Cpl. Robert Robb was a sniper attached to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Korea during the war. His unit took Hill 749, a volcanic mound known as the ‘Punchbowl,’ away from a regiment of North Koreans holding the high ground in mid-September 1951.
Lt. Birney Adams, Robb’s platoon leader, wrote a friend 31 years after the battle: ‘I doubt I have ever been so sure I was going to die, except one time with a kamikaze at Okinawa. You know the feeling. And yet, like automatons or clones … you hung in there and kept fighting.
‘Did I ever tell you, intelligence summaries of January 1952 indicated 1,200 men of the 45th Regiment, 91st North Korean Peoples Army were killed on the nights of 15-16 Sept. 1951? It was so far beyond anything that could be believed by anyone who was not there …’
At the Punchbowl, they were holding the line above the 38th Parallel that would eventually divide North and South Korea, while both sides tried to negotiate a peace treaty.
‘We had been in a rest area waiting to move up. They took us by truck to the base of this hill that would eventually be known as Hill 749, Robb recalled from the comfort of a poolside table at his North Port, Fla. home 60 years later.
‘While waiting to be resupplied with more ammo, 20 or 30 Marines came walking down the hill. I said to one of them, ‘Hey, where’s the rest of the Marines?’
”That’s all we got left. Go get yours, we got ours!’ one of the Marines coming down the hill replied.
”Thanks a lot, pal,” I said.
‘By the time we started going up the hill, it was dark. We had only taken about 10 or 15 steps and there was an enemy land mine right in the middle of our path. Two Marines were standing on either side of the mine making sure we got over it.
‘About a quarter of the way up the hill, a Marine was being carried down by two stretcher-bearers. The guy on the stretcher said to me, ‘Be careful. There are gooks all over the place up there. You can’t even see ’em!’
‘We kept going on up the trail in the dark. All of a sudden I saw this gook soldier sitting along the side of the trail holding his rifle, but saying nothing. He was dead as a doornail. Some jarhead (Marine) had put an ace of spades on him.
‘Me and my buddy, Tommy Bourg from Syracuse, N.Y., were Marine snipers. We had scopes on our M-1 rifles. We weren’t attached to any particular unit. We just went where we were needed,’ Robb said.
‘The two of us were resting along the side of the trail when our artillery opened up. It came within 50 yards of us. Shells were going over our heads, but they would scream like they were coming right in with us.
‘We decided to crawl into some slit trenches. I turned my head and a dead gook’s foot was inches from my nose.
‘They hit us hard that night charging with their burp-guns. You’d hear their bugles as they ran toward us in the dark, yelling, ‘Marine, you die tonight!’
‘They kept coming ’til almost daylight.’
In the midst of the melee, Robb and several other Marines sustained minor injuries from an incoming enemy mortar. It was this incident that resulted in Robb’s Purple Heart.
He and his buddies in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division never got to the top of Hill 749. They were pulled back and another Marine outfit took their place. The other unit fought their way to the summit and victory.
Robb said, ‘We were back down at the bottom of the hill where we started the day before when this sergeant came along looking for a couple of snipers. He said, ‘You two come along, they need you up on the point. Everybody’s getting shot to hell up there.’
‘We were right on the point when attacked by a regiment of North Koreans. Tommy and I had been brought up to Hill 884 to fill in for Marines killed or wounded,’ he explained. ‘This sergeant put me in one hole by myself and Tommy was put in a hole next to me with a machine gun. I found a carbine with a bunch of extra ammo in my hole.
‘Another guy from Texas named Ward, I don’t remember his first name, jumped in with me with his BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). The gooks kept coming at us that night. All we could see was their muzzle blasts. Artillery shells were coming in and going out. There was an occasional flare that lit up everything.
‘When one of those flares went off, I could see this enemy soldier walking along in front of us like he was going to the drugstore. I cut loose on him with my carbine,’ Robb said.
‘Two days later the guy from Texas was sniping at the point when he was killed. Enemy mortar fire took him out,’ he said. ‘About that time, Tommy, my other sniping buddy, returned from somewhere. For the rest of the time I was in Korea, almost, Tommy fought alongside me.
‘It was New Year’s Eve 1952 when tragedy struck. Tommy and I were together. I took the first watch and he took the second. At midnight all our artillery started going off,’ Robb said. ‘They must have thought we were going to attack. The enemy started throwing stuff back at us. Tommy was killed by the concussion from an incoming enemy mortar.’
Looking back on his military service with the 1st Infantry Division fighting in Korea, Robb said, ‘I can’t really say I was scared because there was too much going on. But it’s not something you’d like to go through more than one time.’
In the spring of 1952, Robb sailed home across the Pacific in 12 days. This was about a third of the time it took to get there by ship when he arrived in Korea, he said.
‘We sailed into San Francisco Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was wonderful.’
It wasn’t until he and a 6-foot 4-inch Marine, who looked much older, tried to order a cold one at a bar in San Francisco that he knew he was home.
‘They’d served him but not me,’ Robb recalled. ”Whataya mean you won’t serve me a beer? I just got back from being shot at in Korea!” he declared.
‘You got to be 21,’ the barkeep replied.
He was 19.
Robb eventually went to work for IBM, where he spent most of his career. He and his wife, Annette, moved to this area seven years ago. They have three grown children, Bobby, April and Sandra.
Name: Robert Robb
D.O.B: 17 Sept. 1932
Hometown: Peekskill, NY
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 31 Oct. 1950
Discharged: 6 Oct. 1953
Unit: Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division
Commendations: Purple Heart, Korean Service Medal, UN Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Korean Government Medal,
Battles/Campaigns: The Punchbowl
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 29, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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