun. Every fifth bullet was a tracer and I followed my tracers to the target,” the old soldier recalled sitting in his living room 60 years later. “I was screaming over
the rattle of my weapon–‘Come on you mothers…. Hail Mary full of grace, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death!’ I’m praying to Mary and screaming a sacrilege at the same time.
“I got a concussion grenade thrown at me. It exploded about the time I got both hands over my eyes,” Branzei said. “One of the colored gunners with me pulled my hands away form my face. I could see the light from his Zippo lighter. It was the most beautiful light I had ever seen.
“I took a little shrapnel in my hands and my forehead from the grenade. I knew I was going to die because the enemy troops just kept on coming. I said my last prayers to Mother Mary on June 24, 1953.
“Then I jumped back on my machine-gun. I was shooting at them and swearing and praying some more. In that battle I fired over 5,000 rounds of ammunition. It got so bad we had to call in our own artillery right on top of us. They fired artillery rounds that burst 50 feet above the ground killing almost everyone not in a trench or a bunker.
“Three of my best friends were killed on that hill.”
When the shooting stopped after action reports note the regiment sustained 306 casualties during a 10 day period beginning July 14th. In Branzei’s 7th, Regiment, 42 of 56 men were casualties in the 2nd Platoon alone. Enemy losses were 2,535 killed during that 10 day fight, according to official reports. The Chinese and North Koreans fired 45,431 artillery rounds at UN forces on “Boomerang Hill” the report says.
“After the battle the next morning we were going through the pockets of hundreds of enemy dead in front of our position on the hill. I was looking for an officer’s pistol to take as a souvenir. I pulled this dead enemy officer’s wallet out of his pocket. In it was a picture of his wife and two kids. That really bothered me because I never wanted to think of the enemy as human beings.”
On the 24th of June, what was left of the 3rd Division was relieved by the 2nd Division and Branzei’s outfit march off the hill.
‘We came down in ranks singing ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’as we marched, all except one soldier who had ‘The Thousand Yard Stare.’ This soldier had lost his mind. He was staring at nothing with his mouth gaping open.
“I told the lieutenant, ‘Get him out of here before he kills himself or gets some of us killed,'” the former sergeant recalled.
“After the battle they patched up my hand and head from the hand grenade blast. I spent a few days in the hospital in Tokyo. I was in the hospital when the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953,” he said.
“When I got back to my parent’s home in Detroit, Mich. I couldn’t sleep. I had vicious nightmares almost every night. I’d dream I was in a shell hole on my back with my carbine and .45 pistol. This big Chinaman was coming after me with his burp-gun. I pointed my carbine at him and pulled the trigger. It went CLICK! Then he swung down on me with this burp-gun and I’d wake up.
“I was walking around in the middle of the night and my mother asked me, ‘What’s wrong Sandy?’ I told her I was scared,” he remembered with tears in his eyes.
“‘Come on in here with your father and me,’ she replied.
“I was suppose to be a rough-ass sergeant who had killed all these enemy soldiers. And there I was in bed in between my mother and father. I felt safe. Nobody was going to kill me in the middle of the night. Isn’t that something,” Branzei said as he stared at the floor and shook his head.
“Four or five years after I got home from the war I stopped having nightmares. They started going away when I could talk to other people about what happened to me in Korea.
When I could talk about my life in the war I got well.
“In 1956 I married my beautiful wife, Sylvia, on April 14, 1956 and eventually we had four beautiful daughters: Mary, Sylvia, Gloria and Aleis.
“I came home from the war and went back to work at the U.S. Army Tank and Armored Command in Warren, Mich. I had worked there before the war. I became the person responsible for hiring all the interns. I retired in 1986 with a GS-13 rank, equivalent to a lieutenant
colonel in the Army,” he explained.
The couple moved to Florida in the mid-1980s.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for letting me live a good life. He didn’t take me like he took by three buddies in Korea. I came home alive,” Branzei concluded.
Name: Alexander Branzei
D.O.B: 7 March 1930
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: October 1951
Discharged: October 1953
Unit: 3rd Infantry Division, 7th Regiment
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal w/2 Bronze Service Stars, Combat Infantry Badge
Battles/Campaigns: Korean War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 and is republished with permission.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.
Click here to view Branzei’s file in the Library of Congress VHP.
Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.
Click here to search Veterans Records in the National Archives.