At the age of 19, he and his mates in Company I, 23rd Infantry Regiment were ordered to make an assault straight up the rocky, heavily fortified mountainside near Chorwan, North Korea. The men clambered up the slope taking out one enemy bunker at a time; those who made it to the crest alive sustained the inevitable North Korean counterattack that night, while exhausted and low on ammunition.
And so it went for 30 days and nights in September-October 1951 – a day’s ascent often followed by the night’s retreat. Vertical trench warfare. What began in the morning with tanks, artillery, and air-cover often ended in hand-to-hand combat in the pitch of night. Entire Companies of 100-200 men were wiped out. I am told that my father was the last man standing in his unit after defending his position all night with a machine gun, a knife and a few grenades. The Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, The Korean War.
He was promoted to Sergeant, First Class in the middle of the battle. This morning I reread the letter of promotion from Major General Robert Young:
“One of your first duties is to the men under you; get to know them and their capabilities and limitations, see that they are taken care of, do everything you can to solve their problems. In addition, you must set an example to your men in appearance, discipline, courtesy and professional skill, whatever your primary duty may be … Why will you do these things? Because you are a leader.”
I am in no way comparing the brutal life-and-death of battle to the air-conditioned environment of medical leadership. I’m saying the miliary ideal of duty and service to those in our unit fully applies to medical leadership. Do we reliably treat our colleagues with courtesy? Do we take care of one another? Do we solve problems? Those of us entrusted with the privilege to lead must continuously ask, “Am I doing enough for my colleagues?”
In anticipation of Memorial Day 2013, Schreiner reread Citizen Soldiers, by Stephen E. Ambrose, published 1997.