Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

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.


  1. Jeffrey,
    Just read your “Accidental Journalist Vol 14” about Task Force Smith via “Google.”
    Thanks for posting it.
    My mother lost her younger brother, my 21 yr-old uncle, Private Robert “Bobby” Golden (of Dayton, Ohio) in that battle July 5, the day after he arrived from Japan.
    At 86 Dec 22, she is now swiftly sinking into the thralls of Alzheimer’s, but is still maintaining a determined battle to keep her mind. In particular, of course, she continues to try to recall her early life as much as she can for me to take down.
    An important aspect of that has been to someday find someone who might be able to tell her more (than all the books she has acquired) about her dear brother’s experience and death that day so long ago, but never too far away fro her daily thoughts.
    Is there any chance that you might be able to direct me to or connect me with someone who was there and/or might have even known him?
    I would appreciate anyassistance you might be able to render.
    Terry Baker
    Laguna Woods, California

    • Thanks so much Terry for your kind comments. I appreciate them so much. I will try and see what I can do to find out information about your brother. In the meantime, may I suggest getting in touch with Hal Barker and the Korean War Project. They might be able to help you get in touch with veterans who might have been part of Task Force Smith. God Bless you and watch over you and your loved ones.

  2. Hi,
    I would like to make contact with Goldens’ family.

    I have a roster of all the men that served in the same B Company as Robert Golden. I have been collecting photos and memorabilia on the 21st IR for about ten years.

    My father was in the same company as Robert.

    21st RCT Association

  3. Lisa,

    Thanks again for your kind comments. I am sorry, I do not have the contact email for the Golden family, though.

  4. Jeffrey,
    I’ve just read your great story about Task Force Smith and the comments from Terry about my mother and her brother, Robert. Terry is my brother and when I read this, I wanted to make sure you and Lisa have our family contact information. I am the record keeper of our family archives and my middle name “Robert” was named after Uncle Bobby because I was the next one born after Uncle Bobby was killed in Korea.

    Please give Lisa my contact information, so we may get together.

    Thank you so much for posting this information. It’s been a long time and our family has always wondered how that day unfolded and how Bobby was killed.


    Gary Robert Baker
    Springboro, OH

  5. Thank you. My father was in Task Force Smith. He was one of the 23 men that came out alive. I have Certificates of Valor and poems he and a buddy wrote. He was given 3 purple hearts but they are lost. Thanks again. I only wish he were alive today to see these articles. He passed a few years back.

    • Thanks so much Debbie for your comments. I am honored that the daughter of one of the brave men who were part of Task Force Smith 60 years ago could share her comments here.

  6. Harold J Bigley

    August 16, 2010 at 1:29 am

    Both my brother -Robert G. Bigley- served in Korea. Bob was a member of Task Force Smith. He was reported KIA on 2 Sep 1950. I made it through and retired from the Army in 1976. I last seen him in Aug of 1950 when we were able to get together. I would like to get in contact with the lady who has the B Co roster, or get in contact with any of the surviving members of the company.

  7. Hello, I’m a public survant of Osan city in Korea and conduct the project to build a memorial hall of TF Smith.
    As you know Osan city is a place that US troops and NK troops have the first battle and there is a monument to honor the soldiers.
    We(Osan city) want to gain the documents, photos and any things about the soldiers of TF Smith to display in the memorial hall.
    So we want to connet to the family member of the soldiers and will look forward to your reply.
    Thank you.

  8. And to think my military days, 1963 through 1965, were primarily spent assigned to Charles B. Smith, Brigadier General. The truth is he never spoke of days prior which is not uncommon, of course, but he always took the time to write my parents at Christmas time expressing his thanks for my good job. Now realizing though over the years who he really was it was I who should have been thanking him.

    He retired the year I left the military for college and from what I know lived to 88 years old. To his immediate staff he was quite congenial and soft spoken but outside those doors … it was another person.

    I was once ordered to stand down at an infantry unit where my friends were so I casually mentioned it to him Monday … Once back at the office It was not a pretty picture hearing him yell at some OD at the Infantry unit who had me at Attention.

    I have to say, at times, I felt he was more my Dad than boss.

    • Stephen,

      Thanks so much for sharing your recollections of General Smith. I just visited the memorial north of Osan last week. The city of Osan is building a special memorial hall dedicated to Task Force Smith.

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