The Pusan Perimeter



The Pusan Perimeter

The problems confronting the regiment deepened when the fighting shifted south from Sangju during August and September to the area west of Masan on the Pusan Perimeter. Casualties among officers reached critical levels, with some companies going through five commanders in less than a month, and the replacements were often inexperienced and untrained in infantry skills. The situation was little better among the sergeants. As for the enlisted men, many replacements reported for duty unable even to load and fire their rifles without first receiving instruction. Already deteriorating, the self-confidence of the unit and the trust of its members in one another worsened. More failures occurred.

Despite the pattern, when the 24th pulled into the Pusan Perimeter, it managed to hold the line. In the fight for Battle Mountain, Company C was reduced to a shell and other portions of the regiment suffered heavily. Misfortune, nevertheless, continued to dog the regiment. Focused on the mountains south of Haman rather than on the low hills just to the west of the town, the unit was unprepared on 1 September when the enemy attacked through the center of its position and the 2d Battalion collapsed. Unreliable South Korean troops manning portions of the line were partially to blame. So were a weak regimental reserve and poorly fortified positions. A key ingredient in the collapse, however, was the large number of stragglers who left their positions without leave during the early portions of the fight. Remnants of Companies E and G held on. 

Much of Company F escaped to the north. The battalion command post conducted a brief but spirited defense. Even so, the 2d Battalion ceased to exist as a combat organization, and only the fortuitous presence of the 27th Infantry saved the day.

The white leadership of the regiment and the division blamed the soldiers of the 24th for what had happened, but they themselves were at least as much at fault. The new regimental commander, Colonel Arthur J. Champeny, and his staff had not only approved the weak tactical dispositions of the 2d Battalion, but Champeny himself had done much to destroy whatever self-confidence was left in the regiment's men by making ill-advised, public remarks about the conduct of blacks in World War II. 

It was at that point that General Kean recommended that the Eighth Army dissolve the regiment. The evidence submitted-a whole series of exhaustive interviews with black and white officers-gave overwhelming testimony to the presence of heavy straggling within the unit but said little about the tactical incompetence and the accumulating failures of leadership that were at the root of what had happened. Kean's recommendation led to further investigations and to a determination that the 24th should indeed be disbanded, but the Eighth Army's inability to organize a new regiment to take the unit's place on short notice put the decision on hold for a time.

In the interim, Champeny, and his successor, Colonel John T. Corley, moved at last to punish chronic stragglers. Long overdue, the effort put an effective end to the problem, but the court-martials that followed did nothing to rehabilitate the 24th Infantry's reputation in the eyes of white commanders. Indeed, a sentence of death handed down against a lieutenant who had refused to return to the line only added to the aura of shame surrounding the regiment. 


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