Saturday, August 31, 2019

On Desperate Ground ~ The Chosin Reservoir

Normally I don't pay much attention to post-WW2 military conflicts. Occasionally though, something will come along that piques my interest, and the above book is one of them. Sides' work covers the famous battles around the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea from November 1950 to January 1951. It was where my late father-in-law fought as a young Marine - one of the Chosin Few. He was wounded twice, the second time badly enough to require evacuation, and was awarded two Purple Hearts. Although I never knew him - he died before I met my wife - she says the consequences of that action remained with him for the rest of his days, and he became a lifelong pacifist. When I saw the book in our local library, I picked it up immediately.

The book goes into amazing detail about the campaign, with input from American, North Korean and Chinese sources. The stories of the horrors endured by both sides makes sobering reading. Foxholes had to be dug into the rock and frozen ground using explosives. Temperatures once reached a wind chill factor of -70f. Bodies were used as windbreaks and, on one occasion, ballast for a temporary bridge. The general ineptness of the US high command in the shape of theatre commander General MacArthur and his subordinate General Ned Almond - "Ned the Dread" - has to be read to be believed. The only high ranking officer to come out with an enhanced reputation is the First Marine Division commander, Oliver Prince Smith.

There's a few lighter touches here and there. For instance, the Marines slang term for 60mm mortar rounds was 'Tootsie Rolls.' When a requisition for more mortar munitions was sent to the main base at the port of Hungnam, someone unknowing soul took the request literally and sent thousands of cases of this American confection to the Marines. After first swearing about the mix-up they found the Tootsie Rolls to be incredibly useful, both as a high energy snack in the freezing cold - and as a kind of putty for sealing bullet wounds and bullet-riddled fuel tanks. My wife says her father loved Tootsie Rolls, and was fascinated by the possible reason for his addiction.

All in all, On Desperate Ground is an excellent read. It was published earlier last year when a state of war still officially existed between the combatants. Thankfully that much of the book is now outdated.

No comments:


home page uniques