James Tate, Veteran of Heartbreak Ridge
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A young man, in his late teens, lies in a military medical installation in Puson, Korea recovering from wounds he received while fighting the battle of Heartbreak Ridge. This is 1951 and the U.S. is involved in the 'Police Action' later known as the Korean War to help preserve the freedom of South Korea. She was overrun by Communist troops from North Korea in June, 1950 and our men from the U.S. would be involved until an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. This was an especially difficult war to fight as most days were either freezing cold, or rain fell incessantly on other days.
As Jim Tate, from Backstrop, Louisiana, lay in a makeshift hospital, he reminisced about the bloody battle he had just encountered. As he thought, he brought to mind his uncle Woodrow who had helped raise him as a child. The following letter is the result of his remembrance of the hardships he and his fellow G.I.'s had to face. This is the reality of battle from one who had just encountered the same!
Oct. 13, 1951
I thought I would write and find out how you are. Me, I'm fine! At least I am better off than usual. I'm in a hospital about 300 miles from the front lines. Naturally, being that far from Combat, I feel very good. I was lucky enough to get a slight wound and get a few days rest. The first time I got wounded, I only got four or five days. This time, I'll get a little longer. A piece (shrapnel) of hand grenade lodged somewhere in my leg, right at the knee. They are going to operate on it soon.
Woody, I don't know if I wrote to you last, or not, but I don't remember your last letter. Don't stop writing because getting letters from friends is the biggest half of a G.I.'s morale. Probably won't be back to my company for two weeks, but I hope I have a lot of mail waiting on me. Maybe they'll send it to me here. Maybe I'll go on to Japan, I hope so. I get the Purple Heart for this wound. Maybe if I get wounded twice more, I'll get a state-side wound, if I'm lucky! The nurse says, "stay in bed", but I slip out and go to the mess hall and P.X. to eat. Ha!
Woody, how is Grandmother and daddy? Fine I hope. How is the service station business now? Not much headache, I hope! Woody, how has mother been getting along, in your opinion? I hear from them but she wouldn't say she is sick unless she is real sick! I worry about you people back there even though I am dodging the bullets! Ha!
Woody, if only everyone back there couls spend 24 hours in combat and then be placed back in the safety of the U.S., I know we would have a lot of good people in the U.S. If a person ever has thought any of (about) religion, he really thinks about it while he is standing in a foxhole waiting for an enemy to throw a grenade in the dark and we give thanks to God that we live hour after hours and day after day. I shows a guy how little he had to moan and groan about while in civilian life. Maybe I'll make it back to explain a lot of this to you folks. I pray I will!
The first two weeks in combat was fun and exciting! Now it is just exciting and anything but fun! After a man seed his entire Company almost wiped out, either killed or wounded, the he realizes how terrible war is! A person can die and to to hell just as quick and just as easy as he can get wounded. The thing that enters a person's mind when he sees a buddy die is not how short a life the boy lived, but he thinks, 'Is he going up or down? Then you wish everybody else, and especially yourself, could have been saved before you came over here in combat.
Well, maybe I am not talking so you can understand, and I feel "like a pup trying to teach an old dog", Ha! So I'll shut up and tell you a true combat story. You keep the facts within trustworthy people because it would make the Commies happy to hear they are doing some damage. I'll grant you they are not doing the damage we are doing, though! They haven't got the artillery and air power we have, thank God! Hold on for a minute while I slip out and to to supper!
Okay, I'm back again. The medic just came by and said I go to Japan tomorrow. Yippee, Yippee! Ha! You call up and tell mother, please! But tell her to write to me at the same address. Maybe I'll be there a few days, maybe two or three weeks. The longer the better! Ha!
We'll, I was going to tell you a combat story, so here it is: You see, I came into the Company on "Bloody Ridge" which you probably heard about. We took that objective after 30 days fighting, of which I only saw the last few days of. Then we were relieved for 5 days to rest. By the fifth day the Big Brass had overlooked a few peaks on a mountain ridge which we later named Heartbreak Ridge. My Battalion moved out to take the first peak without too much trouble then there was a platoon objective. My platoon went at it in a too-sure manner. Some of our own machine guns, which the (Communists) had found started spitting lead at us. We had no good route of attack so we pulled back. But ze Company C.O., (a Frenchman) said "go back and take ze peak" Ha! So, we are mad and we go back and take the peak! It surprised us, we didn't have any resistance except machine gun fire from a hundred yds. peak to our right. The (enemy) had backed up. We soon found out why! They 'lobbed' us with mortar shells as soon as we got on the peak! (The one we had just taken). We had a full platoon, but in two minutes there were twenty-seven wounded and five dead! Thank God, I didn't get a hit. The ones of us that didn't get hit and the rest of our Company spent the next twelve hours taking wounded down the mountain. My Company Commander and all the platoon leaders were hit within 24 hours. The other two Companies were over to our right on their ridge. They lost a good many too! But the same night, me and about twenty other men from all three companies had to hold the ridge at least until they got all the wounded down the next day. The (enemy) hit us with hand grenades almost all night! With God's help, I made the night without getting hit. The next morning we took count. We had two more kids killed in action, which were in the foxhole beside me, and a few more wounded! There were (North Korean and Chinese soldiers) lying in front of us!
Well, they didn't counterattack the next day but they keep throwing mortar at us. They have a very limited supply of mortars and don't think our artillery and mortars wasn't giving them a lot of trouble too. Well, I made the mistake of getting out of my bunker and wham! one of their mortar shells hit by me. I got it in the end (rear)! Ha! On the left cheek of the end! So, after 4hours walking and 1 hour riding, I got to the aid station.I was down the hill four days, I think. The Communists counterattacked for two nights. We held our ground and took some more every day. The fourth day, my Co. had 18 men left on the ridge, so they merged with the other two companies which were bigger than our company. Then a bunch of us wounded guys were able to go back to duty so they separate companies again. We had a full 70 men left out of the 212 we started out with. We finished taking the other finger of our objective. Me, I was point man! Man, was I sweating! We didn't have that much resistance, I was glad of it too!
We sat still for about 4 days, then while the 23rd Regiment was taking the last few hills on Heartbreak Ridge. Well, before they completed, we came down the hill for three days rest. Then, (I don't know why) we were sent over to the west of Heartbreak ridge, about 5 miles to take a few more hills. (Man, there ain't nothing but hills!) There are three rifle battalions in a Regiment. Each battalion was given a hill to take in this case. Well, this time my Co. was behind and the other two assaulted the hill and took it by losing half their men (mostly wounded). Each company had only about half as many as they were supposed to have since we hadn't had any replacements yet! Then they were pushed back off the biggest finger of the hill by a counterattack, so my company (still 73 men) had to take the finger. Our platoon, of about 25 men, try to take it and the Chinese pushed them back with several wounded and one of my best buddies killed. Then, the other platoon, of about 40 men, get out of their holes and start to move out. Wham! The Chinese throw mortar in on us and knock out most of the men. This was 9 o'clock Tuesday morning. Then we call an air strike to knock out their mortars. Then my platoon, of which I was assistant squad leader, we go after the fingers. There were only sixteen men and one officer and platoon leader in my platoon. Well, we did not get pushed back. When we ran up the first peak they threw about 70 hand grenades down at us. They had the 'burp guns' down on us too! We stopped just a minute because we couldn't go through the grenade barrage. We just stood and fired. Then, my platoon sarge goes down, hit in the leg by grenade shrapnel. Then everybody stops moving and I saw we were about ready to run back, so I run out in front and let out a big western yell and send a pray to God and go on leading the boys in the Bonsai attack. Everybody was letting out the big western yells by then with our spirits high. The same time a guy falls behind me hit by a slug from a burp gun and also my platoon leader, Lt. Ellis, rushes out in front of me and takes the lead. Am I glad! Ha! Then, wham! I look at my left leg and from the knee down it is wet with blood. "Well, well, a few days rest" I think to myself and keep firing at some running Chinese! I had to stop then because of my leg and had a big thrill watching my buddies finish taking the finger of the hill. Total, 6 men wounded and none killed. We would not have did it if the air strike hadn't knocked out those machine guns the Chinese had. Man, that Lt. can throw hand grenades farther than any man I ever saw! He got more with grenades than I did with my rifle. When he reached the end of the ridge he turned to the 10 men behind him and said, "Well men, there is your hill" and turned back to make his report. But the damn best thing that happened -our maching gunner, Jack Jones, from Alabama and his assistant from Hawaii walked up the hill firing the machine gun. He had it in his hands and his assistant walked beside him and held the ammo belt. Ha! Man, they really sprayed that mountain. Our platoon runner, a kid of 17, threw down his radio and picked up an M1 and went right along with the Lt. He'd burnt up the M1 and grabbed a carbine before he reached the end of the finger. Those men deserve a medal for bravery. The Lt. the platoon runner, and the machine gun crew could have stayed in back, but they were first!
Well Woody, you probably have heard some big war stories but I'll vouch for this one.
Me and the sarge hobbled 4 hours getting back to the aid station….
I read in the paper this evening where the 23rd Regiment took the last Hill of Heartbreak Ridge.
Your Nephew, James
Unfortunately, the rest of the letter is blurred and cannot be deciphered. It is shown by records that this man, James Tate, indeed got his Purple Heart w OLC, Combat Infantry Badge KSM w/2 Brnz. Stars, U.N. service medal, Nat. Def. Svc. Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Scars from his battles, and the gratitude of many U.S. Citizens. It is the service of these young men, who are willing to give their life if needed, that makes the difference whether our country remains free or will be taken over by some other country. Included with this article are, his Honorable Discharge from the Army, and a photo of him and a buddy in Hawaii before going on to Korea. He was written a letter of commendation from the Commanding General of the 2nd Batallion for his participation on Heartbreak Ridge.
Thank You, Tech. Sgt.Jim Tate, and all those who served with you on the lonely hills of Korea! Sgt. Tate has since passed away with the honor of his family, friends, and attendees at his funeral!