Documentary Recalls Horrors of Korean War - Reason.com
"When the Chinese mortar shell exploded, it sent the American soldier hurtling through the air, his body savaged but his mind eerily dreamy as he fell back to earth, cataloging the carnage surrounding him.
He took particular note of a severed limb casually askew on the ground. "Some poor guy lost a leg," the soldier thought to himself sadly.
When he tried to stand, the dream blinked back to reality:
The poor guy without a leg was him.
So it goes in The Battle of Chosin, an episode of the PBS documentary series American Experience airing November 1.
It's a series of postcards—surreal, grisly, terrifying—from a largely forgotten battle in the mostly unremembered war that the United States fought in Korea from 1950 to 1953.
For two weeks beginning in late November 1950, a U.S.-commanded force of nearly 15,000 men, mostly U.S. Marines, fought its way out of an encirclement of 120,000 Chinese troops near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.
The combat, at such close quarters that the fighting was often hand-to-hand, took place on steep, craggy mountain terrain ("you had two directions to go in Korea, that was either straight up or straight down, recalls one American soldier) in temperatures that plunged to 50 degrees below zero on some nights.
It was a frozen killing field so gruesome that the soldiers interviewed in The Battle of Chosin are often reduced to ghastly free association in their attempts to describe it: "Grotesque. ... Horrible. Nightmare."
...The arctic cold inflicted almost as much damage on the Marines as the Chinese did; the photos of blackened, mutilated feet will forever dispel you of any idea that frostbite is a minor injury.
One soldier describes how when medics finally used an axe to get his frozen boots off, his toes stayed inside.
...One Marine, after tossing a grenade into an enemy bunker, entered it to find a lone Chinese machine-gunner still at his post, his legs and stomach torn away but his heart somehow still beating. "He kept talking to me in Chinese," the American remembers, his eyes red and moist.
"Was he telling me about his family; was he pleading with me to dispatch him? ... I still think about him at night sometimes, just wishing I could have understood what he was saying.
It's nothing to kill them at a distance.
It's when you look them in the eye, that's different."
The Battle of Chosin never breaks its gaze.