70 years ago, on a snowy hillside in Northern Korea, 25,000 Marines were trying to stay warm when the gongs and horns of Chinese troops went off signaling an attack by more than 150,000.
The Chosin Reservoir Campaign would be the coldest battle ever fought with temps around -47°.
Marines who took gunshot wounds would walk into the aid tents at Yudam-ni and then bleed out on the tables as their wounds thawed out. Dead Marines and Chinese were piled high as windbreaks for the living.
Hector Cafferata was a PFC reservist from Jersey. He snuck aboard a train with the reserves called to duty and went to Pendleton to train with them. He never went to boot camp and wasn’t getting paid while he was in Korea. He just wanted to be a Marine. He was in a fighting position at the very outer edge of the line when the Chinese mounted a heavy attack. He is credited with killing 80 Chinese communist soldiers that night. When his hand was disabled permanently by a grenade, he used an e-tool and hit the grenades back.
Hudner’s wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown was the first Black Naval Aviator. When Brown’s F4U was shot down, Hudner flew close air support for him, hoping he’d get out of his plane. But Hudner could see Brown was alive but stuck in the plane.
Captain Bill Barber enlisted in WWII and fought on Iwo Jima. As company commander of Company F (Hector’s Company) he led the holding position at the end of the line against the onslaught of Chinese troops. If he and his Company had failed the battle could’ve ended very differently.
Barber took a round in the hip from a ricochet and fashioned a crutch from a stick and proceeded to lead his company. At times he had troops carry him on a stretcher so he could check the lines and respond quicker during the fight.
Barber was ordered to fight his company back to the regiment so they wouldn’t be lost to Chinese forces. But he refused. Choosing instead to draw more Chinese troops to his position and give the regiment a chance to withdraw. The time Fox Company bought the regiment was huge.
While Fox company 1/7, led by Ray Davis worked their way over 3 ridges that were crawling with Chinese troops to link up with Fox Company. Davis who already had a Navy Cross from Palau in WWII, was always at the front in the thick of the fighting.
At the very point of 1/7, was Chew En Lee. The first Marine Officer of Asian descent. During the Inchon campaign, Lee shouted orders in Mandarin at the enemy and confused them as his Marines advanced.
Lee was wounded twice and sent to a MASH unit and slated to be sent to Japan. He and another Marine from his unit escaped the medical tent and stole a jeep and rejoined their unit.
As Lee led the Marines, he many times came face to face with Chinese troops and he’d count the enemy forces and then tell Ray Davis whether they should attack. When the unit reached the Chinese surrounding Fox Company, Lee led the assaulting Company up the hill.
The Marines linked up with Fox Company by radio on December 2nd and, after artillery and close air support, the company was relieved and the battalion began the long March back.
Chosin could’ve been one of the greatest losses in the history of the Marine Corps. But the actions of guys like Hector, Barber, Davis, and Lee make it one of the great stories of the Corps fighting for one another selflessly and surviving the battle.
Though the Chinese forced a withdrawal of the Marines, the Chinese forces were reduced from 30 divisions to 18 divisions because of the Chosin Campaign.