Military history



I have no intention of alibiing my presence in Taejon. At the time I thought it was the place to be.

— Major General William Frishe Dean.

IN THE FIRST terrible, shattering days of July 1950, casualties among officers of high rank of the United States Army were greater in proportion to those of any fighting since the Civil War. They had to be. There were few operable radios with the regiments in Korea, and almost no communication from command posts down to the front positions.

If commanders wanted to know what was happening, or make their orders known, they had to be on the ground.

And the troops themselves, who had never developed any respect for N.C.O.'s or junior officers, often would ignore their orders—particutarly if the order involved something unpleasant or unpopular.

Understandably, the junior leaders soon became defeatist. A great many of them died, recklessly, but it was not enough.

It was not because the colonels and generals had lost their minds that so many of them began to stand with bazooka teams or to direct rifle fire. There was no other way. So it was that men like Bob Martin were blown apart doing a rifleman's job, or battalion commanders like Smith of the 3rd, 34th Infantry, collapsed and had to be evacuated, and men like Major Dunn, marching ahead of a rifle company, were lost.

The high-priced help was expendable, true. They too were paid to die. But it was no way to run a war.

While the 34th Regiment was getting chewed in Ch'onan, the 21st—"Gimlets"—were in delaying position to the east, near Choch'iwon. Here Colonel Stephens—Big Six to his men—found a scene of mass confusion. Supplies for his men and the neighboring ROK troops arrived by rail, mixed together. The Korean trainmen were impossible to control; some trains, still loaded, bolted for the rear. Refugees were everywhere.

Stephens, a tough and rugged officer, was told by Dean to hold for four days. He was given an artillery battery, some engineers, and a company of light tanks. On 10 July his composite battalion, made up of men of the 21st who had not flown in earlier with Brad Smith, held a ridge along a three quarter-mile front, north of Choch'iwon.

Stephens was up on the ridge with his troops.

In the early morning, mist and fog hung over the green rice paddies to the front. Soon, Korean voices could be heard through the fog. Some of the American soldiers began shooting, wildly.

Dick Stephens roared at them to stop, and they did.

A platoon on a single hill to the left of the position now came under vicious attack. Mortar fire slashed the ridge, and men could hear tank engines in the fog. But preplanned mortar and artillery fires turned back the wave of North Korean infantry that began to dribble forward.

Gradually, the fog lifted. But now Stephens had lost communication both by wire and radio with his supporting mortars. They fell silent.

At 0900, enemy infantry tried to climb to the American positions. Now the artillery battery, firing repeatedly, drove them back again. But four tanks moved out of a small village and began pelting the ridges with automatic fire. Nothing could be done about them.

At 1100, lacking close-in mortar support, the lieutenant holding the single hill on the left was unable to keep the enemy at a distance. This officer, Bixler, radioed to Stephens: "I need reinforcements; have many casualties; request permission to withdraw."

"Hold on—relief is on the way," Stephens told him.

Stephens had recalled for an air strike. Soon, the planes screamed over the hill, rocketed the tanks—without visible effect—and scattered the attacking infantry. But soon the planes expended their ammunition, and sighed off to the south.

And something else had happened during the air strike—enemy fire had cut the wife from the ridge to the altillery position, and the forward observer's radio had conked out.

The North Koreans started upward once again, and now friendly artillery whistled down on the American defenders. The artillery, with the idea that the enemy had overrun Stephens' ridge, had decided on their own to fire upon the ridge.

Stephens, cursing, ran to his own command jeep. He called his regimental HQ to contact the artillery to lay off—but the shells kept whooping in.

Crouching on the ridge under his own shelifire, Stephens took another message from Bixler, that Bixler was surrounded and most of his men were down. Bixler was not hear d from again.

During the fire fight, a few men here and there on the right flank of the ridge had been seen moving back. Now a yell went up.

Dick Stephens saw a number of men running to the rear. He shouted: "Get those high-priced soldiers back into position! This is what they're paid for!"

A corporal, a Japanese-American from Hawaii, did his best to stop the panic, but was able to collect only a few men.

Within a few minutes, Stephens saw that the ridge would have to be abandoned. He signaled the small group still with him to fall back, and they crossed the rear slope of the ridge and floundered through the stinking rice paddies. On the way, two American planes dived down and strafed them. No one was hurt, but the men, forced to wallow face down in the odorous night soil, lost any future love of rice.

Coming into the position of his 3rd Battalion, Stephens immediately ordered Lieutenant Colonel Jensen to counterattack the lost ridge. Jensen went forward and after a sharp fight retook the ground—all except Bixler's hill.

And on the retaken ground Jensen found six American soldiers with their hands tied behind their backs, shot in the head.

The 21st Infantry continued fighting, though it was forced back from the ridge toward Choch'iwon. The North Koreans, the veteran 3rd Division, which Kim II Sung had designated "Seoul," crashed into the 3rd Battalion early on 11 July. It was a beautifully executed assault, following the pattern of most NKPA attacks.

While heavy fire held down the American front, troops and tanks passed through and around them, setting up roadblocks. Again—as continually happened—tanks tore up the wire, and radios fizzled. Colonel Jensen and a very high percentage of his battalion staff were killed or missing in action, while more than 60 percent of the battalion went down the drain.

Overrun, the survivors streamed to the rear. The men who came out had no canteens or ammunition. They lost their shoes in the muck of the rice paddies, and threw away their heavy helmets. Nine out of ten left their weapons behind.

Behind them, Colonel Stephens had organized the remnants of the 1st Battalion—the old Task Force Smith—on new positions. Two enemy divisions—the elite 3rd and 4th—were breathing on his neck.

At 1200, 12 July, he radioed General Dean: "Am surrounded. 1st Bn, left giving way. Situation bad on right. Having nothing left to establish intermediate delaying position with am forced to withdraw to [Kum] river line. I have issued instructions to withdraw."

The retreat was orderly. At 1600, except for a few inevitable stragglers, the 21st had crossed south of the Kum. On the south shore Stephens took up a new blocking position. He could put a total of 325 men on line—the total fighting strength of the 1st and 3rd battalions combined.

For three days Stephens had delayed the best of the North Korean Army. His was the first impressive American performance in Korea; some Gimlets had run, but the majority had fought and died.

The Gimlets had done well, but they had paid.

Falling back, they passed through the lines of the newly arrived 19th Infantry, the "Rock of Chickamauga," which had been rushed forward on Dean's orders.

The Chicks needn't have hurried. They were going to get their turn.

The Kum River is the first wide, deep, defendable stream south of the Han in southwestern Korea. It flows around the important city of Taejon, 120,000 people in 1950, sixth in South Korea, which lies some ten to fifteen miles below it. Between the river and the city is no terrain suitable for any hopeful defense.

If the Kum River were lost, Taejon must inevitably follow, and the American army could ill afford to lose Taejon, with its road and rail network leading to all South Korea.

General Dean was determined not to lose it.

By 12 July he had ordered all his troops to cross to the south bank of the Kum, and to blow all bridges behind them. Along the great arc, a sort of horseshoe bend that the river made about Taejon, he placed the three regiments at his disposal, the 34th Infantry on the left, the 19th on the right, and what was left of Colonel Stephens' 21st in a reserve blocking position on the southeast.

On arrival in Korea, the regiments had been at 70 percent strength—but worse, their tactical integrity had been destroyed. Each regiment had only two battalions, instead of the normal three, and American doctrine and training supposed three battalions. In any situation now in Korea, the regimental commanders could have only one battalion on line and one in reserve, or two on line and no reserve at all.

No American officer had had any experience with this kind of arrangement. The Army schools, assuming that before being committed to action the Army would get its "fat" restored, had developed no new and startling ways of making do with too little, too late.

Facing now its hardest test, the 24th Division was already in poor shape. The 21st Infantry had lost 1,433 men; 1,100 remained. The 34th had 2,020; the 19th, 2,276. With supporting troops the division numbered 11,400.

Attacking this battered American division were the hardened 3rd and 4th divisions, NKPA, supported by at least fifty tanks. The North Korean units stood at from 60 percent to 80 percent strength at this time; they had not fought all the way from the Ch'orwon Valley unscathed. A full-strength NKPA division numbered 11,000 officers and men—therefore, the North Koreans had not quite two-to-one superiority over the Americans.

No staff and command college in the world teaches that a military force with not quite two-to-one numerical superiority has any assurance of success. An attacking force needs heavy superiority in numbers. But staff and command colleges teach also that men are not ciphers. Fighting against great odds, American fighting men have proved that fact time and again. Again and again they have defeated foes vastly superior in manpower.

But in Korea in July 1950, before Taejon, the American 24th Division was on the brink of disaster, and not because of the enemy's numbers.

On the left side of the American defense line, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, held the south shore of the river. It had dug in Companies L, I, and K, with the mortars of M—Weapons Company—between them. Two and a half miles to the battalion's rear, the 63rd Field, 105's, stood ready to give fire support. Still farther back, what was left of the 34th's 1st Battalion rested in assembly areas.

The 3rd Battalion had no communications—none between battalion HQ and the companies, very little between company HQ's and platoons and squads. There was no wire for the few phones—most of it had been lost on former positions—and batteries for the old radios had gone out of style. At least, it was a waste of time requisitioning any.

The Love Company Commander, Lieutenant Stith, looked high and low for just one radio with which he could talk to Battalion. He couldn't find it.

The command situation throughout the regiment had, in military parlance, worsened. After Colonel Martin's death, the regimental exec, Wadlington, had taken over, and Pappy Wadlington was doing a good job. But the 3rd Battalion commander, Smith, had exhausted himself and been evacuated, and both the regimental Operations and Intelligence officers had come down with combat fatigue. All through the regiment, command and staff positions were now occupied, from Pappy Wadlington on down, by officers not exactly prepared for them.

And during the first night along the Kum, K Company—now only forty men—had to be withdrawn and sent to Taejon for medical disposition. The company had reached such a state of deterioration that Wadlington felt they would be more liability than asset.

That left only Item and Love holding the river. Item and Love knew that there was no one west of them and that it was some two miles from their right flank to the 19th Infantry on their right.

All night 13 July, it rained on them, and they approached the dawn with no great enthusiasm. Then, early on the 14th, they heard tanks across the river.

Soon, tank cannon began to crack, flailing them with fire and steel. But the T-34's couldn't swim, and the shellfire did no great damage.

At midmorning, a scout ran back to L Company saying that Korean infantry was crossing the Kum two miles below them. More than five hundred were already across.

A liaison spotter plane from the 63rd Field reported NKPA ferrying across the river in two small boats, carrying thirty men each; the 63rd's Operations officer decided to wait for more lucrative targets. Then YAK fighters drove the spotter plane away.

Meanwhile Stith of L Company decided he'd better found up his supporting machine guns and mortars from the Weapons Company. He couldn't find them. Artillery and mortar fire now began to fall on Love.

Stith decided it was time to make tracks. He ordered L to withdraw from the Kum River heights. As L went back, one of its platoon leaders, Sergeant Wagnebreth, stopped to inform an officer of the 63rd Field Artillery that NKPA was south of the river; but the officer did not seem impressed with the news.

L Company went all the way back to Battalion HQ. When the Battalion C.O. found out what had happened, he relieved its commander on the spot and said he would court-martial him.

Meanwhile, I Company's acting C.O., Joe Hicks, was wondering what had happened to Love. He couldn't reach Battalion, either. Feeling rather lonely, Hicks stayed in place all day, under sporadic shelling. About dark, he received orders to rejoin the rest of the 34th back at Nonsan, and he pulled out.

The NKPA regiment that had crossed the Kum hadn't wanted Joe Hicks and Company-their scouts had filtered to the American rear and located a far richer target, the 63rd Field. The artillery battalion, consisting of only two firing batteries—artillery fat, as well as infantry, had been well sliced—Headquarters, and Service Battery, was positioned along a secondary road in the scrub- and pine-dotted low hills.

The 63rd Field was in fashion this Bastille Day, too. Its C.O. had taken sick and been evacuated to Taejon; Major William Dressler was in command. It had no communications with the infantry supposedly holding the Kum River line, and none with its own observers. It could talk only with the 34th HQ, which was to be no help.

In early afternoon, one of its outposts reported that enemy troops were in the hills. Battalion HQ told the outpost what it saw were friendly troops, and not to fire. Shortly thereafter, the outpost was captured, and its machine gun turned to fire on HQ Battery.

In this way, the 63rd Field learned it was under attack.

Mortar shells crashed into HQ Battery area, bursting with clouds of greasy smoke. A shell struck the battalion switchboard, destroying wife communication with the other batteries. Other shells burst on the CP, the medical section, and the radio truck, destroying all remaining communication left to the battalion.

An ammunition truck began to smoke, and when it went up, HQ Battery disintegrated into chaos, with men running in all directions. Machine guns flayed them. Bullets chopped holes in the doors of the Fire Direction Center hut.

Major Dressler jumped into a foxhole with a corporal, trying to fight back. Both men died there.

A few men of the battery escaped up a ravine leading to the south.

A Battery, only 250 yards away, drew fire at the same time. A company of approximately a hundred North Koreans ran into the battery, screaming and yelping, while mortar fire burst among the guns themselves.

Some of A's men fought back courageously with small arms. The battery commander was killed. Finally, some of them made it to the south, almost all without weapons of any kind.

Next, it was B Battery's turn. Four hundred enemy infantry surrounded the battery area, and for several minutes something akin to Custer's last stand was repeated. Then, while a group of ROK horse cavalry, who had ridden out of nowhere to attack the enemy, slashed into the North Koreans on the west, the artillerymen went march order.

They left their guns, after removing locks and sights.

The 63rd Field had now lost all ten guns and eighty vehicles. The five howitzers of A had been abandoned intact. Many men were missing.

Service Battery, overlooked in the first NKPA rush, was alerted by survivors from A. Service Battery marched fifteen miles south to Nonsan.

A straggler reached the 34th Infantry's CP at Ponggong-ni. When Lieutenant Colonel Pappy Wadlington understood what had occurred, he ordered Colonel Ayres' 1st Battalion to rescue the men and equipment that had been lost.

Late in the afternoon 1st Battalion marched north along the road, in attack column. Just as they came in sight of the 63rd's old position, they drew machine-gun and carbine fire.

The small-arms fire halted the battalion.

Ayres had been ordered to pull back if he could not accomplish the rescue by dark; it was now dusk. The 1st Battalion marched back to its old position. It did not remain there. It loaded into trucks and departed south for Nonsan.

That night, General Dean ordered an air strike on the abandoned matériel. The practice was becoming standard operating procedure.

It had been a bloody and tragic afternoon.

In the fading hours of 14 July, Bill Dean was still optimistic, although everything he knew of the art of war told him his hold on Taejon was precarious. But it was a forlorn optimism—again and again he ordered that the enemy be delayed; again and again his troops fell back, precipitating crisis. He knew that morale was crumbling, and he sent a message to his units:

"Hold everything we have until we find where we stand—might not be too bad—may be able to hold—make reconnaissance—may be able to knock these people out and reconsolidate. Am on my way out now."

His line was breached, and the 19th Infantry's flank exposed.

He was in trouble, but he was not yet beaten.

The 19th Infantry, the Rock of Chickamauga, on 14 July held the principal crossing places over the Kum, centered on Taep'yong-ni. The 34th Infantry was on its left flank, and ROK Army units held to its right. As the one remaining intact regiment of the 24th Division, the 19th was given the most critical frontage of the river line.

The total front, counting the bends and twists of the Kum, extended for thirty miles. Having only two rifle battalions, the 19th was forced to leave wide gaps between units, and in some places hope for the best. The Kum itself was 200 to 300 yards in width, with four- to eight-foot embankments, and the water varied from six to fifteen feet in depth. It was a formidable barrier to enemy penetration.

But it was also crisscrossed with sandbars, and in some places wadable.

The Chicks were well commanded on 14 July by Colonel Guy S. Meloy, Jr., a combat veteran of the big war. Stan Meloy, a competent and courageous officer, made both his presence and his confidence felt. He placed his 1st Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Otho Winstead, to the front, with his 2nd generally to its rear in reserve. He had six batteries of artillery in direct support. He put his regimental CP at the village of Palsan, back from the river on the main road.

During the day, some probing attacks came across the river. All failed.

Then, in late afternoon, Meloy learned of the collapse on his left flank. He had no choice but to move his 2nd Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas McGrail, over to the left to prevent his thinly spread line from being taken in the flank and rear. Now he had only one company, F, in regimental reserve.

And he had lost the battle of the Kum River before it began.

He could expect no help from the 21st. Virtually unfit for combat after the battering it had taken, the weak Gimlets had been moved by General Dean cast of Taejon to give the ROK's moral support, if nothing else.

As dark fell on 15 July, Stan Meloy alerted all his units to expect a night crossing. For two days an enemy buildup had been observed across the river. Air strikes had slammed into the enemy columns repeatedly, doing damage, but not halting them. The NKPA was growing wise to the ways of the now dominant American air power; it was staying off the roads by day, camouflaging its tanks and vehicles in wattle huts and orchards.

On both sides of the river the mud and straw villages were burning, set afire by air and artillery. As it grew dark, a hot, reddish glow overspread the muddy waters.

Then, small groups of NKPA waded into the river, trying to swim or wade across. The machine guns and recoilless rifles of the 19th butchered the majority of them, but a few sneaked onto the south shore.

As night deepened, there was sporadic firing. Smoke and the smell of cordite lay heavy over the uneasy lines facing the Kum. No one got any sleep.

Then, exactly at 0300 on 16 July, a single North Korean aircraft flew along the river. A flare popped behind it, and at the signal the north bank of the Kum blazed with fire.

Artillery, tank cannon, mortars, and small arms punished the south shore. The volume of fire was as great as anything Stan Meloy had seen in Europe—and under its cover North Koreans streamed down to the river. They jumped on boats and rafts; they waded; they swam, pouring into the river like a swarm of rats fleeing a forest fire.

Stan Meloy met them with everything he had. And at this critical moment one of the inevitable mishaps of war dealt him a damaging blow.

One 155mm howitzer of the 11th Field was firing flares on call. The flares gave 1st Battalion visibility over the river, and light to shoot by, but they were slightly off the main concentration of enemy. Colonel Winstead requested a slight shift in flare area. The shift should have taken at most a minute or two—but the gunners misunderstood the request, and completely moved the gun around.

For many long, crucial minutes the river stayed dark, and enemy infantry poured across.

Once on the south bank, they poured through the gap between Charley and Easy companies and took the 1st Platoon of C under attack. Hearing the violent firing, C's commander called Lieutenant Maher of the 1st Platoon by telephone.

Cheerfully, young Maher said, "We're doing fine."

He put down the phone and took a bullet in the head. Almost immediately, his platoon was overrun. The platoon sergeant was able to rejoin the company with only a dozen men.

Now, under cover of dark, with dawn only an hour away, the NKPA began to filter through the 1st Battalion and to fire on its mortar and CP positions.

To the left of the 19th's front, another crossing was taking place. At first light, men in B Company saw almost a battalion of North Koreans on the high ground to their left and rear. More were coming across every minute.

Then, suddenly, it seemed that the NKPA was everywhere. Colonel Winstead reported to Meloy that his CP and mortars were under attack and that the middle part of his line was falling back. Parts of both Able and Baker companies were overrun. The enemy was coming through the center of the regimental position.

This attack had to be contained. Meloy and Winstead began to organize a counterattack force. With no organized reserve, they called upon all cooks, drivers, mechanics, and clerks in the regiment, and every staff officer present.

This conglomerate force went into action, and by 0900 had driven the attack off. A few North Koreans even fled back to the river and recrossed it. Leading the counterattack, both the 1st Battalion S-3, Major Cook, and the adjutant, Captain Hackett, were killed.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Meloy called Dean and reported he had the situation under control.

But Stan Meloy, this confused morning, did not know the whole picture. Almost immediately, Colonel Winstead reported that enemy units were raising hell in his rear areas, and he had nothing with which to fight them. The artillery batteries were under fire, and screaming for assistance.

Something had happened to the air support, which was supposed to be on call at dawn.

Then, a roadblock was reported three miles behind the regiment on the main supply road. Ammunition trucks could not get up to the units.

Enemy infiltrators struck against F Company, the single reserve force, and pinned it down by fire.

Colonel Meloy and his S-3, Major Logan, went back to check on the roadblock in their rear, which was being rapidly reinforced by the enemy infiltrators streaming through the hills. Many of the enemy wore white robes, disguised as farmers.

At the roadblock, Meloy found a sad situation. The American troops in the area, mostly service troops, were not trying to reduce the block, which was a narrow pass between a stream and a forty-foot embankment covered by fire. These troops were lying around, completely disorganized, firing in the general direction of the block, doing no damage at all.

Meloy immediately jumped in and tried to get some order. As he tried to get a group of men to attack the high ground above the pass, he was hit and severely wounded.

He told Logan to pass the command to Colonel Winstead, of the 1st Battalion. Logan, after notifying Winstead, finally reached through to General Dean's HQ in Taejon. He told Dean that: the situation was poor, Meloy down, and Winstead now in command. Dean, worried, replied that he would send men to force the roadblock, and for the 19th to withdraw at once—but to try to bring its equipment out with it. As soon as these messages had been sent, an enemy shell struck the regimental radio truck, and all contact with Division was cut off.

Winstead then ordered Logan to do something about the roadblock, while he went back to his battalion and tried to bring it back from the river. It was now past noon.

Now, in middle summer, the monsoon rains had finally ended, and the Korean sun was beginning to sear with all its fury. By early afternoon the thermometer reached 100 degrees, and the hillsides became humid furnaces. The soldiers of the 19th were in no better physical shape than the other Japanese occupation troops; they were unused to heat and unused to the steep Korean slopes. This was their first action, but they had had no real rest or sleep for three nights. The long midsummer day, with sixteen hours of daylight, following a night of battle, began to be too much for them.

The lightly armed Koreans continued to pour through the hills and take up positions on the high ground in the regiment's rear. The NKPA ran through the valleys stolidly, and bounded up the ridges like rabbits; they had been doing it all their lives.

If Colonel Meloy had had an adequate reserve, he would not have had to lead men personally against the damaging roadblock. The enemy parties in his rear could have done no real damage, and he could have reduced them one by one, since the main line was able to hold until ordered to withdraw.

But every available fighting man was on line up against the Kum, and there was nothing to wipe up the rampaging infiltrators in the rear. By noon, too, demoralization had begun to set in among the men. The long night and the burning sun had reduced them to panting exhaustion. Ordered to climb the high ground to knock the enemy off the blocking positions, the majority of them lay down and looked the other way.

Under fire, the line companies along the river began to withdraw on Winstead's order. Coming out of line, they found they still had a long way to go. From hills and bushes in their rear, enemy machine guns chattered at them.

Again and again, officers were simply not able to organize attacks against the enfilading hills to clear the way. It wasn't that the men were afraid—they were simply unable to walk up the hills to engage the North Koreans.

Trying to organize his men, Winstead was killed.

F Company, the supposed reserve force, was ordered to attack the major roadblock to the south. It was under fire and could not leave its reserve position.

To the south, General Dean was making every attempt to organize a force to rescue the 19th's 1st Battalion. The 19th 2nd Battalion, under McGrail, was ordered to come up from its position on the east flank and break the roadblock.

Colonel McGrail, coming up the road from the south, ran into heavy North Korean fire. His vehicles were set afire, and he was pinned down in a ditch while many men around him were killed or wounded. His G Company, trying to attack the ridges over the roadblock, took casualties and was forced to dig in. The 2nd Battalion men could not climb the hills, either.

At dusk, the effort to break the roadblock ended.

Meanwhile, all afternoon, the troops on the north had waited for the block to clear. Some men did not wait, but began to head south through the hills. Staff officers decided to place Colonel Meloy in the one light tank available and to try to get him to safety. The tank got through, leading about twenty vehicles. Just south of the roadblock, the tank engine failed.

None of the vehicles it had escorted through stopped to pick up its crew or the wounded Meloy. Meloy, badly hurt but conscious, ordered the tank commander to drop a thermite grenade down the hatch while he lay in the ditch and watched.

Later in the night, an officer finally returned with a truck and rescued Meloy and several other wounded men who had gathered with him.

An hour after Meloy was sent out, the officer commanding north of the roadblock, Captain Fenstermacher, told the 500 men remaining to prepare for movement out cross-country. He passed orders to set the 100 waiting vehicles afire with gasoline, and as he did so, fell shot through the throat. At dusk, the men scattered into the hills.

Some of them made it. Some did not. Some of the wounded they brought out, others they left behind. One chaplain, Herman Felhoelter, refused to leave the wounded when the unhurt men would no longer carry them. A sergeant, watching from another hill through his field glasses, saw Felhoelter killed by the NKPA along with his charges as he knelt over them, praying.

All night, and all the next day, the remnants of the 19th Regiment streamed into Taejon and the surrounding villages. Only two companies, E and G of the 2nd Battalion, were intact. Less than half of the 1st Battalion came back. The regimental HQ had taken unusual losses in both officers and enlisted men. The supporting artillery had lost heavily, too.

On 17 July, General Dean relieved the 19th with B Company of the 34th. The Rock of Chickamauga then moved twenty-five miles southeast of Taejon to reorganize and reequip.

The battle for Taejon was lost. General Dean knew that he now had only the remnants of three defeated regiments, each one little better than a battalion in size. The 21st had come apart at Osan and Choch'iwon; the 34th had been shattered successively at P'yongt'aek, and Ch'onan; the 19th had bought it at the Kum River. Not only were the regiments weak in men and equipment; they were exhausted and their morale was poor.

Dean himself was worn down. For fourteen days he had lived from crisis to crisis without a breathing spell. He did not plan to make a last ditch stand in Taejon, though he did plan to delay there.

But on 18 July General Walton Walker, commanding Eighth Army, flew into Taejon. Walker had been assembling a great deal of data on the Korean situation, and was becoming nervous to know when and where the enemy was going to be stopped. Back home, the Pentagon was still putting out sweetness and light over the intervention and "police action," but Johnny Walker's own pants were beginning to burn, however confident the Pentagon remained.

On 11 July, an official communiqué reported "65 enemy tanks damaged or destroyed." On the same date Tokyo claimed that the "morale of North Korean troops was reported cracking under the steady hammering from the air."

On 13 July 1950 the New York Times, reporting the request of the Army for 20,000 draftees, said, Draftee duty set—none will go to Korea soon, "and not many at all," Army says.

On 14 July the Times also carried the following dispatch, datelined 13 July, Tokyo:

Front dispatches have greatly exaggerated American losses in one of the most skillful and heroic holding and rearguard actions in history although outnumbered at times more than 20 to 1, and the casualties inflicted on the enemy have been immeasurably greater than they have sustained.

On admitting the loss of the Kum River Line, the Times quoted the Pentagon as saying: Enemy said to use 150,000 men in the onslaught, led by Russian tanks, some weighing 60 tons— though the attack had been mounted by less than 20,000 NKPA, and the largest tank sighted in Korea had been the 34-ton T-34. Bad news was always offset by the mention of insuperable odds.

The Times, widely quoted by other newspapers across the land, reported 16 July 1950 that "General Collins (J. Lawton Collins, Chief of Staff) spoke well of American troops and their equipment. 'In spite of their greenness,' the Army Chief said, 'the troops had done an exceptionally fine job.' "

The same day Tokyo commented that "morale and combat efficiency remained excellent despite the necessity of withdrawals and holding actions."

There was constant talk of air power and air attacks and the damage air was doing to the enemy. Gradually, the reports became almost plaintive, as air power remained unable to stem the North Korean advance.

Side by side with the official Pentagon and Tokyo communiqués, however, there were stories by men such as Richard J. S. Johnston and Hanson Baldwin, of the New York Times. Johnston reported troops as saying, "I never saw such a useless damn war in my life," and wrote: In the last few bloody days of fighting the bravado and self-assurance have given way—

One of the problems, in 1950, was to recognize the problem.

Walker had decided that he could hold along the Naktong River in southeastern Korea with the divisions and troops now on the way. Already, his boss, MacArthur, had developed plans for taking the enemy in the rear by amphibious assault—but such a plan was worthless unless the enemy advance could be stopped short of the Naktong.

Talking with Bill Dean at the 34th Infantry CP, Walker told Dean he needed two more days' delay in Taejon, so that the 1st Cavalry and 25th divisions could deploy to the city's east. Then he flew back to his own HQ at Taegu, above Pusan.

His chief of staff asked Walker how much rope he had given Dean, and Walker replied, "I told him that I had every confidence in him, and that if it became necessary for him to abandon Taejon earlier, to make his own decision, and I'd sustain him. Dean is a fighter. He won't give an inch if he can help it."

Johnny Walker was right.

General Dean was to be much criticized for remaining inside the city as it fell. The majority of the men complaining did not comprehend the situation on the ground in Korea. They could not understand that a senior commander, issuing orders for a last-ditch defense from a safe position in the rear, was apt to be trampled in the rush.

The United States Army, understandably, has been reluctant to discuss the problem, even among its own. Once it had returned to the bosom of a permissive society, and tried to adopt that society's ways, its own hands were tied. Once it had gone on the defensive to its critics, it would never regain the initiative. When the answer to a problem is not immediately at hand, the better part of valor is to ignore it.

Dean had almost no communications. If he wanted to know what was happening to the front-line troops, he had to be on the front lines. He had found, sadly, that it was much easier to get a message to the rear than it was to get one carried forward.

In the chaotic situation along his front, with units continually breaking contact and moving south, Dean could never be sure of the real situation. This was one reason he would stay so long in Taejon.

He had three basic reasons for remaining inside the beleaguered city; one, to keep up the crumbling morale of the 34th Infantry and the other defenders by the sight of their commander moving shoulder to shoulder with them; two, to set an example for the ROK officers and staffs fighting alongside the Americans, who by now had all virtually climbed on the Pusan Express; and three, Bill Dean wanted to see close up just what kind of fighting cat the North Korean was.

As he would write later, he was too close to the forest to see the trees.

The North Korean assault on Taejon was like all other North Korean attacks—they crashed into the defenders head on pinning them down, forcing them back, while at the same time they flanked or infiltrated to the rear and blocked the defenders' retreat. At any given moment, it was impossible for Dean or any other commander to know what the situation was to his rear; this was a kind of tactic that the Europe-trained American officers, who liked to keep tidy lines, could not grasp until too late.

As it developed, Dean kept what he wanted of the 34th in the city, and sent other elements of the division, including his own HQ, to the east. As he would say much later, what he did afterward could have been done by any competent sergeant—but in saying this, Dean was thinking of the old Army, not the forces of 1950.

There is no point to detailing the day-by-day and street-by-street actions during the next three days. They were repetitions of what befell the Americans earlier. The NKPA attacked. The defenders fought, then fell back. The enemy got into their rear, and cut them off. The Americans disintegrated and saved what they could.

On the morning of 20 July Dean awoke to heavy gunfire as the ragged line drawn around Taejon continued to shrink. The city was now afire in many places, the stench of smoking thatch competing with that of gunpowder and the underlying filth of the Orient. And by the morning of the 20th, Dean realized that his hope that help might arrive if he held two days was fading. The dispirited defenders were beginning to straggle back into town, and the ring of gunfire was drawing tighter.

Then, just after dawn, Dean heard that North Korean tanks were in the town. Dean was at the CP of the 34th Infantry. The 34th had now no further contact with its two battalions—as usual; it did not know where the flanks were, or even where the war was. For the first time in days Bill Dean had no command decisions to make.

He decided to go tank hunting. He did not know it, but Colonel Beauchamp, to whom he had just given command of the 34th, was doing the same. Like Colonel Martin, Beauchamp had found everyone deathly sick of the T-34's, but now things were just a bit better, for a few of the new 3.5-inch bazookas, designed to stop any known armor, had been flown in from the States.

With Beauchamp guiding and directing a team, the 3.5's knocked out one tank west of Taejon.

Inside the city, Dean, with his aide, Lieutenant Clarke, and his ROK interpreter, Kim, found a soldier with one of the new rocket launchers and went tank hunting.

The little party found two on a street, just behind a burning American ammunition carrier. The tanks opened fire with machine guns, forcing the hunters into buildings along the street. But the smoke lay so heavily over the city now that Dean and his men were able to creep up closer, and to the rear of the tanks.

The tanks turned around, and started to come back toward them. The bazooka man took aim, but he was shaking too badly to hold true. When he fired, he blew up the street a few yards in front of him.

He had only one round of ammunition.

Arrogantly, like all the tanks of the Inmun Gun, the T-34 waddled on past Bill Dean and party. Dean lost his temper. Pulling out his .45 automatic, he emptied the magazine at the monster as it clanked past.

Then Dean and party got the hell out of there.

Meanwhile, hundreds of North Korean soldiers, disguised in the white robes of farmers, were infiltrating into the city. Once inside, they threw off the misleading civilian attire and opened fire on American troops. Soon snipers were everywhere.

Using HQ and service personnel, American officers were having very poor success in rooting them out. Most American boys no longer knew how to play cowboys and Indians, particularly with live ammunition.

By afternoon, Dean had located another bazooka man, this time with an ammo bearer.

Dodging sniper fire, shooting a few snipers on the way, his party hunted up another tank. But this target was covered by North Korean infantry, and rifle fire kept them from getting close. Dean and the bazooka men sneaked back through a Korean courtyard, and climbed up to the second story of a house facing the street.

Here, cautiously looking out the street window, Dean saw the muzzle of the tank's 85mm gun pointed at him, not more than a dozen feet away.

The bazooka man aimed where Dean pointed, and fired. The blowback from the rocket shook the whole room. The shaped charge burned into the tank at the juncture of turret and body.

From the tank came a shrill, horrible ululation.

"Hit 'em again!" Dean said.

After the third round, the screaming ended abruptly, and the T-34 began to smoke.

Somehow, the long day drew to an end. Dean knew now that it was time to pull out of the city, and at the 34th's CP he also found that there was a roadblock across the escape route east. While he was preparing to shoot his way out of Taejon, several light tanks from the 1st Cavalry fought their way into town to assist Dean's withdrawal.

Dean sent the HQ of the 34th out with them, and soon heard them firing from the edge of town.

It was now dark. Colonel Pappy Wadlington, who had remained with Dean, suggested it was time for Dean to get out himself. He wanted to send a message asking for more tanks to assist the general's retreat.

Dean didn't buy it. It smacked too much of asking for help personally. He did send a message for armor to reduce the roadblock east of Taejon, and then he and the remaining men around him got into their vehicles and started down the street the tanks had gone.

Soon, they reached the earlier convoy. It had been ambushed, and burning trucks filled the streets. The buildings on both sides of the streets were afire, and American infantry was engaged along the side in a vicious battle with enemy troops.

Dean's jeep hurtled through, screeching around the stalled and flaming trucks, while the heat seared him and the men with him. The driver poured it on, and a block farther on, roared through an intersection. Lieutenant Clarke, Dean's aide, shouted, "We missed our turn!"

But sniper fire was smacking the pavement all around; it was impossible to turn the jeep about. Dean ordered the driver to keep straight ahead; they would take the long way around to safety.

It was the long way around indeed. Because he took the wrong turn, Bill Dean would not rejoin the American Army until September, 1953. Thirty-five days later, after wandering lost in the hills, after making heroic attempts to reach his own lines, Bill Dean was betrayed to the Inmun Gun by Koreans. When they jumped him, he tried to make them kill him, but they put ropes around his wrists and dragged him to a police station. There they threw him in a cage, the sort reserved for the town drunk.

Only much later did the Inmun Gun realize that the old-looking, filthy, 130-pound emaciated soldier they had captured was an American general.

General Dean once said that he wouldn't award himself a wooden star for what he did as a commander. His country saw more clearly.

It gave him the Medal of Honor.

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