HARRY L. SPURLOCK
Corporal | Infantry
The men of the 34th Infantry peered through the rain and mist at daybreak on the morning of July 6, strung out on a few hills north of Chonan. They had rushed to hold positions after arriving in country just three days earlier and had seen nothing but vicious fighting since. At daybreak, PFC Spurlock and the other members L Company heard the commotion of more than a dozen NKPA tanks clattering towards 1st Battalion positions, followed by hordes of enemy infantry. Official reports state 13 to 15 tanks and over 1000 infantry. The 34th Regiment was dramatically under strength, lacking essential equipment, and each man had been issued only a hundred rounds of ammunition each.
Between July 6 and 7, the 34th Infantry was forced to withdraw from their positions at Pyongtaek and the Ansong area after being massacred by Communist troops. They were hit with nearly twice as much force from up to 40 tanks and possibly 2000 infantry. The enemy struck their front and both flanks using Russian 'steamroller' tactics. Many GIs simply threw down their weapons and fled - there was no choice but to survive. The remaining men spent most of the day recovering equipment from the battlefield when they weren't defending themselves.
The next day, July 8, the 3d Battalion was surrounded and trapped in the town of Pon Licek. The NKPA troops were able to surround the companies of the Battalion and infiltrate easily. Losses for the regiment were staggering that day and orders for withdrawal finally came. Harry was one of the casualties on the 8th, after just five days in country. After surviving the night in a foxhole, he was struck in the side by an artillery shell that left a gaping wound. He straggled back to friendly lines with other survivors, most of whom were wounded and without equipment.
Those initial five days of combat after July 3rd were harrowing and unorganized, often considered one of the worst failures of the U.S. Army. It was, however, simply a matter of unprepared and under-armed troops rushed into combat against hardened enemies who had seen war before. The experience was quickly and drastically different from the pampered lifestyle of occupied Japan for the 24th Division troops.
Harry would not return to duty until September. In the meantime, the 34th Infantry continued to withdraw further south. The unit was eventually reduced to a strength of zero and the men of the regiment were absorbed into other 24th Division units. Harry joined the 21st Infantry Regiment upon his return to Korea in September and remained with the unit until his tour was up. He was promoted to Corporal on January 9, 1951 as a member of G Company, 21st Infantry. Just short of a month later he was evacuated again, this time a victim of frostbitten feet, the GIs other worst enemy in the terrible Korean winters. At the time the regiment was in Hyonbang-ni He received the Bronze Star for meritorious service between July 3 and November 2, 1950.
(1) 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.
(2) United States Army 24th Infantry Division Unit War Diaries from June to November 1950
Carl Mydans for LIFE magazine July 7, 1950