TASK FORCE SMITH MUSEUM DEDICATED
by Rus Penland, Secretary, 52nd FA Bn Association
A MONUMENT honoring the UN Forces First Battle opened to the public April 23, 2014, at the city of Osan, South Korea. This event marks the city’s 59th consecutive year of honoring the 24th Division’s Task Force Smith.
“We believe it is our sacred duty to keep the memory of [Task Force Smith’s] devotion and sacrifice alive,” explained Kwak Sang-Wook, mayor of Osan.
A dedication ceremony was held July 3 to honor the members of the “First to Fight” Division, with the new monument adding another dimension to the Task Force Smith Museum, located in a 12 acre park along the road where the battle of JookMiRyung took place 64 years ago.
The city also planted 540 trees to honor of the men who fought to protect Osan July 5, 1950. Pine trees were selected, because they symbolize undying loyalty in Korean culture. Accompanying the trees are plaques naming the 540 men known to have taken part in the battle (no exact roster of Task Force Smith members survived the battle).
Task Force Smith was primarily comprised of two companies from the 21st Infantry Regiment and one battery from the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion who were deployed to delay the advance of more than 2,000 North Korean troops barreling down the main highway of the peninsula.
Preceding the enemy infantrymen were at least 34 brand new Soviet tanks that proved almost impervious to the outdated weapons available to the American task force at the time. The friendly troops were further hampered by a shortage of manpower, failure of equipment and weapons, and a severe shortage of tank-busting ammunition (HEAT) – all while fighting in typhoon-like weather conditions.
Representing the 24th Division at the July 3 dedication ceremony in Osan were four heroic members of the task force. From the 21st Regiment were Norman Mathews, Company C; William C. Coe, Company B; and Charles Fronapfel, Medical Company. Representing the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion was John Sanchez, Headquarters Battery.
Norman Matthews’ mortar squad expended their meager 12-16 rounds early in the battle and could do nothing but watch as North Korean tanks and motorized vehicles passed down the road.
William Coe still feels the effects of a bullet that passed through the radio on his back and then into his shoulder. During their withdrawal, he and several others came upon three healthy young Koreans dressed as civilians. Their close-cropped hair made Coe suspicious. To keep from drawing the attention of nearby North Korean soldiers, his friends quietly held the three “peasants” at gunpoint, while Coe disabled them by hand. Sure enough, beneath the three men’s white garb were enemy uniforms, and their burp guns were soon located, as well.
Fronapfel was one of 31 men from Medical Company, 21st Inf. He was also one of the 11 medics captured, according to Phil Burke from that Company; two other medics were killed. Fronapfel was administering aid to wounded infantrymen on the battlefront when he was captured.
Sanchez, a wire and telephone technician, was given a machine gun and told to join the infantrymen in Company B. He is credited with knocking out the first YAK airplane that strafed the infantry’s position.
Lt. Col. Brad Smith, Commander of the 1st Battalion, 21st Regiment, and Lt. Col. Miller O Perry, Commander of the 52nd Battalion, have since been lauded for their bravery and leadership during those opening days of the war.
During the dedication ceremony of the First Battle Monument, remarks were delivered by the Deputy Eighth Army Commander, the Mayor of Osan, and the Governor of Gyeonggi Do Province. Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as Congressmen and members of the City Council and veterans organizations also took part in the ceremonies.
The nearby Task Force Smith Museum, dedicated in similar ceremonies in 2013, consists of a three-floor exhibit space highlighting artifacts and events surrounding the war. One wall is dedicated to portraits and plaques of TFS members. Also displayed are tributes by the Korean people to UN and US troops.
In preparation for the 2014 monument dedication, Osan City gave Image Media Services, of McLean, VA, the project of upgrading the TFS membership list, and they have been searching for contact information from TFS families and relatives.
Hanna Yoon, project manager for the ambitious undertaking, gathered the list of prospective invitees for the July 3 dedication and, in April, helped to launch a website (http//tfsmemorial.com) dedicated to the memory of Task Force Smith. Veteran's stories are being considered for use on the Museum’s website and social media pages, and emailed contributions can be sent to (firstname.lastname@example.org). Veterans (or their survivors) may also record their accounts on video, which may be uploaded to (www.YouTube.com/TFSmemorial).
Task Force Smith’s action, immediately followed by delaying actions by the 34th Regiment and the remaining sections of the 21st Regiment, helped buy time for the rest of the 24th Division to deploy from Japan to Korea. The grave sacrifices of all 24th Division units in the terrible month of July 1950 are well documented in Roy Appleman's “South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu,” currently being serialized in this publication.