top of page

Corporal Donald Reals Sr.
Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment

As the bugle cries and rifle fire come down from every conceivable direction, Corporal Reals does what the rest of the 8th Cavalry was doing: retreat. Unsan will always be remembered as the 1st Cavalry Division's darkest day, an entire battalion all but wiped out in a single night and the full might of the Chinese army thrown against them. Reals had seen tough fighting in North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy against the Vichy French, Italians, and Germans but nothing would have prepared him for combat against North Korean and Chinese troops. Fierce, unrelenting forces fond of small-unit infiltration and fast surprise attacks were the staple tactics of the Chinese and at Unsan they used them to great effect. So, as the midnight hours of chaos melted into twilight, Reals and other cavalrymen were taken as prisoners of war, beginning years of confinement that would not cease until the end of the war. Instead of marching to victory in North Africa or Normandy, Reals along with Father Emil Kapaun and Tibor Rubin would be forced on a death march, sent to a POW camp on the Yalu River.

Corporal Donald Dudley Reals Sr was born on September 15th, 1920 in Syracuse New York to Lewis and Irene Reals. He was the fourth oldest of 6 boys and following his graduation from high school, enlisted in the army on March 9th, 1939. He was assigned to M Company, 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division in 1939 and when the 1st Infantry Division embarked from New York City for England, he was assigned to H Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment. They arrived in England on July 12th and trained there until October 13th when the division sailed south to participate in Operation Torch, the Allied amphibious landing of French North Africa.

Operation Torch: The Invasion of North Africa

Operation Torch was the United States' first taste of combat in the European theatre. When France fell in 1940, the country was split between the Germans and Vichy France, a German puppet led by famous WWI general Philippe Pétain. Vichy France still controlled the garrison of the provinces in North Africa. The growing strength of the Axis powers in the Mediterranean with the fall of Crete, Greece, and much of North Africa resulted in the isolation of Egypt and required intervention. Thus, Operation Torch was born. The men of the 16th Infantry Regiment debarked from their transport ship on November 8th, 1942, and made an amphibious landing at Zebra Beach White near St. Leu and in the vicinity of Arzew. They landed unopposed and quickly took the towns of Damesme, St. Leu, and Port aux Poules.


By that afternoon, Arzew and the surrounding towns were firmly in Allied hands. The next two days, the 16th Infantry Regiment marched west to Oran, capturing Fleurus, Assi Bou Nif, and finally entering Oran proper, being housed in a French barracks. On November 11th, then Private First-Class Reals earned the Bronze Star Medal for valor in the vicinity of Oran. His company was pinned down by heavy enemy machine gun and mortar fire, halting their advance on a French pocket of resistance. Reals, without consideration for his own wellbeing, dashed forward to an exposed vantage point to direct effective counter mortar fire in order to neutralize the enemy forces. On January 19th, 1943, the 1st Infantry Division left Oran and began a 250-mile motorized march, participating in fierce fighting at Kasserine Pass, El Guetar, and finally Beja. Between April 26th-30th, the Battle of Beja saw intense combat and was the final combat operation the division faced in North Africa. They then spent the early summer of 1943 practicing amphibious landing operations in Algeria, preparing for Operation Husky: the invasion of Sicily.

Operation Husky: The Invasion of Sicily

Sicily was the stepping stone into the European soft underbelly, one invasion closer to landing on the Italian mainland. Reals landed with the rest of H Company on July 19th, 1943 on Red Beach 2 in the fourth assault wave. H Company supported F and G Companies as they advanced six miles inland and set up defensive positions on Hill 27. Elements of H Company assisted E and F Companies in an assault on Hill 41 nearby on July 11th, which saw heavy fighting and an intense German armored counterattack. The hill was captured the next day despite heavy German artillery. It is believed that Reals was wounded during this time from a newspaper article published by his hometown newspaper, though no hospital card has been found yet. He did go to an aide station in April 1944 due to flat feet, but this would not result in a Purple Heart being awarded.

It is highly likely that Reals fought in Normandy and landed on D-Day, though no evidence exists to support this. The 1st Infantry Division fought with distinction during the Normandy Campaign and throughout the rest of the war as they landed on Omaha Beach before pushing inland. Reals served for three and a half years overseas before finally being discharged from the army on July 5th, 1945. However, he reenlisted on October 10th, 1947, continuing to serve until December 28th, 1960. 

The Korean War: Unsan

In the summer of 1950, Real, now a sergeant, was called up to deploy to Korea to reinforce the army units already in the theatre. He kissed his wife and young son goodbye in July and in August was sailing across the Pacific Ocean for duty in Korea. He arrived in late August and was assigned to Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment as a clerk, typing up reports and doing the bidding of staff officers. He fought with the regiment as they broke out of the Pusan Perimeter, marching north to Seoul and Pyongyang as the months went by. On October 29th, the 8th Cavalry Regiment was trucked from Pyongyang northward to the village of Unsan, arriving around noon the next day. Reals and the rest of the headquarters were the first to enter Unsan, watching ominous fires in the hills surrounding the village left by the Chinese. The regiment settled in for the night, preparing to relieve the Republic of Korea 11th and 12th Infantry Regiments on the front line. 1st Battalion moved north of Unsan to defend the regiment's northern flank and to replace 2nd Battalion, 12th ROK Infantry Regiment. The cavalry's 2nd Battalion was to take the west side of Unsan eventually replacing 1st Battalion, 11th ROK Infantry Regiment. The 3rd Battalion was to set up as the regimental reserve near regimental headquarters along with the support units attached to the regiment minus A Battery, 99th Field Artillery Battalion which was located near the road leading west out of Unsan.

bottom of page