Bill Gober

Chosin Reservoir

In 1948, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were high. President Truman reinstituted the draft in order to increase the size of our military. Bill Gober was 19 years old. With some persuasion from a friend, he chose to join the Marines instead of waiting to be drafted.

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army crossed the 38th Parallel in an effort to forcibly reunite Korea under communist rule. The United Nations condemned the action as a “breach of peace.” Because our foreign policy dictated that we prevent the spread of communism, our government was compelled to react. We committed troops to the United Nations police action, and on June 30th President Truman ordered American troops to Korea.

Because our first wave of ground troops were outnumbered, outgunned, and inexperienced, initial war efforts were not tremendously successful. U.N. troops had, however, prevented the North Korean army from taking over the entire country. They held a triangular corner of SE Korea now known as the Pusan Perimeter.

In September, 1950, a nearly-impossible plan of attack conceived by General MacArthur began to unfold. We would land troops on Korea’s west coast, behind enemy lines, at the port city of Inchon. This surprise attack would cut off North Korea’s supply lines and get U.N. troops close to Seoul, South Korea’s capital.

The insanity of the plan was the need for perfect timing. Inchon’s harbor had a narrow channel, strong currents, and wildly-shifting tides. Our boats could be stuck in the mud and become sitting ducks if we missed the tides. The element of surprise also needed to be on our side, as the harbor was surrounded by easily-defended seawalls. So many men, so much equipment. Was it even possible?

On the morning of September 15th, our Marines, including 21-year-old Bill Gober, proved it was possible. After U.N. cruisers and destroyers had cleared mines from the Flying Fish Channel and shelled North Korean positions in the Inchon harbor in the days prior, our Marines landed, scaled the seawalls, secured the beaches, captured Inchon, and then gained control of Kimpo Airport. Next, the soldiers moved inland across the Han River towards Seoul. On September 25th, after ferocious house-to-house fighting, South Korea’s capital city was liberated. North Korea’s war machine had suffered a serious blow, and they were now in retreat.

Spurred on by victory, U.N. troops continued north. The First Marine Division was carried by ship to the eastern side of the peninsula to conduct another amphibious landing at Wonsan to again cut the enemy off. Now a part of the X Corps, the First Marine Division moved north to Hungnam and on to the Chosin Reservoir. Unfortunately, their northward advances caused China to become involved in the war, and the soldiers that were caught in the Chosin Reservoir paid the price.

What so recently had looked like imminent, total victory came to appear as not only certain defeat, but certain death.

An innumerable Chinese force crossed the border into Korea. Their mission–annihilate the enemy. The X Corps was ordered to retreat along the Chosin Reservoir to the port of Hungnam, some 70-plus miles away, through rough mountainous terrain, in temperatures at 40 degrees below zero. From November 27th to December 24th, freezing, sleep-deprived, and with a drive to survive, the soldiers in X Corps fended off this new enemy, inflicting more casualties than they sustained. Overcoming insurmountable odds, the “Chosin Few” arrived at Hungnam and were evacuated. Gober was frostbitten, but he had survived.

Watch as he recounts the details of these incredible missions.