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Thomas Francis Kilfoyle
Glendale, Arizona -
"The British lost approximately 70 men killed and wounded that day. Recon troopers helped remove the dead and wounded. I will never forget one British soldier looking me in the eye and saying, "You Goddamn Yanks." How do you tell a guy whose back was burnt black by napalm that it wasn’t your fault? "
- Thomas Kilfoyle
My name is Thomas Francis Kilfoyle of Glendale, Arizona. I was born June 6, 1931 in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, New York, a son of Thomas F. Kilfoyle and Hildred Sagoroski Kilfoyle. Two of my brothers died as babies. That left five boys and two girls.
Both of my parents were born in New York, as were their parents. My father was a New York City Police Detective for 24 years. My mother was a homemaker and had nine children. She died at 43 years old from cancer. My father worked in the NYPD from 1921 to 1944. During the Great Depression we weren’t rich, but we were better off than others.
I was a little of both well-behaved and rowdy as a youth, but I never got in real serious trouble. I attended grade school at Holy Cross Catholic school in Brooklyn. I liked the Holy Cross Brothers, but I did not like my high school teachers. I attended James Madison Public High School off and on until I enlisted. After I received my discharge from the Army I took the GED test at Erasmus High School in Brooklyn.
World War II Years
I heard the news about the outbreak of World War II over the radio. Two of my brothers served in the Army during the war. My oldest brother was severely injured while a paratrooper and spent two years in the hospital. My next oldest brother served in Europe from D-Day until the end of the war. He also served in the Korean War and Vietnam without getting a scratch. I was in school and we collected grease and tin cans for the war effort. A neighborhood man was killed on Iwo Jima. The whole neighborhood was sadden. When the war ended, everyone was relieved that it was over.
I was in the New York State Guard prior to enlisting. I went to summer training camp at Camp Smith in upstate New York with the State Guard, and then I enlisted in the Army at Brooklyn, New York, on November 12, 1947. I enlisted under the name of Joseph W. Doyle Jr. I was 16 1/2 years old at that time, so I borrowed my friend’s birth certificate. My parents didn't know where I was until my stepmother tracked me down through the local Army recruiting station. I chose the Army because two of my older brothers had served in World War II. I also had wanted to be a soldier from a very young age.
My enlistment was for direct assignment to the 24th Infantry Division, which was located in Kokura Kyushu, Japan. I didn't request that particular unit. The Recruiting Sergeant checked his list of units that were short of men and he picked the 24th Division in Japan. The Army gave me travel vouchers and I was sent to Fort Ord, California, for basic training.
Ford Ord was a beautiful camp covering thousands of acres of land. It had a million dollar soldiers club across the street from the Main Gate. The company areas were well-maintained.
On my first day there I was assigned to a training company--First Platoon. My living quarters were in a two-story barrack with approximately 20 men to a floor. There were no black recruits at that time, but that wasn't due to any prejudice. None had enlisted at that particular time.
Basic training was 16 weeks of classroom Military Rules and Regulations and non-classroom close order drills, physical training and firing range. We had to qualify with our rifles as marksman, sharpshooter or expert. Our instructors were mostly World War II vets waiting to get discharged. They were all good guys and pretty easy going. They regimented our days. The Sergeants came in shouting, "Everyone up!" We had our showers, etcetera, made our beds, and then went outside for roll call and then a march to the mess hall. During the day we had training followed by showers. After that we went back outside and marched to dinner and then back to the barrack until retreat. Meals consisted of eggs for breakfast, hot meals or sandwiches for lunch, and a hot meal for dinner. Sunday was a day off.
I was never sorry that I joined the Army. I felt that I had found a home. I enjoyed basic training. We were trained the best at that time. Nobody gets fully trained for combat--they just get the best training possible. I was different when I left basic than I was when I first arrived at the camp because I had more self-respect and respect for others. After basic we were allowed to go to Monterey, California for some fun. I traveled there by bus and wore my uniform because they were the only clothes I had. All of my friends knew that I had enlisted.
After Basic I was given a 15-day furlough before reporting to Ft. Lawton in the State of Washington to wait for shipping overseas to Japan. From Fort Lawton I shipped to Japan aboard the Edmund B. Alexander. We had approximately 1400 dependents and 600 GIs. We arrived in Yokohama in May 1948.
Recon Troop - Japan
Those of us assigned to the 24th Division were sent to the Replacement Company in Kokura, Japan. Upon arrival there I was lucky enough to be interviewed for the 24th Mechanized Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop which was just being reorganized with Lieutenant Greene as CO. I jumped at the chance when I was told how many vehicles the Troop had. It was better to ride than walk. They changed my MOS from Infantry to Cavalry.
All of the men selected for the Recon Troop were temporarily assigned to Company “B" of the 19th Infantry Regiment for in-country training. We had to get up at 5 a.m., make our bunks, and do workouts before breakfast. After breakfast we had morning training and then lunch was followed by vehicle maintenance. Showers were followed by evening retreat and then we went to bed early. We were trained in the use of M1 rifles, M1 carbines, 30 and 50 caliber machine guns, and 81mm mortars. I was assigned to drive the Company Commander's Jeep, which was the best one in the motor pool. I liked all of the vehicles in our unit. They were fun to drive.
Our training was all week Monday through Saturday. After hours, if we weren't due for guard duty, we hung out in the Enlisted Men's (EM) Club. The main EM Club was in downtown Kokura. We went down there to have a Coke and shoot pool.
“B" Company at this time was the Division Honor Guard. We of the Recon Troop, after completion of training, set our goal to become the Division Honor Guard Unit. We did this in just three months. I was a member of the Honor Guard's Color Guard. We had the distinct pleasure of being part of a large ceremony when the first ashes of a Japanese-American soldier who had been killed in action in Italy in World War II were returned to his parents. They had returned to Japan at the end of the war. We performed this duty many times.
Where we were in Japan there wasn't any real damage from World War II. The Japanese people were very glad the war was over, and we didn't see any resentment from the natives that the United States had vanquished Japan. What struck me the most about the people of Japan was their politeness, grace, and personal hygiene.
In early 1949, the Troop relocated from the Jono area of Kokura to the main Island of Honshu to a small town named Ozuki. The camp was called Camp Wellington. Our new CO, Lieutenant Koch (pronounced Cook), renamed the camp "Camp Feister" in honor of a Recon Trooper killed in World War II.
While at Camp Feister we took part in the Far East Armored Cavalry Leadership Test. We placed third in this test. We remained at Camp Feister until late 1949, when we relocated to the city of Yamaguchi, Japan. This time we were under the command of Capt. John Kearns, who assumed command on the day of our move. On the day of our move the Japanese police reported to our CO that one of our Sergeants was found dead on the railroad tracks in town. The man turned out to be our Mess Sergeant, Sergeant Ball. Sergeant Ball had over 20 years of service and was due to go home soon. Sergeant Ball had been run over by a train. To my knowledge it was never determined if his death was accidental or foul play.
In early 1950, the Recon Troop, now called a company, was chosen to be the Aggressor Force for the Division. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot. One time during these maneuvers, all of our guys attached grenade launchers on our rifles. We stuck expended blank shell casings in them neck down, and in an early morning attack we peppered the dug-in infantry with them. We even heard some bounce off of their helmets. The umpires made us stop before the infantry got mad enough to really kill us. In fact, one outfit did get even. We had scaled a cliff which was behind their positions and thought it could not be climbed. We made our attack and a young squad leader ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge us. This stopped our attack in its tracks. The Sergeant got really chewed for giving the order, and then was praised for his initiative. When the exercise was over, our unit was declared the winner. On the way back to Yamaguchi, we visited each Regimental Headquarters with a big sign on our vehicles which read, "24th Recon Victors over the 19th, 21st and 34th Regiments". When we returned to camp, our CO was chewed out. It seemed the Regimental Commanders had complained. We all agreed that it was worth it.
Testing the 37MM
A funny story happened that I think is worth repeating. We had never fired the 37mm gun on the M8 Armored Cars, so we took them out to a firing range to test them, not having any specific targets set up. The CO chose a large hill out front and told the gunners to just fire at the hill to see what would happen. One gunner fired one round at the hill and nothing showed. The CO told him to fire one more round, which he did. Again, nothing registered. They tried one more round and again nothing happened. A cease fire was called while everyone was standing around discussing what to do next.
Just then, coming over the hill were three Japanese men waving a white flag. They were the Mayor, Police Chief, and a senior citizen from a small town on the other side of the hill we were shooting at. It seems that the three shells we fired went over the hill. One went through the roof of a house, another landed in a rice paddy next to a farmer, and the third skipped straight down the main street to their temple. Not one of the shells went off. The three gentlemen came out to surrender their town. I bet this is the only Japanese town to surrender twice. Shortly thereafter, we turned in our M8 Armored cars and halftracks for M24 light tanks and M39 personnel carriers. We immediately started to train in these new vehicles.
War Breaks Out
In late April or early May, I was sent to Leadership School at Eta Jima, Japan. During Basic I had been appointed to be an acting Sergeant. We were called "acting Jacks". I wore an arm band on my left sleeve with three stripes on it. This led to my appointment to Leadership School. This was quite an honor.
My instructors in Leadership School were lieutenants and sergeants whose names are long forgotten. They taught me troop leadership, how to control different situations, and the assignment of men to duties. Most of all, I learned how to estimate the situation presented during field exercises and to act accordingly. I enjoyed myself and worked toward getting promoted. During my free time I cleaned my uniforms and weapons and studied for the next day's classes. By excelling in classwork and field leadership, I was able to become the class First Sergeant. Even though there was no prospect of combat in the immediate future, I took my training seriously. I even volunteered to go to Greece to help fight the Communists, but the Army wanted only the top three sergeant ranks.
North Invades South
We had about a week to go in school when on Sunday, June 25, 1950, we received the news that the North Koreans had invaded the South. We knew someone would be sent, and our questions were answered when the PA system read all of the names of men assigned to the 24th Division to pack up and get ready to move out. We were hustled to the Railroad Transportation Office station and sent to our units.
We were told that 8,000 North Korean guerrillas had come South and our job was to chase them back North. Back in June of 1949, my Sergeant was assigned to the company from Korea and I asked him how things were in Korea. He told me, "We will be back to Korea in a year." We didn't know that he was such a prophet.
When I arrived at the Recon Company, I was told that the night before they had had an invasion scare. The men shot out all of the lights, then ran around in the dark not knowing what to do. Other units at Yamaguchi were B Company 76th Tank, A Company Combat Engineers and A Battery 26th AAA. Before we left our barracks, someone painted on the front steps: BE BACK IN 20 DAYS.
On 3 July 1950, we loaded onto an LST and sailed to Korea, arriving on 4 July 1950. We took all of our personal gear, our weapons and such, and all of the company's equipment. The letters "LST" mean "Landing Ship Tank". It held all of our track vehicles, Jeeps, and trucks. As mentioned earlier, in early 1950 we had turned in our M8 Armored Cars and Half-Tracks for M24 Light Tanks and M39 Personnel Carriers. That was both good and bad. The M24’s and M39’s had a little better armor plating. The M24’s had the same low-powered 75mm cannon as the tanks in World War II that could not stop the German tanks. In Korea, when an M24 fired at a Russian T34, the shell just bounced off. The 75mm was good for knocking out bunkers, etcetera. The M39 had an air-cooled airplane engine in it, and, when started, gave out a large plume of smoke. This always gave our positions away.
When we arrived in Pusan and started to unload, the South Koreans watched us without any show of emotion until our tanks started coming off. Then they started to clap and cheer. My first impression of Korea was that it was an old society--most street were unpaved, the houses were made out of paper and wood, and they used human waste on their rice paddies. The fact that I was now in a war zone was confirmed by how over-crowded Pusan was with people and military activity.
Our first night in Korea we were camped in a stadium and one of the men shot a young Korean who was trying to steal some equipment. The next day, part of the outfit moved north to Osan. At Osan, PFC Conrad Leap became our unit’s first wounded when he lost a leg to artillery fire. Also at Osan, one of our tanks was parked near some artillery and a Major came over to the tank commander and asked him to move as they had had no counter battery fire. The tank commander said he wasn’t leaving without orders from his boss. As the Major and the tanker were passing words back and forth, a shell landed a few yards in front of the tank, whereupon the tanker said, “There are my orders” and quickly moved his tank.
As mentioned, we landed on July 4, 1950. The first couple of nights it rained, so it wasn’t too bad. When the rain stopped, the summer heat got as hot as 120 degrees in the shade. We had to take very large salt tablets daily under the eyes of our NCOs to make sure we took the pills.
World War II Equipment
In my personal Jeep I had the following: a dash-mounted .30 caliber machine gun, a pedestal-mounted .50 caliber machine gun, my carbine, an M1 rifle, and a stripped-down Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). My driver had his M1 rifle. The .50 caliber gunner had his M1 rifle. For that time we were well-protected and well supplied with the proper combat equipment--all World War II equipment.
My Section Leader, Sgt. Nolan Woods, was a World War II veteran and was wounded in combat. My Platoon Sergeant, E. Joe Taylor, was a Marine Veteran who had been wounded on Guadalcanal while serving with the 1st Marine Division. He was wounded three times while he was with the Recon. Company. These World War II "old salts" helped calm my concerns and taught me the ropes during my first days of combat, but no one knows what combat is until they are in it.
A Recon Unit was a self-sufficient unit that usually worked alone. Its main job was patrolling and to support other units when requested or in immediate need of assistance. Part of the Recon met the enemy just south of Osan. In the days that followed, we were in continual action from Osan to the Kum River to Taejon. It didn’t take us a week to retreat that distance. The 24th Division was outnumbered approximately twenty to one. We were continually under enemy pressure all the time.
Taejon was a city that happened to be what was called a strategy intersection of main roads North and South. The thing I think most about Taejon is that it is a miracle that any of us survived at all. On the night of the 16th of July, I was Corporal of the Guard. I was relieved by Sergeant Beckham and I then went to sleep. I was awakened at about 4 or 5 a.m., and was told that PFC John Anderson had been shot and killed. John was our first KIA of the company. I had only seen death of family members before coming to Korea. In the Pusan Perimeter we saw both dead American bodies and North Korean soldiers. I didn't know the GI's.
I also saw lots of refugees--long lines of them fleeing the North Koreans and the fighting. The natives lived under horrible conditions. There was little food or water and poor sanitary conditions. Some lived in the ground with sheet metal covers.
On the night of the 19th of July 1950, a Major from the 34th Infantry Regiment came to where we were camped, which was in a schoolyard in the middle of the city. He ordered our Captain Kearns to send a patrol out of Taejon to find an escape route for the Division. Captain Kearns protested, stating that there was nothing but North Koreans out there. His protest was to no avail. In the meantime, we received our first hot meal since landing in Korea--which was pancakes. They hit my stomach like a ton of bricks and I got very sick. Like everyone else, I had been going almost 24 hours a day. I told a friend of mine, PFC Frank Knights of Presque Isle, Maine, that I was going to sack out under one of the tanks.
Meanwhile, Captain Kearns called Lt. George Kristanoff and told him to get a patrol together and go do what the Major had ordered. Lieutenant Kristanoff asked for me. Frank Knights told him I was sick, but said that he would go get me for the Lieutenant. Lieutenant Kristanoff said, "Never mind." He said that I had been working hard, and he would get someone else. He then had words with Sgt. Nolan Woods, our Platoon Sergeant. It seemed the Lieutenant wanted Sergeant Woods to drive his Jeep, which was my job. Sergeant Woods told me later that he said he would go, but he would not drive the Jeep. Lieutenant Kristanoff, in a rare show of temper, told Sergeant Woods, "Never mind. Stay behind and take care of the rest of the platoon."
The patrol had been gone a couple of hours when the company received a radio call that they were receiving machine gun fire front, right, left and rear. Then the radio went dead. Captain Kearns ordered Lt. Basil Steed to get another patrol ready and go to the aid of Lieutenant Kristanoff’s patrol. By the time Lieutenant Steed got his patrol organized and ready to move out, and the new patrol arrived at or near the location of Lieutenant Kristanoff’s patrol, it was too late. I was told later that all they could see were one or two Jeeps with bodies lying next to them. Before they could undertake a rescue, they were taken under fire from a large force of North Koreans. They had to retreat and were lucky to get back to Taejon. I was told this by my good friend Sgt. Vernon Fortner, who was a member of the rescue patrol. The names of the members of this lost patrol are listed in the roster at the end of this story. Lieutenant Kristenoff was an excellent leader and an all-around good, caring officer. I always say there aren’t enough words in any language to describe what a good man he was. He and two of my buddies were captured on the night of July 19, 1950 and the three of them died in a Chinese prison up in North Korea.
I awoke on the morning of the 20th of July blissfully unaware of the above events. I crawled out from under the tank and was greeted with surprise. Everyone wanted to know how I had gotten back and if there was anyone else with me. They told me I better see Captain Kearns right away, so I went directly to the CO. As I walked in, he said, "Thank God. Is there anyone else with you?” I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. He asked if I had been with Lieutenant Kristanoff, and I told him no. Then he told me to sit down, and he told me what had happened.
A short time later all hell broke loose. Five T34 tanks had gotten into town, and we were ordered to get a foot patrol ready and go tank chasing. Luckily the company had received the new 3.5 rocket launchers two days earlier. We followed a damaged T34 tank. We found it around a corner and across the street in front of a two-story brick building. We were in an alley alongside the brick building.
While our Patrol Leaders (Sgt. Nolan Woods and Master Sergeant Rosemeyer) were planning what to do, we heard three 3.5 rounds fired very quickly and the sounds of running feet. As the running men started to pass our alley, one of the patrol said, "Get your ass in here, General." It was General Dean and a two-man bazooka team. They had just knocked out the tank we were after. He asked what outfit we were from and he seemed pleased when we told him the Recon Company. He took our names and said we would get decorations. I guess he lost the list after he got captured. We broke out of Taejon on the 21st of July 1950 and fought a delaying action until we reached the Naktong River.
Along the Naktong
The enemy were excellent fighters and were armed with Word War II Russian weapons. The had large mortars in 120mm size, T34 tanks, and large artillery pieces. While fighting them along the Naktong, the Recon Company helped break up a big North Korean bulge around Taegu, South Korea. Another big action was when we ran into a large North Korean roadblock south of the Naktong. A large enemy unit had surprised an American engineer unit of 25 men who were setting up a roadblock. That American unit was completely wiped out. Some of them were shot in the back of the head, and then they were all dumped in a trench.
The 24th Recon came along and ran into the North Koreans. We were stalled for five days and nights. We didn’t get out until the 2nd Infantry Division got us out. One of the sad things to happen during this action was an infantry squad made a charge over a hill to my left front. One of the Recon mortar squads under the command of Master Sergeant Rosemeyer attempted to aid in the assault, but dropped their rounds short, killing three men.
Another incident happened when an infantry lieutenant ordered a couple of men to go out in front of our lines and help retrieve some wounded. I personally spoke to a blond-headed soldier who was going out. I asked him why they were going. He said, "The Lieutenant said so." I said, "Tell the Lieutenant to go with you," and he just laughed. Three men got in a Jeep with a .50 caliber mounted on it and drove out in front. They turned the Jeep around so it was facing our lines. They got out and started loading the wounded onto the Jeep. The North Koreans waited until they were all set to come back and then opened fire, killing all of the men in the Jeep. They also captured the .50 caliber machine gun. We later recaptured the machine gun and found out that, fortunately, it didn’t work because it had been put together wrong.
One other wounded man crawled into our position at night and told a harrowing tale of North Koreans coming down at night and searching the dead Americans while he himself played dead. When we broke out and were able to recover the bodies, we found that some of the Americans had pushed their watches up on their arms so the North Koreans would not get them. Another American came into our lines and told how he had escaped from being killed on a road off to our right a few miles. He was attached to a quad .50 caliber anti-aircraft halftrack. They were driving along the road in the dark, but when it got too dangerous to drive further, they stopped behind a hill that ran from the road to their left. In the morning they were surprised to find the hill was occupied by North Korean infantry. The North Koreans opened fire, killing all but the GI who came into our position. When rescue troops arrived, they found that the halftrack, along with the dead GIs, was burned.
I personally had a very close call during this action. Just as dawn was coming up, two North Korean soldiers were on top of the hill to my left front. When I heard voices, I leaned forward to get my binoculars. One of the North Koreans fired two shots at me which narrowly missed my left shoulder. Shortly after this, the action took place as described above in which three US soldiers were killed.
We didn't have contact with other U.S. military units at first, but as the war went on the Recon Company served with many different units--American, British, Indian, Greek, Turks, and on and on. The South Korean military forces served with or near us from time to time. As all armies, some of the South Koreans were excellent, some good, and others not so good. It all depended on the quality of their leaders. A couple of South Korean officers joined our unit. We also later hired some orphaned boys to help with what we called housekeeping--like KP.
We fought up and down the Naktong River until we broke out after the Inchon Landing. We crossed the Naktong River by boat on September 21, 1950, and had advanced north a mile or so when we were halted by a large North Korean defense line. We could not go forward or backward because we only had a foot bridge in back of us. After a couple of days, the British brigade came across to help us out. They came sometime after midnight. We were ordered to be ready to give them covering fire at first light, as they were going to take the high ground to our left front. In this action we lost a lot of troops.
At first light we found out that they had already advanced up the hill to within 400 yards of the top when the North Koreans opened up on them. They called for an air strike. While the planes were on the way, the enemy pulled back 200 yards. In their haste, the British forgot about the air strike and pursued them. When the planes arrived, they dropped the bombs and napalm on the old enemy position the British troops now occupied. There is some controversy on the type of planes used in this attack. I saw F80s. Other say they were P51s. I was close enough to our communications M39 to hear that they were trying to get those planes to abort. They were screaming, "May Day! Stop your attack!" But they never got through. The British lost approximately 70 men killed and wounded that day. Recon troopers helped remove the dead and wounded. I will never forget one British soldier looking me in the eye and saying, "You Goddamn Yanks." How do you tell a guy whose back was burnt black by napalm that it wasn’t your fault? Killed during this action were a number of Recon men, including Cpl. Don Fritz of California, Cpl. Robert Plaunt of Michigan, and some others whose names are lost to me. This time it took part of the 21st Infantry Regiment to save our butts.
All during this time I was coming down with hepatitis. When we were surrounded in the extreme heat, I drank what I thought was clean water. After we were relieved, I was flown out of Korea and was evacuated to the 35th Station Hospital in Kyoto, Japan. In the hospital I was bed-ridden until I was on the mend. I was there for two months. While I was away, the Recon Company ran into the Chinese on November 4, 1950. My good friend Vernon Fortner was severely wounded. Because of this wound, Vernon lost two inches off of his left leg. A machine gunner with Vernon by the name of Cpl. Robert J. Smith of Indiana was killed was killed on November 05, 1950. I was affected emotionally by these casualties.
Return to Duty
I returned to the Company in early December 1950. I caught up with them in Uijonbu, a city east of Seoul. While there I was also able to catch up with my brother Richard, who was a member of the 17th Field Artillery. I had not seen Richard for quite a few years. He made it out of Korea, stayed in the Army, and retired after 20 years of service. 8th Army’s Commanding Officer General Walton Walker was coming to visit his son, a Company Commander, in one of the 24th Infantry Division’s Regiments. The General was killed when his Jeep collided with a truck filled with South Korean soldiers.
I remained with the Recon Company, surviving the Chinese spring offensive of 1951. The fighting was horrific. The Chinese pushed the 8th Army all the way back below the Korean capital of Seoul.
End of Enlistment
I rotated home in June 1951, arriving in New York City on July 4, 1951--one year to the day from being sent to Korea. I was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Dix, New Jersey. I immediately had my name officially changed back to my own under Special Orders #217, dated 6 September 1951, #68 by command M.G. Harrison, Louis B. Rapp, Col. G.S. Chief of Staff. I finished out my enlistment as a Platoon Sergeant in a training company. I was discharged on November 14, 1951 with the rank of sergeant,
I worked in an office and drove a truck until I was appointed to the New York City Police Department on February 1, 1955. I was married to my wife Genevieve on August 6, 1955. We have five children. I retired after 21 years 5 months on June 25, 1976--26 years to the day from the start of the Korean War. We moved to Glendale, Arizona in August 1976. I was able to obtain a position with the Arizona State Capitol Police, where I served for 16 years before retiring on October 31, 1992.
24th Recon Company (partial roster) 1948-51