North Korea/Hamhung/Chosin Reservoir/December 1950
By: James R. Stegall 1950-51 1st Lt. 49th F.A. Bn ,7th Infantry Div. Korea
Now: Major US Army, Retired - Austin Texas
The 17th Regiment, of which the 49th Field Artillery Battalion was a part of, had
withdrawn from the Yalu River and rejoined the other units of the 7th Infantry Division in
the Hamhung/Hungnam area. The Chinese Army had surrounded the Chosin Reservoir so
the only way in was by air. At Hamhung our troops held a perimeter around Hamhung and
the road about half way up to the Chosin Reservoir. The Division aviation section was
already flying into the Chosin perimeter taking medical supplies up and bringing back
walking wounded. We could only bring out one with each plane but every little bit helped
in this desperate situation. I joined this operation and had flown into the Chosin about
seven times. This was a climb of about 5000 feet to the Chosin and it was bitter cold.
The weather at Hamhung was about freezing but at the Chosin Reservoir it was around
zero in the daytime and 20 below at night. For this flight I was carrying a five gallon
container of blood plasma. As I started my climb I could see Chinese soldiers all over the
country side. Some would look up and others were just milling around. No one seemed
interested in firing at me. I climbed to around 5,000 feet and was near my destination
when suddenly, my engine quit. No chance to restart as the L-4 is a hand prop job. My
only thought was that I must glide back to where our troops were on the main road that
goes from the Chosin to Hamhung. I was in a glide for ten or fifteen minutes and had our
forward position along the road in view and I could tell I could make it. Of course there
was no landing area so I turned back into the North wind and as I neared the ground I
picked out two trees to crash into. The right wing hit first then the left and the plane
dropped to the ground.
As I sat there dazed I looked up and saw soldiers running towards me - friendly GIís -
thank goodness. I had crashed right beside the 92nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion -
the forward most unit along the main road. They got me out and escorted me over to their
headquarters. They notified my unit that I was safe but there was no way to send me back
as all the traffic would be moving up not back. I remained with them for about a week.
During this time we disassembled what was left of my plane. The fuselage was tied onto
the top of a half track and one wing was tied to the side of the kitchen truck (2 1/2 ton).
The other wing was demolished and was left there in North Korea. These were great guys
and a great combat unit. They took good care of me.
The Marines had broken out of the Chosen perimeter and were advancing along the main
highway toward our position. We (the 92nd AFA Bn) would fall in behind the Marines
when they cleared our position. We watched as the Marines came by. It was a heart
rending site. Bedraggled troops came by with their dead comrades on hoods of trucks and
across howitzer barrels - any place they could put them.
I was given a carbine and assigned to ride in a 2 1/2 ton truck. Our convoy fell in after the
Marines had cleared. The guns on the armored vehicles were lowered to direct fire - like a
rifle. It was an imposing sight so the 92nd had little trouble along the corridor back to
Hamhung. The 3rd Infantry troops were on each side of the road and the hills above the
road to keep the road open. They then fell in behind our unit and left the road to the
Chinese Army. We proceeded to the perimeter of Hamhung - Hungnam. I was delivered
back to my unit along with the fuselage and wing. However, we were evacuating the area
by ship and the fuselage and wing were burned and destroyed. We loaded on ships around
the 22nd of December, 1950. Back to Pusan where we regrouped and started North again.
One of the things I remember on the ship was a long hot shower - the first in quite a while.