The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 26

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Dead US marines loaded in a truck, leading a column of survivors during their grim retreat from the Changjin Reservoir after being cut off by the Red Chinese in December of 1950. (David Douglas Duncan / TIME & LIFE Pictures)

In the photograph above, US Marines of the First Marine Division withdraw from the Chosin Reservoir in December of 1950. Even in the daytime, temperatures were as low as five and ten degrees below zero. The men in the truck seem the lucky ones who have managed to hitch a ride and don’t have to walk. In reality, all of the men in the truck are dead. Their bodies are frozen. US Marines will not leave their dead upon the battlefield except in the most unusual circumstances.

One of the most important advantages the Marines possessed over the Chinese was an intangible moral strength common to elite units. They had a true esprit d’ corps. Part of that was a willingness to die for their men, or comrades in arms, or for their pride in being a Marine. On the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir, each Marine needed all his esprit d’ corps to keep moving.

Although the division brought out over a thousand vehicles, some filled with dead or wounded, many could have taken live and able-bodied Marines aboard. But the Marines had been ordered to march next to the vehicles and not ride on them. Part of the reason was to be able to easily defend the column if it came under attack and it did, many times. The other reason was to keep the men moving and their blood flowing. Had they just climbed aboard the unheated trucks, they would have frozen to death.

December 8, 1950 – Marines breakout of Koto-ri.

[Images courtesy of Time Magazine and Chosin Reservoir Photos.]

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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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