Biography

Dean, William Frishe (Bill)
[MajGen CG 24thID]

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 24th Division

 

biography

The 24th Division was commanded by a "can do" general, William F. Dean, who seemed ideally suited for the frenetic job at hand. At age fifty Dean was the youngest of the four division commanders in Eighth Army and the only one who had commanded troops in combat. He was also the only one of the four who knew South Korea well.[4-8]

Born in Carlyle, Illinois, in 1899, Dean was a big (six-foot, 210pound), bluff field general, a fighter and an impressive leader. From his high school days Dean had set his sights on West Point, but he had not been able to get an appointment. Determined to make the Army a career, Dean enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley in a prelaw course and joined the ROTC. A mediocre student, Dean was graduated after five years (1922) minus a law degree, but he obtained an ROTC commission (1923) and went on permanent active duty. He married Mildred Dern, niece of wealthy Utah politician George H. Dern, who was a U.S. senator, then governor, then Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of war from 1933 until his death in 1936. The Deans had two children, June (who married an Air Force officer, Robert Williams) and William, Jr., who was preparing to enter West Point with the class of 1954.[4-9]

Perhaps assisted by his uncle-in-law's high positions, Dean climbed the peacetime Army career ladder steadily, attending both the Command and General Staff School and the Army War College (1940). But when World War II commenced, he was stuck for all too long in various desk jobs. Finally, in late 1943, he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned to the ETO-bound 44th Infantry Division as assistant commander. An act of bravery during a training exercise nearly denied him combat. When a flamethrower hose broke loose and engulfed the operator in fire, Dean leaped to rescue the operator and, in the process, was himself so badly burned that doctors declared his left leg would have to be amputated. Hearing this, Dean "went AWOL" from the hospital, sailed for France, rejoined his division, and limped into battle in late 1944 with a hawthorn cane. The 44th Division surgeon kept Dean going; the leg did not fully heal until after the war.[4-10]

Dean was thoroughly competent and apparently fearless on the battlefield. Early in the action he won a DSC for personally leading a platoon through a withering German artillery barrage. When the division commander was wounded and invalided home, the corps commander, Ham Haislip, promoted Bill Dean (then forty-five years old) to the top job. In tough fighting near Mannheim and Heidelberg, during which his hair turned from blond to white, Dean led the division well. After Germany had surrendered, the division was selected for the invasion of Japan, but the Japanese surrendered before it set sail for the Pacific.[4-11]

In the postwar years Dean, by then a two-star general with a promising future, was assigned to duty with American occupation forces in South Korea. He served as a deputy commander to John Hodge until August 1948, when the occupation command was dissolved and Hodge went home. Thereafter Dean was made commander of the 7th Infantry Division and as such withdrew it to Sapporo, on Hokkaido, Japan. From May to October 1949 he put in a tour on Walker's Eighth Army staff but hated every minute of it. When a "sudden transfer" left the 24th Division without a commander, Dean talked Walker into giving him the job.

Dean's one year tour in South Korea, he later wrote, had been "interesting and troubling." Wearing several "hats," he had been the senior American adviser to the police and constabulary, along with other jobs. He had traveled widely in South Korea, picked up a "few words" of the Korean language, observed at close hand the Byzantine political scene, and got to know Rhee and other governmental and military figures. However, he had no love for the place. He did not want - or expect - ever to return to South Korea and was as surprised as everybody else when the war alert reached his 24th Division headquarters in Kokura.[4-12]

Notwithstanding his rank and bright future in the Army, Dean remained unpretentious and a touch self-deprecating. An aide remembered that whenever possible and practical, Dean preferred to walk rather than ride in staff cars (the local Japanese nicknamed him Aruku Shoko, or Walking General). He had "no hang-ups about status," the aide remembered. He was "his own best shoe shiner." "Always much more of a doer than a talker," the aide recalled, Dean was at root a simple, down-to-earth soldier who saw most issues in blacks and whites and was put off by "hypocrisy" and "self-proclaimed paragons of virtue who kicked their dogs when they thought no one was looking.[4-13]

Major General William Dean, the commander of the 24th Infantry Division, received the Medal of Honor for his valor in combat just a few weeks after the Battle of Osan. This was the first Medal of Honor to be received for valor in the Korean War. On July 20, 1950, General Dean, alone, attacked an enemy tank while armed only with his sidearm and a hand grenade. He further directed the fire of his own tanks from an exposed position while under artillery and small arms fire. Despite his valor and those with whom he fought, the town he hoped to defend, Taejon, was overrun. He ordered his men to retreat but he refused to depart with the leading elements. He remained behind to organize his retreating units and provide directions to stragglers. He was last seen assisting wounded to safety. As his forces dropped back, he became separated from them. He hid alone in the woods around the countryside during the day and

traveled at night for over a month. On August 25, 1950 he was captured by the North Koreans after hand-to-hand fighting. He remained a POW until his release on September 4, 1953. General Dean's whereabouts were unknown until December 18, 1951, when Wilfred Burchett interviewed him in prison. This was the first time anyone knew he was alive since being reported missing in action. In addition to receiving the Medal of Honor, at his retirement on October 31, 1955, he was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge for his front line service in WWII and Korea, an award he particularly cherished.

At his retirement, General Dean said this: "If the story of my Korean experience is worth telling, the value lies in its oddity, not in anything brilliant or heroic. "There were heroes in Korea, but I was not one of them. There were brilliant commanders, but I was a general captured because he took a wrong road. I am an Infantry officer and presumably was fitted for my fighting job. "I don't want to alibi that job, but a couple of things about it should be made clear. In the fighting I made some mistakes and I've kicked myself a thousand times for them. I lost ground I should not have lost. I lost trained officers and fine men. I'm not proud of that record, and I'm under no delusions that my weeks of command constituted any masterly campaign. "No man honestly can be ashamed of the Medal of Honor. For it and for the welcome given to me here at home in 1953, I am humbly grateful. But I come close to shame when I think about the men who did better jobs some who died doing them and did not get recognition. I wouldn't have awarded myself a wooden star for what I did as a commander. "Later, as fugitive and prisoner, I did things mildly out of the ordinary only at those times when I was excited and not thinking entirely straight; and the only thing I did which mattered to my family and perhaps a few others was to stay alive. Other prisoners resisted torture, but I wasn't tortured. Others hid in the hills and finally escaped, but I failed in my escape attempts. Others bluffed the Communists steadily, whereas I was lucky enough to do it only once in a while.

"Others starved, but I was fed and even learned to like Kimchee. Others died for a principle, but I failed in a suicide attempt. "My life was an adventure, I did see the face of the enemy close up. I did have time to study his weaknesses and his remarkable strengths, not on the battlefield but far behind his lines. I saw communism working with men and women of high education or none, great intelligence or little and it was a frightening thing. "I ought to know. I swatted 40,671 flies in three years and counted every carcass. There were periods when I was batting .850 and deserved to make the big leagues."

General Dean passed on August 25, 1981. He is buried at the Presidio of San Francisco, with his wife.