A Chosin Survivor

No I did not spell chosen wrong. I am talking about the battle of Chosin Reservoir (27 November to 13 December 1950). I know you probably have not heard of the battle. However, the US Marine Corp ranks this battle as one of the top three battles – one of the “finest hours.” The other three are the battle of Belleau Wood and the battle of Iwo Jima. The battles of Belleau Wood and Iwo Jima were victories, the enemy retreated. The battle of Chosin Reservoir was a retreat for our forces. At the battle of Chosin our forces were out number by any where from 2:1 to 10:1, and they were surrounded.

The battle of Chosin was fought by the 1st Marine Division and the 31st RCT (see below for an explanation of a RCT) of the 7th Infantry Division of the US Army. The American forces were surprised by 20 divisions of the People’s Republic of China. American forces were about thirty thousand men. The Chinese forces were estimated at between 60,000 and 200,000 (20 divisions at full strength), but was probably closer to about 100,000 to 120,000. These troops were not green troops has many proclaim. The Chinese troops had been fighting the Japanese in World War Two and in the Chinese Civil War, although they did not have enough equipment.

This past week I met and interviewed one of the surviving members of the 7th Army 31st regiment. This unit was tasked with protecting the right flank (right side of the end of the battle line) of the 1st Marine Division. They held for four days, until their unit was finally destroyed by overwhelming numbers of Chinese troops. The 31st RCT had 3,800 men assigned to it, though about 800 men of the regiment were not able to reach the main body of the regiment.

After the destruction of the 31st the few survivors walked and crawled across the frozen Chosin Reservoir to reach the marines. They were formed up into a combat unit and with the marines fought their way out. When these men finally escaped and reach the safety of the port of Hungnam, Korea. Before the battle began the 31st RCT had about 3,800 men assigned to it. About 800 tried repeatedly to reach the main body of the regiment, but met the Chinese forces that surrounded the 31st. These men continued to try and reach the main body of the regiment until they could no longer fight. When the 31st reached the port of Hungnam 900 men were left alive. Of those men, only three hundred could fight and most if not all of them were wounded.

In addition to the enemy forces the soldiers and marines had to fight the weather. The temperatures reach -35 degrees F (-34 C) with a wind-chill of -50. Many of the troops suffered severe frostbite. Some of the troops acutually were kept from freezing to death as their own blood froze on their skin and kept them from bleeding to death.

One of the survivors of the 31st RCT was Ken Kirk. I spent over three hours with Ken and he wants to tell me more of his experiences in Korea. It was an honor to meet Ken, and I will do my best to accurately get his story down in writing. The war still haunts Ken, but he believes it was worth it, he believes they won the Korean War. And when you look at the quality of life of the South Koreans and the North Koreans it is hard to argue with him. I personally believe many of the wars fought are wars that should have never been fought. But, Korea was an important war that needed to be fought. The South Korean people to this day are grateful for the sacrifice of the UN troops who defended them. Today, in 2014, school teachers still take their classes to the American military cemeteries to tend the graves of the fallen men who defended them and their country. I think that says it all right there.

Thank you Ken. For myself and my daughter – thank you. You truly are a hero. I wish I could take from you the pain that still haunts you today. It is because of men like you that millions of men, women, and children live in freedom.


An RCT is a Regimental Combat Team. It is an infantry regiment that is augmented with smaller units of tank, artillery, combat engineers and other units to enable a regiment to operate by itself as an independent unit.

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One response to “A Chosin Survivor

  1. You are one of the few people who really helps me to enjoy history. Thanks for the lesson.