The exceptional Korean War “Indianhead” Division Operation Ripper 9th March 1951 Posthumous Silver Star Medal, and Battle of Pusan Perimeter 9th September 1950 Casualty and Bronze Star Medal with “V” for Valour device group awarded to Sergeant First Class V.A. Eggenburg, “G” Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd “Indianhead” Infantry Division. Eggenburg came from Iowa City, Iowa, and saw service in Korea from the outbreak of the war, being thrice wounded, the final time mortally. In charge of a mortar squad, he first came to prominence when in action near Poncho on 9th September 1950 during the Battle of Pusan Perimeter. When his Company was under attack by a large enemy force and while he was moving his mortar squad to a better firing position, an enemy artillery burst wounded him and another member of his squad. Ignoring his wound, he administered first aid to his comrade and sent him back to the first aid station. With no thought of his personal welfare, Eggenburg continued his mission, first placing his mortar in a new firing position, and then taking an exposed position from which to direct its fire. This action resulted in the destruction of two enemy machine gun emplacements. He remained in his dangerous position giving support to the company until he was evacuated to the aid station.
Wounded a second time during the retreat from North Korea on 26th November 1950, he returned to duty in late December, and was with his company during the Battle of Chipyong-ni which lasted from 13th to 15th February 1951, and where “G” Company played a significant role.
It was however during the United Nations counter-offensive known as Operation Ripper that Eggenburg was killed in action and awarded a posthumous Silver Star Medal. When engaged against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Norundau, Korea, on 9 March 1951, he was a section leader of a 60-mm mortar section of an infantry company which had the mission of furnishing close support to a friendly platoon. After firing a few supporting rounds, the section began to receive enemy mortar fire, and Eggenburg, realising the danger to his section, immediately moved them to more secure positions in cuts and ditches. In so doing, he was forced to expose himself in order to supervise the fire of his mortar section. With total disregard for his personal safety, he went from position to position directing and adjusting the fire of his section. While he was doing so, an enemy mortar round mortally wounded him.’ Eggenburg is mentioned by name in the book ‘The Line: Combat in Korea, January-February 1951’, edited by William T. Bowers.
Silver Star Medal, reverse with official posthumous issue machine engraved naming; (VERNON A. EGGENBURG)
Bronze Star Medal with “V” for Valour device, reverse with official posthumous issue machine engraved naming; (VERNON A. EGGENBURG)
Purple Heart Medal, reverse with official posthumous issue machine engraved naming; (VERNON A. EGGENBURG)
Combat Infantryman’s Badge, reverse with Antaya makers mark. Second World War issue example with painted centre.
Vernon Albert Eggenburg was born on 26th November 1925 in Iowa City, Iowa, the son of John Sylvester and Blanche Lorena Walter Eggenburg, and by the time of the Korean War, was serving in the United States Army as a Corporal (No.RA37684398) with the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, a unit of the 2nd “Indianhead” Infantry Division.
By August 1950, the 23rd Infantry Regiment had deployed at the narrow valley called "Bowling Alley", which was near the city of Taegu in defence on the Pusan Perimeter and aided the South Korean troops in the battle, which became known as the Battle of Pusan Perimeter and lasted from 4th August to 18th September 1950.
Eggenburg was serving as a Corporal with ‘G’ Company when he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with “V” for Valour device for his gallantry in action near Poncho on 9th September 1950 - another record states that he was wounded on the 6th September, and returned to duty on the 11th September.
The citation reads as follows: ‘for heroic achievement on 9 September 1950, near Poncho, Korea. On this date, while his company was under attack by a large enemy force and while he was moving his mortar squad to a better firing position, an enemy artillery burst wounded him and another member of his squad. Ignoring his wound, he administered first aid to his comrade and sent him back to the first aid station. With no thought of his personal welfare, Corporal Eggenburg continued his mission, first placing his mortar in a new firing position, and then taking an exposed position from which to direct its fire. This action resulted in the destruction of two enemy machine gun emplacements. He remained in his dangerous position giving support to the company until he was evacuated to the aid station.’
Eggenburg then participated in the retreat from North Korea, and was seriously wounded in action for a second time on 26th November 1950, returning to duty with his battalion on 20th December 1950.
Eggenburg recovered from both of his wounds in theatre, and was promoted to Sergeant 1st Class (E-7). He would then have found himself involved in the Battle of Chipyong-ni which lasted from 13th to 15th February 1951, and where “G” Company played a significant role.
Chipyong-ni was defended because the commanding general of the Eighth Army, Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway, decided to make a stand there against the Chinese Communists. In the chronology of Korean battles, the fighting for Chipyong-ni followed the withdrawal from northern Korea at the end of 1950, a brief Eighth Army offensive that began on 5 February 1951, and a full-scale Chinese counteroffensive that struck a week later.
The 23rd Regimental Combat Team made the decisive defense of Chipyong-ni on 13–14 February 1951. This action followed the patrol ambush and the subsequent Battle of the Twin Tunnels area some high ground three miles southeast of Chipyong-ni. After the Twin Tunnels operation, the 23rd Infantry Regiment (2nd Infantry Division) proceeded on the afternoon of 3 February to the town of Chipyong-ni and set up a perimeter defense. Chipyong-ni was a small crossroads town half a mile long and several blocks wide, situated on a single-track railroad. Besides the railway station there were several other brick or frame buildings in the center of the town, but most of the buildings were constructed of the usual mud, sticks, and straw. At least half of them were already reduced to rubble as the result of previous fighting in the town.
Encircling Chipyong-ni were eight prominent hills that rose to an average height of 850 feet above the rice paddies and buildings in the valley. These hills provided excellent defensive positions, but to have occupied them would have stretched the front-line defensive positions along 12 miles of ridgelines and formed a perimeter with a 3 to 4-mile diameter. Instead, the regimental commander (Colonel Paul L. Freeman), stationed his infantrymen on lower ground around a tight perimeter about a mile in diameter. On three sides of the town the line followed small hills; on the northwest section the infantrymen dug their holes across a half-mile strip of rice paddies.
During the ten days after going into position at Chipyong-ni, Col. Freeman's regiment dug in and strengthened its positions. The 37th Field Artillery Battalion (attached to the regiment), arrived on 5 February. Battery B, 82nd Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, joined the regiment, adding six M16 and four M19 flak-wagons to the defence of the town. Several days later Battery B, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion (a 155-mm howitzer unit), was attached to reinforce the 37th Field Artillery Battalion.
The infantry companies dug in their machine guns, registered their mortars, laid antipersonnel mines, and operated daily patrols to the encompassing high ground. The regimental Heavy-Mortar Company divided the fire of its platoons and sections among the sectors of the perimeter, the artillery registered on all probable avenues of enemy approach and all units established good communication lines. There was time to coordinate the infantry, artillery and air support into an effective combat team.
The following narrative describes the fighting for Chipyong-ni that occurred in that sector of the 2nd Battalion's perimeter defended by Company G, 23rd Infantry. The howitzers of Battery B, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, were in position at the bottom of Company G's hill so that the artillerymen were drawn into the same battle. The commander of the 2nd Battalion (Lt.Col. James W. Edwards) placed all three of his rifle companies on the front line to cover the sector assigned to his battalion. This was the southern rim of the perimeter. Within the companies, two company commanders committed their three rifle platoons. The other company (F), to which Col. Edwards assigned the center and smallest sector, manned its part of the line with only two platoons, leaving its support platoon as the battalion reserve.
The narrow supply road leading southwest from Chipyong-ni went under the railroad on the southern edge of the town and then, within a third of a mile, passed two embankments of red clay where the road cut through the two ends of a U-shaped hill. Company G started at the second of these two road cuts and extended left (east) along the southern side of the U. It was not much of a hill, only a couple of contour lines on the map. Infantrymen could climb the smooth hump of earth in a few minutes. The 1st Platoon of Company G held the right end of the hill next to the road cut. The 3rd Platoon had the center position (the highest part of the hill) and extended its line left to the bend of the U. The 2nd Platoon was down in the rice paddies between the 3rd Platoon and Company F.
Men from the two platoons on the hill dug their holes just over the top of the forward slope. The positions restricted the fields of fire somewhat but provided good observation, especially for the 3rd Platoon, which could see all areas to the south except for a dead spot in a dry creek bed just in front of its right flank.
There were two other significant features near the 3d Platoon's area. At the foot of the hill and just beyond the dry creek bed was a cluster of 15 or 20 buildings that made up the village of Masan. The second feature was a narrow spur of ground that formed a link between the 3rd Platoon's hill and a large hill mass to the south. The 2nd Platoon in the rice paddies lacked satisfactory observation but had good fields of fire across the flat land to its immediate front.
In addition to its own Weapons Platoon, Company G's supporting weapons included a section of 75-mm recoilless rifles, a section of heavy machine guns from Company H, and a platoon of 81-mm mortars under command of Lt. James Whitaker which was dug in near the edge of the town and had a forward observer (Lt.Whitaker) stationed with Company G. There were also forward observers from the regimental Heavy-Mortar Company and from the 37th Field Artillery Battalion with Company G. During the daytime men from the 75-mm recoilless rifle section manned their weapons, but at night they replaced them with two .50 caliber machine guns to prevent having their positions disclosed by the back-blasts of the recoilless rifles.
The Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon set up two fougasses (drums of napalm), the first on the road just south of the road cut, the second in the rice paddies in front of the 2nd Platoon. The 1st Platoon, which was next to the road, also strung barbed-wire across the road and in front of its position. There was not enough wire available to reach across the company front. Colonel Edwards supervised the siting of all weapons, and the digging of the holes which he insisted be of the standing type and deep enough for good cover.
When Battery B, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, arrived, its 155-mm howitzers went into position in the small bowl formed by the U-shaped ridge of which Company G occupied one side. The howitzers were laid by platoon to support the east, north and west sectors of the regimental perimeter. To the rear of the howitzers, the artillerymen set up a tent for the fire direction center (FDC) personnel. Behind that, near the bottom of Company G's hill, were several other tents for the mess and supply sections. A liaison officer from the 37th Field Artillery Battalion to Battery B (Captain John A. Elledge), and the commander of Company G (Lieutenant Thomas Heath) worked out a plan for the joint defense of the sector. This plan provided for the use of the artillery's machine guns in the front line and, if necessary, the use of some artillerymen as riflemen while skeleton crews manned the howitzers. The two officers also set up an infantry-artillery machine-gun post in the road cut with a six-man crew to operate two weapons, one .50 caliber and one .30 caliber. This road cut was also the dividing line between Col. Edwards's 2nd Battalion sector and that of the French battalion (a regular battalion of the 23rd Infantry).
In the aftermath of the Battle of Chipyong-ni, the United Nations forces launched Operation Ripper, the second of two counter-offensives.
Operation Ripper, also known as the Fourth Battle of Seoul, was a UN operation conducted by the US 8th Army. The operation was intended to destroy as much as possible of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) and Korean People’s Army (KPA) forces around Seoul and the towns of Hongch'on, 50 miles (80 km) east of Seoul, and Chuncheon, 15 miles (24 km) further north. The operation also aimed to bring UN troops to the 38th Parallel. It followed upon the heels of Operation Killer, the first of the two counter-offensive operations. The operation was launched on 6 March 1951 with US I Corps and IX Corps on the west near Seoul and Hoengsong and US X Corps and Republic of Korea Army (ROK) III Corps in the east, to reach the Idaho Line, an arc with its apex just south of the 38th Parallel in South Korea. Operation Ripper was preceded by the largest artillery bombardment of the Korean War.
The opening phase of Operation Ripper gave promise that the Eighth Army might reach its final ground objectives almost by default. Employing only a delaying action by small forces, the PVA/KPA line units frequently offered stubborn resistance, including local counterattacks, but more frequently opposed approaching Eighth Army forces at long range, then withdrew. In the I Corps' zone, the 25th Infantry Division made a model crossing of the Han River before daylight on 7 March. Attacking with three regiments abreast following heavy preparatory fires on the northern bank of the river and in company with simulated crossings by other Corps' forces, the division reached the northern shore almost unopposed. Joined quickly by tanks that forded or were ferried across the river, and helped by good close air support after daybreak, the assault battalions pushed through moderate resistance, much of it in the form of small arms, machine gun, and mortar fire and a profusion of well placed anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, for first-day gains of 1–2 miles. Similar daily gains followed.
It was during the second day of Operation Ripper, in the vicinity of Norundau, that Eggenburg, a Sergeant with “G” Company, was killed in action and posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal.
The citation for his Silver Star Medal reads: ’for gallantry in action while serving with Company G, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Norundau, Korea, on 9 March 1951. On that date, he was a section leader of a 60-mm mortar section of an infantry company which had the mission of furnishing close support to a friendly platoon. After firing a few supporting rounds, the section began to receive enemy mortar fire, and Sergeant Eggenburg, realizing the danger to his section, immediately moved them to more secure positions in cuts and ditches. In so doing, he was forced to expose himself in order to supervise the fire of his mortar section. With total disregard for his personal safety, he went from position to position directing and adjusting the fire of his section. While he was doing so, an enemy mortar round mortally wounded him. The gallant conduct of Sergeant Eggenburg on this occasion reflects great credit upon himself and the military service.’
Eggenburg is mentioned by name in the book ‘The Line: Combat in Korea, January-February 1951’, edited by William T. Bowers.
Eggenburg’s body was repatriated, and he now lies buried in Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City, Iowa.