COMBAT ACTIONS IN THE
The 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
I read with great interest Frank Harris’s diary entries on the battle of Yong Dong. As S-3 of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, I was intimately involved in that operation. Accordingly, I am able to recount the course of events from our deployment in Japan, to the F and H Companies’ return to friendly lines south of Yong dong and on to the Naktong line. Perhaps this will provide a broader view of those events. I hope my memory serves me well. It has been fifty years since those difficult times. Readers who wish to provide corrections or additions are most welcome.
In July of 1950, the
Division was alerted to move to
Major Gerald Robbins, the 2nd
Battalion’s Executive Officer, was responsible for moving the Battalion to the
east-coast Korean town of Pohang Dong, and then by rail to Yong Dong. Yong Dong was a communication center south of
the position of the 24th Division, which was being overwhelmed by a
superior North Korean force. Lt. Colonel
Eugene Field, the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion, and I
were to fly to
Fortunately, the landing on July 18th
was unopposed. Col. Field and I met the
Battalion on the beach at
The mission of the Regiment was to establish a blocking position to cover the withdrawal of the 24th Division on the two roads leading into Yong Dong—one from the north and the other from the west. The 1st Battalion was to block on the north road and 2nd Battalion was to block on the west road.
The gap between the blocking positions was approximately five miles. These were untenable dispositions since the Battalions could not provide mutual support. Historical records indicate that General Gay, the Division Commanding General, objected to that plan, but, to no avail. He was ordered by the 8th Army to deploy the Regiment as directed. I can only assume that General Gay objected to having to split the Regiment in this fashion. The Regiment had no reserve as the so-called "Johnson Cuts" in defense appropriations left all regiments short one battalion. That Johnson, Louis A. and not Lyndon, was Secretary of the Army under President Truman.
The 8th Army provided trucks,
and the Battalion arrived in Yong Dong the night of our first day in
The photographic tribute of Frank Curtin at Fort Hood in your recent newsletter brought back fond memories of that fellow officer. Frank was among the first casualties of the 1st Cavalry Division in the Korean War. At the time of his death, I was with the Battalion artillery liaison officer at his Observation Post. We were directing artillery fire on the NPKA, which was attacking through the gap between our battalions. I saw, in the valley behind the operations point, Frank’s jeep back up over a land mine. My last memory of him was of his torso blown above the destroyed jeep.
That day, July 19, ended in multiple disasters. Line communications were out, the wire having been cut by the enemy. An NKPA roadblock was established to our rear. Our Battalion CO, LtCol. Field, was seriously wounded. Despite this, he broke through the NKPA roadblock in order to get to the Regimental command post and appraise the Regimental Commander, Colonel Palmer, of our dire situation and the imminence of being cut off.
Earlier that day several staff members of Major General Dean’s 24th Division came through our command post inquiring if we had seen the General. (As you may recall, General Dean was the highest-ranking officer captured during the war.) By then, the major NPKA force was rapidly moving south, having completely overrun General Dean’s division.
Maj. Robbins, now the Battalion Commander in place of LtColonel Field, was instructed by radio to get back to friendly lines as best he could. The Regiment could no longer provide any support or reinforcement.
Late that afternoon, Maj. Robbins met with the Company commanders and Battalion staff to outline his plan to break the roadblock. As I recall it, the plan was as follows: Major Robbins, with two-thirds of the Battalion, would attack along the axis of the road leading to Yong Dong. At the same time, F and H Companies and a light tank platoon would envelope the left flank of the roadblock, thereby providing support to Major Robbins’ forces. I would accompany the enveloping force commanded by Captain Terry Field, the former F Company commander and now Battalion Executive Officer replacing Major Robbins.
We attacked at daylight on July 20th. Major Robbins’ force attacked and broke through the roadblock, and then assembled south of Yong Dong. Each time the enveloping force, led by Captain Field, attempted to attack to the east, it encountered stiff resistance. Seven of our M-24 tanks became bogged down in rice paddy mud; four others reached the road and drove on to Yong Dong. The NKPA was to our front and rear. We were devoid of artillery support, routes of communication and evacuation. Moreover, we were sustaining casualties, including stretcher cases and walking wounded. At the end of that day, Captain Field, Captain Hal Maness, the commander of H Company, and I met to determine how to exploit the enemies’ left flank, avoid sustained combat and return to friendly lines as an intact unit.
On the second day, July 21, an artillery observation plane spotted our column. The pilot dropped messages that guided us to friendly lines. On the third day, July 22, we joined our Battalion south of Yong Dong.
Following a very brief rest, the Battalion, along with the rest of the Regiment, fought a delaying action on several successive positions south of the Naktong River to the Pusan Perimeter. It was during these delaying actions, I believe in Hwangang that Lieutenant Matta, Captain Field’s replacement as commander of F Company, was killed. He was a friend and a fine and courageous soldier.
There was an inadequate flow of replacements. Hastily-trained South Korean soldiers joined our Companies to fill some of the squad and platoon vacancies. In addition, a provisional Battalion was formed, which was composed of rear area personnel.
It was here, at the Naktong Perimeter, that General Walker, the 8th Army commander, issued his famous "Stand or Die" order. Our Battalion was on the west of the main north-south road leading to Taegu, about seven miles south of our position. That area became known as the "bowling alley" and, despite General Walker’s order, we were overrun and forced to give ground.
I was ambushed by an enemy patrol on that road, during which Sgt. John Burt, my Battalion operations sergeant, was killed. A couple of days later, I took a volunteer patrol and recovered his body. That patrol included PFC Harry Mendoza, the S-3 clerk who took over for Sergeant Burt. Only 18 years of age, PFC Mendoza readily assumed his new responsibility and did an outstanding job. (I recently assisted Harry Mendoza in being awarded a much-deserved, and delayed, Bronze Star Medal for his effort.
It was also in the bowling alley that our Regiment’s 3rd Battalion, fresh from the States, went into position on our right flank. Lt. Colonel Harold Johnson, a survivor of the Baatan Death March, commanded the Battalion. He was later to become the Army Chief of Staff under President Johnson. However, the 3rd Battalion’s actions on our right flank are the subject of another narrative.
My last day with the Battalion was on Sept. 15, the day of the Inchon Landing. I was hit on Hill 570 directing an E Company attack to secure the final portion of the Ridge 570. This was the 2nd Battalion’s sixtieth day of heavy combat. It had sustained many casualties. During the battle for Yong Dong, two Battalion commanders, CO Field and Major Robbins, a Battalion executive officer, Captain Field, the S-3 (myself) and the transportation officer. Lt. Carl Millar, were wounded. And, Lieutenant Woodruff, the Battalion’s S-2, was killed. This attests to the intensity of the combat. The records similarly reflect heavy casualties sustained by the soldiers in the entire Battalion.
By April of 1951, I was recovered from my wounds and fit for duty. I rejoined the Regiment, this time as Regimental S-3. I served the remainder of my tour with the newly promoted Regimental Commander, Colonel Field, who had recovered from his wounds.
Concerning the Nogun-ri press exploitation I will categorically state that at no time did the 2nd Battalion receive any orders that would violate the Geneva Convention’s rules of land warfare. Nor did any of the units in the Battalion violate the provisions of the Geneva Convention in their treatment of non-combatants. As I recall, our orders were to allow no line crossing during hours of darkness. During daylight we were to search the refugees for concealed weapons, and if none allow them to continue.
Most of my comrades are now gone: Ed Breslin, Gene Field, Terry Field, Carl Millar, and Gerry Robbins. I was pleased to hear that Hal Maness is still holding on and I see Bill McClain’s name appear in Cavalry and POW newsletters. I am in frequent contact with Art Gerometta, one of the USMA’s Class of ’50 who was rushed to Korea following his graduation. Because so many of that class died in action, a policy was established to limit the number of Academy graduates from the same class sent to combat.
As a note of interest, during WWII, I served with the 3rd Battalion, 164th Infantry Regiment, Americal Division in three Pacific campaigns. Our attitude about the 1st Cavalry at that time, with some resentment, was that it got great press coverage—almost equal to that of the Marines! When I joined the 1st Cavalry in 1949, I naturally, put those thoughts aside. However, it is very hard to divide one’s loyalties between two combat divisions like the Americal and the 1st Cavalry.