Physically and Emotionally Frozen

Sixty-seven years ago, on November 27, 1950, one of the most monumental battles in US history began in the desolate, unforgiving mountains of North Korea. What occurred over the next two weeks was nothing short of a terrifying, grisly, and frozen nightmare. Chosin, as the savage fight between US and Chinese forces is now called, would change the outcome of the Korean War and have a dramatic impact on the Cold War.

The men who fought there, the "Chosin Few,” are a rare breed. I went to a Chosin Few reunion in San Diego in the summer of 2016 and had the good fortune of meeting and interviewing many of the battle-hardened, yet humble, Marines, sailors, and soldiers. I will never forget their stories.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more about them and their buddies who never returned.

In the meantime, I highly recommend the well-made, graphic, and moving documentary, The Battle of Chosin. Watching the PBS American Experience film, produced and directed by Randy MacLowry, with associate producer Rebecca Taylor, is the closest most of us will ever come to being at the god-forsaken, snow-covered Chosin Reservoir.

Poster from the Chosin Few reunion in San Diego, 2016

Poster from the Chosin Few reunion in San Diego, 2016

The interviews of Chosin veterans, the narration by Michael Murphy, and the music, combat footage, and newspaper, radio, and television clips come together to give a “grunt’s” (the term for an infantryman) view of the battle. It’s a gut-wrenching story of perseverance, courage, and sacrifice. As one Marine veteran interviewed for the film described it, “You were not only physically frozen, you were emotionally frozen, not knowing how much more you could give, and . . . yet wanting to survive."

But The Battle of Chosin also inspires. By putting the viewer in the boots of the men - American, British, and Korean - who fought under the UN command, we not only experience the horrors of war, but we also see that the incredible hardships, pain, and sacrifices they endured were not in vain. In the closing minutes of the film, Juan Balleza, a Marine with the 1st Marine Division at Chosin, says, “I still believe that the sacrifice not only of the Marines, but the Army and the Navy, and everyone who supported that engagement did the right thing. South Korea is still alive, and they’re a proud, hardworking people and I support ‘em to this day. And I don’t begrudge a second of the time I spent over there in their defense. Not at all."

Thank you Mr. Balleza. You and your brothers in arms have our utmost respect and admiration.

Ned with Chosin veterans at the Chosin Few reunion in San Diego, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Ned Forney)
Ned with Chosin veteran John Lee. (Photo courtesy of Ned Forney)
From the PBS American Experience website
From the PBS American Experience documentary: The Battle of Chosin

Top photo credit: PBS American Experience