The Eighth Army’s Fight for Pusan
Lieutenant General Walton Harris (“Johnnie”) Walker died on 23 December 1950 in the vicinity of Uijongbu, Korea in a jeep accident while commanding the Eighth U.S. Army as it withdrew under pressure from North Korea following the surprise attack of Chinese Communist Forces. In the 1 January 1951 issue of Time Magazine the life and contributions of Walker were recognized:
Walker had earned a new nickname for himself in Korea. In
World War II, as one of the late George Patton’s favorite corps
commanders, he had become a specialist in the armored
attack. In Korea he had to turn to defensive tactics—first in
the Pusan perimeter, where, with no reserves, he smartly shuttled
front-line units from one crisis to another; more recently
in North Korea, where he directed the pullback that saved his
Eighth Army from destruction. Walker’s new nickname: “Little
Last week sudden death came to the Little Bulldog. From his
command post he was riding to the front north of Seoul to
present unit citations to the 24th Division… and a Silver Star
to his son, Captain Sam Walker…. A three-ton truck driven
by a South Korean pulled out of line in a southbound column,
directly in the path of Walker’s jeep. The general’s driver
could not avoid a collision. Walker was thrown to the road.
[He died from multiple fractures.] He was dead when an
ambulance got him to a field hospital two miles away. Viewing
his father’s shrouded body, Captain Sam Walker wept.
General MacArthur revealed that he had recently recommended
a promotion for Walker to the four-star rank. [Walker
was promoted to General posthumously.]
General Walton H. Walker contributed greatly to the security and welfare of the United States in three wars. In his last war, in Korea, he made his greatest contribution. The prosperous South Korea exists today because of the exertions and courage of General Walton Walker and his Eighth U.S. Army.2 In Korea, President Truman drew the line, committing the U.S. to stop the spread of Communism through the “Policy of Containment.”Walker was the first operational commander to give teeth to that policy by meeting the attacks of the NKPA, and later, the Communist Chinese People’s Volunteer Army. The world in which we live today was shaped by the policies and military actions that took place at the beginning of the “Cold War.”
Walker was born in Belton, Texas on 3 December 1889 to Sam S. and May Harris Walker. On 15 June 1907 he took the oath on the Plain at West Point, becoming a member of the U.S. Corps of Cadets. Walker was commissioned second lieutenant in 1911. He served for 38 years. Walker’s son, Sam, followed in his footsteps. Sam also graduated from West Point. He too rose to the rank of general. General Sam Walker, who served under his father in Korea, has two sons both graduated from West Point. Three generations of Walkers have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. No higher calling can be answered by a man.
Few Americans recognize the name, Walton Walker, and there is only one undocumented biography of Walker. As Allan Millett has noted, “Walker deserves a better history.” Unfortunately, Walker left few papers from which historians could glean insights into the general’s thinking. A study of Walker’s life would have to be based on the papers of the units in which Walker served; however, these types of documents are typically devoid of personal thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. Sam Walker has retained some of the records and letters of his father, but most of this material is on his World War II experience, and, amount to too little to produce major a work. Hence, historians will never produce a biography of Walker’s life comparable to Carlo D. Estes’ work on Patton, or D. Clayton James works on MacArthur. However, a man can, and should be judged by his actions. And, in this regard there is much to say about General Walker.
Walker was not without controversy. During the early days of the struggle for the Pusan Perimeter, when the Eighth Army was continuously in retreat, General Matthew B. Ridgway and presidential advisor W. Averell Harriman, who had recently visited his headquarters, recommended the relief of Walker.3 They believed that Walker was in a fight that exceeded his capacity as a general. Ridgway stated that his concerns were: “over General Walker’s leadership, lack of force, acceptance of a mediocre staff, and an unsound Base organization.”4 And Harriman stated: “We all made up our minds that [Walker’s] headquarters was rather disjointed and, although General Walker was a first-class divisional commander, this was too big a command for him. He was a very brave and competent soldier, but we came back with the view that we should recommend a change of command.”5 (More accurately, successful corps command did not equate to successful Army command. Walker was an experienced proven corps commander in World War II.) Army Chief of Staff J. Lawton Collins, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Omar Bradley and most importantly Truman, obviously did not concur with Ridgway. Besides, MacArthur was making the major decisions, and it was he who put Walker in command.
Some historians also have not been kind to Walker. The late military historian Clay Blair held Walker in low regard. In his book The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950–1953, he criticized Walker for committing the 24th Infantry Division piecemeal, “battalion by battalion well forward of the Kum River. The piecemeal destruction of these battalions left him without sufficient forces to defend a Kum River line.” Blair concludes, “it was the mistakes by the NKPA generals and squad-level American courage rather than superior American generalship that ‘won’ the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter.”6 Blair, however, charges Walker with offenses that took place before he took command in Korea. MacArthur committed the Eighth Army piecemeal, and he had no other choice, if he was going to save Korea. What is the story of the Pusan Perimeter?
• • •
On Sunday at 0400 on 25 June 1950 the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA), with the approval of Stalin and Mao, attacked across the 38th parallel, executing a well-developed invasion plan. Its objective was to complete the destruction of the Republic of Korea, and reunite the peninsula under Communist leadership. The NKPA numbered roughly 100,000 men, consisted of ten divisions, five separate infantry brigades, one-armor brigade with 120 Soviet made T34 tanks. Substantial numbers of Soviet advisors assisted the NKPA. And a large well-equipped, welltrained guerrilla force that had infiltrated into South Korea to instigate an insurgency facilitated the operations of the regular Army.7 The ROK was taken by surprise, and its armed forces were ill equipped to halt the invasion. U.S. military assistance to the ROK had been intentionally restricted
to defensive weapons, in part, to preclude South Korea, under the aggressive leadership of President Syngman Rhee, from attacking North Korea. The ROK Army had no combat aircraft, no tanks, or heavy artillery. As a consequence, it was quickly defeated. It was in retreat when President Truman made the decision to commit U.S. forces to the defense of South Korea.
Truman’s decision to intervene was made in light of the “Policy of Appeasement” that he believed created the conditions for World War II, the loss of China to the Communists in 1949, and the Soviet acquisition of the atomic bomb. In July 1950 Truman decided to draw the line noting that: “Appeasement leads only to further aggression and ultimately war.”8 Truman acknowledged that: “This was the toughest decision I had to make as President. What we faced in the attack on Korea was the ominous threat of a third world war.”9 The poorly trained and equipped Eighth Army in Japan was the only force available capable of stopping the advance of the NKPA.
The initial phase of the war, delay and defend, was critical to the outcome of the war. The mission of the EUSA was to deploy, get into Korea as quickly as possible, delay the enemy as far north as possible, establish a defensive position to stabilize the situation, and finally to create the conditions for offensive operations to regain the June 1950 borders of South Korea, the 38th Parallel. MacArthur’s initial strategic objective was to secure the port of Pusan, on the southeast tip of the peninsula, to do this he had to stop the advance of the NKPA. If the port of Pusan were lost the war between North and South Korea would be over. If Pusan were lost, to restore the situation would have required the mounting of a major amphibious operation that would have taken years to prepare, given the poor state of readiness of the Armed Forces of the U.S. And, once the entire peninsula was in Communist hands, the President and the United Nations may have accepted the loss of Korea, as they had the loss of China, a year earlier. Holding on to Pusan was of considerable strategic importance.
• • •
Geography greatly influenced the conduct of the Korean War. Korea is a peninsula, roughly 600 miles long from its northern border with Manchuria to its southern tip. It varies in width from 125 miles to 200 miles and covers 84,000 square miles. Korea has contiguous borders with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the former Soviet Union (USSR). Just over a hundred miles across the Korea Straits lay Japan. Korea thus is strategically situated in the center of a triangle between three traditional rivals. As a consequence, Korea has been both the spoils of and an invasion route in competitions between these larger, more dominant states. Korea’s common borders with the PRC and USSR made it possible for these states to intervene directly with supplies, equipment, military and/or insurgency forces. Geography thus, eliminated exhaustion strategy. Short of war with the PRC or USSR there was no way to stop the flow of resources into North Korea. Annihilation strategy, short of nuclear war, was also eliminated if the PRC or USSR decided to intervene. The resources and population of either state exceeded the capabilities of the U.S., assuming they fought a more total war. While it was possible to annihilate the NKPA, it was not possible to annihilate the People’s Liberation Army supported by the Soviet Union. Given these geographic circumstances and the state of conventional U.S. forces, from a purely military view, the U.S. should not have fought the Korean War. While theoretically Truman made the decision to fight a limited war to preclude a more total war, he took grave risks in bringing about what he was hoping to preclude. Had geographic and military considerations played a larger part in the deliberation for war, the decision would have been made against war. War, however, is a political act.
Because Korea is a Peninsula the U.S. Navy could dominate three sides of the fields of battle. And once forces were stretched across the peninsula certain forms of maneuver became impossible. Without airborne and/or amphibious forces it was not possible to conduct envelopment, flanking movement, or turning movement. Offensive operations were necessarily frontal attacks, penetrations, or infiltrations; thus, the geography of Korea favored defensive operations. These restrictions on the forms of maneuver, caused by the narrowness of the peninsula, made it possible for the U.S. to employ firepower to balance the enemy’s superior numbers. If the PRC or USSR intervened, short of a more total war or nuclear war, the U.S. was restricted to attrition strategy.
The Korean War in the new age of jet aircraft, missiles, and nuclear weapons was more primitive than World War II. In 1950 Korea lacked the infrastructure of modern Western states. There were few large cities, and little industry. Lines of communications, rail and road, were and/or amphibious forces it was not possible to conduct envelopment, flanking movement, or turning movement. Offensive operations were necessarily frontal attacks, penetrations, or infiltrations; thus, the geography of Korea favored defensive operations. These restrictions on theforms of maneuver, caused by the narrowness of the peninsula, made it possible for the U.S. to employ firepower to balance the enemy’s superior numbers. If the PRC or USSR intervened, short of a more total war or nuclear war, the U.S. was restricted to attrition strategy. The Korean War in the new age of jet aircraft, missiles, and nuclear weapons was more primitive than World War II. In 1950 Korea lacked the infrastructure of modern Western states. There were few large cities, and little industry. Lines of communications, rail and road, were generally poor, and cross-country movement by vehicle, tracked and wheeled, was difficult. There was no space in Korea for the heavy armor and mechanized divisions that characterized World War II in Europe. Mobility in some parts of the country was restricted to foot movement. One main road and one main rail system linked the country. Like most peninsulas Korea had a spine of mountains running almost the length of the peninsula. The mountainous terrain was primarily in eastern parts of the country, and was excellent for defensive operations and infiltration tactics. The flat areas were covered with terraced rice fields that channeled vehicle transportation. The climate went from one extreme to the other. During the winter months, October to March, the weather was severe, approaching arctic conditions. The summers were hot with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees. The mountainous terrain, heat, and heavy loads carried by soldiers and marines combined to produce heat casualties and erode the mobility and combat power of the Eighth Army. In the summer months a stench emanated from the ubiquitous rice fields fertilized with human waste. War in Korea made enormous demands on the human body and spirit. Yet, Korea was a beautiful country, with 30 million people (20 million in the South and 10 million in the North) that ranked among the most industrious, adaptable, and enterprising on Earth. The character of the Korean people contributed mightily to the survival of The Republic of South Korea.
• • •
In Japan MacArthur had available the Eighth Army. It consisted of four of the Army’s ten divisions, the 1st Cavalry Division (an Infantry Division), the 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry Divisions (ID). General Walton Walker had assumed command of the Eighth Army in September 1948. He was selected because of his reputation as an outstanding trainer. He had served in World War I commanding the Thirteenth Machine Gun Battalion during the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives, actions for which he received his second Silver Star. In 1944 and ’45 his XX Corps had frequently led Patton’s Third Army in its battles across Europe. To Walker, Patton once stated: “Of all the corps I have commanded, yours has always been the most eager to attack and the most reasonable and cooperative.”10 Walker, however, was from the European Theater. He was not one of MacArthur’s chosen few, which created some friction.
Walker’s mission was to improve the combat effectiveness of the Eighth Army. However, he faced many obstacles that impeded his efforts. The divisions were considerably below wartime strength in personnel and had a high turnover rate that damaged continuity and stability. The 24th ID had 10,700 men, the 1st Cavalry Division had 11,300, the 7th ID had 10,600, and the 25th 13,000 men. Wartime strength was 18,900 men. Each regiment had eliminated one of its three battalions, with the exception of the all black 24th Infantry Regiment. This meant the divisions could not fight in accordance with established doctrine. With a one-year tour of duty roughly half a division’s personnel turned over every year. The divisions lacked equipment, supplies, space, and time to train. The divisions’ tank battalions had been reduced to tank companies, and artillery battalions were short one battery. The Eighth Army was also psychologically unprepared for battle. General Roy K. Flint, observed: “…the Army was a hollow shell…. For young soldiers… life in Japan was an adventure. Not only were they learning to live in the Army, but a new and strange culture beckoned just outside the camp gates. [M]any young privates lived with Japanese women just outside the camp…. Their only natural enemy was venereal disease…. Heavy drinking was a problem in all units and all ranks.”11 In war torn Japan a sergeant was a wealthy man, and a private could supplement his income by black marketing. Japanese houseboys performed many of the routine duties of soldiers, providing them with additional free time. Life was good. Walker was well aware of the state of his army. Roy Appleman in the official history of the U.S. Army in Korea wrote: “General Walker was too good a soldier not to know the deficiencies of his troops and their equipment. He went to Korea well aware of the limitations of his troops in training, equipment, and in numerical strength. He did not complain about the handicaps under which he labored. He tried to carry out his orders. He expected others to do the same.”12 Part of generalship is recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of soldiers and subordinate commanders, and pushing them to exceed their limitations, but not so far as to break them. Walker understood this, but the urgency of the situation caused him to push men beyond their limitations, and many men and units collapsed under the pressure.
To bring the other divisions to approximate fighting strength the 7th Infantry Division was stripped of personnel and whole units. MacArthur informed Truman that additional forces were needed, whereupon Truman released the 2nd ID, the 3rd ID (the latter of which had fewer than 5,000 men) and 187th Regimental Combat Team of the 11th Airborne Division; however, it would take time for these units to deploy. And, still more forces would be required. On 1 September the Oklahoma’s 45th and California’s 40th National Guard Divisions were federalized.13 These eight divisions along with one Marine Division and the ROK Army would fight the Korean War. The Eighth Army had some unique characteristics. It was an Army of regulars, National Guard and reserves. It was an Army of conscripts and volunteers. It was a segregated Army with one all black regiment. It was an Army that was integrated with Korean nationals, Korean Augments to the United States Army KATUSAs). It was a joint Army with a division of Marines, and a combined Army with ROK, British, French, and forces from other nations. And, it was the first Army that flew the United Nation’s flag.
The first Army unit deployed to Korea was Task Force Smith—a composite unit based on the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, of the 24th ID—commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Smith. The CG of the 24th ID, Major General William F. Dean’s, orders to LTC. Smith were: “When you get to Pusan, head for Taejon. We want to stop the North Koreans as far from Pusan as we can. Block the main road as far north as possible…. Sorry I can’t give you more information—that’s all I’ve got. Good luck, and God bless you and your men.”14 On 5 July Task Force Smith engaged a superior KPA force in the vicinity of Osan. In an uneven battle, TF Smith was enveloped and defeated. The unit disintegrated, having no weapon capable of stopping the Soviet made T 34 tank. General Dean’s 24th ID was deployed piecemeal. At each blocking positions American units fought, but the enemy’s superior numbers enabled him to flow around the flanks. To preclude being surrounded and cutoff, the units retreated. This pattern of fighting damaged the morale of the Eighth Army. Still, units from the division advanced as far north as possible and then fought desperate delaying actions without the support of tanks and lacking adequate artillery support and antitank weapons. One account written during the war read:
Some 10 days after the initial elements of the United States
24th Infantry Division were committed in Korea, the remainder
of that understrength division was engaged with the
enemy, and every battalion was attempting to defend a front
greater than that normally allocated to a full-strength division.
Artillery was spread so thinly that it frequently could
reach the flanks of its supported unit with only one or two
pieces. Engineers were employed as infantrymen in addition
to their other duties. This inadequate force suffered many
defeats, but still managed to regroup, pull together, and fight
again over the long road from Osan to Taejon.15
The opening phase of the war was a race for time and space. The Eighth Army’s objective was to deploy and buildup sufficient forces to stop the NKPA as far north as possible, and to establish a defensive line from which the situation could be stabilized. The KPA’s objective was to complete as rapidly as possible the destruction of the ROK Army, and push U.S. Forces back into the sea before significant U.S. forces could be deployed.
On 13 July Walker formally took command of the Eighth U.S. Army in Korea (EUSAK), establishing his headquarters in Taegue. Shortly thereafter he took command of ROK and UN forces in Korea. By 20 July Walker had deployed the 25tH Infantry Division and 1st Cavalry Division, and redeployed the ROK Army, consisting of the 1st, 3rd, 6th, 8th, and Capital Divisions, under his command. In late July the 1st Marine Brigade joined the battle bringing the Eighth Army forces into rough parity with the NKPA. By early August the Eighth Army’s troop strength had risen to 92,000 (45,000 U.S. and 47,000 ROK). At the same time the strength of the NKPA had declined to 70,000 troops. South Korea would continue to exist, but the enemy still held the initiative. The Eighth Army was psychologically in a defensive mode. It had not yet fought a successful offensive operation.
By end of July the Eighth Army had withdrawn into the position known as the Pusan Perimeter. It was engaged on two sides with its back to the sea forming a rectangular area on the south-east tip of the Korean Peninsula, stretching roughly 100 miles from the vicinity of Taegue south along the Naktong River to the Korean Straits and east, roughly 50 miles, to the Sea of Japan. Walker lacked the manpower to establish a continuous defensive perimeter, or fight in accordance with Army doctrine. He used a system of strong points defenses and counter-attack tactics to maintain the perimeter. The timely arrival of Army regiments and the 1st Marine Brigade provided needed reserves for counterattacks. Walker used these forces as “fire brigade” plugging holes in the defense where enemy breakthroughs threatened.
On 31 July Walker ordered, “There will be no more retreating, withdrawal, readjustment of lines or whatever else you call it. There are no lines behind which we can retreat. This is not going to be a Dunkirk or Bataan. A retreat to Pusan would result in one of the greatest butcheries in history. We must fight until the end. We must fight as a team. If some of us must die, we will die fighting together.”16 Throughout the month of August Walker rushed troops from one threatened sector to another; however, he had a number of advantages. The Eighth Army’s troop strength increased steadily as more United Nations forces arrived. A railway system and road network gave him interior lines, the ability to reinforce his separated units faster than his enemy. Tactical communication intelligence provided Walker with the locations and time of almost every major attack, enabling him to start the movement of forces to the threatened area before the attack took place. Air reconnaissance provided detailed information. Control of the air, close air support, and the ability to interdict the enemy’s supply lines, which extended from North Korea, diminished the enemy’s combat power. The Army was able to adapt new tactics to defeat enemy attacks. Soldiers and marines fought desperate battles to retain or retake hilltops. Communication between positions was frequently broken by enemy penetrations. Army RCTs and the Marine regiment were moved to blunt the enemy’s advance, and then counterattack to restore the perimeter. Instead of placing two battalions on line and one in the rear as a reserve force, one battalion was placed on line and the second battalion in the rear. Once the enemy broke through, which was expected, the second battalion was deployed to defeat the enemy advance and restore the line. This was not Army doctrine. This was a new tactic innovated in the heat of battle. This tactic was necessary because each regiment consisted of only two battalions, instead of the normal three battalions.
Air Force, Navy, and Marine aviators became the heroes of the close air support war. They assisted soldiers and marines in plugging holes in the line and fighting off breakthrough attacks. Marine and Navy aircraft because of their proximity to the battlefield had a longer loiter time over the battlefield than Air Force aircraft—flying off aircraft carriers or from within the perimeter. They could, as a result, answer urgent calls more rapidly. They were effectively integrated into the battle as forces continued to arrive from the U.S. and other United Nations countries. In regard to air interdiction General Almond wrote that: “…despite concentrated air efforts by the Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force thus far in the fighting, it had been impossible to prevent the North Koreans from moving tremendous quantities of supplies to the support of their forces then some 300 miles south of the 38th parallel. The interdiction of roads, railroads, and bridges had no decisive effect on their overall movements.”17 Airpower was not decisive, but it was important. By the end of the month the Eighth Army with the support of the FEAF had stabilized the situation. In September MacArthur was ready to go on the offense. Walker’s delay and defend operation had succeeded in stopping the advance of the NKPA.
The performance of the soldiers of the Eighth Army had in too many cases been poor. Some units exhibited “bug-out fever” when under enemy attack. The Eighth Army had been thrown into battle psychologically, physically, and materially unprepared to fight. Units had been pieced together in an effort to get them up to strength. Some leaders took command the week they went into battle. To compensate for the lack of trained infantry, firepower from artillery and airpower was used extensively. In Training Bulletin No. 1 dated 20 March 1953, it was noted:
General Van Fleet has stated many times that one of our
major advantages over the Reds is our ability to mass supporting
fires rapidly on any target. In X Corps in late 1950
and early 1951 we found that ability primarily in the artillery;
the infantry was not making maximum utilization of the
weapons available. For example, we found attack after attack
where the recoilless rifles were never placed in position
because it was too much of an effort to hand-carry the guns
and ammunition up the rugged mountains. Our company and
platoon orders too often merely mentioned the attachment of
support of crew-served weapons—no targets or areas of fire
were assigned, with the consequence that many infantry
weapons were never used in the attack. To reduce casualties
and add effectiveness to our attacks, we must get the crewserved
weapons 100 per cent into the game. We are often too
anxious to get the job over with as soon as possible; consequently,
we tend to tackle the job with comparatively little
time spent in planning…. Full utilization of all weapons
requires considerable time for planning and movement of
The Army improved as it gained in combat experience, and more cohesive, better-trained units arrived from the United States. However, when it met its most severe test against the Chinese People’s Volunteers (CPV) it was still not proficient in many of the skills required to succeed on the battlefield. Many units were simply incapable of fighting as teams. They lacked the unit training required to perform essential combat operations. Too much of the Army was in a poor state of physical readiness, incapable of sustained marches carrying the fifty-to-sixty pounds of weapons and equipment necessary to fight. The result was higher casualties and decreased combat effectiveness.19 The poor state of Army readiness was partially the fault of the Truman Administration; however, the Army deserves much of the blame.
The Marine brigade was qualitatively a better fighting force than Army units deployed from Japan. The Marine Corps had fewer missions and less responsibility than the Army. It had not been preoccupied with the forming of new governments and policing occupied countries. Its small size allowed it to focus more narrowly on its combat missions. It benefited from the experience of a relatively large number of veteran leaders and infantrymen who had seen combat in World War II. It benefited from greater stability and a consistent training program. Marines were simply better trained and physically fit than the soldiers of the Eighth Army that deployed from Japan. Marines deployed as cohesive units, and came with their own air support. Finally, Marine culture was a factor. In its long struggle against the Army for survival, marines were infused with a strong desire to perform demonstrably better than soldiers in combat. This disposition had its pluses and minuses; nevertheless, in the opening days of the Korean War Marine units consistently performed better than Army units.
In 1950 the Armed Forces of the United States were segregated. While many Army units had “bug-out fever” the criticism of the all black 24th Infantry Regiments were particularly severe. Given the racial climate—the prevalence of Jim Crowism—at the time, objective consideration was impossible; nevertheless, the status of inferiority placed burdens on the unit that were difficult to overcome; and as a consequence, some elements of the 24th did in fact perform poorly. Others, however, fought well.20 In Korea, the Army would take the lead in transforming America’s racial policies and culture.
The Eighth Army achieved its first strategic objective. It retained control of the port of Pusan. And, given the suddenness of the deployment and the state of the Army, Walker and his soldiers and marines deserve great credit for their conduct of the defense. Walker has received considerable criticism for his conduct of operations in Korea and particularly the initial “delay and defend” operation. It is argued that: “The Americans’ lack of imagination in their scheme of maneuver and their failure to employ existing doctrinal concepts cost them heavily in both lives and lost opportunities.”21 And, that given Eighth Army’s overall superiority in forces Walker should have taken the offensive much sooner. Yes, there were numerous defects in the performance of the Army. However, context is important. The psychological shock of being thrown into battle; the knowledge of inadequate equipment, training, and forces; and the lack of understanding of and affinity for the nation the U.S. was trying to save damaged the ability of the Army to generate combat power. Before an army that has been defeated and has retreated can take the offensive, it must first make the transformation to the offense in the minds of the men that have to fight the battles. Both the ROK Army and U.S. Army had received severe blows that damaged their fighting spirit. The transformation required could not take place overnight. In Korea, Americans did what they do best, adapt and improvise.
Of General Walton (Johnny) Walker, Major General Courtney Whitney wrote: “Walker, after surviving five months of extremely dangerous fighting from Pusan to the Yalu, had been killed in a freak jeep accident. It had been Walker who had held out, with some of the most courageous and brilliant generalship in military history, at the bottom of Korea…. It had been Walker who had almost always greeted MacArthur on his visits to the front with cheerful confidence and rugged etermination. Only a few days earlier Walker had predicted that the Eighth Army would by no means be defeated by the Chinese hordes.” However, in death even one’s critics can find something positive to say. Given the information available what assessment can we make about the life and career of General Walton Walker?
Walker never had the freedom of command later enjoyed by Ridgway. In fact, throughout his entire operational military career he was subject to the thinking and decisions of more dominant personalities, first Patton and later MacArthur. What we can say is that Walker executed every order to the fullest extent possible within the parameters of the commander’s
concept; that he never said no; that he accepted every mission with confidence; that he led from the front exposing himself to the same dangers his troops faced, that he always had the welfare of his troops in mind; that he improvised, adapted, and made do with what was available; and most importantly, that he won. Walker never suffered a major defeat, and that is probably the best we can say about any general. The British historian Max Hasting, who has typically been critical of American performance in war, wrote the following of General Walker:
The Communists had reached the limits of men, guns, supplies,
[and] ammunition. The Pusan Perimeter held, and more
than a few of its defenders had now heard the astonishing
rumors of a great operation for their relief already being
mounted from Japan. The spirit of the Eighth Army rose perceptibly,
and with it their respect and gratitude to Walker, the
fiercely energetic little Texan who had made their survival
possible. Walker would not go down in history as a military
intellectual, a man of ideas. But he would be remembered for
bringing to the battle for the Pusan Perimeter the qualities
that made its survival possible: ruthless dynamism, speed of
response, dogged determination. He was leading one of the
least professional, least motivated armies America had ever
put into the field. Even many of its higher commanders
seemed afflicted by bugout fever, a chronic yearning to escape
from Korea and leave the thankless peninsula to its inhabitants.
Walker kept his men at their business by sheer relentless
hounding, goading, driving, with a support of a handful of
exceptional officers and units whose competence decided the
day. The Eighth Army’s performance at Pusan narrowly maintained
the United Nations’ presence in Korea.22
Walker was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on 3 January 1951. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Secretary of Defense George Marshall, General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower, Generals Omar N. Bradley, J. Lawton Collins, Hoyt S. Vandenberg, and numerous other history makers attended his final roll call. At his graveside service, Dean Walthour, gave the eulogy: “Grant that we may always prove adequate in whatever crisis may arise within our lives. And, above all, grant that out of this strife may come that permanent peace which is built upon the foundation stones of justice, truth and righteousness. For we know it was for this that our brother Walton gladly laid down his life. Accept his sacrifice and help us follow his example.” Walton H. Walker was a great man. He deserves recognition for his contributions to the security of the United States and the existence of the prosperous South Korea.
1. This study is based primarily on the War Diaries of the Eighth United States Army, 25 June 1950 to 12 July 1950, RG 407, Box 1081, Archive II, College Park, Maryland.
2. General Walton Harris Walker regrettably did not leave historians personal papers that would enable them to write a scholarly study of his life and contributions. Wilson A. Heefner has published a biography of Walker, entitled: Patton’s Bulldog: The Life and Service of General Walton H. Walker (Shippenburg, Pennsylvania: White Mane Books, 2001). Walker’s son, General Sam S. Walker, U.S. Army retired of Pinehurst, North Carolina, has provided some information of value to historian, but little that would support a comprehensive study.
3. Oral Reminiscences of Governor W. Averell Harriman, Interview with D. Clayton James, 20 June 1977, RG-49, MacArthur Archives and Library, Norfolk, Virginia. Also see: Clay Blair, The Forgotten War: America in Korea 1950–1953 (New York: Times Books, 1987), 185–190; and Heefner, Patton’s Bulldog, 198.
4. Matthew B. Ridgway Papers, Deputy Chief of Staff Correspondence, June 1950–January 1951, Box 16, Archive, U.S. Army Military History Institute.
5. Reminiscences of Averell Harriman, R6-49, B, 9.
6. Blair, The Forgotten War, 555.
7. When the 120,000 men of the Soviet 25th Army withdrew from North Korea they left behind all their equipment. The NKPA also inherited the equipment of defeated Japanese 34th and 58th Armies. Stalin provide more weapons and equipment
to KPA than it did to the PLA during the Chinese Revolution.
8. David McCullough, Truman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 784.
9. Truman, Memoirs of Harry S. Truman, 1946–52: Years of Trial and Hope, Vol. II, 463.
10. Walker biographer, Wilson A. Heefner wrote: “As Walker prepared to return to the United States, he reviewed XX Corps’s accomplishments since entering combat in Normandy on August 4, 1944: 279 day in combat; a thirteen hundred mile advance across France, Germany, and Austria; a six hundred mile advance from Normandy to the Moselle in only 28 days; the first force to capture Metz by assault… the farthest advance east of any American ground unit; the crossing of 18 major rivers; and the capture of 431,419 Germans—the equivalent of 43 divisions.” See Heefner, Patton’s Bulldog, 134. Also “Old Pro,” (cover story on General Walker) Time Magazine, Vol. LVI, No. 5, July 31, 1950, 18-20.
11. Roy K. Flint, “Task Force Smith and the 24th Division: Delay and Withdrawal, 5-19 July 1950,” America’s First Battles 1776–1965, edited, Charles E. Heller and William A Stofft (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas), 269–272.
12. Roy Appleman, The United States Army in Korea: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu (June-November 1950) (Washington D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1986), 114.
13. Jim Dan Hill, The Minute Man in Peace and War: A History of the National Guard (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole, 1964), 506, 507.
14. T.R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War (New York: MacMillan, 1990), 97.
15 Leon B. Cheek, Jr., Lieutenant Colonel, Artillery, “Korea, Decisive Battle of the World,” Military Review, March 1953, 20–26.
16. James F. Schnabel, Policy and Direction: The First Year, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1972), 126. Michael Langley, Inchon Landing: MacArthur’s Last Triumph (New York: Times Book, 1979), 11. Also see: Time Magazine, August 7, 1950, 18. Walker added: “It would be impossible to get out.”
17. Edward M. Almond, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army and MacArthur’s Chief of Staff in Japan, “Conference on United Nations Military Operations in Korea, 29 June 1950–31 December 1951,” Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Army War College, 8.
18. U.S. Army, Office, Chief of Army Field Forces, Training Bulletin No. 1, Combat Information, 20 March 1953, MHI.
19. Fritzsche, Carl F., Brigadier General U.S. Army, “Physical Fitness—A Must!” Army Information Digest, July 1955, 41-43.
20. For the official U.S. Army history account see: Roy E. Appleman, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu, U.S. Army in the Korean War (Washington DC: Center of Military History, 1986), 194. Appleman wrote: “The tendency to panic continued in nearly all the 24th Infantry operations west of Sangju. Men left their positions and straggled to the rear. They abandoned weapons on positions. On one occasion the 3rd Battalion withdrew from a hill and left behind 12 .30-caliber and 3 .50-caliber machine guns, 8 60-mm mortars, 4 3.5-inch rocket launcher, and 102 rifles.” It is hard to believe that soldiers—no matter how poorly trained and motivated—left their rifles, their only form of protection; however, Appleman’s major argument was in keeping with the general feelings of the time—black men are racially inferior lacking the qualities of character necessary to make good soldiers. For another assessment by a black officer who fought with the 24th Regiment in Korea see: Charles M. Bussey, Lieutenant Colonel U.S. Army, Firefight at Yechon (New York: Brassey’s Inc., 1991). Bussey wrote: “After my firefight at Yechon the colonel told me that I should receive the Medal of Honor, but because I was a ‘Negro,’ he could not let that happen. Other controversy has raged over the role and performance of black soldiers in Korea. The white press emphasized stories about Negroes bugging out. In those early days in Korea, the black 24th Infantry Regiment performed better than the regiments of the white 24th Infantry Division and just as well as the other regiments that came later to Korea. The U.S. Army’s official history of the first part of the Korean War… by Roy E. Appleman, strikes me as unfair and not representing what I saw personally. His book suggests that the Negro soldiers and their units were no good. The official history cites twenty-four instances of poor behavior by the 24th Infantry that I served in. Mr. Appleman was never in the combat zone, and some of the interviews upon which his account is based took place as much as five years afterward. Mr. Appleman interviewed only one black officer and no black enlisted men. He never talked to me.” This controversy was addressed in William T. Bowers, William M. Hammond, and George L. MacGarrigle’s Black Soldier White Army: The 24th Infantry Regiment in Korea (Washington D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1996).
21. Dr. William Glenn Robertson, Counterattack on the Naktong, 1950, Leavenworth Papers (Leavenworth, Kansas: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, December 1985), 108.
22. Max Hastings, The Korean War