Thoughts of Veterans' Day
I know a number of veterans, from WW II to the current war in Iraq.
I thank them all.
I selected the photos at the right for a reason: both are Korean War-era photos.
The first is a pre-combat assembly of members of Dog Company, 2/7th, 1st Marine Division; I know (via correspondence) one of the members pictured here, PFC George Crotts. I recently sent him an email, commenting on how much different Thanksgiving is in '05, versus the way he spent it in '50. He readily agreed that this year was infinitely more pleasant.
True, even in the field at the time, Thanksgiving dinner was served to the troops. Some got quite a feed; some got little. Whether it was little or more, it had to be eaten quickly: at -20 degrees (not counting the wind chill, which was, Crotts related, awesome), in a place called Yudam-ni, North Korea, on a hill known as 1240, things froze fast.
But it was hot enough in the early hours of the 28th, as Crotts and his mates were ass-deep in Chinese, fighting for their lives. Three times during the melee, Dog Company was driven from Hill 1240; three times, they counterattacked and took it back.
There were others, too: Hill 1403. Hill 1282. Turkey Hill. Toktong Pass. Two regiments of US Marines were descended upon by six divisions of Chinese.
The night was many things to Crotts; but in the end, the only thing that mattered was the situation at daylight: the Marines had held.
Not far from Hill 1240, Easy Company stood on Hill 1282. Or at least, what was left of Easy Company: the night had been no less horrendous there. In the midst of their crisis, company commander Captain Walt Phillips -- already wounded, but maintaining command of his troops -- stepped to the front of Easy Company's line, and jammed a bayonet-tipped M-1 into the ground before them; to the troops within earshot, he shouted, (I'm paraphrasing) "This is Easy Company, and this is were we stand!"
Captain Phillips died by his standard of defiance, as did many of his men; but Easy Company held.
The two regiments would fight their way out of encirclement, back to where a battalion and hodgepodge of other troops were surrounded at Hagaru-ri; and onto surrounded Koto-ri, into and through Funchilin Pass, and back to the sea at Hungnam.
In so doing, the men of the 1st Marine Division would write one of the most incredible chapters in the history of the United States Marine Corps. A corps with no shortage of incredible chapters, from the Revolution, through Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Hue, and two Desert Storms.
Having become familiar with the story of Chosin Reservoir, and so many of the individual stories that make up one of the most incredible sagas in the 230 history of the USMC, I think about them on Veterans' Day, and at Thanksgiving, every year now. I will think of and remember them to my dying day. They deserve never to be forgotten.
I won't forget.
The other photo is also of a Korean War Marine veteran. He was 19 when that picture was taken. He was a reservist, who volunteered fresh out of high school in 1949; in September 1950, he got the call to active duty. He shipped out in December, 1950. Sometime in the spring of '51, he joined the Weapons Company, 1/5, as an 81mm mortar gunner. And from April 1951 on, he saw more than most 19 year olds would ever care to experience as a nightmare: two massive Chinese offensives, the second of which ended with a massive Eighth Army counterattack.
His war ended on July 31, 1951: another Marine in his unit, stepped on a 'bouncing Betty' land mine. That Marine was killed (PFC Chester Corello, Lima, Ohio); the one in the picture was gravely wounded. He would be in and out of hospitals for a year, and discharged 70% disabled in 1952.
He went on to father five kids, and have careers in insurance and law enforcement.
He's been many things over the years, not all to be proud of. But for his service, I am proud of him.
It's Veterans' Day. And I remember. Then and now, each and every one of you.