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
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.
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
Each soldier was given 45 rounds of ammunition each, Arruda
“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
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
“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
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
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
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.
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
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.”