Chosin Reservoir - Ray Vallowe Research


Author's Background | Prologue | Chapt 1 - Budget War | Chapt 2 - Inchon | Chapt 3 - Capture Seoul
Chapt 4 - Inchon to Pusan | Chapt 5 - Fateful Journey into N Korea | Chapt 6 - Inter-service Rivalry-1
Chapt 7 - Inter-service Rivalry-2 | Chapt 8 - Press Corps | Chapt 9 - Secret/Classified Mission
Chapt 10 - Circumstantial Evidence | Chapt 11 - Mission Change | Chapt 12 - The Tank Withdrawal
MIA/KIA East of Chosin | Postscript | Important Maps | Declassified Documents| Reader Comments

My reason for this research.... At the core of every drama is a conflict which makes it a drama.  This research would never have been written without the special interest, dedication, and concern of my sons providing me with vital information they had obtained from the National Archives. That information, combined with many recent books on the Korean War written after 1980, peaked my interest and changed my frame of mind to write this accounting.

Before, I was content to let a repressed memory forever remain so, mostly because those early reports were so disgusting to me. The degradation of all the Army forces within those first six months of the Korean War in 1950 was totally unacceptable to me. Those first reports clashed with my own personal belief that something was desperately wrong and misleading in those reports, especially the first six months of this 'war'. However, there was really no way I could find the truth to refute the false statements known to be out there. Two of my sons living near the National Archives in Maryland had a heightened interest in the battle east of Chosin, and that inspired them to seek information in the Archives in 1991. They discovered a document listed as "Combat Reports of the 31st Regimental Combat Team." They thought the door had been opened to the battle at Chosin Reservoir, but were disappointed to read, "Due to the nature of the action, and the retrograde movements, all records have been lost." It seemed a lost cause and effort. They were indeed back to square one.

However, through thorough searching, they found in its place reports from some officers and men who took an active part in the action east of Chosin. With those reports were found some newly released, "declassified documents" concerning that retrograde movement.  More importantly, there were also documents discussing Colonel MacLean's movement into the Chosin Reservoir area. While my sons were not sure of their importance, these documents established a time line for me as well as a dark mystery. This discovery changed my frame of mind to search out facts.  As new books were written and hit the stores, newly-stated facts were beginning to unfold the mystery concerning those who had fought and died east of Chosin. Those 'declassified' documents about the Chosin campaign had been marked "Secret," and therein lies the mystery. I now had supportive material to challenge those earlier misleading reports and the continued degradation of the task force I served with at Chosin.

In my own research of various books written about the Korean War, I found new facts were being brought to the forefront about the "Forgotten War" that is so aptly named. But within those earlier reports were the reasons that it was forgotten. Many stories of the actions on the Army side were either fabricated or totally inaccurate. Those daily reports, lost during the battle for the Chosin Reservoir in late November and early December of 1950, explicitly told about the three battalions of Army units and how they were urgently re-deployed into that region.  The lost reports have only recently come to light. Naturally, as more is written, more will become known.

The explosive political situation in South Korea proceeding this war and surrounding our nation's entry into this so called "Police Action" can explain why "some" of the National Archives records concerning our actions and movements into North Korea near the Manchurian border were classified and marked "Secret."  However, they are now declassified and used here in my research. The mystery is, why did only this one document concerning one Army unit task force and its importance need to be marked "Secret?"  Why only one of many concerning and designating a legitimate force into a "Phantom Force" is the real mystery. Why was it necessary to classify just this one? That question has bothered me and will consume much of this research.

One of the biggest dangers in any research is that one may uncover something one really did not expect to find while looking for a clue to a mystery.  It can be a revelation which mentally brings one right back to a battle long over, and long repressed in one's memory.  Such is the case here. My research has uncovered a mystery--a puzzle to be solved. As the pieces go into place, I find an overwhelming picture forming of embellished importance of historic and heroic actions of the 1st Marine Division.

It is each division's own business to create their own pieces from whatever source and build their own history as they review it. Such is the labor of their own historical division.  Human nature, however, dictates a bias to that division history. I do not find fault with that in anyway, save one.  That is of criticizing others within their midst who were trained differently then they.  Or, because they were a smaller outfit, feel they can and did receive more in the way of individual leadership, material, and support.  That criticism I do fault. And when it gets over zealous, and over exaggerated to the point of degrading the unit I served with and the friends I lost there, as well as exceeds that division's total loss in lives, it is hard to remain silent. This research is an attempt to correct those derogatory remarks and to replace them with some facts supported by the archive records and Marine history itself.

The most important distortion is that the Chosin Campaign was a sole Marine operation.  That is a promulgated distortion of history that is far from factual. The truth will unfold in my research as we move forward towards that event in history.  Too many Army men lost their lives in that battle east of Chosin to be ignored and hidden away in the National Archives for over 30 years. Why did that happen? What was the underlying reason to bury the information about troop movements into an area fully dominated by the 1st Marine Division? While the Marine contribution to the withdrawal from the Reservoir is well highlighted, the commitment of the smaller 7th Division Task Force MacLean is by design and intent withdrawn or withheld from historical accounts of the Chosin Reservoir campaign. Therein lies the mystery.

There exists a well-known reference between the two words "commitment and contribution."  It can be compared to that well-known breakfast of "bacon and eggs." It has been stated that, "The pig supplying the bacon made a total commitment to that meal, while the chicken supplying the eggs made only a small contribution." Such is that relationship to the battles waged at Chosin on each side of the reservoir. The Marine force was on the west side. The smaller Army task force was on the east side.

The early evaluations of a combat action have historically been based on the contributions of the force that contributed the most men to it.  In the case of the Chosin Reservoir campaign, that force was the 1st Marine Division.  But X Corps military records for that time frame exist and list the death toll for those battles.  They reveal that the true commitment and cost was given by the Army task force which was sent urgently into that area.

Similarly, the contributions of the lowly man in the trenches were rarely recognized.  "While it is the hen that lays the eggs, the rooster is the one doing the most crowing" about their contributions at Chosin. No way is this better highlighted than in the awarding of so many Medal of Honor distinctions to higher ranking Marine officers at Chosin. That ratio is almost a 50% split between the man in the trenches.  Early on, I dismissed these awards as none of my business.  That changed in the 1990s when I heard a remark made by a Marine public information officer concerning an Army officer.  His comments downgrading the importance of awarding LtCol. Don Faith the Medal of Honor posthumously (he stated that the medal was not deserved), caused me to research the award citations. What I discovered will be covered later.

Some neglect of the Army's contribution in the Chosin Reservoir can be justified. Its concealment from military history, however, cannot be justified. This neglect will forever remain a blot within our American military history. It is one military event that can never be restored to its proper place and time in military history. The outcome of the battles at Chosin Reservoir will remain the same, no matter what else my research reveals. What will change, however, are the true figures on the number of men involved in that action. That number will be increased by this accounting of the 7th Division personnel involved in the action east of Chosin, adding some 4,000 Army men who had tanks and artillery equipment in the area at the time. The change in Army numbers will change the events that produced the outcome and the withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir, as well as its entire battle dates between November 27-December 6.

I am not an expert on the battle that took place east of Chosin (due to lack of records, no one ever can be), nor am I mandated from the 7th Division to represent them.  But I do have firsthand knowledge of what took place east of Chosin, because I was there when events took place.  I am one of the few remaining survivors of the battle east of Chosin. At the time the battle was taking place, one event stretched rapidly and continuously into another event.  These events tended to overlap, mesh together, and blur as they unfolded.  As is the case with most combat veterans, some unpleasant memories were blocked out of my mind through time.  Remembering combat is somewhat like experiencing and remembering pain.  We can remember having it, but can never experience that same degree again.  Consider the burning pain from a bullet.  It feels much like a hot poker or a branding iron as it hits and burns, cutting its way through a muscular area of the body.  Later, if one brushes against something that produces heat of a similar nature, such as leaning against or touching a hot water pipe, that instant pain stimulates memories of the bullet that hit long ago.  But the memory is only a fleeting one. Thus nature protects us against painful memories. Some can handle them better than others.

So also, new facts can stimulate memory in small increments.  The availability of the hidden Chosin records, now made public, may stimulate the memories of many of those men who fought in this "conflict" in North Korea, and may prove unpleasant and uncomfortable to them. I apologize in advance if this turns out to be the case for any of my readers. I understand, since I have also suffered some long, sleepless nights since the records were uncovered. My sleeplessness is not so much over the action involved or friends lost in combat.  They are the things one suffers in combat. We all lose something, including our own youth and our own outlook on life itself. Each combatant has his own burden to carry.  He, and he alone, knows the extent of that burden. While others may sympathize with you, no one can truly understand completely the change in you, for you truly cannot understand it fully yourself. You keep it to yourself, hidden within your own shell, but you are changed forever.  Your mind pictures that friend lost in combat many times, and you wonder what life would have been like without your involvement in a war. Still you can do that and your buddy of days long gone cannot, for he has left the scene many, many years past. My own life revolved around events of that war. I met my wife to be from my hospital stay as I recovered from wounds received in Korea, and we have been married since 1952. That was an outcome of few regrets.  But undoubtedly events would have taken a different path if I had not been wounded and hospitalized, for the plans I had formed before combat altered after that combat. Still there are irritants of losing a good close friend and best buddy within that combat. More so when you feel it could have been avoided by later events which strongly point in that direction.

What has mystified me these last forty plus years begins with the fact that so many of the books written concerning the action around Chosin Reservoir neglect the few facts which were available immediately following that action concerning the 7th Infantry Division personnel who fought at the Chosin. While the story and glory of the 1st Marine Division at Chosin is well known, that of the 7th Infantry Division is not. The 1st Marine Division history was written for distribution in 1957.

"The only history worth reading," John Ruskin points out in his Stones of Venice, "is that written at the time of which it treats, the history of what was done and seen, heard out of the mouths of the men who did and saw." Few men of Task Force MacLean-Faith recorded their memories of its history for the reason I just stated earlier in this segment of my research. That is sad, but totally understandable to me. Each man shared the same moments of misery as his comrades in arms, within the same hours of battle, and within the same region. Each saw and were involved in the same events. Each vividly remembers more of the outstanding events, particularly those that dealt with friendly fire from our own forces. While that happened, although thank God, sparingly, these were the outstanding events. When a hammer continually strikes an anvil over and over again, it is difficult to separate the individual blows and sounds emitting from that anvil or to also note which of those blows were the most severe to the ringing in your ears. Likewise, a constant barrage of shells, either incoming or outgoing, is of no special note. The friendly fire incidents were remembered because they were not supposed to happen, while in combat those from the enemy were the norm. Enemy rounds and friendly fire were easy to distinguish from one another, as the enemy did not have 105mm and dropped napalm lobbing in that fire.

This may seem like a weak excuse, but it is the only one I can offer. I cannot speak for all those within Task Force MacLean-Faith, but each man I have talked with about his experience at Chosin remembers that first hour of our withdrawal on the afternoon of December 1, 1950.  It was one single event that is burned forever in their memory. The "friendly fire" that haunts our memories was an honest error.  It was an air drop intended for the enemy, but that was not to be. It is a flaw in human nature to severely blame, and consider unforgivable, mistakes of our side which affect the lives of our forces. Yet, we all made huge mistakes on the battlefield. That includes those commanders who made monumental mistakes that originated in pride and arrogance of command--a deadly trait.  Their tragic results were overlooked--in fact, they were often elevated to heroic and legendary stature. Some are revealed within the pages that follow.

One of the outstanding facts of the Korean War must be understood within the time frame of its first six months, between the battles of July 5 and December 31, 1950. There can be no comparison whatsoever to the next two and one half years of the fighting. As I state several times within this manuscript, a Declaration of a National Emergency regarding Korea was never issued or sought until December 16, 1950. That one fact alone proves the interest in this war, that it was not viewed as a war.  A new precedent was established within our nation that there will be no intent in the coming decades to view a "police action," "conflict," "invasion," or any other involvement that might cost American lives, to be rated under a "National State of Emergency".

The Archive records are most revealing about Chosin Reservoir evasion of action dealing with the 7th Division forces. They shed new light on events at Chosin Reservoir. Combining them with sources and reports from other writers, they form a picture--a piece of the puzzle.  But the biggest missing piece of this puzzle is still clouded in fog. I intend to blow some of that fog away so that the whole picture can be seen clearly. War itself is extremely ugly, and so are many fringe elements of it. Unfortunately, many of those elements were present at Chosin. I intend to explore them.

This accounting will also reveal the cost in human lives that has completely and totally been ignored by historians.  In the Army sector of the Chosin Reservoir, the casualties of the action that took place there were officially listed not as "Killed in Action," but as "Missing in Action." Plain and simply, we were cut off, and our records were lost.  As a result, the connection to this task force was severed completely . That is what makes this drama special.  The records were pulled, and the men listed were merely marked "missing."  They became "phantoms" who fought within the Chosin Reservoir area.

Between November 22, and December 10, all reports pertaining to Colonel MacLean's forces were marked "Secret." Only personnel with "Top Secret" clearance could view them. As a result, the public could not access them to review them to justify or verify our movement into the Chosin area. We became a combat force without any past. Instead, we became a "Phantom Force" without placement, free to roam the Chosin area. As ghost-like figures, we appeared in various places--in misty valleys and ridges.  In the foggy areas we suddenly appeared.  We were seen by authors on the west side of the reservoir, as well as the east side.  We were seen in the middle of the reservoir also.  Our spirits were active, but without form.  From time to time, a few of us became visible, and mixed among others at Chosin. We were an individual task force without credentials or credibility on record to justify our existence or location. When all else failed, we were placed merely "somewhere east of the reservoir."  But historians were never "too specific", and never placed this phantom force "too close" to the banks of the Chosin Reservoir. Instead, they claimed we "may have been" nearer to another reservoir called Fusen, some 20 air miles east of the Chosin Reservoir.

Only negative reports from Chosin placed us in force around that reservoir at all. We were "lost," and apparently authors and historians decided to adhere to the adage, "If you can't say anything nice; say nothing at all."  We simply and plainly vanished from the pages of history as a result. Yet, the loss of our force was well known within Army circles. But where did we go? Did we just vanish with the swirling and blowing snow, carried adrift by air currents into the National Archives?  For whatever reason, we were deliberately removed from that page in history.

So, what will be the significance of this revelation, and will it really change anything at all? Since we could not defend our position, nor prove by record that we were there east of Chosin (around either reservoir), the Marine command had carte blanche authority to grab all the coverage. Who would know the difference? Chosin became known as a "sole" Marine operation, and this claim could not be challenged by record from any of the survivors of Task Force MacLean-Faith.

The Marines fought valiantly at Chosin.  But as this mystery is unraveled, it is possible that those who have heretofore received the full credit, might find themselves on the receiving end of the same kind of negative remarks that the Army veterans of the Chosin Reservoir have received through the years.  That is not my intention with this research, but nevertheless, "Let the chips fall where they may."

The Army veterans of Chosin were degraded in various ways. We were those "Army Jokers who failed to bring their equipment out with them and did not erect tents at Hagaru."  Our provisional brigade, formed to fight our way south out of the Reservoir merely "moved through the Marine lines when started, and thus to safety." And so it went, year after year, after year, until a full 30 years passed.  Finally, classified reports once again saw the light of day when they were declassified and made open for public review in the 1990s. Unfortunately, by then time itself had eroded interest in the event. Those increased news reports expanded through these now 50 plus years verified over and over again the claim that only the Marines, "isolated and alone," fought their way out of Chosin, "even bringing some Army wounded with them." Within X Corps, only General Smith's Marines seemed able through individual integrity to "Keep their Honor Clean." Yet, one can not truly have honor without integrity.  To take credit from others assisting you is one thing, but to degrade that action is entirely a dishonorable one.

In Korea, far too often the Navy and the Air Force were locked in the battle over air superiority.  (Who really controlled that Korean air space on the American side?).  The prime action to defeat the enemy, however, was neither at sea nor in the air, but on the ground. The Army had no air support of its own. The Navy role was primarily at sea. Its contribution on land was contrary to its 'perceived mission' of its own commitment to an ocean conflict. The Chinese Army had no naval vessels to create that battle. Thus the Navy was un-engaged as such. The Chinese Army likewise had no air power introduced in the Korean War of any great significance. That force was totally a ground force. Yet whatever destruction wrought by air or sea, from either or both Navy and Air Force, it did not shorten this war by one additional day. Neither of these forces significantly had any military influence on the Chinese Army. The Chinese naval presence was nil--almost non-existent--so their threat to our Navy was also nil. The major ports were never in great danger, the Chinese being smart enough to locate inland out of range of those big guns of the Big MO. There was no naval combat 'commitment' of that independent department other than of floating mine fields.  Once cleared, they were of no future threat to them. The Navy's only land 'contribution' was directly through the Marine Corps--one division fully assigned inland, far beyond the reach of the big naval guns as well. Yet, that force, the Marines, were no better by any means in exceeding the affect by Army forces employed there. But by tradition the Navy could not accept that as their preconceived commitment as being anywhere within their own conceived military mission (the Marines along the shore line).

Still the Navy 'should' control the mission of the Marines. They do not consider themselves soldiers--only Marines; perceived to be "elite" in everything and every task assigned (except through numerous excuses and disclaimers in Korea of being so far inland, out of their element, etc). This was highly evident at Chosin. The Marine casualties were highlighted, and the Army casualties was merely numbers therein.  It was an accepted fact that casualties were an expense of war. The less press records of their KIA numbers, the better off the Army would be in meeting future commitments.

In his book, The Masks of War, Carl Builder said, that though the "Air Force and the Navy can offer up versions of how they would prefer to fight, their versions are only preferences, not commitments."  The Navy prefers naval battles.  The Air Force prefers air combat. Their training efforts are continual. Not so the Army forces. As Builder outlines, "The Army has been handed something much more concrete around which it can define both means and ends. In the national commitment to use of force, the Army has been given specific assignments as to where it must fight--in West Germany, South Korea, and Berlin--three overseas assignments so clear and important that the nation has already made the extraordinary decision to fight even if its forces are not attacked. The Army, uniquely among the services, is tied to these national commitments by alliances and the physical presence of troops to use military force to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of those nations."

As Carl Builder points out, "It is the soldier, that is tied to the national defense."  He makes a powerful point. The Army of citizen soldiers has the commitment (more than a mere contribution) to fight the battles assigned to them. As such, the Army is never given credit, nor does it seek it, for those commitments set by our government.  The importance of Korea is that it was a national commitment, not a sole Army one. President Truman called upon MacArthur to commit his forces into a ground "conflict." (Those of us who were there called it a "war," not a "conflict.").

There were two major American obstacles in the first days of that commitment.  No planes or ships were ready or available to move the troops into Korea, simply because MacArthur had no direct control over those transporting units. Had the Army Air Corps still been in existence, that would not have been a major problem.  But post-World War II "unification" of the military branches had changed that.  As Carl Builder continued, "For the Army, war will always be on terms chosen by others--partly by the nation's enemies, partly by the nation's leadership--terms that are never satisfactory or welcome, but always to be met with a sense of duty, honor, and courage.  The Army is the nation's most loyal and obedient servant."

As it must be, the Army is never "elite" in its own mind, for it knows not its next mission assignment. The occupation forces in Japan were severely criticized for not being fully prepared for Korea, but that was not its assigned mission.  Each new mission may be given without proper time to prepare.  Pearl Harbor is a great example.  Had the Japanese waited until Monday morning instead of attacking the fleet on Sunday (our traditional day of rest), the battle might have been different in plane losses to them. Who knows for sure? Likewise, had we been relieved of occupation duty earlier in Japan, our overall effectiveness would or could have been better.  Hindsight 20/20 once again.


Author's Background | Prologue | Chapt 1 - Budget War | Chapt 2 - Inchon | Chapt 3 - Capture Seoul
Chapt 4 - Inchon to Pusan | Chapt 5 - Fateful Journey into N Korea | Chapt 6 - Inter-service Rivalry-1
Chapt 7 - Inter-service Rivalry-2 | Chapt 8 - Press Corps | Chapt 9 - Secret/Classified Mission
Chapt 10 - Circumstantial Evidence | Chapt 11 - Mission Change | Chapt 12 - The Tank Withdrawal
MIA/KIA East of Chosin | Postscript | Important Maps | Declassified Documents| Reader Comments

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