Sergeant David Bleak was set to go out on a normal patrol. It was 1952 and the young medic was accompanying a U.S. Army recon patrol with the mission of probing Chinese defenses and capturing an enemy soldier for intel and interrogation. What he didn’t know, however, was that by the patrol’s end, he would kill four enemies with his bare hands while saving his comrades.
He would have decades to think about that night after the war.
Bleak rolled out with 20 soldiers in an American-occupied area of North Korea near the front lines. By 1952, the Chinese were fully committed to North Korea, which resulted in what would be, more or less, considered a stalemate for the duration of the war.
“WE HAVE AN ARMY”
The hill they were traversing, Hill 499, was bare. It lacked significant vegetation after all the weeks of fighting in the area and offered little in the way of concealment, but the enemy was out there and the Army needed more information about their positions. The 21-man unit set off at 0430 to see what they could learn while another company distracted the Chinese on the other side of the hill with a frontal attack (where another soldier was earning the Medal of Honor, strangely enough).
Unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be enough of a distraction. Bleak’s formation was spotted as soon as they began to hike their way up. Quickly, the unit came under Chinese small arms fire. A few soldiers were injured immediately. Sgt. Bleak ran up from the rear to treat them just as fast as they were hit.
The mission soon continued, as did Sgt. Bleak.
Once more they took surprise small arms fire, but this time, Bleak bum-rushed the enemy trench and dove in head-first. He snapped the neck of the first soldier he could get his hands on and then crushed the windpipe of another. As a third Chinese soldier attacked him, Bleak drew his knife and killed him with a stab to the chest.
The medic returned to his unit and began treating the soldiers wounded by the second surprise attack. As he worked, a Chinese grenade bounced off the helmet of a man standing over him. Bleak zipped into action, throwing his body over his fellow GI to shield him from the shrapnel. Luckily, no one was injured.
After succeeding in its mission, Bleak’s patrol was returning to United Nations lines as they were again ambushed — this time, wounding three. Bleak was shot in the leg as he tried to get to those who needed aid. After treating everyone (including Bleak himself), the group went to leave, but one man was so injured that he couldn’t stand. So, Bleak picked him up and carried him out of there. On his way back to base, Sgt. Bleak ran into two Chinese soldiers who tried to assault him with fixed bayonets.
Not one to be easily intimidated, Bleak rushed back at them. Deftly avoiding being bayoneted, he smashed the two Chinese men’s heads together so hard that he broke their skulls. He picked up his patient and returned to friendly lines. Because of Sgt. Bleak, every man of the 20-man patrol that was ambushed multiple times that night came home. Their mission was completed, with captured enemy soldiers and all, and only sustained a few wounds in exchange.
Later the next year, President Eisenhower presented Bleak with a well-earned Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony. Bleak would live on until age 74, dying on the same day as fellow Army medic and Medal of Honor recipient, Desmond Doss.