Pork Chop Hill
Based on the history by S. L. A. Marshall and directed by Lewis Milestone, Americans fighting near the end of the Korean War are ordered to take a hill that has no military value that is fiercely defended by Chinese soldiers.
At a reserve position near Pork Chop Hill 70 miles from the peace conference at Panmunjom in Korea in 1953 at a bunker protected by sandbags called the “Korea Hilton Hotel” American soldiers are listening to the regular morning broadcast over a public address system of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army which informs them this is the 1,020th day of the “forgotten war” which their politicians call a “police action” and which has cost them more casualties than their War of Independence. The announcer says that both sides want peace, and he asks them to show their generals that they want peace. If they lay down their arms, he says the Chinese will lay down theirs.
At night Lt. Joe Clemons (Gregory Peck) and Private Forstman (Harry Guardino) go inside the bunker, and Forstman asks if Clemons told the battalion about his 36 points. Clemons tells him they said he was one point short. Forstman asks Captain Chuck Fedderson (George Peppard) to back him up, and Fedderson says that Forstman has a new car. Clemons takes a call from Col. Kern (Bob Steele) who tells him to prepare to counter-attack at Pork Chop if necessary. Clemons understands it is only an alert, and he says his weapons platoon is with battalion. He hangs up and says they need two new squad leaders, and he tells Fedderson to take care of it. Forstman says he has to count him out of this one, but Clemons says he could tell him stories that would make him cry bitter tears. They go out, and Clemons tells Forstman he can sue them.
Forstman goes back in and asks Lt. Suki Ohashi (George Shibata) for permission to call regiment, but Ohashi refuses. He says he can’t call a colonel, and Forstman says they called them. Ohashi tells him to get out of there and warns him he is in a black mood and might shoot him. Forstman says he wants it registered as a formal complaint, and Ohashi says he will have it entered in the company records. Forstman goes out.
In another bunker Clemons offers raisins to Sergeant Coleman (Norman Fell) who says no and complains it is cold. Clemons takes a call from Col. Davis at battalion. Others hope it is a reprieve or news from the peace conference. Clemons says yes sir and hangs up. He says that Pork Chop has been lost. They were in the trenches before they knew what hit them. He orders Sergeant Kreukenberg to assemble the men. Clemons says no one goofed but that the Chinese are good especially at this night stuff. He says they have no time for reconnaissance and will have to go by the book but does not know how they will read it in the dark. He puts a letter he wrote to his wife under a heart-shaped box and tells Corporal Payne (Cliff Ketchum) that his radio will be on company frequency, and Coleman will be on battalion. Coleman says he has been reading in the papers that the war is over.
The soldiers get in the back of trucks. Ohashi tells Clemons he is a pro and will do all right. He asks if Pork Chop Hill is worth all this, a lousy undependable outpost. It already cost one company and may cost them too, and he asks if it is worth all that. Clemons says it is just a chip in the big game at Panmunjom. Every time the reds win a chip here they raise the ante there. He says they have to convince them they will not give up any more chips. Two soldiers wonder if Clemons knows anything, and one says he is regular Army and that they will soon find out.
Clemons gets in the jeep that leads the convoy. They cross a stream. His jeep stops while the trucks go on.
Clemons and Ohashi go in a bunker. Lt. Col. Davis (Barry Atwater) standing by a topographical map of the area tells Clemons he will let him decide how to deploy his company. Clemons says the trenches on the top of the hill will be tougher than the climb. He will keep his third platoon in reserve until they get up there. He will start with the first on the left and the second on the right. Ohashi says the concertina wire is going to be hard to get through in the dark. Davis says he heard that it has been destroyed by artillery. He suggests they set up their aid station in the chow bunker near the top of the hill. He shows a route they can use to evacuate their wounded and reminds him to use the radio to keep him informed. He tells him to remember that he has 135 men who know the war is near its end, and they will not want to die in what could be its last battle. He advises him to move fast, push them, and not let them stop. He says they need to get into those trenches before daylight. Clemons asks about the right flank where he does not have enough men to protect it. Davis says the Love Company is assigned to do that and should be in position. They have been firing artillery at the hill. When he is ready, he can call him, and he will have it lifted. Davis wishes them good luck, and they shake hands. Clemons and Ohashi go out.
The men are advancing at night on foot as the trucks depart. Clemons tells Ohashi to stay with the first platoon, and he will go with the second. A long line of men starts advancing together.
Davis gets a call and says the K Company is depending on them. He hangs up and says the Love Company got off on the wrong foot. He says they thought they were reinforcing instead of heading into a fight.
Artillery is still exploding on the hill as they move forward and begin going uphill. Clemons calls Davis and requests that the firing be lifted. Forstman says they have not received any chink firing yet. They hear the PA announcer welcome King Company to their new home. He tells them that the previous visit was by the Easy Company with 96 men, but they had 31 killed, 34 wounded, and 22 captured. He says a company was wiped out for a political whim to please politicians in chairs sitting smugly thousands of miles away. He says they must know this is not their fight; but if they insist on coming, he welcomes them to the meat grinder. They will play a tune to honor their dead—past, present, and future. A bugle plays taps as they keep advancing up the hill. Private Franklin (Woody Strode) hits the dirt, and Private Velie (Robert Blake) asks if he hurt his ankle. Franklin tells him to beat it. Clemons comes over and tells Franklin to get up, grabbing his uniform and pulling him up. He tells Franklin to stick close to him and goes ahead. Forstman says it is coming, and bombs explode behind them in water. Clemons tells them to keep moving.
Clemons and others see barbed wire ahead, and the Chinese soldiers on the hill begin shooting their rifles. The Americans hit the ground as they come to the barbed wire. Clemons orders the radio set up. Grenades are thrown at them. Some men lie on the barbed wire so that others can pass over them. Suddenly they are well lit. Clemons calls battalion and tells them to turn off the damn lights, or they will be murdering them. Explosions kill soldiers. Clemons waits by an opening in the barbed wire and has men pass through. He sees Franklin waiting behind and tells him this could cost him ten years at Leavenworth. He tells him to move, not get any funny ideas, and stay even with him. They go through the opening in the wire. Coleman tells Clemons that the searchlight guys got them mixed up with some other hill and apologized. Velie is asked where his rifle is and is told to pick up one. He looks around. A soldier arrives and tells Clemons that Lt. Cook sent him over as a runner. Clemons orders him to tell Cook that they are bearing too far to the right and should leave that flank to the Love Company. A soldier tells Clemons that Lt. Ohashi can not find the radio for the first platoon. Clemons calls to Velie who still has no rifle and tells him to come to him. He tells him to get down and makes him a runner to tell Ohashi that when he hits the first trench, to pinch his way toward the right and to report back to him; he will be with Lt. Cook. He has Velie repeat the message and sends him off. Velie sees a dead soldier and takes his rifle. He finds Ohashi who pushes him away. Amid the shooting Velie tells him the message.
The American soldiers have reached the trenches as the Chinese retreat. They hear the bugle of the Chinese. A soldier says he thought the Love Company was supposed to handle the ridge, and the man says that is not them. Some Americans are retreating down the hill, and one is blocked by an advancing soldier and says they are flanked and that there are millions of Chinese up there. Chinese soldiers are seen on the ridge advancing toward them. A soldier says they have to pull back, but Clemons pushes him down and tells him to hold it. Chinese soldiers are coming from the ridge back into the trench while some are shot. Clemons asks Payne to get him Ohashi. Clemons tells the officer not to pull back and goes to the radio and tells Ohashi that he needs his help because they are flanked. Ohashi says he has 25% casualties and more now. He says they can’t spare a man without losing what they have gained. He asks about the third platoon. Clemons says if he uses them now before they get to the trenches, they might lose the whole company. Clemons orders a soldier to round up a squad and take two machine guns and set them up on the ridge. The soldier says the company can’t take that ridge, and he asks how he can do it with a squad. Clemons tells him to do it. He tells Ohashi to pinch in as fast as he can. He hopes to meet him at the C. P. and signs off.
Velie is crawling on the ground next to sandbags and comes to an opening with a Chinese machine gunner. He throws a grenade that bounces off, but the second one destroys the gunner. Clemons runs to his left, gets down, and tells a sergeant that they are going to rush the trench. The sergeant asks about the flank, and Clemons says it is being taken care of and that they will be safer in the trench. He tells him to move, and the sergeant gets up and advances with his men. They climb over the sandbags, and Clemons tells others to keep moving. They enter the trench too. Clemons sees a wounded man and appoints another soldier to take over his squad. He asks Franklin to help the wounded man over the wall. Corporal Jurgens (James Edwards) tells Clemons that Lt. Cook said he saw Love Company coming. Clemons tells Franklin to wait and says the man can make it by himself. Clemons orders the black Jurgens to keep an eye on the black Franklin. Jurgens makes sure Franklin makes it into the trench. Franklin asks why he is staring and grabs his wrist. Jurgens say he has a special interest in what he does. Many soldiers have been killed.
Clemons joins Lt. Cook and tells him to take his men forward; he says he did a good job. Clemons calls battalion and tells Davis that there are dozens of trenches, but they have a foothold in only two. Davis asks if the first and second platoons should have taken the C. P. by now, but Clemons says they are having trouble with their right flank which he said they did not have to worry about. Davis asks if he can hold that flank. Clemons says he does not think they can do Love Company’s job with only one machine gun. Velie reports back to Clemons and says he can’t remember what Lt. Ohashi said. Clemons asks if there are weapons, flame throwers, and other stuff, and Velie says yes. Clemons says it is the same over here. He tells Velie to get his wounded shoulder taken care of at the aid station by the chow bunker. Velie asks if he needs him as a runner, but Clemons says they will make do. Ohashi joins Clemons and says they should bring in the third platoon. He says they are nearly finished, and there is no sense in saving the third platoon to bury them. Clemons asks if he had his iron today, and he passes out some raisins he is eating. Ohashi says he is back to squad leader, and Clemons says things are tough all over. Ohashi moves forward.
A soldier points out soldiers coming through the barbed wire and says it looks like Love Company. Lt. Marshall (Martin Landau) joins them from Love Company and says he should be glad they got there at all. Clemons asks how many are left, and Marshall says he started with a platoon of 42, and now the entire company is down to 12 men. Clemons tells him to put his men to work. Clemons tells Coleman to radio Davis that Love Company has arrived with ten men who can fight.
In a trench Clemons talks to a soldier who is being carried on a stretcher and complains they blew his foot off. Coleman and others hear chickens in a cage. American soldiers move along the trench and fight the Chinese. Then they meet Americans coming the other way and say the war is over. They celebrate. Suddenly they hear rockets flying, and bombs fall nearby. Ohashi finds Clemons and asks if he is okay. Private Bowen (Biff Elliot) says those bombs were ours, and others agree with him. Jurgens tells them to help dig out the men who got buried in the C. P. Bowen says they don’t want to get murdered by their artillery. Clemons asks how he knows that, and Bowen says he heard them coming in from over there. Soldiers agree with him. Clemons says the enemy holds Old Baldy, and that is where those shells came from. Bowen asks if he can prove that. Clemons explains where their artillery is. He tells the men to clean up the bunker. Payne tells Clemons that the last shell got his radio which saved his life. Clemons says that makes him a runner.
Clemons tells Ohashi that now he can bring up the third platoon. Ohashi says he may keep on going, and he leaves.
Ohashi comes back to the Korea Hilton Hotel, and Clemons tells him to come in and sign the register. Clemons orders Lt. Waldorf (John Alderman) to spread his men along the trench. Clemons asks how it was, and Ohashi says he lost six men coming up there from the chow bunker. Clemons gives him some raisins and says every trench is a separate dogfight; but the reds hold the crest of the hill and are in charge. He says they have to take that high ground in one jump. Ohashi says that means over the top and asks who will do it. Clemons says they will use the third platoon. Ohashi realizes it means bayonets and asks where is the push-button warfare they have been hearing about. Clemons says they are the push buttons. Ohashi says Lt. Waldorf is too green to lead a bayonet charge, and he says it is his old platoon. He says his ancestors were good at this banzai business. Clemons says he is a real live volunteer. Ohashi says he never volunteers, but he accepts his kind offer. Clemons says it will be a coordinated attack. While he is going over the crest of the hill, he will push through the trenches with every man he can find. He says Ohashi may become the last man ever to lead a bayonet charge. He says he will tell his grandchildren if he lives to have any.
Chinese soldiers are retreating from a trench and throw grenades. The Americans advance through the trenches. Ohashi leads the charge toward the top of the hill. Chinese soldiers retreat down the other side. Clemons tells Davis they took the crest of the hill and the trenches; but there are still many Chinese around, and he requests food, water, medical supplies, and ammo. An explosion occurs where Davis is, and they lose communication.
The Chinese announcer tells them that the more ground they take the more they have to defend. Clemons orders Sergeant Kuznick and Corporal Kissell to return to their positions while another soldier takes four prisoners to the aid station. Clemons tells Payne to find Lt. Waldorf and tell him that he can expect shelling at regular intervals. He is to keep his men in the bunkers, and each is to have an assigned defensive position that he can get to in a hurry.
Corporal Fedderson is killed, and his buddy does not want to leave him. Clemons makes the man move with him. Later Clemons finds that Coleman and another man have been killed too. Lt. Walter Russel (Rip Torn) finds Clemons and asks what the situation is here. They are glad to see each other after a long time. Russel says he is commanding George Company now. He says they are strung out and ran into some heavy shelling. He tells others to meet him at the C. P., and Clemons says it is the Korea Hilton. Russel says he had forty casualties coming up the hill, and he was told they were just mopping up. Clemons says they are crazy because they are hanging on by their teeth. He tells him to move his men up here, and he warns them to watch out for snipers. He tells them not to be trigger happy because he has men up there. Clemons says he is glad to see a radio and asks the news from Panmunjom. Russel says they are still at it. Bombs explode, and they run into the bunker. Clemons asks if he brought them supplies. Russel says no, and Clemons says they need ammo. Clemons asks about the radio, and the man says the reds are jamming it. Russel tells him to try the emergency frequency, and they are on that one too. Clemons tells Walt after this shelling to have his outfit take over the right sector and to get there fast. Walt asks if this hill is worth it, and Clemons says it does not have much military value. He says values change, and he is weary. Walt offers him his canteen, and Clemons accepts some water. Walt tells his radio man that Clemons is his brother-in-law. Clemons tells the radio man to stay there and keep trying. He goes out with Walt.
Walt tells his men they are taking over the right sector. Clemons goes with him to another bunker where an officer gives him a message from Col. Davis. He reads it and says he can’t mean it. The officer says it came from regiment. Clemons tells Walt he has to withdraw his company at 1500, three hours from now. The officer says they are not sending a company to replace them because they think the show is over up there. Clemons gets angry and says they have been requesting more ammo. He tells the officer to take a message that he does not think the crisis up here is appreciated either by battalion or regiment. He has very few men left, and they are exhausted. Lt. Russel has only 55 men out of his company who can still fight. When they go out, it is not reasonable to expect that they can hold the hill. The officer has written it down, says it does not seem like a mop-up to him, wishes them luck, and leaves. Clemons tells Walt that in three hours he will be back to that dream world. Walt says when they get his message, they will change the order. Clemons says he is going to the joint sector with George Company. He sees Velie and says he ordered him to the rear, but he says they fixed his arm. Velie says he did not want the chinks to push us off the hill and turned around and came back. Clemons asks if he thinks he is Audie Murphy and tells him he is no good up there with only one good arm.
A woman gives the Chinese announcer a note, and he says the first report of the day from Panmunjom says that the American negotiators broke three pencils in sharp fighting over Pork Chop Hill. He asks how much it is costing them.
The radio man tells Clemons that they are still disrupting the radio. A lieutenant arrives from division and says he came to get some pictures of the successful action. He says there have not been many lately, and the folks at home could use some encouragement. He says they will not be in the way, and he asks where they should go. Clemons asks Walt if he has a suggestion; but he does not want to be court martialed. Clemons asks how they managed to get up here when he can’t get anything he needs. The photographer takes his picture, and he tells him to cut it out. He asks them to take a message for him to battalion, and he writes a note. He tells him they must have help, or they can’t hold the hill. Clemons asks him to take a good look around and tell division what he saw there. They leave.
General Trudeau (Ken Lynch) tells Carl that they have no right to make this decision, and they agree to buck it up to corps. He says the basic question is whether they really want to hold Pork Chop Hill. Carl asks if they should take George Company off at 1500. Trudeau says the order stands. He does not want to lose any more men than they have to, especially if they are going to give it away tomorrow.
In the bunker Walt tells Clemons that he will take his wounded down with him, and he gives him two clips of ammunition. Walt says he agrees that people put value on things; but he does not know of any higher value than dying for it. Thus Pork Chop is already worth more than the gold in Fort Knox. Walt says goodbye to Ohashi and Clemons and leaves with his radio man. Ohashi says they have 25 men. Clemons says they cannot hold it all and will have to pull in and concentrate. They will stay in the highest bunker, and they will have no link with the rear which would not do them much good anyway.
Soldiers abandon an area, and the chickens are freed.
Clemons enters a bunker, and Franklin asks him for the counter-sign and says he may shoot. Clemons identifies him and says he knows he is not Chinese. Franklin says he does not want to serve ten years. He could kill him now, and no one could call it murder. Clemons says no one but him. Franklin asks if he should serve ten years because he does not want to die for Korea. He does not care about this stinking hill. He says he should see where he lives back home. He is not sure he would die for that, and he sure won’t die for Korea. Clemons says that chances are they are both going to die anyway whether he shoots him or not. He says a lot of men came up here last night, and they don’t care about Korea any more than he does. Some of them had it as bad at home as he did. He says they came up and fought, and about 25 are left. He says it is an exclusive club, and he can still join up. Clemons says he is going to move, and he asks him to make up his mind. Clemons walks out of the bunker and turns around. Franklin comes out. Clemons says the men are up there, and Franklin goes to join them.
The men are deployed on top of the hill in holes in the ground, and Clemons is with Ohashi in a hole on top. The Chinese announcer tells them that they have 45 minutes to surrender, or they will attack with overwhelming force. Probably no prisoners will be taken. He tells them they are brave men and says they have fought a good fight. He says they have earned the right to surrender. He will try to persuade them in the next 45 minutes. He says they are young and should be thinking of the lives ahead of them. He plays music. A soldier sees a chicken and tells it to leave so that it will not be made into chicken chow mein. The Chinese announcer asks if the music makes them think of the things they want to live for. He asks them to think about it. He says all they have to do is walk this way.
Clemons says he will try the radio himself. Ohashi asks him what he will say. Clemons asks if he should ask them to pull them off the hill and let the Chinese back in. Ohashi says he is the boss. Clemons says he wants to hold the hill more than he ever wanted anything, a stinking little garbage heap. A radio man tells Clemons that he got battalion on clear as a bell. Clemons goes down to the bunker and says he has 25 men who are completely spent. He is expecting a heavy attack in about a half hour. He says unless they can be reinforced, they should be withdrawn. Davis takes the phone and says they can’t reinforce, and they have no authority to withdraw them. Davis says that is a hell of a way to run a railroad. The radio man asks Clemons the date, and he says it is April 17.
At the peace conference the American admiral (Carl Benton Reid) asks the Chinese what they are arguing about when this little hill is insignificant. If they settled on the truce line, to which he thought they had agreed, the hill would be in the middle of the neutral zone. He asks how it can be worth any man’s life and if they feel a responsibility towards thousands of—. He sees the Chinese negotiator remove his ear piece and stops talking. He leaves the table, and an American general joins him in another room. The general says the Chinese know they are not going to reinforce Pork Chop Hill, and they are going to keep them talking until they take it. He says the Chinese have to succeed or lose face. The admiral says let them have their face and get on with the truce. He asks why they attacked Pork Chop Hill. He thinks they picked it because it has no value and therefore is a pure test of strength to see who will spend lives for nothing. He says they want to know if the Americans are as willing to do that as they are.
Night has fallen, and they wait. The Chinese announcer says two minutes are left. An officer passes the word for the Americans to hold their fire and make it count. Ohashi says he is going on top to look around. The Chinese play the bugle charge and shout. Clemons calls for flares. They begin to light up the sky. Many Chinese soldiers are advancing. Both sides are shooting. Franklin carries a wounded man into the bunker. Ohashi is wounded and tells Clemons that he saw men coming from the rest of Love Company. They go in the bunker, and Clemons talks to battalion which tells him he has to hold out because reinforcements are coming. A soldier comes in and says they are out of ammunition, and another says millions of Chinese are coming. Clemons orders the use of sand bags to protect the bunker. He welcomes Franklin to the club. Clemons stops them from closing the door. He goes out, looks around, and has a few more men come into the bunker. He throws a grenade and runs into the bunker. They barricade the door and pile up sand bags. The Chinese use flame-throwers, and they see flames burning outside the door. They hear more shooting.
The American reinforcements arrive and are fighting in the trench. Inside Ohashi asks what they are waiting for, and they open up the bunker again to join the fight.
Later soldiers are walking down the hill from the battle. Clemons thinks how Pork Chop Hill was held; but there will be no monuments on it because history does not linger long in our century. He believes that they knew what they were fighting for and argues that millions live in freedom today because of what they did.
This realistic war drama is a fairly accurate depiction of what happened in this bloody battle while peace was being negotiated. The chaos, danger, cruelty, and agony of war are portrayed and made to seem worse because the battle was so unnecessary to anything but a small amount of propaganda. That a Japanese-American officer was prominent in a battle against North Koreans and Chinese attests to the reconciliation that occurred after World War II between Americans and the Japanese.