BEDCHECK CHARLIE HITS K-l3!
TWO WOUNDED, ONE SABRE DESTROYED
by Leo Fournier
(with notes by John Henderson, North American Aviation Tech Rep)
The night of 16 June 1951 is one that I'll never forget. Several of us had just seen the first movie shown on the outdoor screen at K-13 (Suwon AB). after the film, we started to walk back to our tent to hit the sack. I was in a 8 man tent at K-13 that sat right next to the parking ramp. The parked airplanes were right on the edge of that same ramp
The guys in my tent included Captains. Sandy Hesse, Bert Gray, and Bruce Cunningham, Lt. Cmdr. Jim Ellis (a Navy pilot on loan to the 4th FIW and the guy that gave me my first jet ride in a T-Bird from K-13 to Tachikawa), Capt. Paul Kaminsky (formerly a C-54 pilot on the Berlin Airlift, and now the PlO Officer at K-13), Irv Clark, the GE jet engine tech rep, and 1/Lt. Paul Bryce.
On the way back to our tent after the movie, we stopped off in another tent, where the pilots were listening to Radio Peking. The Chinese announcer, who spoke very good English, was telling us how they had bombed Suwon a couple of nights before, and that they would be back! The tent exploded in laughter at the 'threat'; and with that, we walked hack to our tent and hit the sack.
Around 2 AM of the morning of 17 June, which just happened to be Fathers Day, I was rudely awakened by a loud noise. An explosion! Bedcheck Charlie was indeed hitting K-13 again, just like the Chinese announcer said.
Bedcheck Charlie was a PoIikarpov PO-2, a small Russian biplane that was able to come in under our radar at night and bomb with relative impunity. No one had been able to knock him down up to this time. The Sabres were day fighters and much too fast. 5th Air Force tried everything, F-82 Twin Mustangs, armed T-6s, even scrambling a B-26 Invader. But no one could get at him. He just flew too low and too slow. Later the Marines would send in a detachment of Corsair night fighters, which got the job done. But not on this night.
Old Charlie would penetrate the base perimeter and throw small bombs over the side from the rear cockpit. He hadn't hit anything vital up to this night. Maybe our luck would hold. There was no air raid alert tonight, because the power had been turned off to the siren! And the 40 mm anti-aircraft guns hadn't opened up because the crews had been given strict orders not to fire the guns until their CO gave them the OK. And of course, their CO wasn't anywhere around when Charlie made his strike.
The first bomb exploded near the end of the runway where we had several scrapped F-86s sitting on oil drums as decoys. (Col. Glenn Eagleston's Sabre was one of these 'decoys. See Sabrejet Classics, vol. 3 #2) The decoys worked but '01 Charlie was flying straight down the flightline towards us. The third bomb landed about six feet outside my tent, so close that Capt. Paul Kaminsky had the legs of his cot shot off by bomb fragments.
With the first explosion, we all grabbed our gear and headed for the nearest foxholes. Irv Clark later told me that he 'knew' I was OK because he could hear me cursing in the night. I was dressed just in my shorts, and I grabbed my helmet, ran out of the tent and jumped into the first convenient hole.
There were already two or three other guys in the trench, including Capt. J.E. 'Jig Easy' Smith, saying "I'm hit, I'm dying!" (J.H. - 'Jig Easy' Smith was evacuated to Yongdungpo, and went back to the States. He'd been hit in the tent next to Fournier's tent. He fully recovered and was put back on flight status with the 33rd FlG at Otis AFB.)
Around this time l thought I'd better take a close look at myself. I felt OK but ---. As I looked down at my stomach I was startled to discover a hole in my abdomen with blood spurting out. I think it was John Henderson, the North American rep, who ran out and notified the medics. (J.H. - When I found the right slit trench, Irv Clark was holding Leo, wrapped in a blanket. Irv was certain that Leo was gong into shock and wouldn't leave him So I made it my task to find the medics and get Leo to the base dispensary for medical attention.)
In the meantime, there were lots of fireworks going on all over the base. The anti-aircraft had finally opened up (evidently someone had found their CO and gotten the OK), and the night was filled with tracers. One of the F-86s had been hit and its guns were cooking off sending still more tracers around the base. But these were at head level!
In a few minutes the medics showed up inside the trench, put a dressing on the wound, and carted me off to the base sick bay. The surgeon on duty was a big guy, smoking a big fat cigar, who hadn't shaved in several days and looked like Hawkeye Pierce of the MASH TV show. He took one look at me and calmly said, - "We can't do anything for this guy!"
Immediately, I asked him in not too calm a voice, - "What the hell do you mean, you can't do anything for me?" He then told me that since I had an internal injury (aren't they all?), I would have to be transported by ambulance to the emergency hospital at Yongdungpo. They had x-ray equipment there and the necessary surgeons to patch me up.
The people at the MASH unit at Yongdungpo were really great. Within three or four minutes after my arrival, they had several IV bottles hooked up to me, and had wheeled me into their x-ray room for pictures of my leak. After another ten minutes or so, they gave me something called sodium pentothal and asked me to start counting. I only remember getting up to four or five.
U.H. - By the time we had Leo clear of the foxhole, I could see the flames of the burning Sabre lighting the sky over the 335th area. It was a frenzy of effort around the burning airplane. Trying to move it was literally impossible. So we moved those Sabres close by. The heat was terrific, and molten aluminum was starting to run out from under the airframe. As the jet fuel fire increased in intensity, the ammo started cooking off.)
(J.H. - As I came up to the wreck, it would be unkind to say there appeared to be a 'court jester' in charge. But that's what it looked like. It was Capt. Casey Riley, 4th Maintenance Squadron, and all he was wearing were his long johns, GI boots with the tops tied, and his steel pot. And he was directing traffic and getting people organized. He had people taking inventory of casualties and tent conditions. He was also trying to organize some sort of defense in case Charlie followed up with another attack)
The next morning, or it might have been 24 hours later, I awoke. I had a big bandage on my stomach, and didn't feel the best. When the surgeon came around, I asked him if I was going to make it. He told me that I was the luckiest guy around. The shrapnel from '01 Charlie's bomb had gone almost completely through me. And it hadn't hit anything vital except for my liver. A liver injury was a bad one, and the surgeon calmly told me that "with an injury like that, you either live or die in the first 24 hours!" Oh great! Then I found out that I had already slept through the first 24 hours. Yes!
I was kept in Korea for another week, then airlifted to Tokyo General Hospital. The Surgeon General at Tokyo General told me that I was the first civilian he'd seen at that hospital. A month went by before they sent me back to the States, with stops at Tripler Army Hospital in IIawaii, Travis Field, and San Antonio, before finally arriving at Valley Forge Army Hospital in Pennsylvania.
Interestingly, when I was wounded, the Pentagon initially notified my wife that I had been "Seriously Wounded In Action". Then they discovered that I was a civilian and sent her another message saying that I was "Seriously Injured ln Action".
About a year after Bedcheck Charlie had ended my tour in Korea, I was completely recovered and back at work with General Electric. One morning I was notified to report to the commanding General at Hancock Field near Syracuse, New York. Much to my amazement, the General pinned the Purple Heart on me in front of the TV and press people. I didn't know a civilian could be awarded the Purple Heart! But there it was - "By direction of the President, under the provisions of AFR 3O-14, and Section VII, General Order 63, etc, etc, the Purple Heart is awarded to MR. LEO EDMUND FOURNIER, Civilian Technical Representative, for wounds received in action against an armed enemy on 17 June 1951." I understand that Capt. Sandy Hesse was the guy that put me in for the decoration. Many thanks Sandy!
(J.H. - The morning after the attack, when the sun came up and we had relaxed a bit with a cup of coffee, it was cleanup time on the burned area of the fightline. There was nothing salvageable on -1334. I picked up a cold piece of melted aluminum and carried it around as a souvenir. But it lost its atrraction, even as a paper weight, and I eventually tossed it away. The third bomb Charlie had dropped, had hit the top of the left outer wing, setting the airplane on fire. A nearby C-22 starter cart was also destroyed. Eight other Sabres were damaged by shrapnel, heat, and .50 caliber rounds cooked off by the fire, four of which required major repairs.)
Some time after the award ceremony, someone told me that a month or so after I was hit, a Marine night fighter had shot down one of the Bedcheck Charlie raiders. The pilot had a diary on him that confirmed that he was the guy that bombed K-13 on the night of 17 June 1951. He had written in his diary that he had damaged three airplanes, which according to John Henderson was actually eight! Funny, he didn't even mention me. But I'll never forget him!
No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.
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