OSAN, South Korea – The South Korean city of Osan opened a memorial hall April 23, to honor the first American Soldiers to fight in the Korean War.
The UN Forces First Battle Memorial Hall was opened during a ceremony near the ridgeline where Task Force Smith made its valiant stand, in July 1950.
Arriving by air from Japan, Task Force Smith was the first U.S. combat unit to take on invading North Korean forces.
With 540 U.S. Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, and A Battery, 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, the combat task force was named after its commander, Lt. Col. Charles B. Smith.
The task force was outnumbered almost 10 to 1 in that first fight, called the Battle of Osan.
To buy time for follow on forces, American Soldiers attempted to stop nearly 5,000 advancing enemy soldiers and 34 Soviet-built tanks, with a limited amount of anti-tank weaponry.
After several hours of fierce fighting, Task Force Smith had to withdraw south to Taejon, where it merged with the 24th Infantry Division and re-engaged the enemy.
The $33 million memorial features videos, interactive displays and pictures from the Battle of Osan. The memorial also features the names of the members of Task Force Smith.
One of those Task Force Smith members, Wilbert A. Walker, posed by his name and picture on the wall. A member for 52nd Artillery Battalion during the battle, Walker thanked the city of building the memorial hall.
“It has been said freedom is not free, but it was worth the cost,” said Walker.
Susan M. Perry, the daughter of another Task Force Smith member and former 52nd Field Artillery commander, Lt. Col. Miller O. Perry, also flew to Korea to attend the ceremony.
Osan Mayor Kwak Sang-wook said the memorial hall was built “to commemorate the noble sacrifices made by the men of Task Force Smith.”
“We also hope that to Americans, in particular, this place will become a source of pride for their parents’ and grandparents’ unfaltering commitment to freedom and democracy some decades ago,” said Kwak. “We will do our utmost to make sure that this memorial hall will be visited by many visitors from home and aboard.”
Eighth Army Deputy Commanding General for Sustainment Brig. Gen. Chris R. Gentry thanked the city for building the memorial hall.
“I’d like to extend a special thanks to the City of Osan for its continued efforts to honor the Soldiers of Task Force Smith,” said Gentry.
Gentry said the task force’s heroic stand delayed enemy forces long enough for more Eighth Army troops to join the fight.
“Task Force Smith’s action had bought valuable time for the follow on forces from Eighth Army to deploy from Japan to Korea,” said Gentry. “America had been able to successfully intervene in time to impede North Korea’s attempt to conquer all of South Korea.”
As the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice approaches this July, Korean War veterans are visiting the peninsula. Along with the Task Force Smith Memorial Hall, monuments, statues and memorials across the nation honor the service of American and UN troops during the Korean War.
Gentry said the greatest tribute to Korean War veterans is the modern, prosperous and democratic nation that rose out of the rubble of the brutal three-year war.
“All you have to do is look around you here today to see that,” said Gentry. “Look around at this incredible country that has risen from ashes of war in just 60 years. Look at the freedom, prosperity and security enjoyed by the citizens of the Republic of Korea, and look at Korea’s commitment to helping other nations around the world.
“Today the Republic of Korea serves as model for other nations who seek freedom, justice and democracy,” said Gentry. “And as this memorial hall demonstrates, your sacrifices will never be forgotten.”