The Fall of Taejon
It was July 17th, 1950, with orders from Lieutenant General Walton Walker to continue to hold the South Korean city of Taejon in order to delay the advancing North Koreans the US24ID commander Major General William Dean found himself with a broken division, which was heavily decimated by the preceding two weeks of fighting. The division was at less than 50% strength, morale extremely low, the division had no communications, few vehicles, little equipment, short on food, running low on ammunition, and completely surrounded by 20,000 pissed off North Koreans. So MG Dean did what any good general would do in these circumstances, he grabbed a bazooka.
For the next three days MG Dean and what few men he had left in his immediate area conducted an urban guerrilla campaign against the North Koreans in Taejon. One of the things LTG Walker had brought with him along with the bad news that the US24ID had to hold on in Taejon, was a supply of a new anti-armor weapon, the 3.5in bazooka that was billed as being able to penetrate the armor of the North Korean T-34 tanks that had so devastated the US combat formations. Using hit and run tactics MG Dean and his tank killer teams actually enjoyed some success in knocking out the T-34 tanks in Taejon including MG Dean’s team personally knocking out one tank.
Some have criticized MG Dean for essentially turning himself into just another infantryman and losing command and control of his combat formations. The problem was he had no formations left to command and control. The soldiers left in the division had essentially turned into individual teams fighting their own war of survival in the city. There was no communications left to organize and command formations with, so MG Dean figured the only way to command and control what he had left was at the front lines and he decided to kill a few North Koreans while he was at it as well.
Ultimately in Taejon the biggest problem ended up not being the T-34s but the amounts of North Korean infantry infiltrating into the city dressed in the white clothes of South Korean civilians. This caused confusion and hesitation for many US soldiers who were hesitant to fire against them.
Remember these soldiers just three weeks prior were lounging around doing occupation duty in post-World War II Japan and now not even a month later they are in the fight of their lives against a ruthless enemy with more men, weapons, and armor who are more than willing to dress like civilians in order to gain a tactical advantage. This willingness to dress like civilians would lead to later controversies as the US was blamed for killing civilians; claims that still resonate to this day from some elements in South Korean society.
Despite all the difficulties General Dean and his men faced, they were able to delay the North Koreans in Taejon from July 17th all the way to July 20th before MG Dean made the decision that he and his remaining men evacuate the city. That day elements from the recently arrived 1st Cavalry Division had arrived on the outskirts of Taejon to help evacuate the 24ID soldiers left in Taejon. The 24ID had paid in blood to give the 1CAV the time needed for them to deploy from Japan to Korea. The 1CAV was now about to begin paying their own dues in blood as well.
Overall, from the 7 hours Taskforce Smith first bought for the US in the first American battle in the Korean War, to the 3 days MG Dean and his men bought with their guerrilla campaign in Taejon; the destruction of the 24ID and the loss of thousands of American lives bought the US military a total of two precious weeks of time. The American leadership was literally trading lives for time and the 24ID prevented the clock from running out for both the Americans and the South Koreans they gave their lives for to defend.
With the 1CAV trying to evacuate the 24ID, MG Dean and his small team tried to reach them in one of the few Jeeps they have left, but under heavy North Korean fire his driver missed the turn that would have taken them to the outskirts of the city where the 1CAV was located. With North Korean fire increasing the Jeep could not turn around and MG Dean ordered the driver to just keep driving straight and that is what he did. Eventually the General Dean and his men reached the outskirts of the city and split up and hid in the hillsides. They hoped to escape and evade the North Koreans long enough to make it back to friendly lines. MG Dean evaded the North Koreans for 35 days before he was eventually captured. When he was discovered MG Dean attacked the North Korean soldiers hoping they would kill him. However, the North Koreans held him down and tied him up. They brought him back to the local police station where they discovered that this old, dirty, malnourished man was actually an American General.
The saddest part about General Dean’s capture was that his location wasn’t discovered by chance by the North Koreans, but he was rather in fact turned in by South Koreans. A little known fact about South Korea before the Korean War was the amount of communist sympathizers in the southern provinces of the country. The ROK government before, during, and even after the Korean War had to commit ROK Army units to quell multiple communist uprisings in the South Korean countryside. For multiple historical reasons, communism was an attractive ideology for many South Korean peasants. MG Dean was turned in to the North Korean authorities by one of these communist sympathizers in South Korea.
This betrayal of MG Dean would cause him to serve over three years in North Korean POW camps. MG Dean would not see freedom again until September of 1953. After his release from North Korea MG Dean said that he would not have awarded himself a wooden star for what he did, instead the President of the United States awarded him the Medal of Honor.
Prior Posting: Kum River Defense
Ed Note – I have always found it interesting that heroes like Major General Dean were actually treated like heroes by the American media and featured on the cover of news magazines such as TIME back then. However, modern day heroes such as Paul Smith, the only member of the US military so far to earn a Medal of Honor for the war in Iraq, barely draw any notice. Military heroes today receive nothing more than pity from the US media for their sacrifice. The Korean War was filled with many great heroes, that like the war itself no one remembers. Hopefully through a series of postings on Korean War, readers can learn about some of these heroes from the Forgotten War of US history.