Honor and Fidelity: The 65th Infantry in Korea, 1950-1953

Article excerpt

Honor and Fidelity: The 65th Infantry In Korea, 1950-1953. By Gilberto N. Vlllahermosa. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2009, 329 pages, $33 or available online at http://www.history.army.mil/html/ books/korea/65lnf_Korea/index. html.

In his book Honor and Fidelity, Gilberto Villahermosa argues that the 65th Infantry Regiment entered the Korean War as a cohesive, combat-effective outfit, but over time the Army's personnel assignment and rotation policies degraded the unit's effectiveness to the point of failure on the battlefield. Villahermosa claims that by mid- 1951, a critical shortage of experienced NCOs and a large influx of inexperienced replacements rapidly diminished the organization's combat capability. Further complicating matters, the Army's policy of segregated units meant that the replacements were mostly Spanish speakers only rather than bilingual Soldiers. The inability of senior leaders to correct the root problems within the 65th Infantry led to disaster in late 1952; however, Villahermosa argues that the unit redeemed itself by the end of the Korean War, reflecting the Army's willingness to address the underlying issues.

The 65th Regiment initially benefitted from several factors that other units did not. Unlike the undermanned regiments of the 24th Division thrown into the Korean War from occupation duty in Japan, the 65th arrived in Pusan over assigned strength. The regiment, based in Puerto Rico, was comprised of mostly bilingual Puerto Rican enlisted men and NCOs that had World War II experience. A majority of the officers came from the continental U.S., but the regiment also enjoyed a sizable minority of ethnic bilingual Puerto Ricans. The 65th also benefitted from its participation in a multi-echelon, combat focused Puerto Rican exercise earlier in 1950. Finally, the Army created a personnel replacement center on Puerto Rico specifically for the 65th prior to its departure that provided a steady stream of replacements.

The North Koreans blooded the regiment within days of its arrival in September during the Pusan perimeter breakout, but between September and November the unit displayed its advantages on the battlefield by killing or capturing more than 1,500 enemies while suffering less than 40 casualties. Following the recapture of Seoul, the 65th moved to the operational control of the U.S. X Corps to participate in the invasion of North Korea. Villahermosa argues that the regiment overcame several leadership mistakes at the regimental level, as well as the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) assault during the ill-fated U.S. X Corps operations in North Korea, because of the cohesion the 65th developed through training and battlefield experience.

Following its evacuation from North Korea and a brief retraining period in early 1 95 1 , the 65th played a key role in Eighth Army commander GEN Matthew Ridgway 's scheme of maneuver to recapture Seoul and push the CCF north of the 38th parallel. At a time when most Eighth Army units suffered from low morale and a defeatist attitude, the 65th's battlefield performance impressed Ridgway enough that he ordered 3rd Division to distribute Puerto Rican replacements throughout the division. …