Korean War and Private First Class Charlie Johnson

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In recognition of valor

This past week I began a story on a forgotten battle in the Korean War to honor the brave who fought and died there, and to put a “face” on the heroes of war. I wrote about Sgt. Mize, the recipient of the Medal of Honor, and Monday I started to tell you about Pfc. Charles Johnson.

June 10, 1953, the Chinese overran a vital outpost known as Outpost Harry which is along the 38th Parallel just about 100 miles from the armistice talks going on at Panmunjom to end the Korean War. The battle which ensued to retake the outpost was a remarkable feat, but the battle to hold at all costs for the following seven days, made heroes out of all who were there.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Robert Schaffner, Jr., The Frontline staff

On June 11, the US Army was able to drive the Chinese off the hill and retake the position. Now all they could do was dig even further into the trenches and hold on at all costs. With more than 10,000 Chinese looking to retake the outpost against a company of infantry supported by artillery, motors and a platoon of tanks, the odds were more than 30 to 1 in favor of the Red Army.

On June 12, just after midnight, the Chinese began an all-out assault with no fewer than a thousand troops at a time coming on in constant waves. From their trench Pfc. Johnson, his hometown friend, Donald Dingee and Robert Hooker fought along side rest of the company of about 150 men until nearly out of ammunition. The wounded were stacking up like cord wood on the American side, and each wave of Chinese soldiers coming up to Outpost Harry over the dead bodies of their comrades made it nearly impossible, but they eventually got into the trench line.

Dingee had taken a shrapnel wound in his forearm while fighting side by side with Johnson and Hooker. Grenades and artillery were landing everywhere in the chaos. Twice the three riflemen were knocked unconscious. As the hand to hand action intensified, Johnson and Hooker were still knocked out from the percussion from one of the grenades. Hooker had been bayoneted while unconscious, but when Johnson came to, he found Dingee now badly wounded with half his foot missing to go along with the wound in the forearm. He also found Johnson was still alive. He got Dingee bandaged up and then both he and Dingee worked on patching up Hooker with pieces of their clothing. Johnson then used his belt to make a tow-rope so he could pull Dingee 150 yards to safety down the backside of the hill.

The Chinese had taken their weapons while they were unconscious in the bunker. Johnson was able to find a rifle so he could start fighting the way to the backside of the hill to safety dragging the wounded Dingee and guiding Hooker. With so many Chinese in the trenches, this became a daunting task. He paused several times along the trenches picking up other weapons to fight with as they made their way. Imagine the chaotic scene with Johnson pulling Dingee and assisting the badly wounded Hooker making their way among the hand to hand combat in the trenches. This is the savagery of war.

They made it to safety where wounded were being deposited for evacuation to a MASH unit. Johnson wasn’t done yet. He secured several more weapons so the wounded could defend themselves if a complete breakthrough occurred and despite several smaller wounds to himself, fought his way back up the hill to aid more of his fellow soldiers. That was the last time Dingee and Hooker saw Pfc. Johnson alive.

As it began to rain adding to the mayhem, Dingee and Hooker lost track of Charlie Johnson until they discovered his body face down in the mud the following day during their evacuation. All those in the battle that night gave what they could to hold the outpost at all costs just as they were ordered. Charlie Johnson gave all, saving the lives of his fellow soldiers with disregard for his own safety.

The battle for Outpost Harry is but a paragraph in the annals of military history. Those who were there have never forgotten the heroic efforts that many displayed throughout the eight-day battle, and Donald Dingee would not let the military forget the efforts of Pfc. Johnson. It took 57 years before Brigadier General Jeffrey Phillips, 3rd Infantry Division deputy commanding general-rear, presented Pfc. Charlie Johnson, posthumously, with the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest medal for valor in combat. The Silver Star is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.

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“Private First Class Charlie Johnson, a Browning automatic rifleman with the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, was killed in action June 12, 1953, after an eight-day battle at Outpost Harry, in the Choran Valley during the Korean War. During the battle, Pfc. Johnson placed himself between his comrades and the enemy, creating the conditions for their successful rescue”. God bless Pfc. Johnson.

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