The Pusan Perimeter

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As the Eighth Army continued to reel under the withering blows of the NKPA, General Walker received a visit from General MacArthur, who promised, "Help is on the way."  Walker would be reinforced by the 2nd Infantry Division, the 5th Marines and the Army's 5th Regimental Combat Team (RCT).  There were to be no more withdrawals.  Walker had to hold for six weeks while a reserve force of two divisions was built up and landed behind enemy lines at the port of Inchon on the Yellow Sea.  This would cut off supplies to the NKPA in the south and assure their defeat.   Without question, the Eighth Army must hold.  Walker issued to his troop commanders what the press dubbed as his "stand or die" order.  There would be no more retreating.  "We are going to hold this line.  We are going to win."

The U.N. forces dug in along their meager toehold in southeastern Korea, which became known as the Pusan Perimeter.  The western edge, manned by U.S. troops, ran from the Korea Strait north along the Naktong River for about 85 miles.  Just north of Taegu, the line turned east and ran for about 50 miles to Pohang on the Sea of Japan.  ROK troops defended in this mountainous sector.  They had performed better than expected and inflicted severe casualties on the attackers.  They had naval gunfire support from U.S. and British ships.  Once retreating down the coast, the 3rd ROK Division was surrounded.  The Navy took them off and landed them farther south. 

Kim IL Sung ordered his North Korean troops to take Pusan by August 15 (Korean time), regardless of casualties.  It was the anniversary of the Japanese surrender.  Astrological reckoning, timing, and dates are important in the Orient.  The fighting was furious.  The NKPA suffered the casualties, but they did not take Pusan.  It was a moment to be proud of American arms.

Undaunted by these losses, the North Koreans poured more troops into the area to continue the struggle.  Time was against them.  They must prevail now before the U.N. forces were built up to a level which would preclude a NKPA victory.  Astonishingly, they were able to maintain a high morale and keep their troops supplied, in spite of the U.N. control of the air, by moving men and material at night.  ROK Colonel Min Ki Sik had formed a scratch force of regimental size (Task Force Min), delayed their advance through the southwest, and added to their ration problem by confiscating much of the rice in the area and shipping it to Pusan.  The NKPA was expected to live off the land.  

The Pusan Perimeter was not a series of two-man foxholes every few yards -- there were too few troops for this -- but rather an offensive-defense.  Observation posts were strung along the front and when enemy movement was detected, troops located in strong points well to the rear would come forward to attack and push the NKPA back across the Naktong River.  They were greatly aided by the Air Force and Navy performing observation and close ground support.  Forty-four percent of these tactical missions were flown by the Navy and Marines from carrier decks stationed off shore.  The Air Force operated at considerable disadvantage at this time, however, for there were only two strips in Korea suitable for use by F-51 and C-47 type of aircraft--K-2 at Teagu and K-3 at Yonil on the east coast.  Both were dirt strips.  Most of the tactical planes flew from Japan.  

The fighting was fierce.  U.N. forces were holding on by the skin of their teeth.  New units arriving at Pusan were quickly thrown into the battle.  Two battalions of the 29th Infantry from Okinawa were committed before they had cleaned all the cosmoline (packing grease) from their newly issued weapons.

The Wolfhounds, in Army reserve, were shifted here and there to the hot spots.  Twice the First Marine Provisional Brigade was called to eject an enemy penetration at the Naktong Bulge.  The Army troops of the 24th and 2nd Infantry Divisions had fought their hearts out for eleven days in this area and stopped the enemy advance, but were too weak to push the North Koreans back across the river.

Lt. William R. Ellis, who experienced combat in World War II, says the 9th Infantry Regiment fought magnificently.  "The original group of officers was gallant and far under-ranked.  Most of the company commanders were (only) first lieutenants, which was a disgrace itself.  They were forty-year-old, gray-haired World War II veterans (reserves called up) and still lieutenants in combat in 1950.  I knew them all and have regretted at times that I did not join them (in death) for they by-and-large died unknown and unrewarded for their bravery."  E Company had all its officers wiped out on five occasions.

Enlisted man, Charles Payne of the 34th Infantry regiment, remembers it this way, "Masses of gooks (enemies) poured over the hills and through the gaps like a flood.  Our people were fighting like seasoned troopers, but were just being overpowered...  Hour after hour we held the North Koreans off... time and time again gooks rushed us.  Each time we would lose a man, they would lose many.  The ground was covered with their dead.  We stacked our dead around us for protection.  The battle seemed to go on forever."

Few Americans today, or even then, know of the desperate struggle, the pain and suffering, the utmost heroic effort and valor displayed to stop the North Korean assaults.  The U.S. suffered its highest casualties of the entire war during these six weeks.  If and when the public does become conscious of this all-important battle, it will, no doubt, be ranked alongside Bunker Hill, the Alamo, Bataan, and Corregidor.

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