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Digital Archive International History Declassified


William F. Dean

In October 1947 Dean became the military governor of Korea, and returned in 1950 from Japan to turn back the North Korean invasion.



b. August 1, 1899 - d. August 25, 1981

In October 1947 Dean became the military governor of Korea, and returned in 1950 from Japan to turn back the North Korean invasion. In the fighting around Taejon he was taken as a prisoner of war.

Major General, US Army, 1943-1953; Deputy Commanding General of the Sixth US Army, 1953-1955

Born on August 1, 1899, in Carlyle, Illinois, Dean graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1922. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the California National Guard in 1921, he was tendered a Regular Army commission on October 18, 1923. Promoted to Brigadier General in 1942 and then to major general in 1943, Dean served first as assistant division commander and later as division commander of the 44th Infantry Division.

In 1944, while serving in southern Germany and Austria, his troops captured 30,000 prisoners and helped force the surrender of the German 19th Army. There he won the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery.

In October 1947, he became the military governor of South Korea. He took command of the Seventh Infantry Division in 1948 and moved it from Korea to Japan. After serving as Eighth U.S. Army chief of staff, he took command of the 24th Infantry Division, then headquartered at Kokura on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, in October 1949.

When the Korean War began in June 1950, the 24th Infantry Division was the first American ground combat unit to be committed. General Dean arrived in Korea on July 3, 1950. He established his headquarters at Taejon

His orders were to fight a delaying action against the advancing North Korean People’s Army. Although he planned to withdraw from Teajon, he was asked by General Walton H. Walker, the Eighth U.S. Army Commander, to hold that city until July 20, 1950, in order to buy time necessary for deploying other American units from Japan. His regiments had been decimated in earlier fighting, and Dean personally led tank killer teams armed with the newly arrived 3.5-inch rocket launchers to destroy the attacking North Korean T-34 tanks. He gained acclaim by such exploits as attacking and destroying an enemy tank armed with only a hand grenade and handgun.

On July 20, as his division fell back from Taejon, General Dean became separated from his men. He hid alone in the woods around the countryside during the day and traveled at night for over a month. On August 25, 1950, after a hand to hand struggle with fifteen North Koreans, he was captured, and remained a POW with the North Koreans until his release on September 4, 1953.

In 1951 Congress voted to award General Dean the Medal of Honor for his actions during the defense of Tajon. The Medal was received from President Truman, on January 9, 1951 by his wife Mildred Dean; son, William Dean Jr.; and daughter, Marjorie June Dean. General Dean was still reported missing in action in Korea.

General Dean had no contact with the outside world until he was interviewed on December 18, 1951 by an Australian, Wilfred Burchett, who was a correspondent for Le Soir, a French left-wing newspaper. This was the first time that anyone had any idea General Dean was alive since being reported missing in action.

General Dean, the highest ranking prisoner of war in the conflict, later attempted to commit suicide during his confinement because he feared “he might squeal when they started to drive splinters under my fingernails.”

He was given a hero’s welcome upon his return to the United States in 1953, and showered with military and civilian honors. General Dean, however, insisted he was no hero but “just a dogface soldier.”

Three months after his return from Korea General Dean was assigned as the Deputy Commanding General of the Sixth U.S. Army at the Presidio of San Francisco in California. When he retired from active duty on October 31, 1955, he was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge for his front line service in World War II and Korea, an award he particularly cherished.

General Dean died on August 25, 1981. He was buried at the Presidio of San Francisco along with his wife.