In the early months of the Korean War, hundreds of thousands of refugees clogged South Korea’s roads. The unprecedented situation made Civil Affairs a necessity.
In the early months of the Korean War, hundreds of thousands of refugees clogged South Korea’s roads. The unprecedented situation made Civil Affairs a necessity.

Same Organization,
Four Different Names

U.S. Army Civil Affairs in Korea 1950-1953

In its short existence the 8201st Army Unit, was known as the UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment, UNCAC, UNCACK, and KCAC. In this article Civil Affairs (CA) will be used since it is the current branch term. Military Government (MG) and UN Civil Assistance will also be used because they are appropriate predecessor terms for modern day Civil Affairs and were used interchangeably during the Korean War.

On 25 June 1950, the uneasy peace between the divided Koreas shattered when the Soviet-backed Communist North invaded the U.S.-supported democratic South. The inexperienced and lightly-armed South Korean Army (ROKA) virtually melted away. Within a week, it had lost 44,000 of its 98,000 troops and the nation’s capital, Seoul.1 The ROKA remnants, along with hastily assembled U.S. sea, air, and ground combat forces pulled from occupation duty in Japan or from strategic naval patrols in the Far East, barely managed to stem the North Korean advance. These contingents, combined with token units pledged by countries in the United Nations (UN), kept the North Korean Army at bay outside the perimeter encircling the city of Pusan. The North Korean onslaught triggered a huge humanitarian relief effort.

1 Roy E. Appleman, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu (June-November 1950), (Washington DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2000), 35.

Refugees clogged the Allied-controlled areas and were “a constant source of trouble and danger to the UN Command during the early part of the war. During the middle two weeks of July it was estimated that about 380,000 refugees had crossed into ROK-held territory, and that this number was increasing at the rate of 25,000 daily.”2 The refugee problem was compounded by the fact that the only American forces that might have helped mitigate the situation—Military Government units—had left the peninsula two years earlier in 1948.3 The commander of the U.S. and UN forces, General (GEN) Douglas A. MacArthur, realized that he had to address this problem—and quickly—with available assets.

2 Appleman, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu , 251.

3 In this article: Civil Affairs (CA) will be used as it is the current branch term. Military Government (MG) and Civil Assistance will also be used as appropriate as predecessor terms of modern day Civil Affairs.

A South Korean and an American soldier occupy a temporary position near Taejon.
The North Korean invasion sent the South Korean forces reeling. Only a stopgap infusion of American troops prevented a Communist victory. Here, a South Korean and an American soldier occupy a temporary position near Taejon.

The CA mission in the Korean War began as an ad-hoc effort but rapidly grew. As the strategic situation of the war evolved, so did the role of CA. Although U.S. combat divisions had separate CA officers assigned to their staffs, a Far East Command (FECOM) element, the 8201st Army Unit (AU), was the main effort. The 8201st AU had four different titles in its short lifespan from 1950 to 1955: the UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment, the United Nations Civil Assistance Command (UNCAC), the United Nations Civil Assistance Command, Korea (UNCACK), and the Korea Civil Assistance Command (KCAC). This article explains the evolution of the unit and its various designations and describes how, even though refugee assistance was a constant theme, the 8201st missions grew with the changing situation on the battlefield. It will also show how the CA effort in Korea was the precursor for modern Civil Affairs. In contrast to WWII, where CA worked in occupied areas, Korean-era CA functioned within a sovereign friendly nation. The story begins with the UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment.

UN Public Health &
Welfare Detachment

Prior to the Korean War, CA units had been in South Korea since the end of WWII as part of the American occupation force. The first CA units (Military Government Companies) arrived in South Korea in October 1945 to organize basic government functions.4 They began by replacing Japanese and collaborationist administrators with acceptable South Koreans. Because Korea had been a Japanese protectorate since 1910, few Koreans held civil positions, and then only at the lowest levels. This dilemma reduced the available talent pool. To solve this, Military Government personnel trained Koreans to perform administrative duties, provide law and order, and insure food distribution to the cities. They also (sometimes forcefully) repatriated the Japanese back home and brought the Korean “guest laborers” in Japan back. But, with the national election of Dr. Syngman Rhee as the first President of South Korea and the establishment of the Republic of Korea on 15 August 1948, the American military government there “came to an end.”5 As Military Government units returned to the United States from Europe and the Far East, interest in Civil Affairs in the active Army waned.6 That is, until the North Korean Communists invaded the South.

4 One of the CA units that served in Korea at this time was the 41st Military Government Headquarters Company. Later renamed as the 41st Civil Affairs Company, the unit served in Vietnam from 1965-1970. See Troy J. Sacquety, “Battle Without Bullets: The 41st Civil Affairs Company in Vietnam Part I,” in Veritas Vol 5, No. 4.

5 Stanley Sandler, Glad to See Them Come and Sorry to See Them Go: A History of U.S. Army Tactical Civil Affairs/Military Government, 1775-1991 (No publication place or date given), 323.

6 Carlton L. Wood, Robert A. Kinney, Charles N. Hemming, Civil Affairs Relations in Korea (Chevy Chase, MD: John’s Hopkins University Operations Research Office, 1954), 10.

The Communist invasion of the South created a humanitarian disaster on a tremendous scale. Many children were separated from their families and forced to survive on the streets. Many did not, especially during the brutal Korean winter. Their plight prompted U.S. soldiers to help.
The Communist invasion of the South created a humanitarian disaster on a tremendous scale. Many children were separated from their families and forced to survive on the streets. Many did not, especially during the brutal Korean winter. Their plight prompted U.S. soldiers to help.
Thousands of South Korean refugees crowded into the Pusan Perimeter in mid-1950. Their desperate situation caused the creation of the UN Public Health & Welfare Detachment.
Thousands of South Korean refugees crowded into the Pusan Perimeter in mid-1950. Their desperate situation caused the creation of the UN Public Health & Welfare Detachment.
Brigadier General Crawford F. Sams
Brigadier General Crawford F. Sams

With nearly six million refugees jammed into the Pusan Perimeter, and in desperate need of aid, President Rhee appealed to the U.S. Government for food, clothing, and assistance.7 Acting on President Rhee’s request, GEN MacArthur, in his dual capacity as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan (SCAP) and Commander-In-Chief of the United Nations Command (CINCUNC), directed the establishment of the United Nations Public Health and Welfare Detachment in Korea. GEN McArthur used internal assets in Japan to name Brigadier General (BG) Crawford F. Sams as the Chief of Health and Welfare, General Headquarters, United Nations Command, Republic of Korea. He was concurrently named to lead the unit that would perform the CA mission on the ground, the small UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment. BG Sams was the perfect choice for the job.

7 Crawford F. Sams, “Medic” The Mission of an American Military Doctor in Occupied Japan and Wartorn Korea (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1998), 212.

Far East Command SSI
Far East Command SSI

Sams had been in the U.S. Army Medical Corps since 1929 when he graduated from the Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, MO). He had prior service in the National Guard in both infantry and artillery units. His greatest achievements came while on occupation duty in postwar Japan. As the Chief, Public Health and Welfare Section, in the General Headquarters (GHQ) of SCAP, Japan, BG Sams reformed the Japanese medical system by enacting professional standards for medical schools, directing medical facility upgrades, instituting Japanese production of medicines and vaccines, creating countrywide inoculation programs, and introducing new foods into the Japanese diet (heavily based on rice) to improve nutrition.8 The years he dedicated to preventive medicine qualified him as an excellent choice to attack the threats to public health in South Korea.

8BG Sams concurrently served as the Advisor for Health and Welfare to the U.S. Army Forces in South Korea from 1945-1948.

Eighth U.S. Army SSI
8th U.S. Army SSI
Korean Communications Zone SSI
KCOMZ SSI
The 8201st Army Unit was initially assigned to the Eighth U.S. Army and then later, the Korean Communications Zone (KCOMZ).

In South Korea BG Sams faced a massive problem in determining critical needs and setting priorities. Since South Korea was a sovereign nation, he began discussing issues with government officials to enlist their assistance. BG Sams set the precedent for close liaison with the Korean government at all levels down to the CA Field Team. Thus, the UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment was organized to dovetail with the South Korean national and provincial governments to facilitate close coordination.9 With the South Korean government in accord with his proposals, BG Sams evaluated his personnel and equipment assets, which were few in number.

9 Colonel James E. Mrazek, “Civil Assistance in Action,” Military Review, October 1955, 31.

“If we could control the epidemics of disease among the civilian population, then we would also lessen the hazard of the spread of disease to our own troops and those of our United Nations allies,”
— Brigadier General Crawford F. Sams

Initially BG Sams had twenty-nine officers, sixteen enlisted men, and sixteen civilians in the detachment. Based on these numbers, he addressed the most pressing problem—the refugees and residents packed inside the Pusan Perimeter.10 Not only did the refugees need housing and food, but they also required medical care and immunizations. Administering inoculations was especially critical. “If we could control the epidemics of disease among the civilian population, then we would also lessen the hazard of the spread of disease to our own troops and those of our United Nations allies,” BG Sams said.11 The mission of the UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment grew as the battlefield situation changed.

10 The UNCACK Story, Release no. 135, copy provided to the USASOC History Office by Mr. Roger E. Bradley, USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC.

11 Sams, “Medic,” 217.

When Allied forces crossed the 38th Parallel, the UN Public Health & Welfare Detachment reverted to the more traditional Civil Affairs role of acting as Military Government in occupied areas. Due to the Chinese Communist intervention this mission was cut short. Once the battle lines stabilized, the main CA effort once again became assistance to a friendly sovereign nation.
When Allied forces crossed the 38th Parallel, the UN Public Health & Welfare Detachment reverted to the more traditional Civil Affairs role of acting as Military Government in occupied areas. Due to the Chinese Communist intervention this mission was cut short. Once the battle lines stabilized, the main CA effort once again became assistance to a friendly sovereign nation.

When the Allies broke out of the Pusan Perimeter in September 1950, the UN Public Health and Welfare Teams extended their efforts to the rest of South Korea. As the UN forces pushed beyond the 38th Parallel and into North Korean territory, CA duties greatly expanded. The few UN Public Health and Welfare Teams now struggled with administering North Korean territory in addition to coping with the nearly 4,600,000 South Korean refugees—almost a quarter of the country’s population.12 These new responsibilities brought change. On 30 October 1950, GEN MacArthur transferred responsibility of the UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment to the Eighth U.S. Army (EUSA). Because of this, the UN Public Health and Welfare Teams (and later UNCACK) did not support X Corps, a separate command. Lieutenant General (LTG) Walton H. Walker, the EUSA commander, then activated the UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment in the EUSA on 1 November with 161 officers and 117 enlisted men.13 A scramble ensued to find officers to fill the holes in the military government teams needed in occupied North Korea. Those efforts deteriorated when the war again took a dramatic turn.

12 Sandler, Glad to See Them Come and Sorry to See Them Go, 332. Sandler does not provide the source of the UNCACK officer’s quote.

13 Appleman, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu, 670.

The speed of the Communist advance coupled with huge throngs of refugees packing into the Pusan Perimeter, created a housing crisis. Thousands of people had moved into the city and were forced to sleep where they could. The threat of disease became a huge concern.
The speed of the Communist advance coupled with huge throngs of refugees packing into the Pusan Perimeter, created a housing crisis. Thousands of people had moved into the city and were forced to sleep where they could. The threat of disease became a huge concern.

Just as UN forces neared the Yalu River in November 1950, Chinese Communist Forces intervened. UN forces reeled south in confusion after being hit by the Communist onslaught. The UN Public Health and Welfare Detachments had been providing health care and food, organizing governments, and trying to rebuild rudimentary infrastructure in the major North Korean cities in the EUSA area. As the withdrawal began they found themselves once again mired in refugee assistance, this time by anti-Communist North Korean civilians seizing the opportunity to flee. UN Public Health and Welfare teams helped to organize the evacuation of friendly civilians south from the North Korean capital of P’yongyang and from the port of Chinnamp’o.14 The teams still had to fight the spread of disease, so they sprayed the refugees with the pesticide DDT.15 The number of refugees heading south in winter, as well as the number already in South Korea, presented the UN Public Health and Welfare teams with a “welfare situation unprecedented even in Europe at the end of World War II.”16 Throughout these actions, it was the responsibility of all CA teams—from the UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment down to teams in the infantry divisions—to keep refugees away from the main roads to allow for the free flow of military traffic. Refugees were directed onto secondary roads. The CA teams set up feeding and rest stations about a day’s travel apart to assist with the refugee movement.

14 See Charles H. Briscoe, “The UN Occupation of P’yongyang” and “’Do What You Can’: UN Civil Assistance, Chinnamp’o, North Korea, November-December 1950,” in Veritas: Journal of Army Special Operations History, Vol 1, 2010.

15 “History of the Public Health Section UNCACK,” 12 September 1951, National Archives II, RG 207, E 429, B 4995.

16 “United Nations Command Civilian Relief and Economic Aid-Korea, 7 July 1950-30 September 1951,”USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC.

The Chinese Communist intervention in the Korean War in late 1950 again caught the Allies by surprise and forced them to relinquish their gains. Here South Korean troops bring four captured Chinese soldiers to the rear.
The Chinese Communist intervention in the Korean War in late 1950 again caught the Allies by surprise and forced them to relinquish their gains. Here South Korean troops bring four captured Chinese soldiers to the rear.

As an EUSA report described it: “the tactical situation set in motion a southward surge of homeless refugees which . . . [seriously] hampered the movement of Allied troops and supplies . . . With the withdrawal of P’yongyang, however, the situation became grave. More than 200,000 inhabitants of North Korea traveled across the 38th Parallel during the month—100,000 through the Seoul-Inchon area . . . with the civil evacuation of Seoul 1,000 residents a day were moving into (already overcrowded) Taegu and Pusan . . . Foot travelers clogged the highways and rail lines, threatening to block supply routes. It became necessary to divert all southbound non-military traffic along secondary roads and over specified bridges across the Han River.”17 This was not just an EUSA problem; hundreds of thousands of refugees also poured out of the X Corps area. The CA teams, however, were better prepared to deal with the situation because they had stockpiles of supplies on hand.

17 Case Study of Civil Affairs Operations: Mid Intensity Conflict: Korea: A Case Study (Fort Bragg, NC: School of International Studies, United States Army Institute for Military Assistance, January 1977), AS-1-3.

The UN Public Health and Welfare Detachments could draw on two critically important items that the Army had rushed into theater. The first was the “Basic Medical Unit,” which provided enough medicine and medical supplies to support 100,000 people for a month. The second was the “Basic Hospital Unit,” a mobile 40-bed surgical facility with all the necessary equipment. Both packages helped to sustain the heavily damaged and over-subscribed South Korean medical system.18 However, because of the sheer magnitude of the refugee problem, a larger civil assistance organization was necessary. To address this, the status of the UN Public Health and Welfare Detachment was raised to that of a major command in December 1950, briefly named the United Nations Civil Assistance Command (UNCAC).19 To add to the confusion, this moniker would only last a month before the unit was redesignated.

Continued on PAGE 2

18 “Special Report, UNCACK Civil Relief Activities in Korea,” 19 October 1951, USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC.

19 The UNCACK Story.