by Lieutenant Colonel
Baltazar (Bart) Soto The 65th Infantry Regiment
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
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
in this story to describe a U.S. American citizen from the United
since the term American has come to mean a U.S. citizen, and Puerto
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
from 1952-1953. The book is called, "Truce Tent and Fighting Front",
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.
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
The regiment had suffered over 500 casualties. Due to the regiment's
to hold and recapture Outpost Kelly, the Puerto Rican Regimental
Colonel (COL) Juan Cesar Cordero, was quietly relieved of command on 10
October and replaced by a Continental Commander, Colonel Chester B. De
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
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
their hot meal that was sent to the front each day. The ration was
to potatoes and hot dogs. The order was also given that the word
was to be removed from the regimental jeeps. "Borinqueneers" is
name the Regiment selected for itself to identify the unit and derived
the native Indian name for Puerto Rico, "Borinquen". The troops
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.
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
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.
was to prove "a most important asset" later in the battle according to
When daylight came that first
morning of 25 October, CPT Jackson began supervising the fortification
position. They were promptly clobbered by Chinese artillery, taking
casualties. He discovered the entire area his company was defending was
under total observation by the Chinese to his immediate front on Iron
Mountain. To his front right was a part of the same mountain ridge
as "Camel Back", and enemy observation was possible across the Chorwan
valley to the west. CPT Jackson then determined to work on
at dawn and dusk, during times of reduced visibility, maintain 100%
at night and try to rest his men during the day with squad security
The high ground or "heights"
Company G was occupying was a part of a finger (Hill 391) extending
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
a few "bunkers" were constructed, one in each platoon, one for the
Command Post, and one for the Artillery Forward Observer.
only enough lumber or engineer materials were available to construct a
hand full of bunkers. The average soldier had to find cover behind a
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
it was under total enemy observation. CPT Jackson found himself forced
to defend a position with both flanks in the air and easily attacked
the rear at night. He was so far forward and exposed that his medics
not risk evacuating the wounded. CPT Jackson knew he could not afford
use his remaining men to evacuate the wounded, so he waited for the
"choggy" supply party. Due to the efforts of the Battalion Commander,
his staff, the isolated outpost was resupplied with water, rations,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
At approximately six O'clock it was dark, but before a supply effort
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
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
contact Battalion Headquarters, claimed only three people were still
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
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
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
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