‘Chosin Few’ reunite to remember fallen comrades

It’s not a typo – nor is the ‘Chosin Few’ some sort of religious sect, they say. Discover why these Korean War vets get together on Memorial Day every year …

Family and friends of “The Chosin Few” meet to remember their fallen comrades at the American Legion Portland Post #1.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Their struggle hasn’t been dramatized in motion pictures, but those who survived the Chosin Reservoir Campaign – a brutal 17-day battle in late 1950, considered a decisive battle in the Korean War – faced seemingly insurmountable odds.

Those military men – from all branches of service – became known as “The Chosin Few”.

> To learn more about this battle, watch a CBS News documentary online: CLICK HERE.

On May 26, members of  the Oregon chapter of the “Chosin Few” gathered for a potluck dinner in outer East Portland, at American Legion Portland Post #1.

“My husband, David Jacobson, was the person who designed the Oregon Korean War Memorial,” began the event’s organizer, Janet Jacobson. “He is buried right across the road [in Willamette National Cemetery] from it, now.”

Her husband was one of the 30,000 servicemen trapped at the Chosin Reservoir, Jacobson told East Portland News. “He was one of the lucky ones who got out.

“On June 22, 1996, after the Oregon Korean War Veteran’s Memorial was dedicated, we held a potluck dinner at our home,” Jacobson explained. “We continued holding it there annually for about 15 years.”

It is important to keep holding the dinner every year, Jacobson said. “We keep doing this so we can keep remembering what they went through.”

One of “The Chosin Few”, and a Bronze Star awardee, Robert Westlund sits with his wife Hazel and daughter Cynthia.

“It was my second time in the service. After World War II, I was called back in for the Korean War,” recalled Robert Westlund, who said he was with the Headquarters Battery, Third Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

“We went all the way to Yudami-ni in North Korea, made our way back north and then made our way out,” Westlund said.

“It took us two weeks to do it. We didn’t have winter clothing at that time. The ground was frozen four feet deep, so we couldn’t dig a foxhole. They dug big graves to bury the ones who couldn’t make it out.”

Asked if the harrowing experience changed his life, Westlund replied. “Not a bit. I got out, and went back to work with the Portland Police [Bureau].”

At the table, set with a plate for fallen comrades, is Korean War veteran William Chisholm.

“I was with the Army’s 7th Division, east of Chosin,” recounted veteran William Chisholm. “I enlisted in March 1950.

“We came in to relieve Marine Corps ‘Easy-2-5’. The general said they needed troops, and I happened to be part of the Division they picked.”

Chisholm clearly remembers those days in late November and early December of 1950, he says. “Like Bob said, we did not have any winter gear. Up in the [Oregon Korean War] Memorial, it says it was 35° below zero. In reality it was more like 60° below zero – extremely cold. A lot of us, when we came out, we had frostbite. There were guys who lost toes, feet, and fingers, and everything else.”

They were improperly equipped, Chisholm said, “Let’s just blame the hierarchy of the organization. It was a bad command decision of MacArthur. I thank President Harry Truman for pulling MacArthur out of there – if he hadn’t, it might well have been start of the third world war. We were only 15 miles from China.”

They found out later, Chisholm said, that in archives released to the United States by China, Chinese generals had told their forces to kill every combatant. “They could’ve done a good job of it, if it had not been for the Air Force dropping in a Bailey Bridge to aid our escape.”

Looking back, Chisholm said, “We were put over there to fight the Communists – that was about it. Now, I have two grandsons, one just back from Iraqi, and he’s in one piece, and that’s the good thing.  The other one is probably going to go out for a couple of months. I dread it, though. It’s the young ones that end up perishing in wartime.

“I’m glad I’m here,” Chisholm said. “I have three beautiful daughters and seven wonderful grandchildren. I’m lucky to be here; that’s about it. I am also thankful.”

Wayne Sparks, President of the Oregon Chapter of “The Chosin Few”, stands behind comrades, from the US Marine Corps, Lewis Rumpakis and David Dowdakin.

As did each of the veterans who spoke, Oregon Chapter President of “The Chosin Few”, Wayne Sparks, began his remarks with the facetious remark, “We are not a religious organization!”

“I’m glad we get together,” Sparks said. “It’s the camaraderie with the fellows who were there. We can all relate to one another. This isn’t a battle that’s widely known these days.”

While many refer to the Korean War as “the forgotten war”, Sparks reflected that, “The memory of it is pretty clear in my mind.”

Although there are parts of it he’d rather forget, Sparks said, “I think the experience made me a better man, experiencing this. It was a very harrowing experience, and I think I turned out to be a stronger man for it.”

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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