Veterans' Stories

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Hill 217

by Don Scally 5400148 3RAR

Don Scally was part of South Korea's Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs 2009 invitational return to Korea for veterans disabled in the conflict. He and his daughter went as guests of the MPVA in September. This is his story of how he came to sustain his wounds.

I arrived in Pusan from Japan along with three of my friends, Graham Nicol, Arthur Buchan and Norman Cowie. We spent a day and a night there and met up with my older brother who had arrived in Pusan a few days before me. We were part of a group of reinforcements for the King's Own Scottish Borderers.

We travelled north and joined the battalion. Arthur and Norman went to A Company while Graham and I were posted to 4th platoon, B Company. 4th platoon was mainly engaged in day patrols into No Man's Land, crossing the Imjin River by flat bottom boats, and returning before sunset. However, some of these incursions spilled over into a second day, which meant we were out there overnight.

The enemy heavily mortared us as we returned from one of these patrols. It is a terrible feeling seeing the black smoke from the exploding bombs and knowing you have to advance through it. Graham took a direct hit and died instantly. In the chaos, the confusion, amid the smoke and noise, there was nothing we could do for him. Tears welled in my eyes, but like the rest, I pressed on. His body was later recovered and is buried in Pusan.

We continued to do patrols in No Man's Land, and for a few weeks in October 1951, both A and B Company were part of the Commonwealth Division Command's operation to capture Hill 355. The assault began on the 2nd, and by the 4th the hill was firmly in Battalion hands.

Bad news travels fast, and word soon reached me that Arthur died in the fighting and Norman was wounded, losing his left leg. This was devastating news, but I didn't have much time to dwell on it.

The following day our commanders ordered the Battalion off the hill and onto our next objective: Hill 217. We approached it under constant mortar fire and this time it was my turn to go down. Shrapnel tore into my body and legs, sending me to the ground. I tried to get up but my legs would not take my weight. Two South Korean porters lifted me onto a stretcher and my journey down began.

The hill was too steep to allow the bearers to carry the stretcher normally. Instead, they dragged it from the front with the two back handles trailing on the ground. I hung on with my left arm until we reached the casualty clearance station. The pain first hit me when they put green gauze over the wounds on my back. After that, the morphine they pumped into me kicked in.

Carried to a helicopter, I was strapped to the outside and flown to a MASH clearing station. My last memory was being bundled onto an operating table. When I woke, I was on a train pulling into Kura railway station in Japan. I remained in hospital there for six months. If not for the quick evacuation from the battlefield I would have died. To the South Korean porters who lugged me off the hill and the helicopter pilot who flew me out, I give my sincere thanks and eternal gratitude.

It may have been a stroke of luck that I never reached Hill 217. A few weeks later, on the 4th November, an attack by the Chinese on Hill 217 killed 18 men from my company. My platoon commander, Lieutenant McMillan Scott, was one of the soldiers who died. His body was never recovered.

First Published in The Voice, October 2009