Task Force, 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment
1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment
As part of the reorganization of US Forces in Korea and the transformation of the 2nd Infantry Division to the US Army's modular force structure, the 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor was converted to a combined arms unit in 2004. It was subsequnetly composed of 2 infantry companies, 2 armor companies, a combat engineer company, a Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and an attached Forward Support Company.
Stationed on Camp Casey, 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment, "First Tank" was located 20 kilometers from the Demilitarized Zone. First Tank was located in Dragon Valley, apart from the rest of Camp Casey. The unit lived and conducted daily operations within the maximum effective range of most North Korean artillery and was situated on their main avenue of approach into the Republic of Korea. As a result of its close proximity to threat forces, 1-72nd Armor was constantly focused on readiness and training.
The 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment was born of Armor in 1943 as A Company, 5th Armored Regiment and was activated for battle in July 1943 at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. It later became the 717th Tank Battalion and was assigned to the 16th Armor Division, where it fought in the decisive Rhineland and Central European Campaigns, mostly notable in the support of the 79th Infantry Division. Reorganized twice in 1948, the Battalion was then known as Company A, 717th Heavy Tank Battalion and was stationed in the vast Mohave Desert in a small post known as Camp Irwin, California.
On 15 October 1948, the battalion began its long association with the Warriors of the 2nd Infantry Division, when it was designated as Company A, 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion in Fort Lewis, Washington. On 25 June 1950, the United States again faced aggression as the North Korean Army invaded south across the 38th parallel. The men of the 72nd Armor answered the call to arms and on 2 August 1950. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Clark Webber, the unit boarded the United States Navy Transport The General William Mitchell, with a destination of Pusan, Korea. Equipped with the M4A3E8 Sherman tank, the 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion quickly earned the reputation as tenacious fighters. They adapted quickly to a terrain that was foolishly termed "untankable." On 1 September 1950, Master Sergeant Slarrow destroyed the first Korean T-34.
On the same day the indomitable spirit of the Battalion was embodied in the actions of Master Sergeant Ernest Kouma, who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions against the enemy in the vicinity of Angok, Korea. His unit was engaged in supporting infantry elements on the Naktong River front. Near midnight on 31 August 1950, a hostile force estimated at 500 crossed the river and launched a fierce attack against the infantry positions, inflicting heavy casualties. A withdrawal was ordered and his armored unit was given the mission of covering the movement until a secondary position could be established. The enemy assault overran 2 tanks, destroyed one, and forced another to withdraw. Suddenly Sergeant Kouma discovered that his tank was the only obstacle in the path of the hostile onslaught. Holding his ground, he gave fire orders to his crew and remained in position throughout the night, fighting off repeated enemy attacks. During one fierce assault, the enemy surrounded his tank and he leaped from the armored turret, exposing himself to a hail of hostile fire, manned the .50 caliber machinegun mounted on the rear deck, and delivered pointblank fire into the fanatical foe. His machinegun emptied, he fired his pistol and threw grenades to keep the enemy from his tank. After more than 9 hours of constant combat and close-in fighting, he withdrew his vehicle to friendly lines. During the withdrawal through 8 miles of hostile territory, Sergeant Kouma continued to inflict casualties upon the enemy and exhausted his ammunition in destroying 3 hostile machinegun positions. During this action, Sergeant Kouma killed an estimated 250 enemy soldiers. His magnificent stand allowed the Infantry sufficient time to reestablish defensive positions. Rejoining his company, although suffering intensely from his wounds, he attempted to resupply his tank and return to the battle area.
The 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion supported many units during the course of the conflict in I, IX, and X Crops and in notable support of the 27th British Brigade when Company A supported the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry near the village of Kapyong. This decisive victory earned First Tankers the Presidential Unit Citation.
The First Tank was inactivated in 1958 at Camp Irwin, California. Five years later on 1 March 1963, it was reactivated to serve in the defense of freedom as 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor. In July, 1965, the First Tank rejoined the Warrior Division and served on freedom's frontier.
On 16 December, 2004, the Battalion was reorganized as a Combined Arms Battalion with infantry, armor and engineer elements, as well as an attached forward support company. This transformation was part of a larger reorganization of US Forces in Korea and of the 2nd Infantry Division to the US Army's new modular force structure.
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