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The Focus of Negative Publicity

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Smith: Seems the 24th was more the focus of negative publicity, why did that happen to them?

Hammond: They were black and the press reflects its sources, and the sources don't believe anything about blacks.

Smith: Sources were—?

Hammond: The commanders, the higher echelons and so on. The media picked it up and carried it on. Coverage of black people in that day was very rare. We were dealing with a world of prejudice. Coverage of black people in the United States was very rate. They don't exist as far as the media is concerned. It's ironic that later the media became very much an instrument for the liberation of black people; maybe that's their way of making amends. Media always reflect their sources; you cannot get around this.

Smith: Do you think the sources were acting in self-interested way, to encourage the coverage?

Hammond: Oh no, it's just the way it was. Just the way it was. America in early 1950s. Black people have really not been free, didn't become free despite the Emancipation Proclamation, until the 1960s and Selma and the agitation and Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King is the great pivot. It began right there. That doesn't mean that the blacks hadn't been agitating for their freedom for the better part of a century, they had been and nobody was paying attention. It's at this point people began to figure out how to go about it. We're not going to cooperate anymore, not going to leave the lunch counter, go to the back of the bus, buy from companies that aren't going to promote our independence.

Ellis: How about Thurgood Marshall and his visit to Korea? He was visible.

Hammond: He was visible. He's, in a sense, a fulcrum for the emancipation of the black soldier, but we didn't have a lot of confidence in that investigation and I think the book shows that. Purely because it was very cursory. But he does make some very good points—you're sentencing these men to life in prison after a half hour trial, held on the fringe of the combat area. And you couldn't even have a decent appeal because many of the witnesses against them go back and the next day get killed.

Smith: And by the way, the defense attorneys are not attorneys—

Hammond: And they are not attorneys. But even then, the testimony and evidence is credible and it coincides with a lot of other information that is just information with no slant to it. It's quite clear that a number of those men left their duty station. And in all honesty, at some point you have to draw the line and start to punish the people who are doing these things and those people were there and those were the ones that got sucked up. If you don't do that, the situation never goes away. From that point on the running in the 24th Infantry stopped.

Smith: Did it also stop elsewhere in the Army?

Hammond: Always going to have an element of that.

Smith: There was also running among white.

Hammond: Well there was running among white people, but it was—When it occurred, it was fixed. That's all we're saying. When it occurred it was fixed. When it occurred in the 24th, before the trials, it wasn't fixed, it went on and on and on day by day. And at some point it had to be fixed and they fixed it. And later on, they're snakebite. No one expects them to do anything because of those first weeks. They do all right.

Certainly they did fine in the crossing of the Han River, a number of them said they felt they should have gotten a distinguished unit citation for that. That's something you have to look at in detail. We don't know if they distinguished themselves that well at that crossing. We do know at another crossing they did, at the crossing of the Hant'an, another river further up. I've always contended that that was probably a unit citation performance. Now you don't give an entire brigade a presidential unit citation; it goes to units within a brigade, the smaller units—a battalion. There's at least one battalion up there that did terrific. Probably held things together. Ironically there's another battalion that did so poorly because of bad leadership on the part of its white commander who was way in the rear running things. Everybody sits and they see that and they don't see the other. It's really sad. Company C up very far north gets left behind by the task force. It's not their fault. They got left behind. There was a hole and nobody communicated with them and they weren't told to pull back. What do they do? Surrounded, they're all going to get killed. They surrender. Oh, those black soldiers, blah, blah, blah. So that tars them.

Next: The Battle of Kunu-ri

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