Monday, March 1, 2010

The Last Stand of Fox Company

I always have a book going. Whether it's during my lunch hour, in bed before going to sleep or laying in the sun on a warm summer day I am reading something. When Caitlin was old enough to sit up and page through a brightly colored book featuring running and jumping animals I began reading to her every night. Then when Charlotte appeared I had one daughter on either side of me as we read about George and Martha, The Cat in the Hat and Goodnight Moon. This tradition was started by my mother and the nightly sound of her voice taking us to fantastic places instilled a love of books in my brother Terry and I. It wasn't until later that I found there might be consequences related to reading.

I remember vividly my seventh grade Language Arts teacher criticizing me in front of the whole class after I had just completed giving an oral book report involving the Hardy Boys. She informed me that this sort of book wasn't acceptable reading because it wasn't in the school library. I had a healthy respect for all teachers for their knowledge and authority so I just stood there in front of my classmates as some of them snickered and rolled their eyes. I remember that the assignment didn't specifically require us to report on a book in the school library and even as a twelve year old I knew that that woman was absolutely wrong! As if the book my mother had bought me for my birthday was somehow unacceptable reading material. That the story about two brothers who solved crimes wasn't proper for a young boy to read because this teacher or someone in a higher authority had deemed it so. I didn't let it get me down because I secretly knew I had another thirty or so adventures with Frank and Joe Hardy left to read.

I took the failing book report home to my mother who after reading it gave me a long thoughtful look and said, "This is a good report, it sounds like an exciting book. Keep reading the Hardy Boys but look at the books in the library too, I'm sure you will find something you'll like." She was right as I found authors such as Howard Pease, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Welles who introduced me to high seas adventure, deductive reasoning and science fiction.

Years later my mother quit her job as the publications director at the Rainier Brewery and went back to school to be a teacher. I remember her telling me once that as a high school English teacher she found that there were students who just didn't like to read, whether it was because they couldn't sit still long enough, were bored or had never learned to read. Eventually she realized that if she encouraged them to read about a subject that interested them then at least they would be reading something. Maybe those students weren't following her required reading list but she was glad that they were reading about drag racing, Hollywood celebrities or the Fantastic Four. "You've got to start somewhere," she said.

Over the years my reading interests ranged and changed to Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein, Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, Dick Francis, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Douglas Preston, Lincoln and Lee Child, Harold Coyle, Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. I can't say that my choice of authors or subjects became any more sophisticated; just consistent. Hey, I get into LITERARY type stuff now and then; stories with big words, high-minded ideas and complicated characters who have to make "gut-wrenching" decisions but I guess all that thinking just wears me out. Having to constantly refer to the dictionary, screw up my forehead in confusion, then nod my head in understanding is very time-consuming. Obviously I like Science Fiction, Suspense, Detective, Military, Horror and Techno fiction but I always have a non-fiction book going too. At the moment I'm reading a book about the United States Secret Service titled: IN THE PRESIDENT'S SECRET SERVICE which reveals insider information re the government agency tasked with protecting the lives of the President, Vice President, their immediate relatives and other high mucky-mucks. I might report on it later.

A non-fiction book I just finished titled: THE LAST STAND OF FOX COMPANY covers the heroic actions of two Marine Corps infantry units that supported the withdrawal of 10,000 Marines who were nearly trapped at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War while surrounded by over 100,000 Chinese soldiers. During late November of 1950 one unit, Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion 7th Regiment, held the summit of a small hill seven miles to the south of the Chosin for four days and five nights as they protected the exit point for the withdrawal. Another unit, remnants of the 1st Battalion 7th Marine Regiment comprised of 350 Marines, headed south from the "frozen" Chosin to reinforce Fox Company whose beleaguered 246 man company was under attack from over 10,000 Chinese soldiers and fighting to keep the choke point open at Toktong Pass.

In twenty-five degree below zero weather and with three quarters of the Marines killed, wounded or captured the three platoons of Fox Company dug and hacked into the frozen ground for cover. Commanded by Captain William Barber, who hauled himself around the hill on a wounded leg to organize and rally his troops, the men of Fox Company packed their wounds with icy snow, ate frozen food that couldn't be thawed and huddled with their comrades to keep them warm.

As their frozen automatic and semi-automatic weapons jammed the Marines were forced to fire with single shots but used their superior tactics, leadership, and camaraderie to hold off the Chinese. Thought of by the enemy as weak and inferior the Marines on Fox Hill knew that the Chinese soldiers, many of them teenagers, were forced to fight in Korea while the Marines who had enlisted were obviously there because they wanted to be. Utilizing fatalistic humor the Marines did their duty as they protected and supported their comrades and, with unwavering confidence in their officers, fought through the terrifying nights as they made their stand thousands of miles from home.

Seven miles to the north, near the Chosin Reservoir, Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis led a cobbled together group of three hundred and fifty Marines in support of their comrades on Fox Hill. Traveling light and under the cover of darkness the remaining men of Abel, Baker and Charlie companies of the 1stBatallion 7th Marine Regiment aimed to slip through the Chinese lines with a surprise move to the northeast then a circle move to the south. Traversing deep gullies, slogging up steep hills and skirting precarious ridge lines, the sleep-deprived Marines fought their way toward Fox Company with the wind chill dropping the temperature to thirty degrees below zero.

Using first person accounts, maps, photographs and after-action reports the authors, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, recount an historic action that produced three Medal of Honor recipients and culminated in a memorable reunion of those heroic Marines at the opening of the National Museum of the U.S. Marine Corps in November 2006.

This book is perfect for people who want to know about a nearly forgotten War that isn't taught in school history books anymore. It's also for Marines who remember what it was like to fight far from home, who have a hard part inside them that is still a Marine and who haven't forgotten the horror of battle and have the pride of knowing what it takes to be a survivor.

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