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Claude Williams

The Napalm detail

Click here for an audio recording of Claude's comments in wma format or mp3 format.  Refer to page 6 of the S2/S3 Journal to see entry in the report of the use of this device.

 I had spent the last 36 years involved with my family and friends, occasionally wondering if my experiences in Korea were real or imagined. The only thing that stuck in my sub-conscious was the compressed air sound of incoming mortar rounds that managed to wake me up on occasion. Eventually that all went, in time, for which I am grateful to God.

It was in 1989, through a friend from Texas who dropped by, I found the name of Americo (Chic) Pellegrini listed in his Society of the 3rd Infantry Division Association Membership Roster. A letter and a phone call later we were rehashing some events that brought back many memories, bad and good. We had both worked on the Napalm Detail together in late April and early May 1953. 

It had been decided that 55 gal. drums would be placed down the slope from the front trench on the right flank of the hill. I was told that initially the drums were be filled with the napalm before they were installed. That idea was abandoned. It proved to be difficult as the slope was steep and the soil was soft and churned up. We found digging was easy with just a shovel. In fact, as time permitted, I dug a small fox hole not far from the drums. I am thankful I had not needed it as we had no incoming at that point. Occasionally a small flare would go up and I remember trying to stand motionless until the light went out. I still wonder how great an idea that was. Tree stumps sometimes would seem to move.

The East slope (right flank) of Outpost Harry looking North toward Star.  The CCF trench from Star is clearly shown in this view 
(Photo by Chic Pellegrini)

Once the drums were dug in we began hauling full 5 gal. cans down the slope from the trench above, over the concertina wire to the drums. Transferring the thick napalm to the drums proved to be slow. Later on, a compressed air bottle was tried. I did not like it because it made too much noise. I believe that was abandoned, also.

One night Ralph Sheppard and I were filling the drums and taking turns carrying the cans up and down. I foolishly left my M-1 Rifle with Ralph and climbed up to the trench. While I was there a patrol got into a firefight down below. Almost immediately mortar rounds began coming in on top of the hill. Ralph was up the hill in no time and we watched the firefight. I remember thinking the Chinese burp guns sounded like 2-cycle mower engines. I thought that with their rate of fire I would prefer to have one, especially as close as those guys seemed to be to each other. A while later some G.I.s from back on the MLR joined the skirmish. I could not see them as they approached but I could sure hear them as they sounded like wild Indians. I found out later that one of our truck drivers had to talk fast or he would have been sent out with these guys. 

Some time before the 7th of May I was taken off the napalm job and sent over to a bunker site to work. This was over the hill and on the west side. I was there when Dewey Gosnell and Francisco Negron-Perez were wounded, on the 7th of May. 

My first conversation with Chic Pellegrini back in 1989, he reminded me of something I had forgotten. It was that I stayed back at the company to attend the Protestant Chapel Service. This was on the night of 9 May 1953. The Chinese fired 5 or 6 mortar rounds down where the napalm was being transferred to drums. Chic was straddling a drum when the first round hit. Sheppard, standing by the concertina wire, was hit on his side by the first round and remained standing. Shrapnel from the second hit Chic. He was able to help Sheppard up the hill. He said Joe Manley was at the trench when he got there.

Lt. Al Heeger was hit, also. Al, many years later said he was trying to cover his face with his arms and his flak vest was shredded. He came close to losing his leg and argued that it not be amputated. He spent nine months in Japan recovering. 

Ferrazzano was also wounded and this was said about him. He and one of our medics never hit it off too well and they were known to have had words. When he called for the medic he said, "MEDIC!" and when he didn't get there right away, he said, "MEDIC, YOU OLD WHORE!" (This is by no means a slam at the medics. I admired them for tending to the wounded while the rounds kept coming in. You just expected to hear a call for a medic immediately after the round hit).

Since I was not there that night I hope I am not misquoting anybody. There have been times that I have had to fight off some guilt when I have thought about my friends who suffered wounds and I didn't share that experience with them. Mind and body both suffer, however. Some of it never heals.

The six weeks that our C Company was working on Harry came to an end after 16 May 1953, I am sure because I was there when the 65th Inf Regt took over from the 15th. I remembered that date every year from that time on even though I thought of it little in between. I got different messages from different people about that night. I thought the 65th really looked good. An aircraft dropped flares along with the starshells from artillery. A large bunker with two apertures provided protection for several of us engineers until a second hit smoked us out of it. Had we not placed sandbags in the apertures we could have been burned. Back in September of 1998 former Lt Heeger told me this bunker was his idea. In June of 2002 former Sgt Harold Dunham told me that he was working with Lyman Scott on this same bunker on 27 April 1953 when Scott was hit. By May 16 the field of fire had not as yet been dug out. I then went around the trench toward the center and spent several hours with the infantry in a new machine gun bunker. We did not move off the hill till well after daybreak. We carried the body of an infantry soldier down with us on a stretcher. Near the MLR I could not take my eyes off a beautiful green bush off to the left side of the road.

When we got back to the company area Lt. Lichtenberg gave us a pep talk. He said we would not have to go back on Harry much longer. I liked that.

Some time later I was helping my squad leader, Chuck Seeman and Sfc Dewey Gosnell on a new road job. Dewey was back from the hospital and still looked pale to me. A newly arrived 2nd Lieutenant, Ivan Mechtly and his driver, John Stokes, had just come back from a visit to OP Harry. The lieutenant was excited over having been there. My thought was if I never saw it again that might be too soon.

It was o/a 6 June 1953 that my Company Commander, 1st Lt Lichtenberg and his driver, Stokes stopped at my work site. The lieutenant asked me if I had worked on the napalm on OP Harry, and my first thought was that he wanted to tell me how successful it had been. To my surprise he asked me if I would go up with him that evening to hook it up. Remembering my friends who had been wounded earlier I felt no desire to go. I could not imagine refusing to do it. Though I had been drafted for two years I had always believed it was right for me to serve and I had a good feeling about it. ( For me it had been a conscious decision to go in for two years rather than to serve for three or more in either the Army or the Air Force National Guard ).

When I entered the CP 1st Sgt Daniels lectured me about the finer points of closing the door properly. It seemed that Platoon Leader 2nd Lt Eugene Markle was the one I and a corporal would accompany to OP Harry. I was needed to help locate the drums and I was just not real sure I could. We rode up in the lieutenant's jeep to the Regimental HQ bunker while he talked to a major, I believe. We looked at a terrain layout map that was 3-dimensional. When I talked to Gene in May of 1997 he said he did not remember the map or our trip up there. Later on he remembered things he had said to Lt. Lichtenberg when we got back to C Company.

When we looked down the slope it was obvious that diggings from above had covered the drums. By now we had a young infantry private with us to guard us while we worked. He was obviously happy to be there with us. My first thought was, his M-1 Rifle was little comfort to me as I figured that Joe Chink had us zeroed in with his 61mm mortar.

Once we located a drum, the corporal placed the C-3, the primacord, the w-p grenade, etc. and Lt. Markle ran the wires up to the bunker. By that time, a second drum was found, hooked up, and the lieutenant ran it up the hill. It literally went like clockwork until it was all finished. To this day, I can still picture the lieutenant climbing the slope. 

Inside the bunker, the wires were wrapped around nails, and wires could be selectively touched to the battery terminals. (Somewhat crude, but it would probably work). The lieutenant mentioned this to the Co Commander, and his concern that it should be done a better way.

When Lt. Lichtenberg and Lt. Riley, shown in the photo at right, went up on the 10th of June with a crew, the wires were then run to a Command Bunker, using a terminal and hand crank telephone. As Lt Lichtenberg put it, he was on one side of the hill and Riley on the other, hollering at each other. (The picture of Lt. Francis Riley above was taken by Martin Markley)

They got their guys off the hill, the trumpets sounded, then came the attack and the Infantry set off the Napalm.

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ęCopyright 2002 Claude Williams