First on Korea’s front lines, medic risks life to save others
By Jeff Redman, The Mountaineer, NC, redman[at]themountaineer.com, 828-452-0661 ext. 134 , submitted bt Bill Lane.
Canton, NC, Sunday, March 28, 2010: On Sunday, June 25, 1950, North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea, dramatically escalating ongoing conflicts between the two nations and thrusting the Asian peninsula into war. President Harry Truman responded to the incursion of communist forces with an order to America’s military to halt the advance.
The invasion and Truman’s response came at a time when most American forces in the region were occupying post-war Japan. One Haywood County (NC) man was among those forces; Bill Lane was serving as a medic in the Army’s 24th Infantry Division.
“I had just come in from chapel service,” Lane said of hearing the news of the invasion. “I didn’t really know where Korea was at the time.”
That Sunday, Lane and his fellow servicemen were put on alert and within the week were deployed to South Korea as the first American forces engaged in battle there. Their mission was to slow the North Korean advance until more American forces could arrive to fight the North Koreans back.
“We knew we’d be shipping out,” Lane said, adding that he spent his days more focused on making sure his personal items were in order and ready to be shipped home. “Being as young as I was, I think was a little too brave sometimes.”
Arriving at a port on the western shore of the Korean peninsula, Lane and his fellow soldiers found they needed plenty of bravery. The North Koreans were advancing south, pushing fleeing South Korean civilians ahead of them. The 24th Infantry Division set up its headquarters in Taejon, but battles in the advance to Taejon had left it weak and with little available communication to other American forces. Lane remembers being in Taejon on July 25th when the city was overrun.
“The North Koreans had tanks all over town,” he said. “They shot a hole in a (medical) aid station which was in a school. It was chaos all that day.”
By mid-afternoon, Lane said, the division had orders to evacuate the town. Outnumbered and outgunned by the North Koreans, the American forces were attacked relentlessly on the way out of Taejon.
“We got pinned down all afternoon,” Lane said.
An attack on Lane’s convoy flipped a truck in which several soldiers were riding.
“There was so much shooting going on, we couldn’t get up and go,” he said. “We had to stay in ditches to stay out of harm’s way.”
Lane found the cover he needed at nightfall to try to rescue the soldiers pinned under the truck. He put together a small group to sneak up to the truck and free the soldiers.
“We discovered that three or four of our personnel were pinned under the truck,” Lane said. While he was looking under the truck asking if everyone was all right, Lane said he heard a familiar voice.
“I heard a voice say, ‘Lane, is that you?’” he said. “It was my best friend.”
Quietly, Lane and others jacked the truck up to free the trapped soldiers. As they started to move the truck, its horn started blowing, forcing them to free the soldiers in a hurry and find cover. Lane said they put the injured on a half-track and traveled slowly at night.
“Everything was at a standstill all day,” Lane said. At night, they’d find more injured soldiers and put them on the half-tracks.
“We’d put as many troops that could hang on,” he said.
For his efforts in aiding and leading wounded troops to safety, Lane was awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest decoration awarded to a member of any branch of American armed forces. The citation details Lane’s heroism.
“During the entire period he was in Taejon, he aided in giving medical attention and evacuating over 30 wounded men,” the citation reads.
Lane continued serving in Korea until New Year’s Eve, when Chinese forces entered the conflict and engaged Lane’s unit in battle.
“There were flares everywhere,” Lane said. “You could see the enemies coming up.”
Lane’s service and the efforts of his comrades in the 24th Infantry on the Korean peninsula came with a tremendous toll — thousands of men were killed and thousands more taken prisoner of war, including the division’s commander, Maj. Gen. William F. Dean. In spite of the losses, the division was able to slow the North Korean advance enough to allow American forces to set up important perimeters that held vital South Korean territories.
Lane was shot in the wrist during the New Year’s battle with Chinese forces — a wound that would end his service in Korea. It wouldn’t, however, end his service to the Army.
Lane retired from the Army in 1972 after serving as a medic both stateside and overseas, including a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam in 1968. After his military retirement, Lane continued working in the medical field, retiring from 22 years as a lab technician at Haywood Regional Medical Center.
Today, Lane and his wife, Betty, travel the country attending Army reunions and connecting with veterans. As a member of the 24th Infantry Division Association, Lane says he and his wife have “put a lot of miles on the car” staying in touch with friends and fellow servicemen. (See color photo of Lane at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin in 2009 on page 46.)
Lane said that anyone who’s served in the 24th Infantry Division interested in joining him at reunions can contact him at wdlanejr[at]yahoo.com (Reprinted with permission)
William D. Lane, 8 Pearson Place, Canton NC 28716-5830, 828-648-1717, 34th Inf., Med
The Taro Leaf, Vol 64(3) Summer 2010, pg. 14-15.