The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 1

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The breakout of the 1st US Marine Division from the Chosin Reservoir is one of the greatest military epics in the history of the US and of the Western world. Due to the incompetence and almost criminal stupidity of US Army General Almond, serving as X Corps Commander, to whom the Marine division was subordinated, the 1st Marines came to be surrounded at the Chosin Reservoir in the far north of Korea. And they weren’t just surrounded by half trained “Chinese laundrymen” as General Almond described them but by three regular Chinese Army divisions. To those three divisions were added elements of two other Chinese divisions.

Why didn’t the US Army come and help the Marines? Because the poorly trained, poorly led, and poorly equipped Army units had been decimated by the Chinese. American Army troops broke under fire and ran away. Officers abandoned their men. Wounded were left in the snow. Many of the soldiers — wounded or not — froze to death, the US Army having neglected to issue them winter uniforms.

So the US Army left the battlefield to the US Marines. And the Chinese, operating on the mistaken belief that American soldiers were not good fighters, ran headlong into the USMC and were much the worse for it. These Americans didn’t run away. They didn’t leave their wounded in the snow. They wouldn’t even leave their dead in the snow. Almost every corpse was recovered to receive proper burial.

1st Marine Division members pass destroyed and abandoned equipment during their breakout from the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The photo was taken Dec. 7, 1950, about a week before the Marines reached safety. DoD Photo by Sgt. F.C. Kerr, USMC.

[Source: Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea, 1950 by Martin Russ. Image courtesy of the US Department of Defense Website.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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