by Art Lombardi, Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret), 63rd and 13th FAB, Korea
I served with the 11th Airborne Division during WWII as a First Sergeant and battlefield commissioned officer on New Guinea, Leyte, Luzon and the Occupation of Japan.
When I returned to active duty in May of 1949, and was posted to the 24th Infantry Division in Japan, I had no idea of what the next two years held in store for me. I was assigned to the 63rd F.A. Battalion, and stationed at Camp Hakata on Kyushu.
I arrived full of energy happy to be back in Army harness. To say that I was disappointed in what I found is an understatement. This was not the Army I had known during WWII.
The troops were, in large measure, in lousy physical shape, lacked motivation, and more interested in romantic pursuits with local ladies than in soldering. And the logistical posture was nothing to brag about either. Equipment and armament was of World War II vintage, and there were shortages.
In retrospect, it is difficult to imagine the consequence had the North Koreans attacked in 1949 rather than a year later. At least there was that year to improve readiness, but we were still far from up to par by the time of deployment to Korea in early July of 1950.
Over the years I have wondered why in the world the 24th Division was the first one committed to Korea. I assume it was because of its proximity to Korea, and possibly to the miscalculation that once North Korea recognized that U.S. forces were coming to the aid of the South Korean Army, they would scamper back across the 38th parallel.
Certainly, the readiness of the 24th Division could not have been much of a factor. On 5 July 1950, Task Force Smith, which included “A” Battery of the 52nd F.A. Battalion, was forced to withdraw from its defensive position near Osan after a severe mauling.
On 7 July, “A” Battery of the 63rd F.A. Battalion, my unit, was hastily moved north by rail, and occupied its first position. Late that evening, it fired its first fire mission, the second U.S. artillery unit after “A” Battery of the 52nd to do so in the Korean War.
The next seven days were a nightmare. It came to a head when on 14 July, south of the Kum River the 63d found itself surrounded by the 16th Regiment of the North Korean 4th Infantry Division. Isolated, and void of any infantry support, the 63rd was a sitting duck.
As the sole surviving officer of “A” battery on the ground, I can tell you that, given its state of readiness, the battery acquitted itself as well as could have been expected.
The events on the 14th of July, coupled with the additional losses at Taejon on the 19th of July, spelled the end for the 63rd. The battalion was inactivated and the survivors of “A” Battery were reassigned to form the nucleus of the newly formed “C” Battery of the 13th F.A. Battalion.
In my following year with “C” Battery, it performed admirably; it was the Army I had known during WW II.
During my 28 years in the Army following Korea, I freely admit that, whether in a staff position or in command through the Corps Artillery level, I was always consumed with readiness.
And I make no apology for that! The painful lesson learned as the result of the disaster that befell the 24th Division in July of 1950 mandates that our military and political leaders be of a mindset that military readiness is to be regarded as a sacred obligation.
Inherent in that obligation is that our forces must be provided all they need, not only in time of war, but in times of peace as well. Our military forces deserve no less.
America must never repeat another initial stage Korea when too many good men were lost, wounded or ended up as prisoners of war.
Art Lombardi Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret) 533 Georgetown Rd. Clarksville, TN 37043-4626 615-645-3009
Lombardi, Art, 2008, The Taro Leaf, Vol 62(1) Winter, pg 23.