“It was silk everywhere and it was just marvelous to see,” Sergeant Paul Redgate said, describing 4th Ranger Company’s combat jump at Musan-Ni. In was March of 1951, the coldest winter that anyone could remember in Korea. Some American units were decimated by the freezing temperatures alone. Exiting the C-119 airplane, Redgate parachuted to the ground with his radio, rifle, and other combat equipment. He watched in horror as another plane put an entire stick of paratroopers out the door far too low. At only fifty feet above the ground, their parachutes didn’t have time to open and the soldiers splattered against the hill that Redgate’s squad was supposed to capture.
As they climbed Hill 205, Redgate’s men said a prayer for the deceased paratroopers and covered the remains with their parachutes. The 187th Regimental Combat Team, of which 4th Ranger Company was a part, had been assigned to jump in behind enemy lines and trap North Korean and Chinese forces, but they found the drop zone largely devoid of enemy. At the top of Hill 205, the Rangers watched as other aircraft began the heavy drop of equipment. They witnessed parachutes never open and jeeps nose right into the ground, pallets explode in the air and rain debris on those below. “The drop zone was not the place to be about then,” Redgate recalled.
The mission had been executed successfully, but strategically it was a waste as there was supposed to be a buildup of enemy forces at Musan-Ni, according to intelligence reports. This turned out to be false.
The next month, 4th Rangers was tasked with capturing Hwacheon Dam. The enemy had already opened the floodgates once (Watts, 191), dislodging floating bridges emplaced by the US military downstream. The dam was now considered a strategic target as the North Koreans and Chinese had the ability to flood everything down stream and wipe out entire units at will (Watts, 187).
“We got some Higgins boats and under cover of darkness we paddled very quietly to shore,” Redgate, who was a squad leader, explained. The Higgins boats were small flat-bottomed aluminum boats designed for beach landings. The Rangers had been told that there was just a skeleton crew at the dam, “but low and behold it was a reinforced battalion,” Redgate said. “At first light all hell broke loose.”
A young soldier in Redgate’s squad was shot in the firefight. Hailing from Chicago, Tedo asked Redgate to pray with him. Tedo’s final words to his squad leader were, “full of grace.” Redgate collected the dead soldier’s weapon and hand grenades. “I was determined to kill someone who killed my buddy. That was what I wound up doing,” Redgate remembered. He also stated that this was the day that he became a Christian. The Rangers were not able to capture the dam, but were able to position their recoilless rifles where they were able to blow up the dam’s control room, preventing the enemy from raising the floodgates again.
The Rangers then beat a hasty retreat back across the lake at the base of the dam. Having been denied any air support or artillery due to cloud cover, they were thankful for some supporting machine gun fire from an adjacent unit to cover their withdrawal. “We were up there naked so to speak for three or four hours before we could get out of there and we were running low on ammunition,” Redgate said.
Later, Redgate caught a few enemy rounds through the hip on another patrol and had to be evacuated to Japan. He wanted to go back to Korea, but the Ranger units had already been disbanded. Instead of going to sit around in a replacement unit, he went to go be a teacher in New York City while plotting his return to the US military.
Paul Redgate and thousands of other young Americans served in America’s forgotten war between 1950 and 1953, a war that has its origins in the power vacuum left in East Asia after America’s abrupt victory against the Imperial Japanese Army in World War Two. Unaware of the highly classified Manhattan project, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that resulted in the capitulation of Japan caught the US Army by surprise. The Army had been expecting a two or three-year campaign in Japan but now the imperial Japanese army was surrendering in both Japan and on the Korean peninsula which had been a Japanese colony for the last fifty years.
(Featured image: The 187th makes a practice jump courtesy of Korean War Online)