With a Black Platoon in Combat: A Year in Korea

Overview

The first year of the Korean Conflict was a dark and humiliating period for many of the troops who fought there. Against a backdrop of U.S. political indecision and reduced military capability, American soldiers fought a dedicated and numerically strong enemy force that was determined to overrun South Korea. One of these units, the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment, was made up of black soldiers commanded for the most part by white officers. Lyle Rishell, an infantry platoon leader, led a black platoon of Able ...
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Overview

The first year of the Korean Conflict was a dark and humiliating period for many of the troops who fought there. Against a backdrop of U.S. political indecision and reduced military capability, American soldiers fought a dedicated and numerically strong enemy force that was determined to overrun South Korea. One of these units, the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment, was made up of black soldiers commanded for the most part by white officers. Lyle Rishell, an infantry platoon leader, led a black platoon of Able Company in that regiment. This book tells the dramatic, often frustrating, sometimes heroic story of that platoon in that first, fateful year of war.

From detailed notes he made at the time, and from his memories of those days, Rishell reconstructs the deployment and tactics of his unit, its day-to-day actions and survival. The story that unfolds is one of honor, fear, fighting spirit, fierce combat, and the cries of wounded men.

The 24th Infantry Regiment has received bad press from many historians of the Korean War, who claim that the black soldiers and noncommissioned officers were undisciplined and even cowardly in battle. Rishell's moving account, based on his own experiences, describes his men as no better or worse than any other infantrymen in the first year in Korea. His troops fought well from July, 1950, to May, 1951, in nearly constant frontline action against the North Koreans and the Chinese Communists, despite a variety of significant fundamental obstacles, including the racial prejudice of much of their own army.

It is a unique and compelling story of the relationship of a white officer and black soldiers before integration of the services and the civil rights legislation of the sixties. It is also an important corrective to a poorly understood aspect of one of America's most dismal conflicts.

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Editorial Reviews

Potomac Almanac
"Rishell notes that although two other infantry [regiments] that crossed the Han River were given a Presidential Unit Citation, his 24th Infantry did not. 'That has always been a thorn in the flesh for a long time of these black soldiers,' he says."—Potomac Almanac
Friday Review of Defense Literature
"What [Rishell] concentrates on—with the elegant simplicity of a man who knows the value of life for having risked his own—is the life and death struggle of young men at war. . . . It's a story that's been told a hundred times before, but never like this. . . . He is, of course, conscious of the racial facts of life, but he is not self-conscious of them. . . . Read this book for its balance, for its simplicity, for its sincerity."—Friday Review of Defense Literature
Parameters

"As a tutorial--and I strongly recommend it to all young combat lieutenants--Rishell's book is loaded with tidbits about leadership and survival in combat. . . . With a Black Platoon in Combat is an excellent portrayal of life at the front lines in what Clay Blair called 'the forgotten war.' Lyle Rishell's account is easy reading and, if followed by some young lieutenant in some future war, might mean the difference between victory or defeat in some small action on some far-off mountainous battlefield. It's worth an evening away from the television."--Parameters

— LTG Julius W. Becton, president, Prairie View A&M

Choice
"It is on the local level that the author makes his strongest contribution by relating the early optimism of the American troops and their dismay at the sight of retreating ROK troops. The book is a brief and well-written personal account of the war. An excellent chronology, some good photographs, and an adequate index."—Choice
The Achiever (University of Maryland alumni magazine)

" . . . a moving and human story of war at the level of the infantry soldier. It is told with utter sincerity by an author for whom race had nothing to do with the account nor with anything else he observed in Korea." --The Achiever (University of Maryland alumni magazine)

Military History

"Rishell has written an account of his men--who fought not only the enemy but racial prejudice in their own army--that is straightforward and dramatic. . . . This is a distinguished addition to Korean War literature and a belated but deserved tribute to the fortitude of black fighting men."
— Michael D. Hull

Parameters - Julius W. Becton
"As a tutorial—and I strongly recommend it to all young combat lieutenants—Rishell's book is loaded with tidbits about leadership and survival in combat. . . . With a Black Platoon in Combat is an excellent portrayal of life at the front lines in what Clay Blair called 'the forgotten war.' Lyle Rishell's account is easy reading and, if followed by some young lieutenant in some future war, might mean the difference between victory or defeat in some small action on some far-off mountainous battlefield. It's worth an evening away from the television."—Parameters
The Achiever (University of Maryland alumni Magazine)
" . . . a moving and human story of war at the level of the infantry soldier. It is told with utter sincerity by an author for whom race had nothing to do with the account nor with anything else he observed in Korea." —The Achiever (University of Maryland alumni magazine)
Military History - Michael D. Hull
"Rishell has written an account of his men—who fought not only the enemy but racial prejudice in their own army—that is straightforward and dramatic. . . . This is a distinguished addition to Korean War literature and a belated but deserved tribute to the fortitude of black fighting men."—Military History
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rishell's skimpy memoir, padded with expositional material about the history of the Korean War, is nonetheless a valuable eyewitness report of the early weeks of the 1950-1953 conflict. As a white lieutenant, he commanded an all-black platoon of the 24th Infantry Regiment in the defense of the Pusan Perimeter and the pursuit of the North Korean Army after Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Inchon landing. Rishell spent several weeks in an Army hospital in Japan recuperating from injuries, but returned to his unit for Operation Ripper, the first U.S. offensive against Chinese Communist forces. Surprisingly, Rishell does not discuss race relations, noting only that his platoon's reputation for unreliability in the presence of the enemy is undeserved: ``They performed well. There was never a moment when they failed me, nor did I give any thought to the fact that they were black.'' Photos. (Apr.)
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Lyle Rishell is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as an officer with the 24th Infantry Regiment for eleven months during the Korean War. Among his decorations and awards are the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action and two Purple Hearts for wounds received during combat. He also holds the Legion of Merit and the Parachutist and Combat Infantryman's badges. Rishell holds degrees from the University of Maryland and the University of Arizona. He is currently a Professor of Marketing at George Mason University and lives in Potomac, Maryland.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Korean War Chronology
1 Alpha Phase 3
2 Mobilization and Movement 10
3 Korea, the Hermit Kingdom 19
4 First Contact 29
5 The Pusan Perimeter 48
6 The Fight Continues 71
7 Perimeter Breakout 82
8 Mop-up Operations 98
9 Redeployment 108
10 Time Out 126
11 Call It Homecoming 136
12 The Han River Crossing 143
13 Thrust and Counterthrust 152
14 Phase Omega 162
Epilogue 166
Appendix A. 24th Infantry Regiment 170
Appendix B. Composition of Second Platoon 171
Index 173
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