From Our MagazinesAmerica's Civil War American History Armchair General Aviation History British Heritage Civil War Times MHQ Military History Vietnam Wild West World War II
More On The WebsiteAll History Topics Classifieds Partner Links Civil War Sesquicentennial
Our History MagazinesOrder America's Civil War Order American History Order Aviation History Order British Heritage Order Civil War Times Order Military History Order MHQ Order Vietnam Order Wild West Order World War II Order Armchair General
Subscriber ServicesOrder a Subscription Give a Gift Renew Get Subscription Help
HistoryNetShop.comStore Home Books Book Series 2012 Calendars DVDs PC Wargames Action Figures Audio Collections Videos Gift Ideas Magazine Subscriptions Magazine Back Issues Magazine Special Issues Magazine Slip Cases
During World War II, U.S. Marine Lee Bergee served in the steaming jungles of the Philippines and was wounded during that campaign. He arrived back in the United States on December 13, 1945, and reached his home in Iowa on Christmas Eve, with the temperature hovering at 34 degrees below zero. Little did he realize that five years later he would be back in combat as a platoon sergeant in a Marine rifle company–shivering in the subzero cold of North Korea.
Bergee has written two books. His first book, Rendezvous With Hell, published in 1963, is about the Korean War, including the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter, the Inchon landing, the recapture of Seoul, and the Chosin Reservoir campaign. His 1987 book, Guest of the Emperor, is the story of former prisoner ofwar Corporal Frank O. Promnitz, U.S. Marine Corps, who survived the horrors of Bataan, Corregidor, the Death March, the prisoner-of-war camps and the Japanese 'hell ships.' The latter book was selected for the Bataan Memorial Museum library in Santa Fe, N.M.
Many words have been written about the fighting and the bravery during the Chosin Reservoir battle, but not much has been said about what it felt like to be there. Bergee, interviewed recently for Military History, tells the story of the so-called Chosin Few.
Military History: President Ronald Reagan cited the Chosin Reservoir battle in his inaugural address as one of the classics of military history. I imagine that you agree.
Bergee: Yes, I do. There have been many bloody and savage battles by U.S. armed forces, and every battle seems rough for the participants, but I do believe that Chosin was a classic example of a small but well-disciplined force prevailing over a tenacious enemy, severe weather and overwhelming odds. Other battles have had high battle casualties and fierce fighting, but it was the severe weather and the fact that we were fighting off six Chinese divisions that made the Chosin Reservoir campaign so different from the rest. I met a Marine after the battle who had served with the U.S. Army in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. He told me that he had always believed nothing could be worse than the Bulge, but the Chosin campaign changed his mind.
MH: Do you regard Chosin as unique in Marine history?
Bergee: At the time I enlisted in the Marine Corps, we were known as the 'Old Breed.' The survivors of the Chosin are known as the 'Cold Breed.' That campaign was probably the most powerful experience most of the Marines had ever had in their lives. If you go through something like that with men like that, you develop strong bonds. They are the finest people I know. Chosin was much worse, in terms of weather, than other American battles, and the knowledge that there was no rescue team on the way [as at Bastogne] made it worse. If we were to get out of there, we had to do it on our own.
MH: I have read that the Chosin campaign has been compared to the World War II fight for Tarawa. There, too, about 15,000 Marines were involved, and they also suffered about 7,000 casualties. How do you compare the two?
Bergee: I agree that it compares to Tarawa, but at Chosin we also had the weather to contend with, plus the fact that we were not invading an island, but were on the defensive–completely surrounded by six Chinese Communist divisions. That fact alone, I believe, puts Chosin in a class all by itself. It reminds me of the Spartans and their stand at Thermopylae long ago!
MH: What are your most vivid memories of the Chosin campaign?
Bergee: In 1965, I visited Lt. Gen. Lewis B. 'Chesty' Puller at his home in Virginia, and the first thing he said to me as we shook hands was, 'Have you thawed out yet, Sarge?' After 15 years, the first thing he mentioned was the cold. Yes, we all have our memories of buddies killed, of the hordes of Chinese assaulting our frozen lines and the long, dangerous walk out, but I truly believe the uppermost thought in our minds, when we think of that campaign, is the cold! Those long nights in a ditch, or a foxhole, with the thermometer hanging around 40 degrees below zero, will long be remembered. I said to myself, when I awoke in a naval hospital in Japan after being evacuated from Koto-ri: 'I pray that I NEVER am this cold ever again!'
MH: It's hard to imagine fighting in that cold.
Bergee: I had a Sheaffer fountain pen that I carried in my breast pocket, and the ink in it froze and split the pen. The water in our canteens froze. We had to work the operating handles on the breechblocks of our M-1 rifles every now and then so they wouldn't freeze shut. Beads of ice formed in our beards and in our nostrils, and some of the men had to get the corpsmen to chip the ice out of their noses. Standing watch, you stomped your feet constantly and wiggled your toes inside the shoepacs to keep the circulation going. The cold seeped through your clothing, and you were always miserable. The wind hit your face until it was raw, and the driving snow whipped into your eyes and half-blinded you as you searched for enemy activity. You dreamed of being close to a roaring fire. I remember at Koto-ri when several of us set a railroad boxcar on fire and climbed inside until the flames drove us out. Day or night, it was extremely cold!
MH: What was the lowest temperature?
Bergee: I didn't have a thermometer, of course, but there was one at regimental headquarters, and one morning it registered minus 54 degrees. I recall having hot cereal one morning, and they poured hot milk on it, but after I walked about 30 feet to sit down to eat, the milk was frozen solid in my mess kit. I read, after I arrived back in the States, that the winter of 195051 in North Korea was the coldest since records were first kept back in 1888. At night, it was damn scary lying in a ditchor a hole in that pitch-dark deepfreeze waiting for the enemy to strike. The severe cold bit into our bodies like a knife.
MH: How did you survive?
Bergee: Well, to tell you the truth, it wasn't easy. Even the youngsters looked like old men with the layer of frost that was covering their faces. The snow was thick, and in the blinding whiteout it was difficult to see at times. The wind cut into your face. The Chinese had an advantage in that we had to pass through their well-placed zones of fire when we ran into a roadblock. Progress was always slow, and the casualties rapidly reduced our already depleted numbers. The flank guards, off to the sides of the road, waded in hip-deep snow, and since they had to struggle along the hillside, they would become exhausted. When we came to a roadblock, we had to attempt to climb around the Chinese firing positions, which were holding back our advance. Their small-arms fire was heavy, automatic weapons hitting us from the front and from the high ground on both sides of our column. It was when we had to stand or lie down alongside the road while a roadblock was being eliminated that the severe cold really got to us. It seemed we didn't notice it as much when we were on the move, but during the wait, we simply froze! I grew up in the blizzards of Iowa, but I have never witnessed winter weather like that at Chosin. And can you believe, with the snow came lightning? Yes, I saw lightning bolts when it was snowing. We often prayed for the skies to clear. When it cleared and stopped snowing, our 'equalizers'–Vought F4U Corsair fighter-bombers–would give us support. It was so cold that many of the wounded on the trucks would get frostbite. I remember looking into the rear of one of our trucks at a group of wounded and seeing them lying there, helpless; the urge to get them to safety rekindled the old spark.
MH: Did the walking wounded participate in the fighting?
Bergee: Yes, that was a common happening. Some were wounded for a second time, and several were even hit a third time. I recall seeing a Marine captain, blinded in one eye, one leg in shreds, supporting himself with a mortar aiming stake, as he led his men. I also remember a young Marine who had been hit in the face with shrapnel. As the corpsman was giving him first aid, a Chinese machine gun opened up, and the snow and dirt flew all around the two of them. That wounded Marine just shook his fist at the hillside and yelled: 'Damn it! If you're going to kill me, then kill me, but stop trying to scare me to death!'
MH: Pardon a more prosaic question, but how did you relieve yourself during that terrible weather?
Bergee: That's not an unreasonable question, and you're not the first to ask. We would wait until the 'heat of the day,' which was around 3 p.m., and then do our best to get the job done. It wasn't easy, and hundreds of men were constipated throughout the campaign.
MH: How were you able to fight under those freezing conditions?
Bergee: It wasn't easy. Sometimes you were so cold your fingers ached as you fired your rifle. It would empty, and then the magazine would eject with that well-known 'whang.' You had to push another clip in–fast. Hundreds of Chinese were rushing at you. But your fingers were so cold. You tried and tried to push that clip into your rifle. It was so difficult, and the enemy kept on coming. That sort of thing went on night after night.
MH: Were rifles all you had to fight with?
Bergee: Our automatic weapons jammed a lot. The howitzers had to be fired every now and then just so they would function properly. All of the vehicles had to be kept running so they wouldn't freeze. Once they were shut off, they might not start again. I remember watching one of our tanks, with the brakes locked, sliding on the icy road and off the mountain with all the crew members aboard. The most heartbreaking experience came when trucks or weapons carriers turned over on icy roads in the middle of the night, and the already wounded men would be killed or would receive further injuries. Trying to pick up those wounded men and find places for them on other vehicles previously loaded with wounded, while Chinese machine-gun bullets were flying around, was a nightmare I shall never forget.
MH: Do you personally blame anyone for the Chosin entrapment?
Bergee: Yes. I blame the top officers atX Corps and General Douglas MacArthur's headquarters for the mess we found ourselves in. Weeks before, the 1st Marine Division had reported the presence of Chinese troops in the mountains. We had killed some and we had actually captured some, but the 'boys in the rear' didn't believe us. One of the regimental commanders asked the commanding general of the X Corps to come see for himself. We had several in our makeshift stockade. General O.P. Smith, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, voiced his disatisfaction at having his division strung out for more than 40 miles. An infantry division and its supplies should be together and consolidated. We were too far apart over a single mountainous road, some 50 miles from the nearest help. We were taking orders from the Army's X Corps, and I blame its commanding general, Maj. Gen. Edward Almond, and his staff for our ordeal. He sent the Army's task force, made up of part of the 7th Division, up the east side of the reservoir without proper support or communications, and they were literally wiped out.
MH: What was General MacArthur's role in the debacle?
Bergee: MacArthur had been told by top Japanese officers not to conduct a winter campaign in those mountains. They had ruled Korea for a long time and knew how dangerous it was to have the 1st Marine Division and part of the Army's 7th Division out on the well-known 'limb' near the Chosin Reservoir.
MH: How did the medical personnel operate during the battle? Surely the freezing temperatures affected them.
Bergee: The corpsmen and doctors were superb, as always. Those Navy people had to administer first aid and operate under severe conditions and always with a good possibility of being killed. Several times, Chinese infiltrators would tear a long slit in the medical tent and try to get inside, shooting anyone who got in the way. One ambulance, on the road between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri, was machine-gunned viciously, and the chaplain of one of our regiments was killed, along with his assistant and the wounded. Yes, the medical personnel were heroes, in the truest sense of the word. They were under constant fire; there was no such thing as a hospital. The corpsmen had to keep the hypodermic syringes taped in their armpits to keep the liquid in the syringes from freezing solid, and they stuffed morphine ampules inside their mouths to keep the doses from freezing. One corpsman told me, 'By the time you would cut through the different layers of clothing to reach the wounds, your hands would be numb from the cold.' One thing I might mention is that it was so cold that when one was wounded, the blood didn't run as it did in the tropics. The blood coagulated, which saved many a Marine's life.
MH: How would you describe the leadership at the sub-divisional level?
Bergee: Our leadership was strong, extremely strong. The officers and NCOs were combat veterans of World War II, and even the Reserve officers and staff NCOs were battle-tested. The youngsters who had been through the fighting in the Pusan Perimeter, the Inchon invasion and the recapture of Seoul were now combat veterans, and the young reservists came through with flying colors. Many of them had no combat experience, but they listened to their leaders and upheld the tradition of the Marine Corps. Little by little, though, exhaustion began telling on us. When we fell, it took longer to get up. At the end of the Chosin campaign, I was so fatigued that after I gave an order, I asked that it be repeated because I wasn't sure whether or not I had actually given the order. I remember one of our machine-gunners singing 'There's No Tomorrow' one cold, bitter night. David Duncan, who had served as a World War II Marine and was working as a Life magazine photographer at Chosin, asked one man if he had one wish what would it be, and that man looked at him and replied, 'Give me tomorrow.' That is the way it was up there. Live each day as it comes and pray that you would be alive tomorrow.
MH: When did you realize that you were caught in a trap?
Bergee: When our battalion mail jeep came back full of holes after running into an enemy roadblock. I remember we had been told that we were surrounded by six Chinese divisions, but it didn't really soak in until that jeep came back.
MH: Did you ever feel as if it would be impossible to fight on?
Bergee: No. Not once do I remember feeling that I was a participant in a hopeless cause. I read about being trapped in the newspapers and magazines after I arrived back in the States, but during the campaign I only felt complete confidence that I was a United States Marine, with other Marines. If the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, and the Army 3rd Division, who were down below in the valley, could not break through to us, then we would break out to them. I never knew if I would be one of the survivors, but I knew the Chinese could not contain the 1st Marine Division.
MH: Marines have a certain closeness, don't they?
Bergee: Yes, we knew that in the morning light we would find our buddies still next to us–dead or alive, they would still be there. The Corps' justifiable pride in itself is not built on braggadocio but on actual accomplishments. Many articles have been written about the Chosin fight by writers who were not there, but let me tell you, as one who was there, we were a band of brothers–and we were coming out of that trap like Marines, or we weren't coming out at all!
MH: I heard the Marines even brought out most of their dead.
Bergee: Yes, that is true. There were some who could not be reached, who had been isolated and overrun, but all of those we could reach, we brought out. When the Marines reached Koto-ri, the final perimeter that had been defended throughout the exodus from Yudam-ni, before the final breakout south, we buried 85 officers and men. Those men were interred at Chosin because the space was needed on the vehicles for badly wounded. The bodies of those we buried, however, were returned to the United States in 1953 in accordance with the Korean Armistice. The remains were then re-interred as requested by their next of kin. God love them all!
MH: Would you talk about some of the experiences the Marines underwent during that campaign?
Bergee: I could fill up your notebook with experiences. One of my gunnery sergeant friends distinguished himself one night by daringly exposing himself to intense machine-gun, mortar, grenade and small-arms fire to lead 12 men against overwhelming odds (they were facing approximately two battalions of Chinese) to reach and aid men of his command. He was awarded the Navy Cross for that act of heroism. Inside the perimeter at Hagaru-ri, the Marines prepared for the anticipated night attack. Every man became a rifleman–clerk-typists, cooks, truck drivers, communications men, supply personnel and engineers. The perimeter flares revealed wave after wave of Chinese advancing across the snow-covered ground. Hand grenades were lobbed at the onrushing enemy, machine guns opened up and the mortars began firing with devastating effect. Finally, our men met the enemy head-on, with bayonets. Temporarily, the Chinese had been beaten off by so-called rear echelon troops–but the Chinese had not figured on their opponents being Marines. I have often thought what the Chosin area must have looked like when spring arrived that following year. There must have been dead bodies all over the place. It has been said that the 1st Marine Division killed 40 Chinese to every dead Marine. It seems possible to me, since I saw the bodies of Chinese soldiers stacked like cordwood at daybreak after that battle.
MH: It was certainly a grim business, wasn't it?
Bergee: I recall seeing one Marine sitting behind the wheel of a jeep, a bullet through his forehead. He had been hit as he tried to make a run for Hagaru-ri; his jeep had veered off the road, jumped over an embankment and landed near the edge of a creek. The Chinese had stripped him of his helmet, weapon and winter clothing, leaving him clad in only his winter underwear.
MH: There have been numerous stories of close calls at Chosin. Did you witness any personally?
Bergee: The helmet of one of my men was spun around on his head as a bullet passed in and out through the side. I remember seeing a Marine smoking a cigarette one morning, and a bullet knocked the cigarette right out of his mouth. I felt my left shoepac suddenly become untied. A bullet had severed the shoelace, and as I bent over to look at it, my canteen was shot off my belt. I had just gotten out of my sleeping bag one dark night, took two steps, and a burp gun cut loose and sent about 20 rounds into my bag. The down feathers really flew!
MH: What about the Chinese? Were they good fighters?
Bergee: Compared to the Japanese, they were not. They would try to overwhelm you with sheer manpower. No, I personally don't believe they were good soldiers, but they were extremely disciplined and tough. We killed so many of the Chinese who attacked us that they were finished as a fighting unit. That unit never again entered into combat during the Korean War. It is ironic–they had orders to annihilate the 1st Marine Division, but we annihilated them. Of course, there were individual acts of heroism by Chinese soldiers, but generally they depended on overwhelming strength in numbers. I shall never forget the many nights of massed attacks by the enemy. The damn bugles blaring in the cold night air, the yelling of the Chinese as they swarmed toward our positions wave upon wave–those sights and sounds will always remain in my memory. Everywhere you looked, there were charging Chinese. It reminded me of knocking over an anthill and watching the ants scamper to and fro.
MH: Most of the heavy fighting took place at night, didn't it?
Bergee: Yes. During the day our column continued down the road, and we could see that the hillsides on both sides of us were swarming with Chinese soldiers. Every now and then a sniper would kill a Marine and we would blast away at the hillside, but most of the time the enemy would wait until dark to launch an attack against our column. The Chinese had a way of appearing suddenly at night, during the coldest, darkest part. They would attack in great numbers and would yell and charge our lines. In the hills all around us we would hear a bugle, then off to our right another, and then to the left another. It was really frightening! One dark, moonless night, one of my men hollered, 'Sarge, the gooks are here!' I knew that, unless we received an airdrop, we would soon be completely out of ammunition. I yelled back: 'If you run out of ammo, throw snowballs at the SOBs–but be sure and put a damn rock inside them!'
MH: Did daybreak bring any relief from the continuous onslaught?
Bergee: No. With the coming of morning, just before the dawn, I heard bugles and knew another big attack was on. The human sea came charging toward us, their padded, mustard-colored uniforms dark against the snow. My face was covered with frost, my beard had tiny ice balls interwoven in it, and although I had on mittens, my fingers hurt from the cold. My parka was dirty and blood-stained. A day like all of the other days. That is how it was at Chosin.
MH: Did you ever personally engage in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy?
Bergee: Oh my, yes! I vividly remember the time a Chinese soldier hit me with his fist right in my frozen nose. Well, that really made me mad, and I grabbed him and bit off his ear. Yep, I really did. I bit his ear off, then killed him.
MH: Was there really much hand-to-hand fighting?
Bergee: God, yes! The Chinese would attack in waves, and we couldn't kill them all. They would overrun various positions, and we had to fight them man to man. It was war at its worst, believe me. We battled desperately night and day in the face of almost insurmountable odds throughout a period of two weeks. There were 11 Medals of Honor earned in 11 days. That should show you the intensity of the battle. For a Marine, the Medal of Honor is an extremely difficult decoration to win. I don't mean that other service branches get the Medal of Honor the easy way, but for a Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor is truly difficult.
MH: How was your air support?
Bergee: When it snowed, which was most of the time, there was no air cover. The Corsairs did a magnificent job whenever the weather cleared. They strafed and bombed enemy positions and then would make another run, dropping their deadly napalm. Some of the Corsairs flew so low during their strafing runs that I imagined they arrived back at their carriers and the airfield with snow in their undercarriages. I remember once staring down at a dead Chinese soldier who had been strafed by one of our planes. I could see the evenly spaced bullet holes in the snow going out across the field. His jacket bulged with two cartons of Chesterfield cigarettes and a brand-new pair of U.S. Marine Corpsissue gloves. I wondered what dead Marine that joker had stripped to steal those items. As I passed him, I gave his stiff body a kick.
MH: Was it possible for you to be supplied by air?
Bergee: The U.S. Air Force used their Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars to drop us much-needed supplies, including the huge parts needed to rebuilda destroyed bridge south of Koto-ri. The enemy had blown up that bridge astride the only road out, and it was necessary for the equipment to be airdropped at Koto-ri. After that, the engineers worked under enemy fire to rebuild it. If that bridge had not been repaired, the column would not have been able to get out a single vehicle loaded with wounded, dead and equipment. It lay astride the road over a deep ravine. On one side was a sheer drop of thousands of feet, and on the other was a steep embankment, hundreds of feet high, that towered above the road. The airdrops were a godsend. It was also possible to evacuate seriously wounded and frostbite cases by air at Hagaru-ri and Koto-ri when the sky was clear enough for the planes to land and take off. Almost everyone had a colored scarf made from the silk of the supply chutes.
MH: Do the memories of that campaign haunt you at any time?
Bergee: Not really, but the memories are always there. As they say, one sign of age is a tendency to live in the past. I now understand why. It is only after a life filled with living and sharing love with someone you cherish and adore that you can savor the meaning and importance of an experience such as the Chosin Few shared. The bad memories I can live with, and the good memories I treasure. I recall one Marine had an eye shot out–it was hanging down his cheek–and yet he led a counterattack against the enemy. That sort of bravery was common during the Chosin campaign. I have come to believe that I have an obligation to the future, to give young people the chance to have a meaningful understanding of the past and the glory that was, though only in retrospect. It is important, not to me, but to the future.
MH: One of these days all of you will be only a memory. Do you hope that the younger generation will know and remember what all of you went through at Chosin?
Bergee: Yes, definitely! I don't want the younger generation to forget what their fathers and grandfathers went through in North Korea. Not so much to make us out as heroes, but to know that a band of brothers stood side by side against overwhelming odds and terrible weather, and came out of Chosin as a fighting unit. The Chinese had orders to annihilate the 1st Marine Division. But they failed. And they failed because we were a team–a first-class team–and we had something deep inside that they did not have, and that something was esprit de corps!
MH: Does this interview awaken your memories? Would you rather I not go into some of the details?
Bergee: No! I don't mind. That was a time when the Marine Corps was once again put to the test. We did what was considered impossible and came through with our colors intact, with most of our dead and wounded and, most important, came through as a fighting outfit ready to do battle again!
MH: How do you characterize yourself?
Bergee: I am a survivor. We were all survivors. Remembering my comrades in arms who did not return saddens me, but I have satisfaction in knowing that we did a good thing, and the pride and sorrow get mixed together. I am glad to say that I survived, and although I lost many dear and close buddies, if I am perfectly honest with you, I am glad that I made it back! I can shut my eyes now and see those tattered, frostbitten Marines on their long walk out of Chosin. I remember vividly that march out of the trap, and although I didn't make it all the way on foot, I am damned proud of having served in that campaign. I don't honestly believe that any of us has ever lived through any other experience as bad or shared so much comradeship. None of us survivors ever mention it, but we all felt that we were all very close to hearing the angels' wings.
MH: How long did the withdrawal go on?
Bergee: Time had no meaning. Progress was so slow, and we had such a long way to go. We moved through infinite darkness in ghostly clouds of snow over an icy road that led to the bottom of the mountain and safety. We carried on with the only strength that was left to us–the pride and discipline of a Marine Corps fighting division.
MH: What was flank duty like?
Bergee: Being placed on flank guard was extra tough duty. You were out on the hillside, away from the main column, out where the Chinese were waiting in the dark. Every now and then, you could hear a voice–in Chinese! That had an adrenaline effect. The realization that you were so close to the enemy charged you with new energy and cleared your mind. Gone was the stumbling weariness. You suddenly became sure-footed, alert! You had reached the enemy and would have to eliminate him or be eliminated. Then the voices would stop. The only sound would be the scuffling of your own shoepacs on the icy trail. Suddenly a loud, sharp Chinese voice would be heard again–probably a challenge or a command. It was definitely hostile. The enemy was yet to be seen. Then they opened up on you. There would be a torrent of American oaths, then answering fire from the Marines. One time we came across an enemy squad that had been sleeping on a wide shelf of ground that jutted from the hillside. Most of them were killed in a brief firefight; one was bayoneted in his foxhole. One or two of them ran off into the night. Shadowy figures continued on down the trail. That was flank guard duty at Chosin.
MH: Can you sum up how you feel today, 45 years later, about the Chosin campaign?
Bergee: I have done a lot of thinking about the Chosin campaign. It was an experience few have during their lifetime. I am sure that not all of us experience the same emotions in reliving our past, but I think about the heroic efforts of all of those men. Every survivor of Chosin was a hero in my book. Many squads, platoons and companies made gallant stands against overwhelming enemy numbers, night after night. When the division reached Masan, west of Pusan, after it had reached the port of Hungnam and shipped south, more than 400 cases of frostbite were treated.
MH: What acts did you witness that you regarded as outstandingly heroic?
Bergee: Heroism is a quality few of us would have been able to define in words at that time. It is only in retrospect, after time has passed, and in the civilized comfort and safety of your own home, that exploits you witnessed, and sometimes took part in, take on the character of true heroism. At the time, we were too involved in survival to assess that heroism. It was a real characteristic of the Chosin Few–of being a hero and not knowing it at the time. Cowardice is easily defined because it is so unusual; heroism is not, because it is so common. So when I remember Chosin and the men who fought and died there, I do so with awe. I recall the sheer guts of one of the mortar men. The company was being raked with automatic-weapons fire. That man stood up, in full view of the enemy, exposing himself to sudden death, so that the mortar gunners 35 yards behind him could use him as an aiming stake. He continued to do that for more than two hours. The mortars destroyed many targets, and his heroic act allowed us to break out that morning. Yet that man received no award or citation. Another time, one of the patrols drew withering fire from the enemy, this time on the forward slope overlooking the road. Unable to set up a machine gun because the steep slope would not afford enough elevation to reach the enemy, one of our men lay down under the front leg of the tripod, raising it so the gun could be used to return fire. The machine-gun crew only fired off a few bursts before the enemy fire was trained on the exposed gun. The young Marine who was being used as part of the tripod took a direct hit in the temple. Here is a testimony to a brave young man. He was never cited for bravery, either. Fighting all the way back with frozen feet was in itself a heroic act, but no one received a medal for it. It was a situation where everyone involved was fighting for his life. There was no such thing as 'rear echelon' troops at Chosin. To romanticize war is folly, for it is not lovely. In no way do I worship at the shrine of those for whom war is great. It is, however, necessary that free men–men of principle–be willing to fight and if necessary die for that freedom and those principles. Some people tell me it would be wise to try and forget those times. They may be right, but I know I cannot forget. I cannot forget that band of brothers who fought and died alongside me during that terrible winter of 1950. I cannot forget that we who were there share a common bond that time can never change.
This article was originally published in the December 1995 issue of Military History magazine.
For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!
14 Responses to “Korean War: Interview With U.S. Marine Lee Bergee -- Chosin Reservoir Battle Survivor and Author”
Leave a Reply
What is HistoryNet?
The HistoryNet.com is brought to you by the Weider History Group, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.
If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.
From Our Magazines
Weider History Group