ROBERT A. KING

Lieutenant Colonel | Infantry

 

By the time the Wolfhounds sailed for Korea, Lieutenant Robert A. King had been in command of G Company for nearly six months, but like many of his men and officers he had no combat experience.  Duty in Japan was as comfortable as living at home despite the increase in live fire field exercises over the past year.  It was about eight years since King enlisted in February 1943.  He spent a year and a half as a water filtration operator in an engineering unit in Kentucky before receiving his commission at West Point in 1947.  Like many of his classmates, he shipped to Japan for occupation duty.  Now the peacetime army had been flung into the war in Korea.  Thirteen days after the North Korean Army rolled across the border, the 27th Infantry landed at Pusan on July 10 where they rushed to Uisong and then Andong, and then a number of other places where they seemed to keep avoiding the heavy battles taking place.  Despite the threat of combat, it was frustrating to be kept away from the excitement.  The 27th Infantry Regiment was a fierce unit who carried their nickname with pride after the Bolsheviks referred to them as the Wolfhounds because of their fighting style during the war in Siberia nearly three decades earlier.

 

Despite his usual easy-going Southern temperament, Lieutenant King was strung out and full of adrenaline by the last week of July.  The slight smile that usually pulled at the corners of his mouth had waned, and it seemed his bright humor had faded with it.  His persistent stubble that crept in early in the day seemed to catch all of the sweat rolling from beneath his helmet.  Two weeks in Korea was already wearing on him.  Service with the Wolfhounds was not easy – the regiment had only two of its three battalions and could barely man the line with this lack of tactical unity.  Communication was difficult with surrounding units and nearly non-existent with higher headquarters.

 

Officers bred in the halls of West Point had reputations – not all strictly positive – but King was itching to prove himself as a company commander since he arrived in Korea.  He was especially anxious because of his image at the Academy, where he was regarded as quiet, serious, hardworking, and ready to mark his career with a high degree of achievement.  He was anticipating a fight, especially after acting as a security force to an ROK regiment at an airfield south of P’ohang-dong and spending their days training when not constantly on the move during the past two weeks, always changing missions and struggling to move over the mountainous terrain with no logistical support.

After a day of securing and holding positions, the Wolfhounds finally faced the enemy on 25 July near Tangso-ri.  Withering artillery and mortar fire broke through the fog of early morning and did not ease throughout the day.  The ground reverberated and seemed like it would crumble away beneath the regiment, but they huddled in their foxholes and prayed for the barrages to cease.  When the dust settled, the Wolfhounds peered across the battlefield to face seas of North Korean troops racing toward them in banzai style attacks.  Each American was outnumbered fifteen to one in these waves.  The most vicious attack of the day came when a battalion of tanks and a regiment of infantry stormed down the center of the Main Supply Road, directly into G Company’s defenses.  Somehow they found the strength to repel the attack, though one tank burst through the lines 500 yards deep reaching F Company where it was destroyed.  After relentless fighting all day, the regiment was forced to withdraw south of Tangso-ri with Lieutenant King commanding the rear guard.  Along with his company, King continued to face the unrelenting artillery, mortar and tank fire as dusk faded into darkness.  Hordes of the enemy threatened his right flank, but G Company held the position until they were able to join the rest of the regiment in new positions.

 

The harrowing day was the first of many to come for Lieutenant King and his display of leadership earned him his first Bronze Star for valor.  He thought about the days preceding this one – how the other Americans had fared and how anyone could survive such brutal warfare – and how many more days of this he could live through.

A command post of the 27th infantry, somewhere in Korea.

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