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The Gauntlet April 30, 2009

Posted by daveintexas in Heroes, History, News.

Excerpt from David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter – America and the Korean War


It was getting toward dusk, and everyone knew how bad the whole thing was. Paul O’Dowd was with the artillerymen who by then were buttoning up their guns, preparing for the last move. If they went south, it was going to be a very bad trip, they all knew, because they had two spotter planes flying over the road and the reports on the destruction were shocking. It sounded like a massacre to O’Dowd. But for the moment he had only one job, getting those guns out of there. Lieutenant Colonel John Keith of the Fifteenth Field Artillery Battalion had told him to load up their guns, and he was doing just that, sure that they had fired their last round in the Kunuri region. Just then one of his forward observers, First Lieutenant Patrick McMullan, showed up and started screaming, “Fire mission! Fucking Chinese! Fire mission! Fucking Chinese everywhere! Fire mission!” O’Dowd has never seen McMullan so out of control — he thought maybe he was drunk, for some of the men in the other units had been drinking that day. “Fire mission! More fucking Chinese!”

“We’re on closed station march orders,” O’Dowd told him, which was the exact phrase they’d used for the moment then they had closed it up and were ready to get out. But gradually O’Dowd got more information: the Chinese were moving in for the kill right out in the open in daylight, seemingly thousands of them. Just then Colonel Freeman walked by and asked O’Dowd what was going on, and O’Dowd explained what McMullan had seen. “Get the goddamn guns into fire positions,” Freeman ordered.

There they were, all those Chinese, perhaps five thousand yards away, a vast wall of them closing in just as McMullan had said. Freeman told the men that their mission was to delay the Chinese, even if they did not get out in time themselves, even if they did not get out at all. The regiment, Freeman later remembered, unloaded all its weapons and ammo, and the men laid everything out in front of them. This is where they were going to make their last stand, he thought, and quite possibly die. The artillerymen had unloaded the big 105s from the trucks and pointed them in one direction — eighteen howitzers in all, the last guns of Kunuri. It was called a Russian front in the artillery. Paul O’Dowd had fought in two wars, survived the worst of the Naktong fighting, and he had never seen anything like this. Everyone in the unit — cooks, clerk typists — helped take shells off the trucks and carry them to the guns. They fired everything they had in what seemed to O’Dowd about twenty minutes, though it probably took longer. There was a lot of ammo because they had shells that two other artillery units had left behind. They were firing so fast that the guns were overheating and the paint was peeling, just rolling off the guns in giant chunks. The recoil systems on those guns were going to be ruined, O’Dowd decided, but there was no time to worry about that. He was just a little scared that the chambers were so hot the guns might blow.

It was an apocalyptic moment. The noise was deafening, eighteen guns that never stopped. How many rounds went out in that brief span — three, four, five thousand? Who knew? And then, suddenly it was over. They had fired their last shell. After all that noise, the silence was overwhelming. Then they destroyed the guns with thermite charges, so the Chinese could not use them. They had completely stopped the Chinese attack, and Freeman believed that, even more important, the Chinese had dug into defensive positions, because an artillery barrage like that often signaled the coming of an infantry attack. The last orders Freeman gave were “Get the hell out of here, and don’t stop!” The road to Anju was completely open and the Twenty-third ran into very little Chinese resistance.


1. GrumpyUnk - April 30, 2009

That’s a great story. Most people know very little about the Korean War.

That Team America won.

My hearing was permanently trashed from just a 6 gun fire mission that only lasted a couple of minutes.

2. Michael - April 30, 2009

Wow. GrumpyUnk does not delurk very often.

And thank you, sir, for your service to our country.

3. xbradtc - April 30, 2009

Not quite the same as a 5,000 yard engagement against the Chinese hordes, but still pretty interesting.


And, yeah, there’s a not insignificant number of Americans that don’t even know we fought in the Korean War, much less that we fought the Chinese there…

4. Vmaximus - April 30, 2009

My last GF’s dad served in the Korean war. Everyone talks about WW2 but Korea was only 5 years after WW2.

My nightly Max pic
max walking
Max walking

5. GrumpyUnk - April 30, 2009

Thanks Michael.
You get used to the constant ringing after a decade or so.

They issue you earplugs. If you’re smart enough to pay attention and use them it’s an ok deal. I wasn’t always the genius I am today.

6. Michael - April 30, 2009

GrumpyUnk, my ears ring too. I think they call it tinnitus. I can hear it right now if I think about it.

In my case, I think it started when I was yelling “Encore!” at an REO Speedwagon concert.

7. Michael - April 30, 2009

I wasn’t always the genius I am today.

Tell me about it. I know what you mean, GrumpyUnk. Shortly after reaching about the age of 53 comes the awful realization that you were a total dumbshit for the first half century of your life.

Then, you realize that all the people you know who are younger than you are dumbshits. And they are often people you care about, like your kids and friends and so forth.

So, there is this window of opportunity before you become a cranky old fart where you feel responsible for explaining to everyone why they are dumbshits. But nobody listens.

It’s a lonely experience.

8. Retired Geezer - April 30, 2009

Then, you realize that all the people you know who are younger than you are dumbshits. And they are often people you care about, like your kids and friends and so forth.


9. Michael - April 30, 2009


Of course, there are always exceptions to the general rule. Like Brewfan. He’s over 50, but I am resigned to the fact that he is going to be a dumbshit until the day he dies.

God knows, I’ve tried to straighten him out. I really tried.

10. Michael - April 30, 2009

Another exception is Lipstick. She is way younger than 50, but she has already qualified for an Executive Assistant position during the Lutheran Millennium™ and has been exempted from the reeducation camps. And she’s not even Lutheran, but she is clearly teachable.

Plus, she gave me Zippo.

11. Lipstick - April 30, 2009

Heh. I know how to grease the right palms.

12. GrumpyUnk - May 1, 2009

“Then, you realize that all the people you know who are younger than you are dumbshits. And they are often people you care about, like your kids and friends and so forth.”
I stayed a dumbshit till about 35. For the last 20 years, I’ve been seeking my inner “Walter Mathau of Grumpy Old Men.”

13. daveintexas - May 3, 2009

One of the toughest orders I’ve ever read about, Walton Walker to his 8th Army in the defense of the Pusan perimeter.

“Stand and die if necessary”.

Sweet Jesus.

14. Michele McLees - May 10, 2009

If anyone reads this page and remembers the Lt. Patrick McMullan written about in this excerpt, please contact me. He was my great-uncle.

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