EDWARD P. STAMFORD
Major | Marine Corps
Red tape and political difficulties between three branches of service diminished Edward Stamford's potential for the Medal of Honor to an award of the Silver Star for his gallantry at the Chosin Reservoir. Major General Harris, 1st Marine Air Wing commander, wrote to the 7th Division assistant commander Major General Hodes stating that Stamford "rated a top-notch decoration and that it looked to me that it was pretty close to a Medal of Honor." But by the time the recommendation processed from the Marine Corps through the Navy and to the Army, X Corps had a lengthy citation for a Silver Star, and so it was written.
Perhaps one reason is that any witnesses to endorse a higher award were all killed between the entrapment and the breakout. Such was the case on the eastern shore of the reservoir and the issuance of awards was dramatically unbalanced between the east and west sides - not due to any lack of heroism, but because so many perished in the icy hills never to tell their story or that of others.
Despite his status as an aviator, Stamford did a little ‘gravel crunching’ in Korea, as he referred to it. After pioneering the Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO), the services saw the benefits of using these Tactical Air Control Parties beyond the beachhead, putting Stamford miles in country with his team attached to the 1st Battalion, 32d Infantry destined for slaughter at the Chosin reservoir. One of the few to survive the entrapment and breakout, Major Edward P. Stamford proved to be a legendary Marine, but despite his devotion to the Corps, he explicitly stated that it was the 32d Infantry Regiment that was his outfit and only attended their reunions, never those for the Marines.
When the war broke out, Stamford was a Staff Sergeant working in the engine overhaul shop of Marine Aircraft Engineering Squadron 11 at Quantico. He was a tall, stocky man built to the rugged ideals of a United States Marine and already had six years of service in the Corps Reserve. After beginning flight training in October 1942 and joining the regular component, he rapidly advanced to Master Technical Sergeant as an enlisted aviator. The next year after receiving his commission to Second Lieutenant, he moved to the West Coast and was off across the infinite ocean that had seen two years of vicious Naval engagements from Pearl Harbor deep into the South Pacific.
The mustang Lieutenant joined Headquarters Squadron, MAG-21 out of New Hebrides in late November, briefly as their communications officer before special temporary aviation duty to the commanding officer of CASU-15. Stamford was what he called a ‘pool pilot’ tasked with flying searches, ferry hops, and anti-sub patrols. True combat experience finally came in early March 1944 when he transferred from the Air Group Headquarters to VMSB-236, one of the two scout bombing squadrons of the group.
Green Island was not too different from the facilities on Espiritu Santo by the time Stamford arrived. Long airstrips edged by tall palms and living accommodations were small tent cities. The more permanent installations were Quonset huts and shacks built by the Seabees. Marine fighters swarming around during the day and night eliminated any harassment from Japanese and it was possible to have movies each night in an open theater. Still, thin slit trenches remained around the perimeter in the event of an air raid.
Five minutes after noon on April 29th, Stamford took off for a bomb and strafing mission against two reported Japanese gunboats at Lassul Bay, New Britain. They spotted the two vessels five miles northwest of Cape Lambert – one on a reef and the other in deep water. All planes strafed in the dive and dropped a total of six bombs. One damaging near miss and one unobserved drop against the reefed boat and three near and one complete miss on the other. It was enough to assume both boats were probably destroyed. These were later found to be friendly PT boats and not enemy gunboats as reported.
The squadron spent five weeks flying missions out of Green Island for the Bismarck Archipelago Campaign. Next came a strike on Tobera Airfield and Vunakanau Airfield. Lieutenants Stamford and Collett were the only two to complete the mission. Once Private First Class Leon J. J. Beers joined the squadron, he served as Stamford’s radio operator and gunner on every mission for the rest of his combat tour. They hit enemy airfields, installations, bridges, houses bivouacs and supply areas by dive or glide bombing. Enemy fire frequently punched holes through their SBDs, but it was largely inaccurate against the planes screaming in at sharp sixty to seventy-degree dives or coasting in quietly on a thirty-degree glide. When Bougainville’s air strips were clear once again, the squadron moved to Piva North for the remainder of the tour and continued strikes on selected targets hidden in coconut groves on remote specks of coral scattered across the South Pacific.
He earned the entirety of his aviation awards during the nine-month period – six Air Medals across thirty-five combat missions and a Distinguished Flying Cross on his twentieth. The recognition became monotonous after the first couple, however, as each citation was nearly a carbon copy of the last for ‘attacking hostile airfields and gun positions…in the face of hostile antiaircraft fire,’ only the end date changing as the months progressed.
Stamford returned to the United States in December 1944 for a thirteen-week course of the Marine Air-Infantry school in Quantico. He had no idea at the time how important the course would be in his later duties. An old artillery commanding general admitted via memo that the Marine dive bombers were more accurate than artillery fire. The comment remained a source of pride for Stamford throughout his life. The course focused on infantry tactics and the liaison between fighter and bomber pilots and the infantry on the ground. Nearly everyone attending was senior to Stamford who was only on the verge of making First Lieutenant.
He continued to fly stateside until December 1945 when he did fourteen months with Headquarters Squadron, 1st Marine Air Wing in China. The Wing had established its base east of Tientsin at the French Arsenal in October 1945 to oversee the reparation of Japanese prisoners, guard the transport of coal and provide security for United States’ interests. They quickly found the Chinese to be edging into a complete civil war and ‘incidents’ occurred through 1949, though a formal cease-fire was agreed on in January when Stamford was settling in to his new assignment. As forces demobilized, the Wing’s HQ Squadron and MAG-24 remained to execute all air commitments, but it became clear that the Marines had no place as neutral observers and by April 1947 the Wing began to move to Guam.
At Camp Pendleton with VMO-6, he attended the forward air control school where he discovered their set up of forward air controllers and naval gunfire spotters. It was a new kind of communication network he had never seen before. He spent almost two years with VMO-6 flying 11th Marine spotters during Division maneuvers, the best being MICOWEX in Kodiak, Alaska. It was a cold, wet-weather operation that later helped him survive the conditions in Korea. In addition to tactical training, Stamford learned about the cold weather gear: parkas, shoe-pacs, and most important, how to change socks correctly. After his time with the observation squadron, he spent five weeks learning to be a forward air controller under the tutelage of all branches of service with a focus on amphibious assaults.
On completion of this school, Stamford ended up in the first ANGLICO company. It was found after the war that such a unit was a necessity for amphibious assaults and had worked out so well for the 2d Marine Division that it justified the formation of a separate company. They worked with naval gunfire but were not to go further than the beachhead line during such an operation in support of the Army. By then the Air Force would take over with their own forward air controllers.
From there, the next assignment was to sell the idea of ANGLICO to the Army. Stamford went to the 2d Infantry Division’s 3d Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment who were very eager to learn about the company. The commanding officer had a slight bias toward the idea as he had served in the Pacific and witnessed the effects of naval air and gunfire.
Another landing exercise with the 3d Division on the coast of Virginia provided many lessons as well, the biggest coming from an incident when the team was captured with their equipment. The aggressors stole their radios, jammed the net, and dedicated a song to the Division commander: “Bring It Down on My House, Honey.” Stamford became adamant from then that if one is taken prisoner or even in danger of capture, it was crucial to destroy the radios and get them off frequency.
Captain Stamford was enjoying four days of liberty in the West Indies when orders came for the Far East and the next weeks were filled with rushed movement. He was one of only two officers available by the time he reached Camp Lejune. The rest of the matters regarding the movement of an ANGLICO unit were settled and all other officers were busy with promotion examinations, so there was little to choose from. They reached Camp McGill, the Eighth Army’s center for amphibious training, where they organized under the regimental naval gunfire liaison Lieutenant Edward B. Williams.
On paper, Stamford’s team consisted of himself as the forward air controller, two radio operators, and up to two technicians. While they relied on their jeep for transport and battery power, their equipment could always be loaded on packboard and carried on foot. During the early summer they trained with the Army and Air Force to introduce the concepts he had shared before during his early post-war years in the States. He trained first with the 35th Infantry Regiment and expected to remain at least with the 25th Division immediately after the war broke out, but after chasing them down to Sasebo found that they were already off to Korea on July 3d. They sped back north to the 5th Cavalry who had been training with them for amphibious operations. He travelled around for an entire week and 2500 miles around Japan only to end up where he started at Camp McGill.
With the 5th Cavalry, the Captain sailed for Pohang-dong in a task force that pulled all 37 available ships in the Seventh Fleet and Far Eastern waters including one carrier, one British carrier, a British light cruiser and destroyer. They landed and immediately marched eight miles inland without firing a shot. Stamford told a correspondent, “The only thing we ran into was a Korean with bad hooch.” Several of the troopers had their fill of the bootlegger’s ‘chain lightning’ before Stamford’s party smashed his bottles and closed his business. The party was relieved from the regiment and traveled the eight miles back to the ship to wait for the night. Their role was over as far as ANGLICO tasks were concerned as the landing completed without incident as the ground forces were moving past the beachhead. Stamford and his men were mysteriously ordered back to the beach the next morning and he found that General Gay was trying to get the team further inland. He liked the way the officers handled their men and was desperate for more company grade officers. Even though the ANGLICO had Naval officers who were not capable of fighting inland, the general persisted. It took the involvement of Admiral Doyle to shut down the request and Stamford’s ANGLICO went back to Japan. It was a flattering compliment, but duty inland was beyond the 50–75-mile throw of a naval gun and the cavalry general only seemed focused on acquiring infantry leaders by any means.
During the week spent on the Cavalier off Yokosuka, rumors began to circulate that the team was going to the west coast to act as a guerilla unit armed with their radios to direct naval gunfire and air strikes along with other ‘hair raising’ missions. These ideas dissolved as time passed, but they did hear from plenty of casualties coming in through the port that the Army officers were envious of the air support the Marines were getting from their own aircraft. They would eventually fulfill this need as X Corps formed and Stamford and his detachment when into barracks to join the 1st Battalion, 32d Infantry Regiment.
The voyage to Inchon was miserable as the American troops had little experience on board ship and the third of the soldiers who were ROKs were also suffering from overindulging in rich rations. A typhoon bringing heavy weather only exacerbated it all. They anchored off Inchon on September 16th and on the morning of the 18th landed unopposed and easily marched eight miles inland to bivouac in the hills south of Inchon overlooking a mudflat. The first night was a disaster of fire discipline from the riflemen against invisible threats. At times, Stamford was sure they were being overrun by the enemy in the 2d Battalion area. The 1st Battalion, however, fired no shots and exhibited excellent discipline.
The battalion moved mid-morning on the 19th toward the east. After about five miles, they reached a ridge overlooking a broad valley. One round of mortar fire landed among them and killed an ROK soldier – their first casualty to enemy fire. They paused on the ridge before crossing the expanse before them and dug in for the evening. Stamford was called up to observe the area and target an observation post on the other side. He believed it was the first airstrike run by ANGLICO men in the country and was a very easy run with rockets and strafing.
Then Captain Edward P. Stamford, Ft. Lewis, Washinton, Semptember 1949.
(Photo courtesy Major Stamford for East of Chosin).
The more theatrical strike occurred next after they moved up. The regiment was moving tanks and infantry along the road across the valley as Stamford brought his radio up to the observation point. Before he departed the assembly area, one of the tanks drove violently into the radio jeep and knocked him ten feet away just as he was moving the handset. Luckily, he only needed to straighten the aerial and it still functioned, but it was a rather close incident.
As the Army troops had never witnessed a Marine Corps air strike, the event drew a lot of attention. After Stamford had aircraft on station, he looked up and recognized many of the 7th Division’s big personalities: General Barr, General Hodes, Colonel Beauchamp and several other staff officers. They gathered around to eavesdrop on the radio exchange. It was a quick and easy strike against the enemy observation point and the pilot called back to mention he had a tank of napalm at his disposal.
“Do you have a target for napalm?” Stamford asked Colonel Faith, who replied with a negative. “Well, I have a good target – that tank 200 yards out hit my jeep and I’d like to drop it on him!”
The surrounding officers found this hilarious as Stamford had no idea that one of them was the tank battalion commander. He was immediately unpopular with the armor officer.
The next day, the battalion faced a heavy firefight that Stamford only observed from a distance. Colonel Faith did not request air support, seemingly not fully realizing the value of aircraft yet, but proved to be a respectable commander as far as Stamford was concerned. After securing most of the high ground in the area, the command group moved to a hill overlooking the area. Troops the right were driving North Koreans off, but to the left they were moving slower. Unsatisfied with their lack of aggression, Faith took A Company with the command group to take the objective himself. It was a bold move that could have cost the lives of the command group, but Stamford was impressed. This behavior continued throughout the operation. Faith’s junior officers kept up for the most part and everyone kept up with grooming and even put forth effort to have clean clothes and shined boots.
They immediately approached another valley twice as wide as the previous that led into a tall hill which was the site of a copper mine. The North Koreans had disappeared, either hiding or blending in with refugees. Aircraft spotted no sign of them either. As the three leading companies began to cross the valley, the hillside lit up with machinegun and rifle fire. Some of the guns were distinctly captured .50-caliber. By late afternoon when Stamford tried to call in air support, they were unavailable and tied up by Marines who were having a difficult time.
The ANGLICO group set up with the battalion command post in a rice paddy two-thirds of the way across the valley at the limit of their telephone wire. After great difficulty because of the terrain and surrounding hills, Stamford finally made contact with the artillery battalion and requested they relay to the tactical air direction center that he wanted aircraft on station at 7:30 the next morning. They then established a hasty perimeter and stationed Marines and soldiers of the group at 200 yards intervals to relay changes for artillery fire back to the artillery officer. They worked this way all night and continued to keep up concentrations until the early morning after losing contact with the command group. It was enough to keep the North Koreans around the hill fairly quiet.
By morning, they had managed to acquire fourteen prisoners and several wounded Americans. The enemy was approaching from the south in strength and had mined the road around the base of the hill a mile and a half south of their command post to prevent any support coming in. Gunfire sprayed in from that direction occasionally and Stamford was relieved that the Koreans were unaware of their predicament as it would have been a very quick fight to eliminate key personnel of the battalion. There were not even fifteen men defending the area.
Stamford’s aircraft came on station promptly and he ran his strike with great effect. Between that and the artillery throughout the night, the North Koreans fled the copper mine and the brief action seemed to convince Faith of the value of air support. After they moved out to Anyang-ni, air support was the first thing Faith requested when they ran into trouble.
After two days in bivouac, Faith sent B Company east about five miles south of Seoul with the mission of taking high ground overlooking the city and the proposed Han River crossing site. They saw no enemy until approaching a small village near the road junction of the crossroads leading into Seoul and toward the ferry crossing at the river. The North Koreans attempted to cut off the company, their three tanks and supporting units. They called back to Faith who immediately called Stamford: “Get your radio and come out!”
The gallivanting officer had only his jeep, so Stamford left his men with instructions and where they would be on the map. As they called in to get aircraft on station, Stamford left with Faith and his hand radio. Four miles east, Faith parked the jeep and Stamford slung his radio on his back and they walked up the road. Within a mile, they could see where the trouble was.
It was difficult to tell where the frontline troops were, but there was plenty of shooting and visible concentrations of North Koreans. Even though Stamford had aircraft overhead, the surrounding hills once again made radio contact difficult. Communication was possible if he could see the planes, but as he was very close to a hill that the planes kept disappearing behind, the calls kept dropping and he looked for an area where he could see much more of the sky. He parted with Faith and moved up around a bend in the road only brought machinegun fire his way. Mortars quickly followed about the time the artillery liaison officer came up. They finally resorted to moving back into a river bed 150 yards off the road and Stamford could run his airstrike, keeping them far enough from where he could see the troops as the situation was still confusing.
A marine air-observer team guides a marine Corsair in for a strike on an enemy-held hill.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo.)
With the strike complete, he waded downstream toward where he last saw Faith and McLean. Finding a small path up to a village, he took it only face a barrage of small arms fire. Taking cover against the nearest building did nothing as he found he was on the wrong side of it and bullets still plugged the dirt and walls behind him. As he tried to find cover, more companies of the battalion came up the road and the enemy firing quickly ceased.
As night was approaching, the artillery liaison officer registered and set up a perimeter of artillery and 4.2” mortars that rained down throughout the night to prevent the Communists form ciricling through their rear. Stamford found that he was not only going to be responsible for his duties as forward air controller, but would be working closely with the artillery to handle calls coming from his forward observers. He stayed busy with these throughout the night relaying calls from the observers.
The next morning, their artillery and mortars continued to soften the low ridges of the massive hills to their front. Stamford called for air and had them on station. The battalion was ready to attack with A Company on the left, C Company center, and B Company to the right. As A Company moved up the road on the approach to Seoul, Stamford ran a strike that obliterated the North Koreans’ hold of a hill on the company’s flank, allowing them to overrun and take it that day. The other two companies had less trouble, but B Company did call for a strike later in the day. The enemy was hidden just over the ridge and Stamford instruction that they army troops had red recognition panels, but to their front was available to bomb and strafe. Only one 500-pound bomb hit too close to the troops, but only enough to shake them up. The company executive told Stamford later that the bewildered soldiers emerged from the smoke after in a daze with their helmets off. Another report of friendly fire casualties brought a sinking feeling, but Stamford was relieved when it turned out to be short 4.2” mortar fire on C Company, not his own air support.
The rest of the moved quickly and the command group dug into the base of a hill, but their rest was short when they were alerted to move five miles down the road after sunset. It took a few hours to get there, but they arrived at three in the morning. The troops were exhausted and even the commanding officer dozed off giving an attack order. Despite their fatigue, they moved out on time across a valley of heavy fog and took their hill unopposed.
They bivouacked in a river bed and cleaned up in the fresh water available. After a short rest, they prepared to cross the Han River. The Marines arrived in a nearby village with LVTs which they drove to the banks, lined up and crossed, dismounting and taking the surrounding high ground without enemy contact. Not a shot fired from the battalion and they spent the rest of the day watching the bombardment of Seoul. The only action came in the afternoon when troops crossing the river behind them suddenly took fire from hidden artillery to the east. Friendly artillery zeroed in on the area and aircraft were available on station, but since Stamford was absent from the command post, there was no one to answer the pilot’s challenge and he refused to the run a strike. There had been enough incidents of Communists cutting into the lines and sending strikes to the wrong areas.
In the morning while the two other line companies went east, C Company moved off the hills toward a shrine into the town itself. They were the only company to hit resistance and it became such a confusing fray that Stamford refused to run any strikes. The troops were mixed with the North Koreans for about an hour and would have been catastrophic if an air strike hit them.
The battalion rested for three days before moving to an abandoned school building and expected they would stay there for awhile, but Stamford was shaken out of his blankets before dawn the next day to report to the 2d Battalion, 17th Infantry for a motorized patrol. The 17th had seen little action around Seoul.
The patrol consisted of F Company with four tanks destined north of Seoul. They were underway just after noon to proceed 25 miles and return by nightfall. Stamford was there because the battalion commander requested an experienced forward air controller despite having Lieutenant Kesel, and Air Force officer who had trained under Stamford’s ANGLICO. He accompanied the Marine officer along with his radio man, Myron Smith. As they departed Seoul, a call from the tactical air direction center that enemy were seen moving into the area about twelve miles out of town appearing to take defensive positions, which they relayed to the major commanding the task force.
The convoy halted at a bridge leading up to the village nestled between two hills rising up from the river that the bridge spanned. The road beyond was straight, flanked by rice paddies on each side, and a railroad to the north. The major crossed first in his jeep with the four tanks following when the whole column was hit with heavy fire from the nearby hills. The major was hit immediately and quickly evacuated while the troops dove into the rice paddies for cover. For the first time, Stamford faced enemy dug into the foot of the hill as well as the crest.
Toward the rear of the column, Stamford grabbed his radio climbed out of his jeep and found an abandoned foxhole for cover. He managed to contact two Corsairs overhead who responded they had more aircraft coming, but they could work for him in the meantime. They struck the hill to their front and the railroad area with napalm, rockets and 20mm gunfire as well as liberal strafing to the low areas around the hills where enemy machine gun nests were buried in the terraced rice paddies. They nearly spent their ammunition when four more Corsairs came on station and attacked in the same manner in addition to dropping four 500-pound bombs to targets Stamford identified. One of the targets was a heavily wooded draw running up a steep slope that seemed like it would afford excellent cover.
The artillery battery following the column got into position just as the second set of aircraft expended their ammunition. The leading F Company had to wait for resupply of ammunition while the air and artillery plastered the hills and everything came together at the end of the day just after dark. As the rest of the battalion joined the task force, the battalion commander found Stamford and inquired – with a hint of acid of someone who has been disobeyed – who gave permission to run the strike.
“No one,” the confident Marine responded. “It was just Lieutenant Kesel and I. We were under heavy fire and all I could do was run air strikes on the hills.” Stamford knew where his front lines were and a messenger on foot confirmed that no troops were beyond the tanks.
All companies took their high ground with only twelve men killed. They found the one bomb sent into the steep draw resulted in over 200 North Korean dead alone. The village had been reduced to ashes which still glowed throughout the night as the whole of the battalion came up to occupy the area. The commander found Stamford and apologized about his earlier concern over his abilities feeling very confident after the successful attack and granted him freedom of running strikes whenever he pleased. General Hodes was also in the area and met briefly with Stamford, having nothing unfavorable to say about how he handled his air support.
The next morning, the men were occupied with cleaning up enemy equipment and counting enemy dead which was up to 435 total among the hills, the majority of which were from the air attack. The infantrymen reported that the machine gunners were cooked from napalm still poised in firing positions. As the North Koreans retreated en masse over the next day moving guns, trucks and troops. Immediately after hearing this, Stamford called in aircraft and they had an easy time knocking out truckloads of ammunition, strafing troops, rocketing railroad tunnels and targeting staff cars. They were out of targets within four hours. Later in the afternoon, six Navy ADs were available, so Stamford sent them further up the road and they had a similar experience destroying the rest of the vehicles the North Koreans were retreating in.
The destruction of the retreating Communist convoys was the last of his time with the 17th Infantry and Stamford returned to the 1st Battalion, 32d Infantry moving to Pusan and eventually Iwon in October. There seemed to be no question that ANGLICO was moving well beyond the beachhead and Stamford quickly understood that he was simply going to be a forward air controller as long as the 7th Division was operating under X Corps. When they left the Inchon-Seoul operation, his team included Corporals Myron J. Smith and Gerald R.
Thomas and Privates First Class Billy E. Johnson Wendell P. Shaffer.
The battalion slowly moved north from their unopposed landing at Iwon, hopping between villages every couple of days and finding nothing in patrols. They went as far as the Fusen Reservoir and only heard rumors of Chinese in the area who had driven all the people from their homes and stolen their food. They appeared to have left in a hurry, leaving plenty of evidence including the cables used to transport fish from the coast filled with food stuffs. Why they fled so quickly remained a mystery. Colonel Faith was somewhat disappointed at the absence of action. He was not as concerned about going home by Christmas, but was interested in finishing the job and was looking for a fight. He intended to cross the Yalu as soon as anyone even if he had to sneak across.
After Thanksgiving dinner on November 22d, a plan seemed to formulate that the regiment was going to remain in reserve while the 31st Infantry move in on the left of the 17th going to the Yalu. As they approached Hamhung, the battalion was ordered to pull off the road to clear it for a column of tanks that Stamford thought looked like a whole company from the 1st Marine Division going into the Chosin Reservoir. The battalion was surprised to hear they would follow, especially since they were so poorly equipped. The Division had not anticipated on moving so far north so quickly and having to provide for the attached ANGLICO unit. Stamford resorted to visiting the 1st Marine Division in Hamhung to gather enough equipment to keep his men warm. Recalling his experience in Alaska, he desperately wanted parkas, shoe-pacs, wool socks and shirts, winter underwear, alpaca vests and gloves before the weather got even colder. He also requested new utilities to replace the thin and tattered uniforms they had not been able to replace since early September. The parkas were the only piece impossible to procure as the supply officer was very adamant about the short supply within the Marine Division.
“I don’t see how I can issue parkas to your men,” he explained. “I don’t have enough to equip the Division and only people on the outside will be issued any at all.”
“Well, I can’t draw cold weather clothing from my unit,” argued Stamford, “and I am not far enough in the rear where I’ll have heat. In the infantry battalion I am in there are not even tents outside of the mess and aid tents!”
The Marines had up to five warming tents per company which they rotated through during the day. The 7th Division had none and lived outside in what affordances they had, typically sleeping bags and a meager pup tent. The command group was fortunate to occupy a building like a schoolhouse if it was available, but it was still extremely cold. Prior to embarking at Pusan, Stamford had also ‘beat on the head’ of a supply officer in Pusan to get mountain sleeping bags.
The battalion passed through Hagaru into the area of the reservoir by November 25th. The Marines began to move out and the Army troops took their old positions. More patrols revealed no sign of the enemy and the 5th Marines had nothing to report other than a few light engagements on their own patrols. The local civilians revealed through Korean interpreters that the Chinese were indeed present and intended to take the reservoir. They set up perimeter defense on November 27th where they finally found some enemy patrols to the northeast, but nothing to indicate a large scale operation. Everyone up to the battalion commander felt they could run all the way up to the dam on the north end of the reservoir and not see any enemy opposition.
Members of the TACP, L to R:
Cpl. Myron J. Smith, PFC Wendell P. Shaffer and PFC Billy E. Johnson.
(Photo courtesy Major Stamford for East of Chosin).
In the late afternoon, Faith ordered Stamford to A Company’s area to prepare for an attack against the area of the dam scheduled for the next morning. The company commander Ed Scullian sent him to two bunkers about 50 yards apart from one another for himself and his four men between the command post and 1st Platoon as well as an SCR-300 radio to stay in contact. Stamford occupied the forward bunker with two of the men, putting one on watch at the south end. The north facing end was covered by a poncho to keep the snow out.
About midnight several shots rang out and Captain Scullion yelled in Stamford’s direction. He scrambled awake and before he could get up to investigate, the poncho at the end of the bunker whipped aside to reveal a fur-rimmed face in the moonlight. Stamford sat up and fired at him just as a grenade thudded into between his feet and exploded on the sleeping bag he was still wrapped in. The grenade blast wounded one of his Marines and bullets zipped through the open end of the bunker and between the spaces in the log rood. They continued to fire out of the opening as they moved back to an adjoining escape slit-trench for a few minutes as A Company machine guns cleaned off the top of the bunker allowed them to escape.
Stamford organized his few men and grabbed other soldiers within the vicinity. The Marine officer, hardly an infantry leader but experienced enough to handle the ranks attributed the surprise infiltration to men along the front dozing in their foxholes, something that had been a continual problem since Seoul. Despite the attack, they were able to hold their positions and clean the enemy out.
Leaving Corporal Smith in charge of the air control party, Stamford first moved to 1st Platoon as the lieutenant’s position appeared most secure. He had been shot by one of his own men but was holding with enough men. Here Stamford learned the captain was dead, killed immediately on exposing himself in the fight. It was his first action in Korea. He then left to find the executive officer who was back in the bunker area the Marines previously vacated. He was directing troops in the area, but Stamford was amazed that he had done little to investigate the situation of the other platoons.
Lieutenant Ortinze of D Company approached Stamford. “Well Captain, you’re the next senior man. I guess you have the company!” And like that the Marine aviator was an infantry company commander. Though the executive officer believed he had the role, his area of operation was so narrow that it was ultimately Stamford who took control. (Colonels Bigger and Miller confirmed this later). He dispatched one of his Marines to investigate the situations of the other platoons and ordered the executive officer to take over 1st Platoon. He intended to firmly hold the company positions. His only order was that all men remain where they were regardless of the consequences.
The acute area of fighting was the only point of infiltration, so Stamford brought up 2d Platoon to reinforce the line and assist in cleaning up the command post area. The Chinese had gotten as far as 200 yards to the rear to take out the 60mm mortars and cut radio and wire communications. In the mayhem of the firefight, Stamford ordered a cease fire as he felt the troops expenditure of ammunition far exceeded what they were receiving. When the company’s rifle fire quieted, he silhouetted himself in the moonlight and immediately took shots from three positions. As bullets snapped uncomfortably close to him, the company quickly subdued the shooters, one of whom to the rear had been causing considerable trouble. He later admitted that it was a ‘silly way to find the enemy, but it did conserve ammunition.’
With the area secure, they were able to repel many other attacks throughout the early morning. It was not until dawn that the Chinese found the weak spot where 2d Platoon vacated and went for it in force, only to get beaten back when the platoon rushed back. They also opened fire with a 76mm cannon and 120mm mortar which did little more than harass them. Everything quieted down once the sun began to rise.
Major Miller relieved Stamford around that time. He informed the Marine that a captain and a sergeant had been killed trying to reach the command post and two wire teams were lost attempting to reach them from the 81mm mortars that were 500 yards to the rear. Had they not held the A Company position, the Chinese would have had no problem cutting right through to the battalion command post. The company was easy to handle, respected Stamford and carried out his orders without question, and as a result their casualties were light. His biggest problem had been keeping the ROK troops in their foxholes. He returned to the battalion command post with his equipment and men. The ANGRC-9 was shot up and useless and the MAW would only function on vehicle battery.
He reverted to his job as forward air controller and ran strikes all day on November 28th. In the east, C Company called for the most throughout the day and HQ Company requested heavy support as well. At sundown, A Company called in about three or four hundred troops, a tank and some self-propelled guns which Stamford direct four F4Us and four RAAF F-51s to demolish. It took them about twenty minutes while Stamford relayed from the forward company’s observer. He was fortunate to have aircraft on station consistently throughout the day and they remained available as long as possible.
The Chinese attacked again around midnight and the battalion troops spread out around the command post for defense. Colonel McLean and Faith decided it would be best to move south into the perimeter of the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry before dawn. The Chinese continued to pepper the command post with small arms until the battalion packed up before daylight on November 29th. Across the road to the south on the shoreline, Stamford saw figures carrying mortars and machineguns and flashes from mortar tubes on the nearby hill. He requested to run a strike, but the two colonels thought they were friendly and denied it.
After a quick recon of the area crossing into the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry perimeter, Colonel Faith returned to request the strike Stamford wanted. He returned again from the rear guard of the column to run a strike to support A Company. These were all successful and the troops moved across the ice south of the bridge spanning the stream into the inlet while vehicles made their crossing on the bridge itself. Only one officer was hit slightly in the calf.
Air strikes continued throughout the day and the pilots reported there were thousands of troops closing in on the reservoir. They took out a number of guns and mortars to the south and south east of the inlet perimeter. They risked colliding with air drops and cargo planes that Stamford called for on the same net. While the drops were plentiful, the contents were a disappointment and lacked essential supplies such as bandages, morphine, and ammunition. Stamford remained on the north end of the inlet throughout the morning to continue directing strikes until the trucks crossed the bridge and only then did he and his party cross in their jeep.
During the crossing, Colonel McLean disappeared. Faith reported he was captured by the Chinese. The inlet perimeter held by 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry was a disaster. Bodies of both American and Chinese littered the smoldering area and the incoming troops learned that the 57th Field Artillery’s guns were overrun. Their Air Force forward air controller was killed in the first attack and his radios were damaged when Colonel Reilly’s command post was overrun. All aerial support was Stamford’s responsibility. He looked around the carnage for a place to sit and found the body of a Chinese soldier frozen in a position suitable to sit on and eat a tin of rations. Adjacent to this body was another frozen corpse in a kneeling position bent over to rest on his elbows. ‘The top of his head had evidently been removed the night before while fighting for possession of the perimeter. As he froze, his brain expanded and rose up out of cranium until it looked like a piece of pink coral on a south Pacific reef. The hoar frost that fell during the early morning hours covered the top of his brain and sparkled in the sunlight. Too hungry to wait for a collecting detail to remove these corpses from my area, I opened the can of rations and using the “coral” as a centerpiece I sat down on the other and wolfed down my rations.’
That night continued with the same pattern of attack at midnight through early morning. The Marine team gathered all of the Air Force teams equipment and worked under fire for four hours to cannibalize all available radio pieces into something that worked to get Stamford in communication again.
The two Marines working on the radio were Billy Johnson and Myron Smith. They fumbled with numb, bare fingers until they were frostbitten to salvage and repair what they could by the light of the moon. By dawn, Stamford had aircraft on station and they worked on attacking what they thought was a regimental command post. His Corsair flight leader radioed that to the east there were Chinese vehicles, tents and soldiers dragging away their dead. At the center was what he thought was the command post.
Colonel Faith took command of the two infantry battalions and the artillerymen and the Chinese attacks increased again the night of the 30th into December 1st. Heavy mortars and masses of Chinese threatened to overrun their positions. At daylight, Faith decided to fight south into Hagaru-ri and had Stamford notify aircraft and the 7th Division commanding general of his proposal. By mid-morning the troops were ready, aircraft was on station, and all guns, vehicles and equipment to be abandoned was destroyed and burned. Plenty of clothing and baggage was left untouched.
A view of the inlet taken morning of November 28.
(Photo courtesy Colonel Embree for East of Chosin).
Stamford was a mere twenty yards behind the point of the column as they began their attack south. After holding off attacking Chinese with a nearby machinegun, Corporal Smith joined him with a radio he took from a wounded soldier. His hands and feet were terribly frozen and blackening, but he remained with Stamford’s team at the head of the column all day. They brought in napalm first which decimated the Chinese but also hit several American soldiers who ran around screaming and trying to tear their flaming clothes off. It was instantly demoralizing to the already fatigued troops, but they would all agree they could never have cleared the perimeter without it and wished to ‘kiss the first naval aviator’ they ran into if they made it out of the Chosin alive.
The nearby Captain Seever pointed out Chinese hurling grenades from a culvert twenty yards ahead and Stamford looked back to see an F7F ready to strage. He picked him up on the radio and simply said he wanted a rocket and strafing in front of the column without detailing the target. As if he was in control of the plane himself, Stamford had the pilot bring in his fire from 200 yards out right into the culvert until his tracers were hit where the needed just yards in front of him. One of the pilots later recalled, referring to Stamford by his radio code name: “Boyhood 14 kept calling or closer and closer support to less than fifty feet. The pilots could observe people practically clubbing the Reds off the trucks.” Stamford asked for the rocket and the Chinese position ceased to exist.
There were so many burned corpses the troops had to shove them aside so vehicles could pass. The operation was beginning smoothly aside from the napalm friendly casualties that became a point of horror no one forgot, but their escape was possible. As the road opened and the lead company moved forward with renewed energy, Faith grabbed Stamford and ordered him off the road to the low ground on the right. Myron Smith followed along with Faith’s radioman. They passed through an area below the crest of the road through dry grass and brush. It was quiet movement until they approached a log ramp sloping toward the shoreline which Stamford noticed a gun muzzle poking out of. Without changing his pace, he approached the ramp and climbed it until he was just above the concealed Chinese, thinking it smarter to bypass the gunner and keep the radio intact and not have to fight with only his .45 pistol. He waved to Smith and pointed between his feet to indicate the enemy gunner lay in wait. Smith kept walking until he was a mere few yards away and blasted the hidden soldier with a burp gun.
They passed around the curve of the road and climbed up to meet Faith, who again ordered Stamford off the road to ensure his survival. The Marine captain refused, arguing he could not keep up with the convoy if he was struggling over hard terrain, brush and frozen ground.
Throughout the day, Stamford continued running strikes and the column continued their push out of the Chosin. He had to repeat each strike several times because of the surrounding hills and the flight leader was frequently on the air noting targets he wanted to hit, blocking Stamford’s transmissions and forcing him to repeat and run down his batteries.
As the column approached the base of Hill 1221, the lead troops took fire and Private Shaffer was hit for the third time. Next to him, Lieutenant Marshburn was hit between the eyes and lived for only a few moments while the Marine private cradled the officer’s head in his lap. Shaffer found a ditch to rest and recover from his latest wounded.
By dusk as air cover dwindled, Myron was hit and Stamford took over the radio and loaded his Marine into a jeep alongside Johnson. He found Major Miller also wounded. Stamford pulled him from the roadside ditch and lifted him onto the hood of his own jeep, which was a lovely place to ride as the engine kept him warm. In the meantime, Colonel Faith disappeared. Captain Stamford walked alongside the jeep until dusk and with nothing left to do without air support and all the infantry over the adjacent hill, Stamford followed. It was the last he saw of the two boys who had remained with him with cool heads and devotion. Crosby Miller recalled that the jeep was struck with a direct hit soon after and a body hanging over the side indicated they were both likely dead.
Halfway up the slope, Stamford realized how dark it had gotten and threw his binoculars away, unslung the packboard radio and destroyed it. He proceeded further up the hill and tried to organize the scattered infantry as he went along approaching a second road block where there were several carcasses of vehicles and tanks. Stamford organized those who were walking and able just as Colonel Faith reappeared leading Lieutenant May and several men to clear the road ahead. The vehicles appeared to be left from a medical unit that attempted to reach the 31st RCT positions when they were ambushed. Before the two burnt tanks, the Chinese had piled additional logs which the working party rolled out of the way.
By the time Stamford finished and moved up the road, Faith was returning in the opposite direction back to the convoy. Lieutenant May had knocked out the machinegun nest and Stamford posted sentries to cover the cleared road. Major Jones approached at that time and the two moved down the road to investigate two stalled inoperable trucks. They were loaded with wounded and blocking passage of the rest of the column. Stamford convinced the walking wounded to assist in unloading the wounded, reloading them on nearby vehicles, and push the empty trucks off the road. Never in his life did he need to call on his last reserve of strength than he did in this effort. The wounded assisting him reopened their wounds and began to bleed again. The stubborn trucks refused to move after several attempts until finally the men succeeded in sliding them off the road and over the cliff to clear the passage. Soon he realized he was alone except for the artillery liaison officer for the 1st Battalion and Doctor Navarre who could not walk without support. Stamford made space among the other wounded and forced him into an ambulance. Navarre later wrote to Marine General Harris: “It is difficult to express the value of this man’s leadership in that dark hour when leadership was needed so badly. Only those that were there can understand its worth.”
With the convoy moving again, he caught up to the first section, now split with a wide gap before the second half, to find the lead truck 400 yards down the hill from the road block. Colonel Faith was in the passenger’s seat mortally wounded by a grenade. He asked the Colonel if he still wanted to continue to Hagaru-ri. On the edge of consciousness, he murmured a weak ‘yes.’ That was the last time he saw the battalion commander. Stamford walked in front of the column to lead them to the bridge at the bottom before holding them up to investigate if it was passable. He met a soldier who reported he had just outrun some Chinese and there was a machinegun nearby. Though Stamford found no such emplacement, he did find that the bridge was blown. He crossed it on his return and followed the narrow-gauge railroad as an alternative path. He gathered some survivors into a nearby building on the roadside and lit a cigarette while proposing the idea of using the railroad. Despite several officers lingering around, including a lieutenant colonel, no one seemed to be taking charge and he became ‘peeved’ and took charge of the column himself, leading over the railroad and back onto the main road. He kept 200 yards ahead of the convoy with a few other men for about half a mile when they were surrounded at gunpoint.
Vought F4U Corsair, June 1945
(U.S. Navy Photo 80-G-49319)
His captor indicated to the Marine captain to lie down on the side of the road and was either impatient, terrified or ordered to execute him because he blasted his rifle right in front of Stamford’s face. The guards took his pistol and kept their new prisoners by the roadside while scattered Chinese harassed the convoy as it approached. The lead truck careened through the little blockade and the Chinese began to chatter among each other. One captive dashed toward one of the passing trucks and hopped onto the tailboard, successfully making his escape and catching the attention of the Chinese. While they were distracted, the man next to Stamford said he was going to run at the first opportunity which he enthusiastically agreed with.
When the guard behind them stepped away to fire at someone else, the two captives bolted while he reloaded. Stamford crossed the road, the railroad, and kept running for what must have been a few hundred yards west before turning south again and diving into a bit of scrub. He was alone again and headed south to the next village of Sasu-ri which he estimated was a mile away.
He reached the village to find it abandoned and kept walking until he saw a figure in the distance. He quickly changed direction but realized the figure followed him, so the Marine headed for a slop of scrub pine over the most difficult terrain he could find. He came down the other side not realizing it was a sheer drop to his ankle. He limped the final few miles to Hagaru where he could see the rocket battery occasionally firing. He kept off the road as it appeared well traveled. Their salvos gave him a good sense of direction and he finally reaching the Marine perimeter in the early morning of December 2d.
He was evacuated the next day to Kyoto where he reunited with four of the 1st Battalion officers: Captain Bigger, D Company commander who had kept up fire support hobbling on two canes; Lieutenant Campbell, a platoon leader of D Company; Captain May, the motor officer and Captain Swenty who was responsible for leading a number of men down the road, leaving the packed tracks that Stamford saw. He was lucky to have a Chinese speaking ROK who answered any challenges during their escape.
He also met up with the pilot who fired the rocket into the culvert at the beginning of the breakout. Over a drink, the pilot said, “If you had not kept talking to me and I had a split second to think, I would not have fired that rocket.”
“Why not?” asked Stamford.
“You know as well as I, an HAVR is not that accurate.” He continued, “I could see your helmet in my 20 mil ring on my sight, but I was excited and when you said ‘Give me the rocket’ I automatically pressed the trigger. I knew I killed you.”
“I don’t think I would be any deader if you or the Chinese killed me, but if you hadn’t pulled the trigger I wouldn’t be around to buy you a drink for saving my life.”
Stamford saw too many capable officers and strong non-commissioned officers killed or wounded at the reservoir – paired with five days of fighting with little food or drink and the burden of carrying wounded and abandoning comrades, the morale of men not only broke down, but they were left in a sort of daze. Had they been able to stay together, perhaps more would have survived. Without the air support from Stamford, even more would have perished.
His award for the Silver Star came in December 1951 and a problem in his service records surfaced. He had spent nine months overseas, seven of those on the ground in Korea, yet because there was no adjustment to his temporary duty status for the initial assignment in Japan he accrued no overseas or hazardous duty pay for the period.
In the years following the war, he willingly detailed his Korean experience, particularly at Chosin, with historians and authors. He never gave up his crew cut hair and his strength and endurance did not fade. He was forever a model Marine, well decorated in two wars, but most loyal to his 1st Battalion, 32d Infantry Regiment.
Interview with Captain Edward P. Stamford. Historical Division: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1951.
Appleman, Roy E. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950. Texas A & M University Press, 1987.
Appleman, Roy E. Escaping the Trap.: the US Army X Corps in Northeast Korea, 1950. College Station, TX, Texas A & M University Pre, 1990.
Mossman, Billy C. Ebb and Flow, November 1950-July 1951. Center of Military History, United States Army, 1990.
Rasula, George A. THE CHOSIN CHRONOLOGY. 2006, mcoepublic.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/library/DonovanPapers/korea/TheChosinChronology.pdf.
Shaw, Henry I. The United States Marines in North China 1945-1949. Historical Branch, G-3 Division, HQ USMC, 1968.
United States, Command Reports – 7th Infantry Division, November - December 1950. Record Group 407, Box 3179: Army-AG Command Reports, 1949-54. National Archives at College Park, MD
United States, War Diaries– Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 236, March - December 1944. Record Group 38, Roll 1052: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
United States, War History – Marine Air Group 21, 1941-1945. Record Group 38, Roll 2037: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.