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Bob Dornfried


The following story, as told by Maura Gaffney of the Berlin CT Citizen, is an account of Bob Dornfried's experiences on Outpost Harry during 1953.  

This article originally appeared in The Berlin Citizen and is reprinted here by permission.

Bob Dornfried (Photo by Bradford)


Dornfried honored friend who didn't make it back

By Maura Gaffney, Special to The Citizen

(Citizen Veterans features stories about our local U.S. military veterans as a tribute to their service and sacrifice.)

There’s a saying among soldiers: “When a combat infantryman dies, he goes straight to heaven, because he’s already spent his time in hell.” Bob Dornfried was an infantryman in the Korean War, and he went through hell with his fellow soldiers on a hill named Outpost (OP) Harry in 1953. Dornfried, 73, still thinks about his experiences in the ‘Forgotten War’ quite often, and he has never forgotten the soldiers with whom he served or the heroes who never came home.

Dornfried enlisted in the Army in 1952, three years after graduating from Berlin High School. He recalled, “After 16 weeks in basic training, I went to Seattle, and then I got a boat ride to Korea.” He was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, Fox Company, 15th Regiment.

Sergeant Dornfried, a machine gunner (and later squad leader), was sent with his unit to defend OP Harry, a hill located in front of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) in an area called the Iron Triangle. The Communist Chinese Forces were positioned only a few hundred yards away on a hill called Star Hill, and Dornfried learned quickly that the enemy was determined to capture OP Harry. “It was the biggest hill from there to Seoul,” he said. “The Chinese really wanted that hill.”

Less than an hour after Dornfried arrived at the MLR, near the base of OP Harry, he heard an announcement over a loudspeaker. “Welcome Fox Company,” it said. The greeting came from the enemy. The woman’s voice continued, “It’s nice to see you guys. Stay alert! We’ll be over to see you some night.”

A few nights later, OP Harry was attacked. Dornfried recalled that when the battle began, he and a fellow machine gunner, named Eugene Young, were in position on top of a bunker at the top of the hill. He explained,

“At nighttime, we would take machine guns out of the bunker and put them on top. Every hour, one of us had to call in to the command post (CP) to check in. So just before 11 p.m. that night, I went down from on top of the bunker and went into the bunker to radio the CP. As I was calling, the bunker lit up. Mortar and artillery rounds were coming in heavily. The Chinese were right at our position. I never made it back to the top of the bunker. They came in right underneath us. I was firing my carbine from the trench line. That fellow, Eugene Young, I never saw him again.”

An estimated 1,200 Chinese soldiers participated in the attack that night, and Dornfried’s unit defending the hill consisted of only 80 men. The battle lasted all night and into the next morning when the Chinese finally withdrew.

“We suffered 70 percent casualties,” said Dornfried. “There were only 20 of us left. That was my initiation.

“The fighting was all at night,” explained Dornfried. “We also did a lot of patrols at night. We were situated up on the hill (ed: correction by Dornfried: 'We did the patrols while stationed on the MLR - not from OP Harry'), so on patrols we would go out into no-man’s land, down into the valley.” One night, he and another soldier went out on patrol stepping over dead bodies as they walked. Dornfried heard gunfire and quickly turned to see that his buddy had shot a Chinese soldier. He said, “The Chinese man had been faking, and he had gotten up on his knees to shoot us. My buddy probably saved my life that night.”

In addition to the artillery and mortar rounds that were fired frequently at Harry, the Chinese launched psychological attacks on a regular basis as well. Dornfried recalled, “They made announcements or played music over the loudspeaker just about every night. One Sunday in May, they said ‘What are you boys doing over here? This is not your war. Your buddies are back home riding with the top down with your girls!’ And then they played Cruising Down the River on a Sunday Afternoon. (a hit song recorded in 1949).”

Dornfried spent four weeks on OP Harry, and the memories have stayed with him for a lifetime. “I used to have nightmares. I saw guys get their heads blown off,” he said, and he remembers the sound of men screaming at an aid station. One night he helped carry a wounded soldier down off the hill on a stretcher. “The wounded man said, I hope ‘I never have to go back on that damn hill,’” recalled Dornfried. He paused and then added, “He didn’t make it.”

“There was never a safe time to be on Outpost Harry,” wrote a fellow OP Harry veteran. “The Greeks had a name for it, and it was called ‘Death Place’. If you served on Harry, you knew that was true.”

“It really wasn’t any picnic over there, but I got through it all,” said Dornfried. When he returned home to Berlin after the war, he discovered that one of his friends, Thomas O’Connell, did not make it through. He had been killed in action in June 1953. “I was friends with Tommy O’Connell in high school,” he said. “I lost track of him, and when I got back (from Korea) I found out that he was killed a few weeks before the end of the war.”

Dornfried never forgot about his friend, and when he later became a builder and was hired to build homes in a subdivision off Orchard Road in Berlin (in the 1990s), he decided to honor his friend in a special way. He named the street O’Connell Drive as a tribute to the young hero. “I named the street after him, because he was a friend of mine. We were in the same war. He was the only fellow from Berlin who lost his life in the Korean War,” he said.

Dornfried was fortunate to survive the war having only received a ‘minor wound’ from shrapnel in his leg. He doesn’t consider himself a hero, but for his ‘meritorious service in military operations in Korea’ he received the Bronze Star medal. The medal reads in part, “Sergeant Dornfried’s aggressive leadership qualities, resourcefulness and calm manner while under fire were an incentive to his men and gained for him their unwavering confidence and cooperation. The smooth operation and dependability of the platoon in combat were largely a result of his relentless efforts and sound, decisive judgment.”

Many of Dornfried’s fellow soldiers on OP Harry received military honors as well. “We had some real good men in our company,” he said proudly. He was honored to serve his country with such a fine group of men and noted that his unit “had the distinction of never losing an inch of ground.”

“With courage, tenacity and faith… we held!” is the motto of the Outpost Harry Survivor’s Association (OPHSA). The veteran’s group was created “to keep all men who were involved in the battles to hold Outpost Harry bonded together in common memory of that action and to honor the many sacrifices made by our comrades.” Many OP Harry veterans write about their horrific experiences on the group’s website (www.ophsa.org) or share their personal stories at the annual OPHSA reunions.

At the 2005 reunion, one OP Harry veteran told a story about a recent trip to the local hardware store. When the veteran brought his items to the register, the clerk noticed scars on his arms. She asked about them, and the veteran told her they were from Korea. The clerk briefly thanked him for his sacrifice, and then the veteran went outside, sat in his car and cried.

Story created Nov 03, 2005 - 09:27:09 EST

© The Berlin Citizen, 2005  All rights reserved


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© Bob Dornfried 2005  All rights reserved