HOME IS THE WARRIOR
She watched as the blue clad troopers escorted the horse drawn caisson bearing the flag draped coffin slowly among the ranks and files of America’s fallen.
She had been four years old when she last saw him. She cherished memories of him holding her, playing with her. At the dinner table he spoke to her as if she were an adult. He read her bedtime stories from books that were his as a child. She remembered his happy smile. And then he went away and never returned.
But what did she really remember from that time? Were these memories planted by her mother? She searched her heart. Her image of him came from the photographs; solemn in dress blues, another wearing a colorful Hawaiian shirt holding her in his arms, a wide smile on his face. That’s the smile she remembered . . . a photograph! She recalled another image of him and her mother, she all in white on his arm marching out of the church beneath the raised swords of his fellow officers. He was so handsome.
These are all constructed memories, she thought. The things I heard from my mother and from his comrades who refused to forget what he had done those terrible days in December of 1950.
I’m not overwhelmed by his loss. I still sense the terrible grief my mother felt. That, I can remember: the sobbing, the gloom and then the feeling of emptiness, and finally, moving on.
Years passed, memories faded. And then one day, several years ago, she received a telephone call. She had no siblings, and her mother was gone. She was invited to a ceremony dedicating Lt Col. Don Faith’s name to the new headquarters building at Fort Drum in New York. She went. There she learned much more about her father; things as a child she never really knew about him.
At the dedication, they read the citation of the Medal of Honor that Harry Truman had presented to her mother in Washington. And afterward, she met with the few survivors of his battalion and they told her about the man they had so admired as he led them toward safety at the cost of his own life.
Her father was ordered forward by an ambitious general into impossible odds, a lone battalion surrounded by an entire Chinese army. Against overwhelming forces, he rallied his men, always in the forefront, attempting to lead them to safety. Her father had been mortally wounded assaulting an enemy roadblock. Without his leadership the battalion disintegrated and a very few made it to safety.
What was he thinking at that moment, she wondered? Did he have time to reflect on us, to say goodbye in his heart?
This is a beautiful ceremony, but it is the Army honoring its own. I’m here as window dressing. I hardly remember my father. Oh how sad! Gone so long! No one to cry for him at his homecoming!
She surveyed her surroundings: Soldiers in dress blues, a general and the commander of the honor guard all waiting as the uniformed casket-bearers lifted her father’s remains and moved solemnly to the grave site, quiet commands cycling the men through a prescribed ritual. None, but she, had ever had personal contact with Don Faith, who had perished sixty three years ago, and now, finally, had returned home.
Then she noticed the presence of another person. Not part of the ceremony, he stood several yards away beneath a nearby cherry tree, the last few white spring blossoms clinging to its branches. He wore a bright red American Legion cap in contrast to his somber dark suit. The silent observer was oriental.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Colonel Seichii Nagao, US Army retired: enlisted in the US army in 1947. The American born son of a Nisei family interned near Tule Lake, California during World War Two, he learned fluent Japanese from his parents and in the camp obtained a modest fluency in Korean because as a Japanese colony, Korean-Americans were also interned. He was sent to the Army Language School in Monterey, California to add Chinese to his skills. In January of 1950, commissioned as a second lieutenant, Seichii was posted as an interpreter to General Douglas MacArthur’s Dai Ichi headquarters in Tokyo.
The army assigned Nagao to the G-2 Intelligence section of Major General Charles Willoughby, an arrogant martinet who listened to no one who differed from his predetermined opinions or those of his commander, MacArthur. Then, in June of that year North Korea invaded the south. The US Army had virtually no Korean language capabilities in 1950 and Seichii abruptly ascended to levels not usually within the purview of a lowly second lieutenant. Traveling frequently to Korea, he proved adept at eliciting valuable intelligence from North Korean POWs.
Reports came to the Dai Ichi from battlefield commanders claiming that members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army were appearing among their prisoners. The Dai Ichi refused to believe these reports. Willoughby sent Seichii to interview the alleged Chinese to put an end to the rumors that conflicted with the Tokyo staff’s intractable determination that China would not intervene. But Seichii could only corroborate the on-site commanders‘ reports.
MacArthur was convinced that Mao Tzu Tung would not intervene in Korea despite mounting intelligence to the contrary. After his brilliant Inchon invasion, MacArthur assured Washington that no Chinese would enter Korea to interdict his march north to the Yalu River on Korea’s border with Manchuria. Seichii’s reports and those of others from Korea contradicted the word of the Supreme Commander.
The sycophantic Willoughby in his weekly intelligence briefings to Washington echoed MacArthur’s assurances. Called to explain the rumors that had penetrated the screen of like-minded sycophants, Willoughby summoned Seichii to accompany him to face the Supreme Commander. Willoughby affirmed his own agreement with MacArthur’s assumptions, and ridiculed Seichii’s lack of experience as leading to hasty conclusions.
MacArthur accepted Willoughby’s assertions, but wanted further confirmation and ordered Seichii to return to Korea to prove that there were no more Chinese present than a few advisors to the North Korean Army.
And that was how he met Lieutenant Colonel Don C. Faith, commanding the 1st Battalion, 32nd Regiment of the Army’s Seventh Infantry Division. The division fell under the command of Major General Edward Almond, who headed the Tenth Corps advancing up the eastern side of the Korean Peninsula. Wearing a second hat, as MacArthur’s Chief-of-Staff, Almond spent a great deal of his time in Tokyo, away from his duties as corps commander.
Willoughby sent Seichii to report to General Almond who indicated that Colonel Faith commanding his point battalion east of the Chosin Reservoir claimed his battalion faced at least a full Chinese division. Almond ordered Seichii to report back to him, after confirming that Faith only faced remnants of the North Korean Army not Chinese troops.
Seichii knew quite a bit about Almond from an uncle who had fought in the Japanse-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy. The unit had briefly been attached to Almond’s command, the 92nd infantry division that consisted of black soldiers and white officers. The 442nd after the war was known as the most highly decorated unit of its size in US Army history, 21 Medals of Honor. On the other hand the 92nd division was considered a failure. Almond blamed his lack of success on the black soldiers. MacArthur’s favor and command of the Tenth Corps was Almond’s opportunity to erase the embarrassment of his service in the previous war.
Seichii Nagao arrived at Faith’s command on November 29th. He interrogated the prisoners held by the battalion. They were Chinese. He met the colonel of the fiercely embattled battalion and learned the heart of the man. He observed how the colonel gave guidance to his officers. The colonel took Seichii with him as he moved about his battalion perimeter. He watched how the men responded to the colonel’s presence. Seichii learned a great deal about leadership from Faith that day, lessons he applied through the rest of his career in the army.
Seichii left that battlefield knowing that Faith and his battalion would be sacrificed to the hubris of MacArthur, the arrogance and sycophancy of Willoughby and the ambition of Almond.
When the chopper came for Seichii, the Japanese-American saluted, but the colonel offered his hand and said simply, “Remember us.”
And now, finally, Don Faith had come home . . . and there were only two present who knew him well enough to truly mourn him.
Seichii Nagao reflected on that last instant when Faith met his eyes, it was a farewell. It was in those few hours with Faith, that Seichii had decided that the army would be his career. Now I am eighty-three, I once briefly knew this man, perhaps even better than the woman seated in front of his grave receiving the folded flag from her father’s coffin.
Almond lies here somewhere, maybe Willoughby, too. MacArthur is interred nearby in Norfolk. Why not here, he wondered? Yes, he thought, Hubris, arrogance, sycophancy and ambition are all joined here in this forest of gravestones. He glanced again at the ceremony. The heroism, the price of their commanders’ self serving also rests here in more humble settings . . . the motives of men like Colonel Faith rank higher than the stars on the shoulders of ambitious military bureaucrats: devotion to duty, honor and country.
Seichii braced and saluted as the sound of Taps floated over Arlington’s marble gardens.
And Don Faith’s daughter looked up and glanced away from the general kneeling before her, extending the folded triangle of the flag. Her gaze fell upon the lonely man in a Legionnaire’s cap standing in rigid salute. And then finally, she felt tears drifting down her cheeks.
Author's Note: The return from Korea of Lt Col. Faith's remains 60+ years after his death is factual, as is his Medal of Honor. The daughter and Seichii Nagao are fictional.
Copyright © 2018 by Robert Bruce Drynan
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