Battle of Chosin Reservoir Campaign: Subject of 2010 Documentary “Chosin”

Map depicts how the Marines were trapped on all sides by Chinese forces during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the winter of 1950.

 The documentary Chosin was released in 2010, the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in which Army and Marines units were flanked on all sides by Chinese forces which had crossed into Korea.

Not only were the American forces trapped and outnumbered, they also had to fight in the most adverse weather conditions imaginable, with temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero.

Frostbite was common as 12,000 of the 14,000 American troops at the Battle of Chosin contacted some form of frostbite.

In addition the Battle of Chosin was fought under icy conditions with snow falling during some of the fighting.

 

Chinese Not Taken Seriously

General Douglas MacArthur did not consider the Chinese a threat to the American forces, thinking they were not ready to engage in a battle with the American forces. Another officer called the Chinese “laundrymen”. The troops at the Chosin Reservoir learned that both officers were wrong and found out the Chinese were an elite fighting force, that didn’t make particularly good strategic decisions.

The sheer numbers of the Chinese infantrymen was overwhelming as wave after wave of them, encountered the trapped American troops in November and December of 1950.

One American soldier had to use an American soldier who had been killed as a sandbag in front of his foxhole. The invading Chinese soldiers were being killed by the hundreds, since they were easy targets for the gunfire from the foxholes.

Fighting a battle is bad enough by itself, but when fighting in sub-zero weather on the frozen tundra, fighting one on one with the enemy, sometimes in hand to hand combat, the battle is worse than anyone could imagine.

 

Heart-Wrenching Survival Stories

The survival stories by the veterans of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir are heart-wrenching. Those of us who weren’t there can’t ever began to realize what those veterans went through, but their stories of their survival gives us a glimpse into what they faced on that brutal battlefield 62 years ago.

Assuming the youngest soldier on the battlefield was 18 in 1950, that soldier would be 80 years old today. So when the documentary was filmed in 2010, the youngest veteran being interviewed would have been 78 at the time.

Some of the survivors told harrowing stories of their near-death experiences, with one veteran relating how he thought he was about to be shot and killed, but said that they didn’t want to waste a bullet on him, so started hitting him on the head with the butt of their rifle and leaving him for dead. However, he wasn’t  dead and had to fake being dead to keep from being killed.

Another veteran told of being checked by medics and placed in a stack of dead bodies. He had to inform one of the medics that he was not dead and spit out the dog tags they had already placed in his mouth.

One veteran recalled seeing his sergeant killed when he was approaching a Chinese soldier and watched him fall to the ground. It was very touching to hear one of the veterans telling about asking God to let him live one more day. He had killed a Chinese soldier who had jumped into his foxhole.

 

Critics Say Chosin Documentary Was Pro-War

Some critics of the documentary, said it was a pro-war film. I disagree with that thinking, since these veterans did what they had to do to stay alive and help their fellow soldiers reach safety. I can’t see how anything said in the documentary could be portrayed as being pro-war. The veterans were following orders and fought a great battle under the most adverse conditions.

I think only a very small fraction of soldiers enjoy going into battle. I am not even sure if there are any that think that way. Most veterans who survived the Battle of Chosin Reservoir probably returned from Korea, knowing they had served their country well and would hope that no soldier would ever have to face what they faced.

 

Chinese Targeted Korean Refugees

The documentary also related that the Chinese troops targeted Korean refugees attempting to flee to safety. The film tells of thousands of refugees being evacuated on boats to safety.

The Chinese had to know these civilians were no threat to them, yet I am sure many were killed needlessly by a ruthless enemy, determined to kill as many of them as possible.

 

Aftermath of  Battle of Chosin Reservoir

Casualty figures for the Battle of Chosin widely differ, since there is no way a completely accurate count was made under the battlefield conditions in 1950. The allied troops numbered only 15,000 and were greatly outnumbered by a Chinese force of 120,000.

Estimated total casualties during the battle show the U.S. troops having suffered 5,611 casualties with Chinese suffereing 19,202 casualties. The Chinese paid a heavy toll from non-battlefield casualites of over 28,000, which were probably mostly due to frostbite.

The documentary told about the soldiers featured in the film returning home after leaving Korea. They discussed how they couldn’t discuss their wartime experience with civilians, since they didn’t have a clue of what the veterans experienced during the war. They could only discuss the war with other veterans who had battlefield experiences of their own.

Some of the veterans dealt with post traumatic stress after returning home. One of the veterans said he had the same dream, night after night of a Chinese soldier pointing a gun at him and it saying BANG, then was bayoneted by that soldier.

Another veteran had no problems with post traumatic stress until 1993, 43 years after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He was asked to make a speech on his recollections of his wartime experiences. When he started preparing the speech the horrors of the war returned.

 

Summary

Chosin is not the kind of movie that will be soon forgotten. It leaves viewers with even more appreciation for those who served in the armed forces.

I served in Vietnam with only one close call when a sniper was firing at us, while we were in the foxhole next to our post office tent. That pales in significance compared to what the veterans of the Battle of Chosin veterans experienced.

The real heroes of war are the soldiers fighting in the trenches. The rest of us did our part, but I am quick to let people know I was not in the infantry, because those are the heroes to me, like my brother who captured some enemies during the Vietnam War.

Chosin didn’t identify the veterans telling their stories, till the credits rolled but their stories were a testament to how true patriots act in the heat of battle.

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Battle of Chosin Reservoir Campaign: Subject of 2010 Documentary “Chosin”

  1. Sir,

    Anton Sattler, one of the producers of CHOSIN, here. First, thank you for your service to our country. Second, thank you for taking the time to write this fantastic review. I especially appreciate that you recognize the difference between being patriotic/ pro-soldier, and being pro-war. You are right- very, very few men and women who have experienced war are ever in favor of war over peace, if it can be achieved. But that does not mean that they are not proud of their sacrifices or those of their comrades in arms. I am 100% sure that the men in CHOSIN would have opted for a peaceful solution on the Korean peninsula if it could have been achieved. However, they are proud that they and their brothers were willing to take up arms to protect South Korea when war became unavoidable.

    Thank you again for the review and please help pass the word when you can. The story of these men must never be forgotten.

    Semper Fi,

    Anton Sattler

    • Sir, Thank you for your comment about my review. I want to thank you for making the CHOSIN documentary. I have seen other documentaries about soldiers recalling their wartime experiences, but none of them came close to what these men at Chosin Reservoir faced. It was particularly moving about the soldier, who expected to be shot and killed next, but instead was hit with the butt of a rifle and lived to tell about it.

      Not only were these soldiers battling for their lives, but were doing it in the most adverse conditions imaginable. How they accomplished what they did, despite being outnumbered, fighting sub-zero temperatures and frostbite is a testament to their courage and their patriotism.

      Your documentary film succeeded in portraying what they felt during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, as they related their experiences to the viewers of the film.

      I agree wholeheartedly that these men must never be forgotten, since they represented well the American soldier in the battle and how they survived to tell their stories, even though it looked like their lives would end on the battlefield.

      Thank you for producing a film that should be seen by every American, so they can know what hardships those soldiers faced in the winter of 1951 at Chosin Reservoir.

      Andrew Godfrey

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