The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 10

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All Marine units set up warming tents heated with wood or kerosene fired stoves. Pans of hot water were heated so men could wash or make coffee or thaw their C-rations. Without these shelters, there could have been no other way for the Marines to warm up and without the ability to get warm, combat would have been many times more difficult.

During daylight hours, most warming tents were packed with freezing Marines. Only those manning the defense perimeter remained outside but doing so on what the Marines called a “50% watch” still meant that half the men were outside in their combat positions. Nights was the worst because it was the coldest and everyone had to be up and at their post.

US Marines manning a defense outpost during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir Campaign.

SUSTAINING HEALTH & PERFORMANCE IN THE COLD: Environmental Medicine Guidance for Cold-Weather Operations, prepared by the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine confirms in a scientific way what we all intuitively know — when you are freezing your ass off everything becomes more difficult to do.

Soldiers in the field encounter significantly more problems than usual. Heavy clothing including proper gear to protect the ears, neck, face and head can make it difficult to hear and see. Just turning your head is difficult. Visual acuity and depth perception begin to degrade when the temperature drops below freezing. Weapons malfunction. Eyeglasses, gun-sights, rifle scopes, binoculars; all will suffer from condensation which reduces their functionality by fogging the lenses.

As November 1950 turned to December, Marines of the First Infantry now had two enemies to contend with: the cold and the Chinese.
[Sources: US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. Image courtesy of The Saratogian.]

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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: