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Monday, July 10, 2000

25th Infantry 'Wolfhounds': 50th anniversary of their Korean War
Background photo by Kathryn Bender

One ex-Wolfhound credits
their success to its
commander, who thought
like the enemy, 'only faster'

By Gregg K. Kakesako


When the 25th Infantry Division's Wolfhounds were ordered to the Korean peninsula half a century ago today, Army Master Sgt. Hugh O'Reilly and many of his fellow soldiers from Hawaii "expected to be there only for two or three months."

"It was easy going at first," said O'Reilly, 85, whose 27th Regimental Combat Team was part of Hawaii's 25th Infantry Division. "People waved at us when we landed. We kept thinking that the stay wouldn't be too long. ... We were first held in reserves, but gradually it sunk in to us that this was a war."

"We had a regimental commander (Lt. Col. John "Mike" Michaelis), who commanded a unit in 101st Division in World War II who was quite a guy." The Wolfhounds' success as one of the most highly trained units in the army, O'Reilly said, was because Michaelis thought like the enemy "but only faster."

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Retired teacher Floranio Castillo, 72, a 25th
Infantry Division veteran, solemnly views
the Korean War Memorial on the state Capitol

Hawaii's 25th Infantry Division was the second Army unit committed to the Korean conflict -- just a few weeks after the North Koreans invaded South Korea.

The division, originally organized at Schofield Barracks in 1941, was an occupational force on the Japanese island of Honshu when communist forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950.

The first to arrive in South Korea on July 1 was the 24th Infantry Division. It was composed of mainland soldiers and was also pulling occupational duty in Japan.

On July 5, the 25th Infantry Division, known as Tropic Lightning, received radio orders to deploy to the Korean peninsula.

Two days later, the 25th Division's 27th Regimental Combat Team (the Wolfhounds) left division headquarters at Osaka by rail for the port city of Moji.

Photo courtesy of Jack Hirai
Jack Hirai, now 70, joined the Wolfhounds
in September 1950.

They continued by sea to Pusan and Pohang. On July 10, the 27th RCT moved by train from Pusan to Andong where they were reserves for the Eighth Army.

O'Reilly said he is still amazed today that although none of the GIs knew where they were going when they left Osaka, "the cabaret girls were waiting for us when we pulled into Moji."


The first bitter fighting for Hawaii's 25th Division occurred on July 29 when the Army unit of seven battalions and 12,167 soldiers faced 30,300 North Korean troops. It was the first U.S. encounter with North Korean armored columns.

By August, Gen. Walton Walker, Eighth Army and Korean field commander, ordered the 25th Division to defend the southwest sector of a 140-mile-long perimeter against a possible enemy breakthrough to the port of Pusan, the site of America's beachhead.

By mid-September, the Tropic Lightning started moving westward, turning north toward the 38th parallel after breaking out of the Pusan Perimeter.


Retired schoolteacher Jack Hirai wasn't among the original Wolfhounds sent to South Korea on July 10, 1950. Then a staff sergeant, Hirai was at his Wahiawa home on a 30-day furlough -- a bonus for re-enlisting -- when he was recalled.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Veterans of the 25th Infantry Division gather recently
at the Korean War Memorial on the state Capitol
grounds, reminiscing about their service in the war.
From left: Floranio Castillo, Goro Tengan, Jack
Hirai, Charles Aresta and Nick Nishimoto.

Until then Hirai, now 70, had been a Japanese interpreter with the 25th Division's artillery headquarters in Naha. When the call went out for volunteers for the 27th Regiment, Hirai responded, and joined the Wolfhounds in September at Inchon.

"I guess we thought we were heroes," said the former Dole Intermediate and Leilehua High School teacher. "I had been in the rear and the next day, I was in the front digging foxholes and the ground was frozen.

"I guess we were young and didn't know any better and didn't know how good we had it until we volunteered."

It wasn't until Jan. 4, 1951, that Hirai came under fire south of Osan. He remembers it as vividly as if it had occurred yesterday.

"We had laid barbed wire and had dug in for the night. The Chinese hit us that night and came right through the barbed wire in waves."

In the heat of the battle, the order was given to withdraw, but not everyone got the word, Hirai said.

There was confusion and units became separated.

"The fighting was so fierce that I thought I was never going to see the fifth."

Hirai was with three other guys from Hawaii -- James Aruda, Harold Yamasaki and Hiroshi Asada.

Three days later he and Aruda finally made contact with another platoon.

"We had been following a stream, just living off water. The only rations we had was what we had in our pockets. We have very little ammunition. ... When I saw the guys from Easy Company, it was such a relief. I was never so happy to see anyone."

Aruda was killed in action three months later, but Hirai never found out what happened to Yamasaki and Asada. "I think they are still listed as missing in action."


On Jan. 25, 1951, the allies launched Operation Thunderbolt, a limited offensive against Chinese-held Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and by Feb. 10 Inchon and Kimpo air bases had been recaptured.

More than 18,000 prisoners had been taken by soldiers of the 25th Division and the Chinese were forced to take refuge on the north side of the Han River.

A month later during the Eighth Army's Operation Ripper, Tropic Lightning soldiers crossed the Han River, forcing the Chinese out of Seoul.

Throughout the remaining part of the year and until 1953, the division's mission was to maintain contact with the enemy, detect and destroy all forward movements and take prisoners.


Retired Waipahu High School teacher Floranio Castillo left the Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii in 1951 and went to the Korean peninsula a year later, joining the 27th Regiment as a second lieutenant, as talk of a truce infiltrated the ranks.

"It was like a stalemate," said Castillo, now 72, "as each side tried to get a better position. There was some fighting as patrols felt each other out."

Castillo remembers arriving in Seoul by train from Pusan at dawn during September 1952, and being struck by two things -- the devastation and the poverty.

"The only building standing was the train station. ... Within a mile that was the only building left standing, everything had been demolished or smashed.

"It was very early in the morning and as the train pulled in, hundreds and hundreds of children in rags came out of shacks and lean-tos begging for everything. It was shocking."

The 27th Infantry moved a lot then, Castillo recalls. "At one point we were near the 38th Parallel. "I was struck by the extremeness in the weather -- from frigid cold winters to summers which were hot and humid," Castillo said. "One of my job was to establish an outpost about 600 yards in front of my company. From there our job was to observe the enemy and to send out patrols -- and sometimes there was fighting"


By May 1953, the 25th was ordered to defend Seoul and on May 28, the enemy began an all-out effort to recapture the capital city. The assault was repulsed with the brunt of the attack absorbed by the division's 14th Infantry Golden Dragons.

After the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, the 25th Division remained in South Korea monitoring signs of new aggression by North Korean and Chinese Communist soldiers until September 1954, when it returned to Schofield Barracks.

25th Division leaders
during the Korean War

25th Division commanders throughout the Korean War years:

Bullet Maj. Gen. William Kean: August 1948-February 1951
Bullet Maj. Gen. J. Sladen Bradley: February 1951-July 1951
Bullet Maj. Gen. Ira Swift: July 1951-July 1952
Bullet Maj. Gen. Samuel Williams: July 1952-June 1953
Bullet Brig. Louis Health: June 1953-August 1953
Bullet Decorations: Two presidential unit citations, 13 Medals of Honor
Bullet Campaigns: 10

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