Today I had the honor of serving as the Officer in Charge for the interment of Lt. Col. Don Faith, a Medal of Honor recipient. Lt. Col. Faith was killed while leading a fighting retreat for his forces trapped near the Chosin Reservoir in Korea in 1950.
I had originally planned to write some comments on what his service means to the nation and our Army at war; of how the sacrifice of an individual is conceivable within our profession. Each of us knows the rest of the Army team will be there to care for them and their families, and to keep on looking until we bring them home and honor them appropriately.
Last week while attending a change of command for Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 3d US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) I heard a speech given by Capt. Paul Benfield. His words so eloquently stated the ideas I held that I instead provide them to you below:
“Lieutenant Colonel Faith, although physically exhausted in the bitter cold, organized and launched an attack which was soon stopped by enemy fire. 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. Lieutenant Colonel 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 Lieutenant Colonel 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. Lieutenant Colonel Faith’s outstanding gallantry and noble self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty reflect the highest honor on him and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.
In the chaos and danger of that retreat, Lt. Col. Faith’s body was left behind. Last year a Joint Field Recovery team located Lt. Col. Faith’s remains near the Chosin Reservoir. More than 62 years after his death, you [D Company] will perform the service that lays Lt. Col. Faith to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
One of my first missions in the cemetery was a full honor, two-platoon service, with the caisson, U.S. Army band, and a caparisoned horse. As we formed up in preparation, we were told that only three family members would be attending the service. One Soldier remarked, ‘there are over 75 Soldiers here, seven horses, a full band, two marching platoons, the caisson… I can’t believe we are doing all of this, this entire show, for three people.’ At which point another Soldier replied, ‘we’re not doing this for three people, we’re doing all this for one.’ I do not know how many of Lt. Col. Faith’s family members will be present for the service, but it doesn’t matter. The debt you are paying is to him, not to his family.
It has been my distinct honor and pleasure to serve here with you. I have been humbled to do so. But as I leave, I hope and pray that you will fully understand what an honor it is for you to serve here. No other nation on earth is dedicated to the mantra of “I will never leave a fallen comrade” like we are. No other nation in the world combs the battlefields of forgotten wars like we do, or reverently returns fragmented remains with full military honors to a final resting place like we do.
Whether you served 30 years or three, whether killed in action this year, or over 60 years ago, or simply lived a long life after years of service, this nation, this Army, this Company, will see that you are honored with the respect and dignity you deserve. I hope that you never forget that you were one of the lucky few who got to be part of that. That you, standing here, are the physical manifestation of the covenant the U.S. Army has made with its Soldiers past and present. A covenant which is true, real and more valuable than I think you realize right now; but I hope you don’t forget. I certainly won’t…”
Capt. Benfield summarized a few of the things that are great about our Army: the heroism of individual leaders who give their all and make the ultimate sacrifice while fighting valiantly to save their Soldiers and win the day; the understanding that we are all Soldiers for life, committed to the nation by the shared bond of raising our hands and volunteering to risk our lives for this great nation.
The role that The Old Guard plays in ensuring that commitment to caring for Soldiers is honored, even after death, as we lay our brothers and sisters in arms and their loved ones to rest in America’s holiest shrine, Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremony we performed today for Lt. Col. Faith was a great honor, as were the 10 other Army funerals the regiment supported. As a Soldier, I have always known I could depend upon those around me to fight, for the medics to care for our wounded, for our supporting arms to provide the fires, supplies, maintenance and intelligence needed to win. In commanding the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment, I have come to understand how deep and how long that commitment really is.
-Col. James Markert, Commander, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard)