Chapter 20 - Village of the Damned
40 miles North of the DMZ
Warrant Officer Ted Owens of the 1st Squadron, 6th Calvary Regiment was flying recon in his Kiowa Warrior slipping between hills, ravines and even behind trees. It seemed like everything in the woods was hostile and trigger happy.
After their umpteenth hair-raising escape, he said to his copilot, “Jake, I’m beginning to think these North Koreans are down right hostile.”
Jake Garner replied, “Roger that. I’m sending the coordinates on that SAM site to regiment. He’s just asking for a visit from Iron Hand.”
“What’s our fuel state?”
Garner looked at his display and said, “We’re at bingo plus 20.”
Owens looked at this watch and said, “We will work our way west behind 2nd IDs objective and then head for the barn.”
He banked, twisted and slid-slipped his way across the country side pausing to look over hills and trees for hazards using the Kiowa’s unique mast mounted television camera.
A few short minutes later, Garner said, “Whoa. We’ve got something over the hill. It’s a long convoy of trucks moving North.”
Owens asked, “Where are they coming from?”
Garner consulted his computer and said, “I don’t know. There’s nothing in this sector but apple orchards. The road they are on isn’t even on the charts. It’s completely obscured from overhead coverage by trees.”
Owens said, “They are bugging out from a concealed position and it looks like they are doing it in a big hurry.”
Garner said, “There is something in those woods that isn’t on the charts and I’m betting that they don’t want us to know about it.”
He hit his stick and banked around a grove of pine trees and found a nice, long clear path that had been cut as a right of way for power transmission towers. Garner turned and flew down the path in the general direction of the convoy’s origin.
A mile down the right of way for the transmission tower, some wires branched off and headed off into the forest.
Owens said, “Can you get anything on the FLIR? I don’t like the idea of going high to look for this place.”
Garner said, “Yeah, the areas hot. I can see rows of buildings a perimeter defense.. I think we’ve found a command post.”
“What kind of activity do you see?”
Garner looked around and
said, “I see a few people moving around but it is pretty dead for the most part.
They even turned the heat off when they left. The buildings are cooling. If we
can get some Rangers in there, there is no telling what we’ll find in the way of
Owens said, “Get the coordinates and send it to Regiment. I concur. This is worth a visit from our Ranger friends. I’m going to find us a place to sit down to stretch our fuel.”
“Wait. I’ve got it now. They’re setting demolitions charges. We’re going to have to hurry if we’re going to make this happen.”
2nd ID Mobile HQ
General Jackson’s Bradley/FIST
Jackson was talking to his South Korean counterpart when an excited communications tech handed him the hard copy of a message.
Jackson said, “What have you got Kellog?”
“General, I’ve got a flash priority request for a Ranger insertion from 6th Cav. It seems that one of their recon birds have located a hidden command post that’s being evacuated. I thought you would want to know ASAP. It is just a few miles East of Hill 339.”
Jackson considered the situation for a moment. Opportunities on the battlefield had to be exploited immediately or they would vanish as soon as they appeared. “We’ve got a mechanized recon company that can be there in an hour. Tell the Cowboys it’s a go.”
1st Squadron 6th Calvary
Lieutenant David Carson got the word from his CO twenty seconds after General Jackson gave his approval for the operation.
He called his four squad leaders into the Command Post, gave them a quick briefing, He quickly laid out the situation, made a simple insertion plan. They would assault the compound, seize it, disable any possible demolition charges and hold it until the mechanized recon troops arrived.
It was a scenario that the Rangers planned for and had run in training dozens of times. In fact Carson called the op plan Benning Summer 2010 because all of the squad leaders and many of the men had been together when they had held that exercise.
He had his men briefed and their four Blackhawks and a pair of Apache escorts were lifting off in less than five minutes of getting the orders.
Echo Company had been scouting ahead of the main force in their fast, quiet Stryker APCs. Captain Palmer got his orders over the divisions data link from General Jackson’s command vehicle: Proceed your North East, relieve Rangers and secure enemy command post at grid coordinates 225, 88.
Palmer was not thrilled at the prospects of going cross country through what appeared to be heavy woods but he spotted a nice, neat trail where electrical transmission towers crossed the forest. He signaled for his company to follow and speed off up the trail.
Owens landed in a small clearing a mile east of the objective area. He immediately got out of the small helicopter and pulled an M4 carbine out of the storage locker. He put a magazine in the rifle, cocked it and took cover behind a fallen log.
Any aircraft is most vulnerable on the ground. In the air Owens could yank and bank with the best of them but on the ground he felt as naked and helpless as a new born. Garner was busy transmitting the data that they had gathered back to command.
He looked all around the perimeter and saw no movement. The only thing he noticed out of the ordinary was a foul odor. Something had died nearby and it smelled terrible.
Task Force Able
Five Minutes to Objective
Carson gathered the information from Whiskey Nine-Niner as it came in.
The FLIR images gave him the basics that he needed to fine tune his operational plan. The images showed very little in real terms but it gave him some idea of the dimensions of the camp.
The camp appeared to be about a quarter mile square surrounded by a 15 foot perimeter fence. There was a guard tower at the four corners of the square and apparently a gate at the front. The whole of the camp was covered by a thick camouflage net that mimicked the forests evergreen canopy.
He took an overhead image of the area and drew the shape of the camp. He then drew the insertion points for his four squads and sent the images to his three other squad leaders. They would confer with their pilots and he would have a squad on all four sides of the camp.
Owens heard a series of shots in the distance. It wasn’t the sound of a wild fire fight. The shots were slow, deliberate and delivered by a small caliber pistol.
It didn’t make him nervous, merely curious.
All manner of ordnance was being expended in the distance: heavy artillery, guided missiles, bombs dropped from aircraft and tank guns. Hearing a pea-shooter squeezing off rounds in the distance was almost comic relief.
Owens stood up and walked backed to his Helicopter and said, “Jake are you done.”
Garner answered, “I’ve sent them everything we’ve got.”
Owens stowed his rifle and got back into the pilots seat. “Good. Something about this place gives me the creeps. Let’s get out of here.”
Task Force Able
Carson called in a pair of F-16s to hit the hidden anti-aircraft guns and the SAM site that Whiskey Nine-Niner had discovered near their drop zone. As he was going over the last details with his squad, the pilot gave the word that they were two minutes out.
The two Apaches lead the Blackhawks into the objective area and would stay close to provide support. The Blackhawks would head home as soon as they made their drop. Given the thick ground cover, there was no way they could extract the Rangers.
Carson’s squad hooked up to bungee cords and prepared to deploy down through the trees.
When the Blackhawk reached drop –30 seconds, a member of the flight crew opened the sliding side doors and manned the mini-gun to cover the team as they dropped in.
In his head, Carson counted the time down in his head and he could feel the helicopters forward momentum slow to a hover. The drop light in the front of the cabin turned green and he jumped in with the five other men of the first half of his squad.
Owens heard and felt the concussion of nearby air strikes as he tooled up his engine to take off.
Garner said, “Task Force Able is dropping their people in now.”
As Owens took the small helicopter off the ground, he said, “I’m going to egress down the transmission tower right of way. You have any threats?”
“I don’t see anything so far. You are going to pass Echo Company coming north.”
“Better let ‘em know so they won’t shoot at us.”
“Echo Company, this is Whiskey Nine-niner. Echo Company, this is Whiskey Nine-niner. We are a flight of one Kilo-Whiskey. Be advised that we will be overflying you shortly…”
1st Squad, Task Force Able
Carson braced himself as the bungee cord slowed his fall though the canopy of trees.
Almost like a bad cartoon, the “controlled fall” through the forest canopy had him bouncing off the trees like a pinball. I hate trees. Smack. I hate trees. Smack. I hate trees. Smack.
Finally when his feet touched ground, he released the cord and it popped back up through the trees.
He brushed the bark off of his face, pulled a pine branch out of his molly vest, another from under the visor of his helmet and looked around to spot his squad.
As soon as he spotted Walters and Ortega, he heard the rest of his squad coming down through the trees and the Blackhawks departed.
He keyed his tactical radio and spoke quietly, “Squads, check in.”
“Squad 2, ready.”
“Squad 3, ready.”
“Squad 4, ready.”
“Deploy your snipers and get in position to assault the compound.”
He used hand signals with first squad- spread out and move east. There was a road that was the only path of escape or reinforcement available to the enemy and he wanted to take control it immediately.
The squad had not gotten far when he saw Walters give the signal to hold. Carson heard voices ahead. He used hand signals to tell his men to close on the enemy and take them out silently.
A few seconds later, Carson heard the distinctive thump of silenced weapons and Walters signaled all clear.
Carson emerged from the underbrush and saw a 2 ½ ton truck parked headed away from the camp. A bundle of wires lead down the road into the camp and stopped at a detonator box set up on the tailgate of the truck. His men were dragging a North Korean officer and three non-coms clear of the road and into the brush. He moved up carefully using the truck as cover watching for any signs of movement from the camp.
Carson ordered his squad, “Gordon, Taylor- go up the road and set claymores and then cut these wires and watch our back. We want to know if anyone is coming up behind us. The rest of you come with me.”
He then keyed his mike and said, “This is Squad 1. We’re in position and have control of the detonator. Give me a SitRep by squads.”
“Squad 2: we’re on the East side and have our snipers in place. No movement so far. We’re working our way up to the wire but we’ve found mines and it will take us five, maybe ten minutes to work our way through.”
“Squad 3: we’re on the South side and see six men planting and wiring charges around what appear to be barracks. There is a back gate with no guard and a path into the woods. We’ll make our entry there.”
“Squad 4: no movement on the West side. We’ve worked our way up to the wire and can go at any time. Be advised, we have a strong odor of human decomp on our side.”
Carson said, “Everybody get in position. Squad 2, signal me when you are ready to go. Snipers, hold your fire until I give the word.”
After coordinating the actions of the other squads, he used hand signals with his own. Move up and prepare to assault the compound.
As first squad moved closer to the perimeter of the camp, they found mines that forced anyone approaching from the front to be channeled onto the road and under the guns of the guard towers over the front gate. Their group got still and quiet for a few minutes and watched the towers but saw no activity.
The Lieutenant gave the signal and all of the men rushed the gate and took cover in the guard shacks and towers around the gate. Carson’s two snipers took up positions in the towers to cover the men. They looked around very carefully for a few minutes and saw no movement. What they did see were demolition charges, jerry cans with gasoline and artillery shells had been hastily placed all around the buildings.
From Carson’s vantage point, he could see a large, well kept main building in the center and two smaller buildings on both sides of the main building. One appeared to be a vehicle depot with all the doors open and the vehicles gone. The other was an office building of some sort.
Carson’s ear bud crackled to life: “Squad 2 to Squad 1, those mines have been here a long time. They are corroded and useless for the most part. We’re in position.”
“Squad 4 to Squad 1: be advised, the fence is electrified. You got to short it out before you cut it.”
“Squad 2, roger that.”
Carson keyed his mike and said, “All squads, get ready to go on my signal.”
He waited 30 seconds for his teams to short out the electric fence and cut the wire and sent the signal, “Go, go, go!”.
1st Squad, less their snipers ran to the main building. Walters kicked open the front door and Carson threw in a stun grenade and took cover. Carson clicked off the safety on his MP-5 submachine gun and charged into the building.
Inside the building was a plush lobby with comfortable chairs and a reception desk. On the walls were North Korean flags and a large portrait of the Dear Leader.
They broke into four teams of two and began clearing the building room by room.
Carson’s ear bud crackled, “Jesus Christ! There are bodies everywhere…”
Carson stopped and said, “Remember your radio discipline, say again.”
“Uh, this is Squad 3, we’ve got bodies all over the place back here.. mass graves. They were about to cover them up with a bulldozer. Oh God Dave, they starved these people to death. There are fresh kills back here with lye spread over them. This isn’t a command post, it is a death camp.”
Carson froze for a second and then said, “Squad 1 to all squads. Stay on mission. Clear the camp. Dismantle the demolition charges. We’ve got a job to do here.”
Systematically the Rangers swept the camp discovering numerous emaciated and terrified prisoners locked in the barracks ringed with high explosives and artillery shells full of white phosphorous. Squads 3 and 4 dropped six men setting demolitions charges and another two running a bulldozer to close mass graves behind the barracks.
Shocked by what they had discovered in the camp, the Rangers training kicked in and a lot of things were just automatic.
Once Carson was satisfied that the camp was secured, he ordered 2nd Squad to man the fortifications on the north side of the camp. He ordered his men to get the satellite uplink working, take down the camouflage net that concealed the camp and some men to go out and meet the mechanized infantry company that was on the way.
Carson heard the men talking about what they had seen but it wasn’t real to him until he had seen it. He put one of his squad leaders in charge and took Walters to tour the camp.
They started with what appeared to be a hospital or clinic on the west side of the compound. When they went inside things were decidedly odd. There were offices up front, labs in the middle and then large stainless steel doors with a biohazard symbol on them.
Walters said, “What do you wanna bet that they don’t give flu shots here?”
Carson shook his head. “This just gets better and better. We’ll probably have to quarantine the whole squad after this.”
Walters asked, “Bioweapons?”
Carson said, “It looks like we caught them with their pants completely down. A few minutes later and this whole place would have been burned down to the ground by all the white phosphorus.”
Walters said, “Let’s get the hell out of here before we catch something.”
They moved on to one of the barracks. When they opened the doors, they saw a large number of people of all ages standing beside their bunks and looking down at the floor. They were all emaciated and some of them had the distended bellies that you see in cases of severe malnutrition.
Carson said, “Does anyone here speak English? We are Americans and we are here to help.”
No one answered. In fact they looked even more terrified.
They stepped back outside and closed the door.
Walters said, “Jesus Dave, half of those people are so far gone they won’t make it with medical care.”
“God knows what these people have been through. Come on. We’ve got to see it all before I talk to headquarters.”
They went further to the back of the camp where they saw a parked bulldozer and the bodies of the North Korean demolitions crew covered by a tarp. As they got closer, the smell of death hit Carson so hard he felt nauseated.
They found a trench twelve feet wide by twenty-five feet long filled with bodies in various states of decomposition. There were a number of bodies on top with head wounds that had obviously been killed very recently. Bags of lime were stacked beside the depression and had been spread over the bodies to speed their decomposition. When they looked around they saw depressions in the ground that suggested that this was only one of many mass graves on the south side of the camp.
Carson felt a rage building inside. He quickly turned back toward the North side of the camp.
Walters had to speed up to keep up with him and asked, “What are you going to do boss.”
“I don’t know yet Walt. Right now I’m just trying to keep from throwing up. No body has seen anything like this since the collapse of Germany in 1945. We got to get all sorts of help up here. Medics for the survivors, translators, people, to see what is in those labs, intel people to sort through the papers we captured: this is all going to end up be sorted out by a much higher pay grade than mine.”
As they walked to the front of the camp, they could see the camouflage net that covered the camp being cranked down. For the first time in many years the bight light of morning fell on the twilight world of the camp.
When they arrived at the make-shift command post that had been set up in the garage building, Santos reported that the satellite uplink was up and ready.
Carson said, “Give me a secure channel to the area commander.”
Santos made a few adjustments on the radio and said, “2nd ID, this is Task Force Able. Do you copy?”
Sanchez handed the head set to Carson. Carson took it and said, “2nd ID, this is Task Force Able actual. I report mission success. We need a lot of help up here. We have found a lot more than we bargained for…”