ROBERT W. SCULLY
Sergeant | Airborne Ranger
In the twilight of early morning, 3d Ranger Company rendezvoused with their supporting tank battalion on the banks of the Hantan River. A constant drizzle made them damp and the steel surface of the tanks slick. They clung to the hulls as the tracks slipped under the surface of water that lapped closer to the Rangers’ boots as they neared the center of the river. Despite the breadth between shores, the section where they crossed was not deep and the tracks churned up silt from the riverbed before lurching onto the opposite bank.
The Company’s instructions were to cross the river, spearhead an assault against Chinese Communist Forces, and penetrate several miles into enemy territory to capture multiple objectives throughout the day. It was an aggressive mission for which they had not been intended, for the purpose of the Rangers was not for ambitious frontal assaults, but for covert and deceptive operations of sabotage and intelligence. It was possible that the generals of the Korean theater had not been fully briefed on the capabilities and missions of the Ranger companies as they continued to imprudently employ them as assault troops in this way. However belligerent the assignment may have been, the Rangers accepted their orders with plenty of nervous enthusiasm.
The approach to Kantongyon showed how barren the Korean farmland was and how impoverished the people were. The population outside of Seoul was limited to lone farmers tending their cattle or, when weather permitted, their crops. The country was a vision of the 19th century or older. It appeared that most Koreans had lived the same way for hundreds of years in quiet hamlets like Kantongyon – a few thatch-roofed mud huts with some animals in or out of their pens, a local well, and not much more to been seen between miles of rice paddies. There were no utility wires strung out to these rural areas, no automobiles or suitable roads, only beaten down ox paths and long dikes that latticed the paddies. The village itself seemed to have been abandoned since the invasion months earlier when much of the population relocated for fear of the North Koreans.
Point blank fire from the tanks subdued any possible lingering enemy resistance while the platoons swept through the village and over the low hill behind. As Private Scully made his way down the rear slope with 1st Platoon, a few mortar rounds suddenly exploded behind their ranks with such astounding accuracy that it must have been their registration point. Captain Channon and his radioman happened to be standing at that location and were the unlucky targets of the first salvo.
While 3d Platoon swept around the hill to the left, 1st and 2d Platoons reached the bottom of the slope and stood in the cold mist of dawn, peering across spongy rice paddies at a ridge that lay behind a gray veil. Drizzle continued to stream from an overcast sky, further saturating the sodden land that was thawing from a brutal winter. Ahead of them, two tanks idled on the edge of the open field. With bayonets fixed, the Rangers waited for instructions before crossing into no-man’s land.
Scully in Second Cycle graduation company photo.
Captain Channon caught up with the two platoons, lugging the radio by himself and peppered with shrapnel. He handed it off to one of the attached KATUSAs who insisted he was a civilian interpreter, but Channon refused to use one of his riflemen for the task and reminded the Korean that he was a soldier and not a civilian anymore.
He called Captain Jess Tidwell for instructions while the Rangers waited anxiously in the open. After a long pause, Tidwell’s voice crackled through the radio: “You’re to move out when the tanks move out.” The commander’s short order sealed the fate for many men that day.
Those seeking a challenge and adventure volunteered for the Rangers. They were referred to as three-time volunteers, first having to have enlisted and then to become qualified parachutists before being eligible for Ranger school. Robert Scully dropped out of high school after his second year and joined the Army at the age of seventeen in September 1946. He found an assignment in the 11th Airborne and after a tour in Japan volunteered for the Rangers during the second cycle of training at Fort Benning in December 1950. He did not tell his wife Sally that he had opted to be an Airborne Ranger, which would offer greater pay for his two daughters and a third child on the way. He was quickly accepted into the program and whisked away to Camp Carson for mountain training before Korea.
Before the company mobilized for overseas duty, he already had two court martials on his record. Each set him back $25.00, one for appearing drunk in uniform outside of Fort Bragg and the other for being absent without leave for four days that January of 1951. The latter cost him his stripe and he was busted back to private. He was exactly the sort of ambitious, gallivanting, fighting man a fellow Ranger wanted at his side. His behavior was a point of contention for Channon, but Captain Tidwell took a special liking to many of the young Rangers who had come from difficult homes or were generally rambunctious characters. Despite this, Tidwell and Scully were continually at odds, especially around his alcohol consumption when in garrison and it resulted in some climbs down and back up the promotion ladder.
While many men reflected on how they arrived at that rice paddy to face their first combat, the tanks in front of them suddenly lurched forward and ripped across the muddy plain, leaving the infantry behind, bewildered, and without cover or security of the armor for the 700 or more yards to the base of the ridge. They sped out of sight behind low hills to the left, leaving the two platoons fully exposed to machinegun and mortar fire that began raking along their front.
The platoons boldly facing the onslaught of gunfire and mortars to approach the ridge with alternating marching fire. Filled with nervous energy, they hardly dropped prone to the ground during their march across the field. Mortars buried into the soft earth and white phosphorous rounds billowed tall columns of white smoke. While dragging his reluctant KATUSA across the exploding paddies, Captain Channon encouraged his Rangers to hit the dirt, but had little influence as they approached the ridge standing tall. The nose of the ridge fell bluntly in front of Scully’s 1st Platoon.
About two hundred yards from the nose of the ridge, the heaviest volley of mortars rained down into the Rangers. By some misfortune, Channon again caught the brunt of these close explosions as fragments ripped into his shins and a spray of bullets plugged his calves. His KATUSA with the radio was wounded and the wall of fire from the Chinese began decimating the ranks of the Rangers.
Advance across paddies toward Bloody Nose. SC-365014
Dodging mortar shells on the approach to the ridge, Bob scurried over from 1st Squad and grabbed the abandoned radio. He handed his rifle to another Ranger whose weapon was damaged and wielding only a pistol, followed close behind Captain Channon. His entire 1st Platoon was getting decimated as the 32 strong unit lost men rapidly to the wall of fire coming from the shockingly accurate Chinese mortars. The soft mud that quickly had the Rangers caked and filthy turned out to be an advantage against the mortar fire. The shells buried deeper than normal into the earth, softening the explosions enough to wound but not kill. Their numbers of killed in action remained unusually low, but the quantity of wounded laying stranded in the paddies was increasing.
As 1st Platoon neared the base of the ridge, the shapes of trench lines appeared through the misty rainfall. Machine gunners occupying the first line just above the level of the paddies were responsible for the sweeping fire tormenting the Ranger platoons. Other trenches wove across the slopes with bunkers constructed intermittently throughout. Additional foxholes provided cover for more gunners who were blindly spraying the battlefield while ducking below their earthworks. The Captain turned to Bob and snapped the radio handset to call for any kind of support from artillery, armor, air or anything available. They did not see any results until a couple of tanks rolled up and flanked the 1st Platoon, a curious surprise as the Captain’s radio contact did not go to the tank company.
Channon and Lieutenant Hamilton, 1st Platoon leader, each climbed onto a tank and directed them to fire point blank at the ridge in front of them. Once this was done, the bayonet assault commenced. Scully moved forward of the nearest tank when its cannon boomed, lifting him off the ground for a moment before he fell flat. Among the few remaining men who were able, he picked himself up and continued forward.
The sky darkened from a hailstorm of grenades lobbed from the trenches before them. They later learned that the Chinese would often grab a handful of their stick grenades, pull the cords and chuck four or five at once. They were extremely good at it and threw so many in succession that they were tumbling in a torrent from the edge of the hill. Channon bellowed to hit the dirt and once the bangs of grenades ceased, they picked up again and charged the hill.
Scully approached the slope clutching his pistol and lugging heavy radio on top of his regular gear. The assault uphill quickly devolved into every man for himself. Grenades slung from both sides crossed paths in mid-air. Though the Chinese variety were less lethal concussion grenades, almost everyone still caught bits of shrapnel from the multitude of explosions. Lieutenant Hamilton was hit by something harder and was severely wounded and visibly bleeding. A number of men stopped by his side while the platoon medic tended to him. Sergeant Barber took command and Scully tried to keep track of both him and Captain Channon, but they both quickly disappeared after ducking into trenches among the Chinese.
Each bend in the trench concealed whether friend of foe was around the corner, and jumping blindly into a foxhole could put one within uncomfortable proximity of a Chinese soldier. Scully found a B.A.R. and grabbed it, knowing he was a fool if he thought he could continue the charge up the hill without a proper weapon. Above the sound of battle, cries for help trailed from a trench in the hillside.
“Help me! There’s a Chinese in here still and I can’t kill him!” The voice was heavily accented, immediately recognizable as Greek, and Bob charged over immediately.
He popped his head over the edge of the trench to find Gus Georgiou next to a dead Chinese and one wounded just out of reach in front of him. The two adversaries were struggling to find a way to kill the other when Bob swiveled with the B.A.R. at his hip and sent a burst into the enemy’s chest.
Scully with radio on right following Bob Channon standing tall in the assault against Bloody Nose. SC-365015
“Hey, Greek, don’t worry,” Bob hopped into the trench to check out his wounded buddy. “He won’t bother you anymore!” Gus’ shin was broken and he had shrapnel splattered up his legs and in his right hand, which had prevented him from drawing his pistol. There was no way he was going to walk out of the trench, but he was stable and Bob left him to continue the assault uphill.
Nearing the top of the hill, Bob found Don Lee fumbling around, apparently blinded in both eyes and about to be finished by a nearby Chinese. An accurate burst from Scully’s B.A.R. ensured the survival of another Ranger and he guided Don in the direction of safety.
Moving further into the trench, he stumbled across another Chinese who he beat to the draw, but this time he did not squeeze the trigger. He stripped him of his weapons and prodded him forward by the muzzle of his B.A.R. The soldier seemed to understand his predicament, but refused to raise his arms despite any use of gesturing, plain English or profanities. Scully ushered him through the trench in the direction of the crest of the ridge.
“Sir, he won’t put his hands up!” They step out of the trenches to emerge near Channon.
The Captain’s cool motion of slowly raising his pistol level to the man’s face was enough to convey the message and with some additional yelling, the prisoner quickly threw his hands above his head.
Only eight Rangers from 1st Platoon reached the crest of the hill, all but three of them wounded. Captain Channon was a bloody mess and his trousers were dark and soaked with blood, but he was standing tall. They still had two thousand yards of terrain to cover to capture their next objective and took a moment on the top of Bloody Nose Ridge. Scully paused near the Captain while he called in on the radio to report they had taken the hill. Orders came back to continue on. Before they trotted down the hill, Scully forced his prisoner to strip naked and kept him in front of him as they moved out and until he could turn him over to someone else.
They headed northwest across paddy fields from the base of Bloody Nose, 2d Platoon leading in front of 1st Platoon which was down to only a squad’s worth of men. The tanks and 3d Platoon were out of sight. The enemy was quiet while they marched on to their next objective across a tall, narrow dike cutting across the paddy. Still carrying the radio, Scully stuck near Channon between the two platoons.
The lull in combat broke when mortar fire began to fall on the remnant of 1st Platoon. The dazed and wounded were slow to dodge the fire and Channon was animated about waving and yelling to them which compromised his position as an officer. Stranded in the open between the platoons, he and Scully began taking fire from a sniper who had picked them out as the command element.
The only cover between them and 2d Platoon was a long dike in the distance. The two sprinted toward the dike until the sniper began picking shots off again. They continued dashing forward and diving into the wet dirt when the sniper’s bullets hit close, then pulling as close to the ground as possible as bullets creased over their backs. It took the pair four running bounds to reach safety in the middle of the valley. The few members of 1st Platoon managed to catch up with them and they made it to the low hill without further incident.
When Jess Tidwell joined the two platoons on the knoll, 3d Platoon was out of contact on the right. Channon ran a message out to them and they replied through Scully’s radio. The next hill was the final objective for the day and seemed even less occupied than the one they just took. The company covered the remaining distance occupied the low peak with little resistance from the stunned Chinese. They still lobbed mortars and grazed with machine guns, but did little else to face the Rangers who had terrified the enemy with their incredible assault. Over the seven- or eight-hour attack, the company had advanced eight miles into enemy lines and taken their final objective twelve hours after crossing the Hantan that morning.
Bob sat down with the radio to rest while Captain Channon set up a perimeter and checked in with the platoons to prepare for a possible counterattack as night drew near. A sudden volley of mortars was the last assault for the day. The rounds landed squarely around the command group, blasting apart Channon’s pack that he had dropped there and wounding Scully in the arm. The Captain was lucky to have not rested where his pack was, but he wished he had taken Bob with him to spare him the injury to his arm.
Shot of the action following Bloody Nose. SC-365016
Before dark, part of the Filipino Battalion relieved the Rangers and they retired south of the Imjin. Of the 97 members of the company at dawn, only 54 filthy, bloody Rangers arrived at the final objective. They suffered more casualties in one attack than the average 3d Division infantry company had during their entire time in combat since arriving in Korea five months earlier. Their display of incredible determination came with a cost, but exhibited the standard of 3d Airborne Ranger Company. Through bared teeth, flashing bayonets, pitching grenades and dodging explosions there were 60-70 Purple Hearts awarded for the day and four medals for heroism: Silver Stars to Lieutenant Hamilton, Master Sergeant Barger, and Private Scully, and a Bronze Star for Valor to Sergeant Pierce for his efforts in assisting wounded in the paddies.
After Bloody Nose and several days of patrols and scouting, the Company moved north to Yonch’on and drove seven miles into enemy lines just before the Chinese launched their spring offensive. Along with 3d Recon Company and detachments from the AAA Battalion and engineers, the Company was to take the high ground around five abandoned tanks and cover the task force retrieval crews. Unlike their first combat on April 11th, the weather that day was clear, sunny and mild.
On the morning of April 20th, the Rangers mounted armored personnel carriers and the column sped past the line of departure and up to the first tank trap. Chinese machine gunners fired down on the tanks immediately and the call for Rangers up front passed down the line. Still weak in number from the Bloody Nose fight, 1st Platoon was armed as a mortar section and followed behind 2d and 3d Platoons. The lead platoons effortlessly crossed the trap and though 1st Platoon made it across, they reached the side of the road without aiming sights for mortars or a radio. Bob Scully had dropped the sights and Don Murray the radio. Nakajo and Murray dashed back to retrieve them with bullets snapping at their heels. They made it through the day with only one casualty while the other two platoons were subjected to most of the action.
Rangers in foreground with vehicles of 3d Recon behind them. SC-365638
Two days later, 3d Platoon led another tank recovery mission while 1st and 2nd Platoons covered the assault against a dug-in enemy position. They watched as 3d Platoon brawled up the hillside of their objective, taking only a couple casualties including Homer Simpson, a beloved member of the company whose death was particularly poignant for the Company.
An hour after they secured the hill, 1st and 2d Platoons swept around the right flank and trapped the retreating Chinese in an ambush. In all it was a seven-hour assault that everyone remembered as the day Homer Simpson was killed. They all said goodbye as they passed his body, head covered, but unmistakable by the way he carried a snub nosed .38 revolver.
Every day of action left the company with a collection of stories like these. Some forgotten over time or pieced together years later, some were exclusive to only one or a handful of men who there to witness it. Over the next five days, the 3d Division fought against the Chinese drive for Seoul during their Spring Offensive. The first day of the offensive, April 22d, the 3d Rangers faced an ambush that they later recalled because of Truman Beddingfield’s “canned juice incident.” Down to a mere six men, 1st Platoon no longer had official duties within the company and had no direct participation in these fights. In earlier incidents since Bloody Nose, they acted as a mortar section, but most often they were tasked with miscellaneous detail or the men individually just attached themselves to another platoon.
After the main company had gone out on April 23d, the 1st Platoon remnant learned they were cut off behind enemy lines. Sergeant Cournoyer enthusiastically ordered to load up a ¾ ton truck with weapons, bazooka rounds, crew served weapons, machine gun barrels, and anything else they could get ahold of. The little reinforcement group piled into the truck as well and Scully joined the group of eleven others.
The rescue group first ran into military policemen who ordered them to turn back due to Chinese overrunning the surrounding area and cutting off a portion of the road. They found a detour on a secondary road which led them through a group of British troops who had been overrun. They finally reached an area occupied by B Company, 7th Infantry Regiment who were preparing to attack a huge hill in front of them. Until they took the peak of this Hill 164, they could go no further. The main body of 3d Rangers were supposedly nearby and the infantrymen suggested that if the remnant 1st Platoon could help them in their attack, they would likely find their own company or at least relieve pressure on them if they were trapped.
The drove to their jump off point, leaving two men with the truck while the ten Rangers proceeded up the steep, heavily wooded hill side. The slope was at such a harsh grade that two-thirds of the way up, the Rangers were already exhausted. They found the 7th infantry soldiers stalled about 60 feet from the top of the hill and getting berated with grenades. With half of the Rangers carrying B.A.R.s and the other half rifles, they blasted their way over the top and drove off the Chinese. Friendly tanks shelled the peak with explosive rounds and enemy gunfire racked the slopes, snapping branches and limbs from the dense trees. Roy Clifton was killed by machinegun fire and Henry Carmichael carried his body down the hill with the Chinese panting at his back.
The extreme effort from the few Rangers, though in such a small geographic space, resulted in the retreat of a battalion sized force of Chinese and the relief of the Belgian battalion. They captured a crucial prisoner who confirmed the goal of the massive Chinese offensive – an achievement they were immensely proud of.
Those first two weeks of combat were the most eventful for the Rangers. Their missions after that consisted of patrols and scouting. With only six men remaining, 1st Platoon saw even less action after their loses at Bloody Nose and Hill 164. The entire 3d Division withdrew on April 25th and 3d Ranger Company joined the long columns of men moving south along the Seoul-Uijongbu Highway. The Rangers darted between flanking units to maintain contact throughout the withdrawal and provide rear area security. Otherwise, they found themselves most frequently within the Division Command Post, particularly 1st Platoon who provided protection for the Ranger Company command post and for use by Division if ever needed. Soon, they were in reserve and taking a much-needed rest for their extremely rigorous month online.
There was enough free time that the Rangers found their own ways into trouble. Combat kept them generally well behaved, but off the line they found their way to women, beer (sometimes contaminated) and other ways to pass time. Sergeant Chuck Ridenhour had a clarinet with him and wanted to form a band despite their being no other instruments available and limited musical talent aside from Master Sergeant Ballou who could play piano. Bob Exley and Jim Stamper knew of a beautiful inlaid piano nearby in a bombed-out store in Seoul. Bob Scully joined the adventurous lot of men in liberating the finely crafted piano and returning to their camp. No band ever formed, but Ridenhour and Ballou played for days.
Squad moving out of assembly area. SC-365635
The piano was not the only property the company acquired during their stay in Yongdong’po. While the Rangers Table of Organization & Equipment allotted for more vehicles than a regular infantry company, the count of vehicles increased sharply after a few days offline. Each morning, jeeps appeared in the motor pool with very fresh bumper markings painted for 3d Ranger Company. By the end of their stay, almost every man had his own vehicle.
After a few nights by candlelight only, they also managed to steal a generator from a nearby searchlight unit who enjoyed the luxuries of consistent electricity. Described as having the comforts of a regular country club, they enjoyed movies, hot food, ice boxes, cold beer, running water, and the list continued. Far more than the primitive habitation the Rangers managed to create for themselves. Stamper and Rummage visited one evening as Stamper knew one of the unit’s sergeants from Fort Bragg – by the next morning the 3d Rangers had a generator of their own and electric lights and one generator was mysteriously missing from the nearby searchlight unit. Not all of these escapades went unnoticed, but they were conveniently accepted as typical behavior of the Rangers.
After a long period of reserve, R&R rotations, and influx of replacements the company moved to the east, almost to the coast, for more patrolling and to relieve pressure on the 2d Division and 187th Airborne. The weeks were spotted with long days traveling and walking among the hills looking to rout stragglers or infiltrators. Their chance at a combat jump came when they expected to infiltrate the Chinese Headquarters in a village to the north. They got as far as packing bundles for a drop, but it never came – the Rangers waited around for two days only be told the drop was called off. It was an extreme disappointment for the Company as they were yearning for their combat jump, but the next day it was evident that the east coast action was stabilizing and they were again destined to move west back to their familiar home.
At the end of June, Captain Tidwell shared that the Rangers were going to be deactivated. It was not until mid-July that this came to fruition and all jump qualified Rangers would go to the 187th Airborne that had just left for Japan. None of 3d Company were very interested in leaving Korea, but many of them did leave for the paradise that was Japan. Among those going to the airborne regiment was Bob Scully who finished his far eastern tour in Japan. He continued airborne service at Fort Bragg and eventually returned to Korea in late September 1956.
Within a few months he realized the Army was simply not offering enough compensation to support his wife and three children and requested a hardship discharge. His cost of living left him with a negative $19.15 balance every month and was forced to sell his furniture and car to make ends meet. Sally could no longer work nights while Bob was overseas and could not afford to buy shoes to send the girls to school with. With all of his pay going to his wife, Scully had nothing left for himself and was beginning to face an issue of appearance in uniform. They both knew his place was at home and a career in the Army was no longer a viable path. Employment by Addington Ammunition Company promised a much better salary and he saw it as the proper opportunity to raise his children and provide adequately for his family. Bob’s decision terminated more than a decade of service, but offered for the first time the opportunity to devote his time to being a husband and father.
Channon, Bob. The Cold Steel Third: 3rd Airborne Ranger Company, Korean War (1950-1951). Genealogy Pub. Service, 1993.
Mackowiak, Robert C, and Bob Channon. “3d Ranger Company.” July 2017.
Mackowiak, Robert C, and Frank Pagano. “3d Ranger Company.” July 2017.