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'Miracle at Gapyeong'

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By Mark Peterson

A friend of mine, Cho Byounggap, called and asked me to write a Korea Times article and prepare a "Frog Outside the Well" YouTube video on the "Miracle at Gapyeong". I had heard of it but didn't know the details. I have now researched the history of the famous battle in the Korean War and am ready to write about it and prepare the YouTube video.

The reason it's called a "miracle" is that in the battle between American and Chinese soldiers, 350 Chinese were killed, 830 Chinese were captured, but on the American side not one soldier died. There were some wounded, but there were no fatalities. We use the word "miracle" loosely sometimes, but this was truly a miracle. The Chinese soldiers said, "We shot them, but they did not fall."

The American soldiers were members of an artillery unit that was part of a Utah National Guard battalion that had been activated for the Korean War. Originally, they were to be sent to Germany to replace a regular army artillery battalion in Germany that would go to Korea. But the soldiers were so skillful and so well disciplined, that after a training session at Ft. Lewis, Washington, it was decided that they would go directly to Korea.

The Utah National Guard unit had "batteries" (artillery has batteries, not companies) in Fillmore, Richfield, Beaver, Cedar City and St. George ― small towns in rural areas of the state. Some of the leadership had served in World War II, and that was the case for the commanding officer, now a Lt. Colonel named Frank Dalley.

Dalley knew many of the parents of the soldiers and some of the soldiers were 18- and 19-year-olds. He said that he could not face the parents of any boys that would be killed, so he set out to be sure all 600 men in his unit would return alive. And they did!

They were all very religious. And one of their Church leaders, an older man who lived in St. George, gave them a blessing before they departed and promised them that if they lived righteous and moral lives while deployed to Korea, their lives would be spared.

Lt. Colonel Dalley was known as a man given to careful planning and much prayer. In fact every morning, as he planned the activities for the day, he would take time, alone, to pray. He put a white flag outside his tent when he was praying, and the orders were that no one would disturb him when the flag was outside his tent. He said he was getting his orders from his "commander-in-chief" on high.

We are now at the 70th anniversary of the battle between the forward-deployed units, two batteries with 240 men, and the 4,000-man Chinese brigade. It was May 26, 1951, early in the morning when the Chinese attacked. Artillery units are supposed to be behind the lines, with infantry and armor in front of them. But the infantry and armor were not there, due to some oversight. And the Chinese came right upon the artillery men in hand-to-hand and close fire combat. The soldiers were using their rifles, in addition to the artillery.

Since there were no infantry units deployed in front of them, they could fire their artillery at close range, and they were able to beat back the assault. One battery commanded by Captain Randy Cox, with 18 men on a motorized howitzer pursued the retreating Chinese. With artillery raining down in front of them, they turned to retreat, and with the artillery now behind them they rained down artillery in front of their retreat so that they were trapped. The Chinese couldn't go forward, and they couldn't go backward ― 350 died, and the remainder of the trapped soldiers, 830 men, surrendered.

Before they took the prisoners to the prisoner of war camp, they stopped to allow for the burial of the Chinese dead. Chinese soldiers later reported that they appreciated the humanitarian action that allowed them to give their dead an honorable burial. The rifles and other Chinese weapons filled two trucks, they reported.

It was one of the most lop-sided battles in all of military history. It's is usually called the "Miracle of Gapyeong" because there was another battle just one month before, where Chinese soldiers tried to come south and met a combined Canadian-Australian-New Zealand force. That battle in April, 1951, is called the "Battle of Kapyong" and it had similar results for the Chinese, but the combined Canadian-Australian-New Zealand forces suffered casualties. There are two monuments in Gapyeong, one for the Canadian-Australian New Zealand battle, and one for the Utah National Guard battle.

The "Miracle of Kapyong (to use the old spelling) was the "second" battle of Gapyeong, fought on May 26, 1951 and it might be confusing to those looking back on the war. But the major difference was that in the second battle, the American force ― the 213rd Field Artillery Battalion of the Utah National Guard was the miracle battalion. Colonel Dalley returned with all 600 men alive, including the 240 that were the witnesses to, and fighters in, the "Miracle of Gapyeong." Today only a handful of those soldiers survive old age ― the youngest is 88, most are in their 90s. And not one died in combat. A real miracle.


Mark Peterson (markpeterson@byu.edu) is professor emeritus of Korean, Asian and Near Eastern languages at Brigham Young University in Utah.




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