Those are the words of retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant (then-Corporal) Dave Erksen, when speaking of his time in the bitter fighting near the Chosin Reservoir.

Sixty years ago, in the small hours of the bitter cold night of 28 November 1950, Chinese Communist Forces began their attacks on US Marine positions in North Korea’s Taebak Mountains overlooking the Chosin Reservoir.

In today’s Burlington (VT) Free Press, a superb and sad piece from local reporter Candace Page recounting the experiences of two Vermonters, one a Marine survivor, and the other an Army Soldier who died at the hands of his North Korean captives.

The battle remains an epic for the United States Marine Corps, who, in the words of the legendary Colonel Lewis B “Chesty” Puller, CO of 1st Marines during the battle, “came out with our dead, our wounded, our equipment, and our weapons, with our heads high, marching and fighting.”

In the fighting withdrawal from the Reservoir positions through Koto-ri to Hagaru, the Marines displayed a grim determination mixed with a stirring courage that has been the hallmark of Marines in every war. There is the story of Captain Bill Barber’s Fox Company, holding the pass against a regiment of Chinese, and the relief of Fox by LtCol Ray Davis and First Battalion, 7th Marines. Both men were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, as would seven other Marines, in the three weeks of savage fighting and even more savage weather. Those Marines were:

Staff Sergeant Robert S. Kennemore
Private First Class William B. Baugh
Private Hector Cafferata, Jr.
Sergeant James E. Johnson
Major Reginald R. Myers
Captain Carl L. Sitter
Staff Sergeant William G. Windrich

The story of the “Frozen Chosin” is filled with countless tales of individual courage in the face of the enemy and the weather, some known only to the men who participated in them or witnessed them. Such is the way with large, desperate battles against near-suicidal odds.

Gunnery Sergeant Erkson has simple but eloquent words, “We did pretty well. We didn’t come out on our hands and knees. We came out with our heads up. I can’t say as I liked it up there, but I’m proud of what we did.”

God’s mercy on Richard F. Abbott and the others who paid such an enormous cost in this battle. And on their families as well.

But let us remember the heroism of the men who marched and fought their way out of the encirclement, who inflicted such severe punishment on the enemy, and who had the courage to endure. Theirs is an example which inspires all Marines, and in these times may inspire yet again, in places with eerily familiar names.

Semper Fidelis.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in History, Marine Corps

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  • Jay

    For those unfamiliar with the Korean War, David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter” is a good place to start.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Navy Submariner and WWII veteran Clay Blair’s seminal “The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950–1953” would be another choice. Published in 1987, it is a superb account of America’s lack of readiness after World War II and its struggles early in the war in Korea.

  • Matt Yankee

    Excellent post. A bit off the subject but still on subject of getting our heads in the game I strongly recommend RESTREPO, on National Geographic, I think it might be the best war movie/documentary ever…it is just raw video and simple narration by the soldiers themselves. Very informative of the enemy and the terrain we are up against in Afghanistan. Should be able to view it On Demand in HD.

  • Jay

    Matt — better still — download Sebastian Junger’s “War” on your iPad — the enhanced version. As you read — embedded video from
    “Restrepo” is in it. Wicked cool way to read…

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    URR: Thanks. Lest we forget…

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Best part of writing this is a lovely e-mail I got back from the BFP reporter who wrote it. She said talking to the Gunny (and the family of the soldier) was an absolute honor. And she said talking to him made her read everything she could find on the Chosin Reservoir. Good to hear. I hope her fine journalism inspires others to the same. That is, after all, the best way to commemorate sacrifice and heroism.

  • Robert J Owen

    An excellent two book combination is Fehrenbach’s THIS KIND OF WAR and Clay Blair Jr’s TH FORGOTTEN WAR and then I’d toss in A Farrar-Hockley’s bio THE EDGE OF THE SWORD for the POW experience.


    Thanks, URR, we need to have reminders every now and then, of what people before us have done to keep us safe.