Army revises official record of black unit's performance Korean War history was biased, review says

April 29, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Capping a 17-year campaign by black veterans, the Army said yesterday that it has revised its official history of the all-black U.S. 24th Infantry Regiment, which had been accused of cowardice before the enemy in the Korean War.

In an advance manuscript circulated to "interested professionals," the Army's Center for Military History in effect repudiates the original account as one-sided and racially biased and offers a new version that it says is both more accurate and balanced.

Before the latest review, the 24th Infantry had been one of the most maligned fighting units in U.S. history, its 4,000 soldiers accused of "mass hysteria" that sent them fleeing the battlefield before any shots were fired.

The unit's earlier history had charged that the black soldiers repeatedly defied the orders of their white officers to stand and fight. Straggling and desertion were rampant, according to this version, and many soldiers wounded themselves to escape the fighting and later abandoned their rifles and equipment to speed their retreat.

The 276-page revision, titled "Black Soldier, White Army," does not gloss over the shortcomings of the 24th. But it also describes acts of heroism and successes by the unit, and it assigns much of the blame for the regiment's failures to its white leaders, to poor training and equipment and to the impact of racial prejudice.

"Although the 24th Infantry clearly faltered in Korea, the race of its people was not the reason," the document said. "The regiment's experiences were similar to those of all-white units. Yet, it was stigmatized for its deficiencies while its accomplishments passed largely into oblivion."

The 24th, then based in Japan, was abruptly deployed to Korea in 1950 to help protect a section of the "Pusan Perimeter" from North Korea's surprise invasion of the South.

While the regiment often had to be backstopped by troops diverted from other units, according to the new history, its soldiers often performed skillfully and sometimes heroically.

"When the 24th pulled into the Pusan Perimeter," the new study said, "it managed to hold the line" against a disciplined North Korean force.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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