Burning of the colors
Soldiers with the 2nd Engineer Battalion burn the battalion flag during the burning of the colors ceremony Nov. 30, at the Frontier Club on White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The burning of the colors is a ceremony that dates back to the Korean War, when the battalion burned its colors to prevent their capture by the Chinese at the Battle of Kunu-Ri.

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (Dec. 10, 2009) -- Soldiers from the 2nd Engineer Battalion held a ceremonial Burning of the Colors Nov. 30 at the Frontier Club to commemorate a historical event of bravery.

In appropriately snowy weather, Soldiers from the 2nd Engineer Battalion hosted a dinner recognizing the bravery and sacrifice of former members of the Battalion during the Korean War.

In a ceremony attended by Battalion leadership, Soldiers, Veterans of the 2nd Engineer Battalion and the Korean War, the Battalions Colors were ceremonially burned. The tradition of burning the colors stems from the events that took place during the Battle of Kunu-Ri.

By the Fall of 1950 U.N. forces had pushed the North Koreans all the way to the Yalu River, the river that defines the border between North Korea and China. Taken by surprise when China joined the conflict, U.S. and UN forces were forced to withdraw.

Part of this withdrawal was the battle of Kunu-ri, a holding action intended to slow the North Koreans and Chinese advance long enough for other units to escape.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, the 2nd Infantry division, the unit to which the 2nd Engineer Battalion was attached to at that time, was ordered to perform a rear guard action to hold the town of Kunu-Ri until Nov. 30, while the rest of the 8th Army withdrew south along the main supply route to the area.

The 2nd Infantry division ordered its 9th and 38th infantry regiments to keep the road clear of enemies, and the 2nd Engineer Battalion and 38th Infantry Regiment to hold a ridgeline east of Kunu-Ri. On Nov. 30 word came to the Engineers that the road to the south had been blocked by the Chinese and that the 23rd Infantry Regiment was withdrawing to the west instead of to the south as planned.

This left the 2nd Engineers as the only unit left in the rear guard. That afternoon the Engineers began to fall back, with D company leading C, B and A companies were to break contact and withdraw from the ridgeline to the road.

The Engineer Battalion's Intelligence and Security officer, Capt. Lawrence B. Farnum, walked south along the road to see if the battalion had the ability to unblock the road. Coming across an American artillery battalion about to be attacked, he returned to the battalion headquarters to find that the Chinese had overrun the ridgeline.

Organizing about 100 Engineers and Artillerymen, Farnum led a fighting withdraw through the hills. After 18 hours and two encounters with Chinese forces they arrived at friendly lines.

By the end of the battle, the battalion which had an authorized strength of 977 men, was down to only 266, with Farnum performing the duties of Battalion Commander, Executive Officer, Personnel Officer, Operations Officer, and Supply Officer in addition to his existing duties, as all the other officers as well as the company commanders had been lost.

It was during this costly action that the tradition of the burning of the colors originates. Outnumbered and seeing that they were about to be overrun by the Chinese, Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Alarich Zacherle gave the order to burn the battalion's flag to prevent it from being captured by the enemy.

"Part of a unit's honor comes from what units they have fought against, and so capturing a unit's colors is a great accomplishment," said Capt. Ed Sheffey, the 2nd Engineer Battalion's historian.

Today the battalion colors are ceremonially burned as the unit's way of remembering their history and inspiring their Soldiers to fight as bravely as their predecessors did in Korea. While this ceremony has only been conducted on one other occasion, the Battalion plans to make it an annual event.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16