In a postwar interview with the military historian S. L. A. "Slam" Marshall, Major General Oliver P. Smith of the Marine Corps confessed, "The country around the Chosin Reservoir was never intended for military operations. Even Genghis Khan wouldn't tackle it."
Any Marine from Fox Company could have told the general this. But the outfit's travails did not end on the Toktong Pass overlooking the Chosin Reservoir. Shortly before noon on December 8, 1950, First Lieutenant John M. Dunne, the only officer to survive Fox Hill unscathed, was shot dead in an ambush on the road to Koto-ri.
In the same encounter, during a strange, foggy snowstorm, the bazooka man Corporal Harry Burke and the rifleman Corporal Rollin Hutchinson were wounded by grenades, and Private First Class Kenny Benson was hit by a bullet from a Thompson submachine gun. All three were returned to Hagaru-ri and airlifted to American military bases in Japan. Hutchinson and Benson were sent home to the United States; Burke returned to duty with Fox Company in May 1951. Ten days later shrapnel from a Chinese artillery round shredded his back. He was then also shipped home, with two Purple Hearts.
The day after Dunne's death, Fox was again ambushed on the road to Koto-ri. Sergeants Kenneth Kipp and Clyde Pitts were killed, and Sergeant John Audas was seriously wounded in the right leg, which eventually had to be amputated. As Pitts lay bleeding out in the snow, with two bullets in his chest, Private First Class Walt Klein held Pitts's head in his lap. "I always knew it would end like this," Pitts said in his deep Alabama drawl.
Lieutenant Abell was wounded in the arm the following day. When Fox finally reached the evacuation port of Hungnam on December 11, there were no officers left standing. The platoon sergeant Richard Danford commanded the company, which now consisted of fewer than three dozen men. Private First Class Walt Klein and Ernest Gonzalez were the only members of the Third Platoon remaining. Gonzalez was hospitalized in South Korea with severe frostbite on December 18. He was flown to Japan a week later, and from there he returned to southern California.
Private First Class Phil "Cookie" Bavaro spent months in hospitals in Fukuoka, Japan; Hawaii; California; and New York before being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in August 1951. One of his small toes and large portions of both heels were amputated because of frostbite. On his first day in the Fukuoka army hospital he was weighed. He had lost thirty-five pounds on Fox Hill.
On his return to the United States, Bavaro learned that during the days of the breakout his parish in Newark, St. Charles Borromeo, had organized prayer vigils for his safe return. One of his family's neighbors, a Mr. Katz, had held similar religious services at his temple, and the black landlord where Bavaro garaged his car, a Baptist minister, had also organized prayer meetings for him. When Bavaro remembered the last bit of energy he had summoned to escape the pursuing Chinese on the MSR from Fox Hill, he was certain that these prayers had saved his life.
Corporal Eleazar Belmarez was evacuated from Japan to the naval hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, close to his home in San Antonio. His left leg was amputated six inches below the kneecap, and he also lost a section of his right foot as a result of frostbite.
Dick Bernard was returned to the United States and was hospitalized for six months. Because he had gone too long on Fox Hill without medical attention, both of his legs had to be amputated.
In 1981, Fidel Gomez was invited to a party at a lake outside San Antonio to meet the family of the man who had proposed to his daughter. As he was talking to a young man at the party the subject of Korea came up, and the man mentioned that his father also fought there. Gomez asked to meet him, and the next minute he was introduced to David Goodrich. Each had thought the other died on Fox Hill.
Lieutenant Elmo Peterson was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on Fox Hill. He was back fighting in Korea as a platoon commander in Fox Company six months after his evacuation from Hagaru-ri. He led a platoon that included Walt Klein. Both went home permanently in November 1951.
After Private First Class Dick Bonelli was given the last rites, he remained on the critical list at the Army hospital in Osaka for three days. He endured several agonizing spinal taps before the thirtycaliber bullet was finally removed from his chest. It had narrowly missed both his spine and his heart. The surgeon who operated on him was of Chinese-American descent. When Bonelli awoke, the surgeon handed him the small, misshapen chunk of metal he had extracted.
"You take it out?" Bonelli said.
The surgeon nodded.
"How do ya like that? A Chinaman put it in and a Chinaman took it out."
When Bonelli returned to the United States, he found a woman who would tame him-up to a point. He and his wife, Mary, had eight children and twenty-four grandchildren.
Private First Class Bob Ezell never played baseball again. In addition to his leg wounds, he had developed frostbite on his left foot while he was in the med tent on Fox Hill, and all five toes on that foot were eventually amputated. When he returned to California he graduated from college and became a baseball coach in the Los Angeles city school district. Eight years later, in the 1960 World Series, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the New York Yankees in seven games. It was a bittersweet experience for "Zeke" Ezell-his old friend and fellow high school graduate George Witt, who had also served in the Marine Corps, pitched in three of the games.
Sergeant John 0. Henry made it through the breakout unscathed and on the road to the port of Hungnam actually oversaw the evacuation of his younger brother, George, another machine gunner who had developed a severe case of frostbite at the Chosin. John was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on Fox Hill, and then a Bronze Star with a V for valor for actions, later, at Koto-ri. He remained a Marine until his retirement in 1968. The Henry Machine Gun Range at Basic School in Quantico is named in his honor.
Private First Class Bob Kirchner made it off Fox Hill and out of Hagaru-ri without injury. He returned to Pittsburgh to his wife and baby daughter. He then visited Roger Gonzales's family in San Pedro, California, to ask their pardon for using Roger's body as cover. They told him they understood and forgave him.
Corporal Wayne Pickett of Duluth, Minnesota, was held as a prisoner of war by the Chinese in North Korea for 999 days. He endured starvation, torture, dysentery, and the burials of many of his fellow prisoners, who died from sickness or from lack of the will to survive.
Following the battle for Fox Hill and the subsequent breakout, Pickett was moved to the town of Chang Song in the far northwest of the country, to a facility that officially became known as North Korean Prison Camp Number 1. Escape from Chang Song was impossible, and the few who attempted it were soon caught and punished severely. Not until more than a year after his capture did the U.S. government notify Allan and Clara Pickett that their missing son was a prisoner of war. The Picketts quickly got word to Wayne's fiancee, Helyn Bergman.
As part of the cease-fire agreement with North Korea on August 23, 1953, Pickett and the other American prisoners were driven on flatbed trucks to the city of Panmunjom. There they crossed a small bridge to where UN ambulances awaited them. Pickett-sixty pounds lighter-was back in Duluth eleven days later.
Today, Wayne Pickett says he has no animus toward his Communist captors. He adds that he will never forget "the hills. Hills and mountains every direction you looked. I would imagine under different circumstances some people would even say that North Korea is really a beautiful country."
Walt Hiskett had the slug removed from his shoulder at a U.S. naval hospital in Guam. After his recovery he was promoted to sergeant, and he returned to the United States in August 1951. He was discharged two months later.
Hiskett kept his commitment to God. In Chicago, Hiskett passed the GED test and received his high school diploma. He earned a college degree attending night school while working at construction jobs, and then attended Chicago Lutheran Seminary. After his graduation he enlisted in the Navy; he served twenty-four years as a chaplain, retiring as the Head of Marine Chaplains in the Navy. He saw combat again in 1968 in Vietnam, with Fox Company, Second Battalion, Seventh Regiment.
First Lieutenant Chew-Een Lee took command of Baker Company when Lieutenant Joe Kurcaba was killed just south of Koto-ri on December 8. Lieutenant Joe Owen suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the same engagement and was evacuated to Japan by air transport from Koto-ri. Baker Company reached Hungnam by train with twenty-seven Marines still standing. In addition to his two Purple Hearts, Lee was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions at Sudong Gorge. He recovered from his wounds and remained in the Corps until his retirement, with the rank of major, on December 31, 1968.
By far the most famous Ridgerunner to come out of the Chosin Reservoir campaign was Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Davis. Three days after arriving in Hagaru-ri he was named executive officer of Colonel Homer Litzenberg's Seventh Marine Regiment. Two years later, Davis was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in the relief of Fox Hill by President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Davis went on to command the Third Marine Division in Vietnam. After his promotion to general, he became the assistant commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
In the autumn of 2002 Davis was among the small party of Korean War veterans-four vets, with family members-allowed to visit Yudam-ni, Toktong Pass, and Hagaru-ri on a trip arranged by the U.S. Defense Department, the first of its kind since the war. A year later Davis-one of the most decorated Marines of his generationdied of a heart attack.
Lieutenant Bob McCarthy remained a Marine after the Korean War, served at various posts in the Pacific, and retired in 1957 as a major. He subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent three years running an Army training facility at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Soon after his evacuation from Hagaru-ri, McCarthy nominated both Captain William Barber and Private Hector Cafferata for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Of that first night on Fox Hill, McCarthy recalled, "I figured Cafferata flat killed about a hundred, but I only wrote it up for thirty-six because I didn't think anybody would believe one hundred."
Following his evacuation, Cafferata spent the next eighteen months undergoing surgery in hospitals in Japan, Hawaii, California, Texas, and New York. A nerve in his right arm had been severed by the sniper's bullet. To this day, he cannot eat or write with his right hand, although he relearned to pull a trigger. Hunting and fishing remain his passion. In 1952, at home in New Jersey, he was informed by telegram that he had been awarded the nation's highest military citation and was to travel to Washington, D.C., for the presentation ceremonies. Never much for pomp, he replied that he would prefer to have the award mailed to him. He was subsequently contacted by an irate Marine officer, who told him, "You will get down here so that President Truman can personally give this Medal of Honor to you'." Cafferata obeyed, and the award was presented to him on November 24, 1952. What he remembers most about the ceremony is that the undersized Truman had to stand on Cafferata's freshly shined shoes to place the ribbon and medal over his head.
Captain William Barber was evacuated from Hagaru-ri to Yokosuka, Japan, on December 8, 1950. He spent three months in various hospitals while his infection was treated and the bullet lodged in his hip bone was finally removed. He returned to the United States in March 1951, and in August 1952 he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman for his leadership in the defense of Fox Hill. "One bullet doesn't stop a man," he told reporters after the ceremony.
He went on to serve in Okinawa and Bangkok, and to become, like Davis, one of the few men in any branch of the U.S. military to have held commands in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. In Vietnam he served as psychological operations officer for the III Marine Amphibious Force. For his service in Vietnam he added the Legion of Merit with Combat V to his war chest of commendations, medals, and awards.
He retired from the active-duty Marine Corps as a full colonel in 1970 and returned to the now renamed Morehead University to finish his studies and receive his degree-three decades after he had dropped out "to see the world." He became a civilian military analyst for the Northrop Corporation. William Barber died of bone marrow cancer in 2002 at the age of eighty-two. He was buried with full honors at Arlington Cemetery. Four years later his widow, lone, died. Her ashes were interred in her husband's grave.
Throughout his life, Barber resisted attempts to compare Fox Company's six-day ordeal on Toktong Pass to an apparently obvious parallel-the Spartan general Leonidas's last stand against an overwhelming Persian invasion at the Greek pass of Thermopylae. Mythology is what never was, but always is. He was quick to point out that the effect of his company's actions at Fox Hill on world history was nowhere near the effect of Thermopylae. He also noted that during the Korean War several other surrounded, outnumbered Marine and Army units had held out against much greater odds. And don't even get me started on Bastogne," he would say with a laugh.
Yet it is fair to say that no Marine unit-or any other unitfighting in Korea in 1950 held a more strategic piece of land against more crushing odds, and despite such severe isolation, as Fox Company on Fox Hill. Writing in the archives of the Marine Corps Association, the eminent military historian H. Lew Wallace put the battle for Fox Hill into perspective: "If the actions of Barber and his men did not alter the broad sweep of history, they did alter the margin between a potential rout and the controlled breakout that actually occurred, between moderate and unacceptable losses, indeed between life and death for 8,000 Marines."
One hundred thirty-one Medals of Honor were earned during the fighting in Korea. Davis, Cafferata, and Barber were three of only thirty-seven men who were not awarded the medals posthumously.
In 1981 the former Marine Corps commandant General Robert H. Barrow wrote in a letter to Barber, "I regard your performance as commander of Fox Company at Toktong Pass from 27 November to 2 December 1950 as the single most distinguished act of personal courage and extraordinary leadership I have witnessed or about which I have read."
At Bill Barber's funeral service, one side of the church was filled with veterans of Fox Company who had traveled to California from across the United States. On the other side of the aisle, behind his family, friends and other military veterans, including several fellow recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, packed the pews. Moments before the ceremony began, Barber's only son, John Barber, stood, kissed his mother, and walked across the aisle to sit with Fox Company.