INT: Charles, can you tell us a bit about the speed of the advance north towards the Yalu and the fact that units would be strung out on the road and what sort of consequences that had when the Chinese hit in force and there was a pull-back south in some haste and disorder?
CB: Well, as I mentioned, I didn't see anyone from the divisions at all and the regiments were cross the Chong Tongchon river battalions were across the river and they had it was an American move toward the Yalu river. As a result of this the lack of top leadership left us without the concerted movement which probably would have been futile also because the Chinese were across the river by then and in great numbers, so that when the time came and the regimental commanders determined that the thing to do was to withdraw, and I think that these were independent movements or decisions the Chinese took advantage of it and they crossed also and they crossed in great numbers and we lost thousands of men. The Second Division for example lost battalions. The 24th Infantry lost a company. It was a disaster and it was a leaderless disaster and I can't I'm not aware of any other movement of Americans that were as futile as that rout was and it was a rout.
INT: The fact that the US Army tended to keep to the roads whereas the Chinese could move around on the hills, now how much did that contribute to a jam-up of vehicles, people getting trapped, one route south getting overloaded?
CB: I think it's tremendous. Again, your leadership provides the decision to go overland or to go by roads and roads appeared to be the most expeditious way of leaving there. As it turns out, it wasn't necessarily so because the roads were jammed and it didn't take much to stop the free flow and we had a disastrous situation. Again, no leadership.
INT: We'll move on to when the leadership did improve, when Ridgeway took over. Can you describe what sort of impact that had?
CB: Well, go back to the Imjin river and when the Chinese crossed the river because the ice was strong enough to support them. They came across in great numbers and we yielded in great numbers and we ran as far as Yan Dang Po and from there over to Pyon-Tek and Su-Wan and that was as far as the Chinese were able to follow us, fortunately. We just they ran out of steam and they were on foot and they had no supplies. They weren't able to follow us in force. Their leadership failed them also and they weren't able to move against us. General Ridgeway took over and the first thing he did was provide edible food because before that, except for Thanksgiving Day, that our food had been poor, all the way through. Soldiers have to eat and they have to eat that's one of the most important single items that they have to have is food that they like, that they feel good with. Ridgeway took care of that and he employed a tactic that worked very well. He had a rather sawed line of battalions and he would every day send a battalion out for a mile and they'd set up camp and then, came sundown, they'd go back to their original positions. A day or two later, they'd go maybe 2, 3 miles out and come back and they were moving against Chinese every time they moved forward and they were able to wreak quite a bit of havoc on the Chinese and it put some spine back in the Americans as well. This worked and it worked very well and there came a time when the Americans felt confident in moving against the Chinese and the Chinese were their supply line by then is three or four hundred miles long and they didn't have the ability to reinforce themselves and this worked to their devastation.
INT: Can you summarise for us the kind of effect on troop morale that Ridgeway's arrival had?
CB: His arrival I think made very little difference but the things that he did in pretty short order I think had a lot to do with morale and I'm convinced that the morale improved rather rapidly after he arrived there but the mere name of Ridgeway didn't do anything. I think the average soldier knew very little about him initially but they learned a lot about him in short order.
INT: How much was he responsible for consolidation and.
CB: (overlap) Totally. (laugh) He was he was totally
INT: When you say that, can you just say that again and mention Ridgeway in your answer 'cos we won't know who 'he' is.
CB: Well, Ridgeway was the general who took over the command of 8th Army and he when he took over, he started making things happenand the morale of the troops went up very rapidly and their successes went up accordingly,and the Chinese, I say, were their supply lines were so long, you know, that they just weren't able to work effectively against us as they had been previously and the soldiers recognised this and they responded accordingly.
INT: Well, this is our last big question area that the thing we're working on a series on the Cold War and this is the first hot war, only hot war. Can you give us a kind of summary of the standard of the US facing Korean and Chinese army in the first 6 months of the war, how the US coped with the first hot war since World War II.
CB: Well, I think that they coped very poorly the first 6 months with the exception of course of the Inchon invasion which was highly successful and based on that, they were able to move northward into well past the 38th parallel and into North Korea and within a very few miles of the Yalu river based on the success at Inchon which I think was the high point of the American involvement there, that is in Korea.
INT: Can we just stop there for a moment and see if there's anything that we
BREAK IN TAPE
INT: Can you tell us about 'bug out fever'. What was it, what did it mean?
CB: Well, I heard it first over in Korea and it meant that an organisation had left its position. For example, on Battle Mountain, the 24th Infantry won and lost that mountain 19 times. When they left it units that were not under pressure came up with the term 'bug out', meaning that you left your position. (laugh) They and 'bug out' to me meant just that - that you had left your position and the enemy had taken it over. The fact that you went back the next day and took it back over was meaningless. But this did happen. It happened again, lack of leadership. If your battalion commander's up there and you can hear his voice over the fire and whatnot, you know that he's there and that you had better be there too. If you don't hear any voice because he has abandoned you, then troops are subject to bug out. They knew, they just without leadership, they're not gonna be there and I don't care whether you're talking about I don't care whose army you're talking about. The troops must know that their leadership is there, and providing leadership. Now whether it's a voice over guns or whatever, or you've got to see him, but you've gotta know that he is there. We didn't have that and we had occasions when our positions were lost and they were lost because the guy who should've been there wasn't there or he was hunkered down some place, hiding, but he wasn't up there doing his job. And it's difficult to command a battalion. You're talking about a guy that's responsible for a thousand men and it takes a lot of guts, it takes a lot of perception, it takes a lot of a lot of things and everybody can't do it and we had people who didn't do it and we blame the troops for what they didn't do but without leadership, they will not, they cannot do it and 'bug out' was the term that was used - not against 8th army - but it was against black units.
INT: Did white units bug out?
CB: Oh, of course! But they didn't use the term for them. (laugh)
INT: What did they use for white units that left their positions?
CB: (slight overlap) We didn't discuss that. We didn't discuss that at all.
INT: On a more reflective note for this interview, I knew from reading your book that 258 people got wiped out at Yechon
CB: (overlap) Uh-huh.
INT: Who were maybe and if there hadn't been an invasion would've been tending their rice paddies.
INT: How much does that come back to you? Do you dream about it?
INT: What goes through your mind when you think about that occasion.
CB: (overlap) Well.
INT: (overlap) You are, after all, you're a soldier, that's your job.
CB: True, but we'd've had a better world if they had been farming and I'd been farming. We'd have a helluva lot better world. Yeah, I used to have bad thoughts about it but that was long ago.
INT: Not now?
BACKGROUND PERSON: Did you used to have nightmares?
CB: Yeah, I can I could feel
CB: Yeah, I used to have nightmares. I could feel 10,000 Chinese walking over my chest, you know, but I don't have that anymore. I sleep well, I think. I didn't mean for this to happen. (Voice breaks with emotion) I guess I don't sleep so well.
INT: It's always a conflict for a soldier.
CB: I guess.
INT: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH LT COL CHARLES BUSSEY