Friday, May 3, 2019

The Bartholdi Legacy

Clockwise from top left: Capt. Cyril Bartholdi, c. 1950;  C. Bartholdi during World War II; Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Cyril's ancestor and sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, commemorated on a 1985 U.S. postage stamp.

Capt. Cyril Bartholdi arrived in Korea by ship on August 5, 1950. He left Bremerton, Washington to cross the Pacific with the balance of the U.S. Army's 23rd Infantry Regiment. Now age 31, he was a World War II veteran, and the commander of the 23rd's C Company.  Immediately upon their arrival at the port of Pusan, the 23rd was advised to prepare for advancing to the front within an hour's notice.

Bartholdi and his men had arrived at perhaps the most perilous time in the defense of the Pusan Perimeter.  North Korean forces enjoyed numerical superiority as well as the initiative.  The opposing American forces could not move enough men fast enough to counter every enemy advance along the front line defined mostly by the Naktong River.  The defense of Pusan - or more specifically, its ports - was to be maintained "at all costs." Failure to do some would risk losing the only means of receiving additional men and crucial materiel.  Bartholdi received such an order as his men dug in on a non-descript hill overlooking the Naktong.

As it happened to so many other units during the summer of 1950, Bartholdi's company bore the brunt of a nighttime attack, this one on September 1.  His men fought until food and ammunition were depleted.  C Company issued a radio message back to regimental command, requesting permission to withdraw to a more tenable line of defense.  The query was met with a denial, as was the next, then another.  Then the radio traffic ceased.

The history would be assembled years later from a handful of Americans who survived the battle only to be captured and held as prisoners of war.  Bartholdi was among the few men left standing who had no choice but to surrender due to exhaustion and a lack of ammunition.  Over the next month some of these men would be executed at the whim of their captors; survivors were marched northward pending their imprisonment in North Korea.  Bartholdi managed to survive for about a month in captivity, when he reached Taejon only to be executed on September 26 as the North Koreans hastened their northward retreat. 

U.S. Army graves registration would find and identify Bartholdi's remains.  He was ultimately interred back home in Wasco County, Oregon. It was there where the Bartholdi family became fairly prosperous thanks to their cement business, which won numerous contracts for installing municipal sidewalks and related infrastructure.

And Frederic A. Bartholdi (1834-1904)? He was a direct ancestor of Cyril's.  History remembers him as the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.


  1. Cyril or “Les” as he was called by his family was my grandfather. I grew up hearing these stories. I was blessed to Have been able to meet and speak with many of the surviving members of company C.
    Was able to join them at a few of their reunions over the years and hear stories about the night of the battle on 9/1/1950 as well as from men who were POW’s captured with my grandfather.
    Thank you for this post and keeping his memory alive.

  2. Les Bartholdi was my mother's brother, my uncle. My family has the deepest respect for the service and sacrifice Les Bartholdi gave for his country. A point of correction: F.A. Bartholdi had no children. He had one sibling, a brother, who reportedly only had one female offspring. Our Bartholdi family derives from Northern Italy, the Tyrol area and has been traced back to 1595 with no connections to France.