Prior to the invasion of the Republic of Korea by the North Korean
communists in 1950, the area now designated Osan Air Base consisted of four villages near
the hillsides and a larger number of rice paddies where the runway now lies.
Originally designated K-55, the base was redesignated as Osan Air Base in late 1956.
The base was not named for any of the villages on the site, but for the small town of
Osan-up, about six miles to the north on the main supply route leading to Seoul. The
word "Osan" means Crow Hill. Koreans who were employed at the base at the
time believed that the name of Osan was chosen by the Americans because it was much easier
to pronounce and spell than the other villages' names. Osan was also the closest
village to be found on military maps of the area at that time.
The four villages which were moved to make room for the base were Jeuk-Bong-Ri,
Chang-Deung-Ri, Shin-Ya-Ri and Ya-Ri. A large ginkgo tree
that was in the village square of one of these villages still stands on the present golf
course site. The newest dining facility near this location is the Ginko Tree Dining Facility.
Osan is on and near the site of two significant events which occurred early in the Korean
War. The first Korean War battle between North Korean and U.S. forces was fought
just a few miles north of present day Osan Air Base. Following the orders of Maj.
Gen. William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, a task force of two
infantry companies and an artillery battalion was sent to Korea July 1, 1950. Under
the command of Lt. Col. Charles B. Smith, this group, called "Task Force Smith,"
was tasked to meet the oncoming North Koreans to bolster the faltering Korean army and
provide a delaying action until the rest of the division could be transported to the
On July 5, 1950, "Task Force Smith" was hit by enemy fire between the towns of
Osan and Suwon. The task force held against an entire communist division for 7
hours. With ammunition depleted, the survivors managed to fight their way clear and reach
Pyongtaek. There, joining an element of the 34th Infantry Regiment, they soon had to give
up this position, almost without a fight. Just north of Cheonan, the task
force fought another delaying action, but soon was pulled back to Taejon where General
Dean had established his headquarters. "Task Force Smith" fought for 16 days,
culminating its delaying action by holding the North Korean army outside of Taejon.
That enabled the 24th Infantry Division to land at Pusan and hold the Pusan perimeter
until the famous Inchon landing September 15, 1950.
Topping a hill a few miles north of Osan on the road to Suwon stands a monument,
constructed by Companies B and C of the 3rd Engineering Battalion, 24th Infantry Division,
in honor of the men who gave their lives in the valley. The inscription on the
plaque, in both English and Hongul, reads: "In commemoration of this site, 5 July
1950, 408 men of Task Force Smith, 21st Infantry Regiment and Battery, 57th Field
Artillery Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, fought the initial action between United
States and Communist Troops."
Osan also is remembered as the location for the first U.S. Army company-strength bayonet
charge since World War I, which occurred on February 7, 1951. That charge was part
of a larger plan to clear the Republic of Korea of all communist troops south of Seoul.
Army Captain Lewis L. Millet led his soldiers against communist Chinese forces on
Hill 180, which dominates present day Osan Air Base. For his heroic actions, Captain
Millet received the Medal of Honor. A plaque on Hill 180 commemorates this event,
and one of the roads leading up the hill is named for Captain Millet.
Prior to its use as an air base, Osan's site housed an army regiment. In addition, Osan
Air Base is the only American base in Korea built completely "from scratch"
since there had never been a Japanese, Korean or American air strip on the location. The
site was chosen as the locale for a two-wing base and 5th Air Force Advanced headquarters.
Fifth Air Force at that time was headquartered in its forward location in Seoul and
its rear location at Taegu.
In November 1951, work began on building two roads, one for hauling bombs and the other to
service the administrative area. The 417th Engineering Battalion began runway
construction July 9, 1951. The rolling hills were transformed into a base of
operation and the runway was completed in less than 6 months. The runway opened in
December 1952, with the advance elements of the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing arriving for duty
late in the month. The 18th Fighter Bomber Wing provided air operations in support
of United Nations ground forces during the conflict. After the conflict, the unit
was transferred back to Kadena Air Base, Japan, and was replaced by the 58th Fighter
Fifth Air Force advanced headquarters moved to Osan in February 1954 and remained until
the following September. During 1954 and 1955, the 58th Fighter Bomber Wing moved to
Osan from Taegu. The 58th Air Base Group became independent of the wing in March
1957 and assumed host unit responsibilities.
The 51st Air Base wing was relocated from Naha Air Base, Okinawa, to Osan November 1,
1971, and took over support responsibilities. It was redesignated the 51st Composite
Wing (Tactical) on September 30, 1974. On July 1, 1982, the 51st Composite Wing was
redesignated the 51st Tactical Fighter Wing. Ten years later, in February 1992, the wing
was redesignated the 51st Wing and on October 1, 1993 it was redesignated the 51st Fighter
Wing, its current designation.
The 51st Fighter Wing Headquarters building is located at the base of the now famous Hill
180, but will soon be moving up (literally) to a new location on Hill 180. Today,
Osan Air Base covers 1,661 acres for exclusive USAF use, and is acquiring an additional
425 acres under the Land Purchase Plan (LPP) as part of the consolidation of USFK
facilities in Korea. One of Osan's most prominent features is it's 9,000-foot runway.
Osan Air Base is also home to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) Operations Command
(AFOC). The ROKAF occupies an additional significant area within Osan AB, and recently expanded into land that had originally been
purchased to accommodate the relocation of forces from Yongsan Army Garrison. When
that move was cancelled, the ROKAF acquired the land. The new AFOC headquarters is located in the expansion area.
Comments: Osan AB is located approximately 34 miles south of Seoul. South
Korea is slightly larger than the state of Indiana. It is bordered by North Korea on the
north and is only 123 miles from Japan to the east.