Legendary Korean War veteran visits battlefield after 63 years
June 12, 2014
YEOJU, South Korea (June 12, 2014) -- Retired Col. Ramon M. Padilla, a Korean War veteran, visited Hill 296 on June 5, to reminisce his momentous battle 63 years ago.
Visiting the hill was the main purpose of his visit to Korea, which also included him attending the Eighth Army Birthday Ball and visiting Seoul National Cemetery, the War Memorial Center, the Joint Security Area, and Camp Red Cloud.
After attending the welcoming ceremony hosted by Yeoju City, Padilla and other Korean War Veterans who attended the ceremony, proceeded to climb Hill 296. Despite his age and knee pain, Padilla pushed himself to the top of the hill, determined as he was to properly relive the battle that meant so much to him.
The climb was a grueling one for Padilla and other Korean War vets, but his eyes were full of lively enthusiasm as he wondrously observed how much the place had changed.
"There used to be no trees, not a single one on this hill," said Padilla, as he observed the lush vegetation of the hill. "When we rolled grenades down the hill, they would go on rolling and rolling."
The Battle of Hill 296 was one of the bloodiest battles in the Korean War. Although Padilla and Company L were driven off by the communist forces, they eventually recaptured and held the hill; Padilla played an instrumental role by single-handedly taking out the communist forces that were firing on his fellow Soldiers.
"I can't tell you how many people I'd shot; it doesn't matter," said Padilla. "But I know that I had made a difference, since many of my friends lived and the enemy had been removed. That's the important thing -- I removed the enemy, (my friends) were safe."
After two hours of climbing and searching, he finally found the bird's nest that he fought in 63 years ago, which brought a joyous smile on his face.
"I'm really glad that I found the place that I was looking for," Padilla said. "It is exactly the place that my colleague showed me in a picture 20 years ago. I've really found it."
This trip was only made possible through bonds of friendship, that between Padilla and Retired Col. Benjamin Buckley, both graduates of Command and General Staff College, and between Buckley and Retired Col. Kim Young-soo, who had served together at I Corps, ROK/U.S. Group in Uijeongbu. Living in Korea, Kim had exchanged emails with Buckley for months and coordinated the trip.
"You're among friends," advised Padilla to the Soldiers of Eighth Army. "Learn something about (the Korean) culture. And just like you would to any friend, take pride in being with them and serving with them."
Padilla was born on Sept. 1, 1931, in Los Angeles. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1949, and joined Company L, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, as a rifleman in the Pusan Perimeter, in August 1950. Then-Pfc. Padilla was an outstanding battlefield leader and fighter, and was quickly promoted up through the ranks to master sergeant. He was seriously wounded in July, but returned to duty and completed his tour.
He was later promoted to sergeant major, and was the youngest sergeant major in the Army at the time. He later attended the Officer Candidate School, fought in the Vietnam War, retired from active duty as a lieutenant colonel, and was promoted to colonel in the Army Reserves. Padilla currently resides in Alabama.