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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.
[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.]