Memorial Dedicatory Address
Delivered by R. Bruce Elliott, September 26, 2003, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, at the dedication of the memorial monument and plaque to the combat service of the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn and to the honor of those Who Did Not Return.
Fellow Veterans, Family Members, Guests and Friends:
In WWII, 25 chemical mortar battalions served overseas in defense of our country. Only one of them, the 91st, remained on extended active service in the years after that war. In January 1949, that Battalion, consisting of only Hq Co and A Co, was transferred from Fort Lewis to the Army Chemical Center, previously called Edgewood Arsenal and now known as the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground.
On February 1 of that year, the unit was redesignated as the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, thereby reactivating the Battalion that had been the only one in existence when WWII broke out. It saw combat in Italy, France and Germany during that war, and proudly carried the lineage of the 1st Gas Regiment that fought the Germans in WWI. Companies B and C were activated and received filler personnel, mainly from Fort Dix. The Battalion commander was Lt Col Edgar V. H. Bell and the unit's nickname was the Red Dragon.
We soon began advanced individual training and then unit training. Our weapon was the 4.2 inch mortar, two of which are at the entrance to this park, just behind you. Each of the Battalion's 3 line companies had 12 of these mortars. Their 25-pound shells carried 8½ pounds of high explosive or white phosphorus, and, for short periods, a mortar could fire 20 of these shells per minute. Thus, the massed Battalion was capable of placing over 3 tons of explosive or smoke on a target in one minute, and with the accuracy afforded by a rifled barrel and artillery methods of fire control.
The 4.2 inch chemical mortar was developed at Edgewood Arsenal between the two world wars by Col Lewis McBride, a Chemical Corps officer who was also an engineer and inventor. The parade ground there, McBride Field, is named in his honor. Behind the reviewing stand on that parade ground, there is a plaque dedicated to him, next to a pedestal-mounted M30 model of our trusty mortar.
While the Red Dragon was training in 1949, the international stage was being set so that we would be sent into combat some 8,000 miles away within barely a year and a half of activation.
In June 1949, the United States withdrew its last occupation troops from South Korea one year before that country was invaded from the North.
In August 1949, the Soviet Union successfully tested an atomic bomb. A few months later, the Chinese Communists defeated Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Army, the remnants of which then withdrew to Formosa, now called Taiwan.
In January 1950, the American secretary of state, Dean Acheson, stated publicly that Korea was excluded from the U.S. defensive perimeter in the Pacific, which otherwise included the Aleutian Islands, Japan, the Ryukyus and the Philippines. Public and private statements by other civilian and military leaders suggested that the United States had resigned itself to watching all of Korea fall under Soviet influence.
Also in January 1950, Stalin gave his approval for the North Korean attack on South Korea, having concluded that the US would not respond.
Six months later, on June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and the United States did respond. Thus began the Korean War clearly an abrupt reversal of national policy. Initially called a police action, the Korean War was the first limited war engaged in by our military and our first undeclared war. It was also the first time that the United States put its military in the field in an attempt to stop Communist expansion and the first time that both sides were armed with nuclear weapons.
Now often called The Forgotten War, it lasted over 3 years and resulted in over 54,000 American dead and more than 103,000 wounded. Today, nearly 8,200 Americans are still missing in action, and there is no peace treaty. As we know too well, those casualty figures include the 61 men of the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn and its successor unit who did not return, and whose names are forever inscribed with honor on the bronze plaque we dedicate today. Forty-nine of these soldiers were in the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn when they gave their lives, and 12 were in our successor unit, the 461st Infantry Battalion (Heavy Mortar), which continued our mission in the name of the Red Dragon beginning late January 1953. Other figures mentioned here today also include the operation of the 461st Inf Bn because it was in essence the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn with just a different name.
At the time of the North Korean invasion of the South, the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion was fragmented for annual Reserve and National Guard training requirements, but promptly returned to Edgewood and began preparations for movement to Korea. On September 15, 1950, just over fifty-three years ago, the Battalion and all its equipment left that post by troop train. It was the same day that the new X Corps launched its amphibious assault on Inchon. We traversed this great country of ours and arrived at Camp Stoneman, California, four days later. Despite having received many fillers from other units at the Army Chemical Center, we were still badly under strength when we got on that train.
We spent 3 days at Camp Stoneman being prepared for overseas movement. Then, on September 22, the Battalion boarded the USNS David C. Shanks and departed for Korea. After 15 days at sea, we arrived at the port of Pusan, South Korea, on October 8, 1950, and were assigned to Eighth Army. To augment the Battalion's strength, three hundred enlisted men and three officers were assigned to it from the Korean Army, but they stayed with us only a few weeks.
The Battalion promptly headed north in convoy, crossed the 38th parallel on October 20, and fired its first mission on October 23 at Yongbyon in support of the 1st ROK Div. Ten days later, at Unsan, we suffered our first men killed, either in action or later died in prison camp 24 young men in all when the third platoon of Co B was over-run by CCF. It was the largest number we were ever to lose in one day. Nearly all the men of the platoon were either killed or taken prisoner, and the company commander was also killed when he tried to extricate the platoon.
The 2nd was the only chemical mortar battalion to serve in Korea and the last one to serve in the U. S. Army. Unlike most other combat units, the Battalion stayed in the line from the time it fired its first round until the truce was signed. That meant 1007 consecutive days in action without relief. Of the 10 campaigns during the Korean War, we participated in all but the first one. We served in all 3 corps of the Eighth Army, supported 6 U.S. divisions, 8 ROK divisions, and the British Commonwealth Brigade. Until the name change in late January 1953, the Battalion fired well over 431,000 rounds of mortar ammunition; the 461st continued firing at high rates after that but we don't yet have accurate totals.
These facts, plus commendations received and the convictions of those who served then with the Red Dragon, point to a tough and capable unit that distinguished itself in close support of the Infantry throughout the Korean War. The veterans of the unit have a right to be proud of its service and their part in it. As long as we live, we shall not forget our 61 fellow veterans who did not return to their loved ones. Today, here at Fort Leonard Wood, we dedicate this monument and its bronze plaque to the high honor of each and every one of them so that their names shall live on forever. American soldiers they were, in the best tradition of the United States Army. In proud service to their country, they made the supreme sacrifice in the prime of their lives. They deserve the tribute of all freedom-loving Americans.
Veterans, please stand and join me in saluting our fallen comrades.
This Memorial Dedicatory Address was published in the October 2003 issue of The Red Dragon,
newsletter of the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion Association.
Return to the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn page
Return to the home page for chemical mortar battalions