Academic journal article Military Review

The 24th Infantry Regiment: The "Duece-Four" in Korea

Academic journal article Military Review

The 24th Infantry Regiment: The "Duece-Four" in Korea

Article excerpt

African-Americans were not given the credit some individuals and units deserved for their service rendered in combat in Korea.

--General Matthew B. Ridgeway (1)

IN 1950, THE PEOPLE of the United States were recovering from the suffering and hardships they had endured during World War II. They wanted to retreat into mental isolationism and to avoid the burden of world-power leadership. As a result, the country's once proud and victorious Army was being defeated in the opening battles of the police action in Korea.

Suddenly, in July 1950, national radio announcers broadcast reports about a battle that had been fought in Yechon, a small town in Korea. The U.S. Army had won its first victory in Korea. The news jolted many Americans from their apathy. The soldiers responsible for the victory were African Americans of the "Deuce-Four," the 24th Infantry Regiment.

"Negroes Gain First Korean Victory," read a New York Daily News headline, and on 22 July 1950, CBS Radio Network news commentator H.V. Kaltenborn exulted, "Hooray for the colored troops of the 24th Infantry Regiment!" Soon Yechon became part of the Congressional Record and UN speeches. (2) The firefight at Yechon was not a great battle in terms of World War II notoriety, nor for death and destruction, but it came at a time of great emotional need, and it lifted the spirits of many Americans.

I was not in the invasion force that crossed the English Channel during World War II in ships with stopped-up toilets and on seas so rough that soldiers threw up on each other, the deck, their equipment, and into the ocean. But, as a 29-year-old U.S. Army captain, I had a similar experience in a commandeered fishing trawler when my company and I crossed the Sea of Japan from Sasebo, Japan, to Pusan, Korea, in 1950. We did not go below deck because below deck lay dead fish by the thousands, amid the stench, slime, and swill. The old trawler's toilets were so filthy that we could not use them. We performed our personal ablutions in our steel helmets, threw the contents overboard, and then lowered the helmets into the sea to clean them. Keeping cold rations down on that stinking trawler was not easy; we could not escape the overpowering odors.

In such circumstances, L Company, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division (ID), U.S. Eighth Army, arrived in Korea to fight in a war that then Army Chief of Staff General Omar N. Bradley said was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time and with the wrong enemy." (3)

As were most American units then, black or white, the 24th Infantry Regiment was ill-equipped for combat. L Company landed without any light machineguns, 60-millimeter (mm) mortars, Browning automatic rifles, or bazooka antitank weapons, which had been standard equipment in World War II.

I located a .30-caliber machinegun, which I mounted on a Jeep. Seven of my riflemen did not have firing pins for their M-1 rifles. Ammunition was in short supply, as were boots. Six soldiers arrived wearing low-quarter dress shoes. We had known about these shortages for months, but logistics for rations was still not in place. My mess sergeant was able to get additional food only by trading unnecessary items like heavy blankets to villagers for chickens, fruit, and vegetables.

Surprisingly, morale was still high. The 24th Infantry Regiment was the largest regiment in the U.S. occupation force in Japan and the only one to have completed 4 weeks of regimental tactical maneuvers on Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, one reason for our high morale was a serious misunderstanding of the job that lay ahead. We had been led to believe that the fighting in Korea would be over soon, that Korea would be a quick UN "police action," then just more occupation duty in a new area.

The strength and determination of the North Korean Army we would soon face were unknown to us. North Korean soldiers were hardened, seasoned, and rugged compared to U. …

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