January 28, 2011, 5:00pm / 13
60 years ago, in 1950, the Korean War began. One of the most brutal battles of the Korean War occurred at the frozen Chosin Reservoir, a place where the exhausted Tenth Corps of marines and army was outnumbered more than 10 to 1. Like the German Wehrmacht faced in Russia on the Eastern Front, the UN forces faced the frigid winter of North Korea, near the Chinese border. Temperatures reached as low as 40 degrees below zero while men still wore summer uniforms under their parkas; ninety percent got frostbite, many simply froze to death in their foxholes.
With only one road back to the airfield, the area was a death trap as Chinese forced attacked in human waves from every direction, creating massive roadblocks. The soldiers who could so dragged some of the wounded across the frozen reservoir to safety. However those soldiers who were completely disabled were unable to leave the unmovable trucks. Out the 15,000 Americans on the plateau, there were 12,000 casualties.
Among the wounded was a helpless soldier of 19-years-old, PFC Ed Reeves.
As my unit tried to flee south in the afternoon of December 1st, we were caught in a savage Chinese ambush. I had been hit by exploding mortar; my legs crippled. So I was stuck with my wounded comrades in the back of some disabled trucks. We were zipped into sleeping bags — our only protection against the unbearable cold — while the rest of the troops continued their retreat from the reservoir under heavy fire.
For hours, we waited, wounded, in pain — for support to arrive. Then, without any ammunition to defend ourselves, Chinese soldiers stormed the trucks. First they robbed us helpless GIs of our rings and watches. Then they began to torch the trucks with us still inside. By fate, my truck was out of gas and wouldn’t ignite. That didn’t stop our executioners. Two of them climbed aboard to finish us off.
One of them started at the tailgate and moved toward the middle; a second Chinese soldier concentrated on the other end. Each fired a shot between the eyes of every American soldier in their path. As they advanced toward me, I lay there waiting to die – talking to the Lord and asking for peace so I could die like a man. I found out you could still sweat when it’s 35 degrees below zero.
Then it was my turn. The soldier aimed his gun at my forehead. He fired, no more than three feet away. The muzzle blast was blinding… but somehow the bullet produced just a scalp wound. Then I heard the murderers leave, believing that everyone was killed.
For the next three days, I lay among my dead buddies, the only one who had survived. I burrowed into my sleeping bag, a futile gesture against the numbing, bitter cold.
Every time I tried to free myself from the truck, I fainted from the pain. I was trapped. Then more Chinese came to loot the dead corpses around me. They were stealing leather boots from dead GI’s. It was pure luck that I was wearing a kind of shoe that wasn’t in demand. I kept myself stiff, so when the enemy poked about, they would think I was dead. More time passed…hours, perhaps days, until a Chinese soldier came along who rifled through my clothes – and felt my body heat.
He knew I was still alive. He pitched me from the truck onto the ground, where he and several other Chinese beat me with their rifle butts until they were sure I was dead. Then they tossed me on a heap of dead bodies on the side of the road. “Jesus, here I come,” I muttered to myself. But my tormentors disappeared into the driving snow.
I wasn’t walking anywhere. So I told myself I had to crawl before I could walk. On elbows and knees, I crept toward the frozen reservoir, each moment waiting for a Chinese sniper to shoot at me.
To keep myself going, I counted in the cadence I learned in boot camp. “One, two, one two!” Then I switched to the hymns I learned when I was a boy in Sunday school. “Jesus loves me, this I know, ‘cause the Bible tells me so…” Another night of this hell passed. I was near death, slipping in and out of consciousness, when one of the “Ice Marines” who had volunteered to search for stragglers found me.
“Tell me where you hurt most, son,” he said, “so we won’t hurt you more.”
“Please watch the legs, sir,” I told him, “They really hurt.”
He gently lifted me up and set me in the front seat. I was so bad off that when I reached the hospital in Japan, the doctor told the medic not to bother nursing me, since there was no way I was going to make it. I guess the Lord didn’t want me to die on that road. But 400 of my wounded buddies in those trucks didn’t make it. May God bless them and hold them near.
Reeves’ frostbite was so severe that doctors had to amputate his feet and all his fingers. He is one of three triple amputee of the Korean War.
December 03, 2010, 5:15pm / 36