One of the lesser-told stories of the Korean War:

Eighth Army Commander Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson presented the Exceptional Public Service Award to the family of Kim Jae-hyun during a ceremony June 26, at the Combined Forces Command headquarters here.

A 28-year-old train engineer and father of two, Kim attempted to rescue the 24th Infantry Division commanding general and some of his Soldiers in the enemy-held city of Daejon on July 19, 1950. Kim knew that 24th ID Commander Maj. Gen. William Dean was one of the few American military commanders familiar with Korea’s mountainous terrain.

During the Korean War, trains were a prime target because they were the only mode of ground transportation in some areas on the peninsula. Train engineers like Kim often put themselves at great risk during missions to move troops, supplies and refugees.

In spite of the long odds, Kim volunteered to drive his train behind enemy lines into Daejon with 30 U.S. Special Forces troops on board in an attempt to rescue the stranded Soldiers.

Under intense enemy fire, the rescue team broke through enemy lines and reached Daejon Station. Kim and 27 of the 30 American commandos were killed. Unable to rendezvous with Dean and his 24th ID Soldiers, the bullet-riddled train returned with the three surviving members of the rescue team on board.

I learned about Kim and the battle at Secheon Tunnel while working on a book a couple of years ago. You can visit a small track-side monument dedicated to Kim, outside of Daejeon, and if you’re really ambitious, you can visit the old, disused railway tunnel where Kim’s train was attacked—see also here. What makes it more interesting is the, ahem, slightly differing account of what appears to be the same battle in Appleman’s book—which I believe is the official US Army history of the war—here:

Enemy sniper fire built up sporadically on the road below the pass. From his vantage point Beauchamp saw a locomotive pulling a few cars halted by enemy small arms fire at the tunnel. This locomotive had departed Iwon-ni at 1620, so the time of this incident must have been approximately 1630. Still expecting the 1st Infantry to cover the withdrawal route, Beauchamp decided that the best thing he could do would be to hurry up its arrival. He drove eastward to the command post of the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, and from there telephoned the 21st Infantry regimental command post in Okch’on. It chanced that General Menoher was there. He instructed Beauchamp to come on in to Okch’on and give a detailed report. [54] But again, none of these happenings were known in Taejon.

The locomotive had been sent to Taejon as the result of General Dean’s telephone request to the 24th Division a little earlier. In midafternoon, Captain Hatfield tried to send a rolling supply point of ten boxcars of ammunition out of the Taejon railroad yard to Yongdong. Returning to the rail yard at the northeast side of Taejon, Hatfield discovered that the Korean crew had uncoupled the locomotive from the supply train and fled south in it. It was then that Dean had telephoned the division to dispatch a locomotive immediately to Taejon to pull out this train. The nearest rail yard was at Iwon-ni, fifteen miles southeast of Taejon. Only armed guards had kept the Korean train crews there on the job. Enemy fire on the locomotive from Iwon-ni punctured the water tender.

Though under sniper fire at the railroad yards, Hatfield awaited the arrival of the locomotive. When it pulled into the yards more enemy fire hit it. The engineer said the locomotive was so damaged that it could not pull the train out. To Hatfield’s dismay, the Korean engineer threw the locomotive in reverse and backed speedily southward out of the yard. At the tunnel southeast of Taejon enemy fire again swept over the locomotive and grenades struck it, killing the engineer. The fireman, although wounded, took the train on into Okch’on. Some American soldiers rode the train out of Taejon. According to 24th Division records, the time was 1645. Informed of this untoward incident, Dean again telephoned the division, and at 1700 he received a telephone call that it was sending another locomotive, this time under guard. Dean informed Hatfield of this and the latter waited at the rail yard. Hatfield was killed by enemy soldiers there while waiting for the locomotive that never arrived. The next morning at 0830 a U.S. Air Force strike destroyed the train load of ammunition and supplies still standing in the Taejon rail yard.

Odd, no?