John’s Story: One of the Frozen Chosin

Posted by Seoirse on 11/8/2008 in Family Legends

The background doesn’t matter so much anymore. Let it be known that soldiers and Marines found themselves battling a nearly defeated enemy in Korea, as winter, 1950 descended upon them. As the frigid cold descended from Siberia, enormous armies of Chinese also poured into the Korean mountains, intent upon destroying all of the American Forces, be they Army or Marine Corps. On the Western side of the peninsula, the U.S 8th Army was smashed, and sent reeling southward in defeat. On the eastern side of the country, a combined force of USMC and U.S. Army infantry had closed in around a large reservoir, high in the mountains. This place was called the Chosin Reservoir.

The fighting retreat by the U.S. Marines from the Chosin Reservoir back down to the sea is now understood to have been one of the greatest feats of arms of all history.

Master Sergeant John Farritor, professional marine, veteran of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima in WWII, was serving in the force that had moved up the winding mountain road to the Chosin Reservoir, when the Chinese assault hit. The following history is his history, in his words:


An Epic Journey
Yudam-Ni to Hagaru-Ri
November/December 1950

We arrived in Yudam-Ni on November 25. Every one of the 70 miles from the sea to Yudam-Ni was washed with Marine blood, spilled by fighting Chinese.

That same night the Yudam-Ni perimeter defenses were hit and nearly overrun by wave after wave of bugle-blowing Chinese. They were repelled but at a terrible price. There were 200 dead Marines and the snow was littered with enemy dead. At 0400 in the morning the Chinese left as suddenly as they had come.

The wind blowing off the frozen reservoir had a “wind chill” factor of -75°F. As a 14-year-old on the plains of Nebraska, I remember the big storm of the winter of 1934. The snow was deep and temperature was -21°F. I rode my horse Midget with a sack of cotton seed pellets to feed isolated cows lost in the snowstorm. Here the temperature was about the same but the wind chill was the killer.

For the next three days, they held the line against repeated assaults. The cost in lives was high on both sides. The Chinese had replacements, but we didn’t. We put up tents for the wounded but there weren’t enough tents; only the most seriously wounded were tented.

In this kind of cold, the best treatment was no treatment. By cutting their clothes open, the wounded would freeze to death. Most wounds froze over and sealed themselves. The blood bubbled up as it froze, looking like pink cotton candy. The corpsmen had to wear gloves to keep their hands from freezing.

While all this was going on, the U.S. Army had its running shoes on and were heading south. They had their backs to the enemy; we Marines were facing our enemy who were all around us.

When the word went out that we were surrounded, a correspondent asked Col. “Chesty” Puller his thoughts on the matter. He replied, “We got the bastards right where we want them and they’re not going to get away.” And damn few of them did!

As the battle raged, there was no escape from the incessant mélange of bugles blaring, cries of the wounded, and calls for corpsmen, all mingled with the sounds of our weapons and the rapid fire of the Chinese machine guns.

On the 29th we started lining up for our journey to the sea. Tanks and artillery would be placed on the point and spotted at intervals throughout the convoy. My three trucks would be #16, #17, and #18 in line of march.

My trucks were loaded to the top of the bed with rations. (There were no canvas tops.) This flat space was for the wounded and frostbitten patients who were unable to walk. The battalion corpsman was assigned to my first truck.

My three trailers were for dead bodies; we started the trip with three dead Marines. One of them was from my section. He had told me one time, “If anything happens to me, I hope you will write to my mom.”

I promised him that I would. However, as we loaded his frozen body in the trailer, I thought to myself: I’ll write to his mom if I get out of here alive. I did get out and I did write to his mother.

Now back to Yudam-Ni…We had infantry in front on the sides and to the rear. Hagaru-Ri was just 14 miles away as the crow flies; however, within that 14 miles were 100,000 well-trained Chinese who had been sent here with a special mission – to wipe out the 1st Marine Division. Toktong Pass was the halfway point. On the way into Yudam-Ni, a company of Marines was left at Toktong Pass. This pass had to be held at all costs. If we lost Toktong Pass, it could very well mean that all were lost. Another battalion was ordered overland to reinforce the company at Toktong. This cross-mountain move over extremely difficult terrain, ploughing through deep snow, plus having to fight Chinese, was in itself an epic. The leader Lt. Col. Davis, received the Congressional Medal of Honor. He earned it. This “fortress” in the sky was so important that they made air drops of food and ammunition.

I said before that I had three trucks. That did not mean I rode. I walked every step of the way and I saw to it that there were no freeloaders on my trucks.

At high noon on the first of December, the first units moved out from Yudam-Ni. Three hundred yards out they were heavily engaged. This was the way it would be all the way. It took 49 hours of bloody fighting to make contact with the Marines on Toktong Pass. As many as 120 Marines were killed in that 49 hours and the distance traveled was only six miles. A convoy 14 miles long is hard to protect from small suicide squads.

Our convoy speed was about three miles an hour. There were a lot of interruptions by enemy attacks. The enemy would try to plug the road with blown-up vehicles. There were bulldozers spotted all through the convoy for the purpose of shoving broken or shot-up trucks over the side of the mountain.

At five that afternoon my section arrived in Hagaru-Ri. The end of the convoy was still 10 miles out.

The troops at Koto-Ri had set up warming tents for us new arrivals from Yudam-Ni – our first warm air in many days. It was standing room only but I didn’t hear anyone complain. Come daylight the heat goes off and we move on. The outside temperature had warmed up to -20°F.

When we arrived at Hagaru-Ri we had not slept for 10 days. If one should fall asleep in this cold he could very well freeze to death. We had to keep moving. The warming tents at Hagaru-Ri were a needed break, and in spite of the crowded conditions, our exhausted bodies demanded and got a few hours of much needed sleep.

At the crack of dawn we dragged our cold, battered bodies out to the road. Koto-Ri was next. Koto-Ri was controlled and occupied by Red Chinese. As we moved out we passed through the roadblock that had kept the Reds out of Hagaru-Ri. There were literally piles of dead Chinese. Many of them had been run over by tanks. It was a grizzly sight; it showed how hard the Marines at Hagaru-Ri had fought so that we from Yudam-Ni would have a haven to which to come.

When my part of the convoy arrived in Koto-Ri, a blinding snowstorm hit. It was so bad everything had to stop. Even the Chinese had to try to survive its onslaught. For two days we endured the blizzard. Then it cleared and the weather turned colder, which is normal. At 20 below, 15 degrees up or down rally didn’t matter.

Then we reached  Sudong-Ni. This town was a welcome sight; it was at the end of the mountains  and the start of the Hungnam Plain. It also meant we were only 35 miles from the sea. As we traveled along we could see the lights of Hamhung/Hungnam. We could see the lights of ships at sea. It was a beautiful sight. Seeing it meant we had survived.

We couldn’t help but think about MacArthur’s remark that the 1st Marine Division was lost and there was no way they could be rescued. We made a liar out of him. Our fighting withdrawal meant that 22,000 Marines would live to fight another day.

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Know Your Ancestors

Padraig Ferriter

photo b. March 8, 1856
d. July 21, 1924

Padraig Feiritear was born 8 March 1856 to Maurice Ferriter and his wife, Nell Mhichil Mhainnnin at An Baile Uachtarach near Bally Ferriter. He was the fourth of nine children. His father, Maurice was a successful carter and farmer, a tenant of the Ventry family. Educated by the Nation School System of the era, he also studied Latin and Irish. Mostly self-educated in Irish, he displayed an Academic knowledge of the Language. He devised his own system of writing Irish. As a young man, Padraig began replicating (copying by hand) Irish manuscripts made available to him by local families. He also interviewed local families and... Read More