'Chosin Few' Korean vets visit Nellis

  • Published
  • By Lila Edwards
  • Nellis AFB Public Affairs
Three hundred Korean War veteran survivors of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir (Jang Jin Ho) visited Nellis Sept. 20, and some of them shared their harrowing experiences during one of the most savage battles of the Korean War.

"I remember it like it was last week," said retired veteran Edward Toppel, who was a 21-year-old Navy 3rd Class hospital corpsman at that time.

"It was Nov. 27, 1950, and the B Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment, was deep in the mountains by the reservoir. It was about 11 p.m. when we were suddenly and absolutely overrun with about 200,000 Chinese troops who were the units of the Ninth Army Group of the Chinese PLA, actually the Chinese Communist Forces. There were about 20,000 of us, the U.N. forces, mainly the U.S. 1st Marine Division and the U.S. 7th Infantry Division. The Chinese came at us like ants; they just kept coming and coming," he said quietly.

"My job as a corpsman was, of course, to tend to the wounded. But, I carried a carbine rifle and had to shoot my way to them. I remember working my way back behind those lines of Chinese five times, and each time I grabbed a hold on someone who had been shot and just ran back around to our line. The only way I could make sure I didn't get hit by our own U.N. troops was to shout cuss words out to let them know I was an American. The Chinese didn't know any of our cuss words, so we used them as passwords to get our own troops' attention and get fire-cover."

"Most of the English verbiage we heard coming from them, as they charged us was 'You die tonight American, or die now, die now.' They had orders to completely annihilate the entire U.N. contingent. And, we knew they had a special hatred for us Marines because we wouldn't give in. They referred to us as the crazy yellow legs, because we all wore yellow leggings as part of our uniforms," explained Mr. Toppel.

Mr. Toppel was shot three times while trying to tend to the wounded and dying fellow-Marines. However, he said, he had no idea how many times he had been shot because his legs from the knees down were frozen and had no feeling in them because of the minus-37 degrees temperature and the wind-chill, pulling the temperature down to a minus-70 degrees.

"I had to carry my morphine syrettes that I used to relieve the injured soldier's pain in my mouth to keep the syrettes from freezing," said Mr. Toppel. "Sometimes they still froze up, and I couldn't help them."

"We were all virtually freezing to death, standing up and fighting," agreed Ed Phillips, who, at the time, was 20 years old and a Private 1st Class with the Marine C Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment. "That includes the Chinese, who were dressed in only padded quilt uniforms and wore slippers that looked like today's tennis shoes. The snow and the wet just saturated them, and we could see them literally freezing and dying while standing or pointing their guns at us. Of the 200,000 of them, 40,000 of them were killed either from our gunfire or just freezing to death. We had almost 15,000 casualties ourselves in the U.N. forces, and about 7,500 of those casualties were cold-related injuries or fatalities."

"We had to pull out and go back down a road that was barely wide enough for a single vehicle to pass. We followed one battalion tank and a bulldozer, which was being used to clear away the traps and debris the Chinese used to keep us pinned down and surrounded," said Mr. Phillips. "You know, as Marines we are committed to not leave anyone behind. But the Chinese were still coming down onto us from the mountains, and as we were loading up our wounded in our carrier trucks, the sub-zero weather froze them. We just had to keep replacing the frozen troops with other live, but wounded troops ... it was impossible to keep up with the exchange. You can't imagine how it was if you weren't there," he said.

"We remember this time of our lives every time any of us hear a bugle beginning Taps anywhere," explained Mr. Toppel. "The Chinese used bugles to signify they were attacking, and the first few notes they blew on those bugles was the beginning sounds of our Taps ... and then they came and just kept coming. But those of us here survived, and we are still so very proud of the fact that we didn't give up. We couldn't because we owed it to our country, and we owed it to those we had to leave over there."

Historical documentation from the U.S. Army Command Archives explain how the name "Chosin Few" came into existence. During the Korean War battle of the Chosin Reservoir area, Army senior commanders were utilizing area maps, which were actually written in Japanese. Therefore, Jang Jin Ho, was identified and translated as the Chosin Reservoir. In the Korean language, the word "few" means survivor. In 1983 when the survivors of the battle formed their association they decided, appropriately so, to call themselves the "Chosin Few."

"It was amazing to see our Air Force history through the eyes of these men and women who have served before us.", said Capt. Justin McVay, 99th Air Base Wing chief of media relations.

"I was honored to be a part of their Nellis tour and to get the opportunity to thank them for their service to our country."