THE ARMY MEDICAL DEPARTMENT IN THE KOREAN WAR: INTERVIEWS AND REMINISCENCES
COLONEL RAYMOND E. “BODIE” ADAMS
MEDICAL SERVICE CORPS
TASK FORCE SMITH
During the 1960s, the former Historical Unit, Army Medical Department, conducted a large number of interviews and requested reminiscences from AMEDD personnel who served during the Korean War period, whether they were stationed in Korea itself or elsewhere. The materials collected during this project are today stored in the archival collections of the U.S. Army Military History Institute at the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA.
The information presented here is from the notes that Mr. Samuel Milner, the historian assigned to the Korea War project, took during his interview with then LTC Adams on 16 June and 22 July 1965.
Lt. Col. Adams reports that TF Smith had one of the three battalion medicalplatoons of the 21st Infantry Regiment's medical company. This force wascommanded by Captain (now Lt. Col.) Edwin L. Overholt, MC, and was only afew men short of its TO/E authorization. 1st Lt. (now Lt. Col.) Adams, MSC,was the Assistant Battalion Surgeon under Capt. Overholt. Thus, TF Smithwas supported by a medical unit normally utilized to back up an entire battalionwith 1st echelon medical treatment, a ratio not excessive in view of thecasualties the two companies of TF Smith might be expected to suffer in theinitial combat action of the U.S. Army in the Korean War,* and that the restof the regiment was on the way.
The medical platoon was alerted for an immediate air movement toKorea with the two reinforced rifle companies of TF Smith. They joined theinfantry units at Itazuke Air Base on 1 July and were on the third of sixC-54's used to airlift Lt. Col. Smith's command to Pusan.
Lt. Col. Adams asserted that the medical platoon was at a high stateof readiness, and noted that the 21st Infantry Regiment's medical companyhad attained the highest score in all of Eighth Army during field exercisesheld in Japan during April or May of 1950.
* A battalion medical platoon in a regimental medical company had, according to the TO/E of 6 January 1948, which was in effect in June 1950, 2 commissioned officers and 35 enlisted men, including aid men, litter bearers, and technicians.
Medical supplies were limited, no plasma, but adequate for a unit thrust into combat so rapidly.
Headquarters at Taejon (not specified whether KMAG [Korean Military Advisory Group] under Col. [William H.S.] Wright or ADCOM [Advanced Command and Liaison Group] under [Maj.] Gen. [John H.] Church) had an operational medical element by 5 July when contact was first made with the enemy and wasflying out casualties from the battalion aid station. Col. Adams says hedoubts that a formal evacuation chain was in full operation until after thefirst 10 days of combat.
22 July 1963
The 24th Division had been in Korea as part of XXIV Corps until replacement by KMAG, after [which] the Division was redeployed to Japan.
When it went in TF Smith consisted of most of the 1st battalion, i.e., B & C Companies, 21st Infantry only. Company A later by sea with the 3dbattalion. TF Smith was a calculated risk. It was believed that a show offorce by the U.S. would serve to deter the North Koreans. We probably gaineda day by the action at Osan. It took only three days in all for the 24thDivision in its entirety to get to Pusan.
The 21st Infantry had just completed an Eighth Army training test. The regiment received one of the highest ratings in Eighth Army as to its state of training.
The Division had three regiments: the 19th, located at Beppu; the 34th at Sasebo; and the 21st, stationed at Kumamoto. The regiments were organized with only two battalions, that is to say that, the 1st and 3d Battalions ofthe 21st were actually in being, but the 2d Battalion existed only on paper.The regiment had a medical platoon for each battalion. The other Regimentalelement was the collecting station which was part of the Regimental MedicalCompanies. The Medical Battalion, with its Clearing Company, Ambulance Company,etc., was a Divisional Unit. TF Smith had a few litter jeeps: 21st Infantry,several 2 ½-ton trucks.
There were perhaps 30 men in all in the Medical Platoon: 5 short of theTO/E. Had aidmen, litter bearers, aid station personnel, 3 or 4 litter jeepsand 2 officers: 1LT Raymond Adams, MSC, and Capt. Edwin Overholt, MC, incharge.
We were alerted for Korea at 11 o'clock at night, 30 June, by our Regimental commander, Col. Richard Stephens. At subsequent meeting of officers, Col. Stephens said the 1st battalion, Col. Smith's battalion, would go to Korea at once, and that a physician would join us at Itazuke. We packed and left at once. We arrived at Itazuke at about dawn, and were joined there by Capt.Edwin Overholt, MC. (The Regimental Surgeon, Capt. Donald Duerk, came lateron with the 3d Battalion).
All elements except TF Smith were to go by sea via Sasebo. While TF Smithwas moving to Itazuke, the 52d FA was moving to Sasebo. It arrived at Pusan,and came in behind TF Smith, joining it at Pyongtaek.
We arrived at Pusan early in the morning of 1 July. The Pusan airfield was located in what had been a rice field and was virtually unimproved. Heavyrains made it very muddy and the landing hazardous, thereby rendering thefield unfit for further aircraft. For this reason, Company A, which was supposedto go by air, was unable to do so. The strip at Pusan was so muddy, the planeswere unable to turn around to bring more troops in by air. Would otherwisedone so, had the weather not spoiled things.
We deplaned and on the afternoon of 1 July boarded a train going north to Taejon. Arrived at Taejon on 2 July.
3-5 July -- TF Smith moved forward on the 3d to Pyongtaek and Ansong, acompany in each. Were 15 to 20 miles south of Osan and about 12 miles apart.Sent out patrols, and joined up on the 5th at Pyongtack.
The 52d FA joined TF Smith at Pyongtaek on 3 July. Col. Miller had six 105's, which had come in. This was only part of the Division Artillery. Therest was at Fukuoka. Recalls the integration of Koreans into the Medical Battalion.Used them in litter hauls. Thinks Battalion couldn't have gotten
along without them.
TF Smith's position was carefully chosen by Col. Smith after reconnaissance of entire Osan area. The road ran through one corner of the hill, and there were steep embankments on either side. At first had forward positions on thewestern slope and later moved the position to the eastern end. Enemy firstattacked frontally, though by the end of engagement was starting to formfor a concerted attack from several directions.
On 5 July were awakened by tanks: Russian T-34s, went through their positionwithout attacking.
Had full TO/E supplies, also 3 or 4 litter jeeps. Our medical supply chestshad everything needed. We had an all round perimeter at Osan. We dug a holein the ground. Put aid station element there in the best defiladed area wecould find. This enabled us to get Capt. Overholt and the rest of the aidstation below the firing level.
The hole in the middle of the perimeter was Col. Overholt's aid station. He did resuscitative surgery, and did his beat to keep the men alive. Wounded were placed in hole, and at least kept out of line of enemy fire.
The hole in the ground was 12 feet square and about 5 feet deep. The men kept on digging it deeper during lulls in action. Started using itas soon as the fighting started. Otherwise would have been out in theopen.
The enemy had no communications except voice and bugle. At first could not get organized for an effective assault. It was the Monsoon season with temperature 100 and above. The men had been issued a day's food, andsome carried these rations with them.
COL Smith decided to pull out after having disrupted advance of the NorthKorean Army. If it had not been for this action, the North Koreans mighthave gone straight into Pusan. Eventually made contact with the 34th Infantryat Chonan.
TF Smith was starting to run low on ammunition; and the enemy who had thehill completely surrounded, started several concerted attacks. COL Smithhad to make a decision and he did. He figured the TF had put on a good show:that it had disrupted the enemy's forward progress, and had killed many enemytroops in the process.
With odds what they were, and limited ammunition, Col. Smith gave the orderto withdraw in groups, and take to the hills. Col. Adams' had about 75 men,and not a man of the group was lost in the retreat. Several were lostin the other groups because they were so exhausted they could not keep up,and didn't have the fortitude to force themselves to keep going. Thesemen were left behind and the enemy caught up with them, and, in some cases,killed them.
In getting off the hill, we took off in several directions and thus hada tendency to keep the enemy dispersed also. All the vehicles had been destroyedin action and the Reds held road to the South. There was no question thatwe were cut off and would have to get out on foot, up to a point this wasgood. It kept the enemy scattered, and guessing where we were.
Came out of the hills at Osan where TF Smith had been cut off and surrounded, to find, as they came out, that they were boxed in by a North Korean MG position.Adams had about 75 men in his party. Those physically able were in may casesaiding walking wounded. Adams, as pitcher and manager of the 21st Infantrybaseball team, had a good pitching arm, and threw the
grenade which wiped out the enemy machine gun. Col. Smith was in another party. There were 3-5 groups in all when TF Smith pulled off the hill. Wefound that the best way to get off the hill safely was to cross rice paddy.It had rained and this was best way out, especially as the railway was ½mile behind us diagonally across, and we could use the railroad embankmentas cover in getting out.
The one really incredible thing about the action at Osan was the fact thatthe 30-odd Russian T-34 tanks came down on the road by themselves at dawn.Went right through our position: hit the artillery, and kept on going. Theyhad no supporting artillery and did not stop [to] take care of TF Smith,which had been right in their path. Then 5 or 6 hours later, about noon,a North Korean division supported by 3 tanks, had some machine guns and mortars,but with no supporting artillery moved up and began attacking.
Obviously, the Armor and the Infantry were under different commands, andthe one didn't know what the other was doing. The problem clearly was a lackof communications between the two; otherwise they would surely haveacted in concert. The enemy infantry knew TF Smith's location, thanks toan artillery barrage by the 52d FA Battalion. They did their best to takeTF Smith's position, by intermittent frontal attacks. They would come upthe hill with practically no preparation at all except for a little badlyaimed mortar fire, MG fire and rifle fire, and TF Smith mowed them down.The artillery had lost communications with TF Smith and was of no use. Thelitter bearers and aid men had been put to work carrying ammunition fromthe trucks and to the forward positions. The intervals between attacks wereused to good advantage in improving fields of fire, digging fox holes deeperand bringing up ammunition. The TF blasted away with its 4.2-inch mortars,WW II type bazooka, BAR's, and .30 and .50-caliber MG's, and worked terrifichavoc on the enemy. After Osan, what was left
of TF Smith reassembled at Chonan.
Had been unable to evacuate by air at Osan action. There was no way todo so. These men volunteered to stay: Pfc Max Myers and Cpl Ernest “Frenchy” Fortuna. They volunteered when Col. Smith asked for volunteers. Were later both repatriated in Big Switch. It was Col. Smith's command decision that someone had to remain behind. You do not desert casualties, have to leave adequate medical personnel behind in such a case.
The first MASH hospital began moving forward on 6 July.
At Chochiwon, Col. Adams recalls an ambulance driver named Dube who dida terrific job. The 3d Battalion aid Station was at Chochiwon, also clearingand collecting stations were there.
Capt. [Alexander] Boysen, MC, and Capt [Douglas] Anderson, MSC, were capturedon 8 July at Chochiwon. The 3d Battalion was clobbered there by the NorthKoreans. The Battalion was completely outnumbered and outgunned. Andersondied in captivity and Boysen was repatriated.
Everybody in TF Smith had dysentery but not bad. Were short of food andate whatever they could scrounge.