After 70 years, the body of Corporal Eldert Beek of Sibley, Iowa, will be laid to rest. Just 20 years old when he was killed in combat, Corporal Beek had served in the Korean War at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He was a member of the HQ Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Regiment, 7th Infantry Battalion. In 2018, as part of a short-lived shift in diplomacy with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), 55 boxes of remains were transferred to the US.
Remembering the Forgotten War
In June 1950, the North Korean Army crossed the 38th Parallel and initiated the Korean War. Seen by some historians as an extension of the 2nd World War, the Korean communist forces under Kim Il Sung attempted to conquer the UN-backed Republic of Korea. Supported by the Soviet Union and the new Communist regime in China, the North Korean invasion pushed US, South Korean, and UN forces to the southern limit of Korea, Busan.
Douglas MacArthur’s invasion of Inchon in October 1950 helped relieved the beleaguered forces at Busan and routed the North Korean Army. The American-led counter-offensive pushed the North Korean military back across the 38th and nearly to their destruction. In response, China entered the war, sending 120,000 soldiers to break the growing US presence.
The Chosin Few
In November 1950, 30,000 UN troops, primarily from the 1st Marine Division and the US Army X Corps, occupied the Chosin Reservoir area. By late November, temperatures had dropped regularly to -30 degrees. Ice and heavy snow covered the terrain. The night of the 27th, the Chinese launched a massive surprise attack at the reservoir, inflicting heavy casualties, especially on the Army’s 32nd Regiment on the eastern shores of the reservoir.
The Chinese forces repeatedly assaulted the 32nd’s position, inflicting heavy casualties. On the 28th, Army General Ned Almond arrived at their position and claimed they had fought back the Chinese. He ordered the troops there to hold their position because they had destroyed the Chinese.
He was wrong. Prisoners warned that Chinese reinforcements were arriving already. Despite intelligence and reconnaissance reporting large troop movements in the area, General Almond did not rescind his order. On the night of the 28th, some 30,000 Chinese soldiers assaulted 2,500 American and South Korean soldiers spread thin across a mountainous defensive line. The Chinese had them virtually surrounded.
For the next few days, the Americans held a desperate defense against the Chinese onslaught. On the 1st of December, the 32nd, and the rest of the 31st Regimental Combat Team, initiated a fighting retreat. It was the last day Eldert Beek’s comrades saw him.
The 31st Regimental Combat Team had nearly been destroyed. Of 1,777, only 352 able-bodied men crossed the Marines’ defensive lines at Hagaru-Ri. 1,392 men, including Eldert Beek, were officially Missing In Action or POWs.
70 Years Missing In Action
While the Army considered him Killed In Action, he was officially listed as Missing. According to CBS-affiliated KCCI Des Moines, the Beek family held out hope that he had not been killed. For years, Eldert’s mother and father prayed that their son was somehow still alive and that he would walk up to their front door. It is unfathomable to imagine such a painful experience: losing a son and never finding proper closure about what had happened to him.
When North Korea sent the boxes of remains to the US in April of 2020, forensic scientists with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency separated the remains based on the areas the soldiers were found. They cross-referenced the remains with the lists of missing personnel, then mitochondrial DNA, anthropological, and circumstantial evidence to identify them. After 70 years, Eldert finally came home to Iowa.
Corporal Eldert Beek will be laid to rest beside his mother and father in George, Iowa, on June 14, 2021, Flag Day.
The Battle at the Chosin Reservoir holds a special place of honor with the US military. USS Chosin (CG-65). The 32nd Infantry Regiment adopted a motto after Chosin: against all odds. The men who fought there will forever be known as the “Chosin Few.”
Featured image: screenshot of Eldert Beek’s unit
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