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Largely unsung 5th RTC from Hawai’i had key role early on

KAPA’A — It is hard to live in Hawai’i and not have heard of the

Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 11 of whose members received

Medals of Honor last week for actions above and beyond the call of duty in

France and Italy during World War II.

It is easier, however, not to have

heard of Hawai’i’s 5th RCT, whose soliders distinguished themselves in

hard-fought early victories of the Korean War, which officially began 50 years

ago today.

Why would it be easy not to know? Because the 5th RCT, a

regiment of little over 3,000 men, was often tacked onto bigger units during

the war. It was bigger units that got the press.

And, some vets contend,

the racial atmosphere from high command made it difficult for local boys from

Hawai’i to get the proper recognition for their deeds.

When the North

Korean People’s Army (NKPA) crossed the 38th Parallel on June 25, 1950, the 5th

was stationed at Schofield Barracks on O’ahu.

On July 21, the 5th RTC was

mobilized; they were to be the first U.S. soliders who were not already in Asia

to go and fight in the battlefields of South Korea.

By this time, the NKPA

had already taken Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and had virually shattered

the weak South Korean army and the small amount of U.S. ground troops that had

been sent by President Harry Truman to assist them.

The Americans had to

pull back and create a defensive perimeter around Pusan, a southeastern port

town. The 5th was largely undermanned when they were notified. As a result,

army mail clerks, cooks, and signal men from all over O’ahu were taken to flesh

out the regiment.

“Everywhere where there was a man who could walk and had

one eye, we took him with us,” says Clarence Arruda, who, at the time, was a

company clerk with the 5th.

Local men, including ROTC members, volunteered

to come along, but still the 5th fell a few hundred short of having its full

compliment of 3,600.

What’s more, many of the soldiers got their training

aboard the two Army transport ships that were taking them to Korea.

“In

nine days everyone was qualified to use a recoilless rifle,” says Arruda,

thanks mainly to the iron-tough training of two Army cadres, Sgt. Majors Samuel

Kealoha and Peter Cabral.

When they arrived at the docks of Pusan on the

night July 31, the troops were offloaded and one battalion of the 5th was

immediately marched to the front at Chindong-ni to assist the 27th Infantry

Regiment.

Each soldier was given 45 rounds of ammunition each, Arruda

recalls.

“That meant we couldn’t kill 46 of the enemy.”

The 5th battled

for a small spur of high ground behind the 27th for days. They finally held it

until the Marines, newly arrived from San Diego, came to reinforce the

area.

It was here, early on in the conflict that the 5th’s role was

crucial, says Larry Aiwohi, a Kapa’a veteran who is writing a book on the 5th

RTC.

“They were the ones who came to the rescue of the other units who were

already there in Korea,” Aiwohi says.

“If it wasn’t for them, they would

have probably been overrun in the Masan area in the month of August

(1950).”

Clarence Arruda agrees.

“It is my personal belief that if we

didn’t get there when we did, Pusan Perimeter would have been gone. They would

not have been able to hold it,” Arruda says. The 5th fought immediately when

they got off the transport, and didn’t stop until June, 1951, when the first

troops got to go home to Hawai’i. Arruda himself fought non-stop for 16

months.

On Aug. 12, the 5th got caught below NKPA forces in the hills of

Pongam-ni. In what was later dubbed “Bloody Gulch,” their artillery units were

shredded.

In September the NKPA began an all-out offensive against the

Pusan Perimeter. In spite of this, the 5th were able to retake the first South

Korean town from the Communists at Waegwan in mid-September.

As part of

the advance unit, Arruda says he often went on intelligence and reconaissance

missions into enemy territory.

On Oct. 19, United Nations forces captured

Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Arruda says by the time the other troops

reached the city, the 5th RTC was already there “skinning and cleaning chicken

we had bought or stolen.”

Another mission was to the Yalu River on the

North Korean-China border. Arruda counted the number of Chinese soldiers

sneaking into North Korea per hour, but the higher-ups refused to believe they

were Chinese. Soon after, the Chinese launched a full-on assault.

“These

local boys from Hawai’i, this ragtag bunch, stayed on the front line for 59

consecutive days,” says Aiwohi.

Aiwohi says the 5th was a “true makeup of

Hawai’i,” with Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, Japanese (some were veterans from the

442nd), and Native Hawaiians.

Everybody grew up knowing everybody, says

Aiwohi, and there was fierce competition among the local boys back home.

“That’s why they were so damn great, they were all together. That

competition in high school melted away and fused into a solid fighting team

that is the 5th RTC,” Aiwohi says.

Arruda says that among the officers,

the men from Hawai’i had quite a reputation.

“Local boys — we fight and

never leave our dead.” Arruda says.

This was all done without enough troops

and equipment.

In other regiments among the Army and Marines, a majority of

men were battle-hardened veterans from World War II, whose artillery and

anti-tank teams had the latest equipment, designed to take out the heavily

armored Russian-built T-34 tanks of the NKPA. The 5th had no such equipment. As

a whole, the regiment received over 100 distinguished service crosses, and

could have gotten a lot more, says Aiwohi, had some of the commanders not

deliberatley overlooked the regiment.

Still, Arruda and Aiwohi say that

the biggest let-down in the war was delievered by none other than Harry Truman.

Aiwohi says that Truman hated the military “with a purple passion,” and

deliberately cut down strength of troops sent into Korea.

“We were on

demand over there.That’s why we were overrun so easily.”

Arruda feels much

the same. “Soldiers didn’t sacrifice their lives.Our president sacrificed our

lives. They used us for fishbait.”

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