Victory At Heartbreak Ridge Came At High Price

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On Hill 931 in South Korea, a young man eager to stop communism met the horrors of war.

This is Staff Sergeant Chuck Bartlett's story, as told to his wife, Ginna.

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Frank, Joe, Chuck Bartlett and Ludy were members of the U. S. Army Indianhead Second Division. They were soldiers with the 23rd Infantry that captured "Heartbreak Ridge," a series of hills in South Korea during the United Nations Police Action that is now known as the Korean War.

Equipped with M-1 rifles and World War II ammunition, Bartlett and the other soldiers of the 23rd Infantry were deposited at the base of a narrow, rocky mountain mass in South Korea during the United Nations Police Action.

The peaks, which had once been covered with heavy underbrush, were now pulverized dust under the blue smoke of artillery fire.

A nauseating smell permeated everything.

Chuck's mind conjured up hills of rotting garbage. In reality, the land was fertilized with human waste. We called it the "honey-bucket-laden land," he said.

Chuck didn't have long to worry about the smell.

The objective was to claim the ridgeline, and when the fighting started it was fierce.

The North Koreans used every weapon in their arsenal and no headway was made the first day.

Chuck's gun jammed several times and he was running out of ammo, and there was no hope of re-supply that first day. As men died all around him, Chuck said he came face to face with the reality of war, and fear became his constant companion. The soldiers were dog-tired, hungry and cold when they were told to settle in for the night.

With sleep came peril. The North Koreans sent out strong, probing attacks all night, slitting the throats of every man they found asleep.

At first light, they renewed their attack, clawing their way up the hill as big guns thundered from the rear.

Mortar flew all around, and Chuck said he started praying because he knew he was about to die. One bullet hit his ammo belt on the right, then another on the left.

To his right, he heard what sounded like water running from a faucet. His best buddy from boot camp, Lee Walters, was dead.

Night fell again and the platoon was 1,000 meters from the top of Hill 931. The new platoon leader, Toby McGinnis, told them to dig in and hold.

Several days later, Chuck saw a grenade explode inside the bunker McGinnis rolled into.

"I have met death a hundred times over and escaped," Chuck thought. "On this God-forsaken piece of real estate, I've lost track of days. They aren't important in this land where life is counted by hours, minutes and seconds."

The days blurred together as the platoon was plagued by hunger and thirst.

At 0200 on Sept. 24, Chuck said the Communist Chinese charged in for an attack, while their machine guns on the ridge spit bullets that kept the few remaining American soldiers hugging the ground.

He wormed his way up the mountain until he was within grenade-throwing distance of the nest.

"God was with me," said Chuck.

The first grenade he launched exploded in the middle of the guns and gave his fellow soldiers time to attack.

"We used every reserve of energy and courage as the handful of men crept and crawled upward, only to be battered back time and time again," Chuck said. "God was with us again, for with unbelievable guts and bravery we finally reached the crest of Hill 931 -- Heartbreak Ridge.

"Victory."

Fresh-faced, young recruits relieved Chuck and his fellow soldiers.

Chuck was just 18 when he enlisted in the Army.

He came from the small mining town of Ajo, Ariz., 100 miles from the nearest city. Growing up, he spent his time roaming the hills with his dog.

"Chuck went up Heartbreak Ridge an innocent boy, eager to stop the aggression of communism, and came down beaten, disillusioned and old beyond his years," Ginna said.

Chuck Bartlett was honorably discharged in January of 1953. He married Ginna Walton in August. They raised six children in Ajo before retiring to Payson in 1989. Chuck passed away in 1997.

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