INT: But army isn't marches on its stomach and also on its footwear!
CB: (overlap) On its feet, yes. For sure! (laugh) And I remember this and it was a very serious thing at the time. It made walking just a little bit awkward and in all, we were just poorly equipped to fight a determined enemy, and they were determined, believe me. And they were as I say, they were well trained and tremendously motivated. I can remember once that we captured 2 I'll call 'em kids. They probably weighed 75 to 85 pounds and I had my interpreter bring… I wanted to interview 'em. I wanted to know what they were about. And they were very glad to talk to me and they told me where they came from which is a town in Kaysong and they were both very proud to be soldiers of the People's Army and I talked to them about their training and they told me that they didn't … when they came into the army they didn't have shoes and they weren't wearing shoes at the time and I said, 'well, why not?' and they said, 'well, we don't get shoes until we take them from American soldiers.' I said 'well, how you gonna take them?'. They said 'well, we'll crawl up the on the one of the hills there and when we hear a soldier snoring, then we'll sneak in behind him and' - he reached in, he took out a what looked like a garden trowel except that the slope of the blade had been cut down so that this thing was sort of a stiletto or dagger type thing -- and he said 'well, I'll crawl behind him and I'll mug him and stick this right down that little goozle he's got here and I'll hang onto him until he quits kicking and then I'll go down in the foxhole and I'll take his shoes.' I said 'well, isn't that kind of dangerous?' He said 'sure, it's dangerous but if I can get a pair of shoes, I may have to kill 8 or 10 soldiers because Americans have big feet and I've got smaller feet and I'll have to kill 'em until I can find one whose feet are my size - and I will.' And that was his determination and he probably had and he probably will or did. They were certainly determined and I'd say they were youngsters, maybe 14 half-grown but they were the equivalent of an American weighing 200 pounds. That's what we were up against.
INT: Well, you certainly came up against them at the Yechon, one of the first victories of July
INT: Can you tell us the story of what happened there, the numbers you were up against, how many people were left and so on?
CB: (slight overlap) Well the first mail come in. We'd been in Korea for let's say a week or 10 days and they got some mail and I had a platoon that was supporting the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry and they were in a place called Yechon so I decided I would take the mail up to them and so I got in the vehicle and we drove up there. When I got there I could hear a lot of gunfire down in the town of Yechon, but I couldn't see very much so I climbed a small hill so that I could see the town somewhat and I could see and could assess the fire that was going on. I had been there a few minutes and I saw a column of people some most of them wearing white clothing which was what the farmers wore there and there was a situation where you are a farmer by day and a soldier by night. And I watched them proceeding toward the American vehicles that were parked on a levy but the levy wasn't wide enough for them to be turned around but they had headed down into the town of Yechon and I saw this situation. I said 'well, they appear to be determined and they're heading toward the end of this American column and all they have to do is burn a couple of vehicles and that battalion would have been grounded.' And I considered this thing and I said 'well, the end company of the 24th had left a number of vehicles in the back of one of their trucks and I noticed that as I came by and so I went down and I had the sergeant get his 50 calibre out of there and a 30 calibre weapon as well - machine guns of course - and we carried them up this hill that I had been on previously and as this column had moved in -- by that time they were close under the hill and I said 'I'll fire a few rounds over their heads and if they're soldiers, they'll dig in and somebody will take over and give some signals and that's one situation. The other, if they were farmers, then they would scatter and run.' And they did the former, and so I went to work on them. Oh, I had taken a 30 calibre machine gun also and 2 of their men and we went to work on them. Very shortly a mortar started coming in from the mountain behind them and I got nicked a little bit but not enough to stop me and we destroyed them mostly and then there were a few who didn't surrender and we destroyed the rest of them. That's the first half of that story. Well, finally there came a time that darkness had had fallen and I went back to Kungchan where we were assigned. The next day, word came down that I should send a dozer over to place called Po-Hang as I recall to clean up a beach that had a lot of rubble on it so that the marines could have a comfortable landing. What do they call that oh, there's a term for a marine landings I can't call it to mind. But on the way there, we went right by the battlefield of the day before and very few townspeople were left in Yechon because once a town came under significant fire, the people moved as intelligent people would. They took their kids and whatnot to towns that were not under fire. And they were bringing these bodies up out of the rice paddies down below and they were digging graves by hand and since I had the bulldozer there, I took it off the vehicle and I scooped up a grave for them about 75 to a hundred yards long and 6 or 8 feet deep and maybe 20 feet wide and we buried those people and that was the long and short of that story.
INT: But that went unrecorded and unreported in the official histories for years. Why was that?
CB: I don't really know. The history has in my view has lionised a very few people and ignored everyone else and whatever transpired they've ignored. That's the best excuse that I can give you.
INT: But you were almost given to a lot of our audience it will be a explanation as to why you didn't get due recognition for really overcoming that over 200 people.
CB: Well,Iworked for a man whose name I guess I should not mention but he commanded the regiment and his attitude was -- and he explained this to me -- and this was a man with whom I drank a lot of whisky in those days -- when he had whisky, he'd give me a call and come sundown, we'd toss a few and when I had whisky I did the same with him. And so we were drinking along, we were on the way into North Korea at the time and we stopped on the side of the road for something, that whole convoy had stopped, and we got to talking and he was saying 'you know the general insisted that I put you in for a congressional medal for that thing at Yechon but I disagree with him.' I said 'oh, why?' and he said 'well you know how things are at home and you killed more than John Wayne and Audie Murphy and all these other guys and the American people wouldn't like that. We don't want black people to have heroes. Heroes are troublemakers and so if you had this medal then you'd be able to influence boy scouts and all kind of people and this is not good for us and I've been trained to not let these things happen and I can't let it happen.' So he was telling me in essence that he had failed to forward the recommendation and he had. He'd he obviously had failed. Later on, one of his sergeants told me that he had destroyed it and it hasn't happened yet.
INT: And was he typical of the mentality that didn't want black heroes?
CB: Absolutely. Yes he was. That was one of our problems. We had leadership that was so terribly opposed to blacks being involved and they took every opportunity to down-play their involvement and this was just one of the instances that we had and this was the regimental commander so his attitude went all the way back. We had 13 changes of battalion commanders in the first 90 days. We had 3 regimental commanders in the first 90 days and we had no leadership. So we talk of the ineffectiveness of black soldiers and the reason that we had this ineffectiveness was because we had people who were not leaders and any time it became too hot or too dusty they would go back to division and ask for a change of assignment and they got them. And so we started over all over again with a new brand new battalion commander and that was the nature of the kind of leadership we had in the 24th Infantry regiment. You don't read about his anymore but it's a fact. And the fact is, not only does my book talk about it even the books that the white boys write, they shuffle through this fact that we had these changes of commanders but they don't tell you why, but they were there at the request of the commander who didn't wanna be there and our people didn't perform as well as they should have. They couldn't with the lack of leadership.
INT: And yet as an army, things did turn themselves around in the fall of 1950 and
BREAK IN TAPE
INT: Charles, could you sum up for us the performance of the US army just at the over the summer of 1950 up against a strongly motivated enemy. How did they measure up?
CB: I think they measured up very poorly. The quality of our performance was poor. It was all the way through. Not only in the summer but it was just as poor and in the winter when the Chinese entered the war. I think that the leadership was poor, the field-grade leadership was extremely poor. You know, without good field-grade officers you can't win a war. No war. And we weren't winning anything. Of course in early September when the Inchon invasion came about, this changed things around and I think it put some heart into our army because that was their first real victory and they did very well with that invasion and that carried us up into North Korea and I think we did very well in North Korea until the Chinese entered the war and we collapsed totally and completely. As a matter of fact, we never saw anybody from the division headquarters after Thanksgiving. I don't know where they were. I didn't see any of them. There were at least 3 generals down there I don't know where they were and I never saw one and I can't comment about what they did or didn't do but they weren't up there where the troops were, that's for sure.