08/29/04 — Korean War veterans swap stories

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Korean War veterans swap stories

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on August 29, 2004 8:19 AM

Vivid memories of the blood that was shed in the fight against communism came rushing back during a reunion of four Korean War veterans.

The men overcame tremendous odds under extreme conditions to survive one of the key battles of the war.

Frank Germano of Grantham gathered Monday with his long-time friends Jim Cuellar of Indiana, Joe Spille of South Carolina and Bob Weishan of California. They were all members of the Baker Company, 1st Motor Transportation Battalion, 1st Marine Division in Korea.

They usually come together with other company veterans every year in San Diego, but decided to have a mini-reunion at Germano's house to reminisce about the good times and bad.

Each except Spille spent a month in 1950 on the frigid mountain in the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. They were part of the Tenth Corps, which had around 15,000 troops. Their company was in charge of transporting troops, ammunition, fuel and other supplies to and from the battle sites.

Weishan said the reservoir was at an altitude of 10,000 feet and the wind-chill factor was 75 degrees below zero. Their water and food rations would freeze, and they were 87 miles from the closest port.

He recalled one time the troops needed ammunition, and a call was put out to the dispatch asking for mortar rounds to be parachuted in. To help disguise their request from the Chinese enemy, they used the code "Send us Tootsie Rolls."

The dispatcher received the coded message, and the men waited for the mortars. Soon, parachutes dropped nearby and what they saw was not quite what they expected. They opened cans only to find real Tootsie Rolls.

"What are we supposed to do with these?" the troops wondered.

The chocolate candies actually helped save their lives, because the sugar gave the men energy and the chocolate rolls were small enough to carry in ample supplies in their pockets. They could also be chewed and used as an adhesive.

The troops needed all the help they could get as they became completely surrounded on the reservoir by 120,000 Chinese coming in waves to destroy them. Weishan recalled the Chinese attacking while it was snowing. They arrived to the sounds of bugles, horns and cymbals.

After several days of fighting, the troops were able to make their way out of the reservoir, but not without losing many lives. Weishan compares the event to Custer's Last Stand in 1876, because like Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry, the soldiers were severely outnumbered.

The troops suffered 12,000 casualties, and the Chinese 45,000. Weishan said even more troops would have been killed had it not been for air strikes by the U.S. Navy, Marine and Air Force fliers.

More medals were awarded for the Chosin Reservoir battle than for any other single battle in U.S. history. There were 17 Medals of Honor, 70 Navy Crosses and many Distinguished Service Crosses awarded.

It was also the largest evacuation of humanitarian operations in history, said Weishan. Over 100,000 North Korean civilian refugees followed the troops out of the reservoir. The troops marched to the nearest port and were evacuated by ship to South Korea, where they fought the Chinese again. Eventually they returned to the United States.

Weishan said he started trying to find members of the company in 1977. He had a South Korean flag from the war that the company's troops had signed and written their hometowns on. He used it to start making contact.

He has been able to find 77 of the 200 men. They have had a reunion every year since 1978, and they have 21 signed up so far to attend this year's event. Many of those left who were in the reservoir are members of the "Chosin Few" organization.

"We are just lucky to have these guys with what they went through," said Flo Germano, Frank's wife.