A Personal Account of the Easter Ambush by Bruce Abbott

On Easter Sunday, April 14, 1968, after having a rather tasty Easter meal at the mess hall, I developed a headache that grew more severe as the day wore on. Even so, I was determined to work that evening, that is until I starting suffering from dizziness, my stomach let go, and the heaving just wouldn't let up. I wasn't sure whether I had come down with a bad case of the stomach flu or food poisoning.

At that time it was my job to drive our section up north to the JSA in the 3/4 ton truck, behind a Jeep that was driven by Doug Mroczek and carried our sergeant and, if memory serves, one of the officers. When it came time for our section to head north, Doug helped me down from our hutch to Operations, where I was to wait for the Jeep to return from the JSA so that I could be driven south to the medical station. By the time Doug and I reached Operations, the 3/4 ton truck had already left, Sgt. Jim Anderson having volunteered to replace me as the driver. Because Doug was the Jeep�s driver, it had remained behind, waiting for Doug to get behind the wheel. It now headed north while I waited in Operations.

After several minutes, the field phone connected to JSA rang. The guys in the Jeep had come upon the scene of the ambush, and afraid that they too might be targeted, they sped on by and continued to the JSA, where they called operations to report the ambush. As a consequence, the infantry were called in to secure the area, and the alert was sounded in the Advance Camp. Soon we were all lining up at the armory and being handed rifles, ammunition, and flak jackets. We were told to take up positions immediately outside our living quarters, which were somewhat protected along the lower levels by sandbags.

It had been rumored that the North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, was turning 65 that year and that according to Korean tradition, if a man were going to accomplish anything, he would have to do it before he reached 65. Furthermore, it seemed reasonable to assume that an attack on us would be a clear indication that the Armistice meetings were being abandoned. We had every reason to believe that the truce talks were over and that soon all-out war would resume, with the leading elements of the North Korean Army soon reaching our position.

As we all stood there, waiting, I breathed in the crisp, calm night air and looked up at the profusion of stars that could be seen sparkling in the heavens. My the dizziness went away, my stomach settled down and, gradually, the headache lessened. By early dawn I felt fine again.

Later that day I had an opportunity to visit Operations, where the blood-soaked clothing, MP brassards, and other articles of the guys who had been shot were now laid out. We learned that Sgt. Anderson, Larry Wood, and two KATUSAs had been killed, but that Leroy Jacks and John Sharpeta had survived.

Later we were able to talk with Leroy at the hospital. He said that the first sign of trouble was from flashes of light coming from both sides of the road ahead. Shots began striking the truck and Larry Wood, who was sitting up front on the passenger side, was immediately struck in the neck. Sgt. Anderson stopped the truck and got out, his hands raised above his head, but was immediately hit by AK-47 fire and fell back into the seat. Leroy, who was sitting in the middle, was struck in the leg but the engine block prevented other rounds from reaching him. The North Koreans reached the truck and one of them fired a few rounds over the tailgate. John Sharpeta, who had been sitting in the back with the KATUSAS, apparently had already been struck in the neck, had passed out, and was now lying at the base of the tailgate, so those additional shots missed him. However, the two KATUSA were killed.

Leroy said that at this point one of the North Koreans reached into the front seat area and relieved him of his still-holstered Colt 45 pistol, while he tried to play dead. The intruders then withdrew, but not before throwing a hand grenade at the side of the truck as a parting shot. Shortly after, Leroy heard the Jeep speed by.

Later there was a MAC meeting to protest the ambush. The truck was brought into the JSA on a flatbed trailer and the bloody clothing and gear of our guys displayed beside it on a table. The North Koreans disavowed any responsibility, claiming that the attack must have been perpetrated by South Koreans, rising up against the American imperialist aggressors.

The bodies of Anderson and Wood were transported back to the U.S. after a brief ceremony at the airport, at which I served as one of the pall bearers. Leroy Jacks rejoined our unit after his stay at the hospital, but John Sharpeta did not. His injuries were more severe, and I believe that he was returned to the States.

Not long after the incident, we received extra guys, many of whom were not trained as MPs. I now took a larger number of guys north in a 2 1/2 ton stake truck, which I'm afraid I drove at an insane speed up the dirt road to the JSA, not wanting to be a sitting duck in case there was another attack. The three daily shifts were reduced to two, and the changing of the guard was now always done during daylight hours.

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I've always felt a great sadness and perhaps a bit of guilt over James Anderson's death in particular. It is my understanding that he was to man Operations that night; if true, then he would not have been present at the ambush. By trading places with me he put himself unwittingly in the line of fire. However, it is also true that several lives were spared by my being ill, not just mine. Dave Whipple, who stayed behind in Operations to drive me to the medical station, would have been aboard the truck; and the three guys in the Jeep, who would have been in the lead as they and the guard truck headed north, would have been the first to get hit in the ambush. With the action unfolding in a somewhat different way than it actually did, John Sharpeta and Leroy Jacks might not have survived.

Around this time the DMZ was declared a hostile fire zone and we began to receive a small amount of extra pay, I think around $50/month. Unlike the combat zone pay that was being given to those serving in Vietnam, it was subject to Federal income tax. Those of us who continued to serve in the JSA had to maintain our composure with the North Koreans on duty there knowing that their comrades had ambushed our truck while it traveled toward the JSA with headlights on and a white truce flag waving, as required by the truce agreement, and with our guys armed only with a few Colt 45 pistols and a couple of M-1 rifles. It is a tribute to the professionalism of our guys that they were able to do their jobs in the JSA under these circumstances without provoking a serious incident between them and our North Korean counterparts.

-- Bruce

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