Blowing shepherd’s horns, spraying burp guns and flinging grenades, more than 20,000 Chinese massed in four consecutive nighttime attacks, swarming over the American foxholes and engaging in savage hand-to-hand combat in such bitter cold that the frozen earth would not allow survivors to bury the dead.
Many Americans had given up any hope of survival, including Arthur Mercier, who was then a 23-year-old Army sergeant.
But then Army Lt. Col. Don Carlos Faith Jr., who had assumed command of the task force when his superior was killed, called his surviving officers together to outline a desperate plan to break out of the trap.
“We’re not through here,” Faith told Mercier and the other soldiers. “We’re going home.”
But Faith’s homecoming never came — until now.
The 32-year-old Army officer from Washington, Ind., who was mortally wounded while leading the breakout attempt on Dec. 1, 1950, later was awarded the Medal of Honor for the heroic but largely futile effort to save his men. On Wednesday, he will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in a ceremony to be attended by some of his former men and by his daughter, who was just 4 when he died.
For decades, Faith’s remains lay in an unmarked mass grave in North Korea alongside members of what became known as Task Force Faith, following one of the grimmest episodes in American military history. His remains, located by a joint U.S.-North Korean team in 2004, were identified last year through DNA testing.
“He’s been lying in an unmarked grave, not even buried with dignity, in hostile territory,” said retired Army Col. John Edward Gray, who served as a platoon commander. “Now the soldier is coming home.”
The burial preparations also come at a tense moment, as North Korea is threatening to reignite the war, this time with nuclear weapons. The recovery of Faith’s remains has also renewed debate about a little-known chapter in the Forgotten War, as some have called the Korean conflict. Despite questions about the Army’s tactics, few question Faith’s valor.
“He was what I call a soldier’s soldier,” said Mercier, who was Faith’s radio man, weeping at the memory. “He’s a real hero to me.”
Driven to enlist
Now and then, Barbara Ann “Bobbie” Broyles slips into a way of speaking about her father as if he were still alive, emphasizing the presence of a man whom she has known only through the most poignant absence.
“Father will arrive Sunday morning at 11:15 a.m.,” she said last week. “I want to be there to see him off the plane.”
Broyles, 66, who lives in Baton Rouge and has a small psychotherapy practice there, has sparkling blue eyes and an earnest, engaging manner. Her voice has a soft Southern twang as she discusses the sense of loss that has shadowed her life, especially after her mother died of cancer when Broyles was a teenager.