Henry Montijo: The Battle of the Little Schoolhouse, August 3, 1950

Excerpts “In Memoriam” by Henry J Montijo

This had been my second big battle in a period of 5 or 6 days. At this point, although scared, I felt like a real seasoned soldier. I had been in the thick of it and got out in one piece. I discovered that being in battles and being close to death and in constant danger causes soldiers to become like brothers. It did not matter if you had or had not been friends before, now you have joined the brotherhood. This brotherhood instills a protective spirit in each one to do all that is humanly possible to help and protect each other. You develop a confidence in your buddy and he likewise develops a confidence in you. You become willing and ready to kill anyone at any time should they try to harm you or one of your brothers. There are no exceptions or reservations you do it without thought or hesitation.

We arrived back at the schoolhouse at Chingdong-ni very late that night and bedded down on a small hill with a plateau on which string or soy beans were growing. The small hill was just behind the schoolhouse. I guess our commanders felt pretty safe here because we were not required or ordered to dig in. Everyone was so tired that we just sacked out right in the open ground. Many of us including myself even took our boots off and settled in for the night. Things were so calm and secure that even a famous war correspondent was with us at the schoolhouse. Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune had joined the regiment earlier that day and was bedded down for the night in the schoolhouse. It was a real treat to be able to just lie down and relax. Soon we were all asleep when suddenly all hell broke loose again.

Bullets were flying right over us and there was a lot of yelling and screaming going on. My first thought when I woke up was to reach for my rifle but I had left it about a foot away from me leaning on a branch. Barefoot and bewildered and unsure of what was happening, I rolled on the ground and grabbed my rifle and made a mad dash to a trench. I dove into the trench head first and scraped my hands and my face when I hit the bottom. We were very lucky that our cooks were up early preparing breakfast. As they looked up at the hills they noticed hundreds of soldiers coming down. They clanged on their pots and pans and also began firing back at the “GOOKS”. The commotion was so scary and confusing that we didn’t know which way to shoot. We got organized as quickly as possible and started to return fire. Many of our men were wounded and some were killed. I saw a soldier holding his guts with his hands and crying loudly. I believe this is the man that Mr. Terry describes in chapter 5 of his book on page 92. At some point the medics took him and the other wounded away. As we looked at the top of the plateau all you could see were the bean plants growing 2 to 3 feet high.

At this point Captain Weston Logan once again demonstrated his bravery when he stood up and started firing through the bean plants. He had seen the enemy crawling through the bean fields. Captain Weston had been wounded before in our battle with the tanks. His eardrums had burst but he had recuperated and was back with us again. He kept on hollering at us “fire through the bean plants, fire through the bean plants” which we all did and when the battle was over, we found many dead Koreans. Captain Weston was again wounded twice before being dragged off by the medics: he did not return. I understand he received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Sadly, Sgt. Sergeant Floyd Miller, a great sergeant and good friend of mine, was killed right next to me. He’d taken a bullet to the head. Sergeant Miller was still wearing his glasses and his body lay there with his head lolling crookedly to the side. There were other soldiers killed and wounded that day, among them; Lt. Joe Font wounded, Pvt. Lynn Mestler wounded, Pfc. Joyce Morvant [my boxing trainer] seriously wounded, Pfc. Lester Potter wounded, and Sgt. Morris York [the guy who saved my life] wounded. Many scenes like these happened all around me. Some of the men I knew well and others were just acquaintances. But we were brothers and I confess that each one of them left a deep hurt in my heart as I’m sure it did in the others. Mr. Terry makes mention of the death of Sergeant Miller and also mentions his wife and children. I didn’t know the families of any of the soldiers mentioned above, I just knew them. I am ever grateful and honored to have shared my life with them and they will never be forgotten. The firefight went on for what seemed an eternity. Even the 155 howitzers [cannons] on the school grounds were firing point blank at the enemy.

Marguerite Higgins describes the battle vividly in her book “WAR IN KOREA”chapter 8 from page 122 on. She captured my experience when she describes us as ‘Many of them [us] were shoeless, but others came rushing by with rifles in one hand and boots held determinedly in the other,” And, “another officer came up with the gloomy information that several hundred Koreans had landed on the coast a thousand yards beyond.” After two more hours of heavy combat, we finally got the upper hand and routed the enemy. We found hundreds of dead Koreans all strewn on the plateau and also on the hill. Our group of survivors called this the “Battle of the Little Schoolhouse.” According to Higgins, “when the last onslaught had been repulsed more than 600 dead North Koreans were counted. Later on in the day, I witnessed a tank with a large scraper on the front, dig a huge trench, and all the enemy bodies were scraped into this trench and lime was poured over the bodies and the tank with the scraper covered them.

This was now my third major battle and the third time I almost got killed. I felt like a seasoned soldier and although still scared, I joined my buddies in removing the C rations from our dead buddies’ packs and proceeded to eat them. The choice items were frankfurters and beans and fruit cocktail for dessert. An officer I had never seen before happened to walk by and gave us a very dirty look but said nothing. We continued to enjoy our meal.

 

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