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Sergeant Harold Wigant

I Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment

Men relax in their foxholes, opening up ration tins with bayonets and eagerly awaiting mail call. Then the shriek of mortars rip through the air and men dive into foxholes, sliding helmets closer to their scalps and readying rifles. In the chaos, Sgt. (then PFC) Wigant cried out in agony as he held his arm, his shirt stained in blood from a shard of shrapnel. 

Sgt. Harold Wigant was born on December 6th, 1931 in Stacyville Iowa. Growing up during World War II instilled the values of patriotism, honor, and service in many of the children in America, including Wigant. Living in a town of just over 500 residents, the Army was a chance to see the world and on March 6th, 1951, he took it. He was 19 upon joining the army but grew up fast with a rifle slung on his shoulder. On August 1st, 1951, he arrived in one of the 1st Cavalry Division's replacement companies from the famed "Huff & Puff Express," a troop train, and then was transferred to Company I, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.

In the twilight of July 1951, the 1st Cavalry Division was ordered from their reserve position back to the front line. The entire division, Wigant included, was set up on Line Wyoming by August 1st. The tactical development of the line at this point was difficult for UN forces. Most of the Chinese logistical capability was safely beyond the range of divisional artillery and infantry could not probe far enough to harass the Chinese installations due to heavy infantry presence.

Late September was Wigant's first taste of intense combat. On the night of September 21st-22nd, the 7th Cavalry Regiment was hit by intense artillery fire, bombarding 2nd & 3rd Battalions with unyielding determination. This was followed up with an infantry assault against 3rd Battalion. An entire Chinese battalion crashed against Wigant's position and the rest of 3rd Battalion before being repulsed by the morning. Smaller-scale attacks persisted across the regiment's front line until the night of September 27th-28th. In the darkness of the Korean night, another Chinese battalion slammed against 3rd Battalion's line. This time, however, the Chinese were more determined than ever to drive the Americans back. The blackness of the sky was marred in green and red flares as bugles and whistles blared just feet away from the American foxholes. Machine guns, mortars, and rifles fired into I Company's positions, throwing the entire battalion perimeter into chaos. The battalion was cut off and penetrated on all sides with retreat or surrender looking almost eminent. However, I Company led a counterattack that drove the Chinese back and stabilized the front line. Both the September 21st and 27th attacks were highly unusual for Chinese doctrine. Typically, the Chinese would assault UN forces in platoon or company-sized assaults.

Click on a photo in this slideshow for a closer look or click on the arrows at the edges of the slideshow to look through the photos.

As the month of September came to a close, patrols made by the 7th Cavalry Regiment encountered serious Chinese defenses on two hills, Hills 313 and 418. The two peaks were to become the focal point of the understudied offensive occurring in the beginning of October: Operation Commando. The attack began at 6:00 AM, with the 1st Cavalry Division advancing from Line Wyoming to the Chinese front line, assaulting the steep slopes of Hill 347. The Chinese forces fought tenaciously against the advancing 7th Cavalry Regiment, throwing mortars, artillery, machine guns, and hand grenades at the American forces. At the end of the first day of fighting, all companies failed to meet their main objectives. The well-built bunkers and labyrinths of trenches aided the Chinese in their defense. I Company beat off several enemy counterattacks aimed at pushing them off the slopes of Hill 347 but instead of forcing the Americans off, it only emboldened them, resulting in 3rd Battalion taking Hill 347 and holding it on October 6th. After five days of heavy fighting, the Chinese forces were breaking, with breaches all along the front line. The offensive ended in the middle of October, with the new front line being named Line Jamestown. The 7th Cavalry Regiment now handled the task of solidifying defenses and patroling the front, keeping a watchful eye out for the Chinese in case they were attempting to retake Line Jamestown. 

On November 10th, 1951, Wigant was wounded by enemy shrapnel. It is currently unknown what occurred but based on examples of medals in other collections, the most logical reason for the wound was a Chinese mortar bombardment to keep the troopers on their toes. Regardless, Wigant took shrapnel in his left arm, which knocked him out of the war. He was carried by his comrades to the battalion aid post before moving through the medical logistics chain to a stateside hospital. Following his service in Korea, Wigant served in 4th Army headquarters and acquired the rank of sergeant. 

After his time in the army, he was employed as a trucker. He hauled cargo across the nation until he retired in 1994. In his final years, he returned to Iowa to be closer to family. He was a proud veteran of the 1st Cavalry Division, boasting the regimental crest of the 7th Cavalry and his Purple Heart to family events and elsewhere until his death on April 26th, 2003.

Click on a photo in this slideshow for a closer look or click on the arrows at the edges of the slideshow to look through the photos.



Author's Note:

  • I want to thank Nancy Patzer, the niece of Sgt. Wigant, for allowing me to add his artifacts to the collection as well as describing her uncle to me.

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