Saturday was another exact date in U.S. military history, one with mixed feelings.
Less than five years since the end of The Big War, also known as World War II, America and many other nations were at war again.
On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops came pouring across the 38th parallel dividing line between North and South Korea. Only a token American force was stationed in Korea, as no attack was expected.
The few troops in the tiny country were quickly pushed back down the peninsula with seemingly no way to stem the communists’ advance.
America had occupation forces in Japan, and the decision was made to immediately send a task force, approximately battalion-sized, to Korea to try to at least slow down the attackers. One U.S. general in Korea was quoted as saying the North Koreans would “turn around and go back when they found out who was fighting.”
A 540-man force was put together and named Task Force Smith, after the infantry lieutenant colonel who commanded it. No less than the top U.S. commander in the Far East, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, called it “an arrogant display of strength.”
The first engagement was around 8:30 a.m. July 5 when 33 North Korean tanks, Soviet WWII T-34s, attacked the hastily dug in task force. The Americans lacked antitank mines, and the 2.36-inch rocket launchers failed to penetrate the tanks’ armor.
But, somehow task force members managed to knock out four tanks, kill 42 men, and wound 85.
Heavy rain precluded air support, communications broke down, and the task force was far too small to put up any sort of defense against the attackers. Within a few hours, it suffered 150 casualties and lost all equipment except some individual small arms weapons.
Another casualty was American morale, as word quickly spread to other units in the 24th Infantry Division that was moving into positions below Osan.
After much study, there are two ways to view Task Force Smith.
One, by an officer who was not there, former Command and General Staff College deputy commandant and later chief of staff of the Army, Gen. (Ret.) Gordon Sullivan, during a speech to students, said “No more Task Force Smiths.”
His point was the U.S. Army should maintain fighting forces at a higher level, and equip them with adequate weapons to defeat any potential adversary.
Another view was from one who was in Task Force Smith, former Leavenworth resident Lt. Col. (Ret.) Duane Scott, a field artillery officer who was a WWII veteran and a lieutenant in Task Force Smith.
In a talk to CGSC students, he said task force members were proud of their stop-gap action and did the best they could with what they had. Even with inadequate weapons, he said troops still did yeoman work in slowing the North Korean onslaught.
Scott lived in retirement in Leavenworth County until his death several years ago.
But, a bad start to a surprise war was only the beginning.
The Korean War became the first one America lost. Technically, one can argue we haven’t lost yet, as a 1953 armistice is still in effect. We and other nations still have troops in Korea, but since the armistice is now 61 years old, my take is we stand scant chance of having the North Koreans and their ally China now surrender to the United Nations.
To end on a neat touch of historical trivia, I remind readers the U.S. Army has not won a war in which pack mules were not used. Iraq wasn’t a war, nor is what has been happening in Afghanistan, but it may not be a good sign that pack mules were not used in either place.
Just a point to ponder.