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Osan Air Base
3705'N, 12702'E

Prior to the invasion of the Republic of Korea by the north Korean communists in 1950, the area subsequently known as Osan Air Base consisted of 4 villages near the hillsides and a large number of rice paddies where the runway was constructed. Originally designated K-55, the base was redesignated as Osan Air Base in September 1956. The base was not named for any of the villages on the site. The first base commander named the base Osan, as it was the only village shown in the region on military maps and because it was easy to pronounce. The word "Osan" means Crow Hill.

The 4 villages that were moved to make room for the base were Jeuk-Bong-Ri, Chang- Deung-Ri, Shin-Ya-Ri and Ya-Ri. A large ginkgo tree that was in the village square of one of these villages stood on a hill on the site of the Air Base's golf course.

Osan was situated near the sites of 2 significant battles which occurred early in the Korean War. The first ground combat action between American and north Korean forces was fought just a few miles north of Osan Air Base. To halt the advancing north Korean army, which had siezed Seoul and was pushing south, Maj. General William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, sent 2 understrength infantry companies and a headquarters element from Japan to Pyongtaek on 2 July 1950, where they were joined by elements of an artillery battalion.

Under the command of Lt. Colonel Charles Bradford Smith, this force of 540 men, called "Task Force Smith," moved into position at Juk Mi Pass, just south of Suwon Air Base, where they faced more than 5,000 north Korean soldiers and 34 Soviet built T-34 tanks. Smith's mission was to halt the enemy drive south and allow General Dean time to regroup United Nations forces and establish a defensive perimeter.

On 5 July 1950, "Task Force Smith" engaged the enemy near Chukini-Ryong. The battle raged for 7 hours, as the task force held firm against an entire communist division. Outnumbered, outgunned, and out of ammunition, the survivors managed to fight their way clear and reach Pyongtaek where they joined elements of the 34th Infantry Regiment. Delaying actions continued just north of Chonan, until the weary soldiers pulled back to Taejon where General Dean had established his headquarters. The delaying actions fought by Task Force Smith and the 34th Infantry enabled the 24th Infantry Division to land in Korea and establish and hold the "Pusan Perimeter" along the Naktong River.

Topping a hill a few miles north of Osan on the road to Suwon stand 2 monuments. On the west side of the highway a stone pillar constructed by Companies B and C of the 3rd Engineering Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, pays tribute to the first American soldier who gave his life in the valley. The larger memorial on the east side of the road was erected by the Republic of Korea to honor the gallant men of Task Force Smith who had fought so bravely.

Osan was also remembered as the location for the first US Army company-strength bayonet charge since World War I, which occurred on 7 February 1951. Part of a larger force charged with the task of clearing the Republic of Korea of all communist troops south of Seoul, Army Captain Lewis L. Millett and his soldiers charged the communist Chinese forces holding Hill 180, which came to dominate Osan Air Base. For his heroic actions, Captain Millett received the Medal of Honor.

Osan Air Base was the only airfield built by the United States in Korea. They completed the 9,000 foot runway in November 1952. The ROK government allowed the USAF to purchase 1,250 acres in 1952 to expand the base and a fifth Korean village (unnamed) was relocated in 1953 to enlarge the compound area for the location of Headquarters, 5th Air Force, which maintained an advanced headquarters until the arrival of the 314th Air Division in 1954.

Elements of the 839th, 841st, and 417th Engineering Battalions took part in constructing the base. The rolling hills were transformed into a base of operation and the runway was completed in less than 6 months. The runway opened in December 1952, with the advance elements of the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing arriving for duty late in the month. The 18th Fighter Bomber Wing provided air operations in support of United Nations ground forces during the Korean conflict.

Following the war, Osan AB was transitioned to standby status and hosted only temporary duty or transient units involved in PACAF tactical operations. During that time most facilities fell into disrepair. Concrete surfaces were restored in 1957 and total renovation projects were completed in 1958 when the base became a permanent peacetime installation.

Osan hosted many types of fighter aircraft in its history, from the F-86s during the Korean War, F-100s in the late 1950s, F-105s between 1962-1963, F-106s between 1968-1969, and F-4s in 1971. The subsequently host unit, the 51st Fighter Wing, eventually came to fly the A-10 and F-16 fighter aircraft.

The 51st Air Base Wing (formerly the 51st Fighter Wing) actually relocated from Naha Air Base, Okinawa, to Osan AB on 1 November 1971, and assumed all support responsibilities for base units and sites. The wing was redesignated the 51st Composite Wing on 30 September 1974. On 1 July 1982, the 51st Composite Wing was redesignated the 51st Tactical Fighter Wing. Ten years later, in February 1992, the wing was redesignated the 51st Wing.

On October 1, 1993, the 51st Wing once again became the 51st Fighter Wing. Subsequently, the 7th Air Force and 51st Fighter Wing Headquarters buildings were located at the base of the now famous Hill 180.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:54:42 ZULU