PETER H. MONFORE
First Lieutenant | Infantry
Well over half of the West Point Class of 1950 went from classrooms of theory straight onto the Korean battlefield. One graduate joining the fight was Pete Monfore, the class’s vice president and champion boxer. It was September 3rd by the time he actually joined A Company, 23d Infantry as they were moving into defensive positions and attempting to consolidate their hold on the Naktong line after taking some heavy losses. On the 5th, they moved out to assist F Company under a heavy rain. A battalion of North Koreans were trying to squeeze between the two companies. Around dawn, they pummeled the company with a heavy barrage of mortars before charging. The ensuing battle lasted three hours before A Company finally beat the larger battalion-sized force, successfully capturing an anti-tank gun and valuable documents in the process.
At eleven o’clock on the morning of the 6th, both 1st and 2d Battalions were ordered to attack again and fought against the North Koreans for six hours. A Company faced particularly brutal resistance and more than once had to pull back and wait for artillery to soften their adversaries. Over half the company had been wounded.
After his platoon took their hill objective, a flurry of fire came from a higher peak on their right. The other platoons of A Company could not take it, so Monfore took his men down into the village below. As he ran through a rice paddy, a bullet from a burp gun blew cleanly through the back of his left hand and out his palm. Half of the platoon ended up wounded and the lieutenant got everyone out except for two men.
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith”
- 2 Timothy 4:7
It turned out that his left hand was not his biggest problem – his right hand suddenly became stiff and paralyzed after. He spent the next few days in the hospital yearning to return to his platoon. Even in the brief two and a half days he was in combat, Pete experienced the infantryman’s hard life in Korea. The Americans attacked by day, dug in and waited for a North Korean counterattack at night. Rain every other day turned foxholes into muddy pits and any attempt to stay dry is useless. The clean hospital was already a welcome luxury.
Within a week, Peter’s platoon sergeant arrived at the hospital after getting wounded. He reported there was very little left of the entire company and that the commander and one original platoon leader had cracked up. Though there were immense casualties, most were wounded with very few deaths.
It was more than just a few days before Peter returned to the 23d Infantry. Near the end of October, he rejoined them under the impression that the war would end soon and it seemed that his first two days of fighting with A Company were all he would see. The regiment was in a soft valley surrounded by rugged mountains in the distance. Though the vegetation was sparse, it remained green. The platoon even had indoor accommodations in a local missionary school building. They scrounged a stove to heat the room with and worked on replacing their dim candles with more proper lights. Patrolling filled the days as they worked south of Pyongyang and Peter spent most of this time souvenir hunting. As the days became cooler and shorter, winter clothing issues came. They were meager and of incorrect sizes, but enough to keep warm.
Pete spent three days with twenty men on a tall mountain guarding a radio relay station. The fair weather and calm duty made it enjoyable, but he knew in the distance the warm still loomed. A forty-mile patrol over hard roads in the rain followed, but the Lieutenant returned with four light machineguns and a selection of rifles and grenades from raiding bandits.
In the first days of November, Peter learned they would be going into combat again. With his prior experience and time to think about it, he was no longer as eager as before. He commanded a machinegun platoon with sections attached to different companies which meant a lot of traveling between them. A deeply spiritual Christian, he frequently turned to scripture for words of comfort. Remembering Proverbs 3:5 and 6, he knew that though he did not know what was to come, he did not have to worry.
The suspected combat never came. Instead, the regiment moved fifty miles north for more patrols and inspections before hearing once again they would be moving for an offensive. This time it did not seem like a false promise. On the first night they did not expect any attack, but dug in along the Ch’ongch’on river and prepared anyway. The weather had gotten extremely cold in the mountains, approaching 25 below zero. Well after dark, the North Koreans stormed across for the artillery and overran them in astonishing numbers. Pete counted over 300 dead the next morning in front of their positions. They had taken off their clothes to wade across the river and many of them had been killed naked where they quickly froze stiff. The company lines were so thin at one point Pete had to take over a light machine gun for a time. Only one Korean soldier came near him and a startled burst took care of him.
For four days they fought delaying actions. The 23d Infantry was rear guard for the other two regiments with 1st Battalion rear guard for the regiment. D Company in particular was crucial in holding the battalion’s lines. He had one section set up at a bridge to block any North Koreans attempting to pass over, which they ran straight for without any effort to go around. The wave of men was so thick that as the gunner traversed, they would be nearly upon him from the opposite side. It became so piled with bodies that the Koreans pushed them forward as shields and finally overran the position.
Miraculously, Pete’s platoon had no casualties. He was particularly proud of one section that remained with their guns even after their rifle company moved out. He recommended Bronze Stars for his entire platoon.
By the end of it they were all the way back to Seoul which seemed desolate and deserted since winter set in. Monfore’s promotion to 1st Lieutenant came in December and with it he was transferred to regimental liaison officer. He found the amount of paperwork and time in the ‘office’ to be mundane, without any real liaising, and unfortunate to be pulled away from his platoon. During the night, he took telephone calls and worked on maps and reports which detailed the miserable fighting situation. Had he been in a foxhole with his machineguns he would not see the whole situation which put him in a depressed state. He often felt far away from God.
In mid-January, he finally got to do proper liaising with the 19th Infantry Regiment. He enjoyed seeing another outfit to compare against his own, but similarly there was not much to do and he spent most of the time sitting and waiting. The frequent journeys between units at least gave him an opportunity to visit former classmates who were scattered across Korea.
He continued this job through March when the Division moved to X Corps reserve, which brought more busy work for Pete as he drove across hundreds of miles of rutty roads between his regimental headquarters and X Corps. The twice-a-day briefings were interesting and informative, giving insight to the entire course of the war. It was a much different view than that from a foxhole. Regardless, by April he was tired of the staff posting and passing by his old platoon on the road one day made him yearn to get back even sooner. His biggest project at the time was writing a Distinguished Unit Citation recommendation for the regiment’s actions at Kunu-ri. He expected his rough draft to come back from the Colonel full of inked in changes.
Fortunately, the weather was improving. Even the nights were pleasant. It was still dry, causing thick dust to hang over the roads and coat the nearby trees and houses. By the end of each liaison trip his face was covered in a mask of dirt. The period of dust would soon end as rains came. Over the next two months over sixty inches swelled brooks into rivers and roads became knee deep with mud. With spring came budding trees, blossoming wildflowers, and a new job as assistant S-3 which, like his first days liaising, was too much time on the telephone, writing orders, memorandums and letters. Pete did all of the work while the S-3 himself made major decisions. He at least got to learn how the regiment operated at that high level.
What was an attractive staff job that sounded like it would be Pete’s was that of S-3 Air – a fairly new position that was apparently very desirable. The S-3 Air worked with the Tactical Air Control Party to call for and direct air strikes. With it came four jeeps, high powered radios, and a tracked M-39. It would give him the opportunity to visit the front more often. Within a week, the job was his and he went to the 5th Air Force headquarters in Taegu for training. He found the Air Force was blessed with modern amenities including running hot water and a bar.
After his brief training in Taegu, Pete made it back to Inje in time for the Division’s hard fight alongside the 187th Airborne. Fighting through roadblocks and surrounding hills into Inje, Pete never saw so many terribly wounded. They passed over bodies of flattened Chinese at one roadblock which had been repeatedly squished by every tank and vehicle going through. On the main street were charred corpses burned by napalm, some missing limbs and some only recognizable because od the remnants of limbs still attached. One prisoner, hardly 15 or 16 years old, had a single bullet wound in his head that had blown out the back of his skull. He was leaking brains and should have been dead, yet was walking, responsive, and eating.
In the few days getting into Inje, Pete ran over fifty air strikes throughout the day and night and could only break for poor weather. A rainy day was a holiday. The French decorated him with the Croix de Guerre for his work. Still, he wished for the role of company commander which he saw as the most important job in the Army aside from that of the regular soldier. On two occasions he even turned down the opportunity to be a general’s aide – one of them as aide-de-camp to Ridgeway.
The Division moved into reserve on June 1st which meant garrison duties and inspections, but also a major field exercise that the regiment gave to Monfore to handle. It was a daunting task for the lieutenant to organize in only a week and he spent that time reconnoitering the area and digesting field manuals. Each battalion ran through it under observation of General Almond, Ruffner and Van Fleet who were all very impressed. Though the regimental officers accepted congratulations, they acknowledged Monfore’s hard work and the 2d Battalion commander offered him command of a company. That did not materialize directly, but in early July he did get to take over L Company.
His transfer was not immediate – a few days as a platoon commander preceded his actual takeover of the company. When he did get into it, they were in front of the lines occupying Hill 793 which was rather nice and covered in pines. For three days and four nights they dodged artillery and evaded Chinese infiltrators fighting around what they called the Rice Bowl. It was a seven-mile bowl shaped valley surrounded by steep peaks up to 1200 meters high. It took six hours to climb one particular ridge in the rain. Within the Rice Bowl were little hamlets and farms growing fruits and grains. A multitude of wildflowers colored the land and Pete saw God in all of it. It would have been a very peaceful little settlement. It was, at least, a nice place to patrol while waiting for results from the peace talks.
They tried to escape the torrential and constant rain in their bunkers dug into the hills and reinforced with logs with dirt and branches for roofs. After enough rain, the water just seeped right through and everything was completely wet. Where most soldiers faced rat infestations in Korea, Pete’s company spent their free time trapping chipmunks for pets, though one platoon simply ate them.
The role of company commander gave Monfore the opportunity to spread the Gospel of peace. His men seemed to appreciate this. Before a patrol he always led his men in prayer. ‘It really touches my heart to see how they respond. It also brings a great peace and joy to my heart, because the Lord hears and answers our prayer and goes with us. I can’t describe the feeling of confidence and contentment His presence gives.’
At the end of August as Pete recognized he had been in Korea for a year, the battalion moved into reserve which meant they would be doing most of the patrolling into the Rice Bowl. The battalion paraded to receive a Distinguished Unit Citation for the Twin Tunnels action in February and promptly departed after dark to set up an ambush in the Bowl. Pete led a task force deeper into the Bowl comprising of his company and two platoons from K Company. Their sweep was quiet until one platoon managed to capture a prisoner out of forty Chinese who were creeping off. While they waited for a squad to retrieve him, another group of 75 Chinese soldiers stumbled into their position, fled toward the incoming squad, and ultimately turned out another way where Monfore took his reserve platoon to meet them until he got orders to break contact as at least eighty Chinese were attempting to get behind K Company. They slaughtered the 75 Chinese and pulled back as ordered.
After another move, they dug in next to what became known as Bloody Ridge. From their vantage point, Monfore described it as, ‘It is like sending them into a meat grinder. Their casualties have been tremendous. Every day truckloads of replacements come up and go right into battle. Most of them are probably carried out the same day. I don’t see how a living soul will exist on that hill. Artillery, mortars, and air strikes have stripped the hill of all foliage and trees and have pounded the ground itself into dust. Yet every time one of our troops moves into the open, he is cut down.’ It took four days for the 9th Infantry to take the ridge positions.
When L Company occupied the captured positions, it was a horrible mess of bodies and equipment. The Chinese had left plenty of mines behind. One man lost a foot – the medic that attempted to treat him was evacuated and likely to lose both legs. Three other medics were evacuated for the same kind of action. A mine-removal squad was not immune to the traps either. One man had both feet blown off and died of shock on the way down the hill. One man among those wounded in the minefield was stoic and calm, simply reaching for his Bible and waiting for all others to be evacuated before being taken himself. Pete saw this as a true Christian trusting completely in God.
At that time, Pete had 52 out of 55 points required to leave Korea. As eager as he was to get out of the war, he did not want to leave his men in the middle of it. He refused another offer for General’s aide, no doubt praying for guidance on the matter. This was the content of his last letter home, which he closed with: ‘I’m always trusting in the One who died for all mankind, and I’m constantly in His care. So long for now.’
On the night of September 18th, L Company was tasked with spearheading and attack up Heartbreak Ridge which had already claimed too many of the 2d Division’s men. After ten o’clock, Monfore took his company up the ridge, passing over the first knob without incident then sweeping through bunkers and taking prisoners in the trenches with the help of flamethrowers. The entire time Pete stayed with the leading assault elements as the progressed yard by yard. They finally reached the northernmost point on the ridge, Hill 851, and claimed it at midnight after a short firefight with the North Koreans. Then it was silent. Everyone was exhausted but happy. Anticipating a counterattack, the Lieutenant deployed his men around the peak to defend their hard-won ground.
Sensing something was wrong, Pete put his Bible away and grabbed his carbine. With blaring bugles and a barrage of gun and mortar fire, two battalions of Koreans ambushed L Company at four o’clock. After another five and a half hours of fighting, they had retreated off the highest point of 851 and their ammunition was dwindling. Pete ran around the fire swept hill to gather weapons and ammunition from both Americans and enemy casualties. He was seen at one point carrying a B.A.R. and he later passed over a gun crew who had all been killed and took hold of their unattended machinegun to rake oncoming waves of North Koreans with devastating fire. By mid-morning, their situation was serious as the enemy was firing down on them from the high ground of 851. The Company attempted to evacuate their wounded while I Company grazed the slopes with covering fire. Monfore called battalion headquarters to report he only had 55 effective men remaining in the company. By ten o’clock, he decided to move back to better defensive positions.
One of his surviving officers recalled, “At about two o'clock [in the afternoon] I saw Pete coming toward me. An enemy burp gun got him in the chest, one bullet found his heart. Peter died very shortly, conscious all the time, and very calm and cool. He smiled at me, tried, but couldn't speak. We put him on a litter, and I covered him with a blanket. I think he tried to tell me to take care of the remaining men.” His battered company had to leave him behind as they made their way to safety. While it was most regretful to leave him behind, he had sacrificed in life in Christ’s image.
For fourteen hours, L Company battled for 851 before all officers were killed. There were only 44 survivors of the original 167 men. Volunteers from K Company attempted to retrieve Pete’s body under heavy fire, but they did not find him. It was not for another month after the ridge was finally secure that Herschel Chapman went searching through the decimated ruins of Hill 851 for Pete’s body. He traversed the hill for the entire day and finally found his remains where he expected. Heartbreak Ridge fulfilled itself in name as he stood there looking at the body of his poor friend and classmate, just days away from leaving the hellish carnage that took his life.
“I have never seen Pete's equal in or out of the Army,” recalled the last surviving officer of L Company. “Peter was a Christian man, and lived every minute of his life as such, always saying his daily prayers and blessing his 'C' rations whenever he ate, doing for others, constantly bringing hope and encouragement to his men and being very considerate and thoughtful. I shall never forget him as long as I live. The men are putting him in for the Congressional Medal of Honor. We hope he gets it. We all thought so much of him."
Even staff officers wrote to his family: “"Peter was an exceptionally fine young officer and was on my staff until he took over Love Company in August, and he immediately established it as a top outfit. The night preceding his death he executed a brilliant attack on a dominant hill of Heartbreak Ridge of unparalleled success and daring. We all predicted a shining future for your son and his men had a deep affection for him. Only a few days before, I signed a recommendation for his promotion to Captain. We are asking one of the country's highest awards for your son, the highest decoration our government can give."
Just as Pete signed many letters with a simple ‘Proverbs 3:5, 3:6,’ it is appropriate to remember these words. His trust in the Lord never wavered and even in death, all of the senseless and confusing wrath of war, he believed there was a reason for it. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Andrews, Lisa Anne Neil. Peter Howland Monfore: Letters From Korea. 2020.
General Orders: Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, Korea: General Orders No. 62 (January 31, 1952).
Hart, Jason. “Peter Howland Monfore.” USMA Class of 1950, USMA Class of 1950, 22 Oct. 2014, https://www.usma1950.com/memorial/peter-howland-monfore.
Munroe, Clark C. Second to None: The Second United States Infantry Division in Korea 1950-1951. Toppan Printing Co. Ltd.
United States, War Diary – 2nd Infantry Division Unit War Diaries, Department of the Army, 1950-51
United States, Command Report – 23rd Infantry Regiment, Department of the Army, 1950-51.
“War Stories With Oliver North Season 3 Episode 3 - The Hill Battles of Korea.” 1 Jan. 2003, Accessed 29 Apr. 2023.