Friday was a nice, cool spring day at Fort Gordon's Freedom Park, with not a cloud in a soft blue sky, but most men gathered there remembered the cold.
It was a particularly strong memory, the men said, because winters such as the one in 1950 at North Korea's Chosin Reservoir were not like those back home in the United States. Fifty years ago, these men were in North Korea, at the Chosin, as U.S. soldiers and combatants in one of the most important battles of the nation's "forgotten war."
These men haven't forgotten, and so they gathered with family members Friday to remember the cold, the fighting and the friends and fellow soldiers for whom that winter was their last.
About 3,000 U.S., British and Korean soldiers lost their lives fighting the Korean War at Chosin, and 6,000 more were wounded. About 25,000 communist Chinese soldiers died during two months of fighting at the reservoir.
U.S. survivors of the battle have formed an organization, the Chosin Few, to remain in contact with each other. Some southeastern members of the group and their families gathered this week in Augusta, and held a memorial service Friday at Fort Gordon to honor the battle's fallen.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Ray Davis, who won the Medal of Honor for his valor in Korea as a 28-year-old lieutenant colonel, was one of the veterans in attendance.
Mr. Davis took little credit for winning the nation's highest military honor, instead giving the credit to the 800 men he led into the North Korean mountains for three days in December 1950.
The force was given the task of rescuing a rifle company trapped along a mountain pass and surrounded by communist Chinese forces. Braving wind chills that dropped to 75 degrees below zero, the Marines broke through the rear of the Chinese encirclement, rescuing about 50 survivors from a company that had numbered more than 200.
During the fighting, Mr. Davis suffered a bullet wound to the leg and, perhaps, dodged death when a bullet grazed his forehead. But his forces were spared even heavier fighting, he said, by the cold, for which the overwhelming numbers of Chinese forces were unprepared.
Throughout the ordeal, his men never wavered in their commitment to complete their mission, Mr. Davis said.
"I never heard a complaint or a peep out of those Marines, because they were going to rescue other Marines," he said. "We had Marines that were going to be destroyed, and without our effort, would have been destroyed.
"It had to be done, and we were going to do it."
Down the mountain, Harry Bruce was a 22-year-old corporal, waiting with his tank division for the forces ahead to clear the pass. He said he remembers the cold most of all.
"We all got frostbite," he said. "Everybody got it. I remember seeing the dead stacked up on the trucks coming out. They were stiff as boards."
Jack McCorkle was an 18-year-old private at the time he was at the reservoir, the product of a family of Marines. Years earlier, as a child whose family was stationed at Pearl Harbor, he had experienced the Japanese attack that shocked the nation and pushed the United States into World War II.
He always would have been a Marine, he said, but the Chosin still changed him.
"The experience helped me realize how fragile life is," he said. "There could be two of you standing there one minute, and in the next minute, only one."
At age 18, Houston native Jack Clark was a Marine mechanic, fighting the cold to keep jeeps, trucks and planes running. Sometimes, he said, he had to use three batteries to jumpstart the vehicles' frozen engines.
Mr. Clark, whose two brothers also saw combat, fought five battles in six months in Korea. For veterans like him, the Chosin Few gatherings are therapeutic, Mr. Clark said.
"It gives you a feeling of security to know that we stuck together then and we stick together now," he said with a voice that quavered slightly.
"I get emotional. It cost us a lot. It cost us our youth, really."
Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.
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