Korean War: Withdrawal From Taejon (11B)

 The sequence of events and the time of their occurrence in Taejon on the afternoon of 20 July have been impossible to establish with certainty in all instances. Participants and survivors have different recollections of the same event and of the time it occurred. Some recall incidents that others do not remember at all. Battalion and regimental records were all lost during the day and night and, except for an occasional message entry in the 24th Division journals made at Yongdong many miles to the rear, there is no contemporary record extant to fix time. Yet despite these difficulties in reconstructing the story of that eerie and bizarre afternoon, it is believed the jigsaw puzzle has yielded to the long and laborious efforts to solve it.  

When he returned to the 34th Infantry command post after stalking and destroying the tank in the center of Taejon, General Dean joined Colonel Beauchamp for a lunch of cooked C ration. They discussed the situation, which did not seem particularly alarming to them at the time. It would be difficult to find a parallel to the bizarre situation—the two commanders quietly eating their late lunch in the belief that their combat forces were still in battle position a mile or two west of the city, while actually the two battalions were scattered in the hills, completely ineffective for any defense of Taejon. Except for a few scattered enemy infiltrator-snipers in Taejon, the city was quiet. During the conversation, Dean told Beauchamp that instead of waiting for dark as they had planned earlier, he wanted him to initiate a daylight withdrawal because the chances would be better of getting the transportation out safely. The time of this instruction was about 1400.  

Colonel Beauchamp immediately set about implementing the order. He instructed Major William T. McDaniel, the regimental operations officer, to send messages by radio or telephone to all units to prepare to withdraw. He then wrote out on paper duplicate orders and sent them by runners to the three infantry battalions. There was then no telephone or radio communication with the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, or the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry. The runners, of course, never reached these two battalions. But it appears that neither Dean nor Beauchamp received any report on this. The 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, did receive the withdrawal order. It and the other miscellaneous units in and about the city received the withdrawal instructions about 1500. The planned march order for the movement out of Taejon gave the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, the lead, followed by the artillery; the Medical Company; the 34th regimental command group; 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry; and last, the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry.

 After watching Beauchamp get off the orders to his units to withdraw, General Dean stepped out of the command post. He could see and hear friendly fighter planes overhead. He walked down to the end of the schoolhouse command post building where Lieutenant Hillery had set up the tactical air control party’s equipment. In conversation with Hillery, Dean found that the former was having difficulty in getting target assignments from the 34th Infantry even though the planes reported many below them. In the confusion of getting out the withdrawal orders and making ready for it themselves the command group apparently did not give much attention to the TACP reports. Then there was also a reluctance to give targets close to Taejon because of the many mistaken attacks in recent days and weeks on American and ROK troops. General Dean remained with the TACP for some time and called several strikes on North Korean artillery and tank concentrations reported by the planes.

 About this time a young lieutenant of the 1st Cavalry Division Tank Company arrived in Taejon with a platoon of tanks. Dean expressed to him his surprise at seeing him there and asked what had brought him. He replied that he had come in response to a request received at Yongdong from the 34th Infantry for tank escort out of Taejon for administrative vehicles. The young officer in turn told what a start he had received on seeing the smoldering T34 tanks in the center of Taejon. Various units had begun to form in the streets around the command post for the withdrawal, and the tank officer started with the first of them for Yongdong. This was about 1530 or 1600.

 Several incidents took place shortly after noon that, properly interpreted, should have caused deep alarm in Taejon. There was the urgent telephone call from an artillery observer who insisted on talking to the senior commander present. Beauchamp took the call. The observer reported a large column of troops approaching Taejon from the east. He said he was positive they were enemy soldiers. The “road from the east” Beauchamp interpreted to be the Okchon road. Beauchamp had misunderstood a conversation held with General Dean that morning to mean that Dean had ordered the 21st Infantry to leave its Okchon position and come up to Taejon to cover the planned withdrawal.

 What Dean had meant was that he expected the 21st Infantry to cover the withdrawal from its Okchon positions in such a way as to keep open the pass and the tunnels east of the city. (With respect to the pass and tunnels, Dean miscalculated.) Now, receiving the report of the artillery observer, Beauchamp, with the erroneous concept in mind, thought the column was the 21st Infantry approaching Taejon to protect the exit from the city. He told the observer the troops were friendly and not to direct fire on them. Events proved that this column of troops almost certainly was not on the Okchon road but on the Kumsan road southeast of Taejon and was an enemy force.

[N11-48 Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Interv, author with Ayres, 13 Jul 54; Ltr, Ayres to author, 3 Oct 52; Dean, MS review comments, 20 Jan 58. Ayres watched a large column march along the Kumsan road toward Taejon about this time.]

 Later in the afternoon, just after the 1st Cavalry Division platoon of tanks led the first vehicles out toward Yongdong, General Dean received an aerial report through the TACP of a truck column of about twenty vehicles moving north toward Taejon on the Kumsan road. Dean inquired of the 34th Infantry operations officer if they could be friendly and received the reply that they were the 24th Reconnaissance Company and not to direct an air strike on them. Dean later became convinced that these were North Koreans who had come up from the rear through Kumsan. But this is not certain because a Reconnaissance Company group did drive in to Taejon from its patrol post about this time.

 The movements of large bodies of men on the Kumsan road toward Taejon in the early afternoon of 20 July actually were seen at close hand by Colonel Ayres, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, but he could not get the information to the men in the city. Just before noon, on the mountain southwest of Taejon, he had turned over command of the approximately 150 men of the battalion with him to the executive officer, Major Dunham, with instructions to take them down to the Kumsan road three miles south of Taejon and there establish a blocking position to protect the rear of Taejon. Then he set off with a small party including Major Curtis Cooper, his S-3; Captain Malcolm C. Spaulding of the Heavy Weapons Company; a runner; his radio operator; an interpreter; and Wilson Fielder, Jr., a Time Magazine correspondent.

 About 400 yards short of the Kumsan road Ayres’ party encountered North Korean soldiers on the hillside. In the scramble that followed, four men escaped—Ayres, Cooper, Spaulding, and the interpreter; the others were either killed or captured. Fielder’s body was found some months later. Ayres and those with him who escaped hid in some bushes and during the afternoon watched North Koreans set up machine guns near them. They also saw an estimated battalion of enemy troops march north toward Taejon along the Kumsan road below them. That night the group escaped.

[N11-50 Ltr, Ayres to author, 3 Oct 52; Interv, author with Ayres, 13 Jul 54.]

Nor was this the only encounter with North Koreans close to the Kumsan road that afternoon. Major Dunham led his men down toward the Kumsan road, as directed by Ayres. On the way they had a fire fight with what they took to be a band of guerrillas. They disengaged and moved into the draw at Kuwan-ni about three miles south of Taejon. Enemy troops there fired on Dunham’s party from nearby finger ridges. This fire hit Dunham in the neck, mortally wounding him, and there were other casualties. All in this party who could do so now fled west to the Yudung valley at Masuri. But none of these incidents were known to Dean, Beauchamp, and the men in Taejon.

 [N11-51 Ltr, Barszcz to author, 6 Sep 52 (he met the group in the Yudung valley); Interv, Blumenson with 2nd Lieutenant George W. Wilcox, Platoon Leader, 75-mm. Rec Rifle, D Co, 34th Inf, 25 Aug 51 (Wilcox was a member of Dunham’s group)]

 Although the purpose was not apparent to the men in Taejon, enemy troops to the west and northwest of the city shortly after noon began to close on the city and exert increased frontal pressure to coincide with the movement of the enemy forces that by now had had time to get to the rear of the city. In the early afternoon, Lieutenant Herbert’s platoon sergeant called his attention to a large column of troops on high ground westward from their roadblock position just west of Taejon. Herbert watched them for a while and decided that they were enemy troops. He then moved his men to a knoll south of the road and into defensive positions already dug there.  

The enemy force, which Herbert estimated to be in battalion strength, stopped and in turn watched Herbert’s force from a distance of about 600 yards.52 This probably was the same column that Montesclaros had seen on the Nonsan road about noon. Back of Herbert’s knoll position at the southwestern edge of the city was a battery of 155-mm. howitzers. A runner from the battery arrived to ask Herbert about the situation, and Herbert went back with him to talk with the battery commander. At the artillery position he found howitzers pointing in three different directions but none toward the southwest, where the enemy force had just appeared. Herbert asked that the pieces be changed to fire on the enemy in front of him. The battery commander said he could not change the howitzers without authority from the battalion operations officer. Herbert talked to this officer on the field telephone but failed to secure his approval to change the howitzers.  

By this time the North Koreans in front of Herbert’s men had set up mortars and begun to shell his position and also the howitzers. This fire killed several artillerymen and caused casualties in the infantry group. Herbert sent a runner into Taejon to report and ask for instructions. At the 34th Infantry command post a group of fifty men was assembled from Headquarters Company and sent back under Lieutenant William Wygal, S-2 of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, with instructions to Herbert to hold where he was until the artillery could be evacuated. So Herbert’s augmented force exchanged fire with the North Koreans and held them to their ridge position.  

General Dean observed this fire fight from the command post and thought it was going well for the American troops. He mistakenly thought, however, that it was McGrail’s 2nd Battalion troops that were engaged. About this time, Dean walked back from the TACP to the 34th Infantry command post and asked for Colonel Beauchamp. It was about 1700. To his surprise he was told that no one had seen Beauchamp since about 1500. Like Major Lantron in the morning, he had just disappeared. Dean remembered that he had expressed a great deal of concern to Beauchamp about the loss of communications with the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, and that he had directed someone to get through and find Ayres. When he learned that Beauchamp had left the command post shortly after 1500 he concluded that Beauchamp had personally gone forward to contact Ayres. It was not until some three years later after he was repatriated from North Korea that General Dean discovered that this was not the fact. 

What had happened to Beauchamp? About the time the first of the vehicles started to form into convoy at the command post and the tanks from Yongdong led the first of them out of Taejon, Colonel Beauchamp got into his jeep and drove to the southeast edge of the city along the withdrawal route. There he came upon four light tanks of the 24th Reconnaissance Company and ordered the tankers to defend the southeast side of the city and the Okchon road exit. Starting back into Taejon, Beauchamp discovered on glancing back that the tanks were leaving their positions. He turned around and caught up with them on the Okchon road. But in running after the tanks he came under enemy small arms fire. After stopping the tanks, Beauchamp decided to climb a nearby knoll and reconnoiter the situation.

 From this eminence he saw numerous groups of enemy troops moving across country south of Taejon toward the Okchon road. Because he had been under fire on the road he knew that some of them had already arrived there. Knowing that the convoys for the withdrawal were forming and that the first vehicles already had gone through, Beauchamp decided to go on with the two tanks he had with him to the pass four miles east of the city and to organize there a defensive force to hold that critical point on the withdrawal road.  

At the pass, Beauchamp put the tanks in position and stopped some antiaircraft half-track vehicles mounting quad .50caliber machine guns as they arrived in the early phase of the withdrawal. Some artillery passed through, and then a company of infantry. Beauchamp tried to flag down the infantry commander’s vehicle, intending to stop the company and keep it at the pass. But the officer misunderstood his intent, waved back, and kept on going.

 Enemy sniper fire built up sporadically on the road below the pass. From his vantage point Beauchamp saw a locomotive pulling a few cars halted by enemy small arms fire at the tunnel. This locomotive had departed Iwon-ni at 1620, so the time of this incident must have been approximately 1630. Still expecting the 21st Infantry to cover the withdrawal route, Beauchamp decided that the best thing he could do would be to hurry up its arrival. He drove eastward to the command post of the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, and from there telephoned the 21st Infantry regimental command post in Okchon. It chanced that General Menoher was there. He instructed Beauchamp to come on in to Okchon and give a detailed report. [N11-54] But again, none of these happenings were known in Taejon.

 [N11-54 Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Beauchamp, Comments for author, 7 Jan 53; 24th 53 Dean, MS review comments, 20 Jan 58. Div WD, G-4 Daily Summ, 20 Jul 50]

The locomotive had been sent to Taejon as the result of General Dean’s telephone request to the 24th Division a little earlier. In midafternoon, Captain Hatfield tried to send a rolling supply point of ten boxcars of ammunition out of the Taejon railroad yard to Yongdong. Returning to the rail yard at the northeast side of Taejon, Hatfield discovered that the Korean crew had uncoupled the locomotive from the supply train and fled south in it. It was then that Dean had telephoned the division to dispatch a locomotive immediately to Taejon to pull out this train. The nearest rail yard was at Iwon-ni, fifteen miles southeast of Taejon. Only armed guards had kept the Korean train crews there on the job. Enemy fire on the locomotive from Iwon-ni punctured the water tender.

 Though under sniper fire at the railroad yards, Hatfield awaited the arrival of the locomotive. When it pulled into the yards more enemy fire hit it. The engineer said the locomotive was so damaged that it could not pull the train out. To Hatfield’s dismay, the Korean engineer threw the locomotive in reverse and backed speedily southward out of the yard. At the tunnel southeast of Taejon enemy fire again swept over the locomotive and grenades struck it, killing the engineer. The fireman, although wounded, took the train on into Okchon. Some American soldiers rode the train out of Taejon. According to 24th Division records, the time was 1645. Informed of this untoward incident, Dean again telephoned the division, and at 1700 he received a telephone call that it was sending another locomotive, this time under guard. Dean informed Hatfield of this and the latter waited at the rail yard. Hatfield was killed by enemy soldiers there while waiting for the locomotive that never arrived. The next morning at 0830 a U.S. Air Force strike destroyed the train-load of ammunition and supplies still standing in the Taejon rail yard.

 About 1700 in the afternoon when he discovered that Colonel Beauchamp was not at the command post and that no one there knew where he was, General Dean turned to Colonel Wadlington, the regimental executive officer, and told him to get the withdrawal under way in earnest.

 Wadlington called in the 3rd Platoon of the 24th Reconnaissance Company which had held a position a few miles down the Kumsan road on the north side of the enemy roadblock that had been discovered during the night. For their own reasons the enemy forces in that vicinity had seen fit not to attack this platoon and thereby alert the 34th Infantry to the enemy strength in its rear. In coming in to Taejon to join the withdrawal convoy, the platoon drew machine gun fire near the rail station. Private James H. Nelson engaged this enemy weapon with a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a 2½-ton truck and knocked it out.

 In response to the earlier withdrawal order, Captain Jack Smith had brought the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, in trucks to the designated initial point at the street corner in front of the regimental command post. When he arrived there, Major McDaniel told him that General Dean wanted a perimeter defense established to protect the initial point and to support an attempt to recover a battery of 155-mm. howitzers. Smith unloaded L Company for the perimeter defense and sent the rest of the battalion on to join the convoy that was forming.

 [N11-55 Dean, MS review comments, 20 Jan 58; 24th Div WD, G-4 Daily Summ, 20 Jul 50; Ibid., G-2 Jnl, entry 1372, 202140 (interv with personnel on locomotive); entry 1350, 201907; and entry 1401, 210950 Jul 50; Dean and Worden, General Dean’s Story, p. 37.]

 Instead of withdrawing their howitzers while Herbert’s force held off the enemy force at the west edge of Taejon, the artillerymen had shown no desire to limber up the pieces under fire. When Herbert left his position to fall back to join the withdrawal he noticed the howitzers. The North Koreans quickly moved up and occupied Herbert’s old position when he withdrew from it, and some advanced to the battery position. From these places they began firing into the city. Learning of the impending loss of the 155-mm. howitzers, General Dean ordered Colonel Wadlington to organize a counterattack force from personnel at the command post to rescue the pieces. Major McDaniel, the regimental S-3, volunteered to organize and lead the counterattack. He drove the enemy soldiers from the battery position and kept down hostile fire until he could bring up tractor prime movers, hitch them to the howitzers, and pull out the pieces. Lack of tractor drivers prevented taking them all out; those left were rendered inoperative.

 [N11-57 Dean, MS review comments, 20 Jan 58; Comments, Wadlington to author, 1 Apr 53; Ltr and Comments, Wadlington to author, 1 Jun 53; Interv, Blumenson with Herbert, 25 Aug 51; 24th Div Arty WD, 20 Jul 50; 3rd Engr (C) Bn WD, 20 Jul 50. General Order 121, 5 September 1950, 24th Division, awarded the Silver Star to McDaniel.]

 By this time word came back to the command post that enemy small arms fire had knocked out and set afire two or three trucks at the tail end of the first group of vehicles to leave the city, and that they blocked the street at the southeast edge of Taejon. Flames could be seen in that corner of the city, and the sound of small arms fire came from there. Dean then rewrote a radio message to be sent to the 24th Division. It said in effect, “Send armor. Enemy roadblock eastern edge City of Taejon: Signed Dean.” Dean directed that the message be sent in the clear.

 The general then went over to the Capitol Building with his interpreter to see if he could find a northward route out of the city that would pass over the tableland east of the railroad station and swing around to hit the Okchon road some miles from the city. The Koreans in the building were panic-stricken and he could get no information from them. Dean hastened back to the command post and, being informed that Beauchamp had still not returned, he directed Colonel Wadlington to close station and move out.

 Enemy fire into and within the city had increased considerably. One result was that an enemy mortar shell scored a direct hit on the collecting station of the 34th Infantry, wounding ten men. Captain Smith from his perimeter defense post reported that he could see North Koreans advancing from the airfield. Wadlington told him to hold them off until the convoy could escape. Wadlington showed General Dean his place in the convoy. He told Dean that he was going to lead the convoy with two jeeps, each carrying five men, and that Major McDaniel was going to be at the tail of the column. With L Company already engaging approaching North Koreans, Captain Smith asked Dean how long he was to hold the company in position as a covering force. Dean told him to give them forty-five minutes and then to withdraw.

 [N11-58 Ltr, Smith to author, 18 Jun 55; Ltr, Wadlington to author, 1 Apr 53. McDaniel was among those captured at Taejon. In prisoner of war camps McDaniel strove to protect the rights of American prisoners. According to accounts brought back by repatriated prisoners in 1953, the North Koreans, unable to break his will, finally took McDaniel away and he disappeared from view. Dean and Worden, General Dean’s Story, pp. 36-37; 32nd Inf WD (7th Div), 26 Sep 50. McDaniel’s name was on a roster of prisoners’ names captured at Seoul, 26 September 1950. Dean, MS review comments, 20 Jan]

 Dean looked at his watch as he drove out the gate of the command post. It was 1755. Outside in the street he talked briefly with Wadlington and the senior officers riding the lead vehicles. He told them that very likely they would get sniper fire in the city, but that once outside he thought they would be all right. He instructed that if sniper fire was encountered and the column stopped for any reason, everyone was to dismount and clean out the snipers. It was a few minutes after 1800 when the large, main convoy started to move.

 With Wadlington at its head the convoy rolled down the street. Some parts of the city were now blazing furnaces, and in places swirling smoke clouds obscured the streets. Soon the convoy stopped while those in the lead removed a burning ammunition trailer and telephone poles from the way. Then it continued on and swung into a broad boulevard. There the convoy encountered heavy enemy fire, both machine gun and small arms, sweeping up and down the avenue. Colonel Wadlington and the men in the two lead jeeps dismounted and opened fire. In about five minutes enemy fire slackened. Wadlington ordered the men in the second jeep to lead out, saying he would join them as soon as he saw that the convoy was moving. After the head of the convoy passed him, Wadlington and his men got into their jeep and started forward to overtake the head of the column. Not able to pass the trucks, however, they swung off at a corner to go around a block. This route led them to a series of misadventures—they found themselves in dead-end streets, cut off by enemy fire, and eventually in a dead-end schoolyard on the east side of the city. There Wadlington and his companions destroyed their vehicle and started up the nearby mountain.

 Meanwhile, the convoy hurried through the city, drawing enemy sniper fire all the way. One 2½-ton truck in the convoy smashed into a building at an intersection and almost blocked the street for the rest of the vehicles. Then the first part of the convoy took a wrong turn through an underpass of the railroad and wound up in the same dead-end schoolyard as had Colonel Wadlington. There were approximately fifty vehicles in this part of the convoy. These men abandoned their vehicles. Led by an artillery major and other officers the group of about 125 started into the hills, first going north away from the sound of firing and later turning south. During the night the group became separated into several parts. Some of the men reached friendly lines the next morning, others on 22 July; some just disappeared and were never heard of again.

 [N11-60 Ltrs, Wadlington to author, 1 Apr, 1 Jun 53. General Order 116, 3 September 1950, 24th Division, awarded the Silver Star to Wadlington for action on 20 July 1950. Interv, Blumenson with Herbert, 25 Aug 51. Herbert was in the part of the convoy that took the wrong turn into the schoolyard.]

 After the first part of the convoy took the wrong turn, the remainder kept on the street leading to the Okchon road. A little farther on they drove through walls of fire as buildings burned fiercely on both sides. Just beyond this point, General Dean’s vehicle and an escort jeep sped past an intersection. They were scarcely past it when Lieutenant Clarke said to Dean that they had missed the Okchon turn. Enemy fire prevented them from stopping to turn around, so they kept on going south down the Kumsan road.

 Just outside the city on the Okchon highway the convoy encountered enemy mortar fire. A shell hit the lead vehicle and it began to burn. A half-track pushed it out of the way. The convoy started again. Enemy fire now struck the half-track, killed the driver, and started the vehicle burning. Machine gun fire swept the road. Everyone left the vehicles and sought cover in the roadside ditches. Some in the convoy saw North Korean soldiers rise from rice paddies along the road and spray the column with burp gun fire.  

When the enemy mortar fire stopped the column, Sergeant First Class Joseph S. Szito of the Heavy Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, set up a 60-mm. mortar in the roadside ditch and fired at a group of North Koreans on a hill just south of the road. A little later he set up an 81-mm. mortar and fired about thirty rounds of smoke shells in an effort to cloak a proposed attempt to push the destroyed half-track off the road so the undamaged vehicles could proceed. But enough men would not go out into the stream of enemy fire to clear the road. Enemy mortars soon hit and destroyed three more vehicles. The men then poured gasoline on most of their still undamaged vehicles, set them afire, and started for high ground to the north. 

[N11-62 Interv, author with Major Clarence H. Ellis, Jr. (S-3 Sec, 11th FA Bn Jul 50), 22 Jul 54; Interv, Blumenson with Szito, 31 Jul 51.]

 Enemy mortars searched up and down the highway, making a shambles of everything on it. The latter part of the convoy now came up to the stalled and burning vehicles. These men scrambled out of their vehicles, sought cover in the ditches, and prayed for darkness. One survivor of this group estimates that there must have been 250 men bunched together in an area fifty yards square.  

When darkness came, 2nd Lieutenant Ralph C. Boyd, commanding a truck platoon of the 24th Quartermaster Company, with the help of some others, located six vehicles that appeared to be undamaged and still able to run. They were a full-track artillery prime mover, two half-track vehicles, two 2½-ton trucks, and a jeep. Boyd had the driver of the prime mover push vehicles to the side of the road and clear a path while he and others loaded the seriously wounded onto the half-tracks.  

When the prime mover had cleared a path, the other vehicles started forward with most of the men walking in the roadside ditches. Boyd told them to maintain silence and not to return any enemy fire. Boyd’s group turned into a narrow dirt road running north from the main highway and traveled on it for some time without trouble. Then, suddenly, enemy machine gun fire ripped into the little group. It knocked Boyd off the prime mover. In falling, he struck a rock and lost consciousness. When he regained it sometime later everything was quiet and the vehicles were gone. Upon discovering that a bullet had only creased his knee, he got to his feet and ran two and a half miles into the lines of the 21st Infantry. 

[N11-63 General Order 126, 12 September 1950, 24th Division, awarded the Silver Star to Lieutenant Boyd. Interv, Capt John G. Westover with 1st Lieutenant Ralph C. Boyd, 13 Mar 52, copy in OCMH. This interview was published in U.S. Army Combat Forces Journal (September, 1952), pp. 26-27.] 

Engineer troops of C Company, 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion performed well in the withdrawal from the city, but they suffered heavy losses. Two examples of their heroism should be mentioned. Enemy mortar fire destroyed Private Charles T. Zimmerman’s jeep and wounded Zimmerman. Enemy soldiers then directed small arms fire at his group. Although wounded by a mortar fragment and eleven bullets, Zimmerman killed five enemy soldiers and destroyed two machine guns. 

Another member of the engineers, Sergeant George D. Libby, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic behavior that evening. Enemy fire at the roadblock area disabled the truck in which he was riding and killed or wounded everyone in it except him. Libby got into the roadside ditch and engaged the enemy. Twice he crossed the road to give medical aid to the wounded. He stopped an M-5 artillery tractor going through the roadblock, put the wounded on it, and then placed himself on the enemy side of the driver.  

He wished to protect the driver as he realized that no one else present could drive the tractor out. In this position Libby “rode shotgun” for the tractor and its load of wounded, returning enemy fire. The tractor stopped several times so that he could help other wounded on to it. In passing through the main enemy roadblock, Libby received several wounds in the body and arms. Later, the tractor came to a second roadblock and there he received additional wounds in shielding the driver. Libby lost consciousness and subsequently died from loss of blood, but the tractor driver lived to take his load of wounded through to safety. 

[N11-65 Department of the Army General Order 62, 2 August 1951, awarded the Medal of Honor to Libby.]

 Just after dark an effort was made to break the roadblock from the Okchon side. When Colonel Beauchamp reached the 21st Infantry command post that afternoon he told General Menoher of the threatened roadblock. Menoher directed him to take the rifle company that had come through the pass and a platoon of light tanks at the 21st Infantry command post and go back and hold the pass open. Beauchamp took the five tanks and on the way picked up approximately sixty men of I Company, 34th Infantry. It was getting dark when the group passed through the lines of the 21st Infantry.

 Short of the pass, one of the tanks hit an enemy mine. Then a hidden enemy soldier detonated electrically a string of mines. The riflemen moved cautiously forward. From a position near the pass they could see enemy mortars firing from both sides of the road, but mostly from the western side. Some of the riflemen worked their way as far forward as the highway tunnel, but they never got control of the pass or any part of the highway west of it. In about two hours the tankers and the men of I Company had expended their ammunition and withdrawn.

 While at the pass area, Beauchamp saw that most of the men in the engineer platoon he had left there in the afternoon had been killed defending the pass—their bodies lay strewn about on the ground. Among them was the lieutenant he had instructed only a few hours before not to blow the tunnel but to hold it open for the Taejon troops. The two tanks and the antiaircraft vehicles had driven to the rear.

 Although there were enemy troops scattered all along the escape route out of Taejon, their principal roadblock began about two miles east of the city on the Okchon road near the little village of Chojon. The roadblock extended a mile from there to the first railroad and highway tunnels east of Taejon. In this stretch, the Seoul-Pusan highway and the double-track Mukden-Pusan railroad parallel each other along a little stream with high ground closing in from both sides. Most of the enemy fire came from the west side of the defile, but in the later stages of the roadblock action there were also enemy mortars, automatic weapons, and riflemen firing from the east side. [N11-67]

 All night long the several hundred men caught in the roadblock walked south and east through the mountains. During the night the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, aid station near Okchon exhausted its medical supplies in treating wounded men arriving from the Taejon area. Many finally reached safety at the 24th Division lines twenty miles farther east near Yongdong on 22 and 23 July. They came through singly and in small groups, but, in one or two instances, in groups of approximately a hundred men. Colonel Wadlington was among those who reached friendly lines on the morning of 22 July near Yongdong.  

[N11-68 21st Inf WD, 20 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, 20 and 23 Jul 50; Ibid., G-2 Jnl, entry 4, 230115 Jul 50; Ltr, Stephens to author, 24 Mar 52; Ltr, Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Smith to author, 6 Nov 51; 34th Inf WD, 25 Jul 50; Interv, Blumenson with Szito, 31 Jul 51; Interv, author with Private First Class Alvin Moore, 34th Inf, 23 Jul 51; Ltrs, Wadlington to author, 1 Apr and 1 Jun 53.] 

While this disaster was taking place during the evening and night of 20 July just east of Taejon, the 21st Infantry Regiment held its defense positions undisturbed only three or four miles away. Only when Beauchamp telephoned the regimental command post at Okchon and talked with General Menoher there, and later, in person, reported in detail, did Colonel Stephens and his staff know of the serious trouble developing in Taejon and on the escape road eastward. It would have taken several hours to get the 21st Infantry troops down from their hill positions for any effort to clear the Taejon exit road. And it was well after dark before it was known definitely at Okchon that the enemy had in fact successfully established a roadblock and that the Taejon troops were being decimated. It was too late then for the 21st Infantry to act in relief of the situation. To have accomplished this regiment would have needed an order during the morning to move up to the eastern exit of Taejon and secure it.

 [N11-67 Various interviews with survivors from the roadblock and the records of the 21st Infantry and the 24th Division place the eastern limit of the enemy roadblock at the first railroad tunnel southeast of Taejon. ] 

That night at the 21st Infantry command post in Okchon, General Menoher and Colonel Stephens discussed the situation. Stephens said he thought the North Koreans would try to cut off his regiment the next day and that if the regiment was to survive he wanted authority to withdraw it in a delaying action rather than to “hold at all costs.” Menoher agreed with Stephens and left it to his discretion when and how he would withdraw. General Menoher returned to Yongdong about midnight.  

At daybreak, 21 July, engineer troops set off demolition charges at the railroad and highway tunnels just north of Okchon that only partially blocked them. When full light came, observers and patrols from the 21st Infantry reported enemy troops in estimated regimental strength moving south around their west flank at a distance of two miles. Before long, an automatic weapons and small arms fight was in progress on that flank.

[N11-71 Ltr, Stephens to author, 24 Mar 52; Ltr, Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Smith to author, 10 May 52; 21st Inf WD, 21 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, 21 Jul 50.] 

Colonel Stephens gave the order for the regiment to withdraw. The 21st Infantry and 52nd Field Artillery Battalion began leaving their Okchon positions shortly after 1100. Engineer troops destroyed the last bridge across the Kum River east of Okchon to give some temporary security to ROK forces on the east side of the river. The regiment successfully withdrew twenty miles to prepared positions on the east side of the Kum River, about four miles northwest of Yongdong. There it also established a strong roadblock on the road running southwest from Yongdong to Kumsan. 

[N11-72 Ltr, Stephens to author, 24 Mar 52; Ltr, Smith to author, 10 May 52; 24th Div WD, 21 Jul 50.]

 Not all the troops withdrawing from Taejon followed the main Okchon highway, although they were supposed to. Many missed the tricky turn at the southeast edge of the city and found themselves on the Kumsan road. Once on this road and under fire they kept going. After holding off the enemy at the Taejon command post perimeter while the convoy got away, Captain Smith quickly loaded his L Company, 34th Infantry, into waiting trucks and started it on its way through the city. By this time enemy machine guns were firing across nearly every street intersection.  

Passing the Okchon turn inadvertently, Smith kept on down the Kumsan road. Outside the city he found the road littered with trucks, jeeps, and various kinds of abandoned equipment. At an enemy roadblock he organized approximately 150 men, including about fifty wounded, and salvaged a prime mover, two 2½-ton trucks, and four jeeps. The group fought its way south through several miles of small roadblocks, clearing the last one just before dark. In this group Smith had men from practically every unit that had been in Taejon. Some of them had been with General Dean earlier in the evening.

 Smith led his group south through Kumsan, Anui, and on to Chinju near the southern tip of Korea. From there he telephoned Pusan and a hospital train was dispatched to him at Chinju. Smith left the wounded in Pusan, but continued on with the others to Taegu, where they joined other elements of the 3rd Battalion that had escaped. At Taegu on 23 July Colonel Wadlington had assembled approximately 300 men who had escaped through the hills from Taejon. 

[N11-73 Ltrs, Smith to author, 18 Jun and 21 Jul 55. General Order 123, 9 September 1950, 24th Division, awarded the first Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star to Captain Jack E. Smith for gallantry and leadership on 20 July 1950.]

 Of all the incidents in the withdrawal, none was more dramatic or attended by such gripping subsequent drama as the adventures of General Dean. They began on the Kumsan road. When he missed the Okchon turn, it was probable that General Dean would not get far. There had been enemy roadblocks on the Kumsan road since the night before. A mile from the city Dean stopped his jeep where a wrecked truck lay on its side in the ditch with several wounded soldiers in it. He loaded these into his two jeeps and waved them on. He and two or three other soldiers soon clambered on to an artillery half-track that came south on the road. Riding in one of the jeeps ahead, Lieutenant Clarke was hit in the shoulder by enemy fire a mile farther down the road. Another mile ahead his group came to a knocked out truck blocking the road. There an enemy force had established a roadblock with machine gun and rifle fire. Clarke and the other men tumbled from the jeeps into the right hand ditch. Dean and those on the half-track did the same when they arrived a few minutes later.

 General Dean and the others crawled through bean patches and a garden to the bank of the Taejon River where they lay concealed until darkness came. It must have been at this time that Captain Smith and his L Company party fought their way through that roadblock. After dark Dean’s party crossed to the west side of the river and started climbing a high mountain. This was just north of the little village of Nangwol.

 General Dean and others in the party took turns in helping a badly wounded man up the steep slope. Once, Clarke dissuaded Dean from going back down the mountain for water. A little after midnight, at a time when he was leading the group, Lieutenant Clarke suddenly discovered that no one was following him. He turned back and found several men asleep. He called for General Dean. Someone replied that General Dean had gone for water. Clarke estimated that an unencumbered man could go to the bottom and back up to where they were in an hour. He decided to wait two hours. Dean did not return. At 0315 Clarke awakened the sleeping men and the party climbed to the top of the mountain, arriving there just before dawn. There they waited all day, four or five miles south of Taejon, hoping to see General Dean. That night, Clarke led his party back down the mountain, recrossed the Taejon River in a rainstorm near the village of Samhoe, climbed eastward into the mountains, and then turned south. He eventually led his party to safety through the lines of the 1st Cavalry Division at Yongdong on 23 July.

 [N11-74 Interv, author with Capt Ben Tufts, 2 Aug 51; Ltrs, Clarke to author, 11 and 22 Dec 52, together with sketch map of escape route he followed; New York Herald Tribune, July 24, 1950, dispatch by Homer Bigart. at Panmunjom.]

 It was some years before the mystery of what had happened to Dean that night after Taejon was finally cleared up. In going after water for the wounded men, General Dean fell down a steep slope and was knocked unconscious. When he regained consciousness he found he had a gashed head, a broken shoulder, and many bruises. For thirty-six days General Dean wandered in the mountains trying to reach safety, but this was the period when the North Koreans were advancing southward as rapidly as he was. On 25 August, two South Koreans who pretended to be guiding him toward safety led him into a prearranged ambush of North Korean soldiers, and they captured the emaciated, nearly starved, and injured general, who now weighed only 130 pounds instead of his normal 190. His capture took place near Chinan, thirty-five miles due south of Taejon and sixty-five air miles west of Taegu. Then began his more than three years of life as a prisoner of the North Koreans that finally ended on 4 September 1953 when he was repatriated to American officials.

General Dean’s heroic and fascinating chronicle as told in his book, General Dean’s Story, is one of the great documents to come out of the Korean War. That war was destined to add many illustrious names to the roll of honor in United States military annals. But posterity probably will accord to none as high a place as to General Dean in the example he set as a soldier and leader in great adversity and as an unbreakable American in Communist captivity.

 The Department of the Army awarded General Dean the Medal of Honor for his courage and exploits at Taejon on 20 July. DA GO No. 7, 16 Feb 51. The first information that Dean might be alive as a prisoner of war came from a North Korean soldier, Lee Kyu Hyun, who escaped to American lines (his claim) or was captured near Pyongyang in North Korea in late October 1950. He had been assigned to live with General Dean and to serve as interpreter. Colonel William A. Collier of the Eighth Army Staff who had established the Advanced Headquarters in Pyongyang was the first American officer to interview Lee. He was convinced that Lee had lived with Dean and made a detailed report to Major General Leven C. Allen, then Chief of Staff, Eighth Army. Captain Ben Tufts also interviewed Lee extensively, first at Pyongyang and subsequently early in 1951 at Pusan. In the summer of 1951 Tufts furnished the author with a copy of his interview notes with Lee. Lee’s story proved to be substantially in agreement with the account given later by Dean himself. But in 1951 the author could find scarcely anyone in Eighth Army or in the Far East Command who believed that General Dean might still be alive.

 A word needs to be said about the men of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, who were driven from or left their positions west of Taejon during the morning of 20 July and climbed into the hills south of the Nonsan road. Most of them escaped. These men traveled all night. One large party of 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, troops, which included Captain Barszcz’ G Company, 19th Infantry, was led by Captain Marks. It passed through Kumsan, where a few small parties turned east toward Yongdong.

 But the main party continued south, believing the enemy might have cut the road eastward. On the 23rd this group encountered some ROK trucks and shuttled south in them until they broke down. The next day the entire party loaded into a boxcar train it met and rode the last 50 miles into the south coast port of Yosu, 110 air miles south of Taejon and 80 air miles west of Pusan. From Yosu they traveled by boat the next day, 25 July, to Pusan. From there they returned north to rejoin their parent organizations.

 Most of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, reached Kumsan and there turned eastward to come through friendly lines at Yongdong. Included in these parties were Colonels McGrail and Ayres and Captains Montesclaros and Slack. They arrived at Yongdong on 21 and 22 July.

 Taejon must be considered a major victory for the North Koreans, even though two divisions with T34 tanks were operating against only about 4,000 men of the U.S. 24th Division in and around the city. It appears that credit should go to the N.K. 4th Division for carrying out the envelopment of Taejon from the west and south by strong elements of its 16th and 18th Regiments and imposing the disastrous roadblock on the Okchon highway east of Taejon. These elements had no tanks or artillery with them; theirs was a light infantry maneuver and tactic. Whether they came around by road through Kumsan from Nonsan or marched across country over the mountains south and southwest of Taejon from the Nonsan-Taejon road is not definitely known. There is some evidence that at least part of the enveloping force came through Kumsan.

 The N.K. 3rd Division joined the 5th Regiment of the N.K. 4th Division in maintaining frontal pressure against Taejon in the afternoon of the 20th and enveloped it on the north and northeast. The 3rd infiltrated the city heavily in the latter part of the afternoon. The enemy tanks that penetrated Taejon in the morning apparently belonged to the 107thTank Regiment of the 105th Armored Division, attached to the N.K. 4th Division ever since the crossing of the 38th Parallel. Some of the tanks that entered the city later in the day were probably from the 203rd Tank Regiment attached to the N.K. 3rd Division.

 [N11-77 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 106 (N.K. Arty), p. 66; Ibid., Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), pp. 4647; Ibid., Issue 96 (N.K. 3rd Div), pp. 31-32; OROR-1, FEC, Employment of Armor in Korea (8 Apr 51), vol. 1, p. 127, citing Senior Captain Kwon Jae Yon, and pp. 112-13, citing 2nd Lieutenant Kim Ji Soon.]

 The N.K. 2nd Division, which was supposed to have joined the 3rd and 4th in the attack on Taejon, failed to come up in time. This all but exhausted division did not leave Chongju until on or about the 18th. It then moved through Pugang-ni southwest toward Taejon, apparently intending to cross the Kum River in the vicinity of the railroad bridge. It had yet to cross the Kum when it received word on 21 July that Taejon had fallen. The 2nd Division thereupon altered its course and turned southeast through Poun, headed for Kumchon.

[N11-7878 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 2nd Div), p. 36.]

 It is difficult to estimate enemy losses at Taejon. The North Korean infantry losses apparently were light. Their losses in armor and artillery were considerable. The N. K. 4th Division, according to prisoner reports later, lost 15 76-mm. guns and 6 122-mm. mortars, together with 200 artillerymen. The tank losses were relatively heavy; at least 15 of them were destroyed, and possibly the number may have been 20 or more.

Within five days the enemy, employing numerically superior forces, had executed two highly successful envelopments of American positions at the Kum River and at Taejon. In each case the North Koreans moved around the left flank to impose roadblocks covering the rear routes of escape. In each instance the result was catastrophic for the units cut off. These enemy operations must stand as excellent examples of this type of military tactic.

 On the American side, the lack of information of the true state of affairs caused by the almost complete breakdown in all forms of communication was the major factor leading to the disaster. In battle, communication is all important.

The 24th Division After Taejon  

When all the men who escaped from Taejon had rejoined their units, a count showed 1,150 casualties out of 3,933 of the U.S. 24th Division forces engaged there on 19-20 July—nearly 30 percent. Of these casualties, 48 were known dead, 228 wounded, and 874 missing in action. Most of the last were presumed killed and this was borne out by subsequent information. Among the rifle companies, L Company, 34th Infantry, the rear guard unit, lost the most with 107 casualties out of 153 men (70 percent).

 The equipment loss also was very great. Virtually all the organic equipment of the troops in Taejon was lost there. Only B Battery, 13th Field Artillery Battalion, B Battery, 63rd Field Artillery Battalion, and I Company, 34th Infantry, brought out their equipment substantially intact. They escaped just before the enemy enforced the roadblock which caught everything behind them. Approximately only 35 regimental vehicles escaped from Taejon. The 24th Quartermaster Company lost 30 of 34 trucks; A Battery, 11th Field Artillery Battalion, lost all 5 of its 155-mm. howitzers.

 At noon on 22 July the 24th Infantry Division turned over the front-line positions at Yongdong to the 1st Cavalry Division. The division’s consolidated strength on that day was 8,660 men. Seventeen days had elapsed since division troops had first met North Koreans in combat at Osan on 5 July. In that time, two enemy divisions had driven it back 100 miles in a southeasterly direction. In these two and a half weeks, the division had suffered more than 30 percent casualties. More than 2,400 men were missing in action. It had lost enough matériel to equip a division. Losses in senior officers of field grade had been unusually severe. And then finally, at Taejon, the commanding general of the division was missing in action. Charged with carrying out a delaying action, the division had held the enemy on its front to an average gain of about six miles a day. On 22 July, with General Dean still missing in action, Eighth Army ordered Major General John H. Church to assume command of the 24th Division.

 Soldiers of the 24th Division faced many handicaps in their early battles with the North Koreans. Often the unit commanders were new to the units and did not know their officers and men; there were few qualified officer replacements for those lost; communication was a most serious and continuing problem—there was a lack of telephone wire, and the batteries for radios were outdated and lasted only an hour or so in operation or they did not function at all; there was a shortage of ammunition, particularly for the 60-mm., 81-mm., and 4.2-inch mortars; dysentery at times affected a fourth of the men; and always there were the rumors, generally absurd and groundless, which kept the men agitated and uneasy. The maps, based on the Japanese survey of 1918-32, were often unreliable, resulting in inaccurate artillery fire unless directed and adjusted by an observer. Road and convoy discipline was poor. Driver maintenance was poor.

 [N11-80 24th Div WD, Summ, 583 Jul-25 Aug 50; Ltr, Smith to author, 6 Nov 51; 21st Inf WD, 25 Jun22 Jul 50, Incl III, Act Rpt, 3rd Bn, 24 Jul 50; 34th Inf WD, 22 Jul-26 Aug 50, Logistical Rpt; EUSAK WD, 13-31 Jul 50, Summ, Sec II, 22 Jul 50. Church was promoted from brigadier general to major general on 18 July 1950.]

  There were many heroic actions by American soldiers of the 24th Division in these first weeks in Korea. But there were also many uncomplimentary and unsoldierly ones. Leadership among the officers had to be exceptional to get the men to fight, and several gave their lives in this effort. Others failed to meet the standard expected of American officers. There is no reason to suppose that any of the other three occupation divisions in Japan would have done better in Korea than did the U.S. 24th Division in July 1950. When committed to action they showed the same weaknesses.

 A basic fact is that the occupation divisions were not trained, equipped, or ready for battle. The great majority of the enlisted men were young and not really interested in being soldiers. The recruiting posters that had induced most of these men to enter the Army mentioned all conceivable advantages and promised many good things, but never suggested that the principal business of an army is to fight.

 When the first American units climbed the hills in the Korean monsoon heat and humidity, either to fight or to escape encirclement by the enemy, they “dropped like flies,” as more than one official report of the period states. Salt tablets became a supply item of highest priority and were even dropped to troops by plane.

 One participant and competent observer of the war in those first days has expressed the conditions well. He said, “The men and officers had no interest in a fight which was not even dignified by being called a war. It was a bitter fight in which many lives were lost, and we could see no profit in it except our pride in our profession and our units as well as the comradeship which dictates that you do not let your fellow soldiers down.”

 [N11-81 Ltr, Stephens to author, 17 Sep 52. The author has heard essentially the same thing from many others who fought in Korea during the summer of 1950.]

 As part of the historical record, it may be worthwhile to record General Dean’s own judgment after turning over in his mind for several years the events of Taejon, and after having read this chapter in manuscript. Many of the things related in this chapter he did not, of course, know at the time. Here are the words of this brave and honest soldier, written seven and a half years after the event.

 Hostile and friendly dispositions, which are now quite clear, were much more obscure at the time. I stayed in Taejon for a number of reasons: (1) In an effort to stimulate the fighting spirit of the 34th Infantry and attached troops there in the city.

 The second reason was as an example to the ROK leaders and also to give confidence to the ROK forces. The third was to see at close hand just what kind of a fighter the North Korean was. It is now clear to me that I was too close to the trees to see the forest, and therefore was at the time blind to the envelopment that the North Koreans were engineering. Not until we turned off on the road to Kumsan and we ran into the North Korean detachment dug in at intervals along that highway did I realize what had happened. I was disturbed about the infiltrators into the City of Taejon itself, but I was not alarmed and I was sanguine of extricating the 34th Infantry until I had left the city on the Kumsan road and realized that there had been an envelopment of major proportions. But even then, I did not realize the extent of the envelopment and my earnest prayer at the time was that the majority of the 34th Infantry would not take the Kumsan road but would leave by way of the Okchon road. Subsequent events have proved that it would have been better if we had all headed down the Kumsan road because I am certain we could have cleared that and gotten a greater number through. . . .

 In retrospect, it would appear that the 21st Infantry Regiment should have been employed to secure the exit from Taejon. But I never issued such an order and my reason for not doing so was that I was convinced that the 21st Infantry Regiment should hold the commanding terrain just west of Okchon to prevent an envelopment from the north, which would cut off both the 21st Infantry Regiment and the 34th Infantry Regiment and permit the enemy to drive through Yongdong and south through Yongdong to Kumchon and hence south. My big two errors were: (1) Not withdrawing the 34th Infantry Regiment the night of the 19th of July, as originally planned; (2) releasing the 24th Reconnaissance Company to the 34th Infantry Regiment.

 After the fall of Taejon the war was to enter a new phase. Help in the form of the 1st Cavalry Division had arrived. No longer would the 24th Division and the ROK Army have to stand alone.

SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)

Korean War: U. N. Front Line Moves South (12A)

Korean War: Battle for Taejon July 1950 (11A)

 

Advertisements