Jim Crowell of Port Charlotte, Fla. was enjoying himself as an 18-year-old occupation soldier with the 7th Infantry Division in Japan when the Korean War broke out in June 1950. Over night the teenaged soldier was sent to Inchon, North Korea by ship, together with a division or two of infantry and a like number of U.S. Marines and told by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in command of NATO Troops, to attack the North Koreans holding the shoreline.
“We came off the troop ships onto landing crafts and came ashore. We expected more action than we saw when we hit the beach,” the former 7th Infantry Division private recalled. “The Marines went in first and the 7th came in and moped up. We had little trouble getting ashore.”
It was Sept. 15, 1950 and the Korean War had been raging out of control for about three months when MacArthur and his fleet of 320 ships, including four aircraft carriers, appeared off Inchon Harbor and landed 70,000 troops. They were 100 miles behind enemy lines and these NATO Troops, consisting of the 1st and 5th Marine Divisions and the 7th Infantry Division, among others, fought their way south to Seoul, the capital city, in less than two weeks.
It appeared at first like Mac Arthur’s end run around the enemy’s lines was going to roll the North Korean Army back across the Yalu River separating the North and South and end the war quickly. Three months later Crowell and the soldiers of the 7th Infantry had reach Korea’s eastern shore and turned north toward the 38th Parallel, separating the two counties, as they headed for the Chosin Reservoir along South Korea’s northern most border.
“We had to contend mostly with snipers as we advanced further to the north. Whatever we happened to be doing was generally stopped cold by these enemy snipers,” Crowell said 60 years later.
“When we started out at Inchon the weather was warm, like New Jersey where I grew up, but as we advanced further north the weather became colder and colder,” he said. “By Thanksgiving when the Korean winter started to set in, clothing was our biggest problem. We weren’t prepared for the winter weather (that dropped to 20 below).
“It was just before my birthday on Nov. 28, 1950 when I turned 19 that all hell broke loose. There was talk before that about being home by Christmas until just before Thanksgiving and the Chinese launched their attack,” Crowell said. “The whole picture changed in a couple of days of fighting as the Chinese rolled over us. Shortly after their initial attack both the Marines and the Army units started falling back.
“A strategic withdrawal is what they called it. All of us were headed for the coast and the ships that were waiting for us 75 miles to the south along the coast. As we retreated the enemy hit us at night with mortars and tried to blow the bridges in front of us. Then we’d have to sit and wait until a way was found around the damaged span,” he recalled.
Scores of soldiers and marines were killed during the withdrawal. Hundreds of other dog faces and leathernecks froze to death or were seriously injured by frost bite during the protracted withdrawal along the single lane, frozen, dirt road.
“At one point I was in my sleeping bag in the rear of a jeep when the bridge in front of us was blown up. I was blown out of the jeep onto the ground. The soldier driving the jeep was killed. I was picking myself off the ground and climbing out of my sleeping bag when a major rolled up and told me to get on the machine-gun attached to the jeep. That’s when I got my Bronze Star,” the old soldier said with satisfaction.
He doesn’t recall how long it took them to get back to the ships waiting along the coastline. However, he well remembers the mass confusion when they arrived at the beach.
“There were scores of landing craft and thousands of soldiers and marines trying to climb aboard ships. It took the navy guy with us several hours to find the troop ship M.M. Jackson we were to aboard. I remember kissing the ship’s deck when I got aboard,” Crowell said.
Somewhere along the way they stripped off their old clothes, shaved, showed and were issued new clothes. His frozen boots had to be cut off his feet.
“I was lucky; I could have lost my toes. We had people who lost their toes, feet and legs to the frost. It was a shame,” he said.
Crowell doesn’t remember much about returning to the USA. However, he does recall taking a troop ship from Japan to San Francisco. From there he boarded a slow train across country to Camp Kilmer, N.J. where he was discharged from the Army several months later.
Eventually end ended up working for Ford Motor Company for 31 years. Fifteen of those years were on the assembly line and the final 16 years were in the Maintenance Department. He retired to Port Charlotte in 1991.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, July 15, 2010 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view Crowell’s Collection in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
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