7th Marine Regiment
1st Marine Division
U.S. Marine Corps
After graduating from high school, and being unable to convince my girlfriend that I was a worthwhile and upstanding citizen, I decided to join the service of my country. During the “big war,” most of my friends had served in the Navy, so I drove to Eureka, California, and joined the Navy—the year was 1948.
For whatever reason, the recruiter said I would be called and sworn in later. So, I left and went to Scotia to visit my friend Garth. His mother informed me that he had left a week earlier to join the Marines. She went on to explain that the Marines had a new program where you could serve active duty for one year, then spend ten years in the Reserves.
Still in Scotia, I decided to visit Dale—another friend. His mother told me that he had joined the Marines two weeks earlier. So I went home, packed my bag, and caught the next bus for San Francisco, because there was no recruiting office for the Marines in Eureka.
I was already in boot camp when I received a letter from the Navy with the command, “Report for Induction.” After much thought, and regardless of consequences, I decided to talk to the DI. I knocked on his door, and he grumbled, “Yeah?”
I said, “Sir, Private Cesaretti requesting permission to speak to Drill Instructor, Sir!”
He replied, “Get back to where you belong or you will be scrubbing the Parade Ground with a toothbrush.”
I said, “Sir, yes sir.” Then I left.
Still in a dilemma, I tried again. This time I told him I had a letter I thought he needed to read.
He responded, “This better be good, or you are going to need a parcel of toothbrushes.” After reading the letter, and laughing, all he could say was “Get the hell outa here.”
The next day he had a ball showing the letter to all the other DI’s who had a good laugh, because the Marines had pulled one over on the Navy. I was relieved that I didn’t have to get on my knees and scrub the Parade Ground.
On one occasion we were marched into a canyon and told to sit on bleachers that had been provided. After everyone became quiet, our sergeant told us to carefully look around and tell him what we saw. We saw nothing that seemed out of the ordinary. He told us we were looking to far out, try again. We still couldn’t see anything. Then the sergeant yelled, “Now!” From the ground, not more than ten feet from our front, sprang three Marines with rifles. Another three jumped up behind us. We had just been introduced to camouflage warfare.
We also did a lot of running—especially up hills. There was a very steep hill near Tent Camp Two, and after supper we had to duck walk up that hill. Later, we would be weighted down with a water cooled machine gun, and duck walk up and down that hill until sunset—then even after dark. We would be ready for the task of running up those man killing hills in North Korea.
Due to the need of us getting to Korea in a hurry, our training did not stop at night. We got very little sleep and this was good training for us, because sleep deprivation is a big part of warfare. I remember one time I had to keep my eyes open with my fingers, because when I let go of my eyelids they dropped closed.
* * * * * *
We were at the Chosin Reservoir, near the village of Yudam-ni, when Sergeant Frank Warrior came to my foxhole to tell me the CO wanted to see me about a mission—which was strictly voluntary. Arriving at the CO’s tent, a (Nationalist) Chinese Marine, Lt. Lee—one of our interpreters—was waiting for me. The CO told me that Lt. Lee wanted to go into North Korean villages, at night, where he knew Chinese soldiers were hiding in houses to keep from freezing to death. Lt. Lee thought he could go by himself—unarmed—and talk them into surrendering. Saying that was a good way to get killed, the CO told him he could not go unless he had a sidearm and took a BAR man with him. “So now it’s up to you,” said the CO. Thinking this Chinese Marine was either nuts, or the bravest man in Korea, I decided to ride shotgun.
Lee was to knock on the door and begin talking. However, if he was to drop to the snow or I heard a shot, I was to sweep the entire hut with my automatic rifle. I loaded all the ammo I could carry, and off we went. The first hut we came to, Lee hit the snow and I poured more than forty rounds into the hut—no one came out. We found the enemy was packed in so tight that the dead couldn’t fall. Scared that others would come bailing out firing their burp-guns and throwing grenades, we headed back thinking we had bitten off enough for one night.
We went into other villages using the same tactic and did not get many to surrender. I guess the Chinese finally learned they had a choice of surrendering or dying, because after the first few nights we started taking prisoners.
I sometimes wonder how many Chinese I killed during the Chosin Reservoir campaign. I have flashbacks of those nights, and of blood running from under the front doors.
While at the Chosin, we dug in every afternoon and studied the area to our front, so we wouldn’t shoot at bushes during the night. We were setting up for a fight one night, so I put a few magazines of ammo on the parapet of our foxhole. I told my buddy, Don Auellar, to take care of the grenades. As usual, the next morning I went out to see if all the dead to our front were really dead. I found one of our grenades, and it still had the pin in it. Taking the grenade back to Don, I said, “These work a lot better, Don, if you pull the pin.” He never lived it down, but in the heat of battle it’s easy to do something foolish like that.
Before the breakout of the Chosin Reservoir, Don found two pairs of nearly clean wool socks. Being the best buddy a Marine could have, he gave one pair to me. Not having our snow pacs off our feet for over a month, we hobbled down to the river to wash our feet and put on our new socks. To our amazement, our socks had become part of our feet. Needless to say, we were shocked seeing them black, and blistered. Don asked, “What happened? These aren’t my feet.” That too, was my thought. Walking back to our foxhole, an officer noticed us and drove us to the surgeons’ tent. After looking at our feet, he ordered Don to ride with the convoy out of the Frozen Chosin. However, since I was a BAR man, I would have to stay; all the firepower we had was needed to get us out. Don was certain I would not survive the combat we would have to endure to get back to Hagar-ri. And I was certain all the wounded in the convoy would be killed by the Chinese.
The road was frozen with patches of knee deep snow, and counting the wind chill, the temperature reached seventy-five degrees below zero. My spit would freeze before it hit the ground. The chill from the barrel of my BAR stabbed through three layers of gloves, through my palm, and shot out the back of my hand like a nail being driven through it.
As the trucks navigated the winding, downward hills, the infantrymen were having a hard time staying upright on the slippery surface. The journey south was a slow progress due to the enemy being so close to, and sometimes on, the road and shooting out the trucks radiators and gas tanks. They would also throw white phosphorus grenades onto the trucks carrying the wounded.
Don and I were finally separated; he in the convoy of wounded, and I back in action. I was part of Charlie Company, 7th Marines, led by Lt. Col. Ray Davis, who went to relieve the beleaguered Fox Company—who was holding Toktong Pass at all costs. It was necessary to hold the Pass, because if the Chinese captured it, the 1st Marine Division would have been annihilated.
Suffering from hypothermia, no water or food, and totally exhausted, we were eventually successful in reaching Fox Company. In doing so, we earned the name “Toktong Ridgerunners.”
I was flown out of Hagaru-ri on the last plane out. We were flown to the Air Force Hospital in Fukuoka, Japan. Even though the hospital was not crowded, the following morning I was put on a train headed for the Naval Hospital in Yokuska, Japan. This hospital was so crowded there wasn’t even enough room for my stretcher on the floor in the halls. I was put in a warehouse, then a chapel where the litters were laid across the tops of the pews. Finally, I was given the second bed in a large ward.
Lying there, I started to cry for my lost buddy. From the bed next to me, came a gruff voice, “Stop it! I lost my buddy and I can’t stand your sniveling.” It was Don! Suddenly my sadness for a lost friend became a jubilant celebration.
With all the hospital ships at sea, and all the hospitals in Japan, what was the chance of us being in the same ward—and next to each other? Don and I both knew it was Divine Guidance; from God; nothing is impossible.
* * * * * *
I am often asked, “What was the hardest part about fighting at the Chosin Reservoir?” That is a hard question to answer, because almost everything about it was difficult. We were told not to eat the snow, because it would drop our body’s core temperature—inviting hypothermia. Our C-rations would freeze solid. Even though it didn’t help our bodies core temperature, we carried a can next to our body so it would thaw out. However, if you didn’t eat it right away, it would freeze again. And if you ate, you got diarrhea. With all the layers of clothing we wore, it was nearly impossible to get out of them; we were the filthiest people on earth. Then there was the difficulty of staying awake, when every fiber of you body cried for sleep.
I lost sixty pounds in Korea. However, I don’t recommend combat as a way of losing weight.