Friday, November 22, 2019

General William F. Dean : Hero(?) of Taejon

Major General William F. Dean upon his release from North Korean captivity.

When PVT Philip Hughes deployed to Korea in July 1950, he did so as part of the U.S. Army's 24th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General William F. Dean. 

In many ways, Dean was the right man for the task of commanding the first American Army unit to enter combat since 1945.  After compiling an admirable record as a division commander during World War II, Dean was appointed to the Far East where he played a pivotal role as military governor of South Korea immediately subsequent to Japanese occupation. He had overseen the 24th Division since October 1949. He had combat experience, he was familiar with the country, and his headquarters in Japan were closest to the Korean peninsula.

Tall, lean and athletic, the 50-year-old son of an Illinois dentist eschewed the pomp and circumstance of high rank. Despite having the privilege of using staff cars, Dean was more inclined to walk to his appointments whenever possible. Aides said he was “his own best shoe-shiner.”

Dean has handicapped by the fact that the U.S. Army as a whole was poorly prepared to conduct war in 1950.  The early confidence of Dean's command quickly gave way to the humbling realization that his forces were overmatched by the North Korean forces that it encountered:   

I am convinced that the North Korean Army, the North Korean soldier and the status of training and the quality of his equipment have been underestimated. - Letter from Major General William F. Dean to General Douglas MacArthur, July 8, 1950

By July 20, not yet three weeks since the 24th Division's deployment in Korea, Dean and his headquarters were forced to hold a position in the city of Taejon. Holding this critical rail and logistics hub would buy time for the Army to transport more men and assets across the Pacific. Dean attempted to defend Taejon with forces that were outnumbered and underequipped.

History will recall the defense of Taejon as one of the U.S. Army's most humiliating defeats. Many observers have faulted General Dean for his role in this defeat, but no one can accuse him of shirking his duty. With his acuity already diminished by days of insufficient sleep, General Dean at one point picked up a bazooka and joined a gang of enlisted men to hunt enemy tanks in the narrow streets of Taejon. After his forces were scattered and diminished that fateful day, Dean was became one of the few Americans who escaped the city on foot, seeking refuge in the hills. Separated from his men, Dean roamed the countryside for 36 days before he was eventually captured. He would remain in the hands of the North Koreans for the duration of the war. He was welcomed to New York City in October 1953 with a ticker tape parade.

YouTube screen grab

Of his 1950 wartime experience, Dean said "There were heros in Korea, but I was not one of them."

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