Sgt. Larry Silver was tank commander with 1st Marine Division in Korean War

For former Marine Cops T-Sgt. Larry Silver of Venice, sailed into Inchon, North Korea with Gen. Douglas MacArthur and attacked the enemy. It may have been the most difficult amphibious landing in history because the the city had tides that rose and fell 36-feet each day making it very hard to land an attacking force. The invasion by the 1st Marine Division was almost a miracle.

Silver was the commander of a “C-48 Patton Tank.” It was an improvement over the “Sherman Tank” of WW II vintage. His tank’s primary weapon was a 90-mm gun, it also had a .50 cal. machine-gun on top and two .30-cal. machine-guns, one on each side.

“On Sept 15, 1950 the 1st Marine Division and other units invaded Inchon. The invasion had to be made at a precise time to coincide with the high tide. We had relatively little resistance from the North Koreans. They didn’t anticipate the invasion.

“Our major objective was to capture Wolmido Island on the way ashore,” he said. “The U.S. Navy used the island as a supply base for our troops once we took it. Our secondary task was to take the Inchon Airport without destroying its runway. After a couple of days we took both objectives.

“Then the 1st Division headed south for Seoul, South Korea and ran the North Koreans out of the capital after some serious fighting,” Silver explained. “To capture Seoul we had to cross the Hahn River and not destroy the bridges into the capitol city that spanned the river.

Because of MacArthur’s “End Run” assault at Inchon, he successfully swept most of the North Koreans out of the South by cutting off the source of supplies. They were falling back to North Korea as quickly as possible.

“The trouble with MacArthur, our supreme commander, and Col. Chesty Puller, our regimental commander, they were both ‘Glory Boys.’ All they wanted to do was be in the newspapers back home. I had no respect for either one of them.

“After Seoul we moved to the East Coast of North Korea. “We went ashore at Hungman, North Korea and headed for the Chosin Reservoir 75 miles to our north. The North Koreans were high-tailing it in front of us as we moved north. They put up little opposition.”

“Our troops will be home by Christmas,” MacArthur promised the public and the soldiers in the field.

On Thanksgiving Day 1950 U.S. troops at the Reservoir received a special Thanksgiving dinner in the field. In addition Bob Hope and his USO Troop brought his shapely cast on stage for the Marines suffering in the freezing cold at the Reservoir.

“I remember he had Jerry Calonna, the comic, and Marilyn Maxwell, a pretty Hollywood star, with him on stage together with some others I can’t remember,” Silver said.

“It was right about then, just after Thanksgiving, that the weather started getting much colder in a hurry. It was one of our significent problems. We weren’t dressed for cold weather and we wore leather boots that froze the Marines’ feet when they walked in deep snow. Winter in North Korea came very fast.

“I was dug in at the Reservoir with my tank. We were told we could’t go further north because if we did they expected the Chinese to attack us,” the 89-year-old Silver remembered almost 70-years later.

Tank commander Larry Silver is in the center flanked by a couple of his follower tankers. In the background is his “M-48 Patton Tank.” The picture was taken shortly after the 1st Marie Division captured Inchon, North Korea in 1950. Photo Provided

“There were no heaters in a ‘Patton Tank.’ It was extremely cold inside. But the worst thing inside the tank was after firing our 90-mm gun 50 times the smell inside the tank was unbelievable.”

A day or two after their Thanksgiving all hell broke loose for the 1st Marines at the Reservoir. Their division was overrun by a Chinese Army. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers attacked the 25,000 1st Marine Division troops. They pushed the division out of the Reservoir area. The Marines escaped south down a narrow unpaved mountain road back to Hungman fighting the Chinese hordes every step of the way. Along the coast Navy transport was waiting. The haggard Marines, who survived, sailed aboard the fleet back to Pusan, South Korea.

“The big problem at the Reservoir was the 8th Cavalry Division and the 24th and 25 Army Divisions pulled out in the middle of the night before the Chinese attacked us and left the 1st Marine Division’s flank exposed to the enemy. This is where the Chinese hit us and ran us out of the Reservoir.

“I remember when the Chinese attacked it was night and they were blowing bugles. I was behind my 50-cal. machine-gun on my tank’s turret firing as fast as I could. I was mowing people down. There was so many of them and they were everywhere. It was terrible.”

A couple of North Korean soldiers with their hands up surrender to Silver’s tank company near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. His 1st Marine Division was overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of enemy troops at the Reservoir and forced to retreat. Photo provided

This was just the start of a bitter-cold fight for Silver and the other four members of his tank crew during their retreat to the coast and survival.

“The Chinese were attacking our tank with old bolt-action rifles that didn’t have much fire power. They had a very few anti-tank guns and some Russian made tanks that fell apart when they got hit by one of the 90-mm shells from our tank. Their armament was poor, but there was a lot of them.

“The five retreating tanks in my platoon had 30 alive, semi-alive and dead Marines laying on the back of these tanks as we headed toward Hungman. We did’t stop to pick up the dead, that was the responsibility of grave registration. They put ‘em in body bags and hauled their frozen dead bodies back to the coast.

“Our tank company had 20 tanks when we started. We probably lost 16 of them, mostly to land mines, on the way back to the coast. When a ‘Patton Tank’ hits a land mind the assistant driver sitting over an escape hatch in the bottom of the tank has his legs cut off from the blast.

“I had a friend who was an assistant driver who lost both legs in another tank . I carried him to get medical treatment with both legs gone after his tank was disabled. I don’t know if he survived. Most people with injuries like that didn’t make it.

“When our tank reached Hungman I drove my tank right onto the deck of a waiting LCT (Landing Craft Tank). They changed it down to the deck for the trip south to the port of Pusan. Our division regrouped in Pusan and got new tanks. Then we headed for the ‘38th Parallel’ once again.

“By the time we fought our way back up to the ‘Parallel,’ dividing the two Koreas they had started the ‘Peace Talks,’ he said. “We went no further north in Korea. The war was over.”

He still had some of his 5-year hitch in the Marine Corps to serve. Silver was sent to Japan and from there he took a ship back to San Francisco. He got a few weeks leave to g home to Boston then he was assigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C. He was discharged from the Corps in October 1953.

In civilian life he worked for a heavy construction company that built in the Boston area.

“Our firm built the Brigham & Woman’s Hospital and Mass. General Hospital, two of the largest hospitals in the country. After 46 years in the construction business I retired to Venice in 1969 with Joy, my second wife. I have eight children from two marriages: Cheryl, Janet, Jeffrey, Katherine, Mark, Richard, Robert, and Steve.

Name: Larry Silver
D.O.B: 9 July 1929
Hometown: Lynn, Mass.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 15 Sept 1950
Discharged: October 1953
Rank: Tech Sergeant

Commendations: Two purple hearts, Navy medal for heroism, Asiatic Theatre, Korea Conflict, Pacific Theatre, UDT Deployments
Unit: Charley Company 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 2, 2018 and is republished with permission.

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