CARLISLE — Standing on the shot-scarred Hill 628, E.C. Rivera, the 8th Ranger Infantry Company’s communications chief, surveyed the Korean landscape and knew what was coming.
With only a 50-pound radio and an Army-issued rifle at his side, Rivera watched Chinese forces stream over the hill. Between shots, he frantically radioed for help. None came. He knew, he said, that he and his buddy, shooting below with a Browning Automatic Rifle, were all that stood between life and death for the 100-plus Rangers in a clearing below.
“I had to stop those tanks,” Rivera, of New Mexico, said, his eyes fixed to the distance, as if he could still see the war-torn countryside. “I had to stop them or they would have killed us all.”
Rivera, his former commanding officer Brig. Gen. (Ret.) James Herbert and half a dozen members of the 8th Rangers gathered at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle to remember the battle of Hill 628, fought April 25, 1951.
The almost-improbable rescue is at the heart of AHEC’s new Korean War exhibit, which officially opened Saturday. The celebration, held on the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended hostilities in the Korean peninsula, drew dignitaries from the U.S. Army and Korea, along with a standing-room only crowd of community members.
Consul General for the Republic of Korea Son Se-joo thanked all Korean War veterans for their service.
“In the face of overwhelming danger, your stories of valor and sacrifice saved our country and made it what it is today,” he said. “As we pay tribute to you, I can confirm that the Korean War is not a ‘Forgotten War’ and that the victory is not a forgotten victory. The Korean people will never forget your sacrifice.”
Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, commandant of the U.S. Army War College, underscored the remarks, saying that the readiness and training of the American soldier made the difference in Korea and continues to be the decisive factor in conflicts around the world.
“Ignoring the human domain in defense readiness is absolute folly,” Cucolo said.
Following the unveiling, Rivera gazed down at a picture of his 24-year-old self. Bare-chested with a shock of dark hair and a cocky grin, Rivera said that young man never stopped to think that his actions on Hill 628 might some day be considered heroic.
“I just said that I was going back up the hill I’d just gotten shot off of and I was going to stop those tanks,” he said.
The group then made their way to the exhibition’s focal point, the brilliantly striped “Tiger Tank,” much like the one Major (Ret.) David Teich commanded as part of the 6th Medium Tank Battalion.
It was Teich who responded Rivera’s distress call. Despite his commanding officer’s admonition he was crazy, the Colorado native circled four of his Tiger Tanks at the base of Hill 628 and waited for the Rangers.
Teich said he will never forget what Herbert, then a captain, said to him as he emerged from the fray, three bullet holes to his upper body, plugging the fourth — a neck wound — with his fingers.
“He said ‘Boy, am I glad to see you! And if you pull your pants down, I’ll kiss your butt,’” Teich said with a laugh. “I said ‘Captain, we’ll have to skip the formalities and get on the tanks.’”
Turning serious, Teich said he never had a second thought about attempting to rescue the 8th Rangers.
“I know in my heart I did the right thing to stay behind,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself, and I wouldn’t be standing here with the survivors.”
Herbert, a resident of Cornwall Manor in Lebanon County, said as long as he lives, he will remember Teich’s bravery and the actions of all the men who fought to live up to the 8th’s motto: “Leave no one behind.”
“Without his actions, we would have been killed or captured,” Herbert said. “You never forget the people who really help you. That was 62 and a half years ago, and we have never forgotten.”