“Police Action” in Korea

Janet Burton Seegmiller
History of Iron County

In August 1949 Russia exploded its first nuclear device, launching the nuclear arms race. Ten months later, war broke out between North Korea and South Korea. President Harry S. Truman established the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and answered the Russian challenge with plans to build an enlarged atomic-weapons arsenal, which required intensive and expensive testing. Truman kept his word and did not use atomic weapons even in the darkest hours of the Korean War; however, as one commentator wrote, “the distrust and ideological enmities that fueled the engines of the Cold War forced the leaders of the two superpowers to make decisions that plunged them into a forty-year race of nuclear one-upmanship and put the whole human enterprise in peril.”

During the Korean War, trained National Guard troops including the Utah National Guard were quickly called to action. Utahns were generally more opposed to the commitment of U.S. troops in Korea than in the previous world wars because it was a limited war, technically a police action of the United Nations, in which some citizens were asked to make sacrifices while others went on with little or no discomfort or even benefited economically from increased defense spending. Sixty percent of the Utah Army National Guard and all of the Utah Air National Guard were called up, while other states sent virtually no National Guard troops. Five Utah battalions were activated, including the 213th Armored Field Artillery Battalion headquartered in Cedar City. The 213th had its Service Battery in Beaver, Battery A at Richfield, Battery B at St. George, and Battery C at Fillmore.

The departure of over 200 soldiers from the Cedar City depot on 29 August 1950 reminded many of March 1941 when the 222nd Battalion entered World War II. At Fort Lewis, the 213th Battalion was brought up to full strength with personnel from the officer and enlisted reserve corps, so that only sixty percent of the battalion was Utah guardsmen. After four months of combat training, the 213th was ordered to Korea in January 1951. Once in Korea, Corporal Klien Rollo, son of newspaper editor Alex Rollo, began sending reports to the Iron County Record that were published within days of action. Southern Utahns heard for the first time of places like Hwachon, Chunchon, Kapyong, and the 38th parallel.

Within days of reaching the combat zone northeast of Seoul, the 213th was engaged in heavy combat, sent north to reinforce a Marine battalion fighting with the U.N. forces at Hwachon. Chinese Communist forces attacked Hwachon on 22 April. From the center of town, the 213th fought all night, but U.N. troops in the area were forced to withdraw. The 213th was assigned to “rear-guard protection” and was left in the direct line of the Chinese drive while the Chinese also held the hilltops surrounding them.

The 213th withdrew “in blackout over a narrow mountain road.” They battled fiercely as Chinese troops had circled behind them and cut off retreat. At this point, the unit was given up as lost, but it continued to fire all through the night, aided by air strikes on the Chinese troops. The 213th and British troops eventually broke out of the trap to safety, having successfully stalled the drive of the Chinese and prevented a major breakthrough that would have been disastrous.

After two weeks rest, the 213th was back into the thick of the campaign. In May the tide turned and the Chinese began retreating. On 23 May the 213th was ordered back to Kapyong with a task force to keep the enemy in retreat. Rollo reported, “It is worth mentioning that we were the last artillery outfit to leave Kapyong during the Red’s offensive in April and the first to return.” A Chinese regiment had been encircled by U.N. forces and now made a desperate bid to break through by the only escape route available, the narrow valley where 240 men of the 213th Headquarters Battery and Battery A were camped. During the early hours of 27 May, Chinese communist forces opened fire from a canyon to the northeast of the 213th batteries. All available men from both batteries were deployed. The enemy fought fiercely to break through, and some artillerymen engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Captain Ray E. Cox, commander of Battery A, organized a counterattack with approximately fifty men from the two batteries. The men engaged and routed the enemy. As enemy troops tried to ascend the surrounding slopes, intense firing convinced them escape was impossible and they turned back in massive surrender. In that engagement, 831 prisoners were taken and 105 enemy dead were counted, with another 200 estimated as dead; 145 others were captured later in mopping-up operations. On the American side, there were four men wounded in the two batteries, but not a single guardsman was killed. Battery A and the Headquarters Battery had scored a remarkable victory, and members received a Distinguished Unit Citation, recognizing “outstanding performance of duty and extraordinary heroism,” and further stating that the batteries displayed such unshakable determination and gallantry in accomplishing their mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set them apart and above other units participating in the action. The extraordinary heroism displayed by the members of these units reflects great credit on themselves and upholds the highest traditions of the military service of the United States.

After this, other war experiences seemed anti-climactic, but the 213th continued to provide outstanding artillery support wherever it was assigned. By 31 December 1951 the 213th Field Artillery Battalion, in almost constant combat since April, had fired 95,004 rounds and inflicted 6,891 casualties. Many guardsmen had earned enough points for rotation home. The first enlisted men left as early as November, and commander Lt. Colonel Frank J. Dalley returned to the United States in mid-December. The 213th Field Artillery Battalion stayed on active duty in Korea until the armistice in 1953 and was finally returned to state control and the Utah National Guard on 29 October 1954, bringing home its battle streamers.