- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Ben Lee Brown was lost in just a week.

In 1951, just seven days after the 17-year-old was deployed, he ended up in one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War.

Now after 60 years, the Oregon man has been found.

Brown’s remains came home in 1993, when a treaty between the United States and North Korea returned 208 coffins to the U.S. Yet scientists soon learned there was more than one servicemember in each coffin, a discovery that led to a painstaking and decades-long process of isolating remains and matching them with the DNA of surviving family members.

“It has taken some time,” said Shelia Cooper, a spokeswoman with the Defense POW/Missing Accounting Agency in Arlington, Virginia. “Technology back then was very slow. It’s faster now, but it gets complicated when you have families whose siblings and mother and father have passed away.”

Today, 7,852 Americans who fought the three-year war remain unaccounted for, she said. Her agency lists the three dozen soldiers from Oregon whose remains have not yet been found or matched.

Cpl. Brown’s remains were positively matched last month with DNA from his brother and sister, who did not want to comment for this report. He will be buried Friday, May 15, in Roseburg National Cemetery in Southern Oregon.

Military records show Brown grew up in the small town of Fourmile along the Oregon Coast south of Bandon. He enlisted in the Army in mid-June 1950, likely not long after he’d graduated from high school. It was also a few weeks before North Korea invaded South Korea, the move that triggered President Harry Truman to take action in hopes of containing the spread of communism.

Brown began basic training in November at Ford Ord along the Pacific Ocean northeast of Monterey, California, and by Feb. 5, 1951, he was on his way to a war zone. He was listed as a light weapons infantryman and assigned to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.

Brown’s unit, with a mission to support the South Korean troops, was positioned in a deep valley near the village of Hoengsong. As night fell on Feb. 11, 1951, four Chinese and two North Korean divisions launched a massive surprise attack, encircling the steep hillsides and blocking the only road out.

As South Korean forces collapsed, military reports described a battle in which American and U.N. forces were outnumbered 12 to 1 that quickly devolved from a “rain of mortar fire” to hand-to-hand combat as enemy forces swarmed.

Over the next three days, more than 2,000 U.S. and U.N. soldiers were killed. One account put the 38th Infantry Regiment’s losses at 462 — 328 killed in action and 134 who died in captivity.

According to newspaper reports at the time, Marines who recaptured the area a month later erected a crudely painted sign, “Massacre Valley,” after they’d passed the mile-long road littered with burned and bullet-torn trucks and hundreds of frozen bodies.

The battle was controversial not only for its human toll but for equipment lost, including 14 105-millmeter howitzers, 901 other crew-served weapons, 137 rocket launchers, 164 machine guns and 102 automatic rifles.

“It was just a disaster, just a disaster,” said Jack Witter, a Korean War veteran from Oscodo, Mich., who was among the Marines who recaptured the village and recalls the hand-painted sign.

“It was like if you have a funnel, plug the bottom and try to pour water through - there’s nowhere for it to go,” said Witter, who is working on a book about the battle. “There was a long convoy of our forces trying to withdraw and the Chinese had just plugged the gap.”

“But they didn’t stop fighting - most ran out of ammunition, got killed or were captured.”


Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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