Having emerged victorious from WWII, losing a war was far from the minds of the American military in 1950. However, by July of that year, they were encircled and clinging on to small portions of the Korean Peninsula. As American commanders worked feverishly to set up a final defensive perimeter near Pusan, the men of the 24th Infantry Division were tasked with delaying the rapid North Korean advance.
From One War to the Next
George Libby was born on December 4, 1919, in Bridgton, Maine. He came of age just as America was thrust into a global war and found his opportunity to serve, enlisting in the US Army. He fought in Europe during WWII. When that war ended the ranks of the US military rapidly shrank, but Libby decided to say while many experienced veterans left. By 1950, the result was an army lacking experience and sufficient training – precisely when they needed it most. Sergeant Libby was assigned to C Company, 3rd Engineer Battalion, 24th Infantry Division.
On June 25, 1950, the North Korean Army poured across their southern border in massive numbers. The American and South Korean forces attempted to hold the line, but the North Korean advance proved too strong. The 24th Division was ordered to make a stand near the South Korean city of Taejon to allow other American troops to set up a defensive perimeter further to the south. The Americans dug in along the Kum River and fought for three days before being forced back into the city.
On July 19, North Korean forces entered Taejon. They attempted to surround the city and for two days of intense street fighting the Americans held them back before the decision to withdraw was made. Enormous columns of North Korean forces were marching on the city reinforcing those that had crossed the Kum River. North Korean checkpoints manned most exits south. Reaching the edge of the city, the final elements of the 24th Infantry were ambushed, and many of their vehicles were destroyed by machine guns and mortars, forcing the Americans to retreat on foot.
Racing Towards Friendly Lines
On the evening of July 20, 1950, Sergeant Libby boarded a truck headed out of the city. Approaching a roadblock they came under devastating enemy fire, disabling the vehicle and instantly either killing or severely wounding every soldier on board – except Libby. He jumped into a nearby ditch which provided some cover and returned fire. Despite his position of relative safety Libby, under heavy gunfire, twice ran across the road to deliver aid to wounded soldiers.
He then flagged down a passing M5 Half-Track towing a howitzer. Under a continued intense barrage of fire, Libby loaded the wounded on board. Realizing the North Koreans were concentrating their fire towards the driver he shielded him with his own body while he returned fire upon the enemy. Doing so resulted in immediate wounds to his arms and body yet Libby continued.
A Fitting Honor
As the Half-Track continued through the city attempting to escape they came across other wounded soldiers. Libby on more than one occasion dismounted to help load the wounded then resumed his position as the driver’s body guard. He refused first aid and continued to shield the driver until he had lost so much blood that he eventually passed out.
Sergeant George Libby succumbed to his wounds that day but not before earning a hallowed place in military history. For his actions, George Libby was awarded the Medal of Honor. Due to his gallantry displayed at Taejon, the Americans were able to successfully set up a defensive perimeter around Pusan and begin their push northwards. As the war slowly came to a close in 1953, a bridge across the Imjin River in South Korea was dedicated in honor of the man who held the line so that others might live.