Task Force Smith veterans reflect on war experiences
July 8, 2010
By Todd Fogle
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Army News Service July 8, 2010) -- Retired Col. Jack Doody said a person has about three very memorable events in his or her life and being part of Task Force Smith 60 years ago this month is one of his.
The first group of Soldiers to enter Korea and engage in battle in 1950 was known as Task Force Smith because they were commanded by Lt. Col. Charles Smith.
Soldiers from the 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, Companies B and C, were the main units of the task force. They engaged in the battle of Osan July 5, 1950.
The battle of Osan, along Highway 1, did not last long -- less than two days. After it ended, Task Force Smith also ended. The Soldiers were absorbed back into their battalions, Doody said.
"It was no longer Task Force Smith," he said.
Members of the short-lived task force were stationed in southern Japan at the end of the World War II.
"The Japanese people were very pleasant to do business with," Doody said.
The troops were very comfortable living in Japan, Doody said, adding that they were not prepared for the trip to Korea, and received little notification.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class, Ezra "Phil" Burke, Medical Co., 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, said, "We didn't have time to think about it."
Doody said, "We were not prepared to go. This was something that just happened."
He said after gathering their weapons the members of what would be called Task Force Smith went north to Itazuke Airbase. They were unable to fly out the first night, but the next, they were on their way north toward Seoul.
According to a document on the U.S. Army Center for Military History website, the commander of group, Lt. Col. Charles Smith, met with Brig. Gen. John Church who told him about the conflict with North Korea.
""We have a little action up here. All we need is some men up there who won't run when they see tanks," Church reportedly told Smith.
Americans, Doody said, have a misconception that Soldiers run from battle. He said there is also a misconception that they do not shoot.
He said that is not the case. "Everyone fired their weapons." He said later, "Every time there was a chance to shoot, they shot."
The A battery of the 52nd Field Artillery was with Task Force Smith when North Korean tanks showed up. Doody said there were more than a thousand North Koreans to only several hundred task force members. He said the Americans suffered great losses.
They did not have tanks. They did not have many weapons capable of stopping tanks, Doody said about his Task Force Smith comrades.
"You don't have a chance," Doody said. "You do the best you can."
Despite the overwhelming circumstances, "Nobody left until they were ordered to leave," he said.
Those orders did come. Smith, a West Point graduate, had commanded a battalion during World War II.
"He knew what to do and how to do it," Doody said. That meant falling back in this battle.
"He could see it was a no-win situation," Doody said.
They began backing off the hill to the south. He said there was no assistance in the retreat. There were no helicopters flying Soldiers off the field.
"Everyone who left the battlefield walked off," he said.
He described how some of those that were injured got off the field. Some jumped on trucks, others jumped on artillery.
Burke recalled some of his experiences as a medic: "When the colonel gave the evacuation order, the doctor and the chaplain took all the wounded men and I stayed behind with the litter cases."
He said eventually enough people were able to carry the litters out. During the withdrawal, they were still receiving fire.
He said a shell landed behind him. He told some of the others with him to go ahead of him and he would catch back up. He went to check on those behind him and found the mortar fire had killed two people.
"I went back in to see how many wounded. All the ones I could find were KIA and dead."
He was injured when he went back after the first mortar fire. He said they were warned that when they see one shell, there is likely another following.
"I should have remembered that," Burke said.
He said another wounded person in his care was shot in the arm. He would not get up and walk. Burke threatened to leave him, but he still would not move, so he carried him out.
"He was in better condition than I was," Burke said.
He said when South Korean Soldiers came, a lieutenant with him took off his watch and gave it to the South Koreans to carry the Soldier out.
Doody mentioned Burke's actions. "He was on that hill bandaging people up. He was great."
Doody did not know how many Soldiers made it off the hill. "The real number is the number of people we lost." Many, he said, were captured, killed or wounded.
Today there is a monument on the battlefield dedicated to those who fought and died as a part of Task Force Smith.
With tensions rising between the two Koreas, Burke said he does not believe something like Task Force Smith will be necessary today because he does not think China will back the North Koreans. "I don't think they'll ever attack us."