"If this is getting ready for peace," said one wounded, worn-out U.S. rifleman last week, "I'd just as soon go back to the old war." To the U.S. 3rd Division on the central front, and to ROK 5th and 8th Division troops farther east, the approach of peace had brought the bitterest, bloodiest battles in months.
Outpost Harry, where the week's heavy fighting started, juts deep into enemy territory and towers over U.N. positions on the Chorwon Valley floor. Should the Chinese capture Harry, the U.N. would have to move its main line of resistance back as much as two miles. The day after the Chinese struck at the hill, the order came down from Eighth Army Commander Maxwell Taylor: "Hold Harry at all cost."
Night on Old Harry. The cost was high. King Company, 15th ("Can Do") Regiment, lay in 30 bunkers atop the ugly, sausage-shaped ridge the night the Communists hit. Under a heavy barrage, a battalion of Chinese scrambled up the dusty, littered slopes of Harry. Battling hand to hand in their crumbling trenches, the outnumbered G.I.s drove the Reds off. The shelling continued. One by one, the bunkers collapsed, covering American and Chinese bodies with sand and dust. King was reinforced; the Reds attacked again & again. During the night, 20,000 artillery and mortar shells had exploded in an area smaller than Times Square. But the hill remained in U.S. hands.
On the second and third nights, the Chinese swept down on Harry in regimental strength. Each time they were thrown back. Red casualties as estimated: 3,400. U.S. casualties on Harry: "extremely heavy."
Death on Capitol Hill. While Harry held, South Koreans to the east were in serious trouble. One night a Chinese regiment drove through to the ROK 5th Division main line north of the Hwachon Reservoir, breached it in four places. Two days later, the Reds struck again, captured Capitol Hill from the ROK 5th Division. Then the Chinese launched their main assault. Thousands of Red troops (some estimates were as high as 25,000), supported by tanks and artillery, poured over the ROKs in the Capitol Hill and Outpost Texas sectors. At one point, the ROKs fell back two miles. It was the biggest retreat the U.N. has made in Korea in two years. One difficulty was that commanders of new ROK divisions, for fear of losing face, had failed to report how serious a jam they were in until it was too late to help.
To ROK prestige and Syngman Rhee's boasts of marching to the Yalu, the east front setback was a severe blow. Just how seriously it affects U.N. defenses for an armistice is another matter, obscured in military censorship.
As the cease-fire approached, 3rd Division helicopters skittered through the green valleys, carrying the wounded to the crowded surgical hospital a few miles from Outpost Harry. There, a weary Army nurse waved her arm at a row of cots filled with bloody, groaning men. Said she: "Does this look like peace to you?"