Friday, February 1, 2019

The Lovless Principle

Col. Jay Lovless.  Photo courtesy of Lacy Barnett

Private Philip Hughes, age 17, arrived in Japan in May 1950.  He was assigned to the 34th Infantry Regiment on Kyushu.  Philip found a unit in sorry condition with respect to military preparedness. It was so bad, in fact, that shortly before Philip’s arrival, U.S. Eighth Army commander Gen. Walton Walker sacked the 34th’s commander and replaced him with Col. Jay B. Lovless, an experienced logistician who had also commanded an infantry regiment in Europe during World War II.  The Texan left mixed impressions during the big war.  He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during April 1945. Yet one staff officer described Lovless as a “nervous, high-strung, impatient, dictatorial type of officer. This was of no matter in 1950, when Lovless’ skills and temperament were well-suited to the needs and challenges of a peacetime army unit.

Lovless had a formidable task.  Due to densely populated Japanese landscape, the 34th Regiment was fragmented.  Headquarters were in Sasebo, while its two battalions were located some five miles away.  The training area available to the regiment  – a rough-hewn mountaintop - could host one battalion (900 men), both not two simultaneously. Battalions took turns performing field exercises.  The limitations of the terrain meant that many maneuvers were excluded from the combat training syllabus.  

Then, of course, came the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950.  Jay Lovless, Philip Hughes, and the rest of the 34th Infantry were among the vanguard of U.S. Army forces rushed from Japan to South Korea’s defense.  Jay Lovless was age 49 – four years above the age for regiment commanders as recommended by Gen. George C. Marshall during World War II.  Nevertheless, Lovless would lead the 34th during its initial Korean combat deployment of July 5-7. Lovless’ commander, Gen. William Dean, had his doubts about Lovless.  Accordingly, Dean made arrangements to add the combat-experienced Col. Bob Martin to his staff, anticipating a possible change in personnel.

The change in leadership was not long in coming.  The premise was this:  the 34th’s first encounter with North Korean Army resulted in an embarrassing rout of American forces at P’yongt’aek on July 6.  In fairness, factors other than Lovless’ leadership were to blame.  These included undertrained troops, dysfunctional and underpowered weapons, and poor field communications. But this was the Army. If the exigencies of combat generated career-limiting consequences, so be it.  While he monitored the shattered 34th Infantry’s activity from his command post in Songhwan, Lovless received notice that he was relieved of his command. His replacement by Bob Martin would become effective immediately.

Jay Lovless died December 10 1964, and was buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas.

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