Korean War Veteran part of group set to be honored on Emmy-winning TV Program
As the calendar turns away from Halloween and towards Veterans Day, the television program American Valor: A Salute to our Heroes is set to honor one local man who was part of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.
Retired Marine Sergeant Johnny M. Johnson is one of the surviving members of what is called the “Frozen Chosin.” Johnson’s story with the Marines begins in 1950 when he was deployed to fight in the Korean War. He was one of 8,000 First Division Marines, and one of the 30,000 American and U.N. Forces at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
Outnumbered by tens of thousand more Chinese soldiers numbering over 100,000, the Marines, U.N. Forces along with other U.S. Army Infantry Regiments entrenched themselves in battle. The Chinese soldiers “poured over the hills like water,” he described in an interview with Cincy Magazine in April of 2017. While recalling the battle with the Richmond Register, Johnson said “they were coming over the hill in droves.”
Throughout the battle, Johnson said that U.S. Naval and Air Force pilots would come over the battlefield and shoot .50 calibers, rockets and drop napalm bombs, which Johnson’s platoon helped create throughout the war.
In the Cincy Magazine piece, it says Marines dug shallow foxholes so they were able to return fire during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, these foxholes were reinforced by enemy soldiers who had been killed during the battle.
Sgt. Johnson says a lot of the roads that the battle was fought were dirt roads. At the time, that’s how all roads outside of Seoul were. There was a vantage point around Chosin Reservoir where you can see all the way down to the Yalu River which is the Border of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) and China, that was only about 60 miles away but could be seen from this area.
Sgt. Johnson describes the day they found out that the Chinese had them surrounded.
“He (the Major) called all the sergeants into his (tent) and told them, ‘I want you to go out and tell all of your men that we’re all going to die today, there ain’t no way in the world we can get through 120,000 Chinese,’” Sgt. Johnson recalled.
He continued to recall that conversation with the major, saying that they were instructed to shoot as long as they could breathe as the opposing forces had orders to take no prisoners.
Troops had to travel through multiple small towns on dirt roads, cross a bridge that’s blown out, among several other obstacles including Toktong Pass.
Toktong Pass is the first of the major passes through the mountains in this retreat operation, 10,000 People’s Volunteer Army Members (representing China) were ordered by the Korean People’s Army (representing North Korea) to keep that pass cut off to U.S. and U.N. forces. With the help of West Liberty native William Barber, just over 200 Marines fought to get that pass open so the retreat can continue towards Hungnam-guyok in Hamhŭng.
Soldiers who fought this battle fought and survived temperatures well below zero, with it getting down around colder than -30 degrees.
Several thousand were wounded, killed or suffered from frostbite. Medical supplies froze. Morphine had to be warmed in the mouths of medics before use, there was little to no communication with the outside world for over two weeks, save it be a Marine captain calling in air support.
Sgt. Johnson did suffer from frostbite, when it gets down to around ten degrees celsius (roughly 50 degrees fahrenheit) he will stay inside because it is too cold. His bones have not forgotten the feeling of that battle over 70 years later.
“My toes started to get black on the edge, I got in the hospital with and these guys took gallon buckets of (what is believed to be aloe vera gel or lotion based on further research), reach in and get a big handful… and put it on my leg and rub until it disappeared,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that during one night of this time, it got down to 40 degrees below zero and his nose and ear got burnt from the cold. Planes dropped hooded parka jackets for them to stay warm while they fought.
To give a sense of the situation U.S. and U.N. Troops were in, Marine General Oliver P. Smith said, “Retreat, hell, we’re just attacking in a different direction.”
It took nearly a month for a successful evacuation into what is now South Korea. Which Johnson survived to tell the tale. He’s gone on to tell more about being of the “Frozen Chosin” and write some of his stories down.
When it come to being part of the upcoming three days in Washington D.C., Sgt. Johnson doesn’t have many words to describe what this means to him and the people he fought with.
“Oh man, I’m just clean out of it, this is the biggest thing since the war was over, and I’m 93” Sgt. Johnson said.
American Valor airs this weekend, check your local listings for airtimes.
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