After the North Koreans poured across the 38th Parallel in 1950, starting the Korean War, the United States rapidly responded. The 24th Infantry Division was ordered to quickly make their way to South Korea from Japan while American carriers began launching strikes to delay the Communist advance.
One of the first ground units to arrive was called Task Force Smith. According to official United States Army history, this unit eventually consisted of two under-strength companies of infantry, four 75mm recoilless rifles, four 4.2-inch mortars, half of a communications platoon, and a battery of six 105mm howitzers. Most importantly, this force would be the first “boots on the ground” to face the Communist hordes on the Korean peninsula.
Their mission was to delay the North Koreans, affording others the time to get spun up for combat.
As the unit moved toward battle, they were faced with all the signs that things might not go so well. American planes hit a number of supply dumps and installations controlled by friendly forces — one such incident killed over 200 South Korean troops. Meanwhile, some of the C-54 Skymasters carrying the unit had to return to Japan due to thick fog and being unable to locate airfields.
Soldiers assigned to Task Force Smith arrive in South Korea.
When they finally met North Korean troops, it was a disaster. The North Koreans, equipped with Soviet-built T-34 medium tanks, approached. At 8:16 AM on the morning of July 5, 1950, near the city of Osan, American ground troops opened fire on the Communist forces. The fight was short — it didn’t go well for the United States. Bazookas and recoilless rifle rounds did practically nothing to the T-34s.
North Korean T-34s blew through the positions held by the unprepared American soldiers.
The North Korean forces blew through the infantry and went at the artillery. By the time all was said and done, of the roughly 440 soldiers in Task Force Smith sent to South Korea, only 185 made it back to friendly lines the next morning (a few dozen others would make their way back over the next few days and weeks).
Today, Task Force Smith is remembered for their courage — and for the lessons learned from the Battle of Osan.
The experience of this brave but unprepared unit led to major changes, at least through the Cold War. The mantra became, “No More Task Force Smiths.”
In essence, the troops who fell that day are remembered by efforts to continually keep American troops ready for combat, ensuring that sacrifices made by those who came before them are not in vain.