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A case of 'severe apprehension'

Tens of thousands of Korean War veterans live in the Tampa Bay area. A few agreed to share their recollections with us.

Published July 26, 2003

[Photo: courtesy Robert Bryson]
photoABOVE: This snapshot of Robert Bryson was taken by one of his friends while he was in Korea with the Marine Corps. Bryson would take pictures, send the film back to his family, then the family would send prints back to him so he could write notes and stories about the photos before sending them home again.

AT RIGHT: Robert Bryson, 71, now lives in Spring Hill. He still is not sure whether he was hit by American shrapnel or Chinese.
[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]

Mortar shells were falling everywhere.

Something whizzed by Robert Bryson's left shoulder. He felt his skin burning, so he reached back with his fingers, probing. He found a tear in his uniform, 3 or 4 inches long. He was bleeding, but not too badly.

It felt as if someone had set fire to his uniform, Bryson recalled.

"I guess I realized I wasn't really hurt that badly because I was still alive," Bryson said. "I really wasn't that scared at that point. When a mortar hit, often there would be a whizzing sound. Pieces of shrapnel would whiz through the area and make a funny hissing sound. It would tell you that something was really close."

The Americans had captured the small hill on the west coast of Korea weeks before, set up an outpost and lost control again. Bryson and his fellow Marines, the reinforced weapons company of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, were there to take it back.

But things had gone badly. The Marines had been caught in a hailstorm of mortar shells.

"When we got up there, the mortar shells started descending all around us. It was unpleasant, to say the least,' said Bryson, now 71.

The Marines called in an airstrike and started shelling the enemy with mortars, but some of the shells started coming down on the Marines. "You've heard of friendly fire? We had a couple of guys hit by that."

That was when Bryson got hit. He still is not sure whether it was American shrapnel or Chinese.

But the scariest moment, Bryson said, came a bit later.

As a Marine, Bryson hates to use the word "retreat," but it's exactly what they did. Bryson, his section leader, the captain and a radio operator remained behind on the hill to guard the flanks.

All of a sudden, Bryson had a startling thought: On his side of the hill were four Americans. On the other side were hundreds of Chinese Communists, ready to attack and kill.

He described the feeling as "severe apprehension."

"It wasn't actually fear either, but it was deep concern about the possibility of being captured. I would have certainly surrendered if I saw 300 guys come at me."

[Last modified July 26, 2003, 02:18:07]

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