by Lori S. Stewart, USAICoE Command Historian
15 SEPTEMBER 1950
On 15 September 1950, Capt. Oliver W. Dillard, S-2 for the 3d Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, helped his battalion commander reinforce a company on Battle Mountain being heavily assaulted by North Korean forces. Dillard received a Silver Star for his efforts that day.
The segregated 24th Infantry Regiment was part of the initial group of combat forces sent to South Korea following North Korea’s invasion earlier in June. Since 1947, the regiment had been stationed in Japan as part of the Eighth Army’s garrison force. Upon arriving in Pusan on 12-13 July, the 1st and 2d Battalions were placed in reserve. The regiment’s 3d Battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. Samuel Pierce, Jr., was almost immediately placed on the front lines in the 25th Infantry Division’s first major offensive of the war. For the next nine days, despite a shortage of weapons, ammunition, radios, boots, and intelligence, the battalion battled the North Koreans for control of an important crossroads at the town of Yecheon about 120 miles north of Pusan.
One of the lead elements in the battalion’s efforts to retake Yecheon from the North Koreans was L Company’s 3d Platoon commanded by 1st Lt. Oliver W. Dillard. Dillard had enrolled in the Tuskegee Institute in 1941 at the age of fifteen and was an ROTC cadet in the Tuskegee Airman Program when he was drafted into the Army in 1945. He completed Officer Candidate School in 1947 and was then the honor graduate in his Infantry Officer Basic Course. After assignments in Germany and at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in June 1950, he was enroute to Japan to join the 24th Infantry when he was diverted to South Korea.
A week after the battle at Yecheon, 23-year-old Lieutenant Dillard took command of L Company and led the unit’s defense near Sangju. Withdrawing his men under cover of darkness, Dillard returned to recover a seriously injured soldier, earning a second Bronze Star. Also wounded in the battle, Dillard was evacuated to Japan to recuperate. Upon returning to Korea later in August, he became the 3d Battalion’s S-2, one of only three African Americans on the battalion’s staff.
By mid-August, the 25th Infantry Division had shifted south from Sangju to an area near the town of Haman on the Pusan Perimeter. The 24th Infantry held the center of the division’s line in rugged mountainous terrain dominated by Battle Mountain, which repeatedly changed hands, sometimes in hand-to-hand combat. On 14 September, Dillard was accompanying the 3d Battalion’s new commander, Maj. Melvin R. Blair, to view the battalion’s defensive positions on the ridgeline between Battle Mountain and Sobuk-san.
Under intense enemy fire, Company L had lost most of its officers, including its commander. Blair and Dillard raced to reinforce the forty men remaining in the company’s lines. For several hours, Dillard joined in his former company’s heroic defense against suicidal attacks by nearly four hundred enemy troops. Dillard later recalled, “the night we were there [the company] was under heavy attack and we, with my two scouts and the battalion commander at the time, just kind of melded into the defense… [W]e would have been overrun, I think, if all of us hadn’t participated. It was touch and go even with us participating.” About 0700 the next day, nearly out of ammunition, Major Blair ordered the beleaguered unit to withdraw to safety. Blair received a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in the fight; Lieutenant Dillard was awarded a Silver Star.
Dillard remained the 3d Battalion’s S-2, participating in five campaigns during his one-year tour, before returning to the United States in June 1951. After the Korean War, Dillard claimed a number of firsts in Army history. In 1964, he was the first black officer to attend the National War College. Later in the 1960s, he served as the first black deputy assistant chief of staff for intelligence (ACSI). When he was promoted to brigadier general in 1972, he was only the fifth black general in Army history and arguably the first black general officer serving in Army intelligence. Finally, from 1973-1974, he served as the first deputy chief of staff, intelligence, for the new U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Georgia. Maj. Gen. Dillard retired from the Army in 1980.
"This Week in MI History" publishes new issues each week. To report story errors, ask questions, or be added to our distribution list, please contact: TR-ICoE-Command-Historian@army.mil.