Friday, August 17, 2018

KATUSAs to the Rescue!

Desperation sometimes begets innovation.  So it was for the U.S. Eighth Army during the opening months of the Korean War.  Late 1940s budget austerity meant that most regiments entered the war at only two-thirds strength.  While replacements were thrown into the fray as quickly as possible, they were not enough to replenish staggering combat losses that the U.S. Army suffered through the summer of 1950.

And so Eighth Army planners devised a solution: infuse the enlisted ranks of U.S. Army units with Korean men - or as it so often was - boys.

Official nomenclature described them as "Korean Augmentation to the United States Army," which reduces to the "KATUSA" acronym.  KATUSAs would be fully integrated into the ranks of U.S. fighting units, thus establishing the means for their care, feeding, and utilization. There was some logic to this concept.  For one, there were plenty of able-bodied men available of (or near) fighting age, right there in South Korea.  And because they were native to the country, these same individuals brought knowledge of the landscape.  On the flip side was a virtually intractable language barrier.

The South Korea government, such as it was at the time, was fully complicit in this scheme.  The "drafting" of KATUSAs began in July 1950. This was often accomplished by constables who simply yanked boys off the street and pitched them onto the back of trucks.  "Basic training" was less-than rudimentary, accomplished in a matter of hours.

The 24th Infantry Division, which was the first U.S. Army unit dispatched to Korea, was in pretty bad shape by the end of August 1950.  The division was placed in reserve to provide its men time to recuperate. It was in this rest camp that KATUSAs were introduced to their organization.  There was no prescription for their use.  Instead, each unit fostered its own approach. In some cases, KATUSAs were limited to menial support tasks. In other cases, they learned to operate weapons; each would be paired with an American in a "buddy system."

The results were mixed, but worthy of refinement.  The Eighth Army continued to employ KATUSAs throughout the Korean War... and after.  The partnership with the U.S. Army remains in place to this day. Its administration is much refined, of course, as it develops a cadre of professional soldiers that become valuable additions to the Republic of Korea Army.

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