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On Walkabout At: The Taskforce Smith Memorial In South Korea

This week is the 60th anniversary of the first US military engagement against the invading North Korean forces during the Korean War.  The hastily deployed US Army unit from Japan was called Taskforce Smith after their commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Smith.  Taskforce Smith fought bravely, but were ultimately overwhelmed by the superior North Korean men and equipment.  This first US battle of the Korean War would be a precursor of things to come as the US military fought for 3 and a half years on the Korean peninsula.   Today just north of  the South Korean city of Suwon the battle site can be visited.  On the hill the Taskforce Smith soldiers garrisoned back on July 5, 1950 a large memorial constructed by the Korean government stands to commemorate the battle that introduced the first US soldiers to combat in Korea.

The front of the memorial is lined with the flags of all the United Nations countries that provided troops during the Korean War:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Something I have seen quite often at memorials commemorating a US action during the Korean War is that they are called UN actions instead of American actions:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Yes, technically the Korean War was a UN action, but Taskforce Smith just like the bulk of the UN fighting in Korea was handled by American soldiers. If you look at tourist brochures or signs in Osan the memorial is also labeled a UN site as well. Click on the image below to enlarge it and take a look for yourself:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

It may seem like a trivial point, but why then are memorials to battles during the Korean War by the ROK Army not called a UN memorial site as well? Call me paranoid, but it seems like just another subtle way to down play the involvement of the US military during the Korean War, which I have seem plenty of in Korea.

At least this map of the battle identifies the US forces:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Anyway the statue on the memorial like most memorial statues in Korea is quite good:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Koreans for whatever reason really excel at making some really good, detailed memorial statues. After checking out the memorial you can actually follow a trail and walk up the hill behind the statue and see what the terrain was like that the soldiers of Taskforce Smith found themselves on that fateful day 60 years ago:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Before entering the tree line make sure you take a look back towards the road:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Across the street you can see the adjacent hill that also garrisoned soldiers of Taskforce Smith. Along the side of the hill you can see another memorial marker:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

This memorial marker commemorates the first UN soldier killed in the Korean War. The soldier’s name was PVT Kenneth Shadrick, 20, of Wyoming, WV who died by machine gun fire along the side of the road engaging a North Korean tank with a bazooka. The monument was across the street thus I would be risking my life trying to get over there with the speeding traffic on the highway that runs between the two hills. A pedestrian overpass would be a most addition here.

As I entered into the woods there was very little I could see due to the thick underbrush:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Along the way though I was still able to make out old bunkers that were garrisoned by soldiers during the Korean War:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Additionally some of the old trench lines that run on the hillside are still maintained for use by the ROK Army today:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Due to the thick underbrush there is no view from the top of the hill. However, during the Korean War the soldiers of Taskforce Smith would have had a commanding view of the northern farming plain in front of them. Here is the best view I could get which on the mid-slope of the hill of the view towards the north:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

There are still some rice paddies, but most of the plain to the north has now been covered over with buildings. However, during the Korean War the soldiers of Taskforce Smith would have been able to see the North Korean army coming from quite some distance. I can’t help but wonder what those guys must have been thinking seeing thousands of North Korean soldiers advancing with tanks leading the way coming right for their one single battalion?

The memorial can be found on the side of the northbound lane of Highway 1 between Osan and Suwon. You cannot reach the memorial from the southbound lane, you must take the northbound lane. The site is not marked in English and the best landmark to spot it is to use the KTX tracks. When you pass underneath the KTX tracks you will start climbing up the hill and then keep a sharp look out for the memorial and the parking lot to your right. Make sure you don’t miss it because like I said you cannot reach it from the southbound lane which means you would have to turn around twice to reach the memorial. This is not an easy thing to do on Highway 1.

Definitely give this place a visit if you are in the area.

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