SAMUEL E. HOOVER JR.

First Lieutenant | Field Artillery

The assortment of transportation awaiting the artillerymen in Pusan was not the typical compliment of identical drab Army vehicles, but an eccentric parade of leftover Japanese trucks and yellow busses that appeared as though they would not make it out of the port city on wobbly wheels and sputtering engines.  Pushing doubts aside, they departed for their destination and made it slowly up the countryside through villages and over narrow dirt roads.  A lanky young officer pulled on a cigarette observing the local populace gathering outside their homes to wish the Americans well, embodying hope among the troops rushed over from Japan.  It was a genial welcome that showed a purpose for they the Americans were there, but it would not be long before these same Koreans would abandon their homes and flee south as the war tore through their towns and villages.

 

In the madness to move combat troops to Korea, Lieutenant Hoover had been transferred from the 13th Field Artillery’s Headquarters Battery to A Battery as a forward observer to provide support for the desperate infantry companies.  For most of the month, however, he worked as a battery staff assistant from their first action at the Kum River fight and into Taejon on the afternoon of July 17th where the forward artillery was overrun.  It was the beginning of a long series of breaking out of encirclement and bolting south to secure positions, each infantry regiment taking turns on the defense and slowly wearing down in number and stamina, but the artillery was ever present to support without break from the face of the enemy.  When they reached the southern outskirts of the city, Lieutenants Hoover, Coles and Harrity were called on within A Battery to continue supporting the 21st Infantry.  Their comrades Cody, Coomer and Nattras left for B Battery to provide observers for those who had been lost and were forced to fight through the burning streets to reach safety.  Hoover was fortunate to be with the 21st who were spared much of the struggle for the overrun city.

A fresh rain soothed the heat on the afternoon July 21st, the first sin six days, and Cody and Hoover accompanied 21st companies on the left side of the road.  They spent the night hunched under ponchos and slept as rain poured off their helmets.  The next morning, while keeping eyes on a blown concrete bridge at the boundary of the defense plain, Sam spotted about fifty men walking along the road.  Fidgeting with his handset ready to call in a strike, he realized the weary looking group were stragglers from the 34th Infantry and quickly radioed for vehicles to pick them up.  They were battered and exhausted, lacking equipment and helmets that were frequently discarded in the oppressive heat, and several were wounded.  In moments a small convoy of vehicles sped toward the bridge.  They forded the stream lazily and without conversation boarded the waiting vehicles, relieved to be off their feet and on the way to safety and a warm meal.  A radio call came in, this time it was Cody and Coles celebrating – the 1st Cavalry had arrived to relieve the 24th Division.  They had been online for days without any idea of when relief would come, and it was finally here.  “We should all get down on our knees and thank God,” were Hoover’s tender words for the situation.  The observers reflected quietly for only a moment before continuing to rejoice from their separate hills before their liaison, DeLorimier broke the transmissions to warn them not to leave their posts until officially relieved, meaning a battery of the cavalry’s artillery was in place and a base point fired.

 

*

 

After Taejon and a quick promotion to First Lieutenant, Hoover transferred to B Battery to run the fire direction center as their operations officer and double as assistant executive.  These changes were not as quick to follow on paper, where it appeared that he was still a second lieutenant in A Battery.  Such was the atmosphere in those days when all hands were pulled to the line in desperate resistance against the North Korean onslaught.  At the Naktong River line, the artillery battalions of the 24th Division mustered only seventeen 105s and twelve 155s to cover a thirty-two-mile front defended by equally sparse infantry units.  In the early morning hours of August 6th, red and yellow flares arced against a half moon casting a blooming light over the Naktong.  The amber glow radiated as far as B Battery’s fire direction center and within two hours spattering gunfire sounded from between the hills in 34th Infantry area.  A call from the infantry alerted the battery that the Koreans had penetrated I and L Companies and the artillerymen were at risk of being encircled.  They waited anxiously until about eight in the morning when the sounds of small arms between them and the 11th Field was too close to ignore, so a party of twenty men went out to investigate.  They returned to Obong-ni ridge before nine, reporting no encounter with the enemy.  About the same time, a few khaki uniformed troops appeared on a hill to their left.  A few commented that they looked like ROK troops, but when more climbed over the crest on the right and cut loose a machine gun into the battery area it became quite clear that they were North Koreans.  The battery commander got on the phone to report they were encircled and a hail of mortars marked the beginning of a pulverizing barrage.  Ten minutes later communications went out.

A second and third machinegun raked over bamboo thickets as the artillerymen scrambled to defend themselves.  One of the battery’s Bofors rolled in and ripped 40mm rounds into the hills allowing some infantry to escape with their wounded, but others were stopped at roadblocks and forced to abandon their vehicles.  Hoover began tearing down the fire direction center which was little more than a collection of maps and charts on folding tables.  As he stuffed the hastily folded documents into cases, he saw his communications sergeant James Andrews hit in the leg and abdomen by mortar fragments.  He quickly dropped the articles he was handling and ran to aid his sergeant, but he never made it.

 

Sam stumbled as the next explosion hurled shrapnel into his left side, stinging his face, back and legs and sending one nasty bit through his shoulder that immediately began seeping blood.  He pushed himself up before any pain set in and made it to where Andrews was lying.  He fumbled for a field dressing when he felt a flow of blood down his side that began to saturate his fatigue shirt and a surge of anxiety overtook him when he realized the hole in his bony shoulder was internally much more serious than he thought.  He did not remember many events after that.

One of B Battery’s heroes from the breakout through Taejon once again reacted with bravery and commandeered an unattended ambulance left behind by the infantry.  As the gunfire and mortar barrages continued to increase, Marvin Koppelman drove into the battery area in time to discover Andrews rolled over Hoover pressing desperately on his shoulder.  The lieutenant was becoming rather pale and cool despite the morning heat.  Koppelman pulled both of them into the ambulance and continued to add wounded men to the truck during the hour it took to pull out of the battery area.  It was an agonizing six hours from the time Sam was wounded before he reached a hospital, during which time he required seven pints of blood to replace what he lost from the severed artery that medics could not ligate in the field.

The next several days passed quickly as Sam moved from one hospital to another as the state of his wound continued to escalate.  Within a week, gangrene had set in and his hand was dying even though the doctors had repaired his brachial artery.  With no recourse, after a week in Tokyo they had to amputate his forearm and he was flown home where he would undergo a second amputation above the elbow along with months of operations and rehabilitation with a prosthetic arm. Despite the trauma he endured during his month in combat, the lieutenant felt fortunate to have survived expressing with a genuine grin that "An arm was a good trade for the life of a fellow soldier."

Sources:

“WBAH Patient Who Lost Arm In Korea Gets Bronze Star.” El Paso Times, 14 Sept. 1950, p. 15.
Harrity, Ralph Derr. Q Clan: The First Summer of the Korean Conflict, June-September 1950, a Lieutenant's Memoir. Dorrance Pub. Co., 2005.
United States, Command Reports – 24th Infantry Division, July - August 1950.  Record Group 407: Army-AG Command Reports, 1949-54. National Archives at College Park, MD

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