It was winter time in 1953 when Dave Evans’ Marine Ranger unit arrived on Pork Chop Hill, just north of the 38th Parallel that would separate North Korea from South Korea. He was an 18-year-old Leatherneck just out of boot camp experiencing his baptism of fire.
“The North Koreans and the Chinese outnumbered us 20 to 1, but they didn’t have many weapons,” the 74-year-old Venice Marine said who lives in Summerville Assisted Living facility. “As fast as you would shoot somebody, somebody else would come along, pick up their weapon and you’d have to shoot them. We were just piling ’em up in front of us.”
For eight months Evans and the rest of his unit held on to the nondescript hill that wasn’t worth fighting and dying over while the Americans and North Koreans tried to work out an agreement that would end the war. Both sides finally agreed to an armistice which still leaves the Korean War unresolved more than half a century later.
Before the Marines arrived to reinforce the 7th Army Division the Army had been repeatedly mauled by enemy forces while trying their best to maintain control of Pork Chop Hill. Scores of U.S. soldiers lost their lives defending the useless mound of dirt and many more enemy troops were killed during the fighting.
“The North Koreans and Chinese troops were charging our lines with rifles on bayonets. I went to shoot one of them and realized too late my weapon was empty. I parried the North Korean’s bayonet thrust,” Evans said. “When the enemy lunged at me he got under my rifle with his bayonet and nicked the artery in my right arm with his bayonet. I swung up with the butt of my rifle and got him. Then I dropped down and wrapped my belt around my bleeding arm and yelled, ‘MEDIC!'”
Evans spent the next couple of weeks off the line recovering from his severed main artery. After that he was back on the front lines once more in the midst of the never ending battle.
“We were sleeping in foxholes along the top of the hill and living on little or nothing. They’d drop K-rations in by parachute and we’d have to go out and fight for our food,” he said.
“The Armistice was signed in July 1953 while we held the hill,” Evans recalled. “We got the word by radio that hostilities had ceased, but that didn’t stop the North Koreans and Chinese from shooting at us.”
Years after the Korean War was over, Evans’ younger brother who was in the Air Force was walking along the 38th Parallel and got shot at by North Korean soldiers.
His next big adventure in the Corps came during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when President John F. Kennedy told Premier Nikita Krushchev of Russia he would have to remove his ballistic missiles from Cuba or risk launching World War III.
“We were at sea on our way back from Okinawa when our transport was diverted to Cuba. I was in one of the three battalions of the 2nd Marine Division sent to Cuba to make sure the Russians pulled their missiles off the island. We made a beach landing and marched through Havana in full battle dress. The people of Havana were thrown tomatoes, cucumbers and everything else at us.
“The people had no idea what was going on. I think they thought we were there to take over the island,” he said. “The missile bases were outside Havana. We set up our positions around the bases and watched them pull their missiles out on specially made trucks and put them on ships in the harbor.”
After a couple of weeks, when the missiles were gone, Evans’ unit marched back through Havana. This time the locals were subdued.
“They were probably told to cool it. Castro didn’t want any trouble with us,” he said.
The 2nd Division Marines were taken back aboard their transport ships while a battleship and aircraft carrier patrolled the waters a few miles off shore like a couple of mother hens. They were there to ensure the safety of the Marines who had gone ashore a few days earlier.
A year later, in 1963, Evans was sent to Vietnam on his first tour of duty with a Marine Amtrak unit that became a mine clearing detachment involved in clearing beaches of mines. In addition, his unit had to build an airfield just outside Da Nang.
“We cleared the land and then put down interlocking steel mats that formed a strip fighter planes could land on,” he explained. “The rest of the time, during my first tour I spent in a foxhole around the air strip trying to keep the Viet Cong from throwing stuff at the airport.”
Evans was back in Vietnam on a second tour in 1966-67. During that tour he was with the 2nd Marine Division’s Radio Relay Construction Company close to the same fighter base outside Da Nang.
“While I was up on a telephone pole stringing wire I would sometimes get got at by VC, he said. He never got wounded while working on a pole putting up communication lines.
Evans returned to Vietnam in 1968 and ’69 for his third and final tour. It was during this tour he became involved in the Tet Offensive. Some 70,000 enemy troops tried to overrun many American and South Vietnamese military installations beginning Jan. 331, 1968.
“During the Tet Offensive the enemy hit the helicopters on base and wiped them out,” he said. “At night the VC would hit us with ‘zappers’ who tried to slip into our are rigged with concertina wire and protected by Claymore mines. IF they got through the wire they would try and set anti-personnel mines.
“All of a sudden you’d hear a shot being fired and someone would yell, ‘Zappers! Zappers!’ You’d roll out of your bed and into a trench that surrounded our tents and keep your head down. Anyone moving around would be shot.
“The Tet Offensive went on for five weeks, as I recall. We killed a lot of people during Tet. We’d call in our ‘Dragon Ships’ that would pump their 20-milimeter rounds into the jungle where the enemy was. You’d hear from hollering and screaming as they died when ‘Puff flew over and opened up on them,” Evans said. “It would give you the shakes.”
By this time he was a company gunny sergeant.
“I was in charge of making sure all the people in the company had all their gear and took their malaria pills,” he recalled with a smile.
It was during the second tour in Vietnam that his company was called on to make a lot of night missions into the jungle. Their primary job was to find the aiming sticks the VC put in the ground around the airfield and destroy them so the enemy couldn’t use the sticks for aiming their mortar or rock rounds at parked planes or choppers.
“I got wounded in the groin by an enemy 122-millimeter rocket during one of these night missions,” Evans said. “We were on Hill 34 outside Da Nang searching the area for aiming sticks when I got wounded in the leg.”
He returned to Camp Lajeune, N.C. after his third tour of duty. After 20 years in the Marine Corps he retired as a 1st Sergeant. A couple of years later he went to work at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where he trained to overhaul nuclear reactors aboard atomic submarines. Evans spent the next 13 years traveling the world overhauling reactors on American subs.
When he finally retired the old Marine bought a 35-foot motor home and toured the country. Evans went to all 50 states before deciding to live in Florida. He started out on the Southeast coast, but realized there as too much traffic and a drug culture he didn’t like.
So he moved to Florida’s west coast. He bought a house in Port Charlotte, from there to Nokomis and finally to Venice where he currently lives.
Name: Dave Evans
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: July 1952
Discharged: April 1972
Rank: 1st Sergeant
Unit: Marine Rangers
Battles/Campaigns: Pork Chop Hill
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, May 6, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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