Pete Whitfield Conley
Courtesy Conley family

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Pete Whitfield Conley

"The solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom."

Abraham Lincoln

Army Corporal Pete Whitfield Conley was born at Chapmanville, Logan County, West Virginia, on July 14, 1931. He was the son of Harry W. Conley and Lula Diamond Conley. Pete had three siblings, all of whom are deceased as of this writing: Harold Wilson Conley (1926-1987), Phyllis Janelle Conley (married name: Kuhn; 1928-2019), and Madeline Fern Conley (married name: Honaker; 1933-2014).

Pete's father died when Pete was just a boy, leaving his mother to care for four very young children, who were described as stair-steps. Ultimately, his grandfather took charge of the two boys, leaving Lulu to care for the two girls. Pete attended elementary school in Chapmanville and Chapmanville High School.

Soon after high school, Pete enlisted in the U.S. Army. He became a member of K Company, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry, 7th Infantry Division, where his military occupation specialty was light weapons infantryman. He was headed for Korea, often referred to as "America's forgotten war." In the fall of 1950, he became, as a member of Task Force McLean, a participant in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. According to the Find A Grave entry for Pete Conley, he was listed as missing in action on or about December 2, 1950. DoD records cite December 12, 1950, as the date of loss, but due to the internal chaos within the unit due to high losses, it was impossible without eyewitness confirmation to have a specific date of actual loss. In actuality, by December 12, the unit was in reserve in the Hamhung-Hungnam area. Conley was presumed dead on December 31, 1953.

According to an online article provided by the National Museum of the United States Army,

In late November 1950, a conclusion to the Korean War appeared to be close at hand. U.S., Republic of Korea (ROK), and various U.N. units had advanced deep into North Korea in an attempt to destroy any remaining North Korean People's Army (NKPA) units and reunite Korea under one government. Some units had even reached the Yalu River, which separated Korea from Communist China….

For one U.S. Army unit, the intervention of Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) resulted in absolute disaster. The 31st Regimental Combat Team, better known as Task Force MacLean (later known as Task Force Faith), comprised of elements of the 7th Infantry Division, was virtually annihilated east of the Chosin Reservoir. 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….

Task Force MacLean, under the command of COL Allan D. "Mac" MacLean, commander of the 31st Infantry Regiment, had been formed in mid-November to relieve elements of the 1st Marine Division east of the Chosin Reservoir. MacLean, a 1930 graduate of West Point, had served as a staff officer in the European Theater during World War II. After the war, he commanded the 32nd Infantry in Japan. Later assigned to Eighth Army's G-3 section, MacLean served as Walker's personal "eyes and ears" during the early days of the Korean War. In early November 1950, he eagerly accepted command of the 31st Infantry, a unit he had served with in the Philippines early in his career.

Task Force MacLean consisted of the following units: the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 31st Infantry (2/31 and 3/31); the 31st Tank Company; the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry (1/32), under the command of LTC Don C. Faith; the 57th Field Artillery Battalion, equipped with 105mm howitzers; and a platoon of eight antiaircraft vehicles (M19s with dual 40mm cannon and M16 quad-.50 halftracks) from D Battery, 15th Antiaircraft Artillery (Automatic Weapons) Battalion. In all, Task Force MacLean numbered about 3,200 men, including 700 ROK soldiers.

While the lead elements of Task Force MacLean were deployed to join the 1st Marine Division along the west side of Chosin,

Most of the remaining units that comprised Task Force MacLean arrived on the east side of Chosin on 27 November. MacLean was among the first to arrive and immediately jeeped forward to confer with Faith. He confirmed with Faith that the task force would attack north the following day with whatever forces were on hand and that the 1/32 would spearhead the attack….

The scattered units of Task Force MacLean were dangerously isolated, not only from the rest of the 7th ID and the Marines, but also from each other. . . .

Map detailing the Battle of Changjin [Chosin] Reservoir. U.S. Army Center of Military History

Map detailing the Battle of Changjin [Chosin] Reservoir. U.S. Army Center of Military History

The Task Force faced serious obstacles. The fighting that ensued from November 27 forward was marked by chaos, freezing temperatures, and general disorganization.

During the night of 1-2 December, survivors straggled into the Marine lines. Many came through a sector held by the Marine 1st Motor Transport Battalion. . . . In all just over 1,000 survivors reached the Marine lines, and of those, only 385 could be considered able-bodied. The survivors, along with other 7th ID soldiers, were organized into a provisional battalion and attached to the 7th Marines. Known as the 31/7, the battalion participated in the 1st Marine Division's breakout from Hagaru-ri to the coast beginning on 6 December.

For years afterward, the saga of Task Force MacLean/Faith had been largely ignored. Many believed that the collapse and panic that engulfed the task force had brought great shame to the Army. Upon closer examination, the task force's role in the Chosin battle proved to be much more noteworthy. Many historians now agree that Task Force MacLean blocked the Chinese drive along the eastern side of Chosin for five days and allowed the Marines along the west side to withdraw into Hagaru-ri. (Matthew Seelinger, "Nightmare at the Chosin Reservoir," Army Historical Foundation, accessed 10 August 2021,

Cpl. Conley's remains could not be recovered after the chaotic battle. It would be nearly 70 years before the North Koreans turned over in 2018, at the direction of Kim Jong Un, the remains of 55 soldiers they had retained. According to his great-nephew, Jeremy Isaacs, Pete was number 25. At this point, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) stepped in and began using their tools for analysis, including DNA testing of Conley's relatives. Pete Conley's remains were identified on June 5, 2020. Although his mother and siblings were deceased, this result was something they had hoped for in the many years he was missing.

Two entries in the documents U.S. Korean War Casualties, 1950-1957, list Pete Conley as a private first class. However, in the document U.S. World War II and Korean Conflict Veterans Interred Overseas, he is listed as a corporal, most likely a posthumous promotion. Prior to the identification of his remains, he was listed at the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial. Among his awards were the Purple Heart and the National Defense Service Medal.

Cpl. Pete Conley's remains landed in the U.S. on August 3, 2021, and a solemn journey from Columbus, Ohio, to his hometown proceeded. The governor of West Virginia issued a proclamation that all U.S. flags and state flags be displayed at half-staff on August 6. A funeral was held at Chapmanville with burial at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Peck's Mill. While Pete's siblings are deceased, he is survived by seven nieces -- Ruth Ann Belcher, Pam Albright, Tammy Scaggs, Kimberly Martin, Beth Neece, and Sherry and Gloria Honaker -- and three nephews -- Johnny Conley and David and Rusty Honaker. It was Ruth and her mother Phyllis who originally provided the DNA that led to the identification of Pete. One sister-in-law, Evelyn Conley also survives, along with many great-nieces and great-nephews. They and other extended family members now have closure as they honor their uncle and know he is resting nearby

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure, who gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Pete Conley's niece Ruth Ann Belcher
August 2021


Pete Whitfield Conley

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