The 65th Infantry Regiment at  
Jackson Heights, Korea
by Lieutenant Colonel
Baltazar (Bart) Soto

Part 1: Company G
Introduction: - The Story - G Company
    When writing about the combat history of the 65th Infantry Regiment in 1952 it is impossible, to avoid controversy. Although it has been almost 50 years now, there are still emotional scars about what happened. Strong feelings are still deeply felt by the 65th Veterans of today. There are disagreements and contradictory information. This story is my best effort at analyzing all the available information.
    In 1898, the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War. As a result of the war, Spain relinquished its claim to the island. In 1917, Puerto Ricans were made American Citizens when the U.S. passed the Jones Act. Since then Puerto Ricans have the unique position of being Latin Americans and U.S. citizens. I use the term Continental in this story to describe a U.S. American citizen from the United States, since the term American has come to mean a U.S. citizen, and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens also.
    The U.S. Army of 1952 was still a partially segregated organization reflecting American society at the time. Racial beliefs and customs of the time were very different than they are today. In 1952 many Continentals felt they were superior to other people because of their skin color. This was the state of race relations at the time and is a historical fact.
    Puerto Ricans are difficult to classify racially as White, Black, or Indian. There is no Puerto Rican race, but several races and a blend of races. Anyone who has visited Puerto Rico will be surprised to find some of us who are White but who do not speak English, some who are as Black as Africans, others have the appearance of an Indian, and still others have an appearance somewhere in between.
    There is a military history saying that "Victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan". Everyone wants to take the credit for victory and no one wants the blame for defeat. The Army has published its version of events on its official history of the Korean War from 1952-1953. The book is called, "Truce Tent and Fighting Front", which has recently been posted on the Internet. It is time the complete story of the 65th Veterans is also told !
    As a cadet I learned, "there are no bad units, only bad leaders". The story of the 65th is also a lesson on the impact of U.S. Army leadership decisions on the lives of the combat soldiers of a unit composed mostly of minority soldiers. These decisions, especially the defense of isolated outposts at all costs, and the rotation policy, had an adverse effect on the combat efficiency of the Regiment. It was short hundreds of NCO'S at all levels, from the Squad to the Battalion command structure.
    I hope that the reader will understand better what happened to the soldiers of the 65th Infantry in 1952 during the Korean War. Since I have served in the U.S. Army for 25 years, both in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, I had the honor to lead both Continental and Puerto Rican soldiers. I believe I understand both sides of the story.

The story
After the 65th Infantry Regiment was engaged in the battle for Outpost Kelly (17-24 September 1952), it was pulled off the front line and ordered into an intensive retraining program by the 3rd Division Commander. The regiment had suffered over 500 casualties. Due to the regiment's failure to hold and recapture Outpost Kelly, the Puerto Rican Regimental Commander, Colonel (COL) Juan Cesar Cordero, was quietly relieved of command on 10 October and replaced by a Continental Commander, Colonel Chester B. De Gavre.
    A meeting was held at the regimental command post that evening to welcome the new Regimental Commander. In attendance were the Battalion Commanders and Regimental staff. There was a discussion on what to do to improve things after the regiment's poor performance during the battle for Outpost Kelly. Many officers used this opportunity to complain about their perceptions of the Puerto Rican soldiers "lack of discipline" and "will to fight", and severely criticized the previous Puerto Rican Regimental Commander. The Commander of the 2nd Battalion, Carlos Betances, a Regular Army Lieutenant Colonel and the senior Puerto Rican officer remaining in the regiment, was disgusted by the dishonorable "back-stabbing" behavior of many of the regiment's officers.
    It seemed everything was wrong. Officers were blaming all the regiment's problems on the Puerto Rican soldiers themselves and the previous Puerto Rican Regimental Commander. He thought he was seeing " a portrait of the dirtiest disloyalty I had ever seen in my life". One of the Continental officers of the Regimental Staff  thought of an old saying, "it is a poor carpenter who blames his tools".
    One suggestion advanced by the Continental Regimental Executive Officer, LTC Clayton C. Craig, was for all the Puerto Rican soldiers to shave their mustaches off until they could "prove they were real men". When the second Battalion Commander heard of this order, he spoke personally with COL De Garve, disagreeing with the idea. He pointed out that an order for the soldiers to shave off their mustaches would be very destructive to the morale of the Puerto Rican soldiers. He explained that in a Continental unit, the order would be received more or less well. In a Puerto Rican unit, where 90% of the men wear mustaches as a cultural trait, it would be humiliating and interpreted by the soldiers as a challenge to their manhood and as discrimination, since Continental soldiers in the other regiments were allowed to wear mustaches. Col De Gavre refused to change his mind.
    The 2nd Battalion Commander had an ominous feeling. Had he made a bad first impression with the new commander? Now it appeared the Regimental Exec had the new commander's  favor. That same Regimental Executive Officer had also refused to allow Puerto Rican officers the use of the regimental shower facility.
    The three battalion Chaplains visited with COL De Gavre to explain the important cultural and religious implication to the Puerto Rican soldier of their mustaches. To the soldiers their mustaches represented masculinity and maturity. This advice was ignored.
    When the order, that everyone must shave off their mustaches, was finally issued to the regiment, a spirit of rebellion spread throughout the unit. Many soldiers absolutely refused to follow the order. Soldiers were given one week to comply or face the charges of a court-martial.
Many waited until the last minute, then complied to avoid prosecution.
    It appears that the Non-Commissioned Officers, were affected the most by the mustache order. An eyewitness saw the Enlisted Men openly laughing at the NCO's once they had shaved. So not only the pride, but also the prestige of the few NCO's was effected.
    Shortly afterward, other orders were issued which added to the destruction of the morale of the regiment. Soldiers noted that the rations had changed. The soldiers normally ate rice and beans with their hot meal that was sent to the front each day. The ration was changed to potatoes and hot dogs. The order was also given that the word "Borinqueneers" was to be removed from the regimental jeeps. "Borinqueneers"  is the name the Regiment selected for itself to identify the unit and derived from the native Indian name for Puerto Rico, "Borinquen". The troops immediately began to speculate that the new Regimental Commander obviously disliked Puerto Ricans and was trying to punish them.
    The regiment was still in an intense training program when it was ordered back into the line to replace the Republic of Korea (ROK) 51st Infantry Regiment of the ROK 9th Infantry Division. The ROK's had been heavily engaged in combat with the Chinese and were in danger of collapsing. On the night of 24/25 October the regiment moved into a position on the east side of the Chorwan valley with its right flank resting in the area just south of hill 391.

G Company
  Captain (CPT) George D. Jackson and his G Company, 2nd Battalion, 65th Infantry, were given the mission of replacing the ROK Infantry Battalion located in the area. The exhausted ROK Major commanding the remnants of his battalion was surprised that only CPT Jackson's company was sent to relieve his battered battalion. Shortly after midnight, 25 October, G Company took control of the position from the ROK's. The ROK's left behind 16 dead soldiers whom they could not evacuate, not a great morale booster for the new troops sent to defend the position. An ammo dump of 600 rounds of 60mm mortar rounds was also left behind by the ROK's. This was to prove "a most important asset" later in the battle according to CPT Jackson.
    When daylight came that first morning of 25 October, CPT Jackson began supervising the fortification of the position. They were promptly clobbered by Chinese artillery, taking several casualties. He discovered the entire area his company was defending was under total observation by the Chinese to his immediate front on Iron Horse Mountain. To his front right was a part of the same mountain ridge known as "Camel Back", and enemy observation was possible across the Chorwan valley to the west. CPT Jackson then determined to work on fortifications at dawn and dusk, during times of reduced visibility, maintain 100% security at night and try to rest his men during the day with squad security only.
    The high ground or "heights" Company G was occupying was a part of a finger (Hill 391) extending southwest from the Camel Back ridge. It was solid granite rock. It was impossible to dig a foxhole or a trench. All fortifications had to be built above ground by stacking rocks around some of the natural depressions in the rock and placing the few available logs for overhead cover. In this manner, a few "bunkers" were constructed, one in each platoon, one for the Company Command Post, and one for the Artillery Forward Observer. Unfortunately, only enough lumber or engineer materials were available to construct a hand full of bunkers. The average soldier had to find cover behind a rock or depression the best he could laying out in the open.
    The supply of this exposed position was extremely difficult. The heights were over two and a half kilometers in front of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) and the trail leading to it was under total enemy observation. CPT Jackson found himself forced to defend a position with both flanks in the air and easily attacked from the rear at night. He was so far forward and exposed that his medics would not risk evacuating the wounded. CPT Jackson knew he could not afford to use his remaining men to evacuate the wounded, so he waited for the daily "choggy" supply party. Due to the efforts of the Battalion Commander, and his staff, the isolated outpost was resupplied with water, rations, grenades, and flares on a daily basis. The wounded were evacuated. Unfortunately, there was no additional engineer support, barbed wire, or materials to improve the fighting positions.
    When it became dark, CPT Jackson immediately established Listening Post (LP) with field telephones around the principal avenues of approach. In this way, the LP's could call for mortar barrages by the company 60 mm mortars. Each night the Chinese would inevitably launch a probe or two of their position. They were met by a mortar barrage, hand grenades, and defensive fires. G Company soon found out they were totally dependent on their own organic weapons, particularly their machine guns and mortars.
Supporting fires from the MLR were not accurate and could not reach the areas he needed hit as fast as his own company firepower.
    For the first two days the artillery was able to provide him some supporting fires during the defense of the outpost. Unfortunately, the artillery was slow to respond to a fire mission, and due to an ammunition shortage, not enough artillery fire was available.
    The heroic and stubborn defense of the lonely outpost was observed by a Stars and Stripes reporter. He quickly called the position "Jackson Heights" after the brave soldiers of G Company and its heroic Commander, George Jackson. It was a sharp example of the gallantry of the Puerto Rican soldier, who in the most adverse combat conditions held to his mission, while under-gunned, against superior forces, poor artillery support and direct enemy observation and fields of fire.
    G Company obstinately held on and fought off night attacks from every direction. On the last day things became even more difficult and hopeless.
    The chinese began to shell the position intermittently all day on 27 October with artillery, mortar, and direct fire 76 mm guns. CPT Jackson could not determine exactly where the fire was coming from, except that it seemed to be coming from every direction. His 60 mm ammo dump caught fire twice that day. Despite the shelling the soldiers courageously risked their live to put the fires out.
    The situation was becoming critical. Casualties were mounting, and morale began to drop. The soldiers realized that something was terribly wrong. They were the targets of uninterrupted enemy harassing fire all day long. Since they could not see their well-camoflauged enemy they could not fire back. Their calls for counter battery fires were ignored, due to the ammo shortage.
    Some of the soldiers sensed the truth and began to think, "Why are we here except to give our lives?" Many remembered what had happened to B Company on Kelly Hill just one month ago. "Battling Baker" Company had been totally annihilated defending out post Kelly. Only a handful of badly wounded survivors managed to crawl back to the MLR. G Company soldiers, occupying the MLR facing kelly, had all personally witnessed it.
    CPT Jackson sensed the big assault would come that night and prepared his men the best he could. He assembled his leaders and gave his order. Several asked about withdrawing but CPT Jackson used the excuse of not leaving behind their wounded to motivate the soldiers to stay on the position and complete the mission.
    65th soldiers on the MLR could observe what was happening  that last day with the steady registration and bombardment of Jackson Heights. Because of the shelling, Battalion could not risk a supply mission during daylight and prepared to resupply when it became dark. At approximately six O'clock it was dark, but before a supply effort could be made, the soldiers on the MLR witnessed G Company defend Jackson Heights from yet another Chinese attack proceeded by another heavy enemy artillery barrage. G Company listening post had discovered the Chinese massing in their assault positions and called in their own company mortars stopping the attack.
    At approximately nine that night, Jackson Heights was subjected to an enormous artillery barrage. Two eyewitnesses described it as the worst bombardment they had ever witnessed in their Army careers. One described it as looking like a 4th of July fireworks celebration. It lasted for about 20-30 minutes and it is estimated that Jackson Heights was hit by 1,000 rounds. When the pounding ceased, all of the bunkers were on fire providing and eerie light. Unfortunately, CPT Jackson received word that he had lost the heroic leader of the weapons platoon, Lt. Manuel Rodriguez Rodriguez and all his company mortars and his ammo dump had been wiped out.
    The 65th soldiers on the MLR watching this horrifying show collectively held their breath for the inevitable Chinese attack that would finish off the survivors. Was this going to be another Kelly Hill?
     Soldiers on the MLR cheered when suddenly a stubborn and courageous machine gunner opened fire and mowed down the Chinese as they assaulted. It was a miracle, some G Company soldiers had survived that horrific artillery barrage and more survivors joined in the desperate fight. Rifle, hand grenade, and BAR fire joined with the machine gunner. G Company was not finished yet and had a lot of fight left in them.
    CPT Jackson requested all available fires around the heights to help beat off the mass attack of at least two reinforced Chinese companies. The artillery was miserly in its support. Now when it was needed the most, it was not available in quantity to repel the enemy. G Company was left to defend itself. The Chinese artillery barrage had severely damaged the defenders of the heights.
    The internal company wire communications had been cut to pieces by enemy shells. The only communications CPT Jackson had was to use a runner between his platoons.
    Soldiers were ordered out of whatever shelter they had to place well aimed fire on the assaulting enemy. During the confusion of this frantic battle, someone in G Company with a radio was able to contact Battalion Headquarters, claimed only three people were still alive in their platoon, and requested they be authorized to withdraw. The Battalion Commander knowing that all communications between platoons had been cut, ordered this platoon to withdraw. CPT Jackson was away from the Company Command Post at the time helping to rally his men and help organize the defense. This order was interpreted by all the platoons monitoring the radio net to be a withdrawal order for the entire company while G Company was in close combat.
    When Cpt Jackson obtained word of the withdrawal order he attempted to contact Battalion on the radio to confirm the order. He was  unable to contact the Battalion Commander and decided to follow his last order and withdraw his battered company the best way he could. Since the Chinese had tried to cut them off from the MLR yet G Company would not surrender or give up. They were going to fight their way out.
    At one point, CPT Jackson had to pull his 45 and shoot his way out of an encounter with Chinese soldiers. He slipped and slid down the steep slope, becoming separated from his men. Jackson still managed to join one of the retreating platoons and was one of the last men in the company to make it back to the MLR.
    During those three days and four nights, G Company had held Jackson Heights, only 89 of 150 men made it back to friendly lines.
    In the next few days, a disaster would  befall the Regiment, which would lead to the Puerto Rican soldiers being blamed for its failures and the largest mass court-martials in the Korean War. The regiment would later be integrated and the troops dispersed throughout Eighth Army. The heroic initial battles and sacrifices of the soldiers of G Company, just days before would be eclipsed and forgotten.

In part 2 of this story I will explain what happened on 28 October 1952, a date burned into the memory of several  65th Veterans.

    Note: The above story was prepared based on copies of historical reports at the National Archives, personal accounts, letters from the period given to the author, books on the Korean War, by both Continental and Puerto Rican Authors, and personal interviews with the Korean War Veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment. I have deliberately removed the names of some of the Veterans to protect their privacy. I am solely responsible for the content of this story.

The author, Lieutenant Colonel Baltazar (Bart) Soto, is a 1976 graduate of the ROTC and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. He is a U.S. Army Reserve Officer and graduate of the Command and General Staff College.
Part 2
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