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Hjelm was trained as a radio operator in Army

Joe Todd Historian
Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

This is the second installment of an interview with Army veteran Cliff Hjelm, which Joe Todd conducted on March 11, 2020, in Tulsa.It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

(The interview picks up with Hjelm talking about his arrival in Japan on his way to Korea.)

Todd: What did you do in Japan?

Hjelm: Maybe a little sightseeing and going into department stores. They knew English and could buy anything in the department stores. They had taxi cabs lined up. The guys for the most part were prostitutes and drinking and that, I could not understand. We had a wonderful Southern Baptist chaplain and he was wounded in the offensive. And we had an Episcopal Chaplain and he happened to be going on R&R with us, and when we came back to the ship, he asked, “Hjelm, what did you do on R&R?” I told him I visited missionaries. There were several guys came to me because of their Christian background and were not too happy about the life they lived there in Korea.

T: Where were you based in Japan?

H: It was right around Tokyo.

T: From Japan, you went to Korea?

H: Yes.

T: Where did you land in Korea?

H: Pusan. Interesting enough, it was on April 11 , and the word came out that MacArthur had just been fired on April 11. When we were drafted, this was a rotation deal. Front line time you rotate in six months, long time was 10 or 12 months. I still don’t know if it was the right thing for Truman to do, but I think it was. Emotionally at the time, I was glad to hear it, because I could go home in six months, rather get in involved in World War III. Real quickly after getting off the boat, I was assigned to 3rd Division, 7th Regiment, 2nd Battalion in George Company. I was going to be a radio operator. On the night of the 22nd , that is when we were on the Kansas Line.

T: Was this still in Pusan?

H: No, the Kansas Line was almost in North Korea.

T: How did you get from Pusan up to the Kansas Line?

H: As I recall, it was trucks, but we did some walking too.

T: Had the Chinese already come across?

H: Yes. I was in the command post and we did a lot of perimeter stuff over there. We were not warned what was going to happen or to expect, but I did not take my boots off when I went to bed. I hadn’t had time to mail back my electric razor, my Bible, or my class ring. I was going to mail those back to the states, then the stuff started to fly. That is when we had two or three hours of machine gun and flares being dropped overhead.

T: Where did this happen?

H: On the Kansas Line. I refer to that as my first Bible distribution. Some Chinese stole my Bible my razor and my class ring. I didn’t have a chance to mail it back, we got the word to haul ass.

T: What battle was this?

H: This was the spring offensive. April 22 and 23 of 1951.

T: What did you do during the battle?

H: We were told to leave the command post, and when we left the Chinese were already on top of us. We could hear their voices. Basically, it was every man for himself. It was a total chaos retreat. I got down below the hill and Capt. Best saw me at the bottom of the hill. He asked, “Did little Andy get off the hill?” I said I didn’t know. If he was going to send me back up the hill, that was suicide and I would risk a court martial. He didn’t ask me, he went back up the hill himself, found Little Andy. He had been shot five times. Capt. Best was our executive officer and got him down off that hill and he was restored to health. That is the Medal of Honor stuff. Little Andy had an older brother in our company and he always worried about his little brother. His brother was 23 and Andy was 19. Capt. Best told his brother that he would look out for Andy and that may have been the motivation. We were down there with one tank in our company. Everyone that could loaded on that tank. I was going to pull myself up on the tank and there was a guy wounded. I boosted him up and thought I could get up myself but the tank took off. I was standing there, had never been away from home, and it was 11 days after we landed. I didn’t know what to do and we had one jeep still in the area. The jeep driver was behind the wheel but had been shot, but not mortally wounded. I got in the jeep and we had orders for field of fire, just to shoot. We got out and the next day, we had retreated 42 miles. They broke through and the Marines only retreated about 30y miles. The next day, we had 35 men out of 165. Most of them showed up a day or two later, so we didn’t have a lot of casualties. Sgt. Zenco came to me the next day and said, “Hjelm, you have no idea how lucky you are. I was 12 feet from you and thought you were (an enemy soldier) and was just ready to pull the trigger when I realized it was one of our own men.”

T: What was your job in the unit?

H: I was being trained as a radio operator, but for 11 days, I didn’t have to carry that radio. Then the battle of Chorwon was one of my worst experiences. That was in the spring offensive. Fifty-five of us held the hill. There were snipers and we hit the ground and the guy next to me was shot.

T: What did you do at the Battle of Chorwon?

H: I was a radio operator and called in the jets. Lt. Rhodes was on the ground and had been hit twice. He was a squad leader. He told me he had been hit twice and to call in the jets. I didn’t use his code name, which I was supposed to do, because I was so rattled. I called battalion. The medics came and said Sgt. Quinet had been but killed, but he hadn’t and survived. We didn’t have any leadership at that point and they gave us orders to hold our ground. Easy Company would come up from the rear side. The jets came in at about 200 or 250 miles an hour and they separated us from them by about 100 feet and the empty cartridges came down us and I could have filled my pockets. They were shooting down at us and we were hiding behind a rice paddy banks. The jets napalmed them. It was flat and that napalm would cover the size of a football field. By nightfall, we took prisoners. They were dug in and the napalm went so fast, they survived. Thanks to Easy Company and the jets, we won the Battle of Chorwon. As I recall, Chorwon was in North Korea. After the settlement, we gained thousands of acres. And Chorwon was in South Korea.

T: When was that battle?

H: June 10, 1951. My son in law typed this, “Huge Chinese offensive on the Kansas Line April 22nd and 23rd, 1951. Within three to four hours, we were totally overrun. Our air cooled machine guns gave out from overheating and there was total chaos. We were ordered to retreat, which we did for forty-three miles. We were only able to account for 35 of our 165 men. Most showed up days later. Later was the night fight with the Chinese. Fifty-five men from my platoon and I was one, held off a regiment of Chinese for a seven-hour night fight., we were ready for them. They suffered an estimated 2,000 casualties and many of hose died. These events were documented in the Stars and Stripes, as well as our company being written up in the Saturday Evening Post.”

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