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Prelude to Kapyong
by Joe Shields 32182 3RAR
I was a member of 3 section, 4 platoon, B Company. My section leader was Clem Kealy and 2 i/cs Specs Raffen.
We were sent forward as a standing patrol, forward of the rest of the company and almost opposite A company. My mate Bob Harley and I were put in position on the side of the knoll looking down onto the road, an excellent place to watch the proceedings. We settled in and dug a bit of a pit, the ground was too hard to dig deep. We then enjoyed a bottle of beer between us and a cigarette or two before dark. Little did we know that we were to be there for as long as we were, some four hours.
Things were quiet for a while, the lull before the storm, but a fifty-percent stand-to was ordered because we didn't know what to expect. After a while refugees started to trickle down the road and this was soon to become a flood. Intermingled with the refugees were a lot of the R.O.K. Division who had been heavily attacked by the Chinese and had retreated at the double.
The Chinese used this exodus as a means of infiltration but at this time they did not show their hand and got through to battalion headquarters. From then on things hotted up and we were told to keep our eyes open.
When the firing started, Bob said to me, "Keep your head down Joe." I replied, "You don't have to tell me, they're getting a bit close." Bob had served in WWII and was an experienced soldier. From then on we watched what was transpiring down below and remained motionless with rifles at the ready.
The Chinese were getting stuck into "A" company and I thought that our turn would soon come. Fortunately they left us alone, but did put in a probing attack on "B" company, which was stopped dead.
Although Bob and I kept our eyes peeled, something happened, that when I found out, nearly died of fright. Apparently a couple of Chinese got to within ten or twenty yards of us, they didn't see us and we didn't see them. I guess we were lucky, because if they had seen us, the whole section would have been attacked and I reckon I wouldn't be writing this.
Around 10 o'clock or thereabouts, Clem decided to move out and join the rest of the platoon. Bob and I didn't get the message and we were nearly left behind. Specs came to us and said, "Move NOW.' We didn't need to be told a second time and just had time to grab our rifles and ammo, leaving behind a second bottle of beer which we didn't have time to drink. I'm sure the Chows were appreciative of this.
So ended our standing patrol that could have been a disaster. I was very glad to join the rest of the platoon and let the nervous system settle down.
The next morning, one of the MMG section told us that they nearly shot us up as we made our way in to join the platoon. They had us in their sights but were warned just in time who we were. Another lucky break.
So ended the most nerve racking hours I had in Korea, but as we all know now, there was more to come over the next twenty four hours.
First Published in The Voice, April 2003