Dozens of Marines, sailors and Republic of Korea service members with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, gathered for a Korean War presentation Feb. 25 at the Sunset Lanai, Camp H.M Smith Hawaii.
MarForPac officials invited retirees with The Chosin Few’s Aloha Chapter, an organization of Korean War veterans, to give their first hand accounts of what transpired during some of the most famous battles of the Korean War; Pusan, Inchon and the Chosin Reservoir.
Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Robert E. Talmadge, a supply sergeant during the Korean War, recounted his memories and documented history, which took place during his nine-month deployment.
During the war, the U.S. and its allies owned the skies, Talmadge said. The North Korean and Chinese forces lacked the aerial support that the U.S. Marine Corps became famous for during the three years of heated battle.
The Marines utilized a new technology, which gave birth to the Marine Corps’ air to ground teams used in today’s warfare, helicopters. Though the other services at the time, did not see an application for rotary wing aircraft, the Marines decided to give it a chance.
“The Marine Corps said, ‘well lets’s get six and see what we can do with them.’” Talmadge said laughing. “(The enemy) had never seen anything like a helicopter or an air-ground team, and they wished they hadn’t.”
The support offered by Marine air-ground teams was instrumental to accomplishing the mission. Army Lt. Gen. Walton Walker, 8th Army commander, stated he could not hold the perimeter without the Marine Brigade, despite the four Army regiments under his command, according to Talmadge.
The few North Korean and Chinese aircraft in the sky posed no threat as Talmadge recounted an aerial attack he experienced.
“An enemy plane dropped some bombs one night while we were sleeping in our train carts,” he said with a chuckle. “I woke up my captain and told him ‘sir they’re dropping bombs out there,’ he said, ‘I know. Now go back to sleep.’ They just weren’t a threat. We didn’t fear them. We had complete control of the skies.”
After explaining Marine tactics, such as the Marine Corps use of small unit leaders in its squads and describing some of the difficulties involved during the amphibious landing at Inchon, Talmadge discussed the battle the majority of his audience, Marines, wanted to know more about, the Chosin Reservoir.
The brutal 17-day battle also known as the Frozen Chosin, which all Marines are taught in boot camp, holds a special place in Marine history. One of the coldest battles in military history, the Battle for the Chosin Reservoir took place Nov. 26 – Dec. 11, 1950. Service members with 1st Marine Division, and the Army’s 7th Infantry Division were out numbered and surrounded by Chinese forces. Fighting not just the enemy, but frost bite and a lack of supplies, Talmadge was a part of the action that secured U.S. victory.
There was only one road into the reservoir, only one way to get equipment and personnel needed to fend off communist attacks. The road was too narrow for the vehicles, it was service members from Talmadge’s battalion and the army engineers that constructed a bridge over a 15,000 gorge.
“It was the only bridge, on the only road, in or out,” he said. “Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to send in our trucks and we wouldn’t have gotten the dead and injured out. We weren’t going to leave them.”
Today the Marines who fought for the Chosin Reservoir are respectfully known as the Chosin Few.
In addition to Talmadge’s presentation, Retired Navy Capt. Charles “Davy” Crockett, a pilot during the Korean War and a member of The Chosen Few, spoke a few words regarding his experience, tactics and procedures during the war, such as communicating with other pilots during operations.
At the end of the presentation, many in the audience felt honored to have had the opportunity to speak with and hear stories from the veterans who served and fought in Korea.
“It was outstanding,” said Master Sgt. Raymond Ortiz, operations chief for Headquarters and Service Battalion, MarForPac. “To hear these stories through the eyes and ears of those who were there is an honor. We are losing more and more veterans every day. Opportunities like these aren’t going to be around forever. All Marines should take advantage of these opportunities whenever they present themselves.”
Talmadge hopes to continue giving his presentation to MarForPac.
“It was an honor to be invited and educate so many young Marines and service members,” he said. “I hope to keep doing this as long as I can.”