Marine Commandant Lauds 'Chosin Few'
By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
SAN DIEGO, Dec. 7, 2000 When Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Jim Jones was introduced to the aging Chosin Reservoir veterans, many in the group quickly rose to give him a standing ovation. One could not help but notice those who stayed seated, not out of disrespect, but because they were confined to wheelchairs or reliant on crutches.
Marine Cpl. Charles E. Price sounds "Taps" over the graves of fallen Leathernecks during memorial services Dec. 13, 1950, at the 1st Marine Division cemetery at Hungnam, Korea, following the division's break-out from the Chosin Reservoir. DoD Photo by Cpl. W.T. Wolfe, USMC.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Whether their wounds were inflicted during that long-ago frozen campaign or they were caused by the ravages of age in the 50 years since we can not know, but few can doubt these men paid a heavy price to uphold America's values on the Korean Peninsula.
One also cannot doubt that these men are the few, the proud, the living legacy of today's Marines. When Jones stood before the group and said, "Good Morning Chosin Few. Can I have a big hoorah from the Marines here?" Their response was so explosive the walls shook. "Once a Marine, always a Marine," several in the crowd said.
On Nov. 27, 1950, the Korean War looked over but for the victory parade. Allied forces had chased the North Korean army for two months from the southern tip of South Korea and sat poised at the Yalu River, the North's border with China. On that Thanksgiving Day, 200,000 Chinese troops took the Allies by surprise, routed the 8th U.S. Army and surrounded 10,000 Marines of the 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir.
Those Marines were led by the storied Brig. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller. Their fighting withdrawal to safety from Nov. 27 to Dec. 9 is considered by many to be one of the more harrowing campaigns in U.S. military history. They fought their way out on a mountainous road in sub-arctic conditions, losing 718 of their number, but killing more than 25,000 enemy troops, according to some sources.
Those veteran Marines have called themselves the "Chosin Few" ever since and formed an association by that name. The group met in San Diego the week of Dec. 5 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that icy "trip through hell," as many of them described it.
"The purpose of this gathering is to restore bonds of brotherhood that we created in November and December of 1950," said retired Lt. Gen. Stephan Olmstead, association president. "In that battle, or battles, we forged a relationship that should not ever be broken -- that can not ever be broken."
Jones thanked the group for the legacy they leave service members today. "I stand before you as the inheritor of the legacy and the representative of ... today's Marine Corps to come and say thank you," he said.
He told the veterans that service members through the ages will always remember what they had done.
"Only you who lived through that time can fully appreciate what it meant. Only you can feel and vividly recall that sacrifice. You truly have a bond that characterizes such heroism, devotion and courage," Jones said. "Those of us who were not there nonetheless have a sacred obligation to make sure that we seek to understand and we remember and we honor you."
The commandant admitted that the veterans are aging and it's becoming harder for them to meet as a group. "Eventually, we'll be an organization that says, 'Remember the Chosin Few,'" he said in an American Forces Press Service interview. "But until then, we have to give them the utmost respect, love, loyalty and honor."
Jones said a startling testament to the Korean War veterans' accomplishment can be seen in a satellite photograph taken over the Korean Peninsula.
"If you look to the South you see ... thousands of points of light (symbolizing) opportunity, freedom, dedication, hope. If you look to the North, you see darkness," he told his predecessors. "All of you deserve to have a framed copy of that picture to give to your children and your grandchildren, because you did that. You contributed to that."
Jones also explained to the group their importance to their young successors. "The standard that we measure today's Marines against is you," Jones said. "Above all, the one thing that today's Marine does not want to do is disappoint you."
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Alford L. McMichael, the senior enlisted Marine, agreed with his boss. "Our pride in what they did is special to us," he said in an interview. "That's what drives us to want to be like them."
The Chosin Few association Web site is at home.hawaii.rr.com/chosin/.