Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Battle of the Barricades - U.S. Marines in the Recapture of Seoul


Late on the afternoon of 24 September 1950, Captain Robert H. Barrow's Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, secured the military crest of Hill 79 in the southwest corner of Seoul, the enemy-occupied capital of the Republic of South Korea. This momentous day for Barrow and his men began with a nerve-wracking crossing of the Han River in open-hatched DUKVVs, the ubiquitous amphibious trucks of World War II. Debarkation on the north shore had been followed by an unorthodox passage of lines "on the fly" of the regiment's lead battalion and the subsequent high-tempo attack on Hill 79. Now the rifle company assumed defensive positions on the objective, the men gazing in awe at the capital city arrayed to their north and east, sprawling virtually to the horizon. Thousands of North Korean Peoples' Army (NKFA) troops lay waiting for them behind barricades or among countless courtyards and rooftops. Tens of thousands of civilians still clung to life in the battered city. The Marines were a very long way from the barren beaches of Tarawa or Peleliu. Even smoking Inchon, their amphibious objective 10 days earlier seemed far distant. Seoul would represent the largest objective the Marines ever assailed. Earlier that day Colonel Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, commanding the 1st Marines, issued a folded American flag to be raised on the regiment s first objective within the city limits. Barrow's battalion commander gave him the honor as the point company in the assault. The time was right. Barrow's men attached the national colors to a pole and raised them proudly on a rooftop on Hill 79. Life magazine photographer David Douglas Duncan, himself a Marine combat veteran, captured the moment on film. The photograph proved unremarkable�I Iill 79 was no Mount Suribachi�but it reflected an indelible moment in Marine Corps history. Seven weeks earlier the 1st Marine Division was a division in name only. This afternoon a rifle company from that hastily reconstituted division had seized the first hill within occupied Seoul while all three regiments converged inexorably on the capital's rambling perimeter.