Brigadier General James A. Herbert

8TH Ranger Company commander Capt. James Herbert (left) and his second in command Lieutenant Giacherine (right) confer with an unknown officer (middle). Helmets are hot and heavy, offer limited protection, and can give away a Soldier’s position if they rattle or bump against something, so Rangers have a long tradition of wearing soft patrol caps when stealth is more important than protection. Photo Courtesy USAHEC Ranger Photo Collection.

In April 1951, the Chinese and North Korean armies committed 350,000 troops to an all-out offensive to drive United Nations forces from Korea. On the night of April 25, 1951, a ferocious night attack overwhelmed the South Korean 6th Division leaving a huge gap in the U.N. lines and exposing the right flank of the US 24th Infantry Division that the 21st Infantry Regiment guarded.

In an effort to stabilize the lines, Captain James A. Herbert, Commander of the 8th Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne), led 89 Rangers into the gap to find the enemy and report on their strength and activities. Through the dark night Captain Herbert led his men on a long and arduous climb to a high mountaintop observation point. As dawn broke, the Rangers could see masses of Chinese soldiers flowing southward along the right flank of the 24th Infantry Division. After reporting in by radio, Captain Herbert began to call in artillery fire and air strikes.

Alerted to the danger, the 21st Infantry regiment began to withdraw, leaving Captain Herbert and his Rangers deep in Chinese-controlled territory. Ordered to return to U.S. lines, Captain Herbert successfully bypassed numerous enemy units. Soon, however, Herbert’s scouts reported a large Chinese force preparing to attack the unprotected American flank. Rather than allow the Chinese to the opportunity for an easy victory Captain Herbert led his vastly outnumbered Rangers in a spoiling attack.

This photo of a hilltop in Korea shows the narrow ridges and steep drop-offs like those encountered by the Rangers on Hill 628. Photo Courtesy USAHEC S.L.A Marshall Collection.
Rangers E.C. Rivera (left) and Joe Almeida (right) recline against an M39 Armored Utility Vehicle. Rivera carried the radio that was the 8th Ranger’s only link to friendly forces during the battle of Hill 628. Photo Courtesy USAHEC Ranger Photo Collection

The Rangers hit the Chinese hard and stopped their attack. A fierce battle began on the knife-edged ridges that make up much of the Korean countryside. The steep terrain prevented units from working together, and the Rangers fought as individuals or in small groups. One misstep could send a man falling hundreds of feet to his death.

The Rangers were surrounded but they fought on, establishing a stronghold on Hill 628. In the course of the battle a full third of the Rangers were wounded. Captain Herbert, shot through the throat, shoulder and arm, was unable to stop the bleeding with a bandage because of the location of the wounds. He stuck his fingers in the wounds to stop the flow of blood.

Using their last working radio, Lieutenant Giacherine and Ranger E.C. Rivera made their way to higher ground to contact headquarters, calling in artillery that hit the Chinese dangerously close to their own position. From the hilltop the Rangers were able to see tanks from Company C, 6th Tanks in the valley below.

With their mission accomplished and the Chinese surprise attack halted, the Rangers broke contact and brought their casualties to link-up with the American armor. Captain Herbert walked off the hill still holding his fingers in his wounds. The 24th Infantry Division Commander said of the Ranger attack, “by your action you have saved the 21st Regiment, if not the Division”.

Later promoted to Brigadier General, Ranger Herbert was one of America’s first Airborne Rangers and a founding father of the Ranger Department at Fort Benning. Ranger Herbert also served nearly five years in Vietnam and played a major role in the defeat of North Vietnamese forces during the Tet Offensive. For thirty years General Herbert served at the heart of US Army Special Operations. His exemplary service is an inspiration to all Rangers and reflects great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

 

Primary Sources

Video: General Herbert on his service in Korea and Vietnam

Read More

The Korean War

Sources

US Army Ranger Hall of Fame “Brigadier General James A. Herbert” https://www.benning.army.mil/infantry/artb/RHOF/index.html

Black, Robert W. A Ranger Born: A Memoir of Combat and Valor from Korea to Vietnam. Ballentine Books, New York (2002)

Black, Robert W. Rangers in Korea. Ballantine Books, New York, (1989)

 

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