Army Maj. Gen. William Dean was the commander of the 24th Infantry
Division, which had been on occupational duty in Japan at the start
of the Korean War in late June of 1950. Because the 24th was the
closest to Korea at the time, it was the first U.S. unit to be sent
into the conflict, which was led by United Nations forces.
Dean and his division were tasked with delaying the many North
Koreans troops that were moving into South Korea until more U.S. and
UN troops could arrive on the peninsula. But they were outnumbered
and unprepared for the might of the North Korean forces. They were
repeatedly defeated for weeks until they were pushed back to the
city of Taejon.
The Battle of Taejon began on July 12, 1950.
The 24th was ordered to delay the enemy from crossing Taejon to
reach the not-yet-complete Pusan Perimeter, an area in southeast
South Korea that Gen. Walton Walker and the Eighth Army were still
trying to secure.
Dean had been ordered to hold Taejon, where
the 24th was headquartered, until July 20. He personally led many
attacks on the front lines, even destroying an enemy tank while
armed only with a hand grenade. He also directed the fire of his own
tanks while he was exposed to enemy fire.
July 7, 1950 - U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, right, greets
Army Gen. Walton H. Walker upon his arrival in Taejon, South Korea.
(Photo provided National Archives)
Dean’s soldiers gave U.S. troops the time needed to
secure the Pusan Perimeter, but his small unit was no match
for the huge number of North Korean fighters, and it
eventually had to withdraw. Dean could have left with the
retreating convoy, but instead he chose to stay behind to
direct those fleeing the city and help wounded troops trying
In the scuffle, Dean was separated from the American
forces and managed to escape into nearby mountains, where he
survived for 36 days before being ambushed and taken
Dean was presumed dead until he was
interviewed by a journalist in December 1951. He spent
nearly three years in captivity before being returned to UN
forces in September 1953, after an armistice was worked out
between all countries involved in the conflict.
Dean was the highest-ranking American
officer to be held by the enemy during the Korean War. His
actions during Taejon showed he felt it necessary to give
his troops the courage they needed by leading by example,
despite the clear and present danger in front of him. That’s
what earned him the Medal of Honor ... becoming the first
service member to earn the Medal of Honor in the Korean War.
Dean wrote extensively about his time during the war and
as a POW in his autobiography, “General Dean’s Story.” He
died in 1981 at the age of 82.
By Katie Lange
William Dean's Medal of Honor Citation |
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