A War Of Memories
50 years later, a former marine grapples with questions of murder--and an elusive search for the truth
But the march to Seoul began to take a toll on Lamb. A few days before reaching Seoul, Lamb says, he witnessed a superior officer torturing a North Korean prisoner during an interrogation. The prisoner had a bullet wound in each arm, and the officer stuck his thumbs in both holes, then shook the prisoner violently, "trying to get him to talk." Lamb watched another officer execute an elderly, wounded Korean, he says, shooting the man three times above the ear. Lamb, stunned, kept his rage inside.
Before long, Lamb's unit was fighting in the streets of downtown Seoul, then a city of more than 1 million. James F. Baxter, another unit leader with Fox Company, remembers Lamb's actions vividly. Under fire, Lamb and three other marines threw Baxter on an old door and dragged him to an aid station after a sniper's bullet tore away a chunk of his buttocks. Lamb also helped save a wounded medic. "One of the blessings of my life," says Baxter, also a World War II veteran, "was serving with him." Lamb, Baxter says, was of "the finest moral and physical character of any man I ever served with."
The bloody battle to retake Seoul for the South Koreans spanned only a few days, but many parts of the city were reduced to rubble. The North Koreans placed snipers in the buildings along the city's streets, then improvised barricades, some piled 8 feet high with rice bags filled with dirt and reinforced with debris--carts, barrels, streetcar rails, anything they could find. The roads were mined; the North Koreans were armed with antitank guns and heavy machine guns. The Soviet newspaper Pravda compared the scene to the Russian defense of Stalingrad in World War II. "This was a very bitter war, like any civil war, and, up to that time, this was its worst battle," recalls retired Brig. Gen. Edwin Simmons, a Marine historian who fought for the city that September with the 3rd Marine Battalion. "The fighting in Seoul was very fierce, close range, and a very hard fight."
Details of the fighting remain etched in the minds of those in the thick of it. "We were taking fire all through Seoul, going from roadblock to roadblock," recalls Peter L. Heckenlaible, a corporal at the time. Robert N. Hortie, then a private first class, remembers shaking in terror. "There was fear in our eyes," he says, "because we were not used to it."
Progress was slow. The 1st Marines had gained no more than 1,200 yards on September 26, according to Marine Corps reports. It was during this battle that marines from Easy Company recall taking heavy fire from a large building, now believed to be the old, eight-story Bando Hotel. The hotel figures prominently not just in Lamb's account but in the stories of other marines. "There was sniper fire coming from the hotel," says Donald F. Gillespie, a squad leader. "We had a bazooka man and everybody else putting everything into it." Orders were given to take the hotel to suppress the fire. Several marines were ordered inside, among them Cpl. Charles N. Garabedian, now 72. Garabedian describes a hellish, dangerous moment. Marines rushed through the building, going from room to room, bursting in on the North Korean forces shooting from the windows. Several marines were wounded, he says, as the squads ran through the hallways, killing some of the North Koreans. Garabedian recalls being on the second floor of the building. He set up by a window and had a view up and down the building's staircase. As some marines continued to clear out the building, others took prisoners down the stairwell to another marine in a bath area. There were about 12 prisoners. The marine in charge was guarding them with his Browning automatic rifle. All were forced to strip to make sure none still had weapons.