DON C. FAITH

Colonel | Infantry

As Ridgway’s aide, Faith was very close to the man from their first jump at Benning through the early campaigns of the 82d Airborne.  As Headquarters Commandant, he was a key member of the staff who bound the tattered division together after it was rebuilt several times before departing the States.  As they had been torn apart so many times, there was a general question of how adequately trained they all were, but a stay in the dusty camp in Tunisia promised more time to train.  They quickly realized how excruciating activity was during the day, but so was it impossible to sleep in the heat, so training at night was not much better.  Jumping against the fierce winds proved dangerous and dysentery became a threat on its own.  By the time the paratroops were slated for the invasion of Sicily, Don was convinced he would do just about anything to escape Africa.

 

Paradise awaited in Sicily where the comfortable Mediterranean climate was most soothing and nights in ancient olive groves could quickly make one forget about gunfire and artillery in the distance.  It was lovely and nearly a pleasure to be fighting a war in such a place, but it was a nightmare getting there.  Never before had a night operation been attempted and a 35-knot gale made the jump even worse. 

Faith, however, was spared from the jump and instead sailed in with Ridgway in the morning of July 10th.  They immediately set out to locate any paratroops of the Division and establish some organization.  The pair, along with a sergeant, set out for a lonely walk across the Sicilian countryside.  Their first stop was the 1st Division command post where General Allen reported he had not seen or heard of any paratroopers.  They crept out of the eerie stillness so the General could observe from the height of a grassy knoll.  Faith kept behind him, prepared to run if Ridgway was killed or captured.  A terrible roar suddenly deafened the trio and Faith turned to see a Messerschmidt tearing toward them.  They all expected to get obliterated by the plane’s guns, but he must not have seen them and sped off into the distance.  It was their only indication of activity in the area and turned back to head for the main road to search for the 505th.

Sicily
Faith behind Ridgeway

There was no activity along the road for some time until except for a chance meeting the General Roosevelt of the 1st Division speeding down the road in his jeep.  An old friend of Ridgway’s, they exchanged soldierly pleasantries before moving along to continue the search for anyone of the 82d Airborne.  They finally reached a fig orchard where they met their first member of the Division.  Their numbers grew for the next few days as they gathered pockets of a few troopers at a time and they finally had the appearance of a fighting division.

 

When the forward units ran into opposition and took too long to consider their position rather than fighting through, Ridgway found if he made an appearance, they found the motivation to keep moving.  As a result, Faith was often at the sharp end with him and he came to adopt the General’s drive and intensity.  They cut through the island and ended the campaign quickly.  Other units may have seen harder fighting, but what the 82d experienced was enough to test them and they proved themselves with valor.

*

Both proposed drops into Italy were cancelled once the enemy discovered the proposed landing sites and it was not until September that the Division began moving to Italy in regimental and battalion sized pieces.  Eventually the entire Division was between the beachhead and the front and after several days of fighting on the sharp ridges, they moved into Naples.  As the General requested, all of the citizens cleared the streets and waited inside their sealed homes for the 82d to police the city.  Though the Germans were gone, small groups of Italians continued to shoot at the Americans and it took the rest of the day and night to rout them.  The rest of the Italian campaign for Colonel Faith went no further than the western hills outside the city where the Division command post was established in a small villa.

 

They took on occupation of Naples and began at once to undo the damage the Germans had done.  The water supply was cut, train lines destroyed, and booby traps littered throughout that continued to deal damage and cause casualties.  Aside from the anxiety these hidden stores of TNT caused, the occupation was a delight.  Until the middle of November, the paratroopers were able to enjoy life in houses with, once the water supply was function again, warm baths and other amenities of civilian life.  Plans for the invasion of France were well under way, and soon the 82d Airborne was ordered back to England to prepare.  While training during the winter in Belfast, Don toured the area with Ridgway to inspect different defensive emplacements, but also to enjoy local attractions.

FRANCE

Under a dark sky bursting with flak, Don searched for his commander in the early morning hours of June 6th.  He was in the same stick as Ridgway, but as it was to be expected in any jump, men drifted apart immediately upon leaving their C-47s and could land miles apart.  Until he found Sergeant Casey nearby, he was struck by how lonely it felt to be stranded in a foreign land.  Every dark mass of foliage became a suspicious hiding spot for a trained German and the shadows could drive a man’s anxiety.   The pair quickly stumbled on General Ridgway in the dull light of dawn.  They were a quarter mile east of Saint Mère-Église when the General was the first to pause and crack open a K ration to satisfy his growing hunger.

 

With the eleven officers of General Ridgway’s command group, Major Faith set up Division headquarters in a humble apple orchard off the French Coast.  They were surrounded by Germans and had it not been for pockets of paratroopers scattered all around, they would have crumbled under an attack.  By daylight, Saint Mère-Église was in their hands, but not without losses; losses to be expected of an airborne division dropped in the middle of the enemy.  Much of the Division staff were killed, captured or wounded and the Germans boasted they had destroyed the entire 82d Airborne.  It was a claim the command group could not dispute.  Outside of their command post, the only news came in from runners who had little more information.  News from the front came as they observed it.  For more than a month, the Division fought continuously from Normandy and St. Mère-Église through Cherbourg before relieved from duty after taking staggering casualties.

HOLLAND & ARDENNES

When Ridgway took command of the XVIII Airborne Corps in the last days of August, he transferred all of his trusted personnel with him, including Major Faith.  In just half a month, the new Corps was to be tested in a daylight carpet drop into holland.  Two days after the invasion, Don accompanied Ridgway through Eindhoven to reach the front.  It was nearly untouched by the war, but had just been bombed the day before. Their jeep driver, Sergeant Farmer, dodged rubble on the way through until reaching a British armor unit.  They waited patiently for forty minutes before Ridgway, having no authority to order the armor unit forward, told Farmer to wait and along with the general and his bodyguard, Sergeant Casey dismounted to investigate down the road.  Anxiously creeping down one side of the road, Don and the other two walked for a few miles before reaching the 101st Airborne command post.  They did not find any Germans that the British reported, but it was behavior typical of the campaign in Holland and part of why it ultimately failed.  Where the airborne units dropped hit hard and fast, the ground units were not as ambitious.  They remained fighting in Holland for two months before Faith returned to the XVIII Airborne Corps main command post in England where the call came on the morning of December 18th that the Germans were attacking through the Ardennes.

Immediately after the Germans struck, Don flew into Rheims on December 18th as part of Ridgway’s staff.  It was grey, thick with fog and raining.  They sped to Bastogne, though speed was relative as the driver could hardly see and the road was clogged with other vehicles.  Ridgway was nervous enough that he took the wheel himself.  They finally reached VIII Corps headquarters by evening.  Everywhere headquarters and command post they visited was buzzing with apprehensive murmurs about what to do against the Germans.  It was clear they were facing a massive offensive and most terrifying, unaware of what exactly the Germans were planning.  The gloomy atmosphere seemed to be a manifestation of the fog of war itself and it hung with great weight and foreboding.

 

For six weeks the battle raged in terrible winter conditions.  Roads became mired with thick mud and often impassable, swallowing transports and tanks alike.  The snow, wet and heavy, made foxhole living miserable and movement on foot a difficult chore.  Unit commanders and GIs alike became weary from days of fighting, often fighting out of surrounded positions.  There were numerous visits to divisional command posts to conference with commanders – sometimes sneaking by German lines to discuss plans or just check on their well-being.  It was a difficult gray winter, but after six weeks, the Germans were weak, the snows were melting, and the end of the war was in sight.

RHINE

The Siegfried Line lay ahead, a massive series of pillboxes, dragon’s teeth, barbed wire and other obstacles waiting to chew up any man or armor attempting to attack.  Steaming with momentum form the breakthrough out of the Bulge, XVIII Corps struck hard and fast, breaking through with apparent ease and enough force that they had to be called back before moving to far into Germany.  A thawing spring and heavy rains melted away the remainder of snow, exposing corpses beneath, but a welcome warmth even if wet.

 

At the end of March, Don crossed the infamous Rhine River and resumed his work with Ridgway seeking out the forward command posts buried in the ancient, thickly wooded German forests.  As a soldier becomes more removed from the line company or battalion and is instead with headquarters in division, corps or army, his chances of meeting the enemy lessen significantly.  Ridgway, however, though he could easily have avoided most of this danger in the comforts of his command posts far behind the front, managed to pull Don into a number of threatening reconnaissance jaunts throughout his time in Europe.  It was the nature of war and of the paratroopers.

 

Clearing the Ruhr pocket came next.  Orders came for Ridgway to report to First Army’s General Hodges and he was off at once with Faith and his usual entourage.  They drove for nine hours searching for Hodges, who seemed to have vanished from his rear command post.  Military policemen who stopped the jeep had no knowledge of his whereabouts and after increasing frustration in a murky fog, they finally found him at one in the morning.  He issued orders and for the next ten days, XVIII Corps attacked through the Ruhr pocket against the most stubborn Germans who knew the end was frighteningly close.

 

After three months of fighting from the Ardennes, across the Rhine and finishing with clearing the resistance in the Ruhr pocket, Ridgway yearned for suitable accommodations for his staff.  He was sure there was something habitable that would be an improvement over a musty barn, abandoned house or a hole in the ground.  He sent Faith on this mission in a cub plane searching for a piece of real estate in the countryside.  He found a lovely home which they quickly occupied, but it was a fleeting taste of comfort before they were off again, this time to meet the Russians and finish the war.  After all of the blood and turmoil had ended, the long years of campaigning from Africa up through Sicily and Italy, France and Belgium, Don’s war was over and soon he was feasting and celebrating with the man who he had been near since the beginning.

INCHON & SEOUL

After a miserable journey to Inchon where they moored for two nights, Colonel Faith’s 1st Battalion finally landed and marched inland for about eight miles.  They settled in a bivouac south of the city in the hills, choosing the highest point to overlook mudflats stretching in front of them.  It was the first night for the 7th Division troops and it showed.  Much like Faith’s experience in the 82d Airborne during World War II, the division had been stripped to outfit other units rushed from Japan to Korea in the summer of 1950.  Replacements from the United States filled the empty slots and the remaining one third of the Division was made up of Korean soldiers who were no more than boys of military age pulled from the streets.  Their lack of training together showed when a few shots after 2300 left the other battalions firing at shadows for the rest of the night.  The 1st Battalion showed the best discipline and Faith was pleased that even his Marine TACP commented that they showed it.

 

The next day, the battalion experienced their first real combat in Korea, which seemed to be unceasing as they chased the North Koreans back toward the 38th parallel.  Faith also displayed what kind of commander he was.  When A Company appeared to be moving too slowly along the left flank, the Colonel led his own command group of about fourteen men to take the objective alone.  They crossed the next valley, twice as wide as the one they just traversed, and headed toward a copper mine that turned out to be well defended.  With Marine air support committed elsewhere, Faith resorted to setting up the small command post for the night.  He proved to be an aggressive commander, something learned by example as Ridgway’s aide-de-camp, and he expected the same behavior from his junior officers.  Despite being forceful, he was ‘friendly and charismatic’ to everyone in his command.  In turn, they were competent and despite the conditions were even well groomed and attempted to present well with clean clothes and shined boots.

Faith_i05.jpeg

When aircraft came on station in the morning, Major Stamford immediately requested a strike on the mine.  Having suffered enough from artillery fire throughout the night and the final punch of the aircraft, the enemy fled the hill.  The successful display exhibited the value of air superiority to Colonel Faith and he began requesting more of it, even it meant striking out alone in his jeep with Major Stamford.

 

By the time the battalion was approaching the Han River, everyone was extremely fatigued from days of fighting.  At one point, Faith drifted off to sleep in the middle of giving an attack order.  The fighting was fast, across broad, rugged terrain, and against an enemy not above using guerilla tactics.  At times it was so confusing that Faith momentarily lost track of a company or two, but soon the Seoul operation came to a close.

CHOSIN

After another unopposed landing at Iwon, the battalion traveled north over back roads for several days chasing an unseen enemy.  Small patrols made no contact for the entire month of November until orders came to proceed to the Chosin reservoir.  The only sign of the enemy were rumors from locals who had been driven from their homes, robbed and ransacked by the Chinese.  Only a few years prior, Faith was stationed in Nanking as an adviser to the Nationalist Chinese.  He wondered how many had been conscripted by the Communists and were now being forced across the Yalu.

By now, Faith’s fatigues were showing wear and torn from constant use since September.  Winter clothing was scarce and the only extra layer he had been able to add was an alpaca vest.  His command group was often fortunate to live in a schoolhouse rather than outside in the harsh winter.

The battalion had found Faith to be a capable leader and his feelings were mutual.  He was less interested in going home and most motivated to finish the job, swearing to cross the Yalu River as soon as anyone.  He even threatened to sneak across to step foot in Manchuria if given the opportunity.  Around Thanksgiving, he voiced to Major Stamford how eager he was for a fight.  The men were ready and similarly as anxious as Faith to get into action again.

 

When movement orders came, Faith visited the 5th Marines to gather information before setting up his battalion in their old positions.  They were situated across the small bridge spanning the inlet to the reservoir, somewhat isolated from the rest of the regimental combat team.  They settled for the night, ordered to wait until the next morning to move out or attack.

Faith_i06.jpeg

Staff of 1st Battalion, 32d Infantry in Japan, early 1950.  Colonel Faith center, front row.

Chinese struck each of his companies during the night and they held soundly with a few casualties.  While the action at his forward positions was mayhem, his own command post was fairly secure.  In the morning, Colonel McLean spoke with Faith about moving south into the perimeter of the 31st Infantry’s 3d Battalion as it would be unwise to pit their single battalion against three Chinese divisions again.  A roadblock near the inlet made their movement impossible and they resorted to another night in isolation.

 

By early morning on the 29th, the battalion had kept the Chinese at bay, but their ammunition was running low.  MacLean ordered them south to the 3d Battalion perimeter and by daylight they were nearing the bridge at the inlet.  The smoldering positions of the 31st Infantry were visible when the Chinese roadblock stopped them from going further and Faith sent his troops out to take care of the enemy positions.  When they began to take fire from across the inlet, Colonel MacLean assured it was friendly and journeyed across the ice, waving his arms.  He stumbled into the hands of the Chinese who were waiting for him.  When Faith realized what happened, he charged across the ice with his men behind him, scattering the remnants of the Chinese defenders and opening the bridge for his motor column to make it safely to the southern perimeter.

 

When he arrived in the destroyed positions of the main body of the regimental combat team, he assumed command of the survivors.  MacLean was missing, with multiple perspectives of how he disappeared; the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry commander was evacuated along with the 57th Field commander and both of their senior staff officers were dead, missing or wounded.  The able men were battered and wandered around the stiff bodies of frozen Chinese searching for ammunition and supplies.  American casualties who could not fit in the trucks with the growing number of wounded lay still under blankets dusted with snow.  The ragged lot of survivors was all Colonel Faith had to fight several miles back to Hagaru-ri.

 

The men had become hard to handle by the fourth day under constant fire from the Chinese.  They preferred to huddle by the trucks, assuming it was their only refuge and escape, but instead they drew more fire against the large targets.  After Colonel MacLean vanished, command of the 31st R.C.T. fell to Colonel Faith as the last surviving battalion commander.  His name would become legendary and synonymous with the fight and withdrawal from the Reservoir.  When Faith received orders from Marine General Smith by radio that he needed to fight his own way back to Hagaru-ri, he grimly decided to break out in a single dash rather than risk another night in their dwindling perimeter.

 

They made it as far as the base of Hill 1221 before facing another log roadblock.  With a few other officers, Faith dragged about a hundred willing men to the high ground to eliminate some strong points.  He threatened to shoot anyone who refused to move and they quickly roused knowing he would absolutely follow through with his threat.  The attached ROKs were of even less help and often a man would risk his life to get them motivated.  Behind him, Major Jones and led two hundred more ragged soldiers to the crest of 1221.  It was during one of these daring assaults against a small pocket of Chinese that Faith was severely wounded.

 

A lone Chinese soldier hurled a grenade that exploded and embedded multiple fragments above his heart.  It was after dark when Major Jones moved him aside and wrapped him in a GI wool blanket, then left to find help back in the truck column.  Faith was still laying there off of the main road when Captain Jordan discovered the Colonel awhile later and half dragged him to the column where he shoved him the cab of Private Barney’s 2 ½ ton truck. It was hardly warmer, but at least the relentless wind could not penetrate through the cab.

 

He slumped in the seat, still wearing little more than fatigues and his alpaca vest with his .45 clutched in his right hand.  When he was lucid, he continued to give orders to anyone passing by, but was immobilized enough by the grenade and previous wounds that he could not do much from beyond the cold seat of the truck.

 

About two miles north of Hagaru-ri, they reached what would be the final roadblock for the task force.  After an hour, the troops agreed to run through to the next village and Barney tore through, but Faith was struck by small arms and killed.  Shortly after, the truck failed, either out of fuel or suffering damage, and Barney was forced to abandon it.  Possibly the last American to see the gallant officer alive, Barney reluctantly left Faith’s body in the cab.  Those who never saw him again knew he had tried so hard to save as many men as he could.  In the years immediately following the battle, the Marines basked in the glory of their valiant withdrawal and while many brave souls such as Faith were recognized with decorations for bravery on the eastern shore, the epic fight the Army faced against an overwhelming enemy was largely written off as a failure.  Ironic, as it was the Marines who requested they hold at all costs.  Very few men walked out alive and those that did hoped to forget.  It is within only a few memoirs, action reports and the work of devoted historians that one can piece together the last moments of those who never escaped the trap.

Sources:

Interview with Captain Edward P. Stamford.  Historical Division: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1951.
82d Airborne Division in Sicily and Italy. 82d Army Airborne Division, 1945, Internet Archive, archive.org/details/82dAirborneDivision/mode/2up. 
Appleman, Roy E. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950. Texas A & M University Press, 1987. 
Appleman, Roy E. Escaping the Trap.: the US Army X Corps in Northeast Korea, 1950. College Station, TX, Texas A & M University Pre, 1990. 
LoFaro, Guy. Sword of St. Michael: the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II. Da Capo Press, 2011. 
Mossman, Billy C. Ebb and Flow, November 1950-July 1951. Center of Military History, United States Army, 1990. 
Rasula, George A. THE CHOSIN CHRONOLOGY. 2006, mcoepublic.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/library/DonovanPapers/korea/TheChosinChronology.pdf. 
Ridgway, Matthew B. Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgeway. Harper & Brothers, 1956. 
United States, Command Reports – 7th Infantry Division, November - December 1950.  Record Group 407, Box 3179: Army-AG Command Reports, 1949-54. National Archives at College Park, MD