The American Legion Magazine
Alan W. Dowd
"IT WAS A TIME of unbelievable pain and suffering," Robert Branam said of his service as a sniper in Korea. "The months of training in boot camp could not prepare us for the miserable way some of us were about to die." Branam served nearly a year in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division during 1951.
On one occasion, his company was ordered to take a nameless hill from the enemy. "Each step was one of agony. We had climbed hills for weeks on end. Our feet were swollen - chafed by socks, soaked with blood and sweat," Branam remembered.
"In single file, we marched toward the top of the hill. It was covered with a growth of pine trees. The lower limbs had been scavenged for food by local peasants. There was no undergrowth, but the ground was covered with needles, which made our footing treacherous on the steep slope."
Members of the first squad attacked as the second squad shot over their heads to suppress enemy fire. But soon both squads were outgunned and pinned down by at least 600 North Koreans and their water-cooled machine guns.
"We were also low on ammunition and taking casualties," explained Branam. "I had just one clip left, and it was in my rifle as I began to scoop out a hole with my hands to get below the ground line."
By that time, the North Korean counterattack was underway. "Bark and branches were flying in all directions as the bullets whined through the woods," Branam remembered. "The enemy fire was so intense that the air was literally filled with flying debris."
Then, through the popping of gunfire, came the words every soldier dreads: "Fix bayonets!"
"We were pinned down and unable to move," said Branam. "The adrenaline rushed through us as we clicked our bayonets into place."
The North Koreans were only 100 yards away and closing fast. "There were still hundreds of them, but they were slipping and sliding on the pine needles, just as we had," recounted Branam, who is a member of Post 77 in Hendersonville, N.C.
Saviors with Machine Guns. "Then we heard footsteps - they were coming from the rear. It was two GIs," Branam explained. "One had a .30-caliber machine gun. The other was feeding the ammunition belt into it." The machine gun jolted back and forth as the GIs advanced into the enemy counterattack. "Only God knows why those two brave men weren't hit as they continued right into the enemy," Branam wondered.
But just as the counterattack was repulsed, the machine gun fell silent and those two unknown GIs were cut down. "Enemy soldiers bayoneted them for good measure," Branam recounted with disgust. "But by that point, all of us were out of bullets, including the enemy."
Decimated and out of ammunition, the North Korean unit finally retreated.
Two Silver Stars were awarded posthumously to the men who saved Branam and his comrades. Branam believes they deserved much more. "They should have been awarded the Medal of Honor - they saved what was left of our company."