Marines Magazine

The Official Magazine of the United States Marine Corps

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The Lost Generation

When the North Korean People’s Army crossed the country’s southern border into the Republic of South Korea, United Nations’ officials, who had helped establish the border five years earlier, condemned the attack. More than 20 of its member countries pledged their support, including the United States.

Between June 1950 and July 1953, 1.5 million American service members deployed to the Korean Peninsula in what has been nicknamed the “Forgotten War.” edged in history between World War II and the Vietnam War, the Korean War has often gone unacknowledged for its significance.

The war represented a growing split in the world between the communist and capitalist powers. U.S. intervention not only saved South Korea, it set a precedent for how the major powers would fight each other during the Cold War, said William Alli, who served with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, during
the conflict.

“At that time, the Cold War had been going on for roughly four years,” he said. “The Korean War set the ground rules for how we and the Soviets would deal with future conflicts. The world avoided World War III because of the impact of [this] war.”

The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade arrived in Korea July 31, 1950 to find the situation well out of hand. South Korea was reduced to a 500 square-mile corner in the southeast of the peninsula, protected by the Pusan Perimeter. The Marines joined the Army and South Korean forces already in place, preventing any further progress from the North Koreans.

To relieve forces within the perimeter, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the commander of all U.N. forces in Korea, began planning an amphibious assault on the city of Inchon, behind the North Korean lines. More than 70,000 Marines landed in the city Sept. 15, the first amphibious assault landing of the war. The terrain caused some difficulties, but the Marines managed to take the city and create a strong foothold in enemy territory, said Clark G. Henry, who was with Company G, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

The attack was so successful that U.N. forces were able to counterattack to the 38th parallel north, the line of latitude that coincided with the initial border between North and South Korea. In October, U.N. forces managed to take Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, before proceeding north to the border of China.
Fearing the effect of a large Western presence in the region, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army moved across the border into Korea and began attacking U.N. forces. By Nov. 27, the Chinese had the 1st Marine Division surrounded in the cold mountains of the Chosin Reservoir. For 16 days, the Marines battled freezing cold temperatures and the Chinese, eventually breaking through to reach the coast and badly-needed supplies and reinforcements.

“We were fighting and trying to stay warm,” said Henry. “We didn’t have time to think about anything else.”

Those survivors, nicknamed the “Frozen Chosin,” stood out to the Marines who were just getting to Korea, said John R. Kennedy, who shipped to Korea in December and was placed with Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

“They looked really tough,” he recalled. “A lot of them were frozen, frostbitten; they really had been through hell.”

As Marines arrived to support their brothers already in Korea, they were quickly thrown into the fight, said Fred Frankville, who served with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. U.N. forces were trying to offset the counterattack from Chinese forces, who had managed to fight back into South Korea. In early 1951, several operations were launched to bring the war back up to the 38th parallel.

Operations Killer and Ripper relied on the work of the Marines who had just arrived to the country, said Alli. These operations secured Seoul, the capital of South Korea.

“[At that point] the enemy was not making a stand against us,” he added.

The Marines soon discovered this was because the Chinese were waiting in reserve while planning another offensive. The fighting stalled at the 38th parallel, and the 1st Marine Division settled in a valley on the border, nicknamed the “Punchbowl” for its circular appearance.

“We lived in the mountains all the time,” said Kennedy. “We dug foxholes, it seemed like every night, and we lived off the earth.”

The rest of the war devolved into trench warfare, with little land taken by either side. The conflict ended in July 1953 with a cease fire. The three-year fight spanned from one end of the peninsula to the other, but in the end the border barely shifted.

Upon their return, the veterans did not receive the same welcome their predecessors had after World War II.

“The population didn’t have any idea what it really was like,” said Martin Vasquez, who served with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “We got up there and defended somebody else’s country, which we are always willing to do when the time comes.”

The military response in Korea was officially labeled as a police action, which further downplayed the contributions of the American presence, said Alli.
“It actually involved armies and (it) involved weapons,” he said. “I saw for myself it was a war.”

The fact that there is a distinction disturbs a lot of the veterans.

“They said it wasn’t a war, but it was the most primitive war we’ve ever been in,” added Frankville.

Even some of the veterans felt that the war was not worth remembering when they first returned to the United States, said Frankville.

“What really changed my mind was going back to Korea and seeing what impact we had on the country,” said the Silver Star recipient. “They went from the Stone Age to the 21st century just like that. It’s like going to downtown Las Vegas – big high-rise apartments, people all dressed up in white shirts and ties, driving modern automobiles. These were modern, intelligent, nice people.”

The South Korean government invites American veterans of the war to the country every year, where they receive a heroes’ welcome.

“As soon as they find out that you’re a Korean War veteran, they really stretch the red carpet for you,” said Vasquez.

Even though none of the veterans have been able to see North Korea, they still have been able to see what could have happened if they didn’t fight to protect South Korea.

“When the satellites take pictures of the Korean peninsula at night, what do they see?” asked Alli. “In the south, there are lights, cities, life, prosperity. In the north, you don’t see anything. The difference between the two is stark.”

The perception is changing at home, as well. In 2008, Congress awarded the Korean War Veterans Association a federal charter, which gave those veterans a chance to participate in veterans congressional advisory panels.

“Recently, people started opening their eyes and saying ‘Oh, there was a war,’” said Vasquez.

Revived interest in the Korean War has given its veterans a chance to make sure their stories are not lost to time. Retelling the story of the war gives younger generations a chance to see the entire conflict, said Alli.

“How do you honor these people, many who are dead?” he asked. “All we can do is do what the ancient bards did and write their stories.”

One of the things Marines take pride in is the history of the Corps and the Marines who fought in previous conflicts. At a time when the country was deciding if America still needed a Marine Corps, the Marines who fought in Korea emphatically proved there was no finer fighting force in the world, said Frankville.

“The Marine Corps saved [South] Korea, and Korea saved the Marine Corps,” he said.

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29 Responses

  1. Rjday1 says:

    This is for my father, the late Cpl. Ralph M. Engstrom, USMC, POW/MIA, 12/10/50 – CHOISIN RESERVOIR, Korea- “The Forgotten War”.  He was killed 3 mos. before I was born. We have Myocondrical DNA on file to ID’d his remains. I want to lay him to rest on AMERICAN soil, the country he loved, fought and died to protect. I had the opportunity to speak with the last Marine to see him alive.  They were given summer issue clothing for sub-zero temperatures and frozen Tootsie Rolls to eat! He told me that not knowing what had happened had “haunted” him all these years.  He told me since we had connected that “this tired old Marine has finally been given some peace”, and that “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”!  SEMPER FIDELIS! 

  2. Nick says:

    My grandfather served here. He was an Inchon resovoir survivor

  3. Peter says:

    Thank you sir

  4. TinSoldier says:

    What’s “boo” about it? I’ve been in the Marines and in the Army. Brothers in arms, all.

  5. Tomythec says:

    My dad was in the Korean conflict and was trying to locate any members still alive in his marine unit. His name is Floyd Crayton, if anyone knows him please let me know. I am his son.

  6. K. Williams says:

    SEMPER FI!  

    USMC 3/11 ORD

  7. Beenpd says:

    Dad was Army, he was in Korea when the Chinese came in…
    I was a Marine, served 8 years, never heard a shot fired in anger…
    Dad just looks at me, smiles, and says “Lucky SOB”…
    Thanks to all who served in Korea…My dad and I will never forget   PB

  8. Anthony M. Giacobbe says:

    I am a vet of Korean Occupation forces, 24th Med Bn, 24 Inf Div, & 1st. Cav Div, april 1957-July 1958.  My brother-in-law Phil Bavaro, was aMarine veteran of Fox co, at the Taktong Pass.  He told me stories of his experiences , and they made my hair stand on end.  He wrote a commentary of his experience, and it was included in the book, “The Last Stand Of Fox Company”.  I have read many of the books on the Chosin Campaign, and I am impressed & saddened by the hardships of the Marines & Army.  I must say , to paraphase Winston Churchill, “This was their finest hour”

  9. Deb Koons says:

    David Halberstam’s book about the Korean War, “The Coldest Winter,” which is an amazing and intricate recounting of this war.

  10. Mike Glazzy says:

    Also, a salute to the 1st Marine Air Wing and the support of their F4U Corsairs.
    Semper Fi,
    Mike Glazzy
    Pohang, Korea

  11. YUMARD says:


  12. anthony says:

    Not a marine. Former Army. I know….”boooooo!” Just liked reading about this and other articles.

  13. Roy Foor says:

    There is a forgotten time between the beginning of hostilities (25 June, 1950) and the first deployment of troops to Korea on 1 July 1950.
    Those Marines where from the first line of defence, Guam, Midway, and Subic Bay. The Marines departed from Guam on ! July, 1950, and flown to the Puson Permider. They were comitted to firew six hours after leaving Guam.
    All toll, there where I believe 6(six) drafts. The quota was filled by volinteers,
    I hope this will fill the gap between 1 July, 1950 and 31 July, 1950..

    Semper Fi

  14. Vigila A.D. Lance Corporal says:

    I am truly proud of our Marine Corps tradition, I am proud to of served in the Corps with HQ Company 3rd Marines 1st Marine Brigade, From 1979-1985. Thank you too all of you leathernecks that served in the forgotten war. Semper Fi. AV

  15. Heath says:

    Well, the 1st Marine Division certainly has a truly remarkable war-fighting legacy, don’t they? Not to exclude Marines in general of course, haha. God bless the United States Marine Corps and what He has been able to accomplish on the field of battle through our Marines- whether they’re as clear as defeating the Japanese, or serving a heroic-fighting legacy like that at Chosin Reservoir.

    “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete…for even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it.”
    -2 Corinthians 10:12

    Semper Fi.

  16. Sgt Harris, Miriam says:

    WOW! I now I’m in the younger generations, but when our company came to D. C. to visit I was overwhelm. I had to give a class on the Korean war and I couldn’t believe the history that has been hidden from us. We know that we are willing to go to ever clime and place and now I know that we defiantly, able to uphold our traditions. Thank you for your services to allow us to keep our Freedom Free.

  17. Thomas Lee Ridge II says:


    Fifty years ago in the frozen mountains of korea, the Marines endured a campaign as grueling and heroic as any in history
    That night of November 28–29, 1950, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lee Ridge, 1st Marines, leader of the 3rd batallion, expected the enemy to attack Hagaru-ri from the south. The men were in their foxholes and it had begun to snow again when, at 10:30 P.M., the Chinese sent up three red flares and, as predicted, attacked H and I Companies. The enemy’s losses were frightful, but shortly after midnight, in a pandemonium of trumpets and whistles, they broke through to H Company’s command post.
    Semper Fi, Dad.

  18. Teodoro Leo says:

    I would like to join the marines when i get older. thank you to all of you vets and present marines…….. ONCE A MARINE ALWAYS A MARINE….. Semper Fi

    From a future marine

  19. N.M.Bernhardt says:


  20. Prasad says:

    Thanks a lot for protecting this world from bad-ass people.
    Blessings on the brave men.

  21. Jacqueline Mackin Hartman says:

    As the daughter of a Marine who served in this war (and with Fred Frankville) I am forever indebted to them for their courage and dedication. And I certainly have a soft spot in my heart for all United States Marines!

  22. Captain Leonard R. Shifflette USMC (Ret) says:

    I, too, served in Korea June 1951 – January 1952 with A Company 1st Battalion 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, FMF (Reinf). I was a Corporal that was stationed at the Marine Detachment, Subic Bay, RPI, volunteered to go to Korea as many of our Marines stationed there had done.

    I stayed in the Corps until I retired on 1 April 1970. I was selected and promoted as a Second Lieutenant when I was serving in WestPac (during the Vietnam conflict) in June of 1966. Served with the 3d Force Service Regiment, 3d Marine Division, FMF. June 1966 to July 1967.

    I retired as Captain and was the Adjutant at Marine Barracks, Naval Base, Philadelphia, Pa. July 1967 until 1 April 1970.

    Semper Fi! And, happy 235th Birthday Marine.


  23. Jerry Hailey says:

    Always faithful, never foget

  24. Charles Hopton says:

    Talk about forgotten. I joined the Army at 15.
    When I came home from Korea, I was actually asked “Did you transfer to a different high school?”

    The first time I was thanked for my service was in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1996. I met some Korean tourists. One asked if I had ever been to Korea. When I told him that I had served there, he bowed and thanked me for saving his country.

    The second time was in Wyoming in 2004. A state trooper stopped me for speeding. When he saw my Korean War Veteran plate (from Colorado), he refused to give me a well desrved speeding ticket.

    He thanked me for serving my country. By the way, he was a Marine vet.

  25. Cyndi Read says:

    Thank you Dad. I love you.


  26. Mark A. Massey says:

    I have visited this memorial on three different occasions! I am impressed by the look and the life likeness of the Marines in this memorial. My cousin, Sergant Earl Lewis Massey, was at the landing of Inchon and remembered LtGen Chesty Puller very well. He suffered some very serious wounds while serving there but lived a good life after the Korean War until November 10, 1984 when he was struck by a car while crossing the road and which killed him instantly. He never talked much of the war, but the last memory he left with me was on a warm summer day in 1984, when I told him I was going to become a Marine. He and all the others must never be forgotten, for they surely exemplify what it means for us today to carry on the legacy of their contributions to the freedom of the great country of the United States.

    SgtMaj Massey
    I-I Sergeant Major, 6th Motor Transport Battalion

  27. LtCol C. D. Chen says:

    Marines Magazine should consider doing a story about Maj Kurt Chew-Een Lee, USMC. Navy Cross for his actions during the Chosin Campaign and one of the first Asian-American Marine commissioned officers.

  28. Bridget says:

    My Dad, Col Lawrence Bradley, served in Korea with Easy Company. Our family is very proud of him.

  29. Cpl. Patrick M. Ramsey says:

    While America has forgotten the Korean War, the Marines have not. I am part of a long standing tradition of military service in my family. My father was a Vietnam and desert storm marine, his father before him a WWII and Korean war veteran. My mothers fathe was a Vietnam era airman. I know what we (the Marines) did over there. No I am not proud of those leathernecks, because that would imply that I had a hand in what they did and it is because of them that I will have the luxury of not knowing what that kind of war is like. However I am gracious and am blessed enough to be part of their legacy in the most fit and smartly disciplined fighting forces the world has and ever will know.