MK note: This great stuff is all from "Bart" Soto, who has been a very, very good friend to the IBB. He even picked the background music and told me where to "requisition" it. His article has been edited only a very little by me. That's okay because I've run it by him before publishing. Besides that, it belongs to ME now. I think that Bart deserves a big of approval and that many thanks are owed to him and the 65th Infantry Regiment, MK.
INFANTRY REGIMENT ON KELLY IN SEPTEMBER 1952
The 65th Infantry achieved an outstanding combat record in Korea during the first two years of the war. This is well documented in the official history.
Things began to change drastically in late 1952. Due to the Army’s points and rotation system, the well-trained and experienced veterans began to leave the unit and return home. By the autumn of 1952, the Army’s rotation policy, the poor training program for new Puerto Rican recruits, language difficulties, poor leadership, bad tactics, and racial attitudes, all combined together to do serious damage to the regiment.
Most of the soldiers of the wave of replacements arriving in the regiment in 1952 were "green" draftees with only basic training and no unit training. They were sent straight to the front. It was left to the leadership of the Regiment to complete the training of these soldiers even in the midst of combat.
According to the then Captain George Jackson, Company Commander of G (George) Company, 2nd Battalion, 65th Infantry, in 1952 the Regiment received new troops "by the boatload" to replace the many soldiers rotating back home. Prior to the battle of Outpost Kelly, Captain Jackson had received 115 replacement soldiers in his company alone. That is over half of the total manpower available to his rifle company.
Unfortunately, few of the new replacements arriving were NCOs. Because of NCO shortages throughout the 8th Army, the majority of English speaking Puerto Rican NCOs, shipped to Korea in 1952 for the 65th Infantry, were being sent to fill the vacancies in other U.S. units. Ironically, such reassignments were allowed only by a change in policy made because the 65th had done so well at the beginning of the war. Despite the fact that NCOs were being shipped to Korea specifically for service in the 65th Infantry to fill its NCO vacancies, if these NCOs knew any English, their orders were changed and they were assigned to other units. Unfortunately, this very policy deprived the 65th of critical NCO leadership and led to the warehousing of Spanish speaking soldiers in one unit.
There was such a severe shortage of experienced NCOs in the Regiment that, in many cases, squads were led by one of the newly arrived soldiers who had just arrived from Basic Training with his buddies. These individuals were selected because they happened to speak more English than their comrades or had a little more education. This did not inspire confidence in the men -- being led by a fellow private from basic training! A Platoon Sergeant, who should be the senior Sergeant in the platoon, was oftentimes only a Corporal. As LTC (Ret) Bob Lott explained in his article published in the Oct 2000 issue of "Watch on the Rhine", his Platoon Sergeant was a Private First Class!
The leadership at the rifle company level was very superficial and inexperienced. Once key leaders were killed or became casualties, anything could happen.
The troops arriving into the regiment in 1952 were thrown into the hell of combat without the benefit of experienced leadership at the first line supervisory level, the backbone of the Army, the non-commissioned officers (NCOs). The experienced NCOs served as the critical link between the soldiers who did not speak English and their continental officers who could not speak Spanish. The language problem was only one small element of a much larger and more difficult problem that will adversely affect all soldiers in combat -- a lack of leadership.
What happens when you have very few NCOs or none at all? How does a soldier react in a combat situation being lead by one of his peers who barely knows more than he does? What happens to soldiers in combat that have Basic Training only and are led by officers who speak a "foreign" language only? What happens when your leader is killed and you do not even understand what your mission is? Eventually, the unfortunate result of such situations, unwittingly caused by the policies of the U.S. Army itself, would manifest itself on the battlefield.
Much has been said about the language situation in the 65th Infantry Regiment. It is true that most of the drafted Enlisted Men did not speak English well. In 1952, the average Puerto Rican soldier was much like any other citizen of a Latin American country. Despite the fact that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and its citizens are U.S. citizens by Law, (The Jones Act of 1917), the Puerto Rican native was more Latin American than U.S. Continental American. Therefore, the training of Puerto Rican troops would have to be more intensive to make up for the problem with training "foreign" citizens lacking basic language skills. Unfortunately, the training being conducted in Puerto Rico by the U.S. Army to prepare these native troops was not sufficient to compensate for this weakness.
The average Puerto Rican soldier would learn the language by being immersed and completely surrounded by it while serving in the Army. This would take time and the basic training period provided for these troops was not enough. At this point in the war, because of the tremendous need for replacements, basic training had been reduced to six weeks for some and almost non-existent for those in Reserve duty who had already obtained basic during previous service in WWII. If these troops had been given more time to serve in the Army before deployment to front line combat units, they would have been able to master the basics of English. As anyone knows who has experienced it, learning a foreign language in a classroom is one thing, but actually using it and functioning in it 100% in a foreign country is something completely different. This was the language situation confronted by the average Puerto Rican soldier at that time.
F and C Company Defend
Beginning 9 Sep 1952, the 65th Infantry was occupying the " Jamestown Line," a six kilometer sector in which the Imjin River cut across the sector from Northeast to Southwest. The Regiment was ordered to occupy several Outpost positions (Kelly, Tessie, Nick, Betty, Big and Little Nori and The Bubble) in front of the main line of resistance (MLR).
Army defensive doctrine at the time required outpost positions in front of the main front line of resistance (the MLR). These outposts would provide warning of an enemy attack on the main line, disrupt the enemy’s attack, call in artillery fires, etc. By the book, the outpost was supposed to withdraw back to the main line if they were to be severely pressured and receive a major attack. The outpost was not considered a major defensive position. In Korea, the doctrine was changed. The outpost was ordered to be held at all costs!
The 65th rotated companies through Outpost Kelly. The outpost was isolated from the MLR, about 500 meters from the main line.
According to then Captain (CPT) Willis "Bud" Cronkhite, Commander of F Company, 2nd Battalion, 65th Infantry, Outpost Kelly was a company-sized outpost. It could only hold three of the four platoons in a rifle company, so one rifle platoon was left behind under Battalion control. CPT Cronkhite held the position for six days and his company took a beating from the Chinese Communists who wanted the position. The Chinese pounded the hill with artillery, mortar, and ground attacks.
The hill was very steep on the side facing our MLR and a rope was needed to climb it. CPT Cronkhite was very conscious of security. He would not allow his men to bring sleeping bags and authorized only one blanket for every two troops;, therefore; ensuring 50% security at all times. He would establish a night ambush patrol at the base of the hill to guard the rope entrance to the position. CPT Cronkhite demanded that anyone approaching Kelly call him first to say they were coming or he would shoot them. This tactic worked and F Company was never surprised. Bud lost approximately half of his company during his six days defending the Outpost before he was relieved.
During the night a new company came to replace F Company, CPT Cronkhite personally checked all the positions to ensure none of his men were left behind. He ordered each platoon to return to the MLR after they had been relieved. Bud was the last man in F Company to leave Kelly. When he slid down the rope he was surprised to find all of F Company waiting for him at the base of the hill! Bud was furious but his officers told him his men refused to leave without their Commander. There was only one choice left to do, the sun was coming up. CPT Cronkhite ordered "follow me" and ran like hell down the rice paddy dike heading for the MLR. Fox Company followed their leader. For some strange reason the Chinese did not open fire on this juicy target and what remained of F Company made it back to the MLR.
On 17 September, Outpost Kelly was being defended by C Company, 65th Infantry, when it was attacked by a Chinese Battalion. C Company stopped the Chinese cold. That morning, they counted 150 Chinese dead. C Company had suffered 17 dead. By then they had been on the position a week and desperately needed to be relieved due to the casualties they had already suffered from the constant artillery, mortar barrages, and the latest ground attack.
Battling Baker Company Takes Its Turn
Since it was time for rotation, the Regimental Commander sent B (Baker) Company onto Kelly on 18 September 1952. The change of companies had taken longer than anticipated and was not completed until after dark.
After several weeks of failed attacks, the Chinese had apparently learned from their mistakes. When it was dark, the Chinese tried a different tactic. They approached the rear of the position in single file at night giving the appearance of a Korean supply column. The B Company soldiers were expecting a scheduled supply column that night and were caught unawares. It is also believed that the Chinese may possibly have known the password.
The change of companies had taken longer than was anticipated and had not been completed until late that night. The Company Commander was holding a meeting with his officers in the command bunker. The entire company was surprised and overwhelmed before they knew what was happening. The surprise was so complete that some soldiers were killed in their sleeping bags. The enemy was able to kick in the door of the Company Command bunker, throw a grenade in, and kill most of the officers. One lieutenant was able to throw himself out the door and roll down the hill while being shot at by Chinese soldiers. Although wounded, the Lieutenant managed to escape.
At 65th Regimental Headquarters, there was confusion as to what was happening on Outpost Kelly. It was apparent there was a battle going on but no one was answering the radio. The Regimental Commander, Colonel (COL) Juan Cordero-Davila decided to wait until morning and daylight to determine what to do. Later, the Lieutenant who had survived the attack made his way to Regimental Headquarters and told his story.
During the morning of 19 September, officers on the front line could look at Outpost Kelly with their binoculars and see that the Chinese had captured the position and were using captured Puerto Rican soldiers to improve the defenses. Captain (CPT) George Jackson, Commander of G Company, 2nd Battalion, manning the positions in front of Kelly, was able to look to the front and witness the horrifying sight of their badly wounded and bleeding comrades who had managed to escape and were crawling back to the MLR under the guns of the arrogant Chinese. Several men risked their lives and ran forward to rescue the surviving wounded. Captain Jackson witnessed a soldier who had his legs blown off place himself on his helmet and try to propel himself to the MLR. He bled to death before he could make it back.
The Chinese immediately began to use some psychological warfare. Loudspeakers were set up and a captured soldier was forced to taunt the leadership of the Regiment. Someone called out to the Battalion and Regimental Commanders, "Come and command the 65th here that we have as prisoners". COL Cordero ordered an immediate counterattack and artillery barrage, but Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Betances-Ramirez, Commander of the 2nd Battalion, reminded him that many B Company soldiers were still on the hill, captured by the Chinese. COL Cordero reconsidered his attack. He did not want to kill his own men. After making the necessary improvements to their positions, the Chinese marched their prisoners away later that day.
Easy Company Attacks
Early in morning of 20 September, LTC Carlos Betances-Ramirez, 2nd Battalion Commander, received authorization from Regiment to launch a counter-attack. E (Easy) Company attacked and made steady progress against stiff enemy opposition. As they attacked and reached the hill they had to climb the steep slope while under fire. By late afternoon, one platoon managed to make it to the top. The soldiers discovered some mutilated bodies of their comrades and countrymen. They could not tell if the Chinese had tortured them to death or perhaps mutilated them after they died.
The Chinese launched a counterattack that day supported by plenty of artillery and mortars, forcing E Company to withdraw. The officers of the 65th were noticing now that the Chinese had improved the amount and accuracy of their artillery. At the same time our own counter-battery fires could not locate and knock out the new Chinese guns. The Chinese had also improved their logistics since they seem to have endless quantities of artillery ammunition and were re-supplying well.
First Battalion Gives It a Try
The First Battalion, under command of MAJ Albert C. Davies, was ordered to launch an attack this time with two companies, A and C, during the evening of 20 September. The Chinese spotted these companies crossing the MLR and entering the valley. They immediately poured down artillery and mortars barrages. Our own artillery pounded Kelly in support of our attack. The men managed to make it to the base of the hill where the Chinese, manning the entrenchments on Kelly, met them with small arms and hand grenades. First Battalion soldiers fought on slowly making their way up the steep hill. After the 65th men took parts of their position again, the Chinese opened up with air burst artillery shells and mortar fire. Apparently the Chinese did not care that they were also shelling their own men in the position. This fire decimated the 65th soldiers attacking. First Battalion was eventually forced to withdraw in the early afternoon of 21 September after suffering heavy casualties.
The 65th had lost B Company, which was virtually annihilated, and E, A, and C companies had taken heavy casualties in their battles for the position; their remaining men were exhausted. There was a pause in action for a couple of days. An officer of the 65th Regimental staff reported that when the I Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Paul W. Kendal, was briefed on the situation on the 65th sector, he was furious at the loss of the Outpost. The General ordered another counterattack.
In response to his new orders, COL Cordero reluctantly complied. He stated to a nearby reporter, "In our determination to hold and take Kelly is the prestige and glory of the 65th regiment. The Eighth Army is depending on the 65th Infantry Regiment to tell the Reds that we are on Kelly to stay on Kelly."
3rd Battalion Ordered In
Early in the morning of 24 September, the only battalion of the 65th which had not been engaged in the battle was given the mission. The 3rd Battalion, under a new commander, LTC Lloyd E. Willis, was ordered to attack and seize the position. The 58th Field Artillery shelled the position initially. Tanks from the 64th Tank Battalion began moving into position to offer fire support for the attack, but its tanks immediately became stuck in the muddy fields.
At 0600 hours, K and L Company launched their attack. As before, the Chinese spotted these formations crossing the valley and called in artillery and mortar barrages on the advancing companies. The Chinese on Kelly opened up with small arms and machine guns. K Company, attacking from the east, was pinned down and was taking heavy casualties. Its Company Commander lost control and requested authorization to withdraw. COL Cordero denied the request and ordered the attack to continue. All communications with K Company were lost.
In the meantime, Company L, attacking from the west, managed to get one squad to the crest of Kelly. COL Cordero ordered I Company, 3rd Battalion, which he had held in reserve, to move forward and take over the K Company mission. The Chinese spotted the company and enemy artillery concentrations scored several direct hits. The I Company Commander lost control and the unit fell apart. The men were confused and panicked, with the survivor’s running back to the MLR. The Battalion Commander, who had remained behind observing the attack, went to the MLR and tried to reorganize the survivors of I and K Company.
At this time, LTC Wills, violating his own chain of command, bypassed his Regimental Commander, COL Cordero, and called directly to the Assistant Division Commander to request that his Battalion be withdrawn. The Division Commander himself decided that the 65th was to cease the battle for Outpost Kelly. By early afternoon, the remaining soldiers of L Company had been withdrawn from Kelly.
The 65th Infantry Regiment had faithfully engaged most of its available rifle companies in order to accomplish its mission to take and hold this one Outpost in accordance with the orders they had received. They had taken heavy casualties. All its battalions had attempted to take the position while at the same time manning a the defensive area which included not only the other outposts, but also all the terrain of their assigned sectors of the MLR. Companies F and C successfully defended their positions initially. When the 65th first lost Kelly, it succeeded in taking Kelly back but could not hold it against massive enemy artillery and mortar barrages in combination with strong ground counterattacks. Despite the fact that companies B, A, C, E, I, K, and L had attacked, the hill could hold only three platoons of one company at any one time. The Chinese defeated these units in detail, one at a time, as each of them, took on the steep hill. The enemy was able to concentrate and mass their artillery and mortars and inflict maximum casualties and damage to the attacking and exposed troops of the 65th.
The soldiers of the 65th had given their best to accomplish the mission, many paying with their lives. The Chinese had shown great skill in the use of their weapons to produce extensive, accurate artillery and mortar barrages. Their soldiers showed an equal if not greater amount of fanaticism to accomplish their assigned mission, despite their casualties. The Chinese were willing to pay any price to take and keep Kelly. In the end, our own chain of command determined Outpost Kelly was not worth the price we were paying for it.
The casualties suffered by the 65th are hard to determine at this time. It appears they took approximately 400-500 casualties. The 65th suffered such heavy casualties with some of its rifle companies that they required a reconstitution. The Division Commander ordered that the entire regiment be withdrawn from the front line. In one estimate, it was determined that, in this one battle, the 65th Infantry lost ten (10%) percent of its total casualties in the entire war.
A proud, unique, U.S. Army Infantry Regiment, the 65th Infantry, had failed to complete its mission. Shortly after the battle for Outpost Kelly, COL Juan Cordero was quietly relieved of his command. The Division Commander, Major General Robert L. Dulaney, was also relieved and replaced by Major General George W. Smythe.
Unfortunately, not even the next infantry regiment that replaced the 65th could take back Kelly. Eventually the Chinese with their "inching forward" tactics, successfully took back all the remaining outposts in this area. Today, Outpost Kelly sits deep inside the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
The battle for Outpost Kelly was only the beginning of the end of the Puerto Rican Regiment. A staff study was made to determine what caused the failure of the 65th. One of the recommendations of this study was that the 65th receive intensive unit training before being sent into combat again. Many officers in the regiment determined the blame for their failure belonged to the soldiers of the 65th, the Puerto Ricans. While this type of thinking and excuse making is hard to believe in our current age, in 1952 it was an easy excuse for the failure.
High officials in the Division and the Army blamed the failure of the 65th at Kelly on the Puerto Rican soldier. It is indeed a tragedy that the men were held accountable for circumstances that were beyond their control. I learned as a Cadet that: "There are no bad units ...... only bad leaders."
The Puerto Rican soldiers gave all they had at Kelly, but their Continental leaders blamed them for the failure, rather than assuming any of the responsibility for themselves.
COL Chester DeGavre, the new Continental commander of the 65th would face another disaster just weeks later on the high ground near Hill 391, which a Stars and Stripes reporter would call "Jackson Heights" after the aforesaid Captain George Jackson. That name for Hill 391 stuck and is still used for it.
This article was written by me, Baltazar (Bart) Soto, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, and is based upon my interviews with several key veterans of the regiment and my personal research of several books in both Spanish and English about the regiment, of histories, of regimental reports, and of letters written at the time. The story told in the article does not represent the official version of the Department of Defense or the U. S. Army and is solely the opinion of the author. I assume the total responsibility for the contents of the article and of the history it relates.
A Bart Soto email (13 Sep 2002): Merv, I hope you are understanding about my edits. You've done a marvelous job with posting the story. I especially appreciate your adding the music. It has a lot of sentimental attachment for the 65th and is one of several songs composed by Puerto Ricans to commemorate "Los Muchachos" -our boys- in the 65th Infantry during the Korean War. Thanks again for all you are doing to get our story out there to the general public ... especially now, during the 50th anniversary of those bloody battles. Very respectfully, Bart.
MK add-on (14 Sep 2002): Bart also composed and gave to the IBB the page he named A Short Biography of Carlos Betances-Ramirez and, yes, that's the same Carlos Betances-Ramirez that Bart mentioned (above) as being the 2nd Bn CO while the 65th was on Kelly. Carlos was in the IBB for a short time prior to 28 Oct 2001 when he passed on. You may see his entry by clicking on Carlos Betances .
Click on Outpost Kelly here or below for a good panoramic view of Kelly and the surrounding areas. Bart contributed also the photo you will see there. The page also has some comments about prior happenings on Kelly. MK.
Owen ("Reg") Kitchener email add-on (16 Sep 2002): Merv, they were good lads, damn shame the way they were treated. Our short time with them prior to the Imjin Battle was a education for us although, in some cases, there was a language problem; but, we British soldiers always made ourselves understood. Yes, I salute the 65th Infantry Regiment. God Bless them all. Reg.
MK late add-on (02 Nov 2002): Bart furnished a 1952 photo of Captain Willis "Bud" Cronkhite, Commander of F (Fox) Company, 65th Infantry (now a retired Colonel) and of Captain George Jackson, Commander of G (George) Company, 65th Infantry (now a retired Lieutenant Colonel). Those photos are on the A Short Biography of Carlos Betances-Ramirez page along with some more comments about all three of those men. Also, Bart has told me that he thinks that the prisoners in the Chinese photo on theChinese Catchy-Catchy page were members of Company B of the 65th who were captured on Kelly. MK.
Map and Photo Index
Imjin MLR Map Outpost Kelly