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Home | Cold War Turns Hot | The Armed Forces Integrate | What the Experts Say

The Battle of Kunu-ri

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Hammond: At the battle of Kunu-ri they do pretty darn well. The 8th Army puts the 24th Infantry in the mountains, where the Chinese are not going to attack, because they don't have a lot of trust in this unit. So put them where they can do a job well and we don't have to risk the whole army on their performance. Well, 3rd Battalion is up there when the Chinese come across the border and attacks. And the 3rd Battalion is up there, pulls back in good order. 2nd Battalion, little more scattered around, so it doesn't leave the battlefield as a unit but portions of it do. And they get down into the valley where the Koreans are attacking and they join up with another American unit— the 3rd of the 9th Infantry— which is having problems with its defensive arrangements that day. It's an all black unit too, but not part of all black regiment. It's one battalion of three, two of which are white. It gets better attention than the 24th because the other two battalions rely on them. Gets officers that are good. 3rd of the 9th Infantry considers itself one of the Army's most illustrious units, it was.

But the guys from 24th Infantry provide enough backbone for that unit. They are all really cold and in that unit they had fires going which is absolutely the wrong thing to do at night with an enemy attacking; it just sets you up. The guys from the 24th got in there in time and helped that unit anchor the American withdrawal. 3rd Battalion of the 24th in the center of this thing comes out of the mountains, and while the rest of the American Army is pretty much shattered, it's a cohesive unit. Got all officers, weapons, machine guns and it can fight.

And it's pretty well led by its junior officers—its commander is back at Colonel Corley's command post. Corley comes driving in and asks, 'Where are your men?' 'Well, they're out there.' 'Why aren't you with them? Get that jeep and this officer and this officer and take my Air Force officer who has the radio to call in air strikes and you go find your men.' They take two jeeps and 10 minutes out of Corley's command post, this officer [] says 'I'm going to the rear to set up my command post. You got find the men.'

So these men have no lieutenant colonel to command them. Their officers do a really nice job of getting them out, but they don't have what they really need, a central corps to back them. And the Chinese eat them piecemeal and the descriptions of their retreat are so pathetic. They are running and the Chinese are mingled in and they're clubbing these poor guys. It's amazing that any of them got out, but they did because their junior officers tried very hard to create a phased retreat and were successful in the end. One unit pulls back while the other two hold, then it sets itself up and other two move back behind it and they set up. It's a hard, hard thing to do. Retreating is much more difficult because of all the emotions involved and all the pressure involved. They managed to pull it off and got behind a railroad abutment and went onto the rear. But the descriptions are pathetic.

Smith: Are those junior officers white or black?

Hammond: Black, most of them are black. We didn't know this story, it's not in the records. We knew something had gone wrong, that things were not working, that this officer was not there. We kept asking why is he here, why is he there? And we had his story. George MacGarrigle interviewed him and we didn't know where we were going to do. And just by chance we came across the name of the person who was the Air Force radio controller and his name was Robinson and he retired from the Air Force as a major general. And he was still alive when we wrote the book. Oh, he remembered that story. And he told it. Whew. And this is a man with nothing to hide, had an illustrious career, utterly credible, not lying. Oh. The officer, Corley got him and fired him, but the Army treated him very well because these were black guys and you poor fellow, you had so much to do, poor baby. This was the attitude. And these incompetent officers would be removed from the 24th, but not necessarily from the Army.

Next: Moving Toward Integration -Disbanding the 24th