The NKPA main thrust was along the Seoul, Taejon, Taegu, Pusan axis. The U.S. 25th Infantry Division (Tropical Lightning) began arriving July 10. It was positioned to back ROK troops in the central sector and prevent an enemy drive on Taegu. But the ROK troops were able to hold in this better defensive, mountainous area where few T-34 tanks were employed. So well, in fact, that the NKPA corps commander was relieved because of his slow progress.
On July 19, the town of Yechon, an important road junction, fell but was retaken by the all black 24th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Division. War correspondent Tom Lambert reported it as the "...first sizable American ground victory of the Korean War." Captain Charles Bussey, a black fighter pilot during World War II, won a Silver Star as a combat engineer. Back in the U.S., blacks began appearing at the recruiting offices, asking to get in that 24th Regiment.
On the morning of July 18, General Walton Walker, commander of the U.S. Eighth Army, which included all American and ROK forces in Korea, arrived at Taejon and asked General William Dean, the 24th Division Commanding Officer (CO), if he could hold the city until the 20th when units just landing from the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division would be in position to reinforce him. (It was "cavalry" in name only.) Although he had intended to evacuate Taejon, Dean told Walker he could hold. It was the biggest mistake of his life. Attacked, outflanked, and overrun by the NKPA 3rd and 4th Divisions, the city fell. Dean was captured and spent three years in POW camps.
American GIs fought bravely at times. At other times when confronted with overwhelming, numerically superior forces, they "bugged-out" to the rear, cursing their government for sending them to this stinking, God-forsaken place where human feces were used to fertilize the land.
The battered US 24th Division, which was relieved by the 1st Cavalry on July 22, stood at about one-half its strength 17 days earlier. It had lost enough equipment to field a full division, including thirty-one 105mm and five 155mm howitzers. There was a terrible toll on senior officers. Besides General Dean, three regimental COs were lost, one killed, one wounded, and one relieved. One regimental executive officer was wounded while two staff officers were captured. Five rifle battalion commanders were lost, including two killed, one captured, and two medically evacuated. Numerous other field-grade officers were killed, captured, wounded, or sacked, including two from the field artillery battalions (FAB).
Pfc Sheffield Clark, whose 63rd FAB entered combat on July 6, remembers it this way: "It was the frantic hit-and-run tactics-and the running war south. We were short on ammo and supplies. Tiger tanks (Russian T-34s) were our nightmare and we had no ammo for our rocket launchers (anti-tank weapons). At one time, our field artillery unit was 2,000 yards ahead of the 34th Infantry we were supposed to be supporting.
"Infiltrators were picking us off -- dressed up like old Korean women -- with pistols held at real old Korean women to get past our outposts, posed as refugees moving south away from the fighting. Our position was overrun by infiltrators who came in behind us. The attack was so swift that our machine gunners were killed and our own machine guns were turned against us. They captured our 105s, then captured a trainload of ammo for them. There were only twelve of us left out of my battery by the time we got back to Taejon."
The need for replacement in these front-line units was acute. Supply and service personnel in Japan were reclassified as infantry and sent to Korea. Reservists were quickly called to active duty. Master Sergeant Ralph Yelton, who saw combat in Europe during World War II, was re-called, given five days' orientation, and sent to Korea where he participated in the heavy fighting during the first year. He was wounded for a second time and paralyzed from the waist down.
Bewildered Korean youth were taken off the streets, given ten days' training, and assigned to U.S. units. Thrown in with strangers with a strange language and strange customs, some performed remarkably well. But most were, not surprisingly, unable to do what was expected of them, so the KATUSA (Korean Augmentation To The U.S. Army) was gradually phased out. This extreme shortage of front line replacements was the "necessity" that became the "mother" of full integration in the Army. Although President Truman ordered such in 1948, in practice black soldiers were still assigned to all black units, such as the 24th Infantry Regiment. The 9th Infantry Co., Chin Sloane, would accept black fillers. Butch Barberis, one of his battalion commanders, remembers it this way: "I was very, very low on men -- less than half strength -- and raised hell to get more troops. The division G-1 (personnel officer) called and, knowing that I had previously commanded a battalion of black troops, said he had almost 200 from labor units in Pusan that had served in my battalion who would transfer to infantry if they could serve with me. I agreed. In fact, I was proud to have them. They were good fighting me."
From this beginning in Korea, the Armed Services have become an outstanding equal opportunity employer. While blacks make up only 13% of the population, the services are well over 30% black. African-American General Colin Powell became a highly regarded and effective recent Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Jim Harris, a member of the 70th Tank Battalion serving as school troops at Fort Knox, was scheduled to get out of the service soon. When war broke out, the 70th was given 96 hours to pack up for the move to Korea. A special appeal was made to the 13 men who did not have enough time left on their enlistment to be sent overseas: "American GIs were being shot to hell by Russian-made tanks. They need your help." all 13 reenlisted except one, who later showed up in Korea with the 2nd Division.
The battalion was so short of tanks that those on concrete pedestals as monuments around Fort Knox had to be taken down and made operational by installing engines, transmissions, and other equipment. The men worked straight through with almost no sleep, but the deadline was met. When these M-4 and M-26 medium tanks, which were equal to the enemy T-34s, roared up to the front lines on August 14, the haggard, combat-worn, and weary front-line troops, some openly sobbing, ran forward to meet them. They crowded around the ugly steel monsters and patted them as if they had been bloodied horses. It was then that Jim Harris knew that he had done the right thing to come to the aid of his countrymen. The emotion is still there as he tells the story today.
Rusting hulks were collected from old Pacific World War II battlefields, refurbished in Japan and used to equip another, much needed tank battalion, the 89th. Its commander, 34-year-old Tom Dolvin (West Point '39), received verbal orders on a golf course in the United States on July 12 and was in combat in Korea on August 2. Whew!
Believing the enemy would remount the attack that night, Colonel Michaelis had the front-line unit pull back, quietly, along side the reserve battalion just after dark. The attack was renewed at dawn. The NKPA, seeking to double envelope the abandoned position, moved troops around both flanks which naturally passed in front of the two Wolfhound battalions. Their heavy fire was so devastating that it was quite awhile before the enemy could mount an offensive in that sector.
Copyright © 1998 Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library
Copyright © 1998 Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library