Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Master Sergeant "Bull" Graham

Graham is one of the many forgotten men of the Korean War. Though he is largely forgotten today (I could only get information on him from David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter, as there is no information about him on the internet), his story is no less amazing.

"Bull" Graham got his nickname, like many other NCO's with the same nickname, from his tough demeanor. He was a lifer who had never married, going on the maxim that "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would of issued you one." Though he was extremely tough, his men liked him. He felt that he could not be very personable with his men, as he didn't want to get too attached to anybody. For him, it was hard enough to see his men die, but it would be far worse to see friends die. Graham was the leader of the first platoon of Company C, or Charlie Company, later named, "The late Charlie Company."

This was still early in the war, in September, 1950, and the North Koreans were pushing their way farther and farther into South Korea. Their last big push was going to be going across the Nakdong River and spilling into the Puson perimeter. This was seen as an essential thing to stop to keep the North Koreans from literally driving the Americans and South Koreans off the peninsula. It was essential for the Americans to hold their ground at the east bank of the Nakdong River, though they had very little men and ammunition. The situation was grim for the American forces, but they realized that if they held off the North Koreans here, they might be able to push them back north. To make matters worse, when the North Koreans were amassing, it was during terrible weather, so the Air Force could not help the Americans. The North Koreans outnumbered the Americans greatly and started to push through the desperately thin American lines. Charlie Company was one of the companies that was basically fighting to buy time until hopefully some other troops or air support could help them. It was no use, as the North Koreans were quickly forming a proverbial noose around the American's necks.

When commanders from Charlie Company asked command if they could retreat and let the men get out of this grave situation, the answer came back that they must hold their ground. Communications were abruptly cut by the North Koreans and Graham and the other commanders decided that they had to leave, that this was suicide. Having already lost twelve to fifteen soldiers from his platoon, he gathered the rest of them to get onto higher ground so they may be able to stave off being overrun by the enemy. They quickly scavenged for ammunition, as they were completely out for most of their guns. The only thing they had were a Quad 50, which was four fifty caliber machine guns put together, and a Dual 40. They used these until they had to retreat further and watched as their own machine guns were turned against them. Taking very heavy fire, they got to the top of a large hill, but unfortunately there were North Koreans on an even higher hill, and Charlie company found itself being rained down upon with bullets. There were only twenty-five men left out of the company, which included Captain Bartoley, Corporal Jessie Wallace, Lieutenant Wilson, Private First Class Arnold Lobo who was the medic, and Private First Class David Ormand who was the radio man. Ormand was considered living on borrowed time, as he had is radio shot clean off his back. Captain Bartoley had to crawl over and carry a badly shaken Ormand to safety.

Upon realizing that they were not out of the woods yet, Graham was shot in the rear. The company used all the bullets they had, but they could do nothing against the massive North Korean force. Graham was shot again in the rear, but from a different angle. He instantly lost feeling in his legs. He took his undershorts off and had Lobo fold them in half and use them to stanch the bleeding. As far as Graham could tell, all of the men left of Charlie Company had been hit. A few men asked Graham what they should do; should they fight, run, or surrender. Surrender would of been a viable option in any other war, but the men had heard stories, true ones it turned out, of American prisoners found with their hands tied behind their backs with wire and shot in the head, then buried in shallow graves. They wondered though how they could fight without any ammo. He told them he was dying, and that they had to make the decision on their own. Graham noticed a halt in fire and realized that his men had decided to surrender. Graham was relieved that no one was killed outright, but later heard that Wilson and Lobo had been killed while prisoners. The rest of the men were later recaptured by American troops.

Two North Korean troops passed by without stopping at Graham. The third took notice and stripped him of his boots, watch, socks, cigarette lighter, and his little black book in which he had wrote down all the names of the men that had pissed him off in any way shape or form. The book wouldn't be any good to him now. Most of the men listed in the book were dead now, and he felt that he was about to join them. He was asked if he was an officer and he told them no, that he was a GI (remember that these are communist forces who declared any higher up military man to be a worse capitalist than the regular GI's. If you were captured, you were to say you were poor and were just a GI). Unfortunately for Graham, the North Korean troop had a "Smart John." "Smart Johns" were officers who seemed smarter and meaner than the other men in the troop. The officer put the end of his gun against Grahams forehead and motioned for him to get up. Graham motioned that he was unable to get up. The officer than made a mocking stabbing motion towards Graham's genitals. Graham again motioned that he could not get up and pointed toward the bloody area under his waist. The officer left to look at other survivors, though Graham wasn't alone for long. Other soldiers came up and started mocking Graham, asking him in primitive English how old he was and if he wanted some water. Graham tried to get a drink from the, but the soldiers refused. The "Smart John" came back and, perhaps realizing that Graham was too far gone to bother with, took his dog tags and left.

Miraculously, after twelve hours, Graham finally felt strong enough to crawl off. For the next twelve nights he crawled and limped towards what he thought was American positions. He hid out during the day and moved as quietly as possible at night. In the first twenty-four hours he believed he may of only gone one hundred yards. Eventually he found a stick and used it as a crutch. He drank water when he could, often resorting to drinking the dew off the grass. By the time he got to an American position, he had a heavy beard and mustache that he swore was so long that it was curling at the ends. He looked gaunt as hell, having lost some fifty pounds. To the officers in the camp, it was as if a ghostly apparition had appeared. Major Butch Barbaras, having just opened a beer, saw the ghostly figure and decided to give the beer to him. "Best thing I ever tasted," Graham told Barbaras. For Graham, his Korean War was over. Only fifteen men made it in Charlie Company. The company then gained it's infamous nickname, "The late Charlie Company." To all those who were wondering, the Americans were able to hold the line in the end and the coast of the Nakdong River was the farthest that the North Koreans ever got. The push to the north had started.

*Note*: The above picture is not of "Bull" Graham, as there are none that can be found on the internet. This is a common theme among Korean war commanders .The picture is of a soldier from Charlie Company though, but I'm sure Graham looked much tougher.

All information gathered from The Longest Winter by David Halberstam. I'm only a little ways into the book but it's extremely good and very informative on the Korean War.

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