By US News Agency / Asian
Former President Fidel V. Ramos, who is currently visiting South Korea, has recalled his combat exploits of the Korean War as a young second lieutenant 60 years ago.
Ramos is heading a 30-man delegation of Filipino Korean war veterans invited by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to participate in a series of activities commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War held in Seoul, Incheon and Busan this week.
The Philippines was one of the 16 countries led by the United States that sent combat troops to Korea when war broke out on June 25, 1950.
At that time Ramos, who had just graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, volunteered to go to Korea to fight the North Koreans and Chinese communist troops who invaded South Korea.
Exactly 365 members or more than half of the 669 West Point classmates of Ramos saw action in the savage war that lasted three years. Forty-one of his classmates were killed and 84 others were wounded during the war, representing 34 percent casualty rate, the highest for any West Point class in both World War I and World War II.
Ramos recalled that the Philippines initially dispatched the 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) in September 1950 that earned the monicker “The Fighting 10th” for having the most number of gun battles from among the five BCTs that saw action in the Korean War.
Ramos was assigned as the platoon leader of the 20th BCT, trained in conventional warfare by the United States.
For the young Ramos, Korea was the best testing ground to apply the art of war which he learned on the plains of West Point.
It was in Korea that Ramos got his baptism of fire sometime in May 1952 when he was tapped to lead a 44-man combat patrol to assault the so-called Eerie Hill occupied by well-entrenched Chinese troops.
“The mission was a necessary risk as Eerie Hill prevented the United Nations forces from advancing further without suffering heavy casualties. The Chinese enjoyed a vantage strategic position which afforded them to observe all moving objects in the surrounding plains below,” recalled Maj. Felizardo Tanabe, the operations officer of the 20th BCT in his memoirs.
The Chinese troops on Eerie Hill were heavily armed with artillery, bazookas, mortars and .50 caliber Machine guns. They had wiped out many Allied Forces’ tanks and armored vehicles in many battles.
Col. Salvador Abcede, the 20th BCT commander, led his troops nine times to attack Eerie Hill during the first week of May 1952, killing hundreds of Chinese soldiers, but failed to conquer the strategic hill.
Abcede then ordered Ramos to capture Eerie Hill at cost. Ramos was head of a reconnaissance team that would assault the hill.
On the night before the assault, Ramos, a religious man, led his men in praying to God for protection. Jump-off time was before daybreak of May 21, 1952.
Ramos grouped his unit: a 13-man sniper team led by Sgt. Cipriano Drapeza; a scout team of 10 headed by Cpl. Jose Palis; and a forward observer team led by 2nd Lt. Cosme Acoste.
At exactly 4:07 a.m., the platoon moved towards its objective under cover of darkness.
To avoid detection, Ramos and his men crawled for two hours through rice paddies, occasionally tipping their canteens to quench their thirst.
The recon platoon reached an irrigation ditch some 400 meters from the top of Eerie Hill. Adjacent to the ditch was a wide creek which was about knee-deep.
Before the assault, seven F-86 Sabre jet fighter-bombers from the U.S. Air Force streaked the sky, dropping bombs on Eerie Hill.
Lt. Ramos told his men to wait for his signal to attack. Artillery bombardment thundered. The simultaneous artillery fire and the air assault created a deafening boom.
Through binoculars, Ramos assessed the battlefield and searched for an opening for their ground assault. He found an entangled stack of barbed wire lay blasted from a distance.
Ramos then radioed his headquarters to stop the artillery fire and airstrikes as his unit was closing in on Eerie Hill. Close quarter fighting raged between Ramos’ reconnaissance team and the Chinese troops.
The Filipinos were unstoppable as they continued their searing assault and the Chinese soldiers tried to fight back.
The Ministry of National Defense of Korea says in its historical account of the Eerie Hill assault:
“From 0700, Lieutenant Ramos’ four teams (scout, rifle, sniper and forward observer), moved and maneuvered up to the crest of the Hill. As soon as the assault teams reached the barbed wire entanglements of Eerie at 07l0, two tanks lifted their fire.”
The 11-man scout team of Palis went into action and there was a wild exchange of gunfire. Grenades exploded all over. As the riflemen kept firing, Palis and two of his men ran toward bunker No. 2, dropped several grenades and fire their guns, killing four Chinese troopers.
Chinese troops occupying bunker No. 3 retaliated with heavy volume of fire. Lt. Ramos, who was armed with a Carbine, fired back. The Chinese threw grenades at Ramos and Palis but they were unhurt. Close quarter fighting continued with more intensity.
Palis and two of his men dashed toward bunker No. 2, then threw several grenades and fired their M-1 rifles, killing four Chinese.
At this point, two Chinese troops suddenly got out of the bunker but Lt. Ramos, who was just four meters away, was quick in his reflexes and fired his Carbine rifle, killing the two Chinese soldiers.
Then Palis told Ramos that they were running out of grenades. The young lieutenant immediately ordered his two-man demolition team to move in and blast bunkers 2 and 3.
During the mopping-up operation, Chinese troops occupying connecting trench some 200 meters away opened fire as fighting broke out anew.
The sniper team of Sgt. Drapeza moved in to the north. Four Chinese troopers tried to throw grenades at the Filipino troopers but they were cut down.
During the close quarter battle, bayonet fighting erupted but Ramos and his men prevailed upon.
The assault lasted for two hours. Sixteen Chinese were killed in the fighting while only one Filipino was wounded.
During the battle, two American battalions were watching the unfolding action.
For Lt. Ramos, it was his first hill and first kill in a true-to-life episode dubbed as “to hell and back.”
The sterling performance of the Filipino combat troops during the Korean War elicited comments from no less than Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Allied Forces.
Col. Alex Lancaster, assistant officer of the U.S. Eighth Army said: “Give me the Filipino combat team and I will fight anywhere above the 38th Parallel.”