Walking Through A Mine Field
On April 15,1969 the North Koreans shot down a U.S. Navy plane over the Sea of Japan
killing 31 American service men on board. Second Division immediately ordered Company A
2/23rd Mechanized Infantry as a Quick Reaction Force into the DMZ in the event the North
Koreans decided to escalate. There was anger in our hearts as we mounted our APC's with
our 50 calibers mounted and fully loaded, we headed towards the Imjin River. Upon
reaching the pontoon bridge at the Honker site, we started our crossing but my mind
drifted as I was awed as to the marvel of such an engineering wonder over the Mighty Imjin.
After crossing the river we continued northeast for some distance until we reached our
primary objective, a string of connecting hills. There we dismounted our tracks and split up
into squad size teams and began a sweep of the hills to our front towards our secondary
objective two kilometers away. After reaching the base of the first hill on the other side, I
made the tactical decision to change formation to single file since we had to cross a wide
open clearing that looked like an old uncultivated rice paddy field.
I asked for a volunteer to walk point and Rick Rohtan, a good soldier and dear friend
answered the call. With Rick at point and myself leading the rest of the squad a short
distance behind, we moved forward until we reached the middle of the clearing when a
narrow elevated old dirt road appeared. As I crossed the road I noticed a big pile of rocks
just laying there. I wondered how they ever got there and concluded that it must of been an
old check point dating back to the Korean War.
We continued walking forward towards the hill to our front when I noticed a string of
concertina wire strung along the the base of that hill. As I moved my eyes to the right
following the wire, in between the branches of a small tree I noticed a glistening in the sun
light from the unpainted side of a metal triangular sign hanging on the wire. Immediately I
yelled out, "Everybody do not move, we are all in a minefield." Rick who was 25 feet to my
left front turned and looked at me and asked, "Mario what do we do". I knew we were in
danger as the memory of seeing an engineer step on a mine five months earlier came as a
flashback. I looked to my rear and calmly told every one to place a marker, a stick or stone
in front of each foot. Then I told Rick to take his bayonet out and to start probing towards
me and I would do the same towards him.
With the ground still hard from the winter's cold and years of decomposed vegetation, our
probing attempts proved futile. Then I turned to plan two, make use of the rocks.
Fortunately, there was still one man on the road next to the pile of rocks. So I told him to
find the bigger and flattest rocks first and to start passing them forward to the man in front
of him. When the first rock reached me, I told Rick to crouch down and to cover his face as
much as possible with his helmet. Then I told Rick that I was going to take the chance and
throw the rock as far as I could in an arching trajectory and hoped that it would not hit a
mine. Rick said go for it and with that I threw the rock and it landed about 8 feet in front of
me with a thumb. No explosion, so I continued the process varying it at times by stretching
out and gently laying a rock on the ground until I was able to make a safe path to Rick.
After reaching Rick, he joined me as we continued to throw rocks, both large and small for
more than another 100 feet until we had made a path that reached the concertina wire at the
base of the hill. As we straddled over the wire, I looked at the other side of the triangular
sign and sure enough in bold white letters over a red backing was the word, Mines. I then
told the rest of the men to proceed forward one step at a time into the footsteps of the man
in front of him until they reached the path of rocks.
Finally, everybody was out of the mine field and a great sense of relief and joy over came
us all. We were happy to of all made it out safely. Somehow, we had inadvertently walked
into a minefield from the unmarked side. All in all it seemed so ironic that a year earlier, Rick
Rohtan and I were hit in the face by stones kicked up by bullets fired by the North Koreans
at us while we were on GP Gladys and this day a pile of rocks enabled us to escape the
dangers of having walked through a mine field.
Sgt. Mario Pacella
Co.A 2/23rd Inf. 2nd Div.
March 68 to June 69
Firefight At GP Gladys
In the early morning of April 20, 1968, Lt William Greenhut the TOC of the day at HHC 2/23rd
Infantry learned of a firefight between the North Koreans and a five man patrol from
Company C, led by Sgt Bernard C Bowman. As the patrol became pinned down with it's
ammo depleted near the base of GP Gladys, another patrol from Co C and led by Lt Gary C
Gable immediately made their way to assist Sgt. Bowman's patrol and they also came under
heavy fire as the firefight escalated. Col Ready soon took over control of operations that
would continue well into the afternoon and involve various elements of the 2/23rd Infantry,
and later that day would also include JSA and the 2nd Division Commanding General.
Back at Camp Greaves, members of the 1st platoon were resting after a long night on
barrier fence duty when our platoon sergeant, SSG Landers walked into the hooch and
informed those of us that were there of the situation and to get our weapons, grenades and
ammo and to meet by the waiting deuce and a half. Soon SSG Landers was able to round
up a contingent force of between 18 and 20 men. Most of the men were from Company A
and few were from Company B and HHC and our mission was that we were going out into
the DMZ and get that patrol out.
As we passed through the gate into the DMZ, we all chambered a round and took the safety
off and continued on the road that once held the tracks to the old Orient Express. As soon
as we approached Ambush Alley the truck stopped and one could see and feel the tension
on every man’s face when SSG Landers ordered us to stand and face outwards with our
weapons on automatic and be ready to return fire as we passed through the narrow under
pass. Safely through the underpass without incident appeared the old destroyed train off to
the right reminding us of the sacrifice our men endured during the Korean War.
Once we reached GP Gladys, SSG Landers had us each make a low crouching 50 foot run
to the trench, one man at a time starting from behind the cover of the truck until we were all
in the trench line and in position. Then we were informed that the patrol was pinned down
about a hundred feet from the white tape and two men and a medic ( Tom Mraz ) had
recently been ordered to make their way down to the tree line and assist the patrol since a
member of patrol ( Sgt Bowman) had been wounded and for us to keep an eye out for them.
So now I am standing in the trench looking into North Korea with my M-14 extended in the
firing position when all of a sudden 4 or 5 rounds hit directly right in front of me, kicking up
so much dirt and stones hitting me and Rick Rohtan in the face. Rick yelled out, " I am hit
and I can not see" as we ducked down into the trench. Man did those stones really sting. It
felt like someone took a hand full of gravel and dirt and whipped it at our faces. We were
both stunned and shocked, when Rick asked me if he was bleeding. So I checked his face
out and told him that there was no blood on his face. Then I told him to water his eyes to
remove the dirt in his eyes since we had been hit by the kicked up dirt and stones. Once
Rick regained his sight I asked him if there was any blood on my face and he said no as I
was wiping the dirt from my mouth. Then I thought about my team leader Tom Cramer and
looked down the trench and to see if he was hit and saw that he and others were alright.
At the same time I heard Lt Flukas the OIC of GP Gladys further down the trench line
making his way towards us, giving orders as he went, telling men to stay down then I heard
him say "the last man in the trench line man the machine gun". Still somewhat stunned and
stocked by being hit in the face I looked to my left and there was no one there so I realized
he wanted me to man the M 60. When Lt Flukas reached us he asked me if I knew how to
fire an M-60. I said yes and he told me to follow him to the gun emplacement. I followed him
there and then he pointed out where on the hill across the strip of white tape that the North
Koreans were positioned and told me to man the M-60 and wait upon his order to fire.
Apparently, he had to check back with Colonel Ready the Battalion Commander on the radio
and await his orders to further engage the North Koreans and thereby escalate the situation.
Alone now in the gun emplacement I sighted the M-60 on the target area but I needed to
stand on a few sand bags to do so and from waist up was exposed. For sure I thought I
might die once I starting firing but at least I would die firing as opposed to of almost having
been picked off. Those were the first thoughts that were going through my head at the time
as I awaited for the order to fire. Then I started thinking again and concluded that things
would be alright since I thought Lt. Flukas had a good grasp of the situation and now I knew
where the North Koreans were positioned and having an M-60 targeted on them made me
feel much more confident of our situation.
Well in the meantime, the pinned patrol was able to get away once the North Koreans
diverted their fire from the patrol onto us on the GP and I believe a few of the men on the
GP who saw where the NK fire came from were able to get off a few rounds themselves.
Thereby giving the patrol more time to get away. Once Battalion learned that the patrol was
safe, we were ordered to disengage and return to camp. Lt Flukas told SSG Landers that a
decision was made to de-escalate and JSA would come out and investigate and file a
complaint at Pamunjon. Mission Accomplished.
However, later that day JSA arrived with the 2nd Division Commanding General to
investigate but the North Koreans also opened fire on them. Years later I learned that when
those stones hit me in the face, they ruptured one of my sinus tracts. For two young PFCs
with limited combat experience and a lesser degree of knowledge of the North Koreans
aggressive Strategic objective at the time, Rick Rohtan and myself were very lucky that day
to of survived that initial burst of fire and to of made it out with only minor injuries. The
memory of coming close to getting killed that day showed me the reality of the North
Korean's intent and has been a life long reminder that many of our service men have made
the ultimate sacrifice in combat on the Korean DMZ.
Co. A 2/23rd Infantry
March 68,-June 69
It was the first week of June, 1968 and the 2/23rd Infantry had recently started it's
southern rotation after a long four months on the DMZ. To our surprise the first platoon
of Company A was immediately assigned to Tent City to guard Freedom Bridge for two
weeks. After spending our first night on position guarding the bridge, we returned to a
hearty breakfast of fresh eggs, bacon and toast. Then Troy Banks, Rick Rohtan, I and
another laid ourselves down to enjoy our after breakfast smoke and the morning sun.
That soon came to an end when a young buck sergeant came over to us and said he
had a job for us four men to do and to just follow him. We arose to our feet and followed
him as he led us to our destination, the latrines. Then he broke the news to us and said
your detail is to pull the half drums full of human feces out and drag them some 50
meters off to the side and pour diesel fuel into the drums and lit them up and let them
burn. We looked at each other and just shook our heads and decided to split up into two
With those orders we maneuvered behind the latrines and lifted the hinged rear access
doors and began pulling the half drums out. The stench coming out of the drums was
unbearable. As we struggled dragging the drums filled with human feces towards the burn
location we started gagging from the smell but continued until I finally said, "I have had
enough of this shit and I am going to get my gas mask". Immediately I made a quick dash
towards the tent with 3 men behind me in hot pursuit. Still gasping for fresh air we made
it to our duffel bags and retrieved our gas masks. With our gas masks on we came out of
the tent and headed towards the drums while the rest of the platoonr had their fun with
their taunts and laughter from seeing us with our gas masks on,
Once we reached the drums, we poured diesel fuel into the drums and tossed lit
newspapers into the drums. Soon the flames shot up high in the sky followed by a blanket
of smoke that permeated the whole area with the stench and odor of burning diesel fuel,
human feces and urine. The rest of the platoon was no longer laughing but running to
distance themselves upwind. Now if you thought Kitchen Police or cleaning out a grease
trap was bad, that was nothing compared to being assigned to a burning shit detail.
Definitely, the worst detail in the Army.
Sgt. Mario Pacella
Co. 2/23rd Infantry
March 68 to June 69
It was 31 July 1968 during our southern rotation when the 1st platoon of Company A 2/23rd
Infantry was assigned to man the positions along the southern banks of the Imjin River west of
Freedom bridge. On that particular night I and another soldier were manning position #1 located
on the slope of a hill overlooking the Imjin river to our direct front. To our right front was a stretch
of lowland with very high grass, some as high as 6 feet.
Around 2100 hours as it was getting dark a four man patrol from the 3rd platoon with Cpl. Jong a
Katusa at point comes by my position and they stop. The patrol leader tells me that they will be
operating in the high grass land throughout the night and for us not to fire into that area. I said
alright but since I knew the patrol leader I felt at liberty to express my views. I asked him how
are you going to see anything in there with the grass so high. It just did not seem right to me so I
pointed out to a small rise 50 meters outside the grass land and suggested they set their position
there. That way they would be able to see anyone coming out of the high grass from the front
and from my position I could cover the left side of the grass land..
At that point the newest member of the patrol, a private interjected and took off his helmet and
showed me the little illumination sticker on the back of his helmet and tells me that they will be
able to see by just following the illumination sticker on the helmet of the man in front of him.
With that said the patrol leader told me that he did not have the discretion to set up outside the
grassland since it was a roaming patrol. I said OK and stood there watching them as they
proceeded and headed down the path towards the grassland.
Two hours later I heard shots fired in the grassland and this is what happened. The new man who
showed me the illumination sticker was walking rear guard and lost sight of the man in front of
him and somehow ended up parallel to the point man. He heard movement to his left and opened
fire and one of the rounds hit Cpl. Jong in the chest causing his death. Shortly after the shots
were fired I heard a radio request for medical assistance. When the medical track arrived, from
my position I saw members of the patrol carrying Cpl. Jong out on a poncho into the APC but it
was too late.
Cpl. Hwang,Jong Kaek, paid the ultimate sacrifice just like many of our brothers in arms did
during the DMZ War. So when we look back to the memories of our youth, let us not forget the
friendships we developed with those Katusas attached to our units who endured the same
hardship by our side.
Sgt. Mario Pacella
Co. A 2/23rd Infantry
March 68-June 69