Brigadier General Turner C. Rogers, 18th Wing Commander in 1951-1952, believed the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing was “the best damn fighter wing in the world.”
Truckbusters From Dogpatch author, CAPT Tracy Connors, noted that after years of research, interviews and assessment of the Wing’s truly unsurpassed combat record during the Korean War, I not only “agree” with General Rogers, but I believe “that what this unit accomplished during its Korean War service ranks it alongside other legendary military units of the United States Armed Forces—throughout our history.”
The research for Truckbusters included formerly classified monthly records and reports, plus hundreds of personal recollections and photographs to spotlight and profile the men who actually fought the war. Connors wanted Truckbusters to become for the reader “a gritty, dusty, tent city full of the sounds, smells and character of those who served with the 18th in Korea—pilots, ammorers, mechanics, clerks, medics, and supply sergeants—who still, live and speak and fret and worry about how to keep that venerable, but out-dated F-51 Mustang “Spam Can” flying.”
“It was my hope and objective that when readers had ridden along with the Truckbuster pilots in their Mustang fighter-bombers, when they had stood outside in the Korean summers and winters loading ammunition or changing engines with the ground crews, when they had lived the air war in Korea through the memories and photographs of those who were there,” Connors emphasized, “that they would agree with General Rogers, too.”
The 18th Wing made an enormous contribution to the Korean War, including saving the day during the Pusan Perimeter (almost Dunkirk) period, during the breakout after Inchon, and during the retreat from the Yalu, “during which they saved many thousands of American lives.”
Later, the 18th’s unrelenting interdiction played a key role in bringing about the Armistice that reestablished the nation of South Korea. The 18th Wing flew more combat missions that any other unit in the Korean War, and one of its squadron commanders was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, one of only two such awards to Air Force personnel during that war. The Wing’s integrity, professionalism and dedication also contributed significantly to the fledgling Air Force core values so often cited these days, Connors explained.
Truckbusters is the story of an embattled American military unit that worked through enormous challenges to achieve military success that is highly relevant to all Americans today. “The Korean War is called by some Americans ‘the Forgotten War.’ But not by millions of South Koreans who regained their freedoms, self-determination and future. It’s not called that by the families and friends of those who fought, bled and died there. And, it should not be forgotten by those today who understand the on-going importance of what was achieved by those who struggled there. Our nation owes those who served in Korea a significant debt of gratitude for what they did to protect Freedom. Their deeds and achievements continue to shape the world over half a century later.”
This post inaugurates a new visitor feature — sharing historical photographs of 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing combat operations during the Korean War. “First Missions” is the lead off video in this series that is projected to include videos that include all 37 months of combat by the 18th FBW, and hundreds of photographs, most never before published.
“I’ll get those dirty bastards…” Remembering Lou Sebille 65 years after he made U.S. Air Force history.
Mission Report No. 26 of 5 August 1950 recorded that “Major Sebille in aircraft number 394, sustained flight damage and made dive on half track, destroying target, aircraft and self… [and in pencil was added] numerous enemy troops.”
After diving his F-51 Mustang into enemy troops, Major Lou Sebille, commanding officer of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron was later awarded the first Medal of Honor for the new U.S. Air Force.
Major Lou Sebille’s Heroic Mission
Major Louis J. Sebille, was in command of the 67th Fighter Squadron when it arrived, without airplanes, at Ashiya, Japan on July 31, 1950, explained Lt. Col. Duane “Bud” Biteman. They were to receive twenty-five of the “new” F-51 Mustangs that had arrived the previous week aboard the Navy Carrier, USS BOXER. But because there was insufficient physical space–real estate, to park their planes and house their troops, to base them at Taegu with the rest of us–the 67th would, by necessity, have to remain at Ashiya, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, and receive logistic support from the 8th Fighter-Bomber Group at Itazuke, 40 miles south of Ashiya.
“It would be a crude, and probably unworkable wartime arrangement–with the 67th’s parent organization, the 18th Group based at Taegu, but having to beg for vital support from a bunch of ‘strangers’ based forty air miles away. Lou Sebille was not a bit happy with that arrangement, and told Lt. Colonel Ira “Ike” Wintermute, our 18th Group C.O. what he thought the results would be.
His angry response to the proposition was unlike the easygoing, friendly personality of Lou Sebille, and he was undoubtedly in a sour mood as he began re-indoctrinating his pilots–who, until that time had been flying the F-80C Lockheed jet fighters for the past year, as we had, training them once again to fly the propeller-driven F-51s, and rebuilding his combat outfit,” Biteman recalled.
They started flying their first combat missions the following day.
By August 2nd Biteman could hear the “Elsewhere” flights [“Elsewhere” was the radio call sign for the 67th Squadron at that time] “operating alongside our elements all along the front lines. I could recognize many of the radio voices of pilots I’d flown with over the past couple of years, and it was hard not to exchange friendly greetings and small-talk over the busy tactical wave-lengths. I talked with Bob Howell, 67th Operations Officer, (an old-time P-51 instructor pilot who had given me my first P-51 check-out at Pinellas, Florida during World War II). Ross Cree, friend and fellow S-2 officer, Ed Hodges, Harry Moore, Joe Lane, Owen Brewer—the whole bunch was up in Korea to help extricate us from the damned bucket of worms we’d gotten ourselves into. We were extremely glad to have their help, for they were capable, experienced, hard-driving fighter pilots.”
Three days later, on August 5th, while each was leading separate flights near H’amchang [36 degrees, 32’N, 128 degrees, 15’W] on the Naktong River, Lou Sebille and Bob Howells would both be killed within five miles and within minutes of each other–both within 15 miles of the base at Taegu!
H’amchang, the little village where Major Lou Sebille died, “was just one of many small groups of mud and straw huts that dotted the countryside along every road and trail in Korea. On the preceding night, August 4th, the North Koreans had managed to establish a minimal beachhead across the summer-shallow Naktong River and, although we were able to stop all daylight movement across the river, the tanks, troops and artillery that had crossed during darkness were moving steadily toward their objective—our nearby base at Taegu. Just a few more miles and they would be within artillery range of our primary airstrip.”
Sebille, leading a flight of 67th Squadron Mustangs out of Ashiya, wound up with but three airplanes when his wingman [Lt. Ken Barber] was forced to return to Ashiya with a rough engine.
“Captain Martin Johnson, his element leader, with Lt. Charles Morehouse on his wing, were informed by the pilot of a T-6 Mosquito spotter, of enemy armor hidden inside several houses in the village of H’amchang. Enemy armor so close to Taegu made our military position “very precarious,” to say the least,” Biteman noted.
Sebille understood the critical tactical situation—perhaps the very success or failure of the US/UN stand in Korea depended on the effectiveness of his fighters.
After the T-6 spotter aircraft fired a target-marker smoke rocket identified the huts that were hiding the Red armor, Sebille began a medium angle dive bomb run. He planned to drop both of his 500-pound GP (general purpose) bombs on the first run. Only one of Sebille’s bombs released on his first attack. The 500-pounds of extra, unbalanced weight under his left wing may have contributed to his near-miss on the target, Biteman noted. The enemy armor was still firing at Sebille’s other element as they attacked nearby targets.
Sebille came down the slot for the second time. The Red gunners had a clear shot at him as he made his bomb run. Just before he reached the release point, Sebille called over the radio that he was hit, and pulled up sharply to the left once more. His flight heard a garbled comment over the radio that included, “I’ll get those dirty bastards…”
He continued his turn, diving straight toward the armored carrier, fired his six rockets in salvo, and held his finger on the trigger to keep his machine guns firing the whole way down. Instead of pulling up when he reached the 2000 foot danger level, he continued to bore in—1000 feet—500 feet—he dove his airplane and his remaining bomb into the target,” Biteman recalled.
The Fighter-Bomber Final Mission Summary for Mission No. 26 of 5 August 1950 noted, “Major Sebille in Aircraft number 394, sustained flak damage and made dive on half track, destroying target, aircraft and self and numerous enemy troops.”
Lou Sebille had, to be sure, “got the bastards…!”
“We pilots speculated at the time,” Barber explained, “whether or not Sebille was mortally wounded or just stubborn and hard headed enough to crash his plane into the enemy. Most of us never thought much about being ‘heroic’ or ‘saving America,’ while we were on a mission. We just wanted to do a good job at hand.”
“This should take nothing away from Lou Sebille’s action. Very often, in fact mostly, we pilots were at the mercy of those who wrote our citations. The good writers usually got theirs accepted. Being ‘lucky’ always trumps being ‘good.’”
[Note: Lt. Col. Biteman prepared a series personal recollections entitled “Korean Tales, Unsung Heroes of the Korean Air War.” He was also a founder and first President of the 18th Fighter Wing Association, Biteman placed many of these stories on the Association’s web site. Some of these stories and others by 18th Wing alumni may also be found in “Hot Shots: An Oral History of the Air Force Combat Pilots of the Korean War,” by Chancey and Forstchen (Morrow).
During “the darkest hours of early September, when it appeared as though the ‘last gasp’ of the North Korean forces might carry their drive around Taegu and south to the port of Pusan,” the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group “labored at peak efficiency, despite miserable flying weather and an untimely move from the comparative comforts of Japan to the newly-constructed airstrip in Korea designated, simply, K-9.”
On September 7th the entire 18th Fighter-Bomber Group moved to K-9 airstrip near Pusan. This move to “Dogpatch,” as the new base was immediately named, was the second such transfer for the 12th FBS, but it now placed the fighter-bombers, “within fifteen minutes flying time of the front lines and permitted ground-support operations, though limited, in even the foulest weather.” 2
Origin of “Dogpatch”
Heat waves shimmered upward from rain pools alongside the airstrip at K-9, S/Sgt William J. “Sandy” Colton, a public information specialist attached to the 18th Wing Staff later reported. Colonel Curtis Low, Captain George Bales, and Colton surveyed the “uninspiring Korean landscape” from their ankle-deep vantage point in the mud. “Lower Slobovia or Dogpatch couldn’t be worse than this,” commented Low, while his two companions nodded weary agreement. Thus, Dogpatch received its Cappian title, which was to eventually be picked up by the stateside press and become a familiar label of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing.
Following the relocation of the 18th to K-9, Colton began datelining his news dispatches with the descriptive title and before long the 18th became identified as the “Dogpatchers of Korea.” In fact the 18th became synonymous with Al Capp’s comic strip village to such an extent, Colton noted, “that celebrities of the Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell and Jolson stature were usually met with banners and signs proclaiming proudly that the 18th was truly an airborne version of the popular stateside cartoon strip.”
A letter dispatched through channels to Al Capp himself soon brought recognition from Li’l Abner’s creator, who followed through by designing a Mustang motif patch with Nancy 0. and Abner astride a death-dealing F-51. This same insignia was featured on television and aroused such interest that the Texstyle Corporation sent along as a present full-color cloth patches for the Dogpatchers of the Fifth Air Force.
By late 1951, Al Capp was an honorary member of the 18th and “would be amazed at the Dogpatch signs around the base,” Colton noted. “Everything from the new control tower to the mess hall menus proclaim that the 18th is proud of its humble beginning in Korea, but more important we had a sense of humor that war could not lessen but only served to inspire everybody to greater efforts. In other words we could always eke out a laugh no matter how rough it was. Regardless of the hardships it may have been ‘confoozin,’ but it was still ‘amoozin.’”
First Dogpatch Established at Pusan East (K-9) Air Base
The Pusan East (K-9) Air Base was adjacent to the Suyeong River in Haeundae District, Busan, South Korea. [It was redeveloped in the 1990s as Centum City, a commercial and residential area.]
The runway at K-9 was basically a 6,000-foot long “steel mat, which had not been completed.” There were “a handful of weather-beaten buildings to form the new base.” The “officers and airmen immediately pitched a ‘tent city’ and set up housekeeping without a break in operations against the enemy. The move was planned and executed to “allow the Mustangs to take off from Ashiya, make their strikes, then stage from K-2 airstrip at Taegu. At the end of the day they landed at their new home and were ready for normal operations by the following day.”
Gradually, “necessary supplies and equipment” arrived from Japan and the “primitive” living conditions were slowly improved. By the end of September, “most” of the tents had wooden floors and a “contract laundry” was available to personnel. A “belated shower arrangement” proved “immensely popular in spite of the cold weather.” Fresh food was “limited but greatly appreciated.” 3
Squadron operations, armament, maintenance and communications were moved to the opposite side of the strip at K-9. The sections were then consolidated and housed in seven squad tents per squadron, centrally located near the respective aircraft dispersal areas but on the opposite side of the strip from the housing area. “This arrangement proved to be very satisfactory from all points of view.” 4
On 7 September, the 18th Fighter Bomber Group headquarters and the 12th and 67th Squadrons were moved to K-9, ten miles east of Pusan, Colton noted. “This airstrip, like K-2, utilized the dirt and steel runway mats. All personnel were quartered in 12-man tents, and many of the Wing, Group, and squadron offices also used these tents.” 5
K-9 was important as an air evacuation and staging area. The wounded were brought from the Pusan Evacuation Hospital to K-9 by rail transportation, loaded on ambulance and 6×6 trucks, and then to C-119, C-54, C-46, and C-47 aircraft for flights to Haneda and Itazuke Air bases in Japan. This field was bordered on three sides by mountains a mile from the field, and on the other side by the sea. South Korean laborers were used in the Mess, on the Flight Line, and in installation of the Base. This was the largest field in South Korea and the only one capable of handling jet aircraft. Marine Corsairs (F4U), Navy Skyraiders, and RAAF F-51’s and C-47 aircraft of its 77th Squadron frequently operated from K-9. In addition, many high-ranking personnel of all nations passed through the field–Generals Walker and Stratemeyer flew from K-9 quite often.
September 1: As the NKA “noose” tightened on the Pusan Perimeter, Fifth Air Force units conducted relentless CAS and interdiction missions against NKA troops and armored columns attacking along the Naktong River front. Carrier-based aircraft from USN Task Force 77 also provided close air support to the perimeter defenders. General MacArthur directed General Stratemeyer to use all available FEAF airpower, including B-29s, to help the Eighth Army hold the “Pusan Perimeter,” the southeast corner of the Korean peninsula that South Korea still controlled.
Headquarters EUSAK requested support missions from FAF to “attack and destroy hostile forces which have penetrated or threaten to penetrate our front lines.” The Secret mission request orders called on FAF to support the defense of U.S. forces in South Korean and to be prepared to support a counterattack by blocking “enemy movement” with “particular attention to night movement across the Naktong River.” 7
On September 1st, a “miniature rotation plan” was established that would slowly begin to afford “a three day rest in Japan for officers and airmen who had spent a minimum of six weeks in Korea. Not more than four officers and seven airmen were placed on such duty at one time.”
September 3: Task Force 77 withdrew its aircraft carriers from the Pusan area. It needed to conduct replenishment at sea operations and to move TF units north to strike communications targets. All close air support responsibility now rested with Far East Air Forces.
September 4: An H-5 helicopter rescued a downed U.S. pilot from behind enemy lines at Hanggan-dong. It was the first H-5 helicopter rescue of the war.
September 6: As North Korean forces approached Taegu, Eighth Army headquarters withdrew to Pusan.
September 8: The 18th FBG, which had departed Korea a month earlier, returned from Japan, settling at Pusan East (Tongnae). The 6002nd Fighter Wing moved to K-9 (Pusan).
September 9: North Korean forces attacking southeast of Hajang reached a point only eight miles from Taegu, their farthest penetration on the western front. FEAF Bomber Command began a rail interdiction campaign north of Seoul to slow enemy reinforcements, which might hinder the UN Inchon landing.
September 10: As a result of Task Force 77’s unexpected withdrawal from close air support of the Eighth Army on September 3, General Stratemeyer persuaded General MacArthur to direct that all close air support requests must be routed through the Fifth Air Force. If Fifth Air Force lacked resources to meet the requests, they were to be forwarded to FEAF headquarters for coordination with the Commander, Naval Forces, Far East. 8
September 13: Typhoon Kezia hit southern Japan, hampering FEAF operations and forcing some aircraft to move temporarily to Pusan and Taegu.
September 15: U.S. Marines invaded Wolmi-do in Inchon Harbor at dawn, occupying the island in less than an hour. The main U.S. X Corps landings at Inchon took place at high tide, in the afternoon, after a forty-five-minute naval and air bombardment. U.S. Navy and United States Marine Corps aircraft from carriers off shore provided air cover during the amphibious assault. At the same time, FEAF air raids in South Korea prepared the way for the planned Eighth Army advance from the Pusan perimeter. 9
The Inchon landings in the west central region of Korea were “indirectly supported” by the hard working Mustang pilots of the 18th FBW who “continued pressure against the enemy in support of the 24th Infantry, 25th Infantry, and the 1st Cavalry Divisions in the southern sector of Korea thus interdicting and possibly diverting forces to the north.”
Mustangs of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group “contributed their all-out support to the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions and the 1st Cavalry Division along the Pusan perimeter thus indirectly aiding the landing at Inchon by diverting the enemy’s attention from that area.” 10
September 16: U.S. forces secured Inchon and began moving toward Seoul. From the vicinity of Taegu, the U.S. Eighth Army launched its long-awaited offensive.
September 17: U.S. Marines captured Kimpo Airfield near Seoul. To support the Eighth Army offensive, Fifth Air Force F-51s and F-80s flew napalm attacks, reportedly killing over 1,200 enemy soldiers in Tabu-dong, Yongchon, and other strongholds near the Naktong River.
September 19: Supported by Fifth Air Force close air support missions, the 24th Infantry Division began crossing the Naktong River near Waegwan, and the 1st Cavalry Division broke through communist lines.
September 21: USAF forward air controllers in T-6 Mosquitoes equipped with air to ground radios spotted about thirty enemy tanks preparing to ambush the advancing 24th Infantry Division. They called USAF aircraft and USA ground artillery, which destroyed fourteen enemy tanks and forced the rest to flee.
September 22: North Korean resistance crumbled all along the Pusan perimeter. Lt. George W. Nelson, a USAF pilot in a Mosquito aircraft, dropped a note to 200 enemy troops northeast of Kunsan demanding their surrender. They complied, moving to a designated hill to be captured by nearby UN ground troops. 11
September 23: HQ Fifth Air Force in Korea moved from Pusan to Taegu.
September 25: Far East Air Forces flew flare missions over Seoul all night that allowed USMC night fighters to attack North Korean troops fleeing the city.
September 26: U.S. military forces from Inchon and Pusan linked up near Osan, while ROK troops with Fifth Air Force support moved northward along the east coast toward the 38th Parallel.
September 27: U.S. Marines drove enemy forces from Seoul and took control of the capital building. The Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered General MacArthur to destroy the North Korean Army, which involved crossing the 38th Parallel into North Korea. Only ROK troops were to be allowed by the UN Command in provinces bordering China and the Soviet Union.
September 28: ROK troops advanced into North Korea for the first time and General MacArthur officially restored Seoul to ROK President Syngman Rhee.
September 30: Throughout September, “bad weather, shortage of tents, bedding, and potable water provided much concern for officers and airmen alike” of the 18th FB Group. “There were no showers. Living conditions were, in a word, adverse. On September 30, 1950 a shower was installed in the Quarters (tent) area, however, living quarters proper were still over crowded.” 12
1 U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency. January 2002. The U.S. Air Force’s First War: Korea 1950-1953 Significant Events. September 1950.
2 History of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, July-October, 1950. USAFHRA.
3 History of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, July-October, 1950. USAFHRA.
4 History of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, July-October, 1950. USAFHRA.
5 USAFHRA. “The Story of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group in the Korean United Nations Police Action.” 6002nd Tactical Support Wing, Public Information Office. S/Sgt Sandy Colton.
6 USAFHRA. History of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, September 1950.
7 EUSAK mission support memorandum of 1 September 1950 to Fifth Air Force. (NARA)
8 USAFHRA. History of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, October 1950.
9 U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency. January 2002. The U.S. Air Force’s First War: Korea 1950-1953 Significant Events. September 1950.
10 History of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, July-October, 1950. USAFHRA.
11 U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency. January 2002. The U.S. Air Force’s First War: Korea 1950-1953 Significant Events. September 1950.
12 USAFHRA. History of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, September 1950.
Connors, T. D. (2007-2015, September 8). 18th fBW combat sorties Sept 1950 significant dates, Truckbusters from Dogpatch: the combat history of the 18th fighter-bomber wing in the Korean War, 1950-1953. Retrieved from BelleAire Press, LLC: http://www.truckbustersfromdogpatch.com/log-entries/18th-fbw-combat-sorties-sept-1950-significant-dates/