David H. Hackworth
July 5, 1994


Osan, South Korea

On the morning of 5 July 1950, Task Force Smith, composed of 540 American soldiers, watched enemy tanks roll towards their hastily dug positions north of here.

The North Korean 4th Division, which had invaded South Korea on 25 June, brushed aside the lightly armed defenders and took Seoul. Now they were headed for Pusan. With that citie's port in Communist hands, the war in Korea would be over.

The mission of Task Force Smith's two understrength and raggedy rifle companies and one artillery battery was to delay the North Korean attack. While they bought time, the rest of the 24th Division would arrive from Japan, set up a defensive line, protect the vital port and shield the UN build-up which would strike down the invaders.

The green US Army troops were well placed on two hills overlooking the Osan-Pusan road. Their WW11 worn artillery, machineguns and recoiless rifles were loaded and aimed. The grunts, each with 120 rounds of ammo, squinted down the sights of their rifles at the tan uniforms moving towards them. At 0816 hours, when the Reds were in range, Smith gave the order to fire.

Shells exploded among the enemy column. Trucks carrying the Red soldiers blew up, but the artillery shells hardly dented the on-rushing tanks.

33 tanks came on. Nothing the defenders had could stop them. None of their heavy stuff was armor piercing. There were no anti-tank mines, and the low monsoon ceiling prevented air support.

Ollie Conner fired 22 bazooka rounds at the tanks. They rolled on unscathed, as if the 2.36 rockets, which had been condemned by paratroopers in Sicily seven years before, were ice cream cones.

Carl Bernard climbed up on a tank and shoved a fragmentation grenade into a hatch. Tanks broke through the main line, and two were knocked out by artillery direct fire antitank shells -- of which there were only six rounds! Two more tanks were disabled by direct fire high explosive shells that struck their tracks.

But even with such individual acts of valor the Task Force caved in like a wet cardboard box, and the enemy armor punched towards its objective. Young, garrison-duty, soft soldiers -- not trained for combat -- panicked and cut and ran, abandoning their fallen comrades, weapons and equipment.

By midday, 150 American soldiers were killed, wounded or captured, and the Task Force was a flattened speed bump.

During the following weeks, the 16,000 man 24th Division threw up more roadblocks, and they too were brushed aside. By early August, the division was no longer a fighting force. It had been pummelled and its commander, William Dean, was a POW.

This could not happen on this same ground today.
The US warriors here have the right tools, training and leadership to punish an attacker.

I spent a day with Colonel Randy Gardner's outfit, the most forward unit in South Korea. They are whisker-counting close to the North Koreans at Panmunjon, along the Demilitarized Zone. I could have shaken hands with Kim Il Sung's finest, but their sullen expressions and mean body language told me not to try.

Garner's battalion is "hand-picked for excellence." He didn't have to tell me twice. I have never seen better warriors except in our Ranger units. If his unit had stood at Osan, the tragedy of Task Force Smith would not have happened.

Yet, I worry. All units are not handpicked or Rangers. The civilian mindset responsible for the early defeats during the Korean War exists in the administration today. Few have served. Many look at our fighters as if they were postmen. They constantly chip away at training funds while talking politically correct nonsense such as putting women.

The lesson of Task Force Smith is that battles are won and lost down in the mud by warriors who are armed with the right stuff and are well trained.

Chanting the current generals' theme song "No more Task Force Smiths" won't hack it. Action is called for, not slogans. The brass must fight the harmful impact of the wrongheaded policies and stop going along to get along. The generals did'nt before the Korean War and a lot of good men died because they were not prepared.