Turkey Popsicles and Frozen Gravy

Korean Thanksgiving 1950

67 years ago today, men of the 1st Marine Division found themselves on the other side of the world. The Korean War was raging, and they had been sent to a cold, grey, and lonely place no one had ever heard of - Chosin, or Changjin, as it’s called here in Korea.

And it was Thanksgiving.

But the Marines, like they’re known to do, made the best of a bad situation. Although thousands of miles away from home, missing their families and friends, and unable to watch football or go to the Macy’s parade, they could at least be thankful that someone, maybe even General MacArthur himself, had made it a priority to get every US serviceman a turkey dinner. No matter where they were.

Thanksgiving at Hamhung, North Korea, 1950

Thanksgiving at Hamhung, North Korea, 1950 -The weather in Hamhung was much warmer than Chosin.
(Photo credit: Department of Defense)

Marines who had been marching, patrolling, and struggling to stay warm in the snow-covered, windswept mountains of North Korea for days were unexpectedly treated to a feast that even mom would have approved of: roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green peas and buttered corn, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. The food - and how it got there - was impressive.

From air drops, to truck and jeep convoys, to mess cooks personally delivering cans of chow to men on the front lines, everyone had a Thanksgiving dinner. But as hard as the top brass had tried to make the Marines feel at home, the men from big and small towns across America knew they weren’t back in Jersey, Philly, Abilene or LA. They were in one of the most god-awful places on the planet.

As difficult as it was to eat the frozen, tasteless food, it was wonderful. Just the smell of the turkey and dressing made men grateful for the meal. Many imagined, if even for a brief instant, they were far from Korea and gave thanks. For hundreds of Marines at Chosin (over 700), it would be their last Thanksgiving.

Marines fighting at Chosin

Marines at Chosin. (Photo credit: US National Archives)

The Chinese would attack two days later, beginning one of the most horrific battles in US Marine Corps history. The memory of eating cold turkey with a buddy would soon be replaced with images of hand-to-hand combat, gaping chest wounds, napalm strikes, and frozen bodies.

War may not be pleasant to think about as we enjoy our Thanksgiving meals and relax with family and friends, but today is as good a day as any to be thankful for those who've answered the call of duty: past, present, and future.

Happy Thanksgiving and Semper Fi!

I found this in Col. Forney's collection in the Marine Corps Archives. (Photo credit: US Marine Corps Archives)
Marines enjoying Thanksgiving lunch. (Photo credit: US National Archives)


  1. Travis Brann on November 24, 2017 at 12:11 am

    Good post Ned. I join you in this remember acne. Observed that Thanksgiving on the west side with 24th Infantry where it was almost as cold. Your dedication to your task is admirable.

    • Ned Forney on November 24, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      I appreciate your feedback, Sir. I cannot imagine what it was like anywhere on the peninsula during that time. Thank you also for your service – YOUR dedication is admirable!
      Next month I’ll be writing a blog about the US Army at Chosin. Again, thank you.