BRISTOL, Conn. – When the Chinese army surged into Korea shortly before the winter of 1950 in a bid to salvage the communist regime, the first American military unit to feel the brunt of its attack hunkered down in the mountains and fought back with legendary fierceness.
Caught in the hail of bullets and bombs, a Plainville soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Lincoln Clifford May, lay among the mounds of the dead.
Declared missing in action after the Nov. 2, 1950 battle that wiped out most of his unit, May's remains lay somewhere in Unsan, North Korea for the next 43 years.
But in 1993, the North Koreans handed over 208 boxes of bones from U.S. soldiers who perished in that bleak landscape.
Using DNA provided by May's two nephews, Glenn and Cliff Block of Bristol, some of the bones have been identified after all these years by military experts as belonging to the long-dead Plainville soldier.
May will be buried June 26 in a Plainville cemetery where many of the people the 22-year-old once knew are also interred.
"My uncle's finally coming home," said Cliff Block, a Bristol city councilor who was named for his uncle several month's before the Plainville soldier vanished.
Glenn Block said that when he got a phone call months ago informing him that his uncle's body had been found, "I cried like a baby in my office."
Though Glenn Block has only the dimmest recollection of his uncle, he remembered his grandmother, Clara May, kept a framed photograph of her youngest son in his uniform on a table beside her rocking chair until her own death in 1990.
Cliff Block recalled that as a youngster, he would point to the picture and tell his grandmother, "That's me before I died."
Cliff Block said the long saga of his uncle's return makes for "a great story," but also a sad one because "everyone else is dead" for whom it would bring some peace except for him and his brother.
Glenn Block, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, said he wants a full military funeral for his uncle.
Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class Peter Coppola, who is assisting the family for the Connecticut National Guard, said that funerals for soldiers whose remains are recovered decades after their deaths are "a rare event" and will be done right.
"This is kind of a chance to make it right," said Glenn Block.
May arrived in Korea in August 1950 with U.S. forces who made a desperate stand to prevent the entire peninsula from being overrun by communist forces.
He was wounded near Pusan by a grenade the following month, Cliff Block said, but recovered enough to join his unit pushing north toward the Chinese border.
According to a newspaper clipping from the old weekly Plainville News, May carried shrapnel in his back as he headed out, sending a letter to his mother insisting he was no longer in danger.
The day before his death, the clipping said, May wrote to his fiancee in New Britain, whom he had planned to marry in October 1950, to say he was going out on "a big push."
That was the last time anyone at home heard from him.
May, called "Cliff" by friends and family, enlisted in the Army in 1948. He became a military police officer and served in Georgia, New Jersey and Massachusetts before getting shipped out to Korea.
After May's death, the Army sent the family his possessions a cap, an MP armband and tiny jackknife. They also sent two medals, a fraction of what he earned. Coppola said he's working on getting the rest.
Glenn Block said he hopes his uncle's story will make people think about the sacrifices that the military can require.
"We're talking about people here who gave all. It's that simple," he said.
The remains of more than 8,000 Korean War soldiers have not yet been recovered, according to the U.S. Department of Defense's office for prisoners of war and missing personnel.
The O'Brien Funeral Home in Bristol is handling the arrangements. A wake is planned but hasn't been finalized. The funeral is scheduled for June 26 at Plainville's West Cemetery.