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The loss of Maj. Oren C. Atchley, MSC, Commanding Officer, 7th Medical Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, in late November 1950
THE LOSS MAJOR OREN C. ATCHLEY, MEDICAL SERVICE CORPS
The following Command Report, 7th Medical Battalion, for December 1950 provides a unique view into the events surrounding the loss of Maj. Oren C. Atchley, MSC, Commanding Officer, 7th Medical Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, in late November 1950. It is unusual to have such detailed information on the loss of not only Maj. Atchley but also of Sgt. Leonard Jefferson Smith, Jr., and then Pvt. Richard L. Stuck, all of the 7th Medical Battalion, and Cpl. Albert Williams, medic, assigned to the 560th Ambulance Company but then attached to the 7th Medical Battalion. The wounding of Pvt. Harry J. Mayfield, ambulance driver, 560th Ambulance Company, is also described in detail as are the actions of Sgt. Robert L. Kemble, Ambulance Company, 7th Medical Battalion, who also accompanied Maj. Atchley’s patrol. Both Sgt. Kemble and Pvt. Mayfield were reported missing in action (MIA) and were later returned to U.S. military control, Kemble on 29 November and Mayfield on the 30th. Captain Robert S. O’Hern, MSC, battalion adjutant, provides detailed information in the following reports on the missing battalion commander and his detailed debriefing of Sgt. Robert L. Kemble. For his actions during this patrol, Maj. Atchley (promoted to Lt. Col. on 10 December 1950) was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) (see Incl II to Command Report below).
John T. Greenwood, Ph.D.
Office of Medical History
Office of The Surgeon General, U.S. Army
Falls Church, Virginia
Command Report for the Month of December
to Inclosnres of Command Report of 7th Medical Battalion for the month
SUBJECT MIA Report on Bn CO, 7th Med Bn
7th Inf Div
1. The following is a chronological account of the facts and circumstances surrounding the MIA Casualty Report submitted on Major Oren C. Atchley, Oxxxxx, MSC; 3 EM 7th Medical Battalion and 2 EM 560th Amb Co (atched this orgn), as requested for Lt Col Rowan, Deputy Chief of Staff, 7th Infantry Division, by Major Keen, AG. All map references are Korea 1: 250,000.
2. On 23 November 1950, at approximately 1900 hours, Cpl Simmons, an ambulance driver from the 560th Ambulance Co, (atched this Hq) reported to me that he left the 1st Platoon Clearing Station, this battalion, located at Kapsan, DA4148, at approximately 1430 hours and he knew that ambulance #A-24, same organization, had departed from the same station approximately one hour earlier but as yet had not arrive at its destination: 2d Platoon Clearing Station, located at Pukchong, DV 4255. I directed him to report this fact to Lt Arthur Warren, his platoon commander and that if he had any difficulty in doing so to report back to me.
3. Lt Warren in receiving this information conferred with Captain Lindquist, Ambulance Company Commander, this battalion and it was determined that the Ambulance leaving Kapsan had stopped at the 3d Platoon Clearing Station located at Pungsan DA2817 for medical care for the patient load it was carrying. This was a routine practice. The two officers decided to wait for a few hours to see if the ambulance would show up.
4. At approximately 2200 hours that date, I received a call from the battalion Commander, Major Oren C. Atchley, Oxxxxx, MSC, at advance 7th Med Bn CP at Pungsan and I asked him if he knew the whereabouts of the missing ambulance. He did not, but sent a Sgt from his CP over to the Clearing Station to inquire if they knew. I called back within the half hour and Major Atchley informed me the ambulance had departed that station at approximately 1400 hours and should have arrived at Pukchong by 1800 or 1900 hours. He directed me to dispatch an ambulance with extra litters, blankets, and aid man to proceed towards Pungsan and cover the mountainous route in search of the missing ambulance. He stated he was sending a similar party from Pungsan to cover the route from that direction and also the road leading off into the 31st RCT area which the lost ambulance could possibly have taken. The two searching parties were to meet at the MP Station on top of the mountain and report their results. At 0430 24 November 1950 I received a call from the MP officer at the mountain top, stating the two searching parties were there and had not been able locate the missing ambulance. I directed him to send both to the forward CP at Pungsan and I would inform Major Atchley they were coming. The MP officer also informed me that a search had been made as far as the 121st Evacuation Hospital at Hamhung, CV7518, without favorable results
7. Repeated check with the forward CP was made during the night and the following day 25 November 1950 but no word was heard of Major Atchley’s search party. Presuming he was following the route of the lost ambulance it was momentarily expected that we would have word from him either at Hamhung or he would arrive at Pukchong.
8. The evening of 25 November 1950 I called the Operations Section, Surgeon’s Office, X Corps, and informed Colonel Gorby, Corps Surgeon, that we had received no word from Major Atchley and would he please had check with the medical units in the vicinity of Hamhung. He called back with the half hour and said none of the units there had seen him. He said he would inform the Provost Marshal X Corps and I should immediately inform the 7th Div Surgeon and Provost Marshal which I did through the forward CP. Col Gorby also suggested they be requested to contact elements of the 7th RCT, 3d Infantry Division, into whose area it was thought the search party may have entered.
On the evening of 26 November 1950, Major John P. Riley, S-3, this
informed the Chief of Staff and other members of the General Staff
Major Atchley’s absence. Reports were requested from units having
that area and General Barr informed Major Riley that he would cause
be sent into the area in the search. The Division Surgeon requested X
Surgeon to have all concerned alered for possible news of Major Atchley
party. Air search was requested.
ROBERT S. O’HERN, Capt, MSC Adjutant
11 December 1950
SUBJECT: Report of Personnel MIA (Sgt Kemble)
TO : AG Casualty Section, 7th Inf Div, APO 7.
The following is a statement made by Sgt Robert L. Kemble, RAXXXXXXXX, Ambulance Company, 7th Medical Battalion, APO 7, who was recovered after missing in action. The Sergeant was a member of a search party formed by Major Oren C. Atchley,1 OXXXXX, MSC, this organization, in an attempt to find a lost ambulance.
At 0830, 24 November 1950, we departed Pungsan, Korea, south in the direction of Untaek, Korea. The search party consisted of Major Atchley, myself, Cpl. Leonard J. Smith,2 RAXXXXXXXX, Hq & Hq Co, this Battalion, Pfc Richard L. Stuck,3 RAXXXXXXXX, Clr Co, this Battalion, and Pvts [Albert] Williams4 and [Harry J.] Mayfield, 559th [560th] Ambulance Company, 163rd Medical Battalion (sep). On the way, we stopped at the 31t RCT Medical Company CP for approximately one (1) Hour, leaving there at 1100 hours. We continued south on the road and stopped at a fork in the road south and east of Susang-ni, DV 0487. At this time the Major and Smith, who were leading in the jeep, directed me to wait while they went on south to investigate the road. About 30 minutes later he returned with information to the effect that he did not think the ambulance had taken that road. It was about 1415 hours and we stayed long enough to eat. On departing we turned right on the road leading to the west. The Major stated that down this road about 25 miles we should contact a patrol of troops from the 3d Div. During this time we passed one town but there was no evidence of the ambulance or action of any kind. I believe this town was Sangdong, CV 8988. Either before or after passing this town we went by a mine shaft. I checked the speedometer later and noticed we had gone 20 miles, about this time we came to a place where the road divided and the Major decided to take the road to the left. This road led us into a town that I believe is called Tari-ri, CV9786. In the center of the town this road came to a "Y" shape. The town had been bombed and appeared deserted. We took the right fork and crossed a bridge. As we crossed the bridge the Major hollered back it might be the right road as there was a sign on the bridge stating it had been erected by the 13th Engineers (C) Bn. On the other side we came to the dead end. The Major said for us to wait and he would reconnoiter the area. I pulled off to a School House about 50 yards away so I would be out in the open, and away from the buildings in the town. The Major came back shortly and said he couldn't find a road out but for us to wait and he would try a different direction. He was gone about five (5) minutes when I began to notice we were being surrounded on all sides by men approaching with long-barreled rifles, they were not wearing any particular type of uniform. I told the ambulance driver to make a break for it! We headed around the school house and at the far end I noticed the Major coming in our direction. We stopped long enough to tell him we were being surrounded. The Major took off in the lead on a trail leading from the school and out of town to the right into an open field. We were fired on as leaving and it looked like more enemy was trying to cut us off from forward. They were all afoot. Approximately one (1) mile out we stopped in an open field and the Major told us to get out and disperse. We were on a hill and could see the river below us. The Major and I went down a draw to the river to see if we could cross. At the river we found a railroad embankment crossing the draw paralleled to the river. At the same time we noticed the enemy coming up the other side of the river. I asked the Major if we should open fire on them._______
1 Maj. Oren C. Atchley, Medical Service Corps (3 November 1912-24 November 1950). Maj. Atchley (Hunt, Texas) assumed command of the 7th Medical Battalion in Japan on 13 July 1950. He was also acting Division Surgeon from 11 July to 16 August 1950. He was reported missing in action and presumed dead on 24 November 1950. Atchley was promoted to Lt. Col. as of 10 December 1950. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, Combat Medical Badge, and Purple Heart in addition to other campaign and service medals for Korea.
DSC Citation: The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to Lieutenant Colonel Oren C. Atchley, Medical Service Corps, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving as commanding officer of the 7th Medical Battalion, Seventh Infantry Division, in the vicinity of Pungsan, Korea, on November 24, 1950. While at a forward command post, he organized a search party to attempt to locate an ambulance with wounded men that was missing in enemy territory. The search party was attacked while he was on reconnaissance, and he was separated from the other men. On his return, without hesitation and fully award of the odds against him, he fired on the enemy, distracting them, giving his men time to escape. When last seen he was fearlessly maintaining his stand and urging the others to withdraw.
2 Sgt. Leonard J. Smith, Jr. (1929-3 February 1951). Sgt. Smith (Tampa, Florida) was captured in North Korea on 24 November, marched to a POW camp, and died there on 3 February 1951. He was awarded a Bronze Star and Combat Medical Badge in addition to other campaign and service medals for Korea.
3 Sgt. Richard L. Stuck (1930-24 November 1950). Sgt. Stuck (Beaver, Pennsylvania) died from wounds received on 24 November 1950. He received the Purple Heart, Combat Medical Badge, and campaign and service medals for Korea.
4 Cpl. Albert Williams (1930-27 November 1950). Cpl. Williams (Hinds, Mississippi) was a medic with the 560th Ambulance Company and was taken prisoner on 27 November and presumed to have died that day. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Medical Badge, and campaign and service medals for Korea.
Hq 7th Med Bn, APO 7, Subject: Report of Personnel MIA (Sgt Kemble) 11 Dec 50
He said not to because maybe if we didn't they wouldn't. He said we'd better abandon our vehicles and take off on foot. We went back and gathered the rest of the men at the vehicles and prepared to abandon them. We each took a can of "C" rations and all the ammunition we could carry. We headed over the hill parallel to the river and railroad. Looking down off the right, we could see them both. After a short ways we headed down to the railroad, turned left in the opposite direction of the town we'd left, with Major in the lead. We kept about 30 yards from one another. About 3/4 of a mile down the railroad we saw a North Korean with a long-barrelled rifle coming head on towards us. When he saw the Major he stopped, whirled around and started running. The Major fired and the North Korean dived off the bank down towards the river. The Major saw him crossing the river but he was too far off out of range to get an effective shot. This took place about dusk. We headed on about 3/4 of a mile further and turned right off the railroad tracks and crossed the river. We headed straight up the side of a mountain following a trail. At the top we turned left and proceeded cautiously. Ahead the trail went around the mountain and down grade. Dogs were heard barking below us and the shapes of houses could be made out. The trail led down through the houses. The first house was passed OK. The Major and Smith got by the second house where the dogs were barking. As I approached, someone came out of the house. They kept repeating something in Korean. Then it sounded as though they said in English "are you there"? I turned and whispered to the 3 men behind me, "hit the dirt". Mayfield hollered "he's got a gun!” The North Korean started towards us and I shot him. He fell to our left, and as he did he opened up on us with a burp gun he had. Other persons came out of the house and opened fire on us. One was firing a burp gun. Williams had 2 hand grenades that he gave to me. I threw one towards the house and it must have been effective because I heard screaming as if they had been hit. Just before this I saw the Major or Smith, it looked more like the Major, standing up ahead in the middle of the road with a carbine on automatic firing into the same house I had thrown the grenade. The second grenade I threw hit the side of the house. Right after that the firing quieted down to sporadic shots. I looked down to the right and thought I saw three tanks in the distance. I was trying to see the Major and at the same time the men behind me were trying to get me back. I told them to go ahead and I would take the rear. They told me to go ahead and I would follow, as I took off and had them cover me and then follow in turn. I ran about 50 yards and fell in the ditch to cover for them while they were catching up. When they came up I saw Williams supporting Stuck. He had been hit and was insisting we take off and get away. He kept saying he couldn't make it and that he was done for. On examining him I saw that he was shot right through the center of the chest. We carried him back about 400 yards further, near a stream, and examined him closer. He was in shock and semi-delirious. I covered him with my parka and told him we were going back for the Major and try to help. I don't think he understood. We three held a conference whether to try to take Stuck or not. In the meantime we heard more firing in the direction the Major had gone. We decided the best to do was to leave Stuck and try to get help for him. We had no means of giving Medical treatment to him of any kind. When we left we tried to get over to the other side of the mountain but ran into heavy gun fire over there. We backtracked along the slope and tried to get over to the Major by the other side but ran into more fire over there. We backtracked again to where we started and I told the other two men I didn't think there was but one other thing to do but to travel south and east until we contacted American troops, if possible.
put the North star to our back and traveled south all night, bypassing
and houses keeping to the mountains honing to hit a road.
The word "peace" was written on them with south Korean Flag and Korean writing on them. They went out of their way to be nice to us and gave us a gallon can of GI apple sauce. They drew a picture of a cross on a piece of paper and wrote K2 on it and made action like they wanted to take care of our feet. Mayfield wouldn't let them take off his shoes and I told them mine were OK. Then they opened the door and showed me a sled with hay on it and at the same time one of them drew a picture of an ambulance. Mayfield still didn't want to go but I told him I thought we should take a chance on it. They had to force Mayfield on. They tried to pull and force me out but I jerked loose and stood back with my M-1 and had them go out first. They did and I followed. An ox pulled the sled and we followed, we went across country about 3 or 4 miles until we came to a road. This was the first road we'd seen since we were lost. It appeared to have been well travelled by vehicles. We went on about mile until we hit town. At the first house we were stopped by a Korean who let us go by after the Koreans with us gave a password. From the time we left the house I had them covered with my M-1. The next place we stopped was a house that looked like a prison. They took Mayfield in and I followed, Mayfield kept wanting to know if we were PWs. During the night about 20 or 30 more natives came in. They were very secretive and suspicious acting and sat around in a circle.
The next morning, 29 November 1950, Mayfield wanted to make a break for it but I told him there wasn’t any use and if we were PWs just to make the best of it. For about two hours they kept taking papers out of secret places and it was evident they were filling them out on me. They used a lot of official looking stamps and seals on them, they wanted me to write on them but I wouldn't.
At approximately 1000 hours they grabbed me and pulled me out the door. When I looked down the street I saw an American Patrol and hollered at them. They took us to the 31st RCT Aid Station for Medical Care.
It is my opinion that the Major and Smith got away from the village where we had our first fire fight because of the firing we heard on the far side of the mountain later on. I believe that was from he and Smith trying to fight their way out. Because of the apparent critical condition Stuck was in I don't think there was much chance for him.
Williams feet were very black and swollen and the toe nails had come off. I think he would be taken care of as best possible by the North Koreans we left him with. The patrol that rescued us could not go on further towards him because of heavy enemy fire.
Sgt. Kemble was evacuated through Medical channels to the 121st Evacuation Hospital.
2 Jan 1950
that same day at 1500 hours we traveled 5½ miles to Hungnam,
Korea and set up
in a school building. This location was used as an assembly area for
Medical Battalion while the company was carrying on normal operations
ambulance service to various units evacuating to the 121st Evacuation
8 January 1951.
Command Report for the month of December 1950
The following report is the main events or the unit which took place
month of December 1950.
General H. B. Freeman and marched to Pusan Korea RTO, for troop movement by rail, destination Toksung-dong Korea, arrived at 2330 hours. Unit then marched from RTO to a grain warehouse to spend the night.
19 December 1950, At 1400 hours unit marched to school building a distance of one (1) mile. Unit then set up operations in the school building.
22 December 1950, Word was received this date, that at 0030 hours, 28 November 1950, Capt James Baido, Cpl Elwyn D. Nordyke, Cpl James L. Scott (while on DS with Med Co 31st Inf) was in a convey with the Med Co 31st Inf moving towards the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea when the convey was ambushed by the enemy. Sgt Walter C. Boncal, Med Co 31st Inf was the last person to see them, since they were report M.I.A.
3. The following is Foot Notes of the events of this unit.
6 December 1950, lst Lt W.P. Stender (MSC) promoted to Captain, par 17 SO #73 Hq X Corps.
7 December 1950, Major John E Pleasants
(DC) assumes Command of the battalion per. G.O. 30 Hq 7th Med Bn.
SOURCE: National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 407, Records of the US Army Adjutant General, Unit Historical Records, 7th Medical Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, Command Report, December 1950, Box 3185.