Amid new clues, families push for U.S. to seek Korean War dead
SEOUL, South Korea — Trapped by two Chinese divisions, troops of the 8th U.S. Cavalry Regiment were left to die in far northern Korea, abandoned by the U.S. command in a Korean War episode viewed as one of the most troubling in American military history.
Sixty years later, those fallen soldiers — the lost battalion of Unsan — are stranded anew.
North Korea is offering fresh clues to their remains. American teams are ready to re-enter the north to dig for them. But for five years, the U.S. government has refused to work with North Korea to recover the men of Unsan and others among more than 8,000 U.S. missing in action from the 1950-53 war.
Now, under pressure from MIA family groups, the Obama administration is said to be moving slowly to reverse the Bush administration’s suspension of the joint recovery program, a step taken in 2005 as the North Korean nuclear crisis dragged on.
“If I had a direct line in to the president, I would say, ‘Please reinstitute this program. There are families that need closure,’ ” said Ruth Davis, 61, of Palestine, whose uncle, Sgt. 1st Class Benny Don Rogers, has been listed as missing in action since the Unsan attack in November 1950.
It was one of Rogers’ I Company comrades, Pfc. Philip Ackley of Hillsboro, N.H., whose identifying dog tag appeared in a photo that the North Koreans handed over at Korea’s Panmunjom truce village in January of this 60th year since the war started. The North Koreans also delivered photos of remains, a stark reminder that Unsan’s dead still wait to The U.S. received Pfc. Philip Ackley’s Korean War dog tag from the North Koreans, who are urging that a search project be resumed. come home.
The U.S. “has developed the humanitarian issue into a political problem,” said a North Korean statement urging resumption of the MIA search project, which earned hard currency for the Pyongyang government.
The devastating losses at Unsan came as China intervened to fend off a final North Korean defeat.
Two of the 8th Cavalry’s three battalions managed to escape, with heavy losses. But only small groups of soldiers from the five companies of the doomed 3rd Battalion made it out.
About 600 of the 3rd Battalion’s 800 men were lost, about half thought to have been killed and half captured, many of whom died in Chineserun prison camps.
An estimated 260 U.S. dead are still unaccounted for at Unsan, among nearly 4,600 U.S. MIAs in North Korea, the Pentagon says. Soldiers of the 8th Cavalry Regiment advance through low brush during the Korean War. Some were later abandoned in a trap at Unsan. About 260 are still missing in action.