- Hills of Sacrifice: The 5th RCT in Korea
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific nestles within the Punchbowl Crater on O'ahu, Hawai'i. In the Hawaiian language, it is called Pu'uowaina, the Hill of Sacrifice, a name that also aptly describes the steep hills and ridgelines of Korea where the soldiers of the U.S. Army's 5th Regimental Combat [End Page 316] Team (RCT) fought during the Korean War. The 5th RCT had a close connection to the people of Hawai'i, and many of its soldiers now rest in the Punchbowl Cemetery. Among them is Sergeant Ernest Malcolm (Sonny) Calhau, killed in Korea on March 23, 1951. Michael Slater, a Marine veteran of the Gulf War who married Sergeant Calhau's niece, set out to learn more about his wife's uncle and the outfit in which he served. As Slater's research led him to other veterans of the 5th RCT, his quest expanded to encompass the entire regimental combat team and its first year of combat in Korea.
The 5th RCT was a unique outfit. Normally, a 3,700–man infantry regiment would be part of an infantry division, but the 5th was one of a small number of separate RCTs. Composed of the 5th Infantry Regiment (a unit that traced its heritage back to the War of 1812), the 555th Field Artillery Battalion, and the 72d Engineer Combat Company, the 5th RCT was the last U.S. combat unit occupying Korea after World War II ended. It was withdrawn to O'ahu in 1949 and stationed at Schofield Barracks, where it settled into the peacetime routine of training and exercises.
The 5th RCT also conducted basic training for local recruits, many of whom stayed on to serve in the 5th, giving it a strong Hawaiian character and an ethnic mix that was unusual in the pre-Korean War Army. That character was reinforced when the war broke out and the 5th RCT was brought up to full strength with mobilized Reserve and National Guard soldiers, many of them from the highly decorated Japanese-American 100th Battalion and 442d Regimental Combat Team. The people of Hawai'i looked on the 5th as their own, sending packages and letters and following the fortunes of "their" RCT in Korea. The 5th gloried in its Hawaiian connection. The Regimental Tank Company named their tanks "Hula Girl," "Leilani," and "Hawaii Calls." Soldiers from the Mainland adopted Island slang and 442d RCT battle cries, going into the attack shouting, "Banzai!" and "Go for broke!"
In the segregated Army of 1950, the Mainland press sometimes referred to the 555th "Triple Nickel" Field Artillery Battalion as a "black" outfit, confusing it with a World War II African American parachute infantry battalion with the same number. In fact, there were no African American soldiers in the 5th RCT at the start of the war, although every other ethnic group found in Hawai'i was represented. Because of its heterogeneous mixture of European and Asian and Pacific Island American soldiers, the Army leadership believed the 5th was more likely to accept black soldiers smoothly, and so it was one of the first "white" units in Korea to be desegregated.
The 5th RCT was one of the most cohesive and well-trained units in the U.S. peacetime Army and contained a heavy leavening of combat veterans. Nonetheless, its early days in Korea were tough and tragic. Thrown into combat in early August 1950 alongside the 5th Marine Regiment in the first counteroffensive of the war, the 5th RCT took heavy casualties and the 555th Field [End Page 317] Artillery Battalion was ambushed and overrun by a North Korean attack. But under a new regimental commander, the hard peacetime training, the high proportion of experienced soldiers, and the cohesiveness that comes from the sense of being a unique and tough outfit paid off, and the 5th earned a reputation as one of the best Army units in Korea. It spearheaded...