View Full Version : Team leader showed courage on Hill 104

02-12-04, 07:32 PM
Issue Date: February 16, 2004

The Lore of the Corps
Team leader showed courage on Hill 104

By Keith A. Milks
Special to the Times

On the moonlit night of May 28, 1952, a platoon from Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, advanced up the steep slope of the Chinese Communist-held Hill 104. The platoon’s mission was to conduct a limited raid and, if possible, seize a few prisoners or even expel the enemy from the hill. Further down 104, a platoon from Company C would provide covering fire for the lead platoon.
Almost as soon as the assault platoon began its ascent, the Chinese troops opened up with rifles and machine guns, and began lobbing grenades down the hill. At the front of the assault was Cpl. David B. Champagne, a 19-year-old fire team leader from Wakefield, R.I.

Back home, Champagne was a “good, all-around kid,” recalled his brother, Carl. They had an uncle who was the projectionist at the local theater, and David worked there part time showing movies.

Carl was in the Air Force when the Korean War broke out, and that may have been David’s intention, as well.

“I think he tried the Air Force first, and they were full up, and so he went into the Marines,” Carl said.

Champagne was in Korea five months and already had seen extensive combat by the night of May 28, when he led his men with fixed bayonets through the heavy enemy fire and came upon an enemy trench filled with Chinese troops. The Marines leapt into the dugout and, after a bloody bout of hand-to-hand combat, routed the Chinese troops and sent them scrambling up Hill 104 toward their comrades.

Champagne and his Marines followed, firing and tossing grenades as they advanced up the hill. Numerous trenches and a series of bunkers fell in the face of the Marines’ assault. Eventually, the Marines worked their way to the crest of Hill 104, sending the remaining enemy troops down the opposite slope in full retreat.

The Marines were regrouping to continue the attack when the shrill blast of Chinese bugles sounded above the crescendo of the escalating battle. Knowing that a Chinese counterattack was only moments away, Champagne ordered his Marine fire team to take up positions in an abandoned Chinese trench and braced for the enemy attack.

In an assault that mirrored that of the Marines who had just taken Hill 104, the Chinese preceded their counterattack with a brutal mortar and artillery barrage. Then, under cover of fire, the Chinese troops advanced back up the hill — laying down before them a barrage of grenade, rifle and machine-gun fire. A Chinese bullet slammed into Champagne’s leg, spinning him around and to the ground.

Champagne climbed back to his feet, ignoring suggestions that he return to Marine lines a thousand yards away. For the next several minutes, he directed his Marines’ fire as the Chinese drew closer. Grenades bounced all around the trench occupied by Champagne’s fire team, though most exploded harmlessly outside the Marines’ position. But one grenade sailed into the trench and landed at the Marines’ feet.

With a shout of warning Champagne dropped to his knees and groped for the deadly missile. He found it and scooped it up to toss back at the Chinese, but as soon as he let go the grenade, it exploded, blowing off his hand and propelling him out of the trench.

Dazed, peppered with shrapnel, and the stump that used to be his hand a bloody mess, Champagne struggled to climb back into the trench when he was mortally wounded by a nearby mortar explosion.

Pfc. William A. Powers, another Rhode Islander and a member of Champagne’s fire team, said Champagne shielded him from the grenade explosion.

“He took the brunt of the blast,” Powers told The Journal-Bulletin of Providence, R.I., in May 1998, during a ceremony to name the Wakefield, R.I., post office after Champagne. “I turned him over. I held him briefly. He seemed to want to say something.”

But Powers could not hear over the machine-gun fire, he told the paper, and “the Chinese were everywhere.”

Despite reinforcements, what remained of Champagne’s platoon was unable to maintain its tenuous hold atop Hill 104. In the face of continued Chinese counterattacks, the Marines relinquished their hold of the position and returned to their own lines.

For Champagne’s leadership during the assault and his self-sacrificial heroism, he was recommended for the Medal of Honor. In a July 1953 ceremony on a baseball field in his hometown of Wakefield, Champagne’s posthumous Medal of Honor was presented to his 15-year-old brother, Reginald.

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




02-12-04, 08:28 PM
I read this in The Marine Corps Times this week. What a Marine...!! If Jessica Lynch wants to know what it takes to get a Medal of Honor (Dept of the Army I should say) this is Honor, Courage, Sacrifice.

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