Sgt. 1st Class Payne earns Silver Star

SFC Charlie W. Payne (courtesy photo)
SFC Charlie W. Payne (courtesy photo)

Sgt. 1st Class Payne earns Silver Star

by Fiona G. Holter, USAICoE Staff Historian
U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence

On June 27, 1951, Sgt. 1st Class Charlie W. Payne, an agent with the 442d Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) Detachment, was killed in action while leading four agents behind enemy lines near Kaachil-li, North Korea. Sergeant Payne is believed to be the first African American military intelligence agent killed in action.

In August 1950, the Far East Command (FECOM) formed the Provisional 442d CIC Detachment as a clandestine HUMINT organization to support the Korean Liaison Office (KLO). As the intelligence demand in Korea exceeded the capabilities of the KLO and other small intelligence detachments, FECOM transferred twenty-one personnel from the Tokyo-based 441st CIC Detachment to Seoul, South Korea. The detachment, formally designated as the 442d in December 1950, undertook an atypical mission as they organized and conducted tactical HUMINT operations.

Many of the 442d CIC’s personnel were assigned to the Tactical Liaison Offices (TLOs) with the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army and U.S. frontline divisions. Each TLO was comprised of two U.S. personnel and several Koreans recruited as line crossers. The TLO teams conducted short range, tactical collection operations, crossing enemy lines to collect intelligence on enemy troop locations and movements, tank positions, artillery firing locations, as well as other targets of opportunity.

Unlike under the AVIARY program in which they airdropped trained Korean agents behind enemy lines, TLO teams operated on foot. While that limited some hazards associated with airdrops, crossing the line on foot had its own safety concerns. Aside from the obvious frontline hazards of artillery and mortar fire, firefights, and minefields, agents had to be careful to return to their company area when crossing back to friendly territory. If they made their way back to another company area, they met one of two fates: being subjected to intense interrogation or being shot at, leaving them wounded or killed.

On June 25, 1951, Sgt. Payne replaced Staff Sgt. Joe Heiss in the TLO with the U.S. 3d Infantry Division. Two days later, Sergeant Payne led a team of four Korean agents across enemy lines near Kaachil-li, North Korea. While collecting vital information, he was approached by Chinese infiltrators dressed as farmers who tried to take him prisoner. He resisted and engaged them with small arms fire, before being shot at point-blank range by one of the Chinese insurgents. Sgt. Payne was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his courageous actions.

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