Chinese machine-gun, mortar, and time-fused artillery fire were taking their toll on A and C Companies. Most of A Company fell back to reorganize. C Company clung to a small piece of the hill. A few men from both companies held a small perimeter near the crest throughout the night. It was a long, dark and scary night. The Borinqueneers repelled probes and small attacks throughout the night. They held their small position.
With the first rays of light came an artillery barrage pounding the Chinese positions. The order came to fix bayonets. Everyone knew what it meant. As soon as the bombardment ended they continued their ascent to the crest. About half the men were killed or wounded but the rest made it to the crest as the Chinese retreated down the south slope.
“The flag, where is the flag?” asked sergeant Aguilar.
Two privates ran to him, unpacked a flag and handed it to Aguilar. He quickly raised the flag. The Borinqueneers watching the attack from the main line of resistance cheered when they saw the flag waving on top of Kelly.
Aguilar and the two men ran for cover but were cut down by machine gun fire before reaching the trenches. Their bodies laid entangled a few feet from the trench. There were some twenty men still alive in Kelly. They kept their heads down in the trenches as the Chinese fire intensified. Mortar and artillery fire rained on them. They couldn’t fight back- they would have to endure the bombardment. That wasn’t the worst part. The trenches were full of men killed in the previous days. Frozen dead bodies. They were the men of B company. They had been killed in their sleeping bags. The Chinese had used their bodies for cover and as steps to prop themselves up in the trenches. A few men just could not take it, they rather be out in the open than surrounded by their dead brothers. Five soldiers left the relative safety of the trenches and ran toward the flag. Machine gun fire killed them as they tried to lower the flag.
Panic, total panic took over the rest of the men. They were being killed without being able to fight back. Bugles and horns could be heard coming from the south slope. The Chinese infantry was coming back to retake the position. Private Colón, an 18-year-old replacement from Brooklyn, held his rifle as tight as he could- he said a prayer “Santa María madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros…” he finished and kissed his medallion of the Virgin of la Candelaria.
“They are coming. Get ready. Don’t die on your knees,” he said as he started shooting a BAR from the trench. The Chinese formation was so thick he barely had to aim. He kept shooting. Chinese soldiers fell dead or wounded but more kept coming. Colón was hit several times, on the shoulders, his face and neck grazed by bullets. But he kept firing and reloading his BAR. It seems he could take on the whole Chinese company. And just like that he was hit- a bullet to his chest. He plummeted, dissappeared as if a hole had swallowed him. The rest of the men started firing back. Colón’s words had some effect on them, seeing him fight like he did gave them hope, watching him die enraged them, they were no longer afraid to die. The twelve men still alive fought with everything they got. When they ran out of ammo they used Chinese weapons left behind. They tossed grenades and rocks. But the Chinese kept coming.
A few Chinese soldiers made it into the trenches. A brutal hand to hand combat ensued. The Borinqueneers prevailed. But the Chinese kept coming, they were everywhere. The Borinqueneers knew they were about to die but they would die standing. They heard the peculiar sound of a BAR and M1 rifles. It was coming from within the Chinese formation- or so it seemed.
The Chinese had attacked from the South slope. Camacho and González had maneuvered all night and now were hitting the Chinese infantry from the rear and the West flank. The Chinese could not pinpoint the attackers. They had fallen into their own trap. Once on top of Kelly there was barely any cover outside the small trenches. They were being massacred like they massacred company after company of Borinqueneers. But more and more kept coming. The Chinese were brave and they had the numbers to launch wave after wave.
Camacho and González’s attack bought some time for the men in the trenches. As the Chinese momentarily withdrew in disarray they made it to the trenches.
“Who is in charge?” asked Camacho.
“You are sergeant!” said private Rivera.
“We need to get out of here, now!”
“We have orders to hold to the last man,” replied Rivera.
“You already did. All of you are wounded. We do not have more ammo. You will not die in this trench. Let’s go.”
“We can’t leave him behind sergeant, he saved us,” said Rivera while trying to drag Colón’s body. Camacho agreed reluctantly. Carrying a body would slow them down. But he knew that trying to convince them to leave Colón’s body behind was futile.
They started moving. González ran to the pole and retrieved the flag.
The hill was crawling with Chinese patrols. Leaving Kelly was taxing.
“Where are we?”
“God you scared me to death! We thought you were dead” said Rivera.
“What happened” asked Colón as he rubbed his chest visibly in pain. He pulled out his medallion. It had stopped a bullet. They could not believe it. Colón was not particularly religious. His mother gave him the medallion before he left for Korea. He did not know what to think or say. It was not shock- it was profound gratitude. He had been saved by his mother and she was all he could think off.
“Let’s move. We need to get out of here or your miracle would be in vain.”
Everyone followed Camacho. González brought up the rear.
It was dark when they reached friendly lines.
It was a miracle that they had survived.
They were safe, for now.