George D. Libby: “Stop Them Where You Find Them”

Medal of Honor Recipient George D. Libby

On June 25, 1950, after the North Koreans attacked South Korea, elements of the U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Division were the first to arrive. Known as “Task Force Smith”, it consisted of the 1st Battalion, an infantry regiment, anti-tank teams, and members of Bravo, Charlie and Delta companies.  According to the U.S. Army, the orders were simple: “When reaching Taejon, move north…stop them where you find them.”  Included in this task force was a sergeant who had already survived combat in World War II, but felt honored to re-enlist for Korea.  Within a month, his heroic actions would resemble something out of a movie and would also make him the first Congressional Medal of Honor recipient during the Korean War.

George D. Libby was born on December 4, 1919 in Bridgton, Maine.  After honorable service during World War II, he re-entered the army in Waterbury, Connecticut, as a member of Charlie Company in the 3rd Engineering Combat Battalion of the 24th Infantry Division.  For the first 18 months of the war, the division was heavily engaged on the front lines against both North Korean and Chinese forces.  By the war’s end, its casualties exceeded 10,000.

U.S. Troops Retreat from Taejon

One of the early battles in the Korean War was the Battle of Taejon (a major city and transportation center) that occurred from July 14 to 21, 1950.  Army forces attempted to defend the headquarters of the 24th Infantry Division which were under attack by North Korean forces.  The 24th Infantry, already exhausted from the previous two weeks of fighting, tried to make a final stand near Taejon by holding a line along the Kum River, east of the city. Hampered by a lack of communications and heavy weapons, the American forces were outnumbered and pushed back from the river bank.  Although they could not hold the city, the 24th Infantry Division achieved a strategic victory by delaying the North Koreans, thus providing time for other American divisions to establish a defensive perimeter around Pusan further south.

On July 20, 1950, Sergeant Libby was riding in a truck in the Pusan Perimeter.  As his vehicle approached an enemy roadblock, it encountered tremendous enemy fire which disabled the truck and killed or wounded each of the passengers except for Libby.  After exiting the truck, he took cover in a ditch.  As the enemy continued to fire its weapons at the truck and road, he crossed the same road twice to administer first aid to his wounded fellow soldiers.  Afterwards, he hailed a passing M-5 artillery tractor and one-by-one helped the wounded aboard.  As they pulled away, the enemy directed small-arms fire at the driver.  At that point, Libby (realizing that no one else could operate the vehicle), used his body as a shield to protect the driver.  During this action he received several bullet wounds in his arms and torso.  As the tractor continued through the town, it made frequent stops as Libby helped more wounded aboard.  Finally, at the last roadblock, he continued to shield the driver with his wounded body, as it received more bullet wounds.  Refusing first aid, he held that position until he lost consciousness and died.  According to the U.S. Army’s citation, “Sgt. Libby’s sustained, heroic actions enabled his comrades to reach friendly lines. His dauntless courage and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself and uphold the esteemed traditions of the U.S. Army.” His body was returned to the United States and buried in Section 34, Lot 1317, at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The George D. Libby Bridge in Korea

Today, several monuments in his name are located in the United States such as an elementary school in California and a monument in Waterbury, Connecticut.  But perhaps it is the 1000-foot Libby Bridge over the Imjin River in Korea that is the most poetic.  The bridge forms a connection between the village of Chang Pa-ri (in the south), the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and North Korea.  It is perhaps a symbolic reminder of the sacrifice of not only Libby but of many soldiers on both sides that gave their lives for these lines on a map.  As General Douglas MacArthur simply said, “It is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

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~ by JHN Writer on March 15, 2011.

One Response to “George D. Libby: “Stop Them Where You Find Them””

  1. James, this is a tremendous post about Cousin George. His mother and my grandfather were siblings. I was instrumental in recovering his medals for his family, as the originals were lost by his sister.

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