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Sergeant Major William Bowles said of this time, “In the 1st SFG (Okinawa) my company was assigned Korea as an area of operations. We taught and trained the South Korean units in unconventional warfare, guerrilla warfare, and in weapons employment. We also taught them parachuting and small unit tactics,” (Murphy). In 1959 Special Forces Captain John Firth was slated to establish a more permanent training detachment in Korea and although he took part in numerous infiltration exercises on the peninsula that year, it wasn’t until early 1960 that Green Berets began to arrive on TDY (temporary duty) orders to fill out the detachment.
That the men were assigned TDY duty demonstrates that there was a desire to create a permanent SF detachment in Korea but that one had not been formally authorized, which finally happened in 1961 when members of 1st Special Forces Group began getting orders officially stationing them in Korea under the operational control of KMAG. This new Special Forces advisory unit was referred to on official paperwork from the time as Detachment 40. Firth and his men provided training and assistance to the ROK Army as well as coordinating between various units. Det 40 also provided the intake for arriving Special Forces A-Teams coming into country from 1st Special Forces Group. The next year, the Det was recognized as the resident Special Forces team in Korea. The Det was never larger than a normal 12-man A-team at any given time and was stationed in Kempo at Camp Mercer.
At the same time, Special Forces was setting up in residence teams in the other countries they frequented in the region such as Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines as well, all of which belonged to Special Action Force Asia (SAFASIA), which included Special Forces soldiers from 1st Group, civil affairs, psychological operations specialists, engineers, intelligence, and Army Security Agency troops which could be deployed as a regional based task force (Simpson, 68). They also had assigned “Special Munitions” teams which came into play in Korea later in the 1960’s.
In May of 1961, South Korea experienced its first military coup in which Korean Special Forces participated in, ousting the democratically elected government and bringing Major General Park Chung-hee to power. According to Hugh Burns who served in Det K, Jack Firth who was the Detachment commander, “was told that the ROK Special Forces was going to make a jump and went with them, but as it turned out they didn’t go to the airfield but to the Palace grounds,” which is called Blue House where they staged the coup. “That’s why John didn’t get a full tour during his time with Det-K,” and why Burns had to come to Korea early (Det K, 37).
In October of 1961, Paul Redgate hit the ground in Korea for a second time. Re-enlisting in the US Army after a break in service, he had found a home in Special Forces. For the first three months he ran advise, train, and assist missions across South Korea. His first assignment was with five other members of the Det training the Koreans to do amphibious assaults at Inchon, where MacArthur did his famous beach landing during the war. The Korean troops had a penchant for giggling so they had to be kept quiet, the Green Berets teaching them how to row without clanking their oars. Since the weather was decent, they did a lot of night training.
Upon return, Captain Dallas who had taken over the unit from Captain Firth made Redgate the detachment medic. Dallas sent him up to Taemuui-Do Island, which had about 1,600 inhabitants. “They were dirt poor but were wonderful people,” Redgate recalled. Setting up a sick call for the locals, they had a string of what seemed like all 1,600 residents outside their aid station the next day. After weeding out those afflicted with sexually transmitted diseases, they began seeing people, building rapport with the village chiefs in the process. The next time they came to the island they brought more doctors and supplies, garnering further support for the Special Forces mission.
(Lead photo: A rare picture of US Special Forces in Taiwan, curtesy of US Taiwan Defense Command Blog)
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