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“Bulldog Johnny”: MacArthur’s Man in North Korea

Military History

“Bulldog Johnny”: MacArthur’s Man in North Korea

A veteran of three wars and known by both Eisenhower and MacArthur, Walton Harris Walker graduated from West Point in 1912, during the Border War with Mexico.

A veteran of three wars and known by both Eisenhower and MacArthur, Walton Harris Walker graduated from West Point in 1912, during the Border War with Mexico.

In September 1948, Lt. Gen. Walton Harris Walker, 58, took over command of the Eighth Army on occupation duty in Japan from his predecessor, Robert Eichelberger, a former West Point superintendent and devotee of Allied Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur. The belligerent-looking Walker’s four-division command comprised the U.S. Army’s understrength 1st Cavalry and 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry Divisions (“Tropic Lightning”). Noted his then-chief of staff, Colonel Eugene M. Landrum, the general had come to Japan “anticipating a nice, cushy time, beautiful quarters and easy duty” before his eventual retirement. He had earned it, having fought during the Mexican Expedition against bandit Pancho Villa, the Germans in World War I, and the Germans again in World War II as part of the Third Army of his mentor, General George S. Patton, Jr.

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Then came the lightning strike across the 38th Parallel dividing North and South Korea by the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) that launched a fierce drive on June 25, 1950, to oust American forces, destroy the South Korean Army, take the capital of Seoul, and unite the twin Koreas under the single Communist rule of dictator Kim Il Sung.

“We Delayed Them Seven Hours”

A wholesale rout began, despite desperate fighting, leading Francesca, the wife of South Korean President Syngman Rhee, to write on July 14 that the Americans “are good in the air, but have no tactics on land. They only retreat.… The Americans are no match for the heavy tanks and tactics of the Reds. The North Koreans openly say that the Americans cannot fight on land because they do not want to die.”

In the GI parlance of the time, the retreating troops “hauled ass,” abandoning their weapons as they did so. One soldier later recalled in Stanley Weintraub’s excellent MacArthur’s War, “We were sent over there to delay the North Koreans—we delayed them seven hours.”

Clearly something had to be done, and quickly. MacArthur, after a flying visit to a hillside outside Seoul, decided on the spot to commit the entire Eighth Army of Walker’s command to save the South Korean port city of Pusan. Thus the famous Pusan Perimeter concept at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula was born. In MacArthur’s mind, if Walker could hold on there, MacArthur would launch a daring side counterstroke at Inchon from the sea that would cut off the NKPA from behind and strangle its supply lines. Then he and Walker together could crush the enemy like a walnut.

For the operation to succeed, however, all depended on Walker’s ability to hold his ground. Could and would he do it? And who was this “bulldog” that MacArthur entrusted with so important a mission?

“Bulldog Johnny”

Walton Walker was born on December 3, 1889, at Belton, Tex., and entered the renowned Virginia Military Institute in 1907, transferring as a plebe to West Point the following year. He graduated in 1912 with an infantry commission and participated in the naval occupation of the port city of Vera Cruz in Mexico. In 1916, he met Lieutenant Dwight D. Eisenhower while serving in the same regiment along the Mexican border, and they became both close friends and fellow hunters.

In World War I, as a member of the American Expeditionary Force in France, Walker served with the 13th Machine Gun Battalion of the 5th Division and fought in the battles of St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. Awarded a Silver Star—second in rank only to the Medal of Honor—Walker was promoted to colonel during the occupation of the former defeated Imperial Germany.

He returned to the United States late in 1919 and reverted to his permanent rank of captain. He was posted as an instructor, first to the Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Ga., and later the Coast Artillery School at Ft. Monroe, Va., before being assigned during 1930-1933 to the 15th Infantry in Tientsin, China. Following his reposting to Washington, DC, he served during 1937-1940 on the Army Staff in the War Plans Division, which brought him to the notice of the future Chief of Staff (appointed September 1, 1939), General George C. Marshall.

A Fighter in Every Sense of the Word

Walker’s first World War II command was the 3rd Armored Division with the rank of major general. In September 1942, he took over the IV Armored Corps, which was redesignated XX Corps in August 1943, and the following February he was sent to England to prepare for Third Army’s invasion of the Continent under the leadership of Patton that July. The two men were about to make military history.

The drive across northwestern Europe established their joint reputation as well as that of “Lucky Forward” in martial annals. Walker’s own XX Corps became known as the “Ghost Corps,” much as had Erwin Rommel’s 7th Panzer been renowned as the “Ghost Division” four years earlier for its rapid rate of movement.

During the Battle of the Bulge, when Patton had to wheel most of Third Army north in a race to relieve American forces at German-encircled Bastogne, it was Walker’s task to cover all of Third Army’s former front, which he did ably, ending the war with his third star and the high praise of both Patton (no mean feat) and Ike, who called him “a fighter in every sense of the word.”

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