Trophy of War: Korean War Bugle

The National Museum of the U.S. Army has in its collection a rare and intriguing artifact—a battle-battered Chinese bugle. It is a relic of a forgotten battlefield and a forgotten conflict. Don Treadwell, a retired Army veteran who served in the 5th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) during the Korean War, donated the bugle used by Chinese communist forces during the siege of Outpost Harry.

Bugle photograph by Zack Cyphers, National Museum of the United States Army.

Outpost Harry was a United Nations base situated sixty miles north of Seoul. It stood on the most direct route to the South Korean capital and was therefore highly prized by communist forces. Harry became the scene of intense fighting during June 10-18, 1953, when a division of Chinese soldiers tried to capture the garrison. As Treadwell reminisced, “the peace talks were in progress” and capturing Outpost Harry would give North Korea more territory to claim as its own when a demilitarized zone (DMZ) was established after the war.

The defenders of Outpost Harry had known that Chinese forces were in the area since June 1, but the front had remained quiet until the night of June 10, when flares suddenly illuminated the landscape and bugles sounded from the distant tree line.

Over 3,600 enemy troops swarmed through devastating artillery fire, launching human wave attacks designed to overwhelm the defenders. Outnumbered thirty to one, the Americans were reduced to calling in artillery strikes on their own position. During this first night, Army gunners of Company C exceeded the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion’s record for the number of rounds fired in a single engagement—6,082 artillery rounds.

The Chinese would continue to attack each successive night. One Soldier recalled the evening of June 11 in vivid detail:

“It was close to midnight and everything was black as hell. I was hunkered against the wall of the trench, waiting like everyone else….The floor of the trench was slimy with blood—and God knows what else.…Suddenly the silence was shattered by the eerie blare of a bugle coming from the blackness beyond the trench.”

As the fighting raged on, Soldiers of the 5th RCT were fed into the battle to reinforce the beleaguered garrison. One of those Soldiers was Don Treadwell, who recalled that “orders were sent to all of the units to hold at all costs. In the event that Harry fell into… Chinese hands, my platoon was designated as the lead platoon in the counterattack.”

Thankfully, Treadwell never had to participate in that counterattack—by June 18 every assault had been repulsed and the Chinese division besieging the outpost had suffered so many casualties that all further attacks had to be called off. Outpost Harry had held at a cost of 114 American and UN Soldiers killed and another 577 wounded or missing.

When the guns fell silent, Don Treadwell received an unexpected gift:

“[The bugle] was given to me by one of the survivors who withstood the onslaught. I have had it in my possession since that time and I treasure it as a memorial to the brave men who ‘held at all costs’.”

The bugle will be displayed in the National Museum’s Cold War Gallery, along with other rare and significant objects from the Korean War.