Landing on many of the rugged islands could be a dangerous operation. The recovery of downed pilots by the 8007th AU often meant landing on islands without a prepared dock area.

A Combat First

Army SF Soldiers in Korea, 1953-1955

The Korean War is noteworthy in Army history for the first use of Army Special Forces (SF) soldiers in a combat theater. In 1953, ninety-nine graduates from the first two Special Forces Qualification Course classes deployed to Korea as individual replacements. Working alongside their conventional Army counterparts, they performed a variety of missions associated with the training and employment of guerrilla forces. Two, Second Lieutenant (2LT) Ivan M. Castro and Captain (CPT) Douglas W. Payne, paid the ultimate price for their service and were the first SF soldiers to die in combat. Some of the SF men remained in Korea until 1955, nearly two years after the signing of the Armistice. This article documents the experience of the SF soldiers who trained, advised, and ultimately demobilized the guerrillas.1

1 This article is based on an earlier effort, “Wolfpacks and Donkeys: Special Forces Soldiers in the Korean War”, by Kenneth Finlayson, published in Veritas, Vol 3, No 3, 2007, pgs 31-40. It incorporates material gathered since 2007.

The Korean War (1950-1953) ended in a negotiated ceasefire with the armies of North Korea and Communist China opposing the forces of South Korea, the United States and the United Nations coalition along the 38th Parallel. The first year of fast-paced, fluid, ground combat up and down the Korean peninsula was followed by a gradual stalemate as the armies of both sides hardened their defensive positions and jockeyed for control of key terrain along the Main Line of Resistance (MLR).2 While the conventional war ground to a halt, unconventional warfare (UW) operations continued on both coasts.

2 With few significant changes, the Main Line of Resistance in October 1951 became the Demilitarized Zone with the signing of the Armistice. It remains in existence today. See Walter G. Hermes, Truce Tent and Fighting Front (Washington DC, Center of Military History, 1992), 17-20, 36-40, 45-47, 507-508.

Far East Command (FEC) began to develop an UW capability in early 1951 by taking advantage of the large numbers of anti-Communist North Korean guerrillas on the northwest islands of Korea. This led to the formation of the Attrition Section, Miscellaneous Division, G-3, Eighth U.S. Army (EUSA) on 15 January 1951.3 The guerrilla unit went through a dizzying series of name changes and command relationships; from the Attrition Section, EUSA G-3, to the Miscellaneous Group, 8086th Army Unit (AU), EUSA on 5 May 1951; then to the Guerrilla Section under the FEC/Liaison Group (FEC/LG) (in Tokyo) and the FEC/Liaison Detachment, Korea (FEC/LD[K]) (in Taegu). On 10 December 1951 the section was renamed the 8240th Army Unit, FEC G-2. Ultimately it came under the operational control of the Combined Command for Reconnaissance Activities, Korea (CCRAK), 8242nd AU on 27 September 1952.4 Throughout these many permutations, the focus remained on the guerrillas.

3 HQ, United States Army Forces, Far East, Technical Memorandum ORO-T-64, UN Partisan Warfare in Korea, 1951-1954, dated 19 September 1956, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle Barracks, PA 30-36. Hereafter referred to as the ORO Study.

4 Michael Krivdo, “Creating an Army Guerrilla Command: Part One, The First Six Months,” Veritas: The Journal of Army Special Operations History, Vol 8 No. 2, 2012, 12-26. (For the purpose of clarity, the various permutations of the guerrilla unit name will be referred to collectively as guerrilla command unless otherwise noted).

anti-Communist guerrillas
The anti-Communist guerrillas occupying the islands off the coast of Korea provided a valuable source of manpower to the UN forces. American Special Forces advisors helped to train the guerrillas in the late stages of the war.
Headquarters of the 8240th AU in Seoul
The Headquarters of the 8240th AU in Seoul. The administration and logistical support to the American advisors emanated from this unit of the guerrilla command.
Far East Command SSI
Far East
Command SSI
Eighth United States Army SSI
Eighth United
States Army SSI

On 15 January 1953, another unit was formed, the Recovery Command, 8007th AU. The 8007th also used guerrillas to collect information related to UN prisoners of war and gather general combat intelligence. Like the guerrilla command, the Recovery Command fell under the staff supervision of the FEC G-2. In September, 1953 it became the 8112th Army Unit.5 Most of these changes reflected attempts to create a theater-level command to direct UW operations, but had little effect on the basic mission of the guerrillas and the American advisors who trained, supplied and employed them. As the war progressed, the requirements for support grew.

5 Gordan L. Rottman, Korean War Order of Battle: United States, United Nations, and Communist Ground, Naval, and Air Forces, 1950-1953 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2002), 15, 57.

The mission of the guerrilla command, as defined in the Table of Distribution was twofold. The first was: “to develop and direct partisan warfare by training in sabotage indigenous groups and individuals both within Allied lines and behind enemy lines,” and second; “to supply partisan groups and agents operating behind enemy lines by means of water and air transportation.”6 To accomplish these missions, in early 1952 the guerrilla command divided into two elements for operations and support.

6 Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army Korea, Table of Distribution No 80-8086, Miscellaneous Group, 8086th Army Unit, undated, Record Group 319, National Archives, Washington DC.

A guerrilla formation
A guerrilla formation. Both LEOPARD BASE and WOLFPACK organizations were supplied and equipped by the U.S. The level of support depended on the unit strength, a number that often varied widely from one day to the next.
In 1953 the LEOPARD and WOLFPACK units were reorganized into Partisan Infantry Regiments
In 1953 the LEOPARD and WOLFPACK units were reorganized into Partisan Infantry Regiments. American advisors worked with the guerrilla chain-of-command at the regiment down to the guerrilla companies.

Ultimately, three sub-commands controlled guerrilla operations; initially LEOPARD BASE and later WOLFPACK on the West Coast, and Task Force (TF) KIRKLAND on the East Coast. The support element, BAKER Section, was initially located at the EUSA Ranger Training School at Kijang near Pusan, and used C-46s and C-47s to support airborne training and to conduct aerial resupply and agent insertions. BAKER Section later moved to K-16 Airfield outside Seoul, after the capital was retaken a second time7.

7 ORO Study, 35.

On the west coast, LEOPARD BASE, originally called WILLIAM ABLE BASE, was located on Paengnyŏng-do.8 Formed in February 1951, it supported roughly twelve thousand men organized into fifteen units referred to as numbered Donkeys. The LEOPARD area of operations was generally above the 38th Parallel to the west of the Ongjin Peninsula, reaching as far north as Taehwa-do near the mouth of the Yalu River that formed the Chinese-North Korean border.9 Eight Donkeys were located on Cho-do and the remaining seven on other islands. An advisor to Donkey 1, Sergeant (SGT) Alex R. Lizardo’s experience was typical.

8 Do means island in Hangul (Korean). Thus Cho-do is Cho Island.

9 ORO Study, 35. Figures are based on the disposition of partisan units in June 1952.

Origins of the term 'Donkeys'

The origins of the term ‘Donkey’ for identifying West Coast guerrilla units are unclear, but its use began early at WILLIAM ABLE Base. One probable origination is related to COL McGee’s first speech to the guerrilla leaders on Paengnyong-do. In that meeting he advised them to not be rash, but instead “behave like the mule which [when entangled in wire] stubbornly, patiently awaits the arrival of outside help.” His interpreter substituted the more familiar ‘donkey’ for mule, and the name apparently stuck. Another possible origin was put forward by an early Donkey leader who stated “the generator of the [AN/GRC-9] radio looked like a Korean donkey or ass. When you crank the generator... you have to ride on the generator which looks like a rider on the back of a donkey.” Regardless of how the term originated, individual guerrilla units began referring to themselves after McGee’s visit as ‘Donkeys.’ Units became identified as a numbered ‘Donkey’ (example: ‘Donkey 6’).


“Darragh Letter,” 13; “UN Partisan Forces,” 93-94; see also Kenneth Finlayson, “Wolfpacks and Donkeys: Special Forces Soldiers in the Korean War,” Veritas 3, No. 3 (2007), 32-40.

Enlisting in July 1951, Alex Lizardo attended Infantry Basic Training at Fort Ord, California and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Promoted to Sergeant (SGT) within eleven months of enlisting, he was sent to the FEC/LD (K). Arriving in June 1952, SGT Lizardo remained there for the next six months. After returning to Camp Drake, Japan for additional training, he was assigned to LEOPARD in November 1952 to be an advisor to Donkey 1.10

10 Alex R. Lizardo, 8240th Army Unit, interview by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe, 22 February 2010, History Support Center, Fort Bragg, NC.

“Donkey 1 was out on Kirin-do. We Americans did not usually accompany the raiding parties on-shore,” recounted SGT Lizardo. “I was not a school-trained Special Forces guy, but I was later awarded the SF Tab [and Combat Infantryman’s Badge] for my time in 8240.”11 His assignment to LEOPARD coincided with the height of guerrilla activity. LEOPARD had been operational a year when the third guerrilla element, WOLFPACK, was organized (January 1952).

11 Alex R. Lizardo, 8240th Army Unit, interview by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe, 9 March 2010, History Support Center, Fort Bragg, NC.

WOLFPACK, composed of eight sub-units designated WOLFPACK 1 thru 8, totaled 3,800 partisans.12 The headquarters was on the large island of Kangwha-do west of Seoul. WOLFPACK 1 performed base security on Kangwha-do. The other units were located on adjacent islands south of the 38th Parallel.

12 Richard M. Ripley, 8240th AU, interview by Dr. Kenneth Finlayson, 14 August 2007, USASOC History Support Center, Fort Bragg, NC.

“Our mission was to harass and interdict the rear areas. We conducted raids and ambushes and laid mines along the MSRs [Main Supply Routes].”
— MAJ Richard M. Ripley

WOLFPACK conducted operations behind enemy lines in the southern portion of the Ongjin Peninsula.13 Armor Major (MAJ) Richard M. Ripley commanded WOLFPACK in the spring of 1952. “Our mission was to harass and interdict the rear areas. We conducted raids and ambushes and laid mines along the MSRs [Main Supply Routes].”14 As the war stalemated, LEOPARD and WOLFPACK grew with the arrival of more anti-Communist North Korean refugees.

13 ORO Study, 31.

14 Ripley interview. 14 August 2007.

By late 1952, the guerrilla units on the West Coast were actively raiding the North Korean mainland to harass the enemy and disrupt traffic along the MSRs.15 LEOPARD reported a strength of 7,002 guerrillas and WOLFPACK, 7,015.16 A compilation of the two unit operational reports for the week of 15-21 November 1952 reflected 63 raids and 25 patrols against the North Korean coast, claiming an estimated 1,382 enemy casualties.17 The increasingly robust partisan forces (and their many dependents), were difficult to control, supply, and feed. The situation dictated a reorganization in order to streamline operations.

15 Ripley interview. 14 August 2007.

16 ORO Study, pg 77.

17 Paddock, The 8240th Army Unit, Special Forces: The First Fifty Years (Tampa FL, Faircount LLC, 2002), 85.

Organization of Partisan Operating-Level Units, April 1953

In 1953, Guerrilla Command labeled their sub-elements the United Nations Partisan Forces in Korea (UNPFK), but retained the headquarters names LEOPARD and WOLFPACK.18 The separate Donkeys and Wolfpack sub-elements were reorganized into five infantry regiments and one airborne infantry regiment. The non-airborne units were called the Partisan Infantry Regiments (PIR) 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th. TF KIRKLAND, conducting operations on the East Coast, became the 3rd PIR. The airborne regiment became the 1st Partisan Airborne Infantry Regiment (PAIR). The regiments retained their original North Korean leaders and referred to themselves as Wolfpacks and Donkeys. American advisors worked at the regimental level and below or served as UNPFK staff. It was during this period of reorganization that the request for Special Forces soldiers to serve in Korea was initiated by Brigadier General (BG) Robert A. McClure.

18 Alfred H. Paddock, Jr., U.S. Army Special Warfare: Its Origins, (Lawrence, KS, University Press of Kansas, 2002) 106. United Nations Partisan Forces Korea was another organization prone to name changes. It is often referred to as the United Nations Partisan Infantry Korea (UNPIK).

From the beginning of the war, McClure, the Army Chief of the Office of Psychological Warfare (OCPW), closely followed the UW activities in Korea. He was dissatisfied with the guerrilla operations, calling them “minor in consequence and sporadic in nature.”19 The Psywar general was actively working to develop a special operations capability in the Army.

Continued on PAGE 2

19 ORO Study, 77.