MAE BONG, KOREA - "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" announced Dante's entrance into Hell. Rumor had it that the sign above the entrance to one of 7/5's batteries promised a similar fate when it stated: "Welcome to Bravo Battery, 7th Battalion (HAWK) 5th Artillery."
The HAWK is a deadly accurate missile in the Army's Air Defense arsenal. Its necessary deployment in the most strategic locations required 7/5 to occupy four of the highest inhabited mountain peaks in Korea.
These line batteries consist of their tactical sites, and, at the base of the mountain, their administrative areas. Of the four batteries in 7/5, B Battery is the most isolated. It lies at the end of a tortuous road in a narrow valley, hours from the nearest support facility.
Since 1962 Bravo Battery has straddled the 38th Parallel, guarding the access route into the Republic of Korea formed by the Pukhan River Valley.
In those eight years, Bravo's reputation has become Army-wide in Air Defense circles. On Okinawa's isolated Tokashiki Island, they whisper its name; at the Air Defense Training Center at Ft. Bliss, Tex., trainees and permanent party alike learn to dread the prospect of a tour here: 5,000 foot high Mae Bong, Bravo Battery 7/5, World's' Highest HAWK missile site - reputedly the most severe in Korea's complement of nightmare tours.
The scare stories always fail to include the obvious truth that the key ingredient in any Army post is its people. In this respect Bravo Battery has never had the worst of it.
The men who come to Bravo usually learn that the geological descriptions are true only as far as they go. These same conditions generate a strong esprit de corps. In the parlance of the hill,' the people "tighten up" -- lending a helping hand on duty or off is so frequent an occurrence that it is hardly noticed. A new man coming in finds himself unburdened and follows his duffle bag to his new barracks accompanied by a running narrative of what is to come in his next thirteen months.
When the word goes out that an unpleasant detail needs doing, the normal grousing and complaining is heard. But action soon belies the noise. Men team up on the jobs they know themselves best qualified to do. And the work gets finished right, the first time.
There are no fights at Bravo. Everybody does not necessarily like everyone else, but each man respects another's right to be left alone, to be different. The big city boys from LA or NYC, the rural folk from mountain peaks in Tennessee or Texas plains, all do "their own thing."
In the attitude of the men there is little inclination to romanticize their position. The announcement, so frequent in winter, that the temperature hadn't risen above -10 degrees for a week, is treated m-m-matter-of-f-factly.
So is the proximity of North Korea. The DMZ is just 18 miles from the tac site, yet the only apparent reaction to this seldom-discussed figure is a willingness to perform equipment maintenance.
The thrill of challenging the mountain is not the only 'attraction that keeps Bravo's spirits high. Beauty. The magnificent vista of the entire mass of Mae Bong in autumn overwhelms the eye and mind, brilliant reds, oranges, rich deep browns, the gentle breeze; the lush thick growth of summer, the leaves glistening in the aftermath of a rainstorm; the moodiness of winter, quiet, then suddenly howling with all the fury of a thousand storms.
These conditions that create beauty can also yield ugly results. An idle mind being a devil's workshop is an aphorism that is not given a chance to achieve reality.
Duty at Mae Bong begins with a prolonged bounce up the road that in seven convoluted miles rises the height of the mountain. On top, routine follows the traditional formula of "keep it neat, keep it clean, keep busy.” Complex missile and affiliated equipment demand testing, maintenance, and TLC (tender loving care), without respect to time of day or weather conditions.
Unique to Bravo’s tac site is hot and cold running water – a latrine and shower facility completed last year replaced the makeshift latrine that was avoided except in dire emergency.
Bravo has recreational facilities in its administrative area. Four nights a week a movie plays the battery theatre. Each day the EM Club annex sells sandwiches and beverages, and on occasion hosts a road show. There is a tri-court where the energetic can play basketball. Then there is the village of Hwaak-ni. With all the fingers and toes of yourself and a friend, you can count the attractions in “the ville.”
Two recent additions are a library and a craft shop. Use of the library has been encouraging, reports Specialist 4 Andrew L. Thomas, battery training NCO. “We haven’t had anything like this before – it is really amazing how many people have discovered the educational and recreational possibilities of reading. This is the most beneficial thing to happen to this battery in our history.”
Proof of the durability of the men of B Battery and a concrete indication of their high spirits is the recently awarded Battalion Commander's Banker's Trophy. Bravo received the trophy in December 1969, and has won it again in July.
The Banker's Trophy is awarded to the battery that best merits the accolade of Best Battery of the Quarter. Evaluative criteria involve a complete checklist of battery accomplishment from the knowledge of the individual soldier to the quality of its mess hall to its combat readiness.
Captain Harold E. Thornton, who assumed command in early June, is heartened at the success of his new-found home. One week after assuming command his battery passed a Battalion Command Inspection; in June, Bravo was the month’s best battery; now, the Banker's Trophy. For CPT Thornton, like his mountain, the sky's the limit.
Dante's visit to Hell became a literary classic. Bravo Battery, 7th Battalion (HAWK) 5th Artillery's visit to Mae Bong has become a great opportunity - a classic case of adversity proving the indomitability of' the human spirit and the American soldier.