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One heartbeat away from death

BRADY DENNIS
Published July 23, 2003

He lay face down in the frozen rice paddy, eyes closed, barely breathing, playing dead.

Nearby, he heard a fresh-faced lieutenant screaming for his mother as enemy soldiers carried the man away.

He heard another soldier crying, then gunshots, and the crying ceased.

Louis Holzworth knew if he moved, if he so much as moaned about the bullet that had pierced his left thigh, he would die in an instant.

Holzworth, then 31, and several other men had been ambushed during a late-night reconnaissance mission on Jan. 16, 1953, near Kumhwa, North Korea.

"All of a sudden, they just popped up," said Holzworth, now 82. "Hell broke loose. It sounded like fireworks going off all around you."

The Americans were outnumbered. It was over in seconds, and the Chinese started looting the dead and executing the wounded.

They rolled Holzworth over, stripped him of his .45-caliber handgun and his ammunition. They ripped off his belt, stole his gloves, took the watch off his wrist.

The whole time he lay as limp as a rag doll, hoping they couldn't hear his heart pounding.

As quickly as they appeared, they were gone.

He lay there alone in the freezing darkness, his gloveless fingers frostbitten, his leg bleeding, his friends dead.

Five minutes passed. Then 10. Then 15.

When he felt sure the Chinese were gone, he yelled for help. He made it safely back to camp, where they treated his leg and pulled grenade shrapnel from his back.

The young man is old now. But he can close his eyes and still see that night fresh and clear.

"I thank God that I'm alive," said Holzworth, who now lives in Spring Hill. "It just as easily could have been me. They tell me I'm too mean to die."

He spent nearly a decade in combat zones, fought two wars, and came out on the other side with four Purple Hearts and even more close calls.

But his closest brush with death came that cold night in Korea. It was Sgt. Louis Holzworth's final patrol.

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