Nights On The Hook

By Neil Deck

 We had been in Korea for some 10 to 14 days when we were awakened sometime after midnight on 18 November 1952 and told to get ready to do a counter attack on The Hook. We were not ready to move into the front lines as we were still taking condition­ing training after the long sea voyage, and were being orientated and outfitted with equipment and winter clothing, etc. So, when we were awakened, we were not sure if it was for real or just another exercise.

 When we reached the rear (our side) of The Hook, we were taken off the trucks and de­ployed along the road, away from the vehicles, where we waited for first light. Occasional enemy shelling exploded on our side of the hill. That was the beginning of the worst tension I have ever had in my life—my stomach was tied in knots and it felt like my heart was in my throat. If anyone has experienced life-threatening trauma (a car accident for example), you know what I'm talking about. That tension lasted all the while I was in Korea , with those first three days being unbelievably traumatic for me.

 At first light we began to move up onto the hill—one platoon passing through the other, and so on. As we approached the top, we saw the most devastating sight imagi­nable. Bodies were all around us— a hand here, a leg there... just a horrible sight. My stomach felt like my breast bone had turned inward and was poking my stomach.

 There was very little protection, with the trenches all caved in and flattened, as the British Black Watch had called artillery down on themselves to get rid of the enemy.  By noon I had learned that two of my bud­dies—Privates Jones and King—were dead.  

That evening, at last light, I was told to crawl around the hill to the forward slope and to the trench where my friends' bodies were, to retrieve their weapons and ammu­nition. When I saw their broken bodies, I cried as the knot in my stomach grew big­ger and tighter. But that was only the be­ginning.

 Later that night, when it was pitch dark, our platoon commander, Lieutenant Anderson, informed me I was to lead a three-man listening patrol. (I was an Acting Corporal, and a section leader.) My team was to go down to no-man's-land and lis­ten for enemy activity. I would have to carry and operate the wireless set as they could not spare a trained wireless operator.

 I had no training on wireless. In the dark, I was given basic instructions, i.e., "feel this button on the mike," and "press this to talk." I hope you can imagine the fear I felt at this time. As there was no one else on this fre­quency except for myself and the artillery, I would have never found the right channel if it accidentally moved. I was to keep abso­lute radio silence, with two exceptions. First, if we heard something, I was to say, "We are coming in." And, when we reached the trenches, I was to say, "Home free." The lat­ter being the signal for the artillery to open up.

 (Was I scared? You bet I was. That whole section of the front line was relying on three people - one with a radio and no training on it at all.)

 We went out into no-man's-land, and while we were slipping and sliding down the hill, the cable from the radio to the bat­tery pack got caught on something and pulled out of the battery. The radio went dead. My sense of dread increased. What if I couldn't get the thing working again? How would we get back to our line without our own people shooting at us? We couldn't use a match or anything, so, fumbling in the dark, we finally found the hole for the jack and the radio came back to life.

We continued on our way, staying close together as it was pitch black. Coming across a small rock ridge, we spread out along it, with me in the middle.

 Although we were on a listening patrol, I could hear nothing but the hum of the ra­dio. It was terrifying - every minute seemed an eternity. In about 15 or 20 minutes, one of the guys came to me and reported that he had heard something. I keyed the mike and said, "We are coming in." After a bit of a problem finding the other fellow we started up the hill toward the trenches. As we came closer, someone asked, "Deck, is that you?" I said yes and when we were in the trenches I said "Home free" on the ra­dio and the artillery was there immediately.

 When the artillery lifted, we went out again. We asked for, and got, a roll of com­munication wire and side cutter so we could tie ourselves together as it was so dark.

In total, we were on The Hook three nights that time. On the second and third nights, I dug the trench deeper as it had been de­stroyed by shelling. It was cold and the ground was frozen, so I used a pick when I heard a hissing noise coming from the bot­tom of the trench. I reached down and felt some cloth. Pulling on it, I realized it was a coat with a body inside. It was one of the British. He was bloated and the noise I heard was the air coming out of him after I had punctured him with the pick. I got sick to my stomach again.  

For three and a half days we did not once lay down to sleep. There was 100 per cent stand‑to both night and day, and we had to clean equipment, repair bunkers, etc. There was no debriefing after the three days.

The aching and nausea in my stomach stayed with me so, sometime between then and December of that year, 1 went to the medical officer about it. I remember [him] telling me that I was making this up. He implied I had a mental problem, and was looking for a way out. He told me to get back to my unit and stay off sick call (for stom­ach problems) or I could be put on charges.

 Published courtesy of Esprit de Corps Magazine

 Neil Deck served in Korea with the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.  He returned to civilian life a few months after his Korea tour was completed.  He and his wife live in Sayward, British Columbia . He is a member of KVA Unit #21.  Over half a century later, Neil Deck is still troubled with flashbacks from the actions on The Hook, November 19-20, 1952 .

 

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