Military history


The Late Company A

Tragically … when the fighting was over the militiamen who had scampered remained to be war-battered heroes. Campaigners for public office told them how gallant they had been; expounded on the glories of New Orleans and the Thames and Lundy's Lane and ignored Hull's surrender, Wilkinson's fail ures, the scuttle at Blandensburg… the lessons and problems were forgot ten by people and government.

— James E. Edmonds, FIGHTING FOOLS, concerning the War of 1812.

AT THE TIME Task Force Smith saw its first tanks north of Osan, the 24th Division's 34th Regiment was in P'yongt'aek, a dirty little town of wattle huts and muddy streets fifteen miles south. Bit by bit and piece by piece, the 24th Division was arriving in Korea, coming into Pusan by LST or transport, then by rail northwestward to Taejon and points north.

And rapidly now, the burden of the war was falling on its back.

The heart of the ROK Army, with the loss of its best men north of the Han, had broken. It had little equipment remaining from the Seoul debacle, and the troops who had been in the south were poorly armed, with old Jap matèriel. The staff had fallen into controversy, with more than one high officer shouting "Communists!" at his colleagues. Fat Chae was gone. Lee Bum Suk, who had graduated from the United States Army Infantry School, became temporary chief of staff.

It was the Communist tanks, the ever-present, ever-leading T-34's, which could not be stopped and could not be destroyed, that wrecked every plan and every hope of the ROK commanders. Lee Bum Suk had sound notions for fighting tanks—but now he could no longer find any ROK soldiers with the heart to try them. The rash and the brave die early in a war.

Lee's successor, Chung II Kwon, dropped the whole problem in the Americans' laps. They were here now; their advisers had talked endlessly about the insignificance and vulnerability of Soviet tanks—now let the men from Mikuk, the Beautiful Land, fight the Communist tanks.

At the first the men from Mikuk were not worried. They were pretty well convinced that they were better than any gooks, North or South.

On 5 July, as the 1st and 3rd battalions of the understrength 34th Infantry closed in on P'yongt'aek, General Dean realized that he must make a strong defense of the P'yongt'aek-Ansong line. Here an arm of the Yellow Sea protected his left flank, and to the right there were mountains and poor roads. The main communications to the south came through P'yongt'aek and Ansong. South of them, the peninsula broadened out in all directions, particularly in the west, making defense much more complicated there than along this line.

Dean, who had flown in Korea 3 July, ordered 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, north of P'yongt'aek to block the main road. The 3rd he sent to Ansong, a few miles to the east.

The young men of 1st Battalion resembled those of Task Force Smith. Already they had seen all of this stinking country they wanted to. They were ready to head back to their nice billets in Japan where their Japanese girl friends were probably already growing restless.

All of them were convinced they would be only a few days in Korea, at most. They had been told very little, for their officers themselves didn't know much. But as everyone said, "Just wait till the gooks see an American uniform—they'll turn around and run like hell!"

Coming north on the train from Taejon, 1st Battalion had picked up a new C.O., Lieutenant Colonel Ayres, who had had a fine record in Italy. Ayres confidently told his company commanders:

"There are supposed to be North Korean soldiers north of us. These men are poorly trained. Only about half of them have weapons, and we'll have no difficulty stopping them."

It was never disclosed who had briefed Colonel Ayres.

The company officers went back to their men and told them that this whole affair was only a police action and that, before long, everybody'd be back in good old Sasebo, Japan.

It is not certain that the young Americans knew what a police action was—but it is certain that none of them associated the term with combat.

The battalion marched north of P'yongt'aek in the same cold rain that soaked Task Force Smith. It halted in the green, grassy hills two miles north of town. Here both the highway and railbed ran through a cut with a low hill on each side, a good spot to defend. Colonel Ayres put B Company to the east of the road, and ordered C into reserve.

Captain Leroy Osburn's Able Company he placed on a hill to the left, with its line running down the hill through a rice paddy to the highway and railroad cuts.

A Company dug in. The reddish-brown earth was coarse, and turned easily, but in the pelting rain the foxholes began to fill with cold, dirty water. And because the front was wide for a weak company, the holes were far apart. The men of Lieutenant Driskell's 1st Platoon, down by the road, could not see the company CP up on the green hill.

The 2nd and 3rd platoons dug in along the hill; Weapons Platoon went in generally behind them. A Company's roster carried only 140 names, less than two-thirds its authorized wartime strength. For in America it was still peacetime, and had been for five years.

Each soldier carried either an M-1 rifle or a carbine, with less than 100 rounds of ammunition. The company had three light machine guns, with four boxes of ammunition for each gun. Each platoon had only one Browning Automatic rifle, with a total of 200 rounds per weapon.

The Weapons Platoon dug in only three 60mm mortars. It also had 75mm recoilless rifles, but these it could have left behind, for the powers that be had issued no ammunition for them.

Nor were there any hand grenades.

When their holes were dug, the young men of A Company sat outside them in the rain, occasionally shouting back and forth to one another. During the day nothing happened.

A small reconnaissance force went north on the road and reported back that there were tanks south of Osan. Then, after dark, four tired and somewhat incoherent survivors from Task Force Smith stumbled into Colonel Ayres' CP. They told a rather wild story, which Colonel Ayres didn't exactly buy.

Brigadier General Barth, who was acting division artillery commander of the 24th while awaiting the arrival in Korea of his own 25th Division, stopped by the CP Barth had talked with Colonel Perry of Task Force Smith after his escape from Osan. Now Barth—who was not in communication with Dean and who did not know Dean's plan of maneuver—put an oar in proceedings at P'yongt'aek. Somewhat shaken by the disaster that had overtaken the delaying force north of Osan, Barth ordered Ayres to hold only as long as he could, and to take no chance of being flanked or surrounded.

"Don't end up like Brad Smith," he told Ayres.

Then Barth went on to the 34th Regiment's CP, and suggested to its commander, Colonel Lovless, that the regiment should consolidate its battalions to the south at the town of Ch'onan. Lovless did not know exactly where Barth stood in the chain of command or general scheme of things but Barth was a brigadier general, and Lovless now made a tremendous error. He sent word to his 3rd Battalion to pull back from Ansong, although the battalion had not yet made contact with the enemy. The right flank was left exposed.

Lovless had inherited the 34th only a short time before from an officer who had been relieved for incompetency.

The rain continued: to fall on the waiting 1st Battalion all night. A few of the men, hearing rumors, grew nervous. They were told emphatically by an officer, "This is a police action, nothing more!"

Captain Osburn of A Company figured an attack was possible, but not likely. He had received word to be on the lookout for stragglers from Smith's battalion, but somehow these instructions did not get down to the platoons.

Daylight came 6 July, and now all the foxholes were filled with water. One man, PFC James Hite, told his platoon sergeant, "I'd sure hate to have to get into that hole."

A newly joined platoon sergeant, SFC Collins, who had been in combat before, walked up and down his line of holes. He told his men that they'd better eat while they had the chance, and to break out the C's. Then he took out a can of cold beans and sat down to eat it.

The morning was misty and foggy, but Collins, half through his beans, thought he heard the sound of engines to the north. He took up his field glasses and made out the faint outlines of several tanks on the road. Behind the tanks, he saw a great number of brown-uniformed infantrymen spreading out in the varicolored green rice paddies.

He called to his platoon leader, Lieutenant Ridley, "Sir, I think we got company!"

Ridley answered that what he saw must be part of Task Force Smith withdrawing down the road.

"These people got tanks. The 21st Infantry hasn't any," Collins yelled back.

Meanwhile, Colonel Ayres walked up to Captain Osburn's command post. From there both officers could see the infantry spreading through the rice fields, but visibility was too poor for them to identify the troops.

Osburn and the colonel agreed these must be some of Smith's boys, and continued to watch them for several minutes. Only when they had counted more than a battalion of soldiers deploying, with more beyond, did they come awake.

Immediately, Ayres called for the mortars to open fire. The first rounds burst in the fields, and the oncoming infantry spread out a little farther. It did not stop advancing.

Sergeant Collins, up on the hill, saw the turret hatches of the lead tank slam down. The long, wicked tube of the tank's 85 swung toward him.

"Here it comes!" Collins bellowed to his men. "Get down!"

The shell screamed into the hill, burst, and showered mud over the cowering riflemen. The men began jumping into their holes, sounding like frogs diving into a pond.

"Commence firing! Commence firing!" Collins shouted. Two other men, who were veterans of World War II, took up the shout.

The Americans on the hill could see the advancing Koreans plainly now, but almost no one fired. Collins turned to the two riflemen in his own hole.

"Come on! You got an M-1—get firing! Come on!" He jabbed one of them sharply.

But most of the men stood slack-jawed, staring at the advancing Koreans, as if unwilling to believe that these men were really trying to kill them. For many minutes, only the squad and platoon leaders did any shooting, and more than half of the men never got off a round.

Back in the Weapons Platoon, PFC Hite was still sitting beside his hole. He saw explosions on the hill near Captain Osburn's CP, "Must be short rounds—"

"Hell! That isn't short—that's an enemy shell!" his platoon sergeant told him. With a great splash, Hite turned and dived into his watery hole. The platoon sergeant joined him.

Colonel Ayres, standing at Osburn's CP, watched the attack for a few minutes. Then, shaking his head, he told Osburn to withdraw his company. Ayres then left the hill, walked back to his own CP, and ordered it to move back.

NKPA soldiers were coming across the fields in numbers frightening to the Americans on the hill. B Company, on the right, was also under attack. More than a dozen tanks converged bumper to bumper on the road, a beautiful target, and on the hill SFC Collins cursed because he had no ammo for the 75's.

He called for fire from the battalion's 4.2—mortars-but a tank cannon shell burst near the single mortar observer, not harming him, but shocking him into speechlessness. No one else knew how to direct the mortars, and in the confusion the tubes stood idle.

Now the advancing and firing North Koreans were only a few hundred yards away, so close Collins could see them stop to load fresh cartridges into their long rifles. B Company began to move down off its hill on the east, withdrawing to the south.

Captain Osburn shouted down to his men, "Prepare to withdraw—but stay to cover B Company first!"

A Company was still putting out only a ragged volume of fire. The men just watched, seemingly dazed. The Weapons Platoon, hearing Osburn's shout, immediately got up and moved to the rear.

Then the two rifle platoons on the hill, not worrying about B Company, began to get out of their holes. The men left their field packs behind, and most of them forgot their spare ammunition. A few even left rifles in the rush. They started down to the south side of the hill, where a small village of straw houses stood in the mist. Here Captain Osburn and his officers started to organize A Company for withdrawal.

As the last two squads came off the hill, an automatic weapon snarled at them. The two squads panicked. Men started running.

The running men tore past Osburn, and some of the men with him began to run away, too. The panic was contagious.

Osburn and the other officers screamed at their men to halt. A few did stop, but the majority kept going. Running about, Osburn got together as many men as he could.

The 1st Platoon, dug in the flat ground toward the road, was more exposed to fire than the two on the hill. Hearing orders to withdraw, four men jumped up and ran back across the soggy green fields. Rifle fire hit one of these men in the back. The rest of the platoon now were too afraid to desert their holes, and refused to move.

Seventeen men under Lieutenant Driskell had been dug in along the railroad embankment and could not see the rest of A Company from their position. Now they did not even get the withdrawal order.

Suddenly they saw NKPA soldiers standing on the hill to their left. Understandably, Driskell became nervous. He asked his sergeant, a combat veteran, "What do you think we should do now?"

"Get the hell out of here," the sergeant replied.

Driskell ordered his men to move back along the railway embankment. A large number of them, however, confused and frightened, refused to move. Driskell, after moving to the rear, missed these men, and went back to get them. A few minutes later, while searching the Korean mud houses for possible wounded, a squad of North Koreans surrounded him and the four men with him. Driskell tried to surrender.

One of the NKPA shot him dead, and then the enemy fired on the other four, killing three. The fourth ran away.

The men who refused to leave their holes were not seen again.

A couple of miles to the rear in P'yongt'aek, Captain Osburn began to get his company back under control. The long run took most of the steam out of the men, and they recovered from their panic. They stood waiting in the rain until Osburn came to break them down into some semblance of order for a further retreat.

Sergeant Collins, disgusted that so many of his men hadn't fired on the enemy, went among his survivors, asking them why they hadn't fired. A dozen of them said their rifles wouldn't work. Checking, Collins found the rifles were jammed with dirt, or incorrectly assembled after cleaning.

Many of the men did not know how to put a rifle together. It wasn't Collins' fault, since he had joined the company only one day before.

Once assembled, A Company began the move south. This time, the men obeyed their sergeants' orders—just as long as they were moving south.

One-fourth of the company was missing.

The wounded who had made it could walk, but the shell-shocked mortar observer wandered around aimlessly if not helped. Men took turns helping him along.

The rain stopped, and the day became steamy, humid, and miserable. The men sweated. They had thrown away their canteens, and now they were forced to drink like animals from the muddy ditches and stinking rice paddies, fertilized with human feces.

All along the road south, they saw a litter of American equipment thrown aside by the other elements of 1st Battalion who had preceded them: helmets, rain gear, cartridge belts, even rifles. By late afternoon, men began to falter, and the company column spread out over two miles.

Captain Osburn passed the word that any man who fell out would be left behind. No one said very much. They all kept going.

The mortar observer kept moaning to himself, over and over, "Rain, rain, rain."

"Why the hell don't you shut up?" one of the men helping him asked bitterly.

At dark, a ragged, disheartened, stumbling mob of men straggled into Ch'onan. Here they found the rest of 1st Battalion, who had got there first, snoring in the muddy streets, tired, uncaring.

Captain Osburn located some trucks of the ROK Army and loaded his men in them. Battalion ordered him to take his company two miles south of Ch'onan and prepare a defensive position.

A Company moved into their designated area after dark. The men now had no entrenching tools. A few men scraped out shallow foxholes with their hands or mess utensils, Most of them fell down on the soggy earth and went to sleep.

General Dean, at Taejon, after hearing the full story of Task Force Smith, did not feel too badly about the situation. Smith had done the best he could, and he had allowed the 34th Infantry precious hours to prepare the P'yongt'aek-Ansong defense line.

Bill Dean knew very well that the holding of the P'yongt'aek-Ansong line was vital to his plan of defense. Where he made his mistake was believing that the understrength, untrained, undisciplined, and unprepared regiment to which he gave the orders was capable of carrying out such a mission against a foe as tough and numerous as the Inmun Gun.

At about 1600 on 6 July, Dean learned that not only had the 1st Battalion fallen back all the way below Ch'onan; more than fifteen miles below the natural defense terrain, but that the 3rd Battalion, which he had left at Ansong, had retreated back twenty miles to Ch'onan without even making contact with the enemy.

Dean turned his jeep toward Ch'onan. There, in the CP of Colonel Lovless, the commander of the 34th Infantry, he blew his top.

The withdrawal from P'yongt'aek had exposed his entire left flank. There were some ROK's on the left, called the Anti-Communist Youth Group, but in these Bill Dean rightly placed no confidence.

Lovless told him about Barth's instructions to bring the troops back from Ansong. Dean, who had been out of communication with Barth—few of the available radios would work in the rain—had to accept that.

Dropping Ansong, Dean demanded to know who had authorized the retreat from P'yongt'aek.

There was a long silence in the CP Lovless looked at Colonel Ayres, who finally said, "I'll accept the responsibility for that."

Dean almost told them to turn around and get their tails going north. But as he opened his mouth, he realized that it was already dark, and there could be danger of a night ambuscade on the march. He figured that there had been enough confusion already.

He made a painful decision to let the error stand.

But just as soon as he had returned to his own command post, he thought better of it. He sent word to Lovless to advance his regiment north until contact was made, and then to fight a delaying action.

Dean took responsibility for the precipitate drawback on himself, since he considered he had not made his intentions clear to all hands.

But wherever the fault lay, the result was tragic.

Late in the afternoon of 7 July, Major John J. Dunn, Operations Officer of the 34th Infantry, was with the 3rd Battalion of that regiment moving north from Ch'onan pursuant to Dean's orders. The battalion was able to advance only a few miles out of town before its lead elements were fired upon. The advance halted.

The 3rd Battalion deployed out into an area along the road that had excellent fields of fire, and prepared to delay the enemy.

While Major Dunn talked with the battalion commander, the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon leader, who had driven ahead of the battalion in a jeep, reported to the CP, The I&R Platoon leader showed a couple of bullet holes in his jacket, and one through his canteen. His platoon had been ambushed by a party of some forty enemy up ahead in a tiny village, but all except three of his men got out.

The leading rifle company of the battalion immediately started forward to rescue these men; Dunn went with it. On the way, they met Major Seegars, the Battalion S-3, who said that he had already found the missing men. Hearing this, Dunn told the rifle company to hold off its attack, and to take up a blocking position on the road.

As the company moved back, it drew a small amount of rifle fire. Immediately, some American soldiers began firing wildly and indiscriminately; Dunn was able to halt this only with difficulty. Suddenly, friendly mortar shells began dropping on the company's position.

Dunn angrily went to the rear to get somebody straightened out.

When he arrived at the 3rd Battalion's holding positions, he was surprised to find the battalion falling back along the road. He was not able to locate either the battalion commander or the exec at the CP.

Dunn then drove back to the regimental command post and reported the 3rd Battalion's action. A brand-new colonel, Robert R. Martin, was with Lovless. Martin had been hurriedly flown in from Japan, and he was wearing low quarter-shoes and an overseas cap. He had been sent to Korea at the express request of General Dean, who had known him in World War II, and at 1800 Dean had given him command of the 34th.

After listening to Dunn, Martin asked if Dunn thought the regiment would take orders from him.

"Yes, sir," Dunn said.

"Then put them back in that position!"

Dunn roared back up the road, stopped the retreating battalion, and headed it back. As soon as it was turned around, Dunn picked up Major Seegars and two of the battalion's company commanders in his own jeep, and followed by a second jeep with a few enlisted men, pulled out ahead of the battalion.

A few hundred yards short of the abandoned good position, small-arms fire blazed at the two jeeps from close range. A group Dunn estimated to be about forty men had ambushed them.

Both Dunn and Seegars were hit immediately, Seegars. very badly. Several other men were wounded. The jeeps slued to a stop under the hail of bullets, and the men in them tumbled to the road.

Dunn was wounded severely in the head; an artery was pulsing bright red blood on the road. With great effort Dunn crawled off the road into a clump of bushes, and here he was able to stanch his bleeding. One of the enlisted men dragged Major Seegars to cover.

One of the officers with the party, unhit, said he would bring help, and took off to the south.

Keeping low, surrounded by enemy scouts, Dunn crawled up onto a small knoll. Down the road he could see the leading rifle company of the 3rd Battalion, which had been just behind the advance party. When the shooting began, these men had hit the dirt and commenced firing.

They were close enough for Dunn, too hurt to move, to recognize some of the men. But they did not advance, even though their officers knew that wounded men lay directly to their front, and they constituted a superior force to the scattered scouts before them.

Then Dunn heard an officer shout nervously, "Fall back! Fall back!"

The rifle company, under no pressure from the enemy, fell back.

Unbelieving, sickened, Major Dunn, who would spend three years in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp, watched his men fall back with no attempt to rescue their own.

Two hours later a large force of North Koreans advanced down the road and took Dunn and the other men prisoner. During the evening, Major Boone Seegars died beside the road.

All day on 7 July, Company A of the 1st Battalion waited on the road south of Ch'onan, improving its positions with shovels borrowed from Korean farmers—most of whom were now abandoning their fields, and fleeing south. The monsoon rain continued to fall during the day, and the men sat around in it, talking.

Somehow, a new rumor made the rounds, one that pleased everyone. A Company was going back to Japan. Other than rumors, nothing much of importance passed during the day. The only food the company could get was from the Koreans, and many of the men went hungry.

There was fighting north of them during the night in the town of Ch'onan, but it was too far off for them to get the wind up.

Colonel Bob Martin, now in command of the 34th Infantry, had inherited a debacle. With a disintegrating command, it was not enough to issue orders; orders had a way of being ignored on company and platoon level. Martin did the only thing he could do, which was to try to set a personal example.

His 3rd Battalion retreated through Ch'onan in disorder; in the early evening of 7 July Martin joined the battalion and ordered its C.O. to return and defend the town. Then, with a small group of soldiers, Martin went inside Ch'onan.

Confused fighting developed to the west of the town during the night, where elements of the 3rd Battalion were defending. After midnight 8 July, word arrived at the regimental command post south of Ch'onan that Colonel Martin and eighty men were cut off inside the town and that North Korean tanks were in the city.

General Dean, hearing this report, was too upset to sleep during the night. He had Martin shipped to Korea at his personal request.

But Martin came out, and reported that the supply lines into the city were clear and that the defenders needed ammunition. Then, just before daybreak on 8 July, he returned into the beleaguered town.

Now a half-dozen tanks were in the streets of Ch'onan, firing on the rail station, the church, and any Americans or vehicles in sight. The battle for Ch'onan devolved into disorganized street fighting. North Korean infantry marched inside at 0600 and the two rifle companies still defending were cut off.

In the early morning, Bob Martin was hunting through the streets of Ch'onan with a 2.36-inch bazooka. It was no job for a regimental C.O.—but somebody had to do it. Leading the attack, gathering a small group of men about him, Martin engaged the enemy tanks.

With his regimental S-3 sergeant, Jerry Christenson, he stood in a hut east of the main street of Ch'onan, facing a T-34. Martin, acting as gunner, aimed the rocket launcher, and fired. The small, obsolete rocket charge fizzled out against the tank's steel hull.

At the same time, the tank fired. At a range of less than twenty-five feet, the 85mm shell blew Bob Martin into two pieces.

The concussion burst one of Christenson's eyes from its socket, but in great pain he managed to pop it back in. He was taken captive by the North Koreans.

With Martin's death, the defense of Ch'onan came apart. There was a great deal of bugging out. The troops that did not bug were chopped up by a superior and better-armed enemy.

While the last fighting was going on in Ch'onan, Company A was getting breakfast, their first good meal in two days. After eating, the company could see American troops pulling out of Ch'onan, but it was not until several hours later that artillery shells began to fall in their own area.

When the first shell burst, Captain Osburn gave the order to pull back south. The entire 1st Battalion was moving out again.

All afternoon and half the night the company marched south, keeping a fast pace. Then, after daylight, the company was shuttled by truck into new positions along the Kum River. Here the men dug new holes, and this time, deep ones. They received their first resupply of ammunition.

The rumor about going to Japan began to die a natural death.

On the morning of 8 July, Lieutenant General Walton Walker flew into Dean's HQ in Taejon. He informed Dean that help was on the way—the entire Eighth Army, all four divisions under Walker himself, were coming to Korea.

MacArthur had already requested from the Joint Chiefs the following troops and equipment from the continental United States and elsewhere.

The 2nd Infantry Division, then at Fort Lewis, Washington; a regimental combat team from the 82nd Airborne, a regimental combat team from the Fleet Marine Forces, with heavy Marine air and beach parties, Army engineers, and three tank battalions—of which there had been none in the Far East.

MacArthur had already envisioned his plan of maneuver for ending the war—the end run to the west coast and the lnch'on landings. But neither he nor any one else had realized yet how hard it was going to be to stop the North Korean advance long enough to put the Inch'on show on the road. As the days went by, MacArthur would continually increase the list of his requirements.

On 8 July General Dean sent him the following message: "I am convinced that the North Korean Army and the North Korean soldier, and his status of training and equipment have been underestimated."

MacArthur directed Lieutenant General Stratemeyer to use his bomber forces against North Korean ground troops—an inefficient employment of heavy bombers, but there were simply not enough ground-support groups available. The Air Force had never anticipated having to support a large-scale ground war.

Air power was not able to halt the North Korean advance. But without the air cover and timely air support and supply FEAF gave them, the American ground units would have been in far worse condition.

MacArthur then cabled the JCS:

"The situation in Korea is critical.… This force more and more assumes the aspect of a combination of Soviet leadership and technical guidance with Chinese ground elements. While it serves under the flag of North Korea, it can no longer be considered as an indigenous N.K. military effort.

"The situation has developed into a major operation."

Ch'onan was a transportation hub, from which good roads ran west and south. When P'yongt'aek was abandoned, General Dean's entire left flank had been exposed, and with the capture of Ch'onan, the North Koreans had entry into most of western and southern Korea. Dean was forced now to try to defend along the Kum, which was the first large river south of the Han. It was a natural defense line, a great watery moat almost encircling the important city of Taejon.

Taejon was the last militarily important center in South Korea, with the exception of Taegu and Pusan behind the Naktong River, far to the southeast. If Taejon fell to the enemy, there was no real defense line short of the Naktong—and on that river the defenders would hold only a tiny corner of Korean earth.

More and more units were coming into Korea, and General Dean was assembling more forces. He could expect the 25th Infantry Division to go into action in a few days, and the 1st Cavalry (actually a TO&E infantry division retaining a famous name) was arriving. But for the next crucial battle, Dean would have to depend on his own 34th, 21st, and 19th Infantry regiments.

Late 8 July, Dean issued a formal operations order, confirming fragmentary verbal instructions put out during the day: "Hold Kum River Line at all costs. Maximum repeat maximum delay will be affected."

He placed his regiments, the l9th, 21st, and the now battered and bedraggled 34th, into a great semicircle along the Kum River. Dean now realized that if this line could not be held, Taejon itself, with its important roads and rail lines, was doomed.

On 9 July A Company was still north of the Kum, in well-prepared positions. During the afternoon it came under heavy shelling, and then enemy infantry struck against its left flank, held by the 1st Platoon.

Most of the 1st Platoon had stayed in their holes at P'yongt'aek, and it contained only about a dozen men. Quickly, the Innum Gun poured over it, firing at the men in their holes.

Five men got out, running down the hill.

Men in the 2nd Platoon, dug in to the right, looked up on the hill where 1st Platoon had been. "Who the hell put the flag up there?" a sergeant asked.

Then a shout went up. "That's a North Korean flag!"

Shrieking and shooting, a wave of Koreans poured down from the hill toward 2nd Platoon. The platoon had not dug its position for all-around defense. It could not now fire effectively to its left flank.

"Let's get the hell out of here!"

Taking its weapons and some of the wounded, 2nd Platoon took off.

The remainder of A Company held out until dark. Then orders came to pull back out of rifle range. Early the next morning, the company crossed south of the Kum.

Here they had a breathing spell, until the NKPA boiled across the river. At daybreak on 20 July, A Company held the main road into the north side of Taejon; four men from the Weapons Platoon were down on the road with a rocket launcher. As it grew lighter, they saw three long skirmish lines of Korean infantry pass over a hilltop to their right. Looking left, they saw more enemy.

The men ran some five hundred yards back to the battalion CP There the senior man, a sergeant, reported to the battalion commander.

The C.O. remarked that the sergeant seemed a bit excited. The sergeant asked him to take a look down the road. The colonel went outside the command hut, and at that moment red flares burst against the lightening sky.

All hell broke loose. Artillery, mortar, small-arms, and tank-gun fire pelted the area.

The urge to pull out was once again irresistible.

The battalion moved south, beyond Taejon. At first A Company kept good order, but men from other units became enmeshed with them, and these men wouldn't take orders from A's officers. Soon there was confusion.

Men threw away their shoes, because it was difficult to walk in the mud. They had no canteens, and they had no food. They were tired and dispirited, and some were bitter. The sun burned out of the clouds, and now the full brazen heat of Korean midsummer baked them. Some men grew dizzy and sick.

They told bitter jokes: "If I'm a policemen, where the hell's my badge?" And, "Damn, these crooks over here got big guns!"

None of them had been told why they were in Korea, or why the United States was fighting North Korean Communists. None of them cared. They wanted only to get back to Japan.

Instead, they were heading for the Naktong River Line, there to make a final stand. There they would realize their government had no intention of withdrawing them; if they wanted to live, they would have to fight.

They were learning, in the hardest school there was, that it is a soldier's lot to suffer and that his destiny may be to die. They were learning something they had not been told: that in this world are tigers.

Behind them, platoons and companies from new divisions, fresh from Japan, went into line to take up the fight. These companies and platoons were manned by men like those of A Company, young Americans, no better, no worse, than the society from which they sprang. Some would do better than A Company, some less well. No matter how' they did, there would not be enough of them.

No American may sneer at them, or at what they did. What happened to them might have happened to any American in the summer of 1950. For they represented exactly the kind of pampered, undisciplined, egalitarian army their society had long desired and had at last achieved.

They had been raised to believe the world was without tigers, then sent to face those tigers with a stick. On their society must fall the blame.

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