By Lt. Col. Russell Goemaere, 2nd ID Public Affairs OfficerJune 7, 2010
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea -- Waving flags, school children and Republic of Korea and U.S. Army Soldiers in full dress uniform greeted veterans of a little known but pivotal battle of the Korean War - the battle of Chipyong-ni, a small town about 90-minutes east of Uijeongbu.
These French, Korean and American veterans, many of whom haven't been back to Korea since the end of the fighting, gathered nearly 60 years later on May 26, 2010, in the small town whose name gave title to the battle, along with their families to commemorate the desperate battle that took place there in February of 1951.
"It was absolutely wonderful to be greeted by all these nice people. We were pleasantly surprised and even thrilled that the people in Chipyong-ni were happy to greet us. We did not expect anything like this," said retired French Army Col. Jacques Bouttin, who served as a junior officer in the battle.
"In many ways 60 years seems like a long time ago, but in other ways it seems like it was yesterday," said retired Col. William G. Gallivan of the Korean War Veterans Association, who served as a platoon leader. "It was three hard nights here, and we were successful and turned the Chinese back. It was the most important battle I participated in."
A Republic of Korea Army honor guard and band honored the veterans with presentations of the national anthems of all three nations. With iron straight precision the veterans presented hand salutes as the lyrics of each national anthem echoed off the lush green hills that surround the now peaceful battlefield.
However, the scene was anything but peaceful in 1951. In mid-February of that year, then Lt. Gen. Matthew Ridgway, Eighth Army commander, was concerned that a potential seam in United Nations lines might develop if the rail and communication crossroads of Chipyong-ni fell to attacking Chinese forces. He needed the ground held and he ordered Col. Paul Freeman and his 23rd Regimental Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division to hold with his unique force of American, French and Korean troops.
Freeman ordered his relatively small command of about 5,400 Soldiers to dig deep and prepare their positions as he organized the perimeter defense around the town.
Ridgway promised close air support, illumination, aerial resupply and quick relief from the 5th U.S. Cavalry that was attacking from the south. Meanwhile, the Chinese Phantom Army under Gen. Lin Pao with nine divisions and 90,000 Soldiers had quickly surrounded the town.
Lt. Col. Lynn Freeman, no relation to the regimental CO, who was then a 1st Lt. and company executive officer, the regimental reserve, provided some personal insight into the battle.
"Upon arrival to the town, we were ordered to take a hill on the outskirts of the town. As we attacked up the hill we immediately ran into Chinese and we fought with them for the better part of a day until Colonel Freeman ordered us back into the perimeter defense he was developing," said the battle hardened veteran who earned a battlefield commission in World War II.
The ability of the 23rd RCT to defend against an aggressive and well-organized force was quickly put to the test.
"We had mines placed in front of our positions and we used a lot of foo gas (a mixture of explosives and napalm usually set in a fifty-gallon drum) in our line, and the Air Force dropped napalm on the last day, attacking Chinese very effectively," said Freeman who wrote the official after action report, March 13, 1951, which is now in the 2nd ID museum on Camp Red Cloud.
Nearly 60 years later, more than 900 Korean Soldiers from the ROKA 20th Division, put on a dramatic 30 minute re-enactment of the three day battle on the actual ground in which the French took position. Waves of Soldiers dressed in period quilted Chinese uniforms, carrying flags, poured out of the wood line while some 800 men stood at the French line.
The Chinese were immediately hit with simulated direct and indirect fire. UH-1 helicopters simulated the aerial resupply that took place during the battle and brought needed supplies to the French re-enactors, after each phase of the attack failed and the fight continued. The field was littered with re-enactors posing as dead Chinese Soldiers providing a stark sense of what the battlefield looked like following each attack.
One local Korean who visited the battlefield a few days after the battle shared that he saw thousands of dead Chinese Soldiers. "They were everywhere, piled in great heaps," he said.