Excerpt from:

By:  Martin Blumenson & James L. Stokesbury

     He looked younger than his twenty-two years. Or perhaps he seemed younger because I expected a man who had a bullet hole in his shirt, a rip in the leg of his pants - torn by a shell fragment - and a bullet crease across the top of his helmet to look tough, hard-bitten, and old. He was boyish. He was too young, I thought, to be the commander I was looking for, too young to have accomplished one of the impressive achievements of the Korean War. How could this lieutenant have commanded captains?

     I met him in Korea in the summer of 1951 when I was visiting the 32d Infantry. The regiment had recently come out of the line and was in bivouac for a week or so of rest. I was there for a few days doing some interviewing about an action of interest to my historical section. At the regimental headquarters I came to know pretty well the operations officer, Major Frederick Lash. When I finished my assignment and was ready to go back to Seoul, I went over to the S-3 tent to thank him for his help.   That’s when I learned about Kingston.

     The idea came to Lash as an afterthought. We were shaking hands when he mentioned it. "By the way, Lieutenant, " he said, "have you ever heard about Task Force Kingston?"
     I never had.
     "You might look into it sometime," he suggested. "It’s a little on the odd side."
     I was curious, but only mildly. Lots of people had good stories. Still, I respected Lash. I had enjoyed his hospitality. And his off-hand, underplayed manner provoked my interest. "What’s it about?" I asked.
     We went over to the mess tent for a cup of coffee, and he told me. He had been the battalion operations officer during the action and had been part of it. The story had its intriguing aspects. It wrote a glowing sentence in the official record of the Korean War. Not many young second lieutenants had that to their credit.
     "Where is this guy Kingston?" I asked.
     "He’s with Company K," Lash said, waving a hand vaguely. "They’re bivouacked over the hill there."
     I decided I might as well stay another day. "Can I get over there all right?"
     "Sure. It’s not far."
     It wasn’t far by an infantryman’s reckoning. Lash gave me directions, said he’d put my driver up another night, and telephoned the company I was coming.
     My jeep could go only part of the way. Then I climbed a trail up one of those steep Korean hills. If the company hadn’t sent a soldier to meet me at the top, I’d have been lost. The soldier guided me down the slope and across a meadow where a baseball game was in progress. We reached a stream, and my guide, being polite, held the swinging footbridge steady as I crossed. On the opposite shore I found myself in a grove of trees, and there Company K had pitched its tents. It was peaceful there that summer morning. Walking through the meadow had been hot, but among the trees it was suddenly cool. The sound of water in the stream didn’t hurt the illusion any. Nor did the distant cries of the baseball game.
     The first sergeant of the company was sitting outside his tent working bareheaded at a table. He looked young. (I found out later that he was nineteen.) His table was full of mail, and he was printing words and dates across a lot of unopened letters - words like "Deceased," "Missing," "51st Evac. Hosp." I still remember a pile of pink envelopes - I could almost smell the faint perfume. The letters were neatly bound with a piece of string, the top one addressed to a private by his wife who, from the number of letters, had written faithfully every day. Across the face of the envelope the sergeant had printed the word "Deceased" and a date.
     The sergeant directed me to the officers’ tent. There I found Lieutenant Robert C. Kingston. He was reading a book under a tree, looking for all the world like a kid home from college for summer vacation.  He seemed shy when I introduced myself. He wasn’t too happy when I asked him to tell me about his task force. But he said he’d try.
     We talked most of the day despite some interruptions. It was his twenty-second birthday, and, aside from the other company officers who sat with us from time to time, visitors came strolling in. Even the battalion commander came by to wish him many happy returns. Lash showed up. Everyone had some excuse to explain his being there, such as pretending to be on an inspection trip. It was obvious they had come to pay their respects. The cooks had a cake for him at dinner. After it got dark the company officers had their party for Kingston. They were nice enough to invite me to join them and spend the night. We gathered in the tent where a brand-new bottle of whiskey had been saved for the occasion.  Somebody played the accordion - someone had taken the trouble to go all the way to Seoul to borrow it so Kingston could have music on his birthday. It was a pleasant evening.
     The sound of voices outside the tent awakened me the next morning. It was quite early, but no one else was in the tent. The officers were outside arguing.
     "I’ll go," Kingston was saying. "it’s my turn to go."
     "Why don’t you be sensible?" someone asked. "You don’t have to go."
     "Use your head," someone else said. "You don’t have to do everything."
     "I’m going" Kingston said.
     "What for?" someone shouted. "What the hell are you trying to prove?"
     "Shut up," another voice said. "He doesn’t have to prove anything. All he’s got to do is stay here."
     "Listen, Bob," a calm voice said. "It’s foolish for you to go out on this patrol. You don’t have to.  You’ve only got a few more weeks to stay here. Take it easy. You're practically on your way home."
     "I’m going," Kingston said. "Jack is new and he needs the experience. I’m taking him along."
      "I’ll take Jack," someone said.
      "I can take myself," Jack said, "I’m not a baby."
      "You’re coming with me," Kingston said.
     There was sudden silence. Kingston came into the tent. I was up by then, putting on my boots. He went to his cot and from underneath pulled out his helmet, the one with the crease across the top. He put it on his head, waved at me, and left.
     He was gone by the time I got outside. Two of the officers who had been arguing with him were still there. I asked what was going on.
     "The goddamn fool," one of them said. "Someone spotted some Chinks over the ridge, and battalion told us to send a platoon up the valley to clean them out. Kingston says it’s his turn to go. So he went."
     "No one could stop him?" I asked rather uselessly.
     They didn’t bother to answer.
     "Imagine," the other officer said. "Imagine getting it in a rear area like this."
     I was suddenly miserable. I went down to the mess tent and had some coffee. I had planned to leave right after breakfast, but I couldn’t. All morning long I sat outside the tent brooding. I fussed with my notes, but all I could think of was how Kingston was pushing his luck. A hole in his shirt, a shell fragment through his pants, a crease across his helmet.
     The hours dragged interminably. The shade under the trees was somehow gloomy. No one was playing baseball in the meadow. The first sergeant was sitting at his table outside his tent, and for some ungodly reason he was wearing his helmet. He didn’t look nineteen years old anymore.
     I finally saw the troops coming down the slope of the hill just before noon. They straggled across the meadow. They looked tired, beat.  I searched among them for Kingston. I couldn’t find his figure. Or Jack’s.
     Putting my notes away, I hurried down to the company headquarters. The men came across the swaying bridge and headed for their tents. A solitary figure walked toward the headquarters to check in. It was Kingston’s platoon sergeant. I was sure the worst had happened until I noticed the first sergeant - he wasn’t wearing his helmet.   Someone was singing in the mess tent. A couple of soldiers were tossing a baseball back and forth as they headed toward the meadow. The grapevine had been working. I should have known everything was all right even before I saw the two men coming down the hill.
     Kingston and Jack were late because they had first reported in at battalion. The platoon had rounded up one Chinese. No one had been hurt. Lunch was a cheerful meal. I departed soon afterward.
     I still didn’t have the whole story on Task Force Kingston, but after seeing him and the effect he had on the people around him I was determined to get it. It took me several weeks to look into the official records of the campaign and to find the people who could supply a few missing pieces. By then I had a pretty good idea of Task Force Kingston, what it had done, and why it was unique.
     The time was late November 1950. The North Korean army had been defeated and its remnants were streaming north in retreat. The United Nations troops were in pursuit, advancing toward the Yalu River, the northern boundary of Korea. General MacArthur, who liked impressive terms, named the movement a "compression envelopment," which didn’t really mean anything. The war, then called a police action, seemed about to end. Reaching the Yalu was a formality, like rounding the bases and touching home plate after hitting the ball out of the park. The troops talked of being home by Christmas, or at least in Japan. They didn’t know yet about the Chinese communists.
     The Buffalo regiment of the 7th Division - the 17th Infantry - was driving north to the Yalu along a main road leading to the village of Hyesanjin, the last community this side of Manchuria. Fifteen miles to the west the 3d Battalion of the 32d Infantry was moving along a parallel road leading to Singalpajin. Once at the Yalu, the 17th was to march west from Hyesanjin to Singalpajin, the battalion of the 32d was to punch westward to meet marines coming north from Chosin Reservoir.
     This was the plan, but it was never used. Chinese troops were massing, and they were about to disrupt more than these local arrangements. No one knew this, however, when Second Lieutenant Kingston was called to the battalion command post on the evening of November 21, 1950. The place was Wondokchang, thirty-two miles south of the Yalu. From Wondokchang the road runs north for ten miles to Samsu, twelve more to Yongsong-ni, and finally ten more to Singalpajin.
     The 3d Battalion, besides being temporarily short one rifle company that was guarding a power plant, was operating all by itself. Forty-four miles north of the regimental headquarters, it was alone in enemy territory and somewhat in a vacuum. No one had much information about friendly neighboring forces.
      No one knew much about enemy forces that might be nearby. Though beaten, though streaming north to sanctuary in Manchuria, the North Korean troops had a way of turning to fight when cornered. They were still dangerous and, though a major offensive was out of the question, their deadly weapons were ambush, the unexpected trap, the sudden flank attack.
      Reluctant to plunge ahead into the unknown, the battalion commander gave Kingston the mission of spearheading the advance. Kingston was to reconnoiter and, if possible, take Samsu. To help Kingston and the thirty-three men in his platoon, the battalion commander gave Kingston seven tracked vehicles (from the 15th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion). Kingston’s command thereby became a task force. The vehicles were half-tracks. Four of them mounted twin-forties -- two rapid-fire 40 mm. guns. Three had quad-fifties -- four caliber .50 machine guns tied together. Designed to fire at planes, the guns were nevertheless effective against targets on the ground. They put out a tremendous volume of fire. They were practical also because the men of Kingston’s infantry platoon could ride on the carriages that mounted the guns. The vehicles and their crews were commanded by a first lieutenant named Allen.  Though Kingston was a second lieutenant and therefore junior to Allen, Kingston commanded the task force. This seemed odd, but the rationale was not: Allen’s function was to support Kingston; the guns were in support  of the infantry.
     Of the three enemies in Korea – the weather, the terrain, and the North Koreans – the weather was probably the worst. If the sun was shining, the temperature in winter might get up to 20 degrees below zero; 30 to 40 below were more normal. The troops wore everything they could manage to get on – woolen long johns, two pairs of socks, cotton pants over woolen trousers, pile jacket over insert, scarves around their heads under their helmets to protect their ears. Anyone who was sitting or standing was usually stamping his feet to keep them from getting numb.
     The cold affected equipment. Motors had to be started every hour and run at least fifteen minutes. Men had to shoot their weapons periodically to be sure they worked. They had to build fires in empty 55-gallon drums and put them against mortar base plated to keep the metal from crystallizing and snapping. Artillery shells did not always detonated completely when fired.
     Living, simply keeping alive in the cold, was enough of a job without having to worry about the terrain and the enemy. Yet these too were dangerous. The ground was covered with snow, a dreary landscape almost bare of growth. Streams were frozen so thick the ice could support tanks. The single road to Samsu was narrow. It wound through mountains, across the face of cliffs, along the edge of a gorge. A skid could mean death.
     Across the road the North Koreans had rolled boulders down from the hills. Kingston’s vehicles were able to get past four of these rock slides – by maneuvering around them or pushing the rocks aside. A fifth obstacle near a destroyed bridge caused some trouble. The column had to back up several hundred yards to a place where each vehicle could plunge off the side of the road. Each in turn teetered uncertainly for a second or two before dropping off the embankment and skidding into a frozen field. The column crossed the field, then a frozen creek, and finally found a place where the vehicles could get back on the road. But first some timbers from the bridge had to be used to make a ramp. All this took time.
     Whenever the vehicles halted, men had to be sent out to the front and flanks as outposts. Kingston’s task force spent all day moving the ten miles to Samsu.   Still, no enemy troops had been seen. Not until the task force was within sight of Samsu did the first hostile fire sound that day. Several shots rang out in the town. Kingston immediately halted the vehicles, told the infantry men to dismount. They waited, listening for more evidence of the enemy’s presence. Only silence. So they slipped into the town, a village of about fifty houses, bombed-out, burned, bullet riddled. The place was deserted, without a living thing, not even a dog. The shots? The bodies of four civilians lay in the schoolyard, probably murdered on Kingston’s approach.
     Waving in the vehicles and setting up an all-round defense of the town, Kingston radioed battalion that he was there. Soon after dark, trucks carrying the rest of Company K and battalion headquarters arrived in Samsu.
     That night the operations officer, Captain Lash, called Kingston into the command post. "You’ll continue your advance tomorrow," Lash told him.
     "How far?"
     "All the way."
     Kingston’s face showed his surprise. "The Yalu?"
     Lash nodded. "Think you can make it?"
     Kingston grinned. "Are you kidding? Sure I’ll make it."
     It was no choice assignment, and it wasn’t going to be easy. For the next three days Kingston’s task force started from Samsu toward Yongsong-ni each morning and had to turn back each afternoon. The reasons were the same: terrain, weather, and North Korean troops. The road was narrow, with cliff most of the way along the right side, a drop-off to a river on the left, high ground on both sides giving the enemy the opportunity to keep the task force under surveillance and fire. The weather stayed cold, and the men were miserable. Rock slides, defended roadblocks, sudden fusillades of fire obstructed the task force. Snow flurries kept planes from flying in support. Ice on the road kept the vehicles to a crawl. Artillery shells from Samsu seemed to have no effect on the enemy.
     Darkness came early on the third day, and the drivers had to use their blackout lights to get back to Samsu.
     The men were suddenly tired, disgusted with an operation that seemed to be getting nowhere. Kingston found himself swearing under his breath.
     He reported in to battalion headquarters, where he saw the battalion commander. "No casualties, but we lost a quad-fifty. It tipped over the ditch."
     "You didn’t leave anything in the quad-fifty, did you?"
     It was a routine question, but Kingston flared. "What the hell do you think I am?" He recovered at once, "I’m sorry, sir. We stripped it – ammo, spare parts, gas the works."
     There was a silence between them before the colonel spoke. "You all right?"
     "Yes, sir." He nodded to add emphasis. "Just mad."
     "You want to try it again tomorrow?"
     "You bet I do, Colonel."
     "You need anything else?"
     He had already gotten more troops added to his task force: a jeep mounting a machine gun; a tank belonging to the 7th Reconnaissance Troop; a squad, then a platoon, from the 13the Engineer Combat Battalion under a first lieutenant named Donovan; a forward Battalion, whose job it was to direct the fire of howitzers emplaced at Samsu; a tactical air control officer, Captain Jiminez, whose job was to bring in planes to bomb and strafe.
     But Kingston asked for and received another tank, more jeep-mounted machine guns, some mortars. This brought his command to more than a hundred men. With this strength he blasted through on the following day to Yongsong-ni, a collection of thirty houses, most of them burned. But it took a firefight, and air strike, and several casualties to get the troops through the town.
     Kingston reported his arrival to battalion by radio. "I’m going on," he told Lash.
     "Watch you step. We just got some intelligence information; there’s about a battalion opposing you."
     "You want me to stop?"
      "No, but be careful. I’ve just sent you up some heavy mortars."
     "Can you send me more troops?" He meant infantry.
     "Not right now. Maybe later."
     About a mile beyond Yongsong-ni the road ascends. The incline starts gradually, becomes increasingly steep. It rises finally to a mountain pass, a defile overshadowed by high ground on both sides.  At the bottom of the rise the task force ran into North Korean fire. Rifle and machine-gun bullets swept the road, wounding several men, among them Lieutenant Allen, the antiaircraft officer.
     From the ditches where the infantry took cover, from the carriages where the crew members huddled behind their guns, the men of the task force put out a tremendous volume of fire. The tanks blasted the high ground at almost point-blank range. Yet the North Koreans refused to give way. It was difficult to see the enemy troops, the elusive figures behind boulders. Mortar shells began to drop in and around the Americans; some artillery came in. But it was impossible to locate their positions.
     "Trotter!" Kingston shouted. "Get some shells up here."
     Trotter was already on his radio, calling for artillery support.
     "Jiminez!" Kingston roared.
     "OK, OK," Jiminez yelled back. "I’m getting the planes now." His radio operator had been wounded, and he had taken over the squawk box.
     The arrival of the heavy mortars was heralded by the appearance of Captain Harry Hammer, who commanded a platoon. He had loaded his men and weapons into trucks at Samsu, then drove on ahead in his jeep. At Yongsong-ni, hearing the sound of gunfire, he walked on to find Kingston taking shelter behind one of the twin-forty carriages. Hammer crouched beside him. "I have seventy men and four mortars on   the way up," he told Kingston.
     "Set them up," Kingston said, "and get some shells up here."
     Hammer hurried back to Yongsong-ni to speed the movement.
     The mortars didn’t help. Neither did an air strike by four Corsairs, which gave such close-in support that one bomb showered dirt over a few of Kingston’s men. A small stone cut his lip. Sending Sergeant Wayne O. Wood and a squad of men to outflank enemy positions on high round turned out to be an impossible maneuver. Enemy machine guns cut them down.            Kingston yelled to his own machine gunners to keep working. He noticed Sergeant Templin firing his jeep machine gun even though he lacked cover, Sergeant Emerick working his 60mm. mortars from the ditch.
     Despised the fact that every man in the task force was shooting, the opposition was too strong. "I’m breaking off," he told Lash over the radio. "I’m taking too many casualties." He was bitterly disappointed; he had not fulfilled his promise. But to keep at it didn’t make sense at the price he would have to pay.
     Though it was ticklish work to disengage, Kingston at last moved his men back to Yongsong-ni, where he organized defensive positions.  Not long afterwards, more reinforcements arrived. Lash had sent up a rifle company and an artillery battery for attachment to the task force. The rifle company posed a problem. It was Company I, and the commander not only outranked Kingston but was an infantryman too. Though Hammer and Jiminez were  also captains, their position under Kingston could be rationalized by the fact that they were in support of Kingston’s infantry, but the infantry captain did not exactly fit that category.
     "Kingston," the company commander informed him, "I’m taking command of the troops in Yongsong-ni."
     This was usual practice.
     "OK, Captain," Kingston said. "You’re the senior commander in town.      You’re the commander of Yongsong-ni."
     Cold, tired, angry, Kingston was spooning a supper of cold beans out of a can. His cut lip hurt.
     "How about the task force?" Kingston asked. "You also in command of Task Force Kingston?"
     "I suppose so. You have any objections?"
     "What did battalion say?"
      "They said to come up and reinforce you."
     An incoming shell crashed into the wall of a building nearby, the sole wall of the building still standing before the shell demolished it.
     "Hammer," Kingston shouted, "get your men on that."
     A few more rounds came in from a single gun; then the fire ceased. No one was hurt. The only damage was to a tire on a truck, shredded by shell fragments.
     Later that evening, as Kingston huddled around a bonfire with several of his men, the rifle company commander came by. "Want to talk to you," he told Kingston.
     They walked off a few yards from the men. "Listen," the captain said. "As far as I’m concerned, this is your task force. You have the mission. I’m here to reinforce you, and I’ll support you. You need anything, you let me know."
     Surprise kept Kingston silent a moment. "You sure you want it that way?"
     The captain was sure.
      "Thanks," Kingston said. Then his voice became crisp. "I’ll tell you what I think we ought to do. Much as I want to get there, I think we ought to rest the men tomorrow. Let them write some letters home, clean their weapons, get some sleep, three hot meals. I’ll check it out with battalion. Is that OK with you?"
     The captain nodded. "Fine. Go ahead."
     Since battalion had no objections, the men got their day of rest. The only activity came from the artillery and the heavy mortars, which put out some harassing fire.
     The following morning Kingston gathered his vehicles and his platoon of riflemen together to lead the advance. Company I would follow on foot. Before the column started, two more officers showed up. One was a major from the Buffaloes, the 17th Infantry – no one in the task force ever found out his name; his job was to "coordinate" the contact at Singalpajin. The other was Captain Ed Wild, battery commander of the howitzers supporting Kingston; officially he was there to "coordinate" the forward observers, but really all he wanted to do was spit in the Yalu.
     Kingston’s impatience to complete his mission and cover the ten miles to the Yalu was obvious. And contagious. It spread to the men of the task force, now numbering around three hundred men, including the
anonymous major, three captains, and several first lieutenants.
      The day of rest had worked wonders. The men were in high spirits. "Let’s go!" Kingston shouted, waving his arm in a wide forward motion and springing aboard a quad-fifty carriage. The vehicles rumbled forward, the crews firing an occasional few rounds to keep their weapons in working order, the infantrymen shooting from time to time to keep their rifles operating. No enemy fire came from the mountain pass. Part way through the defile, two dead North Korean soldiers lay in the road, one on a stretcher. Three engineer soldiers, after checking the bodies to be sure they were not booby-trapped, rolled them out of the way.
     At the top of the pass, across eight miles of bleak countryside, lay the Yalu River gorge and the cliffs of Manchuria, clearly visible. Though he still could not see the river itself, Kingston had a feeling of elation.
     The task force reached a small destroyed bridge, and the vehicles halted while the engineers set about to repair it. Some men set fire to haystacks in a nearby field to keep warm. At one of the fires a hand grenade fell out of someone’s pocket and rolled into the flames. The explosion killed one man, wounded eight. Among those wounded was Trotter, Kingston’s forward observer. Captain Wild radioed back to his battery to tell Lieutenant Jim Hughes to get forward as fast as he could.
     When the bridge was repaired, the task force continued without incident until the road ended at a gap. The road there was notched into the face of a cliff, and North Koreans had demolished part of the ledge. This was serious, for it meant a long repair job for Donovan and his engineers. The vehicles were immobilized.
     Impatient to keep going, Kingston consulted with the rifle company commander. No enemy troops were in sight. There was a good chance that the way to the Yalu was open. "I’ll take my platoon down the cliff and strike cross-country," he told the captain.
     "Fine, I’ll come with you."
     Along with him came his forward observer, Lieutenant Robert Stein; Hughes, Kingston’s forward observer; Wild, the battery commander; and the unknown major. Descending the cliff to a wide plain, they picked up the road again. It was a small force now, for casualties over the past few days had drastically cut the size of Kingston’s platoon. He placed seven men under Sergeant Vanretti in the lead to act as point.
     Then came Kingston and the group of officers. Following were eight men under Sergeant King, a cool, level-headed type.
     They walked a few miles toward the cliffs of Manchuria, toward the Yalu gorge and the river they still could not see. Around a curve in the road they came upon the village of Singalpajin. The road ran through a large flat field bounded on three sides by a loop of the Yalu gorge. Along the left side of the road a row of undamaged houses marked the outskirts of town. Vanretti held up his hand to signal halt. He sent four men to the first house to make sure it was empty. Kingston waved King forward and directed his men to the right of the road to cover Vanretti and his group. The first two houses were unoccupied. Everyone was moving forward when a volley of rifle fire suddenly descended on Kingston’s group. A bullet wounded Stein in the arm. Stein, Wild, Hughes, and the company commander dived into a drainage ditch alongside the road. Kingston remembered having passed a small culvert; he sprinted back and jumped into it. The major followed.
     When the fire subsided, Kingston raised his head from the culvert and yelled to King to deploy off the road into the field on the right. Even as he shouted, the four officers burst from the ditch and sprinted to the first house. Stein was holding his left arm. Bullets kicked up the snow around them, but they made it to the house and disappeared inside. What the hell! Kingston said to himself. Then he figured they needed the shelter to fix Stein’s wound. He noticed the major’s face. The officer was gritting his teeth in pain.
      "What’s the matter?" Kingston asked.
      "Sprained or broke my ankle."
     A soldier from Vanretti’s group crawled down the ditch to the culvert to find out what Kingston wanted done. Kingston told him to help the major to the rear. Both men crawled off. Kingston inched forward to get in touch with Vanretti and the point.
     He found Vanretti and his five men taking cover in the ditch. King’s men meanwhile were coming forward on the other side of the road, moving one at a time in short rushes. The enemy seemed holed up in the fourth house of the town, a building larger that the rest. It was perhaps forty yards away.
     "What’ll we do?" Vanretti asked.
     "I’ll get King to cover us," Kingston said. "You take two men and work your way up on the left of the house. The rest of you men cover them from here. When you’re in position, Vanretti, I’ll run straight at them and try to get their attention. You move in on them. Thirty minutes ought to do it. But be sure to wait for me."
     Vanretti nodded. He pointed to two men and started crawling out of the ditch, across the field. The two men followed. Kingston sent a man across the road to tell King what to do, and rifle fire soon started to beat against the house. Kingston crawled down the ditch to get out of the line of fire of his own men.
     When thirty minutes had passed, Kingston leaped out of the ditch and started running, heading straight for the house. He had a grenade in his right hand, his rifle in the other. He whooped and yelled as loud as he could. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Vanretti and the two men with him spring to their feet and run toward the house. The crust of the snow was hard. Though it supported Kingston at first, the crust cracked as he picked up speed, then broke. The faster Kingston tried to run the deeper his feet sank through the crust. He felt he was moving at a walk, his feet floundering in the snow. Vanretti too seemed to be walking, painfully slowly. Kingston’s breath came in large gasping sobs. His eyes stung from tears brought on by the cold, and he closed them for a few seconds as he ran. He heard the whang of bullets close to him. Having covered half the distance, he felt he could go no further. He was breathing in great aching gasps. With what seemed to him his last ounce of strength, he flung the grenade toward the house.
      He was watching it arch through the air when something hit him hard on top of the head, spun him around, knocking him down.
     When Kingston opened his eyes, Vanretti was bending over him. "You’re all right," Vanretti was saying in a gentle, imploring voice. "You’re all right. You’re going to be all right. You got to be all right."
     He noticed that Venretti was holding a helmet with a bullet crease across the top.
     "You’re all right, Lieutenant," Vanretti urged. "You’re going to be fine."
     Kingston sat up, blinking his eyes, still not altogether coordinated.
     "We got them," Vanretti said. "That grenade came in perfect."
     "Anybody hurt?"
     "Not a one; nobody."
     "How many were there? In the house."
     "Five. We got them. We thought they got you."
     A body of troops came walking around the curve in the road. It was Company I, which soon cleared the rest of Singalpajin. Not many North Koreans were there. The bulk of the battalion that had opposed Kingston at the defile had apparently crossed the frozen Yalu into Manchuria.
     During the day everyone managed to get to the edge of the gorge to look at the frozen sheet of ice that was the Yalu. Several men, among them Wild, descended to the river band to spit into the river.
     Once the road to the cliff was repaired, the vehicles descended into town. The troops set up camp for the night. Hearing the sound of motor convoys across the river in Manchuria, they discussed the rumor that Chinese troops were entering Korea to oppose the United Nations forces. It was November 28, and they did not know that the Chinese had already intervened in the war. The marines had already been hurt at Chosin Reservoir.
     The next morning a radio message from battalion informed the troops at Sangalpajin that plans had been changed. They were not to wait for the Buffaloes. Instead, they were to return to Samsu. A general withdrawal from Korea was underway.
     During the grim days of retreat that followed, the fact that Task Force Kingston had reached the Yalu seemed like an incredible dream of small import. No one congratulated the men or their leader. Yet of all the American units that had tried to get to the Yalu, only two made it – The 17th Infantry and Task Force Kingston. The Buffaloes arrived there first and got the publicity. All Task Force Kingston got was a sentence in the official record. And the satisfaction of having completed the assigned mission. Behind the
accomplishment was the personal triumph of a twenty-one-year-old second lieutenant.
     I met Fred Lash again several years later, this time in the Pentagon. He was a lieutenant colonel. After making known our mutual pleasure at the encounter, we retired to a coffee bar for a few minutes. The talk
turned to Kingston.
     "Did he make it home OK?" I asked
     Lash assured me that Bob Kingston had gotten home to Brookline, Massachusetts, all right.
     The mention of a particular place startled me. For the first time I realized that aside from what Kingston had done in Korea, I didn’t know much, if anything, about him. "It never occurred to me," I told the colonel, "to ask him where he was from. Or anything about himself."
     He shrugged. "Why should you? I don’t know much about him myself."
     "Tell me something," I said. "Maybe you can clear up something that has always bothered me."
     The colonel waited.
     "Tell me about the command setup on Kingston," I said. "Part of it never quite made sense."
     He smiled. "It was odd. It was a peculiar command setup."
     "Hammer told me no one ever questioned the fact that Kingston was the boss. But really, when you sent Company I up to Yongsong-ni, didn’t you mean for the company commander to take over?"
      Lash laughed. "That’s a low blow. Officially, according to the records, we put the company commander in command of the task force. But since the task force had already been in existence about a week and was being mentioned in the situation reports, the periodic reports, and the journals, we didn’t change the name of it."
     "Well, who was in command the last day when the troops reached the Yalu?"
     "Officially? Or actually?"
     "I guess you’ve answered it. All right, tell me why you sent Company I up to Kingston? Why not Company K? K was available, wasn’t it?"
     Lash laughed again. "You’ve hit one of my darkest secrets. But I’ll tell you. I figured that if Kingston’s company came up to reinforce him, he would revert to being simply a platoon leader in that company. But since Kingston’s platoon was not an organic part of Company I, Kingston had a good chance to remain in control."
     "You figured it would work like that?"
     Lash was modest too. "Well, maybe not so clearly as that."
     "But it worked."
     "Yes, it worked out fine. Any command situation works out fine when you have good men."
     "You don’t mean just Kingston."
     "I mean the commander of Company I too. He was a good officer, and he deserves a lot of credit."
     "Hammer, Allen, Donovan, and the rest of them also, I suppose."
     "Right," Lash said. He paused for a moment before adding thoughtfully,       "But mostly Kingston. The others crystallized around him."
     I didn’t know whether "crystallized" was exactly the right word, but I certainly understood what he meant.