LAWRENCE S. BRICE
Captain | Armor
The Navy armada carrying the elements of the V Amphibious Corps moved painfully slow through the reefs fringing the tropical islands. On board ship, Lieutenant "Jiggs" Brice was working as a communication officer with the Corps signal battalion. It had been barely over a year since he joined the Marine Corps in February 1943, but he held a great deal of experience and education that accelerated his progression through basic and Officer Candidate School. He already had military experience, with a haircut to match that his college friends called a whiffle top. It was so suitable for the Marines that he has the same style for his basic photo, unlike so many other recruits who had full heads of hair aggressively shaved off. He may have been subjected to this indoctrination as well, but at least within the few months it took to complete boot camp he had his classic brush cut back.
He had a solid three years in the National Guard prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, and a degree from Washington College that he earned in 1942 while living with his father at his sister Isabelle’s home. After Lawrence’s mother’s death in 1937, he and his father moved in with Isabelle, her husband, and toddler daughter. It was likely his parents imbued the value of education and determination. Brice’s mother was a school teacher for 25 years until her death at the age of 45 and his father a fisherman out of the bay. For the year following school, he worked as an engineering aide at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He was intelligent and independent, but always congenial and sincere. Between his attitude and stature, he embodied the idea of what a Marine officer was cut from.
A few years later, Brice changed branches and joined the Army. In 1950, he and seven other officers with 81 NCOs and enlisted men were reassigned from the 3d Armored Cavalry in Maryland to Tank Company, 65th Infantry Regiment, a predominantly Puerto Rican unit of soldiers led by non-Hispanic "continental" officers. The 3d Division - slated to head to the Far East - was dramatically understrength and the 30th Infantry had been stripped to cadre strength to flesh out the 7th and 15th Regiments. The 65th Infantry was recommended to fulfill the slot of the third infantry regiment along with the 64th Tank Bn., 58th Armored Field Artillery, and 999th Armored Field Artillery. The latter three units were mostly black troops led by white officers. The combination of these units made the 3d Division the most racially diverse division in the Army.
With seventeen refitted Sherman tanks of World War II vintage, the company departed on September 15 from Seattle on the USS General A. W. Greely. The 65th Infantry, ahead of the Tank Company, stopped briefly at Sasaebo before steaming on to Korea. Brice and Tank Company were delayed another four days after the Greely broke down at sea while the rest of the regiment disembarked at Pusan on September 23. Finally, by the second week of October, the tank company and other straggling elements of the regiment arrived in Korea, now attached to the 25th Division near Waegwan-Kumch'on. The troops were still sweating through still steamy days though the nights were beginning to cool as autumn was upon the Korean peninsula.
For the remainder of the month, the regiment developed their skills and became accustomed to the unforgiving Korean terrain. For the majority of the soldiers who were native to Puerto Rico, the landscape was harsh and the dropping temperatures were unusual. They were still fighting in summer weight fatigues and they began to demand warmer clothing. By the end of the month the 65th Infantry had moved as far north as Hamch'ang, inflicting significant losses on the enemy and sustaining 38 battle casualties. MacArthur praised the unit, stating they showed "magnificent ability and courage in field operations" and were a credit to Puerto Rico.
Reassigned to the 3d Division, the regiment departed for Wonsan on November 2 to support operations planned for northeast Korea. The regiment was to trek to Yonghung, 35 miles north of Wonsan, and then move 70 miles west with other X Corps units to make contact with the 8th Army's right flank. The first elements arrived at Yonghung on November 6 and set up camp to wait for the rest of the regiment, including Tank Company with Brice. Within 48 hours the lead elements had already made contact with the enemy at Yonghung. Despite a number of set backs, the regiment pushed north west, consistently making contact with enemy forces - they never did make it as far as the planned destination in the west. Struggling with the dropping temperatures and lack of winter clothing, 3d Division command requested an expedited delivery of cold weather gear and on November 17 finally received the shipment to combat the subzero temperatures. Their assignment of rear area security during the month of November was more combat action than the intended police and security tasks originally intended for the X Corps rear guard. In reality, they defended the Wonson perimeter, constantly engaging the enemy. The 65th Infantry led the way, progressively releasing pressure from the 1st Marine Division in the Hamhung area.
The final days of November saw the beginning of the battle for the Chosin reservoir when the Chinese kicked off their massive offensive against X Corps, virtually annihilating the units located around the reservoir north of the 3d Division in Yonghung. Despite attacks to most of the units in the area, the 65th Infantry's sector remained quiet. In addition to fighting the enemy, the 3d Division had to deal with confusion in command as well as the terrible weather conditions, though they were now sufficiently equipped with cold weather gear.
Perhaps the only advantage to the dropping temperatures was the rice paddies, now freezing over, were trafficable for the tanks. This opened a vast amount of terrain - where tanks could normally only traverse through the mountains via the few roads, they could now travel freely. Though these freezing conditions offered new avenues of transport, there were many areas of ice that caused trouble for even the tracked vehicles. If they remained parked for too long, their tracks would fuse to the frozen ground, so logs had to be placed beneath the tanks to keep them mobile.
By December 4, the 3d Division had moved to Hamhung to relieve and cover the retreating 7th Division and 1st Marine Division. They knew little of what was happening to their north, but neither did X Corps command. The 31st RCT of the 7th Division was breaking out from their entrapment at the Chosin reservoir, fighting bitterly to survive. Few men barely made it to friendly lines. The Marines, on the east side, made a victorious yet battered move to the south. The 65th Infantry caught some of the same heavy blows from the advancing Chinese forces.
Platoons from Tank Company were deployed to reinforce the front line regiments after they had taken heavy beatings from Chinese chasing the retreating Marines and 7th Division. The success of the 65th Infantry supported the withdrawal south to form a tighter perimeter and eventually beginning evacuation. By December 24, all 3d Division units had boarded Navy transports and were en-route to Pusan. The 3d Division was responsible for protecting and supporting what is now considered the largest beachhead evacuation in U.S. military history. The cold and tired troops of the 65th Infantry finally stopped shivering when the Navy furnished hot showers, warm beds, and hearty meals.
The division moved toward Seoul on January 4 after only a few days of rest and re-equipment. After 230 miles they arrived at Suwon, driving through a 22 hour blizzard on their chilly journey.
In preparation for Operation Exploitation, the 65th Infantry moved north on Route 55, covering the division’s left flank. No one knew if the Chinese had secured positions at the Han River, and it appeared that the small units they met were only screening forces. Despite their small numbers, the enemy refused to budge as the 3d Division tried to reach the banks of the Han. In their path lay several roadblocks and minefields, raked by machine guns, mortars and artillery from the watchful eyes of the Chinese. On January 27, one day before the operation launched, Lieutenant Brice was leading a task force along the route. The tanks led to clear such roadblocks and were the driving force for the main infantry following behind.
Tracks bit into the frozen ground along Route 55, occasionally sliding on a layer of ice. Upon reaching a roadblock at the base of a steep hill, enemy fire lit up the small column. Men riding the tanks jumped off and rolled to the ground as bullets ricocheted off the steel hides and ripped into the frosty earth. They returned fire at an invisible foe, buried somewhere in the white hills before them. The tankers ducked into their armor and swept the land with machine gun fire. Unable to overrun the roadblock with his tanks due to the steepness of the terrain and unable to determine the exact location of the well-concealed enemy, Lieutenant Brice completely exposed himself in an effort to draw the hostile fire and reveal the enemy positions. His selfless action enabled his force to destroy the disclosed enemy positions and to neutralize the road block. He was terribly wounded under two weeks later when his jeep ran over a land mine, destroying his lower right leg, fracturing his left foot, ankle and shin, and peppering the rest of his body up to his right eye. He ended up losing his right leg and spent many months recovering after he returned to the United States for treatment. He received the Bronze Star Medal for his heroism on January 27, 1951 and continued to serve in the Army for several years after Korea.
A scene of a 24th Division tank column in which a battalion commander has been wounded after his jeep hit a landmine. The scene illustrates very closely what occured when Lieutenant Brice was wounded the same way.