Honoring Hill 180: VFW in South Korea to take name of one of its bravest veterans
AFTER THE BATTLE: The photos above, taken during the Korean War, depict landscape and village life in the vicinity of Hill 180, on what is now Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. They are believed to have been taken in 1952, the year after Company E, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, mounted a bayonet assault that drove Communist troops from the hill. The pictures were provided by Veterans of Foreign Wars Hill 180 Memorial Post 10216 in Songtan, part of Pyeongtaek.
See a three-part video of Army newsreels from early 1951 at the bottom of the story.
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Lewis L. Millett, who led a frenzied bayonet assault against Chinese troops during the Korean War, often said afterward that he didn’t want recognition if it didn’t include his men.
The Army, however, felt he deserved the nation’s highest recognition for valor, and President Harry S. Truman presented him with the Medal of Honor on July 5, 1951.
And now, three months after retired Col. Millet died at the age of 88, his family has given permission to a VFW post in South Korea to use Millett’s name.
“In past years, Millett had not wanted the post to bear his name,” post commander Shawn Watson said. “Because he lost a lot of his friends that day, he felt it shouldn’t memorialize one person. The way I look at it, since he was the captain, the guy that led that battle, if we call it the Col. Lewis Millett Memorial it does both honor him and the people we lost on the hill that day.”
“Certainly … it’s an honor for my dad,” said Millett’s son, Lewis Lee Millett Jr., 57, of Idyllwild, Calif., in a telephone interview last week. “He did lead by example, and he led from the front.”
Watson said the post expects approval from VFW national headquarters and hopes to have the new name — Veterans of Foreign Wars Col. Lewis Millett Hill 180 Memorial Post 10216 — in time for next February’s annual ceremony marking the battle.
In an Army career of more than 30 years, Millett also served in World War II and Vietnam, and he earned the nation’s three highest decorations for valor — the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross in Korea, and the Silver Star in World War II.
But he is best known for leading the fierce, close-quarters assault against Chinese forces on Hill 180 — on what is now the site of Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek — on Feb. 7, 1951.
The assault is believed to be the last documented case of an organized bayonet charge by a company-sized American unit, said Ronney Z. Miller, 8th U.S. Army historian.
On that day, Millett was in command of about 100 men of Company E, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. The regiment is known as the “Wolfhounds.”
Nine Americans were killed in the engagement, according to an Army narrative read at ceremonies commemorating the fight. But the assault reportedly killed nearly 100 Chinese communist troops, possibly more, and drove the rest from what is often referred to now as “Bayonet Hill.”
“We had acquired some Chinese documents stating that Americans were afraid of hand-to-hand fighting and cold steel,” Millett told Military History magazine in an interview published in 2002. “When I read that, I thought, ‘I’ll show you, you sons of bitches!’ So I had every rifleman of my company fix his bayonet to his rifle and leave it fixed, 24 hours a day.” During the assault, grenade fragments tore into Millett’s shin, and he was hospitalized for several months.
Although the Hill 180 attack was among countless small-unit engagements during the 1950-53 Korean War, Millett’s assault was viewed as one that exemplified leadership and determination under fire.
“Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill,” Millett’s Medal of Honor citation reads. “His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder.”
Millett’s son said his father was the consummate combat leader, one who throughout his career was as fierce in concern for his men as he was in battle.
“In fact, one time they brought in a guy who’d been shot, and the doctor was asleep and the doctor said, ‘Oh, I can wait until morning,’ and my dad pulled a bayonet on him and told him to get the hell up and take care of the situation. And he did. And my dad wasn’t court-martialed or anything like that. But he was that kind of a leader. He really cares about his men.”
Millett made several trips to Korea in his later years to attend the VFW’s annual ceremonies and speak about the Hill 180 battle.
“It’s very difficult for me to talk about soldiers who die,” he said during a 1999 visit. “Tears come to my eyes, especially when those volleys go off and taps play.”