The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 30

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An upset young Marine is comforted after the jeep he was driving hit a landmine around the Naktong River in August 1950.

I ran this photograph in a previous post about the extraordinary war photography of David Douglas Duncan. The other day, while reading more about him, I came across this gut-wrenching story later told by the photographer in a long interview in Life Magazine.

Finally, there’s one brief story Duncan tells about these pictures — or rather, about one particular picture — that illustrates the bleak wastefulness of combat more perfectly than countless volumes about warfare ever have, or ever will. Weeks after taking his now-famous picture (the fifth image in this gallery) [the one above] of a weeping Corp. Leonard Hayworth, Duncan handed Hayworth a copy of the September 18, 1950, issue of Life magazine. There, taking up almost all of page 41, was that very photograph of Hayworth himself, crying.

“Hayworth looked at that huge picture of himself, in the biggest photo magazine in the world,” Duncan says. “He didn’t say anything. He just smiled. He looked like Errol Flynn, about six-foot-three, a tall, handsome Marine. And no one’s saying anything, none of his buddies are saying a word, looking at this picture of him with tears running down his cheeks, and after a while an old sergeant behind him says, ‘We all cry sometimes.’”

The next day, on September 25th — the three-month anniversary of the start of the Korean War — a North Korean sniper shot Corporal Leonard Hayworth dead.

[Source: Life Magazine. Image courtesy of Time Magazine.]

The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 29

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The photography of David Douglas Duncan

Two US Marines of Co. B, 1st Brigade, 5th Regiment grimly advancing along a ditch past an enemy corpse during the fighting in the Naktong River area in August 1950.

Writes Time-Life in their retrospective on the photographer:

Capturing the troops’ terror — and their will to live — remains a hallmark of his work. One of his most haunting images comes from September 1950. Two US marines are seen running through a ditch past an enemy corpse near the Naktong River in South Korea. “The North Koreans were firing machine guns at them from a couple of hundred meters behind me,” Duncan says. “They both died shortly after the photograph was taken.”

US Marine crouching down next to his jeep while leading a convoy of vehicles during the 1st Marine Division’s retreat down canyon road they called “Nightmare Alley,” after being cut off by the Red Chinese and under fire from nearby hills in December 1950.

Duncan was trapped at Chosin like the Marines he was photographing although once they had pulled back to their assembly point for the breakout he could have gone out by air yet he chose not to. In an interview with Time-Life he said:

It was 40 degrees below zero, and the wind was coming down out of Mongolia. I was freezing.

[Images courtesy of Time Magazine.]

The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 28

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The photography of David Douglas Duncan

US Marines passing bodies of fallen comrades during the grim retreat from the Changjin Reservoir after being cut off by a surprise attack by Chinese troops during the Korean War in December 1950.

The photographer is alive and well at age 96. How he managed to come through so many ways and incredible adventures is beyond imagining. You can read more about the extraordinary life of war photographer David Douglas Duncan at Time Magazine.

US Marines resting in a foxhole while awaiting a North Korean counterattack near the Naktong River in August 1950.

An upset young Marine is comforted after the jeep he was driving hit a landmine around the Naktong River in August 1950.

[Images courtesy of Time Magazine.]

The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 27

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The photography of David Douglas Duncan

David Douglas Duncan in 1950

Marine Capt. Francis Ike Fenton looking grim after learning his first sergeant was killed and his unit is out of ammunition during a heavy North Korean counterattack along the Naktong River in August 1950.

LIFE photographers Carl Mydans (L) and David Douglas Duncan (R) relaxing during a lull in the Korean war.

As I wrote in my previous post about the US Marines at the Chosin Reservoir: One of the most important advantages the Marines possessed over the Chinese was an intangible moral strength common to elite units.

Combat photographer David Douglas Duncan seems to have captured this essence in many of his photographs of Marines at war. There is an authenticity to his photographs which comes from the natural bond of trust he had with Marines, having been a Marine himself.

A weary, exhausted Marine wrapping himself in a sleeping bag against the cold and clutching a can of food during a retreat from fierce fighting around the Changjin Reservoir in December 1950.

[Images courtesy of Life Magazine and Time Magazine.]