Recollections of André Saxe

André Saxe served at the Battles of Haktang-Ni and Chatkol, rising to the rank of First Sergeant during his service in Korea. He passed away in 1992, but we are indebted to his son, Mr. Ronny Saxe (himself formerly of the Belgian army), for providing us with an excellent account of his father's memories.

André (left) at the Commando Training Centre

On the 2nd April 1951 I was called for my military service and, after basic training, I served in a transport company in Germany. Meanwhile the First Battalion of Belgians troops had left a few months before for Korea. The staff of the Belgian Army required more volunteers, so on the 20th November 1951, I volunteered. As I was only 18 years old, my mother had to give her agreement.

On the 4th of February 1952 I went to the Commando Training Center and over 6 weeks I received my basis training for Korea. The instructors were very hard, most of them were veterans of the Second World War. The 26th of February 1953 I shipped in with 30 comrades in Rotterdam (Netherlands) on the USNS General J. H. McRae, an American transport ship.

The voyage on the McRae was a big adventure. We berthed in different ports to pick up troops for Korea. In Marseilles (France) we picked up one French battalion and later another Greek one. For two days we stayed in the port of Athens and we had authorisation to leave and visit the city. Our whole platoon was visiting the city and, of course, we drank some beer. Suddenly one of my colleagues had an idea and took the wheel of the tram, so the Belgian platoon was driving the tram across the city! After one hour the fun was over. 50 armed Greek policemen arrested us and drove us in 6 vehicles to the jail in the city.

The day after we did not have so much fun anymore: the American Military Police brought us to our ship, and we were immediately thrown in the jail of the McRae. The captain of the ship thought that this would calm down the Belgian volunteers and it would not happen again! The Greek adventure created a bond between us and the spirit in the platoon was very good. We proved to the Captain that he had made a big mistake. After three days we were released from jail and a week later we arrived in the Egyptian port of Port Said. Also Egypt delivered troops, so the ship stayed two days in the port. Everybody had leave to visit the town, except the Belgians. The captain of the ship did not realize we were commandos! During the first night the 30 Belgians left the ship down the anchor chain. One hour later the crew on the ship discovered that the Belgians had escaped. The jeeps of the Military Police were on patrol in the city and at 4 o’clock in the morning they found us in a bar. They arrested us and once again we were in the jail of the ship, this time for seven days. This time the Captain of the ship sent a fax to Brussels and Tokio, with a report of the activities of the Belgian platoon.

After these adventures the ship continued her voyage through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. By the Arabian Sea we arrived in Colombo after eleven days. On board the life was monotonous; we did physical training and shooting exercises. We also got some lessons in Chinese and the doctor warned us about diseases: Malaria, Dysentery and Typhus.

17 days later we arrived in Singapore where we stayed in the port for two days. This time we behaved ourselves and had leave on land. So we entered the South China Sea and starting from here the ship was escorted by American submarines. It was clear that China also was participating in the Korean conflict and the US command did not want to risk the supply of troops.

On 29th March, 1952 we approached Korea and heard more and more explosions and saw a lot of fighter jets. We realized we were really in it. The day after, we berthed in the port of Pusan. An American band played Glen Miller jazz as we left the ship.

We were transported to an American base-camp in Daegu in US trucks. For the first time we saw the impressive Korean mountains and paddy fields. It would be hard to fight the North Korean troops, supported by Chinese, in this environment. Our First Battalion got their baptism of fire at the battles near the Imjin River in April 1951. I was wondering how we were going to do it here? After a trip of eight hours we arrived at base-camp and were welcomed by different members of the staff of our battalion.

The battalion adapted quickly. As you know in Belgium we speak two languages, Flemish and French. In the French-speaking Baker Company, there was a great lack of troops so they placed in it soldiers who could speak both languages. In this way, a Flemish-speaking platoon was created in the French-speaking company and I was member of this Second Platoon.

At the moment of our arrival the battalion was placed in reserve and was not called to participate in operations. So we had the time to adapt and got instructed by more experienced members who had already been in Korea for one year. The living conditions were good and comfortable: there was heating in the tents and we had normal food. The battalion was particularly trained in counter-attacks in case the enemy could infiltrate our positions. A few months later we would experience this enemy infiltration. Meanwhile the Belgian battalion was attached to the US 3rd Infantry Division, that started a period of rest for 4 to 6 weeks.

Our training continued at the camp of Chango-Ri, but the repetition of the same exercises started to bore us. On the other hand we were demoralized by the fact we could not participate the battles. But finally in June 1952 we could participate and executed operations. During the night of 7th and 8th July we had to attack Hill 167. Nine men were wounded by Chinese mortar bombs and we had to withdrawal as a result of a Chinese counter-attack. This action was our baptism of fire in Korea. Our platoon commander was Lieutenant Theo Paques, I was Rifleman 3 in the First Section. On the 1st August I was promoted to Corporal.

André (right) with a US Sherman tank

From 21th August until 13th September, our Second Platoon held the “King” position at Choco-Ri, near the Yokkok-river. Under normal circumstances the River was fordable. There was intensive Chinese mortar fire: they fired 50-100 bombs every day on our positions. In a few days the battalion lost 5 soldiers from these mortar attacks.

On the night 30th August, I was on duty at the guard-post. Suddenly I heard the well-known noise of a falling mortar-bomb. An ear-splitting explosion happened really close and I was unconscious for a few moments. The bomb struck the members of the 3th section, 30 meters from my place. I heard shouts and hurried to the place where the bomb had fallen. Sergeant Verschraegen had a big open wound on his neck, his right shoulder was split and his right arm was almost separated. The stomach of Private Delen had been cut open and the intestines were outside. We all gave first aid and evacuated the wounded men. Meanwhile there was a renewed Chinese mortar attack, our men evacuating the wounded were under fire! Powerless, we had to watch the enemy 700-800 meters firing on from our position.

Despite the courageous work the two wounded comrades passed away when they arrived at the first aid post. Private Gustaaf Bottelberghe was one of the soldiers who transported the wounded men, and during the second Chinese mortar attack he was wounded for the second time: to protect Private Delen he put his body above him. The three Privates who had transported the wounded men each received the medal of heroic deed 2nd Class for their action.

Private Bottelberghe was a special case mentioned by my father André. During every patrol he brought with him unexploded ammunition and during the day he examined them. After the Korean War he returned to Belgium and left then for the French Foreign Legion, where he served for 20 years. He fought in Dien Bien Phu (in Indo-China) and also served in the Algerian War. After 20 years he retired and returned to Belgium. He lived with his parents who had a small pub. One day he brought beer from the cellar and stumbled. He tripped, broke his neck and died. After Korea and 20 years in the French Foreign Legion, he passed away.

During the late afternoon we were visited by Padre Arkens. He gave us moral support, every one of us had a hard time due the loss of our comrades. He spent 5 years as a missionary in China, but during the Sino-Japanese War he was arrested by the Japanese troops. The next five years he spent as a Japanese prisoner of war.

On the following days, the Chinese continued their mortar attacks, about twenty every day, and with an unbelievable accuracy and always by surprise. Every day a Chinese tank appeared and the bunker of our platoon commander was shot at. The walls of our bunker were very stable, but the roof was not safe. One day the Chinese tank fired again and our roof was gone!

We dug holes like rabbits to protect us from these mortar attacks. The Chinese observer knew his job very well, we suffered losses of three killed and five wounded in our platoon. Our company commander, Captain Loquet, proposed to replace our platoon on this position with the First Platoon but we refused and kept this position until the 7th September.

"White Horse Hill" 25th November - 28th December 1952

André (left) at White Horse

It was bitterly cold, only the bunkers of the company-commander and platoon commanders had oil stoves. In the positions occupied by the men, it was for security reasons making fires was not allowed for security reasons. We all suffered a lot from the cold.

The positions were covered by snow and frozen, but a few days later the temperature rose. A few hours after the thaw we had a grievous view over the positions. The snow melted down and we saw appear arms and legs of fallen soldiers. In front of our positions were hundreds of fallen South-Korean and Chinese soldiers. We could not touch these bodies, because of the danger of traps. Also in our positions we discovered cadavers and tried to bury them as well as possible. During the month October, we were told that about 16,000 soldiers died on the tops of the White Horse Hill. Before that moment we thought it was exaggerated, but now we saw the reality!

We had to dig a new trench for the bunker of the company commander. Suddenly we discovered an old trench, filled with cadavers. The bottom was full of white worms! We had to dig this trench out completely to remove the cadavers. Fortunately it started again to freeze, so we could not smell them anymore and the white worms disappeared.

The 1st December 1952 I was promoted to Sergeant. Starting on 17th December, the Chinese attacked us daily with heavy mortar-attacks. This continued until Christmas: an announcement of a new big Chinese attack? But 28th December 1952 our positions were taken over by the South-Koreans and our division went into reserve. After one month on White Horse Hill we could leave this macabre position.

During the night of 18th-19th April 1953 [at Chatkol] we suffered heavy Chinese mortar-attacks. We already averted nine Chinese attacks, but the new mortar and artillery attacks were an announcement of a new big Chinese attack. At that moment I still was radio-operator in the headquarters of the B Company. When the night fell we got messages from our platoons that the Chinese troops were cutting our barbed wares. Around 23h30 the big attack started: by the radio I sent over the orders of Captain Ledant to the platoons, but suddenly I discovered there was no radio contact anymore between the two platoons. The cable was cut by mortar bombs. I left the bunker and under heavy mortar-attacks I repaired the wire. Returning to the bunker a mortar bomb felt and my leg and arm were wounded. In the morning I was transported to a MASH and stayed there until 3th May.

In the morning we discovered 32 bodies of fallen Chinese soldiers within our own positions. Our battalion lost 33 men during these battles on the Chatkol. How many Chinese soldiers exactly were killed in front of our positions, we never will know…On 19th April 1953 I was promoted to First Sergeant and was awarded the medal of heroic deed 2nd Class.

On the 21th April, the Second Battalion of the US 7th Infantry Regiment took over our positions, were we had spent 55 nights. I participated in the "Leopold" Raid during the night of 14th-15th May. Eighty men of the B Company volunteered for this raid, 35 were chosen by the new company commander, Captain Holvoet. The goal of this raid was to capture prisoners of war. But a Chinese counterattack disturbed our plans. This was my last combat action in Korea. The 22th June 1953 I left Korea for Belgium. I arrived in Brussels the 27th June 1953.

André on his return from Korea