View Full Version : Marine veteran re-enlisted and gave his life in Korea

12-24-03, 08:40 AM
Issue Date: December 29, 2003

The Lore of the Corps
Marine veteran re-enlisted and gave his life in Korea

By Keith A. Milks
Special to the Times

In the years following World War II, many Marine combat veterans married, had children, launched careers and did their best to put the horrors of war behind them. But for thousands of these men who already had so heroically served, the invasion of South Korea by communist North Korean forces in late June 1950 shattered their peaceful lives.
James I. Poynter was one such man. He was born Dec. 1, 1916, in Bloomington, Ill., and entered the Marine Corps in February 1942 at age 25. He served more than three years in some of the Pacific Warís most violent campaigns against the Japanese, including the invasions of Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa.

After his discharge in February 1946, Poynter returned to his wife and carved out a life for himself in postwar America.

On July 19, 1950, just 24 days after the Korean War started, Poynter entered the Marine Corps Reserve. He deployed to Korea in late September as a squad leader with A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. While participating in the recapture of Seoul, he earned the Bronze Star.

Poynter, along with the rest of the 1st Marine Division, soon found himself fighting for survival in the Chosin Reservoir as Chinese forces joined the fight alongside their North Korean comrades.

Reeling from a massive Chinese attack, Marines tried to rally in the face of numerically superior and fanatical communist forces.

Near the village of Sudong on Nov. 4, 1950, Poynter and his squad were atop Hill 532 when Chinese forces advanced. Digging in, the Marines braced against the onslaught and soon found themselves surrounded.

Poynter was wounded in the opening moments of the attack, yet repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he directed the defense of his beleaguered unit. Chinese infantrymen repeatedly threw themselves against the Illinois nativeís squad but were beaten back each time. Still, the repeated attacks were taking a toll on the Marines. As the attackers whittled away at his squad, Poynter realized his position was becoming untenable and soon would be overrun if drastic action were not taken.

He took it.

With fixed bayonet, Poynter leapt from his hastily dug fighting position and charged the enemy in a valiant one-man assault.

Poynter killed at least three enemy soldiers with his bayonet before he saw others setting up a three-gun section of heavy machine guns approximately 25 yards from his unitís position. Realizing the firepower would devastate his already-depleted force, Poynter charged the machine guns. He rushed forward, scooping up hand grenades from fallen Marines and lobbing them at the enemy gunners. He killed the crews of two of the machine guns and destroyed the weapons, and was ruining the third weapon when Chinese rifle and machine-gun fire cut him down.

Poynter collapsed and died almost instantly. The Chinese, taken aback by the 34-year-old Marineís sudden attack, were for the moment scattered and disorganized. Seizing upon the opportunity afforded them by their squad leader, Poynterís Marines reconsolidated their forces, repelled the enemy and moved into more defensible positions.

Poynter, a father of four and a two-war veteran, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions atop Hill 532.

The writer is a gunnery sergeant stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He can be reached at kambtp@aol.com.