U.S. Army Sgt. Elwood M. Truslow, the Batesville native slain in frozen terrain near the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War, will come to rest with military honors on Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.
Truslow was a member of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He was reported missing in action Dec. 12, 1950, a few days after his unit was attacked and overrun by Chinese army forces as they attempted to withdraw from the reservoir, located in what is now North Korea.
Following the battle, Truslow’s remains could not be recovered. He was just 20 years old.
Truslow’s L Company and others in the 3rd battalion, 31st regiment, 7th infantry division had fought thousands of Chinese Army soldiers the night of Nov. 27 at an outpost outside of Sinhung-ri near the Chosin Reservoir.
Truslow, a cook, was in the kitchen tent with others.
“They had begun to make breakfast when their houseboy told them the Chinese were coming, and they were just able to cut off the gas lines and turn off the stoves before guns were pointed in and they were mowed down,” Truslow’s niece, Lucy Howe, of Batesville, recalled.
“They were all shot up, so they hid behind some boxes until daylight when the shooting stopped,” she said. “When they looked out, it was nothing but bodies everywhere and destruction. Elwood got shot above the leg, in the hip, and couldn’t walk. His friend, John Gibbs, was shot in the head. They were all shot somewhere. John helped Elwood to the aid station and John got fixed up and went back to fighting. That was the last he saw of Elwood.”
Although wounded, Gibbs would fight and survive, finally walking across the frozen reservoir to a U.S. Marine outpost miles away. From there he joined other survivors and the Marines to fight their way back to South Korea.
Truslow was not so fortunate. Along with hundreds of other U.S. troops who were captured, killed in action or froze to death at the reservoir, he was declared missing and presumed dead on Dec. 12, 1950.
The task force had a short break the night of Nov. 29 as the Chinese, also short on food and ammo and suffering from the cold, foraged abandoned American positions about two miles north.
On Nov. 30, the task force prepared their positions without knowing the Chinese had quietly encircled them. At the same time, other American troops a few miles behind the task force retreated, leaving the task force isolated and surrounded with no help and little hope.
At 8 p.m. on Nov. 30, with the sun down and the dark and cold falling on the reservoir, the Chinese struck hard.
“By midnight, the attacks reached an intensity beyond that of previous nights,” a historical report on Truslow, compiled by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, states. “Chinese assault teams crept in close to the perimeter outposts. The Chinese launched the largest attack on the [position] to date, hitting the perimeter from all sides at once.”
The hardest hit was the position where Truslow was located.
“Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., every man in the perimeter was in a defensive position operating a weapon,” the report quotes a survivor.
Even the wounded fought, other survivors said in accounts published over the years. Sitting, standing, walking or crawling, if they could hold a rifle and shoot, they did so.
At dawn on Dec. 1, the decision was made to retreat. The Americans loaded more than 600 seriously wounded into trucks and left the dead behind. The going was slow and deadly. The roads were horrendous.
The Chinese blew up bridges and occupied hilltops from which they poured gunfire and mortar shells onto the convoy. They shot at truck drivers to stall the progress and then poured more gunfire into trucks carrying the wounded.
Attempts to clear Chinese positions were successful, but costly as more Americans were killed and wounded.
By nightfall, it was over. After traveling about four hard-fought miles, the convoy ground to halt and the trucks no longer moved. The Chinese continued firing weapons into what was left of the task force and hurled phosphorus grenades inside the trucks, setting them and those inside ablaze. Those who survived left the convoy and hiked out across the frozen water.
Of 3,200 soldiers assigned to the task force on Nov. 27, only 385 could still fight by Dec. 2. Another 1,500 were evacuated to hospitals from the Marine base while 1,300 were captured, killed or injured and left behind to freeze to death.
Truslow was one of 86 men in L Company listed as missing or dead.
Almost seventy years later, Truslow’s remains were turned over by North Korea on July 27, 2018. He was accounted for by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency June 7, 2021, after his remains were identified using circumstantial evidence and anthropological, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA analysis.
Truslow’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, along with the others who are still missing from the Korean War. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
More than 7,500 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.