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Soldiers from the United Nations Command Honor Guard tour Task Force Smith Battlefield in Korea Thursday morning. The field, in between Suwon and Osan air bases, was the site of the first ground battle involving U.S. troops in the Korean War.

Soldiers from the United Nations Command Honor Guard tour Task Force Smith Battlefield in Korea Thursday morning. The field, in between Suwon and Osan air bases, was the site of the first ground battle involving U.S. troops in the Korean War. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

Soldiers from the United Nations Command Honor Guard tour Task Force Smith Battlefield in Korea Thursday morning. The field, in between Suwon and Osan air bases, was the site of the first ground battle involving U.S. troops in the Korean War.

Soldiers from the United Nations Command Honor Guard tour Task Force Smith Battlefield in Korea Thursday morning. The field, in between Suwon and Osan air bases, was the site of the first ground battle involving U.S. troops in the Korean War. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

Soldiers from the United Nations Command Honor Guard look at a statue honoring the U.S. troops who fought for Task Force Smith.

Soldiers from the United Nations Command Honor Guard look at a statue honoring the U.S. troops who fought for Task Force Smith. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

SUWON, South Korea — Task Force Smith soldiers had four days in summer 1950 to get from their base in Japan to the ridge of a small hill in South Korea looking north toward the enemy.

Their job was to block North Korea’s path to Busan at the northernmost possible position. The job for these 400 soldiers from the 24th Infantry Division, most of whom were 20 or younger and had never seen combat, also was to show the North Koreans what it meant to make an enemy of the U.S. military.

In the end, the fight lasted only seven hours, according to Sgt. 1st Class Steven Craig Edwards, a member of Tango Security Force and a self-educated expert on that first ground battle involving U.S. troops in the Korean War.

The U.S. forces “didn’t have the right weapons systems,” Edwards told the 1st Platoon of the United Nations Honor Guard on Thursday morning. “It all fell apart after the first 30 (North Korean) tanks came in. When they bugged out, they were running for their lives.”

“It’s a lot like what’s going on now in Iraq,” said 1st Lt. Dennis L. Han, 24, of Philadelphia. He talked about how soldiers complained shortly after the March 2003 invasion of lacking proper equipment and enough training to adapt to new warfare techniques like roadside bombs.

“It takes a while to get ready,” said Han, a Korean-American who moved to America when he was 7.

Han commands one of two platoons that make up the United Nations Command Honor Guard, whose jobs include guarding key headquarters buildings on Yongsan Garrison and participating in command ceremonies.

Because the two platoons must cover shifts 24 hours a day, the soldiers rarely get a stretch of time off to spend time together. Most training holidays they are working, Han said.

This week is different. Han arranged for his soldiers to take the trip to the battlefield, which is home to a monument honoring the battle.

In addition to their normal duties, the soldiers will spend the next few weeks preparing for U.S. Forces Korea’s change-of-command ceremony, as Gen. B.B. Bell replaces Gen. Leon J. LaPorte on Feb. 1.

When asked when his soldiers would have another few days off in a row, Han shook his head. “I couldn’t tell you,” he said.

The South Koreans still keep the hill, now with reinforced concrete trenches, available should the vantage point toward the north be needed again, Edwards said.


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