At noon on 22 July the 24th Infantry Division turned over the front-line positions at Yŏngdong to the 1st Cavalry Division.
The division's consolidated strength on that day was 8,660 men. Seventeen days had elapsed since division troops had first met North Koreans in combat at Osan on 5 July.
In that time, two enemy divisions had driven it back 100 miles in a southeasterly direction. In these two and a half weeks, the division had suffered more than 30 percent casualties.
More than 2,400 men were missing in action.
It had lost enough materiel to equip a division.
Losses in senior officers of field grade had been unusually severe.
And then finally, at Taejŏn, the commanding general of the division was missing in action.
Charged with carrying out a delaying action, the division had held the enemy on its front to an average gain of about six miles a day. On 22 July, with General Dean still missing in action, Eighth Army ordered Maj. Gen. John H. Church to assume command of the 24th Division. [11-80]
Soldiers of the 24th Division faced many handicaps in their early battles with the North Koreans. Often the unit commanders were new to the units and did not know their officers and men;
there were few qualified officer replacements for those lost;
communication was a most serious and continuing problem-there was a lack of telephone wire, and
the batteries for radios were outdated and lasted only an hour or so in operation or they did not function at all;
there was a shortage of ammunition, particularly for the 60-mm., 81-mm., and 4.2-inch mortars;
dysentery at times affected a fourth of the men;
and always there were the rumors, generally absurd and groundless, which kept the men agitated and uneasy.
The maps, based on the Japanese survey of 1918-32, were often unreliable, resulting in inaccurate artillery fire unless directed and adjusted by an observer.
Road and convoy discipline was poor.
Driver maintenance was poor.
There were many heroic actions by American soldiers of the 24th Division in these first weeks in Korea. But there were also many uncomplimentary and unsoldierly ones.
Leadership among the officers had to be exceptional to get the men to fight, and several gave their lives in this effort. Others failed to meet the standard expected of American officers. There is no reason to suppose that any of the other three occupation divisions in Japan would have done better in Korea than did the U.S. 24th Division in July 1950. When committed to action they showed the same weaknesses.
A basic fact is that the occupation divisions were not trained, equipped, or ready for battle. The great majority of the enlisted men were young and not really interested in being soldiers. The recruiting posters that had induced most of these men to enter the Army mentioned all conceivable advantages and promised many good things, but never suggested that the principal business of an army is to fight. (Be an ARMY of ONE!)
When the first American units climbed the hills in the Korean monsoon heat and humidity, either to fight or to escape encirclement by the enemy, they "dropped like flies," as more than one official report of the period states. Salt tablets became a supply item of highest priority and were even dropped to troops by plane.
One participant and competent observer of the war in those first days has expressed the conditions well. He said,
"The men and officers had no interest in a fight which was not even dignified by being called a war. It was a bitter fight in which many lives were lost, and we could see no profit in it except our pride in our profession and our units as well as the comradeship which dictates that you do not let your fellow soldiers down." [11-81]
As part of the historical record, it may be worthwhile to record General Dean's own judgment after turning over in his mind for several years the events of Taejŏn, and after having read this chapter in manuscript. Many of the things related in this chapter he did not, of course, know at the time. Here are the words of this brave and honest soldier, written seven and a half years after the event.
Hostile and friendly dispositions, which are now quite clear, were much more obscure at the time. I stayed in Taejŏn for a number of reasons:
(1) In an effort to stimulate the fighting spirit of the 34th Infantry and attached troops there in the city.
(2) The second reason was as an example to the ROK leaders and also to give confidence to the ROK forces.
(3) The third was to see at close hand just what kind of a fighter the North Korean was.
It is now clear to me that I was too close to the trees to see the forest, and therefore was at the time blind to the envelopment that the North Koreans were engineering. Not until we turned off on the road to Kumsan and we ran into the North Korean detachment dug in at intervals along that highway did I realize what had happened. I was disturbed about the infiltrators into the City of Taejŏn itself, but I was not alarmed and I was sanguine of extricating the 34th Infantry until I had deft the city on the Kumsan road and realized that there had been an envelopment of major proportions. But even then, I did not realize the extent of the envelopment and my earnest prayer at the time was that the majority of the 34th Infantry would not take the Kumsan road but would leave by way of the Okch'ŏn road.
Subsequent events have proved that it would have been better if we had all headed down the Kumsan road because I am certain we could have cleared that and gotten a greater number through....
In retrospect, it would appear that the 21st Infantry Regiment should have been employed to secure the exit from Taejŏn. But I never issued such an order and my reason for not doing so was that I was convinced that the 21st Infantry Regiment should hold the commanding terrain just west of Okch'ŏn to prevent an envelopment from the north, which would cut off both the 21st Infantry Regiment and the 34th Infantry Regiment and permit the enemy to drive through Yŏngdong and south through Yŏngdong to Kumch'on and hence south.
My big two errors were:
(1) Not withdrawing the 34th Infantry Regiment the night of the 19th of July, as originally planned;
(2) releasing the 24th Reconnaissance Company to the 34th Infantry Regiment. [11-82]
After the fall of Taejŏn the war was to enter a new phase. Help in the form of the 1st Cavalry Division had arrived. No longer would the 84th Division and the ROK Army have to stand alone.