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51 years ago today - Chosin Reservoir
VFW Magazine ^

Posted on 12/01/2001 9:20:04 AM PST by jo6pac

Between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 1950, the 1st Marine and 7th Infantry divisions took on 100,000 Chinese (25,000 of whom died) during a 70-mile fighting withdrawal in bitterly cold North Korea.


‘Saga of Epic Heroism’

Thanksgiving Day, 1950, began relatively well for Marine Cpl. Harley Trueblood. Cooks were dishing out roast turkey with all the trimmings—the first food except cold C rations that he and the other leathernecks in Co. B, 1st Tank Bn. of Col. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller’s 1st Marine Division had eaten since they had stormed Blue Beach at Inchon two months earlier.

The enemy was on the run. Trueblood and the other Marines who had been advancing steadily along a narrow, twisting mountain road onto the 4,000-foot-high Chosin Reservoir were too savvy to buy Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s declaration that U.S. troops would be heading home by Christmas.

But it did seem that American fighting men once again had demonstrated what firepower, rugged training, combat experience and incomparable courage could accomplish.

Everything quickly proved too good to be true. Bitter winds sweeping down from Siberia dropped temperatures so far below zero that steaming slices of turkey froze between mess kit and mouth. "What you had was kind of a turkey popsicle," Trueblood recalls.

Hours later, the 20-year-old Marine found himself crouched in an icy ditch outside the town of Yudam-ni, fighting for his life. Waves of Communist Chinese Forces (CCF)—divisions that Eighth Army intelligence officers, under the command of Maj. Gen. Charles Willoughby, had insisted were not there or were present in numbers so small as to be inconsequential—had struck the most decisive blow of the Korean War.

Forward March

To achieve his goal of ending the war quickly, MacArthur ordered an offensive as daring and unorthodox as his bold amphibious landing at Inchon. "Two major field forces, the Eighth Army and the X Corps, with the 1st Marine Division as one of its major components, would drive north on opposite sides of the Korean peninsula," said Lt. Gen. Alpha L. Bowser, division operations officer.

"The North Korean army would be pushed across the Yalu River. Korea would be unified under a non-Communist government in Seoul. Then everybody except a few military advisors for South Korea’s new army could go home."

At first, the offensive went like clockwork. "Some U.S. Army battalions [elements of the 7th Infantry Divison’s 32nd Regiment] and South Korea’s 7th Inf. Regt. [its recon platoon] actually reached the ice-rimmed Yalu," said Bowser, who was then a colonel.

But farther south, below the Chosin Reservoir, Bowser and other U.S. officers, including Brig. Gen. Bankson Holcomb, 1st Marine Division intelligence officer, were worried about the dangers of staging a major offensive through forbidding terrain during the coldest winter of the decade.

Bowser, who had fought at Bougainville and in a dozen other WWII battles, and had perfected plans for the tricky Inchon landing, was skeptical of MacArthur’s winter offensive. "We should have let the enemy impale himself on our lines all winter, instead of moving forward," Bowser believes. So he deliberately slowed the division’s advance toward Chosin.

"I decided my tactic would be to build up supply points and drag my feet long enough to get them set up along the main supply route," Bowser relates. "I think Smith [the division commander, Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith] was aware of what I was doing, and he let me get away with it up to a point.

"But then X Corps called me and said, ‘We’ve seen you move a division across Korea on 15 minutes’ notice.’ I got the message and started moving north."

Disaster in Waiting

"In the first big attack, the enemy came at us in a huge mass at night," said Frank Kerr, 2nd Bn., 5th Regt., 1st Marine Div., combat photographer.

Initially, there seemed no way for U.S. forces to avoid being overrun. "Our machine gunners took such a fearful toll that enemy bodies had to be pushed out of the way, during lulls in the fighting, to open up fields of fire," Trueblood recalls. "Then another wave would come, charging over bodies already freezing."

Despite the subzero temperatures, the barrels of automatic weapons glowed red hot from constant use. There was no front or rear—and no safe haven—because the enemy had penetrated almost every American position.

Army units faced an equally grim situation. "I figured out later we had 32 GIs trying to hold a ridge against two whole enemy regiments," said Edward Reeves, a member of the ill-fated 31st Inf. Regt., 7th Inf. Div. "The first troops that hit us were wearing white camouflage uniforms, and so were we. They were carrying Thompson submachine guns and M-1 rifles they had captured from the Nationalists [Chinese]. You couldn’t rely on the sound of the weapons to tell where the enemy was at night." (See sidebar.)

Fighting All The Way

For the soldiers battling their way back down the roads beside the reservoir, the battered town of Hagaru was like a citadel. There was even an airstrip where pilots risked constant enemy fire to bring in ammo and take out the wounded.

Some 5,381 of the most critically wounded were flown out. The remainder came out strapped to M-26 tanks, truck fenders, piled onto sleds or carried by GIs in only slightly better shape.

"At Chosin, we didn’t consider ourselves wounded until we could no longer fire a rifle," said Pfc. Jack Erickson, a Marine reservist called up and assigned to C Co., 2nd Bn., 5th Marines—just in time for the battle. "I got hit on the second night. At first I was taken down to a MASH unit, but the enemy was really hitting all around so they loaded us on a truck like cordwood. The road was like an ice cube, and the truck tipped over. Some of us took off on foot and made it to Hagaru."

But Hagaru was only the first stop in a running battle that made a formula for survival out of Gen. Smith’s assertion: "We are simply attacking in another direction" (hyped to "Retreat, hell" by correspondents).

"I’ll never forget when we were encircled and Ned Almond (X Corps commander) flew in to discuss how we could get out," said Holcomb.

"He told Smith, ‘I suggest that you destroy all your artillery, burn your supplies and let every man go out on foot by himself. I have no doubt that a lot will get through to the south.’ There was a stunned silence.

"Then Smith said very quietly but firmly, ‘General, I don’t accept that suggestion at all. The 1st Marine Division is going to fight its way out, we’re going to take all our equipment and wounded and as many dead as we can. If we can’t get out that way, this division will never fight as a unit again.’ Almond just said, ‘All right, general,’ then left and we never saw him again."

It took 22 hours of fierce fighting—and 600 more American casualties—to get from Hagaru to the next way point, Koto-ri. "Enemy units fought savagely," Erickson recalls, "mounting attacks from ridges towering above the road, setting ambushes and executing the wounded when hospital trucks could be isolated from the rest of the column."

Below Koto-ri, the biggest challenge was a 1,500-foot-deep chasm where the enemy had dynamited the lone bridge. "Crossing the chasm became a classic of engineering improvisation under fire," Trueblood said.

Eight 2-ton Treadway bridge sections, secured to the biggest parachutes that could be found, were dropped from C-119 Flying Boxcars flying at only 800 feet. "Marine patrols recovered six of the sections, but still came up short by seven feet," the leatherneck recalled.

The solution of engineers with the 1st Amphibious Tractor Bn. was grisly. They built a timber frame at one end of the bridge and filled it to road level.

"There wasn’t enough loose rock for the bulldozers to scrape up, but there were enough dead enemy soldiers frozen hard as rocks stacked up alongside the road, so they bulldozed them in and covered them up with dirt and we started to move," said the tank crewman, who by then was among the walking-but-still-fighting wounded.

‘I’d do it over again’

On Dec. 9, on a bitterly cold ridge just north of Chinhung-ni, the 12,000-strong 1st Marine Division did come out intact. It had battled its way 35 blood-stained miles from its point of farthest advance, above Yudam-ni, south to Chinhung-ni, where it linked up with a relief force moving north.

Was "Retreat, hell!" truly hype?

"Based on the fundamental measure of war as an extension of political struggle, Chosin was a defeat," said former Ohio senator John Glenn, who as a Marine combat pilot in Korea shot down three MiG’s near the war’s end.

"But for the courageous men of Chosin, and in the proud history of the U.S. Marine Corps, it is remembered, rightfully so, as a victory—a saga of heroism and suffering written by an extraordinarily tenacious, superbly disciplined combat division."

Chosin vets echo those sentiments. Says Trueblood: "South Korea wouldn’t have lived in freedom for 50 years if we hadn’t gone there." Reeves, a quadruple amputee from his wounds sustained at Chosin, believes every battle in Korea was a significant victory.

"When I was over there for the Olympics [1988] and saw how far they had come, and had people come out onto the street to thank an American vet in a wheelchair, it was worth it," he says. "If I had to do it all over again, yes, I would."

B. Gordon Wheeler is a free-lance writer based in Van Nuys, Calif. This is his first contribution to VFW magazine.


Tragedy Strikes Task Force

The 7th Infantry Division’s 31st Regimental Combat Team was decimated, but displayed "dogged heroism."

The U.S. Army’s Task Force MacLean, committed to battle during the Chosin Reservoir, has largely (and regrettably) been ignored by historians. Named after Col. Allan D. MacLean, commander of the 31st Regimental Combat Team, 7th Div., it was formed in mid-November 1950.

Its mission: to relieve the 5th Marine Regt., then dug in east of the reservoir. Consisting of the 2nd and 3rd battalions, 31st Regt.; 1st Bn., 32nd Regt.; 57th Field Artillery Bn.; D Battery, 15th AAA Bn.; and 700 Korean infantrymen from the 15th Inf. Regt., the 3,200-man task force fulfilled its mission.

Task Force MacLean dug in with the 32nd’s 1st Bn. (under the command of Lt. Col. Don C. Faith) to the north, the 31st’s 3rd Bn. to the south, and the rear command post and the 31st’s Heavy Tank Co. still farther south at Hudong.

When orders came (on Nov. 27) to attack north toward the Yalu River, MacLean sent a recon platoon out to scout enemy positions. It disappeared without a trace, leaving the entire unit vulnerable to attack.

Hours later, under the cover of darkness, the 30,000 soldiers of the 80th Division of the Communist Chinese Forces’ (CCF) 130,000-man 13th Army Group hit Task Force MacLean. The onslaught was repelled, but the force lost 191 KIA in the brutal fighting.

Knowing his force was so strung out that it was susceptible to defeat in detail (battalions picked off one at a time), MacLean ordered the tanks to move north for support. But they were repelled.

As darkness fell on Nov. 28, the CCF’s 80th Division attacked again, forcing the 1st Battalion to retreat south into the 3rd’s perimeter.

During the withdrawal, MacLean was wounded and captured (he later died in captivity). And Lt. Col. William R. Reilly, commander of the 3rd Bn., was gunned down and critically wounded. Faith then assumed command. The doomed Task Force MacLean then became Task Force Faith.

With its tank company pinned down in Hudong, and with no support from the 1st Marine Division, which was battling three CCF divisions west of the reservoir, Faith was ordered on Nov. 30 to fight his way south to Hagaru. Left to fend for itself, surrounded by the CCF and hindered by 500 casualties with temperatures dropping to 35 degrees below zero, Task Force Faith moved fatefully toward Hudong.

With nightfall came yet another CCF onslaught. The task force suffered an additional 100 casualties. Still members fought on, battling their way through CCF mortars, machine gun fire, ambushes and roadblocks—and napalm mistakenly dropped on them by U.S. aircraft.

Finally, on Dec. 1, the task force reached the village of Hudong, only to discover that its tank company, which might have been its salvation, had retreated to Hagaru.

That withdrawal sealed the fate of Task Force Faith. In the final CCF assault, Faith was killed, as were most of the 600 wounded. Of the 3,200-man task force, 2,815, or 88%, were either KIA, WIA or MIA. Faith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his "outstanding gallantry and noble self-sacrifice."

Yet these tremendous sacrifices are barely remembered. "The two light infantry battalions that made up the 31st Regimental Combat Team fought off two full CCF divisions long enough for the Marines to get prepared at Hagaru," wrote vet James R. Jeffries. "Without the five-day delay created by the 31st RCT, the Marines would have suffered even greater casualties."

Leading Korean War historians agree. "Yet MacLean and Faith and their men did not suffer and die to no purpose," wrote Clay Blair in The Forgotten War. "Their dogged heroism had virtually destroyed the CCF 80th Division and had blocked or delayed the CCF drive down the east side of the Chosin Reservoir to Hagaru for about five days. These Army blocks and delays bought vital time, enabling the 5th and 7th Marines to withdraw into Hagaru. But the same Army blocks and delays could have been mounted at Hagaru, with far fewer casualties and to greater effect."



7th Infantry Division

Killed in Action 2,657

Wounded in Action 354

1st Marine Division

Killed in Action 718

Missing in Action 192

Wounded in Action 3,508

Note: The Marines also suffered 7,313 losses to frostbite and indigestion ailments.

Battlefield Valor

Thirteen Americans earned the Medal of Honor in and around Chosin (Toktong Pass, Koto-Ri, Yudam-ni, Hagaru-ri):

Marine Capt. William E. Barber

Marine Pfc. William B. Baugh*

Marine Pvt. Hector A. Cafferata, Jr.

Marine Lt. Col. Raymond G. Davis

Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith, Jr.*

Navy Lt. Thomas J. Hudner

Marine Sgt. James E. Johnson*

Marine Staff Sgt. Robert S. Kennemore

Marine 1st Lt. Frank N. Mitchell*

Marine Maj. Reginald R. Myers

Army Lt. Col. John U.D. Page*

Marine Capt. Carl L. Sitter

Marine Staff Sgt. William G. Windrich*

* Posthumous

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Miscellaneous

1 posted on 12/01/2001 9:20:04 AM PST by jo6pac
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To: jo6pac
And we should NEVER forget that the head of military ops in the u.n. was always someone from a communist nation or sympathetic to the communists. In other words, there is no doubt in my mind that the chinese were given advanced warning, thus, were able to trap our soldiers.
2 posted on 12/01/2001 9:24:52 AM PST by poet
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To: jo6pac

3 posted on 12/01/2001 9:26:37 AM PST by jo6pac
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To: jo6pac
Great Post...BUMP!!!

4 posted on 12/01/2001 9:30:10 AM PST by Joe 6-pack
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To: jo6pac
Thanks for the post.
5 posted on 12/01/2001 9:34:42 AM PST by Hacksaw
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To: poet
At the time there were rumors that some Brits were passing information to the Reds. Of course they were never proven either way.
6 posted on 12/01/2001 9:46:27 AM PST by cynicom
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To: poet
Actually, the chicoms didn't need intell help from the UN. MacArthur's intell blunder led to this.
7 posted on 12/01/2001 9:46:37 AM PST by jo6pac
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To: jo6pac
Let us always remember these fine men. Thank you for posting.
8 posted on 12/01/2001 9:54:57 AM PST by d4now
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To: Joe 6-pack
Thanks for the pic.
9 posted on 12/01/2001 10:03:04 AM PST by jo6pac
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To: jo6pac
10 posted on 12/01/2001 10:25:27 AM PST by VOA
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To: jo6pac

Copyright 1991, Chosin Few / Col. Charles Waterhouse, USMC (Ret).©

Taking the high ground at the Chosin Reservoir

Between Yudam-Ni & Hagaru-ri, December 2 or 3, 1950. Photo courtesy Historical Branch USMC via Ray Walker, Tennessee.

11 posted on 12/01/2001 10:27:57 AM PST by Tennessee_Bob
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To: jo6pac
Have you heard the story about the Catholic Naval Chaplain that found it necessary to take command -- he removed his chaplain's insignia -- to successfully lead a large number of Marines in an organized retreat from Chosin?

He saved a lot of lives, and he probably deserved the MOH.

I was told that he violated the "Geneva Convention," but ... the Chinese army wasn't one to take prisoners.

I received the story at a 50th reunion for a high school class of 1943.

The chaplain is gone now. A retired Marine. May he rest in peace.

12 posted on 12/01/2001 10:28:54 AM PST by thinktwice
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To: jo6pac
BTTT for Korean Vets, esp. in memory of my uncle, 2nd LT Van Lee Halferty, KIA 01 Sep 1950.
13 posted on 12/01/2001 10:45:42 AM PST by austinTparty
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To: Tennessee_Bob
Thank you.
14 posted on 12/01/2001 1:17:20 PM PST by jo6pac
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To: thinktwice
Thanks for the info. I had not heard that.
15 posted on 12/01/2001 1:18:42 PM PST by jo6pac
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To: austinTparty
God bless your uncle.
16 posted on 12/01/2001 1:22:57 PM PST by jo6pac
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To: poet
Have you seen this?


17 posted on 12/01/2001 7:29:49 PM PST by gunnyg
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To: gunnyg
No, I hadn't, however, I was aware of the chain of command and the betrayal by the u.n.
18 posted on 12/01/2001 7:34:45 PM PST by poet
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