Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Heartbreak Ridge


A bloody battle was raging during the Korean War in September 1951. Americans back home thought only South Koreans were fighting at this time, but war correspondents learned that nearly a thousand Americans had become casualties after two weeks of fighting for three remote mountains in southeast North Korea.

Reporters named these rugged peaks Heartbreak Ridge. Duane Anderson, who grew up in Hillsboro, said, “Very few people knew what the hell was going on or where we were. There wasn’t a place named Heartbreak Ridge. There was the Mundung-ni Valley on the west side, and the Satae-ri Valley on the east side.”

Anderson’s 23rd Regiment was trying to take a nearly vertical mountain called Hill 931, and each day was a repeat of the one before. The Americans clawed their way upwards, and North Koreans opened up on them from stone bunkers above.

“It was a tense deal,” said Anderson. “We still hadn’t gotten this last knob. It sat up a couple hundred feet above the ridge-line, and they had a four-story bunker in there ... like a mine shaft. “It was damn near impossible to blow it. Our artillery was shooting 8-inch shells right over my head. They were back four to five miles, and you could hear the gun go off. If you looked that direction, you could sometimes see the shell coming.

“The last couple hundred feet was in the clouds,” said Anderson. “You couldn’t see 10 feet, and we didn’t know what was waiting for us. We knew there were land mines, so two or three people at a time would get down next to the trail with their bayonets, poking the ground to try to see where the mines were. Everybody else was kind of hanging back a ways, because you could just walk right up to a machine gun, and before you knew it, you had run your course. I swear I never got so wet as crawling with a bayonet.

“We ended up staying there maybe a couple weeks,” he said. “Different groups tried to take the last part of the hill, and they’d get thrown back, and we would end up covering them, helping them get back. “Fortunately we never had a counter-attack that came down from there. The North Koreans were in their last hole in the ground.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

(Source: Interview Duane Anderson by Merry Helm. 25 August 2010.)