OTTO F. KRONE

Sergeant | Infantry

 

For many young soldiers, an assignment to clerk typist school saved their lives when war erupted.  Rather than peering over edges of foxholes or bunkers, they served dutifully in the field behind a typewriter at a headquarters of battalion or regiment – the larger the unit the further from the front one got.   Regardless, fate knows no bounds in war and distance does not determine safety.  Neither does occupational specialty, especially in the summer of 1950 when the enemy came so swiftly that nearly every man found himself shooting back at the flood before them.  The events of that summer followed Otto Krone for the rest of his life.  Some in his mind, but some had marked him permanently.

 

For the previous year, he had been with C Company as an infantryman, though in those days duty was mostly of cadre status with a lot of drill and leisure among the Japanese people.  School offered some break from the monotony of tasks.  The clerk typist course in Kokura, Japan, was a month long school from July to August in 1949.  Otto learned to type precisely between the lines on morning reports, write orders, and keep personnel records.  Once completed, Krone was assigned as clerk to the 1st Battalion S-1, Allen “Pete” Hackett.  Captain Hackett was known cordially as Pete, his assumed middle name, but in fact his full name was Edgar Allen Powe Hackett.  That may have only been on his birth records, for all his Army paperwork indicated Allen Poe.  Perhaps the likeness to the dark poet was something he tried to avoid.

 

*

 

While some of the regiment was at the regiment’s home in Camp Chickamauga in Beppu, Krone and the rest of 1st Battalion was in their third week of amphibious training at 8th Army’s Camp McGill.  The weekend was approaching and the men were in a holiday mood, slightly dampened by the news of the North Korean invasion, though no one suspected the United States would intervene.  The regiment received its orders at 2300 hours on June 30 and throughout the next few days the reorganized, equipped, and packed for their departure on July 4.

 

After the ninety mile crossing across the Sea of Japan, Otto disembarked at Pusan, greeted by the ripe smell that each serviceman so vividly recalls.  As soon as transportation was available, the battalion boarded trains and prepared to move by rail to Taegu on the foggy morning of July 7.  A mist rose toward the sun that soon dried the atmosphere and the moisture gave way to dust.  The seventy-mile journey was lengthy and Otto was eager to enter the city after what seemed like hours of sweating in the train car.  Dirt infiltrated the compartment and clung to his sweaty skin, filled his nose and irritated his eyes.  He settled down in a Quonset hut remaining from the American Occupation.

25 Years Later - Krone with his nephew.

Photo Credit: Taro Leaf [1]

Otto woke the next morning at 0500 with the rest of 1st Battalion, tasked with securing the town of Kumch’on and contacting local Koreans, and reconnoitering the north, east and west approaches.  He was promptly ushered into a motorcade made up of vehicles that seemed to be requisitioned from anywhere and of any time period.  There were vintage yellow buses, rickety Japanese trucks left over after 1945, and some of the Army’s own trucks.  The forty miles between Taegu and Kumch’on was clogged with refugees on foot and in cars and trucks.  It took six hours to travel along the highway.  When they finally arrived, rumors spread about what would happen next.

 

Otto found the village identical to those they had traveled through from Pusan, still populated by grateful and hopeful Koreans cheering the Americans along.  The praise from the locals was encouraging, but dampened by the sight of many able-bodied young men that the GIs thought should be fighting for their own country.  Many wondered why they were not more motivated to volunteer to fight.

 

Plans changed that night and the next day at 0400 in the morning, the area bustled with activity and within an hour they were headed back to the Quonset hut area in Taegu where the regimental staff planned movement to Taejon.  It was a luxury to have a solid roof over their heads, if only briefly, before moving back to Kumch’on, and Otto once again boarded the wanton vehicle convoy waiting for them.

 

The rapid movement with no apparent mission in mind was bewildering to many, but such was life in the Army.  Though every man had questions, they all did what they ordered, hurried up, and waited.  Over the course of four days since arriving in Taegu, they had traveled around 120 miles back and forth between Taegu and Kumch’on.  It was half past midnight on July 12 when Krone punched their current location on the morning report:  Taejon.  It was the furthest north the regiment had yet traveled and put them in closer proximity of a commitment to battle. 

 

Of course, in keeping with the events of the past week, their stay in Taejon was fleeting and the 1st Battalion moved out again under a muggy sun in early afternoon to Taep’Yong-Ni on the south bank of the Kum River to relieve the 21st Infantry.  While rivers typically afforded a natural defensive line, many of the waterways on the Korean peninsula had dropped quite low in the hot dry heat of the summer of 1950.  The Kum appeared as if it could be forded in any area.  The 19th spread out along the banks, finding comfort in how secure the position was tactically.  The 1st Battalion CP was nestled in the center of the valley a mile south-southeast of the blown bridge at Taep’Yong-Ni.  As Otto faced the river, A and B Companies to the right and left respectively, covering the banks on each side of the bridge. The regimental 4.2 mortars were adjacent directly east and 2d Battalion’s F and G Companies covered the hills in the south along the Yangsu River.  Between the rifle companies and heavy mortars, the battalion headquarters was snug.

 

*

 

Except for a single flare dropped from an NKPA aircraft, the early morning of July 16 was completely dark when the 3d Division stormed across the Kum into the 1st Battalion lines.  Winstead pleaded for flares from the 11th Field, but the order was fouled up in communications and the light was delayed, allowing the enemy to creep in under cover of the darkness.  By 0800, the 1st Battalion CP was overwhelmed by mass attacks from waves of enemy infantry.  Bullets ripped through the CP and communication and defense was disorganized.  If the Battalion CP fell, the regimental CP was certain to be next.

As the North Korean troops swarmed around the command post, Otto wondered what had happened to the rifle companies when Hackett grabbed him and ordered all personnel in the area to organize a counter attack.  Discarding his typewriter, Krone picked up his rifle to face the onslaught.  He would not be safe until days later after finding his way back to Taejon starving, thirsty, exhausted, and suffering a terrible head wound.

Sources:

 

 Sloan, Bill. The Darkest Summer: Pusan and Inchon 1950: The Battles That Saved South Korea--and the Marines--from Extinction. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. 59-61. Print. 

[1] 24th Infantry Division Association, comp. Taro Leaf XXIX.3 (1975-76): 26. Print.

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