Making Sure the Past Is Not Forgotten

This weekend marks the 59th anniversary of one of the most courageous battles in military history. It happened in the early stages of the Korean Conflict, often called the forgotten war. Thousands of marines fought against the North Koreans, the Chinese and another enemy - the weather, CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor reports.

Now 85 years old, Joseph Owen was a young first lieutenant in November 1950, when he and nearly 20,000 other American fighters, trying to gain ground against the surging North Koreans and Chinese Army, were outmaneuvered, trapped behind enemy lines at North Korea's treacherous Chosin Reservoir. The American's were out-gunned 10 to 1.

"We were there and they weren't going to take us out because it was cold outside," Owen said. "There were nights as cold as literally 30 below. And on top of this we're fighting in blizzards."

The Americans had to fight their way out, battling non-stop for 14 days, killing more than 30,000 Chinese as they trekked 70 miles to safety. Along the way, rescuing 100,000 refugees. But their courageous escape came at a severe cost.

More than 3,100 Americans, nearly a third of them marines, were killed and 13,000 wounded. Owen lost one of his closest friends.

"Right as we're talking, a bullet must have gone by. A dark spot appeared right underneath his helmet and Joe's eyes went empty," Owen said. "So I left Joe back there dead in the snow - my pal."

For their valor, the military awarded 17 Medals of Honor and 70 Navy Crosses. Still, few Americans know this heroic tale.

"You look at some textbooks, some have a sentence on Korea," said Anton Sattler. "If you are lucky, you might get half a page."

Anton Sattler and Brian Iglesias, both Marines and Iraq war veterans, are trying to change that, producing the first documentary on the battle, "Chosin."

They've spent nearly $20,000 of their own money, gathering emotional stories from 183 Korean War veterans.

"Would you say this experience has changed your life?" Glor asked.

"It's one of the most significant moments, I think so," Iglesias said.

"If I never made another film, I'd die happy," Sattler said.

Owen still carries around the medals he won with him, the Silver Star and Purple Heart among them.

He says his part in the film is about leaving a legacy.

"It means that my grandchildren will know that guys like me contributed something vital to the survival of this wonderful country," Owen said.

The legacy of a proud marine, who's part of a few - the Chosin few.

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

On Twitter