The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 8

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Bitter Cold, Bitter Fight, ca. 12/1950. Unidentified front line US Marine in Korea.

Many of the Southerners in the division, and they were in the majority, had never encountered this kind of cold and practically went into “cold shock” the first time it hit. Officers had to constantly make circuits of their units to ensure men were awake, if on duty, and hadn’t passed out from the cold, as well as being properly bundled up. If asleep, they had to be zipped into their sleeping bags with heads properly covered.

Further, officers also looked for signs of frostbite on the men. Apparently, the person who is getting frostbitten is often not aware of it. Every twelve hours, officers and gunnery sergeants forced each Marine to remove his boots in front of them and change his socks so the officers and gunnery sergeants could ensure each man was following the strict procedure of rotating his socks every twelve hours.

Each Marine carried two pairs of socks. You draped the damp pair around your neck for twelve hours so they would dry out then switched them with the pair you were wearing. Marines followed this strict procedure to prevent “trench foot,” a debilitating medical condition first identified in World War One, (whence comes the name), which affects men whose feet are constantly wet. Also known as “immersion foot,” this condition can lead to fungal diseases of the foot which can be serious enough to cause gangrene and subsequent amputation.

WAITING, WAITING. These frostbite casualties of the embattled First Marine Division and Seventh Infantry Division who linked up in the Chosin Reservoir area in a desperate attempt to break out of Communist encirclement wait with set expressions on their faces for pickup by planes of the US Air Force Far East Combat Cargo Command. Incoming aircraft carried supplies, rations, and ammunition to troops., ca. 12/1950

[Sources: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam and Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea, 1950 by Martin Russ. Images courtesy of the National Archives and the National Archives.]

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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: http://charlesmccain.com/

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