Paul Greenberg

It wasn't just the press that was concerned about how Gen. Puller proposed to get out of that trap. A worried major made the mistake of asking the general what his line of retreat would be. Chesty Puller picked up a field telephone and told the commander of his artillery, all of it, to zero in on the Marines' own position and open up on any unit retreating without authorization. Then he turned to the major. "That answer your question? There will be no withdrawal." There wasn't.

. .

Against all odds, the Marines held through November, then into December, until on December 6, 1950, the 1st Marines were ordered to break out and head for the port of Hungnam on Korea's east coast for evacuation. When someone referred to the retreat, Chesty Puller set him straight: "Retreat, hell! We're just advancing in a different direction."

By then the temperature had dropped to 25 degrees. That's 25 degrees below zero. Fighting every mile through a frozen Hell on roads that had to be carved out of the ice and snow, the marines advanced in a different direction. Make-do bridges had to be constructed in the harshest of Korean winters as a Siberian cold front moved south across the peninsula, but the 1st Marines drove on. They would take with them their wounded, their dead, and every jeep, half-track, tank, howitzer, gun and every other piece of equipment that could be salvaged. And they drove on.

By the time they reached Hungnam some 80 twisting miles away under constant attack, staving off every enemy ambush on the way, and prepared to embark, the Chosin Frozen had broken through seven Chinese divisions, leaving nothing behind. They had saved everything, honor above all.

As he was moving his men aboard ship, Chesty Puller was approached by another pack of reporters. All he had to say was: "Remember, whatever you write, this was no retreat. All that happened was we found more Chinese behind us than in front of us. So we about-faced and attacked."

The 1st Marines had marched across a frozen wasteland into American military history -- and Marine lore and legend. And so had Chesty Puller. At day's end on many a Marine base, the last announcement before Lights Out used to be: "Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are." Let's hope that's still the custom. General, you are not forgotten. And neither is your war and all the Americans who fought in it. Sic semper.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.