man in gray coat standing near green trees during daytime

If you haven’t read the first part of this sto­ry, you’ll want to do that now. [Ed.]

It was dur­ing one of the peri­ods when Campbell’s squad was on the road that his most mem­o­rable event of the trip occurred. The col­umn had stopped, held up by the lead­ing ele­ments run­ning into a small force of Chinese. While those lead­ing ele­ments were rein­forced from the body of the col­umn and push­ing the Communists out of their way, the rest of the col­umn had a short peri­od of respite when the men could per­haps relieve them­selves or heat up a can of C rations over a bit of Sterno and grab a quick bite.

Campbell was seat­ed on the run­ning board of one of the con­voy’s M54 five-ton trucks, try­ing to grab a few moments of sleep that his weary body was demand­ing. He had removed his hel­met, leav­ing his head cov­ered with a dark blue watch cap, a piece of cloth­ing that had proven invalu­able in help­ing retain body heat dur­ing the worst of the Chosin weath­er. The trucks, work­hors­es of a Marine divi­sion were scat­tered along the col­umn and were loaded with every­thing they could car­ry, includ­ing dead and wound­ed Marines.

Anything that had to be left behind was either burned or blown up. Nothing was to be left to be scav­enged by the Chinese. But Marines are known for nev­er leav­ing a man behind and bod­ies, some frozen into grotesque pos­tures, were loaded like cord­wood into trucks to be tak­en where they could be sort­ed and identified.

A jeep had stopped aside the col­umn not far from where Campbell was rest­ing. An offi­cer had got­ten out of the jeep and was walk­ing the line, stop­ping occa­sion­al­ly to chat with indi­vid­ual Marines. Campbell, whose drowsi­ness had left him half in and half out of a deep sleep, sensed the approach of the offi­cer, Major Halvicek, CO of the battalion.

As the major got near, Campbell forced him­self up from the run­ning board and stood to greet him. There was no salute, as all American fight­ing troops had learned long ago that salut­ing their offi­cers in the field sim­ply made them tar­gets for any ene­my who may be with­in range.

Halvicek greet­ed Campbell cor­dial­ly as he pulled a cig­a­rette from beneath his par­ka and extend­ed the pack toward Campbell.

“Thank you, sir. I don’t smoke,” was Campbell’s reac­tion, main­tain­ing the prop­er non-com/of­fi­cer decorum.

“Good for you, sergeant. It’s a bad habit. I’m going to have to stop some­day. What’s your name, sergeant?”

“Campbell, sir. Willard W. First pla­toon, Charlie Company.”

“I could­n’t help notic­ing your watch cap, Campbell. I expect it’s been pret­ty use­ful these last few weeks.”

“Yes, sir. I bought it off a swab­bie on the ship over. I did a lit­tle study­ing of Korea on the trip and real­ized that it gets pret­ty cold here in win­ter and I was­n’t sure we’d be home by Christmas as General MacArthur said.”

“MacArthur’s full of piss and vine­gar, but he don’t know shit about what’s going on up here. If Smith had spread us out like MacArthur want­ed, this divi­sion would be all dead or in Chinese prison camps by now.”

Halvicek picked a piece of cig­a­rette tobac­co from his lip as the exhaled smoke com­bined with the frosty air and hung a cloud between the two men. It was unusu­al for an offi­cer to express dis­dain of anoth­er offi­cer, espe­cial­ly to an enlist­ed man, but Campbell main­tained his com­po­sure and said nothing.

“Anyway, Campbell, I think it would be a good idea to get rid of the watch cap. It’s not Marine issue and it sets a bad exam­ple to the men to see their lead­ers sport­ing non-issue gear — espe­cial­ly if they’re going cold with­out the same com­forts. And if it’s pulled down over your ears, like now, it impedes your abil­i­ty to hear things around you, some of which might save your life or the lives of your men.”

Campbell low­ered his voice so that oth­ers rest­ing or hud­dled near­by could­n’t hear and edged slight­ly clos­er to the Major.

“Major, sir. With all due respect, I’m not get­ting rid of this watch cap. It helped me all through the bit­ter nights up on the reser­voir, nights when just this extra added head warmth was all that kept me alive and alert. I’ve even shared it with some of my squad when they real­ly need­ed it and until they were able to impro­vise some­thing else for them­selves. Most of the time, this cap is con­cealed beneath my hel­met and no one will tell you that a util­i­ty cap pro­vides much added warmth under a helmet. 

“Sir, my men know I have this cap. Not a sin­gle one has ever expressed con­cern about it or com­ment­ed that I was over-priv­i­leged to have it. I can assure you that cov­er­ing my ears with this cap does noth­ing to impair my hear­ing and it sure does­n’t take a keen ear to hear the crack of a near­by rifle round or the explo­sion of a mor­tar round.

“Sir, you can bust me back to pri­vate for speak­ing like this. Doing so won’t keep me from doing what’s required of me. It won’t keep me from fight­ing to keep my bud­dies safe or from help­ing them when­ev­er I get the chance. It won’t make me any less accu­rate when I fire my rifle or cause me to care any less about the guys around me, but I’ll be a pri­vate with his own watch cap, because you’ll have to place me under arrest and take it by force. And if you put me under arrest, that’ll be just one less rifle avail­able to help get this divi­sion back to Hungnam.”

Campbell took a half-step back­ward and wait­ed for the expect­ed tirade from the major.

“Sergeant Campbell,” began Halvicek as he ground out the cig­a­rette beneath his shoepack into the dis­col­ored packed snow, “Carry on.”

The major turned from Campbell and head­ed on along the line of men and vehi­cles as he was joined by his aide, Lieutenant Merrick, who had been stand­ing sev­er­al paces away while the major and sergeant were talking.

“Pete,” said Halvicek as he reached into his par­ka to extract anoth­er cig­a­rette and light it as a small grin formed on his lips, “I just got a reminder about what makes the Corps what it is.”

Campbell sat weari­ly back down on the truck­’s run­ning board and pulled the watch cap far­ther down over his ears.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.