Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Battle of Osan

Task Force Smith — July 5, 1950

Today is the 61st anniversary of The Battle of Osan, which marked America’s entry into the Korean War when Task Force Smith battled over 20,000 North Korean troops and 33 Russian T-34 tanks north of Osan.

This is what I wrote about Task Force Smith in my Korean War novel, War Remains:

Five days after the Inmin Gun—the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA)—invaded South Korea on June 25, and after Gen­eral Douglas MacArthur had flown to Korea to personally inspect the crisis unfolding on the Korean peninsula, the US responded by sending the hastily assembled and understrength battalion from the 24th Infantry Division in Japan, commanded by Colonel Charles Bradford Smith to slow down the advancing North Korean juggernaut. After arriving in Korea, this battalion known as Task Force Smith had proceeded north from Pusan to Taejon and then north to the village of Osan where it took position in a series of hills that crossed the road.

The battalion was never really meant to stop the Inmin Gun—not in the strictest sense of the word, maybe delay, but not stop. Major General William Frishe Dean told Colonel Smith before they deployed to Korea to, “block the main road as far north from Pusan as you can.”  It was believed that once the North Koreans saw the Americans they would turn around and head back north.

Even the Americans were quite confident this would happen, filled with a sense of bravado and thinking about the sweet, cushy life they had in Japan, they went off to do some “policing” and didn’t expect to be gone too long. When they had boarded a train at Pusan to take them to north to Taejon, many Koreans turned out unfurling banners and cheering the troops. It would be the last cheering the men who survived would hear for a very long time.

After having arrived early, around three in the morning on July 5, Smith’s 540 men had dug in along those low hills that straddled the highway and positioned their six 105mm howitzers. It was cold and rainy, and after a breakfast of cold c-rations, the men were ready to take on the advancing NKPA. They would not have to wait long.

Eight o’clock the next morning, rumbling south from Suwon and headed our way was a column of Russian T-34 tanks and be­hind them what seemed like entire North Korean Army,” an of­ficer in the Task Force recalled later. “I took one look at all those tanks and thought, Holy smokes, what have I gotten myself into?”

When the first North Korean tanks were within range of Smith’s artillery, the Americans opened fire. However, the artil­lery could not stop the tanks, nor could their WWII-era bazookas—the shells were ineffective against the Russian-made T-34 tanks.

They just bounced right off the armor,” one of the survivors recalled later that summer. “It was like trying to stop them with rocks.”

Over 1,100 North Korean infantry and more than 30 tanks threatened Smith and his men. The Americans held onto the ridge for as long as they could, but the tanks literally rolled over them. When it was over, 150 of Smith’s men were lost. Obviously, the sight of the Americans on those low hills did not dissuade or deter the North Koreans. Maybe they were unconvinced of the Americ­an fighting machine that had whipped the Japanese (and ironic­ally, liberated the Korean peninsula from Japanese colonial rule).

Guys just turned and fled when those tanks kept on coming,” another soldier said. “I guess a lot of us expected the North Koreans to stop once they saw us.”

The Inmin Gun did not turn around nor were they stopped. On those muddy hills north of Osan, Colonel Smith and his men had only delayed the North Koreans for seven hours before they were forced to withdraw back to Pyongtaek.

America had gone to war again.

Fifty years ago, Smith and his men faced an advancing North Korean juggernaut, which had been unstoppable since June 25th. Today, South Korean’s urban sprawl has hid most of the battlefield that signaled America’s entry into the Korean War. This is photograph, taken between the two hills were Smith and his men waited for the North Koreans 50 years ago. To the right is a new UN Peace Park dedicated to the 21 UN member nations, which assisted South Korea during the Korean War. To the left, beyond the second sign is a new subway station.

See more photos here:

 

 

Closure and a Peace of Mind for an 86-year-old Alzheimer’s Sufferer

I’m feeling pretty good about myself today. More specifically, I’m feeling pretty good about what my blog has done for an 86-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s, who, having lost her brother, Robert Golden in the Korean War in 1950, now can have some sense of closure and a peace of mind knowing what happened to him.

This good feeling that I am experiencing today all started a couple of months ago when someone commented on a post about Task Force Smith. Actually, the post was an article I had written for the Korea Times back in the summer of 2000 when I had gone to Osan to cover a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of America’s entry into the Korean War with the Battle of Osan. I updated the post on my blog because it is going to be, when I get around to putting it all together, a collection of essays on the articles I wrote on the Korean War Commemoration events from 2000-2003.

In these comments, the person explained that his 86-year-old mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s had lost a brother in the Battle of Osan and was wondering if I knew someone-a veteran who might have been in the same battle or a family member of a veteran who might of known the woman’s brother. The son just wanted to do something for his mom, to lay the rest as it were, the ghosts of that battle and the loss of her brother over 58 years ago.

In July 1950, Task Force Smith-the hastily assembled U.S. response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea one week earlier-was sent from Japan to Korea to halt the North Koreans, or at least delay the advancing army until more reinforcements from the States could arrive.

After landing at Pusan and taking a train to Daejeon (then written Taejon) Task Force Smith encountered the advancing North Korean army on a hill north of Osan on July 5, 1950. It was thought that once the North Koreans saw the presence of U.S. troops they would stop and perhaps even retreat. Nothing could have been further from the truth when the North Koreans and their Russian-made T-34 tanks literally ran over Task Force Smith. The Americans were forced to retreat and would do so all the way to Daejeon and later, further south to Pusan where by August the Pusan Perimeter would be established that prevented South Korea from being overtaken by the North Koreans.

Fifty years later, on a hot and humid day I traveled to Osan with a Korean and foreign press pool to cover this commemorative event. Just a few months earlier, before I started writing book reviews on books about the Korean War and covering a few of these commemorative events, I had never heard about The Battle of Osan or Task Force Smith. It wasn’t until I read Max Hastings’ The Korean War and other books when I learned about that fateful battle and how the poorly equipped Americans (their WWII bazookas were no match for the T-34’s; the shells literally bounced off the heavy armor) were overrun by the advancing North Korean army.

Just a few years after the United States and her allies had soundly defeated the Nazis and the Japanese to end WWII, the U.S. in what would become the first showdown of the Cold War and Communism, suffered a humiliating rout by the North Koreans. It would be a long, hot summer with fierce fighting all the way down to Taegu and the Pusan Perimeter before the North Koreans were finally stopped at the Battle of Tabu-dong (the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter) and the subsequent Incheon (then Inchon) Invasion.

It was my first straight news story for the Korea Times and I wrote most of it on the bus back to Seoul to make the early afternoon deadline. It was also the first time I got to meet Sohn Ji-ae, the CNN Seoul Bureau Chief as well as reporters for AP and Reuters.

Sadly, almost most of the articles (over 1,000) that I wrote for the Korea Times including all of the ones I wrote on the Korean War Commemorative events are no longer accessible to the public (the newspaper changed their web archiving a few years ago). Fortunately, I have hard copies of many of the articles I wrote and have been posting many, like the one about Task Force Smith on my blog.

When I read the comments, I really wanted to do something to help the nephew of Golden and his mother, but I didn’t know who they should contact. I would have thought they might have tried some veteran’s organization; maybe they had and coming across my blog was one more way of finding some connection to the past.

Then the other day, another person left comments on the same blog post after having read the post and the comments left by the nephew of Robert Golden. Turns out this woman who had left the most recent comments is the historian for the 21st RCT (Regimental Combat Team) one of the battalions that had been a part of Task Force Smith and had a photo of Company B that showed Robert Golden. Additionally, she had information about the battle and possibly when Golden had been killed.

I wrote back to her with the email address for Golden’s nephew who immediately wrote to him; and now, after all these years, Golden’s sister and family have some sense of closure on how “Bobby” might have been killed during The Battle of Osan.

I just played a small part in this drama, my blog being a medium for a family to find out how their brother and uncle died on a battlefield in Korea during the summer of 1950. Nonetheless I am feeling pretty good about myself today with what I have tried to do with my writing as well as my blog. I am feeling pretty good that I could help one family lay to rest the ghosts of the past and help provide them with some sense of closure on the death of a loved one in Korea so many years ago.

The Accidental Journalist, Part 14 — Task Force Smith Heroics Remembered

In June 2000 I crashed the big Korean War Commemorative event at War Memorial, and attended a USO bash at the Hyatt Regency in Seoul to salute U.S. Korean War veterans (where I got to meet Piper Laurie who had been a USO entertainer during the war).


And a week-and-a-half later I was on a bus with other journalists on our way to Osan to cover an event that marked America’s entry into the Korean War.


Not even five years after WWII had ended, America found itself in another war and for all practical and semantic purposes—when you figure in the help and advice Kim Il-sung and the North Korean leaders were getting from The Soviet Union and China—the Korean Conflict would become a substitute for World War III.


On July 2, 1950 the first U.S. troops arrived in Daejeon from Pusan (yes Daejeon, the city I am writing from now) and three days later this Task Force would be up against the bulk of North Korea’s army north of Osan (about an hour south of Seoul). Perhaps some leaders with just a little too much bravado in their coffee the morning these plans were drawn up thought that the North Koreans would retreat as soon as they saw that America forces had been committed. Maybe some leaders under estimated the North Korean drive down the peninsula.


Unless you are up on your Korean War history you might not have heard of “The Battle of Osan” before. It wasn’t as much of a battle as it was a rout of poorly equipped U.S. forces up against over 30 Russian T-34 tanks. Just five years after America’s military might had helped to bring an end to WWII, this first engagement with Communist forces had American suffering defeat.


It was to be my first straight news story and one that I had to write and file as soon as I got back to the Korea Times office—wow, my first deadline. I started writing the story on the bus back to Seoul and in many ways the story wrote itself.


Looking back on it now, it still reads well but I could have done so much more with it. Then again this was all new to me—writing features and straight news stories—so I was learning the ropes as I covered one of these events after another. At the same time you can also see how I was still trying to make it read more like a feature story by fictionalizing some of the action. I would get quite good at this I think in longer pieces like “Courage Under Fire.”


It was an honor for me to be there and interviewing veterans along side of CNN, The Associated Press and Reuters. Sometimes I wondered what they might have thought about me, this “accidental journalist” showing up? I suppose I didn’t make that good of an impression on them because I never received a Christmas card from them. Oh well, I hope they will read the book whenever it comes out.


Task Force Smith Heroics Remembered


OSAN, South Korea – Underneath a sweltering July sky, as jet fighters thundered overhead, service members, veterans, and other dignitaries and guests gathered at the base of a monument on a hill north of Osan to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Task Force Smith.


In what would become known as the “Battle of Osan,” Task Force Smith—the hastily designated title that was put together in a Tokyo map room—became the first U.S. ground forces to engage the North Koreans.


“You can feel the spirit when you look at this monument,” noted Gen. Thomas A. Schwartz, UNC/USFK (United Nations Command/United States Forces Korea) commander in his commemorative address, “and the spirit of the heroes produced here.”


In his eloquent and moving speech, Schwartz touched on the symbolic overtones of the battle, not the least of which would soon be the U.S./ROK (Republic of Korea) military alliance that grew out of the war and that still stands strong today.


In response to President Harry Truman’s authorization for ground forces in Korea the 24th Infantry Division was readied for combat in Japan. Spearheading their arrival was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brad Smith’s 1st Battalion 21st Infantry Division. Ironically, Smith had the distinction of being present at the start of World War II at Pearl Harbor and now, present at the start of the Korean War for U.S. forces.


For Philip Day, a platoon leader, he didn’t know what to expect when he found out that he was being deployed to Korea. Like many soldiers deployed to Korea, he thought they were going to Korea to evacuate U.S. citizens.


“It was raining, muggy and hot when we came to this hill on the evening of the 4th,” Day recalled, “8:00 the next morning, rumbling south from Suwon was a column of 33 Russian T-34 tanks and behind them what seemed like entire North Korean Army. I took one look at all those tanks and thought, ‘Holy smokes, what have I got myself into?’”


The prevailing mood at the time was that once the North Koreans saw the U.S. forces they would retreat. However, the under-strengthened, poorly equipped forces were no match for the advancing North Korean forces.


“Retreat was not in our vernacular,” recalled Wayne Leach, another survivor of Task Force Smith. “We were never trained for withdrawal.”


When Leach found out that he was going to Korea, he thought he was just going to guard the airport.


“We just got paid,” said Leach. “I had no idea we would be committed.”


Leach, who started out as a mechanic, found himself supplying ammunition as the battle waged on. He sadly recalled how out of eight soldiers supplying ammo, only two survived.


“More support people were killed than infantry,” added Leach who would stay in the army until September 1951.


The battle was over in seven hours. The casualties were high—153 U.S. soldiers were killed.


In one of the battle’s more harrowing moments for U.S. forces Day recalled that once the T-34 tanks passed they turned around and started firing at the withdrawing forces. After Colonel Smith ordered a withdrawal to another ridge south of where the battle had taken place, the U.S. forces would continue to withdraw to Daejeon—about fifty miles south of Osan.


“We paid a terrible price,” reflected Day sadly.


Although the “Battle of Osan” might have seemed an inauspicious beginning for America’s entry into the Korean War, Task Force Smith nonetheless bought time for other U.S./U.N. forces to gain a foothold on the Korean peninsula.


On this July morning, 50 years later, those who gathered here to remember the gallant actions of those brave men of Task Force Smith, also remembered the price of freedom paid for by the blood spilled on the hills north of Osan.

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