Chosin Few visit MARFORPAC, share history of courage
By Pfc. Ethan Hoaldridge
| | March 30, 2007
U.S. MARINE CORPS BASE, CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii --
During the Korean War, a Marine captain faced a 1,000 enemy Chinese troops attacking his company’s position on a hill in Yudam-Ni. The fight lasted five days, and the captain was shot twice, once in the nose and once through his cheek. The second shot’s impact forced his eye out of its socket.
The Marine simply pushed his eye back in and kept in the fight. He and his company held their position until help arrived.
Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Robert F. Talmadge and retired Navy Capt. Davey Crockett, both Korean War veterans, came to U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific to share their stories and first-hand experiences during a time that embodied the courage and mental toughness of Marines of their day.
“The Marines can read books about their history, but we wanted to give them the opportunity to hear from someone that was there,” said Talmadge, a former engineer with Company D, 1st Engineering Battalion during the war. “When you’ve ‘been there and done that,’ it ain’t bragging.”
The two gentlemen not only shared war stories, but also gave a brief history lesson, describing how there almost was no Corps after World War II.
“The Army was jealous, as the Marines were getting a lot of the headlines during World War II,” said Talmadge speaking of Marine battles at Belleau Wood and Iwo Jima. “Army generals said there wasn’t a need for a Marine Corps, and that the Navy-Marine Corps team would be obsolete because the Army and its Air Corps could bring troops and supplies into combat more effectively than by ship.”
The Senate’s Naval Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the Marine Corps’ future in 1946. The Commandant of the Marine Corps was there to defend his service.
“The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps,” said the 18th Commandant of the Marine Corps General Alexander A. Vandegrift. “If the Marine as a fighting man has not made a case for himself after 170 years of service, he must go.”
After key military leaders saw the amphibious landing at Inchon, Korea, comparable to those in the Pacific during World War II, they said there was no better fighting force than the combining of the Marine ground and air elements, according to Talmadge.
As the two veterans moved on to talk about the Korean War, they described the extreme conditions they had to fight through.
“During the summer months it would be 110 degrees with unbearable humidity,” said Talmadge. “But during the winter it would reach temperatures around 20 below, and some of us didn’t even have socks.”
“Officers and staff NCOs would walk around and smack Marines in the helmet to wake them up and get them to walk around to get the blood flowing,” he said. “If you slept you would die from exposure.”
Marine veterans of the war in Afghanistan also went through cold-weather conditions in the eastern mountain regions near Tora Bora, but couldn’t fathom the extreme cold Talmadge and Crockett described.
“It blows my mind how they kept fighting in those conditions and stayed mentally stable,” said Staff Sgt. Vincent Russo, MARFORPAC training staff noncommissioned officer. “When I was in Tora Bora, it was hard enough keeping the Marines’ morale up and their minds focused when we were searching for insurgents in the mountains.”
The Navy and Marine pilots had unique challenges of their own.
“As a night flier, there were times when the fog would set in and we would have to fly at low altitudes and the topographical maps we had weren’t so reliable,” said Crockett. “I’d get that spooky feeling relying only on my night vision to judge the elevation of the terrain, hoping my reaction time was quick enough.”
Engaging enemy targets could be more difficult at night as well.
Pilots could loose their night vision while firing missiles because of the brightness of the fuel burning, so they developed certain tricks of the trade. Crockett said they would close one eye to maintain their night vision. After the missile was downrange, they would switch eyes and fly with the other.
Talmadge’s and Crockett’s personal descriptions of the environment, the leadership, the camaraderie and the personal pride in successfully supporting their mission in the war gave a unique perspective to the Marines at MARFORPAC.
At the age of 77, Talmadge has had seven bypass surgeries and still gets up the energy to visit Marine units on Oahu to share his story alongside other veterans like Crockett.
“We can’t even imagine what these men went through in Korea, and it’s an honor to just meet them,” said Russo. “The Marines here got a very rare and special opportunity today to experience a little history.”