With Task Force Smith at Osan
By Jack H. Higdon
I enjoy the magazine very much and have followed the articles closely. I have lost a lot of friends from the Gimlets and occasionally see their names in the magazine. I hope to attend a reunion some day.
This is a story I have never told.
When the Korean War started I had been living the good life in Kumamoto, Japan. I had learned to smoke, drink, gamble and womanize, and had learned to do all very well, even at the young age of 16!
I was assigned to Company M, 21st Infantry Regiment at Camp Wood in January 1949. I was in the 75mm Recoilless Rifle platoon.
In July 1950, I went to Korea with Task Force Smith where my unit was attached to the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, the first American unit into Korea.
We were sent to delay the North Korean advance until other units could be deployed. Colonel Smith selected a site near Osan, South Korea for our stand.
My first experience with combat was there at Osan. That was a day I will never forget.
They sent our 75mm Recoilless Rifle squad because they told us our weapon would stop tanks.
I was in an emplacement covering the main road with Elihude Bond from Kentucky, Rocky (Clyde T) Rockwell from Nevada and Denton from Arkansas.
We had been told that when the North Koreans saw that we were Americans, they would not shoot at us.
Unfortunately no one told that to the North Koreans!
When they hit us we fired one round and hit the lead tank.
While we were celebrating we did not notice the tank’s gun was still operational and that it had been pointed right at our position.
When the tank fired the first round it hit in front of our emplacement! We were pelted with dirt and rocks and became very scared.
At that point the NK ground troops began overrunning our Main Line of resistance and it was total chaos.
G.I.s were walking over to the road and surrendering.
Rocky and Bond said they guessed we were supposed to surrender too.
I said not me. Bond who was a corporal told me I had to if he did.
I told him not me.
They moved out towards the road and I moved out in the opposite direction running as fast as I could.
I ran until my lungs were on fire. I was a very scared 16 year old who had never tossed a grenade or fired my rifle at anyone.
The mortars that were supporting us were good news and bad news. The bad news was the rounds they were firing were landing behind us. The good news was the ammo was so old the rounds were not exploding!
It was pure mayhem when I ran. The last person I saw surrendering was Denton.
All three, Bond, Rockwell and Denton, were POWs. Rockwell and Bond died in captivity. Denton lived and came home, but his health was destroyed.
I ran alone, keeping off the r0ads. I ran for three days. Several times, I was given food and water by friendly Koreans. Maybe if I had stayed on the main roads I may have gotten back to the troops that had arrived after us, but I was scared and kept to myself because I thought the NK were on the main roads.
Finally I made it back to a river where our troops that had come later had taken positions.
They took me to their S2 to be debriefed. I told the Major that our positions had been overrun, and that I had run when the others decided to surrender. I told him that if they wanted to court martial me to go ahead.
The Major said that I had not had a chance against the NK, and that I had done nothing wrong.
In later action in Korea, I received the CIB and the Silver Star. I rotated from Korea on June 1, 1951, one of the first to rotate.
I went on to spend 30 years in the Army. That included two tours in Vietnam, 1963-64, and 1969-70. One year in MAAG Saigon/Cholon, and one in the 4th Infantry Division.
I made master Sergeant 1n 1955 in the 11th Airborne Division Honor Guard at age 23. I served in the 101st Airborne and on the J6 staffs at USCINCEUR and USSOUTHCOM.
During my service after Korea I received four Bronze Stars for Meritorious Service, five Commendation medals, one Joint Service Commendation medal and the Legion of Merit. I retired as a CW4 in 1977.
For years I felt like I was a coward at Osan. Then one day on a web site I learned there were 800 of us and 10,000 NKs!
I no longer felt like a coward! Rather I realized I was simply a poorly trained, poorly led, very scared 16 year old who used his instincts to survive!
I do not know why I decided to write about that horrible day now. I carried a ton of guilt for years until I learned the odds we faced at Osan that hot July day.
The thing that still angers me is that we had very little training and being only 16 years old I simply did not know what I should do. I responded to a terrible situation using my gut judgment.
I wish I could tell you more.
Jack H. Higdon
CW4 USA Retired
918 NE Van Loon Lane
Cape Coral, FL 33909-2639
The Taro Leaf, Vol 64(1) Winter 2010, pg. 11-12.