Monday, November 29, 2010

A Few Things to Remember During the Holidays, Mon. Nov 29th

Well, we are now firmly in “The Holiday Season” and it is my favorite time of the year. This time of year has become so commercialized that many people have forgotten what it is all about. If you asked, I would bet some kids these days think the holidays were made up as a “sale” for the department and discount stores. It is not. Technically, it is a time for Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ –an important event. More than that even, it has become a time of the year for sharing and to express goodwill toward mankind. It is a time of reflection, tolerance and forgiveness. The season starts with Thanksgiving, a time to do just that, and continues through the start of the New Year.

As you sit down to feast with your families this holiday, the blessing might well include a word of thanks to the men and women of our armed forces. While we celebrate our national holiday in the warmth and comfort of homes, they serve at grave peril in faraway places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of our troops are in Korea. There an unprovoked attack from the North killed four South Koreans on last Tuesday. That outrage reminds us of the continuing danger posed by the murderous thugs in Pyongyang. But it should also spur us to remember those Americans who, 60 years ago, spent Thanksgiving fighting at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. It was a vicious, brutal battle and one of the Marine Corps’ finest hours.
By Thanksgiving of 1950, X Corps (a joint force composed of American Army and UN troops), had advanced along with the 1st Marine Division deep into North Korea, almost to the Yalu River. But in an attack that caught the Americans by surprise, Chinese troops poured across the border and attacked in almost overwhelming waves.

Many units of X Corps disintegrated under the relentless attacks. The Marines, under the command of General Oliver Smith and Marine Corps legend Colonel Chesty Puller, along with elements of the 7th Infantry Division and the British Royal Marines, fought a rear guard action throughout a slow retreat from Chosin. Of course, Smith famously declared, “Gentlemen, we are not retreating. We are merely attacking in another direction.” And he was correct. As a military historian later observed, you can’t retreat when you are completely surrounded.

The Marines and their brethren fought against almost overwhelming odds. They were outnumbered five to one. The conditions were atrocious. Temperatures plunged to 30-, then 40- degrees below zero. Snow and ice coated them and their weapons. Sometimes the blizzard conditions made it impossible to see more than a few yards. Weapons and blood plasma froze. Medics carried morphine ampule's in their mouths to keep them warm. Trucks and jeeps had to be kept running constantly because it was almost impossible to get them started again.

From the hills and mountains surrounding the narrow roads, the Chinese rained machine gun fire and mortar shells on the Marines. Leatherneck battalions had to leapfrog each other as they moved south, fighting“yard by bitterly contested yard” to clear the heights commanding the road in front of them. Dedicated pilots from Marine Air Wings and Navy and Air Force units flew interdiction missions when the weather allowed. But for the most part, it was constant close quarter fighting--grenades, small arms and blades. The Marines won those fights.

At one point, the Marine advance halted. For a third time, the Chinese had destroyed a bridge over a gorge in the Funchlin Pass—this time, beyond repair. Air Force C-119’s parachuted eight bridge sections into the Marine perimeter. Six were recovered undamaged, allowing the Marines and an Army engineering unit to bridge the gorge.
Although the Chinese inflicted severe casualties, they could not break the Marine companies. As Max Hastings wrote in his history of the Korean War, “It is a tribute to the quality of units reconstituted only three months earlier, heavily manned by [Marine] reservists, that they mounted so dogged a defense under the most appalling conditions.”
Unlike many of the retreating American Army forces that wanted to simply abandon their heavy equipment and artillery, the Marines doggedly refused to leave anything behind. General Smith was adamant about conducting “an orderly and honorable withdrawal.” As they fought their way out of the mountains to the Korean coast, the Marines brought their equipment, their wounded, and their dead.

When they reached “Hellfire Valley” (between Hagau and Koto-ri), the situation looked impossible. Chesty Puller was unfazed. He climbed up on a ration box and told his men: “I don’t give a good goddamn how many Chinese laundrymen there are between us and Hungnam. There aren’t enough in the world to stop a Marine regiment going where it wants to go! Christ in His mercy will see us through.” Christ, the Marines’ raw courage and dogged determination, and their lead-from-the-front officers saw them through.
Puller later told reporters, “Remember when you write, this was no retreat. All that happened was we found more Chinese behind us than in front of us. So we about-faced and attacked.” The Marines and the US X Corps were able to reach the port city of Hungnam. They were evacuated by a 193 ship armada, which also took out 100,000 civilian Korean refugees.

The 1st Marine Division paid a heavy price: 4,418 battle casualties, including 718 dead and 192 missing. They suffered 7,313 non-battle casualties too, mostly cases of frostbite from the severe cold. But their valor and sacrifice saved the remnants of the American Army from what could have been one of its worst disasters.


On this day in history in 1947 UN Gen Assembly partitions Palestine between Arabs & Jews and in 1990 UN Security Council sets Jan 15th military deadline against Iraq

Baby on Board

A woman gets on a bus with her baby. As she pays for her ticket, the bus driver says: "That's the ugliest baby I've ever seen. Ugh!"
The woman sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: "The driver just insulted me!"

The man says: "You shouldn't take that. You tell him off! Go ahead,
  I'll hold your monkey."
 In Memoriam
Leslie Nielsen passed on last night. He was "one of the good ones" and will be missed. His career ran from the Commander in Red Planet, a real classic, to the the bumbling Police Lieutenant in Naked Gun. Perhaps his most memorable line was in Airplane when as a doctor he gave some bad news and was told "Surely you can't be serious." to which he famously replied "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley".

Live Long and Prosper......


Ted Leddy said...


What an excellent account of the battle. Well done ! From what I have learned aout the Korean War, I have developed a very deep appreciation for what the American and other UN soldiers did in Korea 60 years ago. A number of years ago I was in Seoul where I visited the enormous museum to the war and its fallen. It was very moving.

A few years ago when I was living in Dubai I traveled to Qatar for a rugby match. In the club house I met an American expatriate in his mid 60s. We spent the day talking. He told me about his time in Vietnam. But what moved me most was his description of when he got the news, as a ten year old kid, that his older brother was killed in Korea. It moved me to tears.

Hope you are enjoying the holiday season.

Gary said...

Thank you very much. I truly appreciate the kind words. Korea is called "the forgotten war" here and in many ways it truly is. That is a shame because it has never really ended and has been with us all these years yet most kids could not even tell you if Korea was in Asia or Africa.
My father, a WWII veteran, was called back in the Navy during the Korean War and I was born 5 weeks after this battle had taken place so for some unknown reason it has always been special to me.
Now it seems we are faced with another crisis in that region but reports I read today actually looked more positive than I had hoped. For one thing, China has finally taken some positive steps to control the dingbats.
Let's hope that continues.
I hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season.