An interview with Colonel Ola L. Mize

I  first met Colonel Ola Mize when I interviewed him for an article I was writing for the Carbine Club, an organization comprised of members who collect, shoot or who have a historical interest in the research, development, production and wartime use of the U.S. M1 Carbine and its variants.

Col. Ola Mize

Marty Black, editor of the Carbine Club’s newsletter, informed me that a Korean War Medal of Honor recipient lived near my home in northern Alabama. What made him of particular interest to our group of carbine experts was the fact that Col. Mize was recognized for this award by using a carbine in combat during a ferocious firefight.

As I waited for Col. Mize in the living room of the modest home he shared with his wife of 60 years, Betty, I couldn’t help but notice that the walls were literally covered with numerous framed certificates, pictures, awards and commissions and many service medals. Also prominently displayed, and easily the most recognizable, was his Medal of Honor.

Colonel Mize, who at the time was 81 years old and using a cane, came in. He was still an imposing figure. We exchanged greetings and veteran’s stories and he immediately began to tell me about his combat experiences in Korea with the carbine.

Sgt. Mize gets his carbine

At the time of the Outpost Harry action in 1953 (for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor), he was a young buck sergeant (E-5) and routinely carried the weapon he was originally issued, the big M1 Garand rifle. Finding it unwieldy in tight spaces, he realized that a smaller, more portable weapon was what he needed at the outposts and in the trenches. The Garand held only eight rounds and as he said, “the Chinese would be on you before you could reload.”

With that in mind, he managed to locate an M2 carbine two weeks before the Outpost Harry battle.How he acquired this weapon was a bit unique and rather gutsy. It turned out that Sgt. Mize was in the rear area for a much-needed rest, which included a clean uniform and a shower. As he approached the shower facility, he saw a nearly new M2 carbine leaning against the building and figured that it probably belonged to a very trusting, but very naïve, junior officer who was using the shower. Deciding that he needed that particular gun more than a hot shower, Sgt. Mize quickly exchanged his Garand for it and left a short note for its former owner that simply read “Thank you very much for the carbine, you dumb sucker.”

This became the same carbine that he used throughout the rest of his time in Korea, but especially during the two days he spent defending Outpost Harry in 1953.

Ammo mix-up

While we discussed the stopping power of carbine ammunition, Col. Mize told me about the greatest tragedy to occur during the Outpost Harry fight.

He said that, hours before the battle, he instructed all of his men to get enough ammunition. In the dark, the soldiers armed with Garands and Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs) went back to the ammo supply point and loaded up with bandoleers, which they assumed was the correct ammunition for their weapons, caliber 30.06.

Only later, when it was too late, did these men realize that they had mistakenly grabbed carbine ammunition, which had also started to be issued in bandoleers as well as the standard issue 50-round cardboard cartons.

No one up Mize’s chain of command had told him or his men that carbine ammunition was now being distributed this way. This became evident during the fight when Sgt. Mize came to the aid of one of his BAR men who was being attacked by two Chinese soldiers. He was holding them at bay by literally swinging his BAR and its attached bipod at them. As the Chinese attempted to capture the man, Sgt. Mize killed them both with his carbine.

What Mize couldn’t understand was why his BAR man was swinging an empty weapon at the enemy while he had several bandoleers of ammunition strung around his neck. Mize was furious at seeing a man who should have reloaded his magazines with the ammunition he was carrying. “Why in the world are you not using that BAR right? It’s a lot better if you load your magazines and shoot that thing, rather than try to use it as a club!”

The BAR man told him that he discovered too late that the bandoleers he had contained carbine ammunition and not the correct 30-06 that he expected.

Mize could not believe what he was hearing. He told me, “Everyone knew that bandoleers contained only M1 ammo in 8-round clips, and that carbine ammo only came in 50-round cardboard cartons.”

Mize said he “lost a lot of men” that night due to the carbine ammunition mix-up, and after the battle he tried to find out why they were never told about carbine ammunition also being issued in bandoleers.

“Nobody had told us about the new 10-round clips of carbine ammunition loaded in bandoleers.” Eventually, he confronted an officer over the ammunition incident and was threatened with a court martial for being insubordinate.

Despite that, Mize said he never found out why, or who to place the blame on for the “lack of putting the word out” about the carbine ammunition. The whole tragic incident of the ammo mix-up and the resulting loss of men still angers and saddens him.

Complaints

Colonel Mize said that he always carried two 30-round magazines taped together and inserted into his carbine along with six additional magazines in the pockets of his flak jacket. He used 15-round magazines too, but preferred the additional firepower of the higher capacity ones. He felt that the quality of the ammo and the magazines were adequate for the job. Penetration of the smaller carbine round was never a problem for him, despite reports to the contrary, even with the thick padding of the Chinese soldiers’ winter uniforms.

Colonel Mize found the carbine to be extremely accurate as well, for distances up to 200 yards, and, for close-in fighting, it was outstanding in getting the job done. He almost always had the carbine’s selector switch on the full automatic setting.

In 1953 Korea, the fighting he experienced was reminiscent of WWI trench warfare: swarming attacks by hordes of Chinese soldiers with close-range firing and hand-to-hand combat. He related that using a 30-round magazine at close range and on full automatic was unbelievably devastating to the attacking force, making it ideal for use against Chinese attacks.

He told me of a particular incident in which the concussion of a nearby artillery round explosion caused him to drop his carbine and, at the very same time, he was confronted by a Chinese soldier at close range. While Mize was picking up his carbine, which also had its magazine knocked out when he dropped it, the lunging Chinese soldier managed to get within inches of the carbine’s muzzle. Realizing that he probably had one round still chambered, Mize pulled the trigger, killing the Chinese soldier.

Maintaining & cleaning

Col. Mize stressed more than once during our interview that in order for the carbine to operate reliably, it had to be kept clean. He related that even under combat conditions, he would make time to clean his weapon daily, which consisted of running patches down the bore and keeping it well oiled. He said that his carbine never malfunctioned, even in cold weather, as long as it was maintained properly. He did note, however, that in cold weather it was not uncommon for soldiers to urinate on the frozen actions of their weapons in order to thaw them out.

When asked about written reports that the carbine was prone to jamming, Col. Mize replied, “They probably didn’t take care of it. Just like anything else, it’s got to be maintained. It was the finest weapon we had for the close-quarters trench warfare that I experienced. Don’t sell it short. It saved my life, and the lives of many of my men.”

Col. Mize said that during the 14-hour fight for Outpost Harry, he probably fired at least 6,000 through his gun — its forestock cracked, but his little carbine never failed him. (As a technical note, the early M2’s stock was structurally weak and not able to withstand such abuse. As a result, the stock was later redesigned to be thicker at certain stress points.)

Marksmanship training

Col. Mize told me that he was often surprised by how many new young replacement soldiers did not know how to fire their assigned weapons and as a result, he routinely had to provide marksmanship training to them when time permitted.

He recalled that one of the men who needed this extra training was actually a conscientious objector (CO) who had been assigned to him as a replacement. Col. Mize said that until that time, he didn’t actually even know what a CO was. However, Mize needed all the help he could get, so he assigned him to the weapons platoon and told the man “you can try to tell the Chinese and the North Koreans that you have no intention of trying to kill them, and then just ask them if they feel the same way.”

Mize said he made certain the man had a Garand rifle issued to him and “I made sure he knew how to fire it just in case he had occasion to use it.”

Colonel Mize reported that as time went on, the CO turned out tobe a pretty good soldier. However, during the fight at Outpost Harry the young man apparently reached a breaking point during the first night of the siege and Mize saw him “running down the trenches, dragging his M1 Garand by its sling.”

Mize said that he considered shooting the man in order to stop him from running, but just couldn’t bring himself to do it. According to Mize, “the kid was running down the middle of a trench that was stacked with dead and dying enemy soldiers. As he ran, his rifle’s bayonet somehow got hooked into the stomach of one of the wounded Chinese soldiers.” Mize said he watched as the man tried frantically to pull out the bayonet from the enemy soldier’s body and concluded his story by telling me that unfortunately, this young GI did not survive the night’s battle.

Medal of Honor

While recovering from wounds received during the action at Outpost Harry, newly promoted Master Sergeant Mize was told that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor. He said that at the time, he didn’t care about receiving any medals and noted that he didn’t even know what the Medal of Honor was.

He went on to tell me that over a period of time in Korea, he got to know General Maxwell Taylor pretty well and when the General told Mize he had been approved to receive the Medal of Honor, Mize told him that he would rather have the M2 carbine that he carried with him instead of the medal.

General Taylor told him that he was definitely receiving the Medal of Honor, but getting the carbine might be harder to do since it was U.S. government property. However, General Taylor finally agreed to arrange it, telling Mize “OK, I may get in trouble for this, but I will give it to you.” (Colonel Mize still has the official paperwork transferring ownership of the carbine from the government to him.)

After Mize left Korea, he was transferred to Ft. Lewis, Washington. Coming from the Far East, his transport aircraft first landed in Vancouver, BC, and, according to him, the plane was actually met by two FBI or US Customs agents who dutifully inspected his paperwork. At the time, Sgt. Mize had his weapon packed inside his duffle bag for the long flight back home. Apparently, all was in order as he got to keep his beloved carbine. He said that once he got home, he occasionally took it out to shoot and it performed well, despite the cracked stock it had received during the Outpost Harry fight.

He was presented the Medal of Honor in September 1954 by President Eisenhower. https://history.army.mil/moh/koreanwar.html#MIZE

An officer and a gentleman

Once back home, his superiors repeatedly tried to convince him to become a commissioned officer, something he wanted no part of; he was quite happy being a non-com, as well as the distinction of being the youngest Master Sergeant in the Army. Refusing the offer, he said that the son of an Alabama sharecropper with a limited education might not be the ideal West Point cadet.

His Army superiors were very persistent and, eventually, Mize received a direct commission as a 1st Lieutenant in the Infantry branch.

Donating the carbine

In 1962, a young Captain Mize attended the Infantry Officer’s Advanced Course at Ft. Benning, GA, and while there, the Infantry School Museum’s curator, who was very familiar with Mize’s exploits, asked him if he would be willing to donate his famous carbine for permanent display. Mize agreed with one condition: that it was to be placed on display and not put somewhere in storage to be forgotten.

Years later, when he attended the dedication ceremony for the new Infantry School Museum, he saw his carbine on display with a nice write-up of his actions in Korea.

“Carbine” Williams

Col. Mize ended our time together telling me an ironic story about his meeting the legendary David M. “Carbine” Williams, namesake of the1952 Jimmy Stewart movie, “Carbine Williams.”

When he was a corporal assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, NC, in 1951, Mize was at a watering hole one night. Mr. Williams, a local celebrity, pulled up to the bar driving a big black Cadillac with the name “Carbine Williams” painted on the driver’s door. Mize got to talking with Williams, who really enjoyed the corporal’s company and that of his fellow GIs. It wasn’t until hours later, that Williams explained his nickname to the young corporal who had no idea that he had been talking to the man who was credited with helping design the very weapon that would warrant him being awarded the Medal of Honor two years later.

After Korea

In the early 1960s, Mize joined the then-new Army Special Forces and excelled as a leader. His subsequent assignments included commanding the Special Forces school at Fort Bragg and three tours in Viet Nam, where he suffered three more combat wounds. Ola Mize retired as a Colonel in 1981 and, sadly, he passed away on 12 March 2014 in Gadsden, Alabama, at age 82.