The Eighth U.S. Army was officially activated in the continental United States on June 10, 1944, and ordered to the Pacific where, under the command of Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, it earned the sobriquet of "Amphibious Eighth" while making more than 60 "island-hopping" assaults. It assisted in the liberation of the Philippines and on July 1, 1945, assumed control of the archipelago, bringing enemy resistance to an end. Eighth Army was being readied for the main assault on the Kanto Plain (Tokyo) of the Japanese main island, when V-J Day changed its mission. Along with the Sixth Army, EUSA provided the ground forces for General of the Army Douglas MacArthur's occupation of Japan. Occupational forces landed peacefully on August 30. First the northern portion and, after January 1, 1946, all of Japan came under EUSA's jurisdiction.
Part of Eighth Army's post-war duties included disarming Japanese military forces; destroying the nation's war making potential; conducting the trial of war criminals; guiding the defeated nation into peaceful pursuits and the democratic way of life; encouraging economic rehabilitation, local autonomy, and education and land reform; guarding installations; protecting supply routes and watching over government operations.
The Pacific Campaign had been hard, rough, and costly; the occupation of Japan was interesting, challenging, and varied. Eighth Army's next challenge would again be demanding and bloody. The Cold War between East and West was rudely shattered in the Far East on June 25, 1950. North Korean troops, spearheaded by Russian-built tanks, invaded the Republic of Korea. The United Nations demanded a halt to the aggression, then asked its members to aid South Korea. President Truman responded by directing General MacArthur to furnish assistance. Air force, naval and logistic assistance was promptly rendered, but north Korea's overwhelming strength quickly made it evident that only the commitment of outside ground forces could prevent an early conquest of South Korea.
General MacArthur turned to the Eighth Army. Elements of the 24th Infantry Division entered Korea on June 30, 1950, establishing headquarters at Taejon. U.S. Army forward forces -- Task Force Smith -- were badly bloodied in a gallant, but unsuccessful, stand north of Osan on July 5 -- the first American ground engagement of the Korean War.
On July 6, the 25th Infantry Division was ordered to move to Pusan and, on that day, Lt. Gen. Walton H. Walker, who had succeeded Gen. Eichelberger in 1948, took command of U.S. Army forces in Korea. Temporary advance headquarters were established on July 7 at Taegu, and Eighth Army became operational in Korea by July 13. The north Koreans continued to push down the peninsula against the outnumbered American and scattered Republic of Korea defenders. The 24th Inf. Div., struggling tenaciously to slow the invaders, surrendered Taejon on July 21 in street-by-street, house-by-house combat. The division's forces were spread as far south as Taegu and its commander, Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, was missing in the battle for Taejon. Although defeated there, EUSA gained time to stiffen its resistance with the 25th and 1st Cavalry Divisions arriving to man sectors of the shrinking front.
EUSA, with the remaining ROK forces assigned to it, was moved into the southeast corner of Korea which became known as the Pusan Perimeter. General Walker declared that Pusan would be no Dunkirk: "The Eighth Army would stay in Korea until the invader was expelled from the territory of the Republic of Korea." Fighting off continued attacks all across the perimeter, the Eighth Army held and grew in strength .
On September 15, the X Corps, formed in Japan, poured ashore at Inchon in what is considered one of the world's outstanding tactical moves. It was the signal that Eighth Army had awaited. The next day, EUSA launched a general attack. The north Koreans resisted savagely for five days while United Nations Command air forces pounded their lines of communication and supply. Their defense crumbled, and EUSA achieved a breakout and was on the road northward. With UNC forces fighting inland from Inchon towards Seoul, the invader's line of retreat was blocked. The north Korean withdrawal became a rout; only disorganized remnants were able to reach north Korea.
A new phase had begun. On October 7, the 1st Cavalry Division pushed across the 38th Parallel, which Republic of Korea troops had breached several days before. Eighth Army drove northward in the west against demoralized resistance. X Corps, transported by sea to Wonsan, followed ROK troops up the east coast. On October 19, the north Korean capital of Pyongyang fell. ROK troops reached the Yalu River on Oct. 28. After pausing briefly to improve the logistical situation and regroup personnel, the UNC started a drive on November 24 to extend control over all north Korea. The next day, communist Chinese "volunteers" attacked across the Yalu in what Gen. MacArthur termed "a brand new war." The Eighth Army was pushed back by overwhelming numbers of fresh, well-equipped, and well-disciplined Chinese forces who used the mountains to their great advantage.
Unable to establish a defensive line in north Korea, Eighth Army withdrew below the 38th Parallel. On Dec. 23, General Walker was killed in a jeep accident, and on Dec. 26, Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway assumed command of UNC ground forces in Korea. Under his direction, the enemy's offensive was stalled south of Seoul and the UNC made plans to strike back. By the end of May 1951, the battle lines were established where today's Demilitarized Zone exists -- northeastward from the Han River Estuary in the west, less than 30 miles from Seoul, to north of the 38th Parallel on the east coast.
On April 11, 1951, General Ridgway replaced General MacArthur as Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command (and as Supreme Commander U.S. Army Pacific and Commander-in-Chief, Far East) and Lt. Gen. James A. Van Fleet took command of the Eighth Army. On July 10, 1951, after a Soviet hint that talks would be welcome, truce negotiations were begun at Kaesong, on the 38th Parallel. The front lines, except for periodic and bloody fights over particularly strategic terrain in what was called the "Hill War," stayed fairly constant.
A frustrating two years of stalemate ensued. The communists lacking hope of a military victory but with no desire for real peace, used the talks for propaganda, impossible demands, and irrelevant and divergent issues while hoping for some striking political victory. Eighth Army, meanwhile, had to maintain readiness for any renewal of hostilities. The UNC negotiators gradually got some issues settled, but their determination not to return any unwilling prisoner of war was used by the communists as an excuse to stall on other issues as well.
On Feb. 1, 1953, Lt. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor succeeded to the Eighth Army command. President Eisenhower, who had pledged to end the Korean bloodshed, renewed the call for an armistice. Recessed negotiations were resumed. An improving atmosphere was perceived in an agreement on exchange of sick and wounded POWs. Another breakdown in the talks was threatened when ROK President Syngman Rhee, who bitterly opposed the truce negotiations in favor of a military victory, in June unilaterally released some 27,000 anti-Communist POWs. The UNC's patience, if not persuasion, prevailed and the Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. As General Taylor later told his troops, the armistice did not mean that the war was over; it was a "suspension of hostilities -- an interruption of the shooting." While awaiting a political solution, the Eighth Army turned to watchful waiting and assisting the Korean people in relief, rehabilitation and provisions for self-defense. Political discussions, convened in Geneva in 1954, failed to settle the issues which had led to war. The Armistice Agreement remained in effect and Eighth Army forces stayed to help man the cease-fire line, alert for an y new breach of the de facto peace.
The Eighth Army continued to be an international unit, closely aligned with ROK Army and other national forces. It remained the ground force arm to carry out UNC responsibilities; it supervised the training of ROK forces and administered its share of responsibility for relief and economic aid.
On Nov. 20, 1954, Eighth Army Headquarters was combined with U.S. Army Forces-Far East as the major Army command in the Far East. The combined headquarters was moved from Camp Zama, Japan, to Seoul on July 26, 1955. The Camp Zama Headquarters was redesignated Headquarters, Armed Forces Far East/Eighth Army (Rear). In the overall reorganization of the Pacific armed forces, effective July 1, 1957, the Far East Command and the Armed Forces Far East were discontinued. Headquarters, UNC was moved from Tokyo to Seoul where Eighth Army Headquarters remained.
The post-war years were marked by infrequent but sometimes serious truce violations by the north Koreans. In late 1966, however, north Koreans initiated a campaign of violence that would continue into 1971 and take the lives of more than 40 Americans and hundreds of Koreans -- north as well as south. There was a steady increase in the number of DMZ incidents, terrorist raids, and attempts at subversion in an effort to undermine the growing economic and political stability of the ROK. Major incidents during this period saw an attempted North Korean commando raid on the Blue House (Presidential Mansion), the USS Pueblo was pirated from international waters, large scale guerrilla incursions occurred on the ROK east coast, and the shooting down of an unarmed U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane-- an EC-121 -- over the Sea of Japan. In the face of the ever-increasing threat, significant improvements were made in the defenders' firepower, mobility, communications and infrastructure. Numerous ROK and U.S. defensive positions were constructed or strengthened. Night observation devices, powerful searchlights and various other sophisticated detection equipment were introduced along the DMZ. The modernization of the ROK Army was accelerated. Concurrently, improvements were made in the Air and Naval components. The north Korean leaders, with an eye on the growing United States involvement in Southeast Asia, had miscalculated the strength of the allies' resolve to oppose their campaign of hostility. They reverted to a less intense campaign of espionage and subversion. In 1969, north Korea-initiated incidents fell sharply.
In 1970, a decision was made to reduce U.S. forces in Korea in view of the capability of the ROK armed forces to take over the primary burden of ground defense of their country and in conjunction with a U.S.-funded, five-year modernization package for the ROK armed forces. The planned reduction in Eighth Army was completed on schedule as the command's authorized strength was reduced by over 18,000 by the end of June 1971.
The major portion of the reduction was the redeployment of the 7th Infantry Division to the United States for inactivation on April 2, 1971. Concurrent with the reduction was a major change in the structure of Eighth Army's combat forces. In March 1971, the 2nd Infantry Division pulled back from the DMZ and turned over its area of responsibility to a ROK Army division. By late March, the only area of the DMZ still guarded by U.S. troops was a 1,000-meter wide sector in the vicinity of Panmunjom, site of the meetings between the UNC and the Korean People's Army/Chinese People's Volunteers components of the Military Armistice Commission.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, the Eighth Army's role changed. The Republic of Korea, with American financial and technical assistance, began production of M-16 rifles. This marked the start of a growing defense industry which now embraces local manufacture of ammunition, vehicles, missiles, artillery and tanks. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter began to fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw U.S. combat ground troops from the ROK by 1980 or 1981; U.S. participation in Team Spirit, an annual combined exercise begun in 1976, was significantly expanded. In November 1978 the ROK/US Combined Forces Command was activated to take over the UNC's responsibility for planning and, if necessary, directing the defense of Korea; and, a month later, the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division departed for the United States.
Congressional and other support to keep U.S. ground forces in the Republic was growing and, in July 1979, following a state visit to Korea, President Carter announced that the withdrawal plan would be held in abeyance pending a review in 1981. His new conditions included a discernible movement towards a reduction of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and further improvement in the ROK's position vis-à-vis north Korea's military superiority.
A February 1981 summit meeting between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Chun Doo Hwan reaffirmed that "the security of the Republic of Korea is pivotal to the peace and stability of Northeast Asia and, in turn, vital to the security of the United States." President Reagan officially canceled the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the ROK.
Subsequent summit meetings between Korean President Roh Tae Woo and U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush continued to reaffirm the importance of maintaining credible U.S. force levels in Korea. Military Committee and Security Consultative Meetings between Korean Ministers of National Defense and U.S. Defense Secretaries developed specific elements of the troop stationing agreements throughout the 1980s. The U .S. Congress adopted the Nunn-Warner Amendment to the 1989 Defense Appropriation Bill, which mandated a reduction in U.S. troop strength in Korea from 43,000 to 36,000 by the end of calendar year 1991. The amendment contains provisions for three phases of troop reductions, with no specific end-target strength written into the legislation.
Phase one of the amendment has been completed, and U.S. troop level in Korea presently stands at slightly fewer than 36,000 in the force. Phases two and three are on hold, and have yet to be negotiated or implemented because of north Korea's refusal to allow intrusive inspection of its alleged nuclear weapons development facilities at Yongbyon, or to participate in mutual intrusive inspections even though the U.S. and Republic of Korea have publicly stated that all U.S. installations in South Korea are open for inspection.
Presidents Kim Dae Jung and Bill Clinton have each made
statements emphasizing the importance of U.S. forces in Korea, with each
stressing troop reductions and restructuring of residual forces do not alter
either the command structure of remaining units or the mission of those forces:
to deter north Korean aggression and maintain the period of armistice until real
peace can be achieved on the Korean peninsula.
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Last Updated 07/11/2006