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(Yonhap Feature) 'Warrior Division,' a gem of S. Korea-U.S. alliance

2017/11/02 09:00

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By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Nov. 2 (Yonhap) -- The Joint Communique of the defense ministerial talks between South Korea and the U.S. last week included a clause that is quite meaningful but drew little media attention.

The statement said that Defense Minister Song Young-moo "expressed encouragement and gratitude to the 2nd Infantry Division for its contribution to the defense of the Korean Peninsula and peace in Northeast Asia."

   He also congratulated the division on its 100th anniversary, which fell on Oct. 26, two days before the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) between Song and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

It's unusual for a specific military unit to be mentioned in such an official document on North Korea and broader alliance issues.

It reflects the significance of the division in the chronicles of the alliance, let alone in U.S. war history.

Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division conduct field training in this file photo. (Yonhap) Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division conduct field training in this file photo. (Yonhap)

The 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) also constitutes, alongside the 16th Brigade of the local Army, the ROK-U.S. Combined Division, which was formed in 2015. ROK stands for Republic of Korea, the official name for South Korea.

South Korea's top diplomat Kang Kyung-wha visited the division's headquarters at Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, on June 25, the 67th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The 2ID is the last remaining permanently forward-stationed division in the U.S. Army. It is tasked with deterring aggression and maintaining peace on the peninsula. It's ready to "fight tonight."

   "The strength of our Army is in our soldiers. The 2nd Infantry Division's soldiers have exemplified this since the division's inception 100 years ago, when they answered the call during World War I at the battle of Belleau Wood near the Marne River in France," Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said in his special message.

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, salutes during a 2nd Infantry Division ceremony in this file photo. (Yonhap) Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, salutes during a 2nd Infantry Division ceremony in this file photo. (Yonhap)

Nicknamed the "Warrior Division" and the "Indianhead Division," the 2ID's ties with Korea date back to the early months of the Korean War, often dubbed the Forgotten War.

It was sent to the Battle of Pusan Perimeter -- Pusan is the former spelling of Busan, South Korea's second city -- to help defend the southern tip of the peninsula, becoming the first unit to reach Korea directly from the U.S. to help in the fight against the invading communist North.

They were the last line of defense for the South, as the battles, which started Aug. 4, 1950, lasted through mid-September that year.

"If you lose the fight, you lose South Korea. The battle was critical in that regard," retired U.S. Army Col. William M. Alexander said in a phone interview.

The 2ID of the U.S. Eighth Army played a pivotal role in the monthlong battles that lasted through the mid-September period in 1950, according to Alexander, the head of the division's museum.

This file photo, exhibited at the 2nd Infantry Division's museum, shows an American soldier standing on a pile of empty shells during the Korean War. (Yonhap) This file photo, exhibited at the 2nd Infantry Division's museum, shows an American soldier standing on a pile of empty shells during the Korean War. (Yonhap)

"The battle was unique," he added, "In conjunction with Operation Chromite it was a big victory, because previous to that, U.N. forces had been pushed back to the southern tip of the peninsula."

   Operation Chromite is also known as the Incheon landing operation and was commanded by U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

The successful Pusan Perimeter, or Nakdong River, fight and the Incheon battle turned the tide of the war.

The cost was heavy for the division as it defended the Pusan Perimeter. A total of 1,120 service members were killed, 2,563 wounded, 67 captured and 69 went missing, according to official data.

Pfc. Joseph R. Ouellette was among the victims. Traveling together to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) last week, the allies' defense chiefs - Song and Mattis - toured the hilltop observation post named after Ouellette, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (L) and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (C) visit Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between North and South Korea on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (L) and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (C) visit Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between North and South Korea on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap)

On the occasion of the centenary, the Warrior Division also held an event to commemorate another decisive battle in the Korean War: the Battle of Chipyong-ni.

A combat team of the 2nd ID fought the battle against the massive wave of Chinese forces, which took place in Yangpyeong, east of Seoul, from Feb. 13-16, 1951.

It recently unveiled a Battle of Chipyong-ni statue in front of its headquarters, celebrating the centennial with a slogan of "Honoring our Past and Inspiring our Future."

  

This picture shows a diorama of the Battle of Chipyong-ni on display at the 2nd Infantry Division's museum in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap) This picture shows a diorama of the Battle of Chipyong-ni on display at the 2nd Infantry Division's museum in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

The division is, indeed, in a transition in its decadeslong presence here, having long operated close to the heavily-fortified border.

Once called a "tripwire," its troops are being transferred to Camp Humphreys, a refurbished U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul. Only a few units, including the 210th Field Artillery Brigade, will be staying behind.

The shift comes amid lingering anti-American sentiment among some South Koreans, although many here acknowledge the role and importance of American troops in guarding the country from the North's growing threats.

In June, the Uijeongbu city government organized a concert for the early celebration of the division's centennial anniversary.

Amid protests by a group of residents and anti-American activists, several K-pop singers did not show up or left the stage without performing. The concert was cut short by one hour.

This picture shows the portraits of the two South Korean school girls -- Shin Hyo-sun and Shim Mi-seon -- killed by a U.S. armored vehicle in a 2002 accident in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap) This picture shows the portraits of the two South Korean school girls -- Shin Hyo-sun and Shim Mi-seon -- killed by a U.S. armored vehicle in a 2002 accident in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

The uproar was apparently linked with a 2002 tragedy, in which two 14-year-old South Korean school girls -- Shin Hyo-sun and Shim Mi-seon -- were crushed to death by a 2ID armored vehicle in Gyeonggi Province. The concert took place days before the anniversary of their deaths.

At times, South Koreans frown over the news of crimes, big or small, committed by soldiers belonging to the division. Nonetheless, many agree that the division has long been at the center of the alliance.

"The 2nd Infantry/ROK-U.S. Combined Division truly epitomizes the relationship that has been formed from that fateful day, 25 June 1950," the unit's commander Maj. Gen. Scott McKean said in a mass reenlistment ceremony for 100 soldiers of his division on the anniversary.

Maj. Gen. Scott McKean, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, speaks at his inauguration ceremony held at Camp Casey in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province, on July 18, 2017. (Yonhap) Maj. Gen. Scott McKean, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, speaks at his inauguration ceremony held at Camp Casey in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province, on July 18, 2017. (Yonhap)

He stressed, "That devastating war led to an alliance that still stands strong today and one that has allowed for the transformation of Uijeongbu and the Republic of Korea to be where it is today - a thriving city and nation that continue to grow more prosperous each day."

  lcd@yna.co.kr

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