Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Chicago, IL) The Battle of Heartbreak Ridge was a month long battle in the Korean War which took place between September 13th and October 15, 1951. It was one of the most fiercely fought and costliest engagements of that conflict, which, by that stage, had become mostly a war of attrition fought near the pre-war boundary of the 38th parallel. Thousands of men on both sides fought in that battle. One of them was Sgt. Edward J. Krohn.
Ed Krohn was born in Chicago at Swedish Covenant Hospital. His parents Kathryn and Bernard, raised Ed alongside his three brothers, Bernard, Donald and Robert and twin sisters Marie and Dorothy. Ed’s father worked as a meat cutter and his mother was a busy housewife. Ed went to Queen of Angels grammar school and Amundsen High School. Ed fondly recalls how he and his father would sometimes go up near the Chain-O-Lakes or to Wisconsin and spend the day hunting small game like duck, quail or grouse; then his father would prepare the game for a family meal.
During World War II, all of Ed’s older brothers were in the service and a Three Star flag was displayed in the window of their home. His brother Bernard fought the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. At age 23, Ed was drafted into the Army in November, 1950 and went thru 6 weeks of basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. After basic training, Ed was sent to Leadership School. “I was pretty eager during basic and I guess they thought I would make a good instructor,” Ed recalls, “but I did not pass the Leadership course after giving ten and twenty- minute graded lectures. I passed the ten but not the twenty. Instead of remaining stateside to train troops, I was sent to Korea.”
Ed reported to Fort Lawton, Washington and on May 16, 1951, he boarded the troopship Simon B. Buckner bound for the port of Yokohama, Japan. After a rough, eleven- day non-stop crossing of the northern Pacific Ocean, the ship arrived on May 27th. His next stop was to be Korea. Ed arrived at the Korean port of Pusan and by June 2nd was assigned as a reserve replacement to his new unit – Company “A”, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. Ed was quickly promoted to corporal and was assigned to his company’s Weapons platoon. While other platoons primarily acted as riflemen, a weapons platoon was equipped with .30 caliber machine guns, 60 and 80 millimeter mortars, anti-tank rocket launchers (Bazookas) and the 57 mm recoilless rifle. Since they had to man heavier weapons, most men in the weapons platoon would only be armed with smaller, lighter .30 cal. and .45 cal. pistols. “The 57 mm rifles were very accurate but if you stood behind one when it was being fired, it could kill you from the hot escaping blast of the projectile” Ed recalls.
Some photos taken by Ed using his Brownie camera show some of his buddies training, cleaning their equipment and even having a few “low alcohol” Pabst Blue Ribbon beers while encamped near the Imjin River during the hot, humid Korean summer. Ed remembers one of those buddies, Sgt. James Draper. “Draper was a regular Army man. He was a very ‘happy go lucky’ kind of guy.” Later, during a battle, Draper was killed in action. Fellow soldier Raymond Myers described in his report – “10/9 – Drove the jeep all day. We had chicken supper. Draper got killed. A round hit right in his hole. All I could find was one little piece of meat… nothing else.”
Ed and his unit were eventually sent up to the front line and he was promoted to Sergeant. Heartbreak Ridge was actually comprised of a group of hills that had numbers rather than names. His unit was entrenched on Hill 931, facing a similarly dug in and determined North Korean enemy. They lived in bunkers for 75 days, eating only C rations with a rare hot meal. Attacks and counterattacks were mounted by both sides, sometimes fighting hand to hand. Attached to the 2nd Division was the French Battalion, part of the combined United Nations forces that were fighting the communist North Korean and Red Chinese forces. During this intense fighting, Ed’s Weapons platoon would provide covering mortar and recoilless rifle fire for the attacking infantrymen. Ed remembers that they would get welcome air support from Air Force P-51s and F-80s along with carrier based Navy F4U Corsair fighters. “They would come in low, strafe and drop napalm on the enemy. Artillery fire was exchanged on both sides. A few times we were hit by ‘friendly fire’ from our own guns when rounds fell short.”
On a rainy September 29th, 1951, a North Korean battery facing Ed’s unit had pinpointed their position and unleashed a barrage of mortar fire which impacted near the American bunkers. “We were coming out of our cover and they waited until some of us were out in the open”. “A mortar round hit near me. I think I fainted. When I came to, a buddy said that I was hit.” Shrapnel had gone right thru Ed’s left hand and broke it. A medic tended to him and then he reported to his C.O. that he had been hit. Another soldier helped him down the hill and walked him to the 121st MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit. “They cut away my uniform and found that I was also hit in the thigh. After they patched me up, I was flown to the 279th Hospital in Osaka, Japan.”
Ed spent two months recovering from his wounds. While in Japan, he sadly learned that another of his buddies, Cpl. Robert Pollack, had been killed in the same mortar attack that had wounded him. On November, 28th, 1951, Ed boarded a plane in route back home to the United States, making stops in Hawaii, California and finally the Army hospital at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. After two thirty-day convalescence leaves, Ed was discharged from the Army on Sept 6th, 1952. For his combat service in Korea and for his wounds, Ed was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Korean Service Medal. Ed says, “I really want everyone to remember those buddies of mine that I served with. They were a great bunch of guys.”
Returning back home to Chicago, Ed followed in his father’s footsteps and became a meat cutter using the G.I. Bill. For 33 years, he worked at Stop and Shop Supermarket before retiring on Chicago’s northwest side. Ed became a private pilot and owned his own small Piper aircraft which he hangered and flew out of Midway Airport. Ed will be flying out of Midway once again on September 7th, this time with his fellow veterans for his very well deserved Honor Flight. We are honored to pay tribute to this brave soldier and fine gentleman!