Captain Dye's Blog
These are all the Blogs posted in September, 2010.
Thursday, 16
At the Frozen Chosin in the Freezin' Season
You wouldnt know it by sticking your head out a window in Southern California but fall has fallen and winter is about to come whistling in to a lot of places around the country. The very thought of having to deal with cold winds, ice and snow gives me a case of the shivering shingles. If youre one of those whack-jobs that love winter cold and snow, fine. Theres a lid for every pot. You can take your ski-trips, snowball fights, sledding and snow angels and welcome to the ensuing chilblains. I dont do snow. It likely has to do with the horrible six weeks I spent 250 miles above the Arctic Circle suffering through a Norwegian Army winter warfare school.
But thats just me. In fact, I have the utmost respect for people who have had to fight a winter campaign and I literally stand in awe of the Marines who survived the brutal Chosin Reservoir campaign in Korea in the bitter winter of 1950. I made a little speech in honor of that dwindling band of survivors down at Camp Pendleton recently where a beautiful monument to their courage and tenacity was dedicated. I shook way too many hands missing fingers that broke off somewhere between Yudam-ni and Hamhung as temperatures plunged regularly to thirty below zero in that area. I watched way too many of those heroes hobbling around with canes and walkers supporting legs that were still stiff with cold injuries sixty years after the Frozen Chosin in the Freezin Season.
I didnt enjoy contemplating what those guys must have gone through in Korea but it was a signal honor to spend a few hours with them. To a man, the members of the elite Chosen Few organization are still tougher than a billy goats balls and they consider every day they are given after that brutal, bitterly-cold fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir a gift from God. They were delighted to be there at Camp Pendleton in the warm sun where young Marines who studied the Chosin Reservoir Campaign in boot camp treated them like heroes and the proud old Marines insisted they were not.
Camp Pendleton seemed like exactly the right spot for a monument to the Chosin Reservoir survivors. Thats where one of the most monumental mad scrambles in the history of the Marine Corps took place between July and August 1950 leading up to that epic battle the following winter. Since most of you couldnt be there in person to hear the wild stories from those days, let me tell you something about what took place at sunny Camp Pendleton sixty years ago shortly after North Korean forces swarmed south across the 38th parallel, took Seoul and pinned American and ROK forces into an ever-tightening trap at the Pusan Perimeter. Return with me now to those days of yesteryear when Give Em Hell Harry Truman was Commander in Chief and El Supremo in the Far East was Dugout Doug MacArthur.
Shortly after the defecation hit the oscillation in June U.S. Army forces in Korea are driven like sled dogs back into a leaky semi-circular defense around the southern port of Pusan. Garrison troops with little motivation and even less training are rushed from cushy billets in Japan into the breach. Things are looking more than a little bleak for our guys. President Truman is unhappy with what looks like impending doom for our South Korean allies and while hes no Marine Corps cheerleader by a long stretch, he orders up a gaggle of Leathernecks to reinforce the Army and the ROKs. The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade ships out in a hurry from Camp Pendleton and makes a mad dash into the Pusan Perimeter as a fire brigade but it doesnt help much. The pocket of allied resistance is bending toward the breaking point and Seoul is still in communist hands.
Back in the White House Harry Truman, from the Show Me State, is getting conflicting signals from the Far East. MacArthur is saying its not much more than a limited police action and whistling in the dark from his headquarters in Tokyo. Observers on the ground in Korea, up at the pointy end of the bayonet where observations tend to be more credible, are telling anyone who will listen that allied forces are about to be pushed unceremoniously into the Sea of Japan. Truman, a World War I cannon-cocker with some combat experience of his own, opts to believe the desperate reports from the battle lines. He sends a blazer down the chain of command that puts a serious ding in Doug MacArthurs over-inflated ego. MacArthur responds with a demand for The Prez to send in more Marines. The 1st Marine Division was his go-to outfit in the Pacific during World War II and El Supremo figures theyll bail out his rapidly-sinking boat in Korea.
Meanwhile, its July at Camp Pendleton, home of that very same fighting 1st Marine Division, and the roster of combat ready Marines is somewhat less than reassuring. Damn near every available trained body and most of the workable combat weapons on hand had been shipped out the month before with that jury-rigged provisional brigade. So now comes a missive from MacArthur which says send me the 1st Marine Division; all of it if you please, and all ready for immediate combat action in Korea. And while youre at it, throw in the entire 1st Marine Aircraft Wing as the Air Force guys over here could use a hand with marauding MIGs and air support, bombing and strafing and stuff like that. P.S.  the general adds  Ive got a little amphibious landing planned at a place called Inchon and you guys are gonna love this one.
As soon as the gales of laughter subside, the Marine command decides on a response: Well sure, General, no problem. And the flap-flail drill cranks into high gear.
Marines are typically Spartan in the face of impossible odds, so they figure theres no need to mention all thats on hand at Camp Pendleton is a skeleton force that would barely make up a light battalion. And theres no point in whining about having to strip most of the combat power from the 2nd Marine Division on the East Coast and putting it on express trains bound for Southern California. Why mention the business of calling 90 percent of our organized reserve units to immediate active duty? The fact that many of those young men havent even been to recruit training yet is a concern but its not a deal-breaker, right? And well just keep it between us girls that were accepting for immediate service some 88,000 individuals from the Marine Volunteer Reserve, most of who are World War II retreads. Not to fret, General MacArthur, come hell or high water, youll have the fighting 1st Marine Division in Korea by September. And where the hell is Inchon?
So all of those Marines - most of them wondering what kind of route-step outfit theyve fallen in with  descend on Camp Pendleton where they are shuttled into commands of the division and air wing bound for Korea. And the clock is ticking&loudly. Plank-owners and Homesteaders at Marine posts and stations all across the country are shanghaied and put on immediate orders to Camp Pendleton. At the base, merciless press gangs make the rounds of all supporting commands, forcefully reminding all protesters that every Marine is a rifleman first and foremost.
No one is really sure just how it happens, but the 1st Marine Division is organized, trained, embarked and aboard ships sailing at high speed for Korea in time to spearhead MacArthurs bold end-around amphibious landing at Inchon. Then it was over the sea walls into Inchon port and on to Seoul with the North Korean Peoples Army in full retreat before the onslaught. Marines were learning what they didnt have time for at Camp Pendleton by bloody on-the-job training. Things are looking up in Korea.
Allied troops are charging north out of the Pusan Perimeter. MacArthur re-installs South Korean President Syngman Ree in Seoul while Marines are still battling on the outskirts of the city. It looks like the war will be over before Christmas if El Supremo can just get President Truman to let him chase the commies north all the way to the Yalu River border with China. Dugout Doug is dreaming about a photo-op where hes urinating into the Yalu a la George Patton pissing in the Rhine, so hes oblivious to battlefield reports that are trying to tell him that a pot full of Chinamen are waiting in North Korean snow holes to rain all over his victory parade. Thus begins the agony of the Chosin Reservoir Campaign.
Marines on the west side of the reservoir and soldiers on the east are suddenly set upon by hordes  literally hundreds of thousands  of so-called Chinese volunteers. If that isnt bad enough, the worst winter in a century has descended on the Korean Peninsula. Temperatures are regularly double-digits below zero and Chinese assaults on Marine outposts are usually by units that outnumber the defenders by triple digits. Theres just one thing to do other than die in place. The Marines have got to conduct a retrograde movement down an opposed road from their farthest point of advance  Yudam-ni  all the way to a secure port at Hungnam on Koreas eastern coast. It was hardly a typical retreat. In fact, it was an attack in a rearward direction and the Marines had to fight through the snow-covered mountains and hordes of Chinese infantry all the way carrying all their wounded and dead.
There are more tales of heroic marches, inhuman endurance and gallant fights from that campaign than weve got time or space for here. I know those stories because Ive heard them from survivors who gather periodically as members of the Chosen Few organization. There are chapters of that outfit across the country. Look around, Google them, talk to a few of the men who fought that epic battle. One of these days Im going to tell their story in a film or TV series. In the meantime, you need to meet these men and hear their stories. Were headed for hard times in this country and we could use their inspiration.
Posted By Captain Dale A. Dye at 9:44 PM / Category:General News
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