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The Chosen Few

Share This article The Korean War began in 1950 when North Korea launched an attack against the south. Most believed the United States and the 21 other member countries of the United Nations would be able to end the conflict quickly. But, when the Red Chinese entered the war against the allies, fighting raged on for three years. It ended in 1953 with an armistice that established a new boundary near the 38th parallel.

Before this "uneasy" peace, there were many battles fought for the freedom of the South Korean people, none more horrific than the battle for the Chosin Reservoir.

Frank Torres remembers, "When that sun went down or when it got dark, we knew what was coming. They were coming to get us."

"And they came right through us and they came in four waves,' added Al Devito.

Roy Shiraga comments, "As we were crossing we can see the marines were having a fire-fight."

"They had an incoming barrage from the Chinese," remembers Merrel Wilson, "and they were firing mortars."

Clyde Queen shares, "You could hear the screams in the night. You knew that somebody was getting bayoneted. You couldn't tell whether it was them or us."

"You were scared," Clifford Meyer recalls. "You know the two guys on your flanks are scared, but you're thinking, 'I can't let these guys down because they're not going to let me down.'"

Tom Brett adds, "They were probably the greatest bunch of men that I've ever been around in my life."

"As long as I'm alive, I don't want it forgotten," adds Glen Earls.

"We landed at Inchon on September the 15th at 5:30 p.m. It wasn't too long before night had fallen. That was the first real exposure to combat that I'd ever experienced," remembers Clyde.

They fought on toward the north, but the allied forces had no idea that the Chinese army was crossing the border into North Korea. They slept by day, blending into the snow-covered landscape in their white, padded uniforms. They traveled by night, completely undetected by reconnaissance. It was too cloudy for allied planes to fly. No one realized what was happening until it was too late.

Clyde further explains, "They not only had us encircled, but they had one battalion cut off from another. They were trying to cut our supply lines."

The battle of the Chosin Reservoir pitted 15,000 allied ground troops against 120,000 Chinese infantrymen. The ten Chinese divisions, along with North Korean forces, were on a mission: wipe out the Marines, the Army, and all of the allies.

"The night of our operations at Chinhung-Ni was the coldest night on record in Korea. It was 48 degrees below zero," Tom remembers.

"The first wave would have the guns and they'd get killed," Roy recalls. "The next wave would pick it up"

Al adds, "Then the third wave came through. They didn't have any weapons. They picked up the weapons from the second group. Then I could have sworn there was a fourth group back there. They had real dark uniforms with machine guns. They would shoot anyone that tried to retreat."

"The toughest part about the battle and what was going on around you was trying to keep from freezing to death," explains Clifford.

"The good thing about it was," remembers Clyde, "the wounded didn't bleed to death, because the blood would freeze."

The battle wore on from November 27th through December 1st. Because of the weather, it was almost impossible to re-supply the troops.

Roy shares, "We were running out of ammunition. We had no food and no medical supplies."

The order finally came to withdraw to the south. But, it was crucial that planes could land and take the most severely wounded out of the battle zone.

"It was looking pretty bleak, because the planes couldn't fly and the Chinese were closing in," offers Clyde. "One night a cloud opened up and a marine looked up in the sky and he yelled, 'Look, a star. A star.' Then we knew that the planes would fly. We knew that they would be getting out of there. Some Marines think that star was placed there by God as a sign, 'Don't give up hope. I haven't forsaken you.'"

More than 4,000 allied casualties were evacuated from the air strip as the C-119's dropped rations and ammunition. But, the fight was not over. The remaining troops still had to make their way south to evacuate by ship.

Clifford states, "This was not a retreat. We had to run the gauntlet of 10 Chinese divisions. We decimated them coming out of there. We brought most of our dead with us. They were tied to the fenders and the hoods of the trucks.

By now, all of the bodies were frozen.

"Some of them -- we had to actually break arms off -- break them down to put them on the trucks. That hit me really bad to have to do that. We went in this one little house and there were three Marines sitting around. I swear they were praying. They froze to death. They were our soldiers. There were Marines," stated Al.

When it was over, of the 15,000 allies, more than 3,000 died and 6,000 were wounded. Thousands of others suffered severe frostbite cases leaving many veterans disabled.

Historians consider the battle of the Chosin Reservoir to be the single most savage battle of modern warfare. And for the chosen few who lived through it, it was an experience they will never forget.

Clifford comments, "It's amazing that anybody walked out of there at all without a wound or being killed."

"It was called a police action," states Glen, "and has been referred to as the forgotten war for many years. Fifty-four thousand people died there."

"We saved the nation from tyranny," Clifford shares. "There are 40 million South Koreans that are free today because we did it."

"The New York gangs didn't kill me. The North Koreans didn't kill me. The Chinese didn't kill me. I was just one of those fortunate people that made it all the way through. I don't know why. Maybe it was the prayer," comments Frank.

"They prayed hard for me," remembers Tom. "Believe you, all my family did and my relatives. I know that. I know that helped bring me through for sure. I absolutely should have been killed. I knew where I was going. God had my hand in his. If anything should have happened to me, I'd have been with him at that instant. I had no fear of not being in his care. That's the way I feel. That's the way I feel today."

Tom responds, "I felt it then, I feel it now."

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