Thursday, August 1, 2013

ARMY TASK FORCE FAITH PREVENTS 1ST MARINE DIVISION ANNIHILATION AT CHOSIN RESERVOIR IN 1950 KOREA



AFTER YEARS OF MARINE CORPS DENIAL, IN DECEMBER 2000 THE WASHINGTON POST FINALLY REVEALED THAT THE ARMY’S 31ST REGIMENTAL COMBAT TEAM (TASK FORCE FAITH) SAVED THE MARINE 1ST DIVISION FROM DESTRUCTION AT THE CHOSIN RESEVOIR IN 1950 DURING THE KOREAN WAR!

In the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men,” Jack Nicholson played Marine Corps Colonel Nathan R. Jessep  and the climax of the movie is when Jessep erupts in the Courtroom with his famous “Truth, You can't handle the truth!” speech.  In the case of the Marine Corps withdrawal from the Chosen Reservoir during the early stages of the Korean War, it seems it is most of the Corps that “can’t handle the truth” when it comes to acknowledging the Army’s contribution to the very survival of the First Marine Division when they were in “grave danger” of annihilation but, I believe the Army, in Jessep’s words, “would rather (Marines) just said ‘thank you,’ and went on (their) way.”

Below in a December 2000 Washington Post major article, Steve Vogel revealed the details of how Task Force Faith, a Army small force of about 2500 Soldiers, managed to hold off a force of six Red Chinese Infantry Regiments with about 20,000 soldiers for four days and five nights.   This heroic stand of Task Force Faith against the relentless Chinese onslaught, fending off terrifying night attacks in hand-to-hand combat, bought the time with their lives that enabled the 1st Marine Division to escape.  At the end of the fight, 1000 Americans had been killed, 400 wounded and 300 were captured but they had managed to kill an estimated 10,000 Chinese in the process!

So why did it take 50 years for the Marines to finally acknowledge the contributions of Task Force Faith?  In the United States a Navy chaplain who had served at Chosin with the Marines wrote an article and gave interviews falsely accruing Army soldiers of cowardice and so many Task Force Faith officers were killed that there were few voices left to defend the men or even to say what really had happened.  Appears at least one Navy Chaplain didn’t believe in “not bearing false witness” or “not speaking ill of the dead!”

Then, Army units were initially included in paperwork for the Presidential Unit Citation that was given to the 1st Marine division in 1952, but General O.P. Smith, the commander who led the Marine breakout directed that they be removed which perpetuated the lie.  Many Army Chosin veterans magnanimously excused Smith’s denial of honors to the very Army unit that had fought itself to death protecting the flank of his Marines with the excuse that he made the decision ignorant to the full extent of what the Army faced or accomplished but given Smith’s intense hatred of the Army dating back to World War II, this explanation rings hollow.

Now with access to former enemy military historical files, historians know that the Army’s 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT) (minus a tactical battalion) took on two full Chinese Divisions (the 80th and 81st CCF Divisions) and a regiment from a third (94th CCF) division. With such a large enemy force on the Chosin Reservoir east shore, it is now the opinion of most Military experts that the delaying action of the 31st RCT was crucial to the very survival of the Marines because if this avalanche of Chinese manpower had bypassed the 31st RCT to initially attack East Hill at Hagaru-Ri, instead of spending nearly five days laying siege to this strategically inconsequential Army Force, Hagaru would probably have fallen which would have tragically trapping the First Marine Division at Yudam-ni.

For a full account of the Chinese Intervention Nov 50 – Jan 51, and especially the heroic actions of two Army officers posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for saving the Marines during their retreat,  I would recommend a visit to this Website: http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/kw-chinter/chinter.htm.  The two Army Officers are LTC Don Faith, who led that 31st RCT Task Force Faith and LTC John U.D. Page who led a composite Marine and Army force’s withdrawal when the Chinese had managed to cut the road near Sudong, about ten miles south of Koto-ri.  Leading the force, Page and another Army officer beat back the enemy which and they made their way to the port of Hangnam for Naval evacuation.

Finally after all those years this wrong was finally rectified when, on 14 September 1999, Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig authorized the below Army units to be included in the Navy PUC and at a reunion that June in Lancaster, PA, Task Force Faith soldiers stood at attention as a Marine general presented them with the citation “for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty.”

Headquarters (-), 31st Infantry (at Advance Command Post)
Heavy Mortar Company, 31st Infantry
Medical Company (-), 31st Infantry
Service Company (-), 31st Infantry
3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry
1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry
Platoon, Heavy Mortar Company, 32nd Infantry
Detachment, Medical Company, 32nd Infantry
57th Field Artillery Battalion (Less Battery C)
Battery D(less 2nd Platoon), 15th Anti Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion
Company C, 13th Engineer Combat Battalion
Detachment, 4th Signal Battalion

 

50 Years Later, an Army Force Gets Its Due
By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 11, 2000

Lt. Jerry McCabe was wounded and unconscious, riding in the back of a freezing Army truck, when he was awakened by the coming slaughter.
For four days and five nights 50 years ago at North Korea's Chosin Reservoir, an Army force of more than 2,500 soldiers had faced a relentless Chinese onslaught, fending off terrifying night attacks in hand-to-hand combat. Now, as the Army troops withdrew, the Chinese had blocked the convoy, turning the road into a killing zone.

Around him, McCabe could hear screams as Chinese troops attacked the convoy, shooting wounded soldiers in the backs of trucks. "I slithered out of the truck," said McCabe, 74, a resident of St. Mary's County. "I hobbled and crawled. We were just sitting ducks for the Chinese."

Severely frostbitten, McCabe linked up in the dark with several other soldiers, and they fought and staggered on foot across the bleak frozen landscape for miles before reaching U.S. lines the next day.

Many others were not so lucky. About 1,500 Army troops were lost, many of them slaughtered in trucks, taken prisoner or left to die in the cold. When it ended in December 1950, only 385 of the soldiers were combat able.

The fate of Task Force Faith, as the Army force is known, was one on the cruelest to befall U.S. troops in any war. Its story was little noted, and to the extent that it was, the Army force on the east side of the reservoir was said to have disgraced itself. There were claims that U.S. soldiers had thrown down their weapons and run or feigned injuries.

But tomorrow, when hundreds of veterans gather at the Navy Memorial in Washington for a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Chosin, survivors of Task Force Faith will be among them, having finally achieved redemption that had been denied them for half a century.

Task Force Faith earlier this year was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, a high honor given in 1952 to the Marines but turned down at the time for the Army.

For Marines, Chosin has become legend, one of the proudest campaigns in Corps history.

The 1st Marine Division fought its way out, carrying its wounded and dead, after being surrounded by Chinese forces on the west side of the reservoir.

But a number of historians and some Marine veterans of Chosin now believe that the 1st Marine Division might have been destroyed had the poorly armed, ill-trained soldiers of Task Force Faith not brought time by keeping the Chinese from sweeping south. Chinese papers reviewed in recent years by military scholars have shown that the Army task force fought a significantly larger enemy force than commonly understood.

"Up to that tine, a lot of people just thought the Army folks collapsed, they were overrun and didn't hold themselves up well," said retired Marine Col. Robert Parrott, a Fairfax County resident who served at Chosin. After being convinced that Task Force Faith has been unjustly treated, Parrott led an effort by Marine and Army veterans of Chosin to push the Pentagon to award the citation.

"Maybe I'm talking to you now because of what the Army did," said Parrott, who was wounded in the fighting.

McCabe, a modest and self-effacing man who retired from the Army as a colonel in 1974, has never been bitter over the disparaging treatment given soldiers.  “I was there,” he said. “I know what happened.  The things that were said we knew were said by people who wern’t there and didn’t know.”

McCabe was 23, a self-described “wet-nosed lieutenant” serving in the U.S. occupation army in Japan when the Korean War broke out in June 1950.  McCabe was soon on his way to Korea with the 7th Infantry Division while his wife, Peg, pregnant with their first child returned to Maryland.

After the dramatic success of the Inchon landing in September 1950, United Nations forces were driving north to push North Korean forces into Manchuria, an offensive that General Douglas MacArthur believed would put a quick end to the war.  The U.S. X Corps, including the 1st Marine Division and the Army’s 7th Division, was sent north into the rugged terrain around the Chosin Reservoir for a final drive to the Yalu River.

The Marines, 25,000 strong, were positioned on the west side of the reservoir.  The Army hastily cobbled together a much smaller force, designated the 31st Regimental Combat Team, to take positions on the east side.


Although the Marines included many seasoned World War II combat veterans, the Army’s 7th Division was filled with poorly trained and ill-equipped conscripts or soldiers who had been pulling cushy occupation duty in Japan.

“There really wasn’t any comparison said retired Army Lieutenant General William McCaffrey, an Alexandria resident who served at Chosin with X Corps and who remains “outraged” over the poor leadership given the Army soldiers.

The troops had spent a relatively cheery Thanksgiving eating turkey and hearing projections for a quick victory.  “We were all thinking we’d be home for Christmas,” said McCabe, who was serving as the fire control officer for a heavy mortar company that was better equipped and trained than many other units in the task force.

MacArthur and his high command had dismissed indications of a Chinese Red Army buildup in North Korea as inconsequential.

But on the night of November 27-28, a Chinese force of 120,000 soldiers launched a massive surprise attack against the Marines and Army forces on both sides of the reservoir.  At its position near the reservoir’s northeast tip, McCabe’s company was roused by gunfire.

The Chinese were attacking the Army positions with 20,000 troops, a force eight times larger than the Army task force, Chinese papers show. To worsen matters, an early Siberian winter sent temperatures plummeting to 35 degrees below zero, so cold that the metal plates cracked on the mortars fired by McCabe's company.

“Terror was a nice word," McCabe said. "It was prevalent.  Notwithstanding terror, we did our job."

The first night's assault was staved off, but it grew worse on the succeeding nights, as the Chinese launched human wave attacks to break though the U.S. defensive perimeter, with desperate hand-to-hand combat ensuing.

"I learned the value of the old Army-issued 45's, because if you hit something, it goes down," McCabe said. "The picture of it is a blur. You only have snapshots of the square foot of ground you were on.

"There were dead Chinese lying all around us, and they were frozen in place. They thought they would get into the perimeter and destroy us. For two nights, that didn't happen. They had taken horrible casualties. We stopped them and bloodied them so badly they couldn't encircle the Marines."

But by the time the order came Dec 1 to withdraw to Hagaru-ri at the southern tip of the reservoir, the Army task force was itself reeling from heavy casualties and dwindling ammunition. Tanks sent to rescue the task force failed to break through, while ammunition parachuted to the troops floated into Chinese lines.

Late in the afternoon, as McCabe directed fire, he was hit in the arm and leg by a Chinese mortar. He lay unconscious in the snow for several hours before a soldier found him and put him in a truck.

The cohesion that the Army units had fought to maintain was disintegrating into an every-man-for-himself panic.

The commanding officer, Col. Alan MacLean, had been lost in the fighting, the highest-ranking U.S. officer killed in action during the Korean War. His replacement, Lt. Col. Don Faith, would also be killed and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts to get his men out alive.

As the convoy wound down the road carrying 600 wounded soldiers, the Chinese blew up bridges, leaving the trucks trapped about five miles from Hagaru-ri. From the hills overlooking the road, they rained fire on the task force.

"I woke up pretty quickly", McCabe said. "Somehow I got out of the truck. It was pitch black, and the convoy had stopped. There was fighting all around me."

Many wounded soldiers were abandoned, some to be bayoneted by the Chinese, others taken prisoner and other freezing to death in the darkness.

McCabe, who had no feeling in his feet, crawled into a ravine. Teaming up with several other soldiers, they made a break for Marine lines at Hagaru-ri. "I would die before I was taken prisoner," McCabe said.

During the night they took fire several times and returned it until they spent their last rounds of ammunition. Shortly before dawn, they reached the Marines. McCabe's feet were so so black from frostbite that he was evacuated on a plane to Japan to have his toes amputated. Doctors managed to save them, though they remain numb to this day.

"Its hallmarks were misery, soul-crushing cold, privation, exhaustion, heroism, sacrifice, leadership of high merit at times, but finally, unit and individual disaster," historian Roy Appleman wrote of the Army's experience at Chosin.

"It would be hard to find a more nearly hopeless or more tragic story in American military history," Appleman wrote.

Press bulletins had kept the world hanging on the fate of the Marines, but little attention was given to Task Force Faith. "The first reports were they were a bunch of cowards who ran, or were stupid and inept," said Merrill Needham Jr., a Rockville scholar who has researched the battle east of Chosin.

In the United States a Marine chaplain who had been at Chosin wrote an article and gave interviews accruing Army soldiers of cowardice.  So many Task Force Faith officers were killed that there were few voices left to defend the men or even to say what had happened.

The Army units were initially included in paperwork for the Presidential Unit Citation that was given to the 1st Marine division in 1952, but General O.P. smith, the commander who led the Marine breakout directed that they be removed.

“Smith denied honors to the unit that had fought itself to death protecting the flank of the Marines,” Needham said.

Smith made the decision not knowing the full extent of what the Army faced or accomplished, senior Chosin veterans now say.

“At first the Marines had nothing but contempt for the 7th Division,” McCaffrey said.  “They now understand if it hadn’t been for that group of leaderless kids fighting up there for their lives, they probably would have been overrun.”

Leaders of the Chosin Few, an organization of Marine and Army veterans of the battle, began working several years ago to gain recognition for Task Force Faith.  Retired Marine General Raymond Davis, who had received the Medal of Honor for his critical role in the Marine breakout, endorsed the request, calling the Army’s actions at Chosin “essential” to the Marines efforts.

Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, who oversees the Marines, approved the citation in September 1999.  At a reunion in June in Lancaster, PA, Task Force Faith soldiers stood at attention as a Marine general presented them with the citation “for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty.”

“Some of those old soldiers had tears in their eyes,” said retired Army Colonel John gray, president of the Army chapter of the Chosin Few.  “This is closure at least, after all these years.”

McCabe was among them and was gratified.  But even after 50 years he does not feel like a hero.

“So many people did so much more than I,” said McCabe.  “You come out and say, ‘Why the hell did I survive?’”

Medal of Honor recipient from grim Korean War battle to be laid to rest at Arlington

 

By Fredrick Kunkle and Steve Vogel, Published: April 16, 2013  Washington Post


In the bleak winter landscape of North Korea more than six decades ago, a small U.S. Army task force trapped on the shore of the Chosin Reservoir was under relentless attack by the Chinese and on the verge of destruction.

The outnumbered task force, part of an American drive to the Yalu River during the first year of the Korean War, had been caught by surprise and overrun by wave after wave of Chinese troops.

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.

Yellowing photographs of her father reveal a handsome man with a chiseled jaw.

Faith had wanted to be a soldier like his father. At 6 feet tall, he was lively, fun-loving, fit and athletic, as much at ease astride a polo horse as he was at the poker table. Denied admission at West Point after he failed the physical, he studied at Georgetown, appealed his medical denial and enlisted.

“He just wouldn’t take no for an answer,” she said.

Faith became an aide to Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway and performed several parachute drops, including on D-Day. After World War II, Faith was stationed with the Army’s 7th Infantry as part of the U.S. occupying force in Japan. When U.S. troops were rushed to South Korea after North Korea’s surprise invasion in June 1950, Faith went, too.

After reversing the early North Korean advance with a landing at Inchon in September, Gen. Douglas MacArthur moved north toward the Chinese border, hoping to wrap up a quick victory and end the war by Christmas.

Maj. Gen. Ned Almond, commander of the Army’s X Corps, ordered an attack to start Nov. 27 along the Chosin Reservoir, about 40 miles from the Chinese border. MacArthur and Almond dismissed intelligence suggesting that China had entered the war.

Even after Chinese forces had appeared in sizable numbers and inflicted serious damage, Almond remained dismissive. Almond pinned a Silver Star on Faith’s parka and departed. Faith, disgusted, ripped the medal off and hurled it into the snow.

“What a damned travesty,” Faith said, according to eyewitness accounts.

After four nights of hellish fighting had ground down Task Force Faith and attempts to rescue and resupply it had gone awry, the task force commander, Col. Allan MacLean, ordered a withdrawal. When MacLean was shot by Chinese soldiers and dragged off, Faith took command and tried to rally the men to break out, even calling on the wounded to take up weapons and fight. After a truck convoy carrying hundreds of the most seriously wounded was hit by napalm dropped by American fighter planes, Faith, brandishing a .45-caliber handgun under enemy fire, worked to rally the demoralized unit.

“He just took it upon himself — ‘If I’m going to fight to the death, let it be trying to save my command,’” recalled Gray.

Faith also led an attack to clear a roadblock that had stopped the convoy and was hit in the chest by shrapnel from a grenade. Other soldiers put the mortally wounded officer in the cab of a truck to stay warm, but the convoy again was halted at a destroyed bridge. Chinese forces soon overran the column, shooting and bayoneting wounded soldiers. Those who survived found safety by walking across the frozen reservoir to American lines.

“He did his all. He paid the full price, for duty, honor and country,” said Gray.


WWW.ARMY.MIL  THE OFFICIAL HOMEPAGE OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY

After 62 years, Korean War Medal of Honor recipient rests in American soil

17 April 12013


WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 17, 2013) -- Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr., a World War II and Korean War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., today.

Faith, who commanded 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, was killed Dec. 2, 1950, by communist forces.

But it would take decades and a lot of help from other Soldiers and Defense civilians before his remains were finally recovered in North Korea and identified. Only then could his family finally have the closure they so desperately wanted.

HAPPY MEMORIES

Barbara Broyles, or "Bobbie," as she likes to be called, was only four years old when Faith left for Korea. She was young but still remembers. It would be the last time she would see her father alive.

"What I recall most about my father was that he was happy. I still can hear him laughing. He enjoyed life. And above all, he enjoyed the Army," she said.

Bobbie said her father used to read to her from his own childhood books, a collection of six volumes titled "My Book House." She said when he left for Korea, her mother, also named Barbara, read those books to her. She still has them.

Later, President Harry S. Truman presented the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to Bobbie.

Faith was born in 1918 and grew up in China, the Philippines, Fort Benning, Ga., and Washington, D.C., since his father was in the Army. After the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans flocked to recruiting stations. However, Faith had decided to join the Army months before, while a student at Georgetown University.

In February 1942, he received his commission and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, where he served with great distinction in the North Africa campaign and later in Europe. He was awarded two Bronze Star Medals.

Following the war, Faith served in China and then Japan. He was in Japan when the war in Korea started in the summer of 1950.

A lieutenant colonel at that time, he was given command of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry, a unit that would soon be in the thick of the fighting.

MEDAL OF HONOR

Some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place in the vicinity of a place called Chosin Reservoir in North Korea in November and December 1950. That's where Faith and his battalion were when the Chinese decided to enter the war. The Chinese sent thousands of troops south across the Yalu River into Korea.

The entry of China into the war and their drive south into Korea surprised the Americans who were quickly outnumbered and outgunned.

Faith's Medal of Honor citation describes the action he took during this attack, noting that he "personally led counterattacks to restore (the battalion's) position" and link up with other units, as they'd been disbursed by the enemy's "fanatical attack."

"Although physically exhausted in the bitter cold, (he) organized and launched an attack which was soon stopped by enemy fire," the citation reads. "He ran forward under enemy small-arms and automatic weapons fire, got his men on their feet and personally led the fire attack as it blasted its way through the enemy ring.

"As they came to a hairpin curve, enemy fire from a roadblock again pinned the column down. Lt. Col. Faith organized a group of men and directed their attack on the enemy positions on the right flank. He then placed himself at the head of another group of men and in the face of direct enemy fire led an attack on the enemy roadblock, firing his pistol and throwing grenades.

"When he had reached a position approximately 30 yards from the roadblock, he was mortally wounded, but continued to direct the attack until the roadblock was overrun.

"Throughout the five days of action Lt. Col. Faith gave no thought to his safety and did not spare himself. His presence each time in the position of greatest danger was an inspiration to his men. Also, the damage he personally inflicted firing from his position at the head of his men was of material assistance on several occasions. ..."

FAITH'S REPATRIATION

Faith was killed Dec. 2, 1950, in the vicinity of Hagaru-ri, North Korea. He was 32 years old at the time.

What follows is an account of his repatriation, the process of returning his remains to the United States. Leading the effort was Faith's daughter, Bobbie. She was helped by a lot of dedicated men and women of the Department of Defense.

In the decades that followed the Korean War, thousands of remains of service members missing in action in Korea were recovered and returned home. In September 2004, some remains were excavated in the vicinity of Chosin Reservoir by the Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, or JPAC.

Among the remains were those of Faith, according to Michael J. Mee, chief, Identifications Past Conflict Repatriations Branch, Human Resources Command.

Once those remains were recovered, they were sent to JPAC's Central Identification Lab, or CIL, located in Joint Base Pearl/Hickam, Hawaii for identification. The CIL confirmed the identification using DNA, dental, anthropological and physical evidence. Positive DNA matches came from samples donated by Faith's brother and daughter.

A team of 20 Army civilians from the Past Conflict Repatriations Branch collect DNA samples from MIA relatives if they are willing to provide them. The samples are processed and maintained at the Armed Forces DNA Lab, Mee explained, in case remains are ever found.
He said the procedure for gathering the DNA is painless, involving a simple cheek swab.

As an aside, since the 1990s, all service members' DNA is on file at the lab.

Faith's remains were among the last to come out of North Korea, said Mee, because in 2005, the following year, JPAC teams were barred from doing their work there and have not been allowed to return there since.

The process of obtaining the remains of service members in North Korea has always been peculiar, Mee said.

The North Koreans "rarely ever let us go to a primary burial site," he said. "They would take remains from a primary burial location and rebury them somewhere else.

"Then, they'd come up with a witness who would tell the JPAC team members, 'look over here, dig here.' Whatever their rationale was, I can't explain it," he said.

Despite this peculiar custom, Mee said the JPAC team members were nonetheless happy to get remains out of the country. He said he hopes one day the North Koreans will again let the teams do their work there.

Because of the challenges inherent in identifying co-mingled remains, Faith's remains were not positively identified until Aug. 14, 2012, Mee said. Of the 101 bone samples recovered from the burial site, 19 were eventually associated with Faith.

He said sorting through the remains is laborious work and that members of JPAC liken the process to putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle without first seeing a picture of how it's supposed to eventually look.

Sorting the remains of service members from North Korea is a particularly daunting task, he added, not just because they are re-interred in secondary grave sites, but also because the records North Koreans provide are often not reliable.

Mee cited an example of the difficulty.

In the mid-1990s, the North Koreans turned over 208 boxes to the United Nations, he said. Those boxes, which are referred to as K208, were full of remains that were co-mingled. The lab is still working today on identifying some of those remains.

Using DNA samples alone can be challenging, since so many people share similar snippets of DNA, Mee said. If teeth are found, that is much more reliable, he said. But the lab can only work with what they get, which often is very little.

Working to bring home all or most of those still missing in action will take years, if not decades.

"Most Americans don't realize that there are 87,000 unaccounted-for service members who never came home from America's 20th-century wars," Mee said. That number includes around 83,000 from World War II, Korea and Southeast Asia, primarily Vietnam, the Conflicts "mandated by Congress."

MEETING BOBBIE

Over the years, Bobbie has been in close contact with the accounting community, which includes the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, JPAC, AFDIL and other organizations.

In the 1990s, Bobbie got to meet the men who were in Faith's battalion when she was invited to Fort Drum, N.Y., for the christening of the headquarters building in her father's name.

Bobbie said meeting the survivors of the battle left a deep and lasting impression on her.

"They told me, 'we would have followed him anywhere. We would have followed him to hell and back,'" she said, adding that many of the veterans said they are alive today only because of him.

Mee, who has been with the program since 2009, said he had the honor of calling Bobbie with the good news that the remains of her father were positively identified. He said she had been in contact with the accounting community for years, hoping they could locate the remains of her father and return them to the United States.

Within just days of telling Bobbie the good news, Mee scheduled a meeting with her in October 2012 in her home in Baton Rouge, La.

Mee and two casualty specialists who work for him meet with the next of kin whenever remains are positively identified. The meeting takes at least three hours, he said.

During that meeting, relatives are given an in-depth briefing of how and where the remains were found. The team uses skeletal diagrams, for instance, to illustrate the condition of the remains recovered. Additionally, the team reviews the entire repatriation procedure -- from lab to eventual burial.

"If any material effects were found, watch, ring, dog tags, uniform items, coins, lighter, insignia, toothbrush, eyeglasses and so on, we try to return them to the family," he explained.

Accompanying Mee at the visit was a casualty assistance officer from nearby Fort Polk.

The meeting with Bobbie "was a big deal for her and her family," Mee said. "We've known for years that she was looking forward to this day."

He added that Bobbie was especially appreciative of the very detailed briefing which was given to her at her home.

"These people (the accounting community) are absolutely astounding," Bobbie said.

Bobbie said she hopes others who are waiting for the return of their loved ones will find a measure of peace and closure, like she has.

And for his part, Mee said he hopes to help make that happen.

"Repatriation is one of the most rewarding and honorable missions I've ever performed," he said.