A Tribute to Bravery
By Lee Reynolds
A fellow Marine, Harry W. Robertson, now deceased, gave me the following account of a memorable incident which occurred during the Inchon landing on Korea, Sept. 15, 1950. Here is Robertson’s story as he told it to me:
My Marine company, platoon by platoon, trudged up the road to Seoul. We divided into squads. Wilson was point man, I carried a B.A.R. We were under sporadic artillery and rifle fire the entire time.
Without warning, a lone figure confronted us in the road and tried to bar our path. He was Japanese, about 35, clad in an immaculate WW2 Jap officer’s brown uniform. He wore the brown frame cap with black visor and wide, red band with gold star. Around his body he wore a red and white banzai or battle flag. He waved a South Korean flag in one hand and a black Nambu pistol in the other.
“Backu! Backu!” he shouted over and over, vehemently motioning for us to halt When we did not “Backu” he shot point man Wilson through the chest. Wilson, mortally wounded, sank to his knees and drilled one crisp, clean shot directly through the center of the Jap’s neck. The Jap fell backwards and lay still.
While a medic tried to attend to Wilson, we plodded past the Jap’s body. One of our people seized the Nambu pistol. I grabbed the Korean flag and the meatball flag. The red and white flag was still warm from the Jap’s body.
“What’s a Jap doing defending Seoul?”, somebody remarked.
“He’s out of uniform, that’s for sure,” replied another with a chuckle. “Last war’s over, Jap,” remarked another weary, plodding Marine, referring to the dead man’s out-of-date uniform. “We’re workin’ on a new ‘un now.”
A hundred yards up the road we discovered the reason why the Japanese officer had tried to stop us. A Korean orphanage lay directly in our path. The Japanese had been its civilian director. In trying to stop our advance, he believed he was protecting his kids. Inside his office, on his unmarked desk, sat a recent framed photo of him and his wife, both smiling happily and wearing civilian clothes. On the wall behind his desk hung an older photo of the man in his Army uniform.
In an adjacent room, behind overturned tables and chain and in corners, huddled 35 to 40 frightened Korean children. Their ages ranged from about 7 months to perhaps 13 years. By gestures and smiles we made it known to the frightened youngsters that we meant them no harm and that our prime concern was for their safety.
Several older children spoke halting English: “Mr. Yabutu (?) told us to run into the woods behind the building and hide. He said he was going to hold you back so we could escape.”
We Marines silently looked at each other. Nobody said anything. A few of us silently shuffled our feet and looked at the floor. We had just witnessed an act of unparallel bravery and self-sacrifice and hadn’t realized it until now. This orphanage director, aware of our advance and believing his children to be in danger, had donned his old Army uniform and battle flag and gone forth to face the enemy one last time. He died a brave warrior defending his children.
Our captain Davenport arrived accompanied by a radio operator. He hurriedly radioed for Amtracs to try to break through and evacuate the wailing kids. Artillery shells-both ours and theirs- were bunting closer with each passing moment We infantrymen took positions in nearby dugouts. Half an hour later the orphanage building took a series of direct hits and disappeared in explosions of fire and smoke. By then the rescuing Amtracs had arrived and departed safely.
Robertson ended his story. We both sat silently. “I survived the war,” Robertson finally said,” but that lone face-down by the orphanage director still haunts me. If he’s got people in Japan, they ought to know about his bravery in saving his kids.” Then he shrugged. “I suppose that if anybody knew, they’re forgotten by now.”
I replied, “Maybe so, maybe not, but one thing’s for certain: those Korean kids haven’t”
Marine Harry Robertson died of war wounds and hard living at age 53 in 1984. Before he died, he sent me his 20 year Marine Corps memorabilia. The two flags shown here were among it.