For nearly 66 years after one of the fiercest battles of the Korean War, the family of Shelley native Charles B. “Blaine” Crofts wondered if he had been killed in action, taken prisoner or left to die.
Questions about how he died have not been fully answered. But the remains of the 19-year-old U.S. Army corporal are finally returning to his hometown 10 miles southwest of Idaho Falls.
Kim Crofts, Blaine Crofts’ brother and the only surviving member of his immediate family, learned last month that his brother’s remains had been positively identified.
“My jaw dropped and the whole nine yards,” said Kim Crofts. “It made me feel absolutely fantastic and wonderful. It’s something I didn’t ever think would happen in my lifetime.”
Services will be held Saturday, July 9, at 11 a.m. at the Hillcrest Cemetery in Shelley. A religious service by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be followed by a military service with full honors.
He’ll be buried next to his parents and his brother, Howard “Darrell” Crofts, a U.S. Air Force veteran who died in 2012.
Anyone who wants to attend the service is welcome, Kim Crofts said.
REMAINS OF SIX SOLDIERS FOUND TOGETHER
The remains of Crofts and five other men, including Lt. Col. Don C. Faith, who commanded 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, were found in a makeshift grave near Chosin Reservoir, where 1,029 American troops were killed, 4,582 wounded and another 4,894 listed as missing in more than two weeks of fighting in late 1950.
The remains were collected more than a decade ago and taken to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. A team of Department of Defense specialists started work in 2004 to identify the victims using DNA, dental records and anthropological and physical evidence.
Positive DNA matches came in May from samples donated by Crofts’ brother Kim and sister Elma, who had died after giving DNA samples in 2000. Elma West was a Navy veteran herself.
Neal West, Kim Crofts’ nephew and Elma’s son, had urged the pair to contribute DNA samples to a database that could be used to identify their brother if his remains were ever found.
“If it wasn’t for him, Blaine’s remains would still be sitting there in Hawaii,” Kim Crofts said.
Blaine, Elma and Kim Crofts were the children of Joseph C. Crofts and Melva Fowers Crofts. Blaine was born June 29, 1931, and enlisted in the Army soon after high school.
The remains found near Chosin Reservoir were about 206 miles northeast of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
The remains of Crofts, Faith and the other four men were among the last to come out of North Korea, the Army said. In 2005, North Korea refused to allow teams from the Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command to continue looking for other Americans killed in the war. The teams have not been allowed back since.
More than 7,800 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting agency.
MONUMENTAL COMMAND BLUNDER
The 31st Regimental Combat Team, first commanded by Col. Allan D. MacLean and then by Faith after MacLean’s combat death, was “virtually annihilated” east of the reservoir in the battle at Chosin, according to The Army Historical Foundation.
“The experiences of the American soldiers who fought and died in the frigid cold of the Chosin area proved to be some of the most harrowing and tragic in the history of the U.S. Army,” according to an account by the foundation.
In November 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of United Nations forces in Korea, believed an offensive along the western side of Korea would end the war, hopefully by Christmas. MacArthur later committed “one of the worst military intelligence blunders in U.S. Army history,” ignoring reports of a massive buildup by Chinese troops, the foundation said.
On Nov. 25, an estimated 200,000 Chinese soldiers swarmed American positions in eastern Korea. The Americans were outnumbered 10 to 1. Besides the American casualties, an estimated 35,000 Chinese soldiers lost their lives in the 16-day battle.
The Crofts family spent decades wondering what happened to Blaine.
“We didn’t know whether he had died in combat or whether he was taken as a POW and not ever let out. We didn’t know whether he was in a labor camp or something to this day or died,” Kim Crofts said.
CAUSE OF DEATH STILL UNCLEAR
There weren’t enough remains to determine exactly how Blaine Crofts died, his brother said.
The soil where the remains were found was not heavily compacted, indicating the remains had been buried somewhere else initially and redeposited. A leaf also was found in the ground that wasn’t decomposed, suggesting the remains had been there just a year or two, Kim Crofts was told.
It’s unclear where the remains had been for the previous decades.
Kim Fields was born in 1955, more than four years after his brother was killed. Although a photo of Blaine hung on the wall of the Crofts home, their mother, Melva Crofts, who died in 1982, was so distraught she rarely talked about him.
“Mom would talk about him a little bit, but not a whole lot,” Kim Crofts said. “She had a tough time at Christmas because he died right before Christmas. Even years later, Christmas was rough for her.”
Other Idaho soldiers unaccounted for from the Korean War
▪ Cpl. Max L. Bailey, Hazelton
▪ Cpl. Gerald F. Bumstead, Genesee (POW)
▪ Master Sgt. Leonard K. Chinn, Bonneville
▪ Pvt. Ernest P. Cuddeford, Kootenai
▪ Sgt. 1st Class Richard G. Cushman, Pingree
▪ Sgt. David L. Graham, Bonners Ferry
▪ Pfc. Wallace L. Hall, Caldwell
▪ Pfc. Forrest L. Hunter, Shelley
▪ Pvt. Barney E. Hutchison, Boise
▪ Cpl. Jimmy Lucas, Lewiston
▪ Cpl. John S. Lycan Jr., Nez Perce
▪ Master Sgt. Ottis P. Mark, Canyon
▪ Cpl. Charles E. Mattingly, Bannock
▪ Pfc. Jake E. Mickael, Twin Falls
▪ Cpl. James H. Monroe, Meridian
▪ Cpl. William E. Paskett, Oakley
▪ Pfc. Clyde T. Rockwell, Hailey
▪ Lloyd G. Rogers, Idaho Falls (POW)
▪ Pfc. Leo R. Saul, Claytonia
▪ Cpl. Dan D. Schoonover, Boise
▪ Sgt. 1st Class Alton L. Shirtz, Parma
▪ Herbert D. Shuck, Wardner
▪ Lt. David A. Arrivee, Weiser
▪ Lt. j.g. Ralph Cross, Soda Springs
▪ Lt. Frank Martin III, Boise
▪ Master Sgt. Julius G. Harrington, Twin Falls
▪ Sgt. James E. Johnson, Pocatello
▪ Cpl. Richard E. Wallen, Bonners Ferry
▪ 1st Lt. Lloyd P. Bowman, St. Charles
▪ S.Sgt. Arthur W. Hoult, Pocatello
▪ 1st Lt. Ray F. Jardine, Idaho Falls
▪ 1st Lt. Richard B. Rosenvall, Boise
The families of all but Johnson, Schoonover and Shirtz have supplied DNA samples that could lead to their identification.