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    2nd Engineer Battalion commemorates Battle of Kunu-Ri

    2nd Engineer Battalion commemorates Battle of Kunu-Ri

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class John Queen | Soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Battalion, take up a defensive fighting positions as the...... read more read more

    CAMP DEHDADI II, Afghanistan – Soldiers of the United States Army’s 2nd Engineer Battalion, currently deployed to Camp Dehdadi II near Mazar-e-Sharif in Northern Afghanistan, conducted their unique, annual commemoration of the Korean War battle of Kunu-Ri Nov. 30.

    Like most ceremonies that recognize a unit’s accomplishments, this one also pays tribute to an event that became a low point in the Battalion’s history – the burning of its Battalion Colors.

    “We do it to honor the courage and sacrifice of our veterans – to commemorate their actions and acknowledge their place in history and the role they played in shaping the history of the 2nd Infantry Division and that of Korea,” said Lt. Col. Christopher M. Benson, commander of the 2nd Engineer Battalion. “We must never forget our history, nor the legacy our veterans left to us to maintain.”

    As part of the ceremony, a scene is staged with Soldiers and equipment set to resemble the final moments leading up to the order to burn the flag.

    “No one – no one – does what we do,” Benson said. “The ‘Burning of the Colors’ is a unique event that is known throughout the Army, especially to those who have ever served in Korea or the 2nd Infantry Division. To know that our Battalion played such a significant role in saving an entire division from annihilation is pretty noteworthy.”

    The Korean War began in late June 1950 with North Korean forces crossing the 38th parallel invading the south. United Nation forces were quick to respond and caught the communist-backed invaders by surprise. Within five months, the North Koreans were driven back beyond the 38th parallel and up to the Yalu River bordering China.

    The battalion, currently based out of White Sands Missile Range, N.M., was known then as the 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion. The unit was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division where it helped spearhead the division’s drive north after landing at Pusan.

    By October 1950, a U.N. victory appeared to be close at hand, along with the reunification of the Korean peninsula. However, before the month’s end, Chinese Communist Forces would intervene by attacking U.N. positions.

    On Nov. 25, the CCF launched an all-out assault and poured more than 400,000 soldiers across the Yalu River swiftly overtaking the U.N. Forces. In a matter of days, if not hours, the Chinese border region became a chaotic maze of intense close-quarters fighting and hasty withdraws of UN troops in sub-zero temperatures.

    In the Northeast, the United States 1st Marine Division found itself surrounded at the Chosin Reservoir and outnumbered 8 to 1 as they fought to withdraw. To the west a Turkish battalion, depleted of ammunition was reduced to fighting a hand-to-hand battle against Chinese bayonets using their Turkish long knives.

    In between, the 2nd Engineer Battalion along with the rest of the 2nd Infantry Division was tasked with protecting the rear and right flank of the Eighth Army as it retreated to the South.

    Individual companies from the battalion were attached to two infantry regiments, the 9th and 38th, to help fill in gaps in the defending forces lines.

    Although reinforced, the lines eventually gave way to brutal assaults by three Chinese divisions. By 10 p.m. on Nov. 26, the CCF overran the 1st Infantry Battalion, 3rd Infantry Battalion, and 2nd Engineer Battalion command posts.

    After three days of heavy fighting, the original three Chinese divisions had grown to five with more on the way. Both Able and Baker Companies from the 2nd Engineers were out of ammunition and were relieved from 38th Infantry Regiment. They were subsequently ordered to reconsolidate at the town of Kunu-ri. Hours later they were joined by Charlie Company.

    On the morning of Nov. 29, the Battalion received orders to relocate south to Sunchon. The move became impossible due to a massive gridlock of military vehicles. The Chinese had earlier seized the initiative by blocking the road, which was the only way to move arriving supplies north and the only escape route south.

    The 2nd Engineers were moved forward to clear a path through the obstacle and open the road. Once a passageway was opened, the Battalion was told to hold the line with the 23rd Infantry Regiment and Able Battery of the 503rd Field Artillery.

    During the early morning hours of the Nov. 30, the massive 2nd Infantry Division convoy began to slowly make its way across the mountainous passage through a six-mile gauntlet of Chinese sniper and mortar fire from fortified positions overlooking the road.

    The engineers, along with Able Battery and the 23rd brought up the rear.

    Within hours the situation turned from bad to worse as sniper and indirect fire increased. Swarms of Chinese troops engulfed the evacuating column of Americans hurling grenades and engaged in a desperate hand-to-hand fight for survival.

    As the battle wore on throughout the day, the route was filled with dead, dying and wounded Soldiers. Burning vehicles had to be forcibly removed from the road to keep the passage open. Soldiers, alive and injured alike, grabbed whatever ammunition and cover they could find and fought until their last rounds were expended – often resorting to the bayonet.

    According to reports, the 23rd Infantry Regiment was ordered to move out via a westward road to Anju – orders the 2nd Engineers did not receive.

    Now depleted and exhausted, the battalion was the only unit left to oppose the massive Chinese assault force.

    All around the area gasoline was burning, artillery shells and small arms rounds exploded. Through all of this the beleaguered American engineers could hear the bugle calls and see the light signals of the fast approaching Chinese. A heavy smell of garlic filled the air.

    The battalion leadership ran up and down the line rousing exhausted, sleeping, and wounded Soldiers to raise arms to prepare for the imminent attack.

    The engineers successfully held off the Chinese long enough to allow the remainder of the 2nd Infantry Division to complete its evacuation through the pass.

    Unfortunately, by this point of the battle, the engineers’ window of opportunity to escape had closed. At 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 30, Col. Alarich Zacherle, commander of the Battalion, ordered all equipment still functioning destroyed. Magnesium grenades were dropped on heavy equipment tracks and engines, tires and stocks were filled with gasoline, thrown inside vehicles, and set ablaze.

    He then ordered the Battalion Colors, its custom made box, and the 25 combat streamers that adorned it to be soaked in gasoline, and set on fire. Zacherle’s intent was to refuse the Chinese the opportunity to take it as a coveted war trophy.

    As the flames died down that night, the 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion became completely surrounded by the CCF.

    Nearly a half an hour after his order to destroy the equipment, the Chinese overran the besieged engineers.

    The next morning, Dec. 1, what was left of the battalion regrouped in Sunchon.
    Of 977 Soldiers assigned to the Battalion, only 266 answered at roll-call.

    “As you read or hear the story of this event in books, articles, or from the veteran's themselves, you hear stories of amazing courage, sacrifice, overwhelming odds,” Benson said. “You also hear stories of leadership, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage - the Army Values - and of course, all of those who were taken prisoner and lived the Code of Conduct. We can learn from all of these things.”

    Benson explained it is important to recognize the sacrifice, courage, dedication to duty, and selfless service of our veterans.

    “Not just 2nd Engineer veterans, but all veterans. And, to understand, that as tough as we think we have it sometimes, there are those who've had it tougher,” he said. “We all owe a debt of gratitude to our veterans, and although we can never thank them enough, the Burning of the Colors is one small way to show our gratitude, carry on their legacy while educating others and tell the story of their actions and sacrifice for younger generations to carry on.”

    This year marks the 60th anniversary of the battle.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 12.03.2010
    Date Posted: 12.03.2010 14:49
    Story ID: 61299
    Location: MAZAR-E-SHARIF, AF 

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