Commentary: Not our Hill 180

by L. Vance Fleming
51st Fighter Wing Historian

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- There are moments in life when long held beliefs are proven wrong. As a child, it can be the discovery of who really delivers our holiday gifts. As an adult, it can be the failure of our first true love. These times cause doubt in our lives and uncertainty for the future. Once the initial shock is overcome, we survive and accept the reality.

As a historian, a time will come when someone presents new evidence to change accepted historical facts. This is a commentary about when my historical beliefs were challenged and caused me to accept the evidence that our Hill 180 is not super-special in the Korean War story. Actually, its 180-meter elevation, at almost 500-feet above sea-level offers a great view of the surrounding area of Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, and beyond the perimeter. It is special today in that it is the incorrect home of the Battle of Bayonet Hill memorial.

A NEW HISTORIAN

A previous 51st Fighter Wing commander, Col. Andrew Hansen, challenged me to learn and educate others on the major historical events that occurred within the wing and on Osan. I spent the following year researching the Korean War, the U.S. Air Force’s first test as a new military branch, the 51st Fighter Wing, the Ace pilots plus other famous aviators in the war, followed by the evolution of the air base and growth of its surrounding communities.

One of the major tales of Osan is not even related to the U.S. Air Force. One of the most famous stories of battlefield bravery occurred when the U.S. Army’s Easy Company, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” charged into history in what is best known as the Battle of Bayonet Hill. Simply put, the actions of this battle are awe-inspiring. It was the U.S. Army’s last major bayonet charge in modern warfare and, for over 40 years, believed to have occurred here, on what is now Osan Air Base on our Hill 180.

LEWIS MILLETT – MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT

Lewis Millet was a bold and audacious soldier who fought in three wars – World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He was a young U.S. Army Air Corps member in 1941 who thought the U.S. was not going to join the war in Europe so, fearing that he would never fight in World War II, he deserted. He soon joined the Canadian Army as it made its way to London to fight in the Blitz. In 1942, he transferred back to the U.S. Army, after the U.S. entered the war. By the time his desertion caught up with him, he was a sergeant who had earned the Silver Star for his bravery in battle. He was court-martialed, fined $52, then received a battlefield commission a short time later.

In the Korean War, Capt. Lewis Millet, commander of Easy Company, wanted to prove the communist Chinese wrong when he heard their propaganda that American soldiers were afraid to fight bayonet battles. Millett was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross after he led his company on a February 5, 1951, mission and engaged the enemy with bayonets.

On February 7, 1951, his company was to find and engage the enemy. After getting into an assault position, Millet yelled “fix bayonets and follow me” then charged up the hill at grid coordinate CS 108410, more easily identified as Hill 80, west of Anyang. Using primarily bayonets and hand grenades, they attacked the 200 Chinese communist soldiers defending the hill. Forty Chinese died on the hill, 37 of bayonet wounds. Another 50 Chinese soldiers died as they tried to escape the battle. Three of Millet’s men died and he himself was severely injured. A few months later, Millett was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and leadership during this battle.

MISCONCEPTIONS

In the next few segments, we will review evidence to support Hill 80, west of Anyang, as the correct location for the Battle of Bayonet Hill.

PHASES OF THE KOREAN WAR

Billy Mossman’s “Ebb and Flow: November 1950 – July 1951” accurately describes the first year of the Korean War, during which the forces moved south, north, south then north to a stalemate and is summed up in four phases and the two-year stalemate.

Phase I: June 25 – September 1950, Invasion and push to Pusan Perimeter;
Phase II: September – October 1950, Counter-offensive starting at Incheon;
Phase III: November 1950 – Early January 1951, Chinese intervention;
Phase IV: Early January 1951 – June 1951, UNC push to 38th Parallel Line;
Stalemate at 38th Parallel Line: July 1951 – July 27, 1953 and Armistice.

It is necessary to understand where the United Nations Command troops were on February 7, 1951, in order to understand why the Battle of Bayonet Hill was fought on Hill 80, west of Anyang.

HISTORICAL RESEARCH ON THE BATTLE OF BAYONET HILL

Researchers have collected evidence to correct the battle site location, though their research was hindered by several errors made shortly after the battle. Fortunately, through due diligence, their research has worked through the errors to prove the Battle of Bayonet Hill took place near Anyang, which is northwest of Suwon.

Rick Orick published a 2001 paper debating the battle site. His research was based on reports showing the locations of UNC forces during the “Operation Thunderbolt,” which occurred from January 25 – February 20, 1951. At this point, they were already north of Suwon. He used books written about the regiment and reference maps in those books that showed it was eleven miles north of Suwon on February 7, 1951. Orick also notes that the 8th Army leadership is quoted as being “within 1,000 yards of enemy positions” near Anyang. Based on this, it is unbelievable that a large 200-person enemy force could be massed on our Hill 180, near the Chinwi River and over 20 miles to the rear of the UNC lines and its leadership.

David Murphy, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who was previously assigned to Osan, published his paper in 2017, in which his research pinpoints a more accurate location for the battle near Anyang. Using the grid coordinate CS 108410, as it is listed on Millett’s Congressional Medal of Honor recommendation, we can pinpoint the actual battle site as Hill 80, west of Anyang.

His paper was abbreviated and published in Military History magazine as “Hallowed Ground, Bayonet Hill, South Korea.” This is where I became interested in correcting the location. There are not a lot of new articles written about the Korean War. When there is one, I read it, especially if the article relates to an area I have studied and thought I knew fairly well.

After reading Murphy’s article, I searched online to find him. I found his profile and made contact with as much politeness that can be conveyed digitally via a social media app we both use. He has been very cordial and giving with his research. I have received a lot of information. I took my time to read his paper, then I followed his sources to ensure their authenticity. The more we communicated, the more information Murphy sent me.

As a historian, primary source documents are a key to the truth. One of the documents provided was the battle summary, written soon after the Battle of Bayonet Hill, by Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall, better known as S.L.A. Marshall or “SLAM”. He was a noted historian of the era who wrote detailed battle summaries shortly after battles.

SLAM noted that Suwon was captured on January 26, 1951, and he arrived in Suwon in late January. He next writes about the taking of Hill 440, located seven miles north of Suwon, occurring in early February. He states that Easy Company, with Millet as its commander, was traveling north of Suwon toward Incheon when they encountered Chinese troops who did not retreat after Hill 440 was taken. On February 5th and 7th, Millett led bayonet charges against the enemy. SLAM interviewed Easy Company “after the big charge at Anyang-ni.” Marshall, realizing the importance of what happened during the Battle of Bayonet Hill, used his research and interviews to write a letter to the 27th Regiment Commander, Col. John Michaelis, which led to Millett receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Another form of compelling evidence comes from interviews with people who witnessed the event. There are two references I want to use because both relate to something Millett said or was said to him for clarification.

Rudy Tomedi interviewed Millett for the book “No Bugles, No Drums.” Millett discusses how he became the Easy Company commander and about the UNC forces going on the offense near Pyeongtaek in early January. By late January, Millett states they were advancing “ten and fifteen miles at a time, and there was no contact…but there didn’t seem to be anybody out there. Finally, just north of Osan, we started to get resistance.” This references by late January, his company was already north of Osan - the small town that is five miles north of present-day Osan Air Base, which did not exist in 1951. That was quoted directly from Millett.

NOT EVEN HILL 180

Cressie B. Johnson, who also served with Millet as a Wolfhound during the Korean War, wrote “A Wolfhound Story: Korea 1950 – 1951.” He provides the second eye-witness accounting, when he verifies the official history report, how Millet “gave orders to assault the hill at CS 110411 (Hill 80)… Millett ordered bayonets fixed and placed himself at the head of the attacking platoon.” This grid coordinate intersects Hill 80.

The precise grid coordinate for Hill 80 is CS 108411, as reflected on the MOH recommendation. Johnson clarifies that the MOH “citation lists Hill 180 near the village of Suam-ni and that is where a commemorative plaque was placed – over two miles” south-southeast from the Hill 80 battle site. Millett told Johnson in 1994 that he could not find the marker on Hill 80. Johnson replied, “it was (placed on) the wrong hill.” Johnson also wrote “Today (February 7, 1951) was Easy Company’s turn to take the right side of the MSR” (Main Supply Route). Hill 80 is about 800 meters on the right side of the MSR while Osan’s Hill 180 is over 2,000 meters on the left side of the MSR.

MAP SHEET REFERENCES
Murphy goes into great detail about the grid coordinates and map sheet references on Millet’s MOH recommendation. This is a result of an inaccurate map sheet listed on the MOH paperwork. The document lists Sheet 6326 II – Kumpo Jang. Map sheet 6326 II of that era only shows water to the west of the Korean Peninsula and is not near either Anyang or Osan. Murphy and some others realized the “Kunp’ ojang” map sheep was 6526 II, which is only one number off from the quoted sheet number and also features Anyang.

Of note, and probably irrelevant, there is a small hamlet named “Osan” shown on “Kunp’ ojang” map sheep that is approximately 500 meters north of Anyang. However, it is not near the battle site but only listed on the same map sheet.

WHY OUR HILL 180
There are a lot of hills in Korea and many of those have the “Hill 180” designation. For clarification, when a person would refer to a specific hill, they should also include a grid reference or significant map feature – “Hill 132 in CS 112405” or “Hill 132, 500 meters north of Tongsuam.” Sometime between 1951 and 1974, someone at Osan Air Base probably read the Medal of Honor paperwork with the incorrect hill number. This person was probably also unaware that there are many Hill 180s in Korea. They then assumed and incorrectly identified the Battle of Bayonet Hill site as Osan Air Base’s Hill 180. There is no evidence supporting our Hill 180 as the battle site. Maybe the Osan hamlet on the 1946 map also ties in to this myth but I do not think this is the case.

MILLETT VISITS OSAN
To be perfectly clear, Millett is not to be blamed for this inaccuracy. Murphy states it is uncertain why Millett believed Osan Air Base to be the correct location of the battle, but it is clear in the evidence that the battle did not happen here on our Hill 180.

Sometime over the 24 years from the 1951 battle and Millett’s 1975 visit, it became accepted that the Battle of Bayonet Hill took place on the Hill 180 located on what is now Osan Air Base. Under that assumption and accepted belief that the Battle of Bayonet Hill happened here, someone brought Millett to Osan Air Base in 1975. He described the actions of the battle on the terrain here - hilly area near the main supply route – that terrain was extremely similar to the actual battle site. Several things could have led to this assumption but those have been disproven through historical research.

Here is how I suppose Millett was able to detail the battle using our Hill 180. First, he was escorted here 24 years after the battle, assuming his escort was taking him to the correct battle site. Why would someone knowingly take him to the wrong site? There are no records before this visit of him stating the battle took place near Osan city or on present-day Osan Air Base. Next, Korea had drastically changed from the war-torn country Millett fought over until his return to the ever-modernizing Korea 24 years after the battle. Finally, the terrain throughout this part of the country is hill after hill. It is easy to fit the actions of the Battle of Bayonet Hill onto the terrain of Osan Air Base, or any number of other hills in Korea.

It is unclear why he was brought here other than the incorrect assumption that our Hill 180 was the site of the Battle of Bayonet Hill. What is clear is that Millett visited Korea several times from 1975 through the early 2000’s, being escorted to Osan Air Base and speaking with sincerity about the battle and his lost comrades. He fought emotions to honor them during his visits.

CORRECTING THE RECORD

Accepting this evidence that the Battle of Bayonet Hill occurred near Anyang on Hill 80 does not diminish the significance of the battle, the brave actions of Millett and his company on the hallowed ground that they fought, nor does it negatively reflect on Osan Air Base or our any of our supporting agencies.

An annual memorial ceremony should still be held. Given the nature of an evolving urbanization of Korea, it is probably best to use the existing memorial site on Osan Air Base. The actual battle site might be covered in a future construction project, whereas the memorial site on Osan Air Base is somewhat protected. The audacious leader and his men deserve to be remembered and there is an established memorial, though the plaque needs to be updated with the correct location.

We seek to correct where a battle was thought to have been fought to where it was actually fought.
We need to accurately acknowledge the hallowed ground of the bravery and sacrifice of the Wolfhounds even if the site of the Battle of Bayonet Hill is Hill 80, west of Anyang, northwest of Suwon and not our Hill 180.

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