Remembering Chosin

Remembering ChosinOn this day 64 years ago, the Chinese Ninth Army Group set out to annihilate the United States 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.

The battle began the night of Nov. 27 and continued for 17 days. The 1st Marine Division, reinforced by a British Commando and two U.S. Army regiments — 25,000 troops in all — under the command of Marine Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith were surrounded by 150,000 Chinese under the command of Song Shi-Lun.

Survivors of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir are known as the “Chosin Few” and Ret. Capt. Richard Wayne Bolton, 82, of Happy Valley, is one of them.

In 1950 at the start of the Korean War, Wayne Bolton was a private first class on leave from the U.S. Marine Corps. The humble Marine admits he was assigned to a reconnaissance unit, because he was a good swimmer. What he doesn’t say a lot about is the specialized training reconnaissance requires. Neither does he make much of the fact that he was “BAR Man” a Browning Automatic Rifleman. The Browning Automatic was the weapon of choice for Marine infantrymen.

Remembering ChosinOne minute Bolton was enjoying being home on leave, and the next he had orders to get to California as rapidly as possible.

“We had no warning,” remembers Bolton. Within days of arriving in California, Bolton and the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade, which had been hastily built around the 5th Marine Regiment, were on their way to Korea. The Marines were not at full wartime strength because their numbers had been severely reduced following World War II. As the Corps rebuilt the 1st Marine Division, this smaller brigade was put together to assist in the war effort as quickly as possible.

In Korea the United Nations troops were under the command of the renowned U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

In September 1950, Bolton was one of the Marines to take part in the amphibious Landing at Inchon. Two weeks later he was part of the retaking and securing of Seoul and a month later he was at Wonsan.

That year, Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 23. Bolton remembers having “turkey and all the fixings” for Thanksgiving dinner at division headquarters. He also recalls being part of a reconnaissance patrol the day before, up behind enemy lines.

“They really tried to make it a holiday,” Bolton said. “The cooks did an excellent job. Everything was hot, but we had three platoons rotating through so we had to eat it quick.”

After many meals of C-rations and pork and beans, a Thanksgiving dinner complete with cigars was a gift. Just four days later they would be in one of the worst battles of the war on rough terrain and in severe winter weather conditions.

Remembering ChosinWhat does Bolton remember of the Chosin Reservoir?

“Cold.” He says it simply, but his words carry a weight to them that is impossible to miss. He isn’t talking about 20 degrees and snow falling type cold. He is talking about a deep cold, a cruel cold, that sinks into bones and is the stuff of nightmares.

And he would remember it well. He lost three toes to frostbite, including both of his big toes.

Temperatures got as low as negative 40 degrees. Bolton remembers the blood plasma froze, which added to the difficulty medical staff had in caring for the wounded.

C-rations froze in their cans and Bolton recalls having to chip away at the frozen meal. Icy roads and weapon malfunctions all were contributing factors to the battle.

Tom Sward, a retired Marine colonel and Bolton’s friend, added that “however severe the weather is that you are trying to endure, remember that the enemy has to deal with it as well. It is the elements that can kill any military unit. You must be prepared and then you must have developed mental toughness to endure. Because in the end, it will all come down to mental and physical toughness to see the battle through.”

The battle started at night.

“They waited until dark to attack,” Bolton said. “When they came, they blew bugles and whistles and shouted. The Chinese came in waves and they came, and they came, and then in the daylight they completely disappeared to wait for dark to attack again.”

“I thought the whole division was going to die,” he continued. “The Chinese came to annihilate the 1st Marine Division and I thought every one of us was going to die.”

The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir is one of the epic battles in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines who survived are accorded a special level of deference. One of the most famous quotes to come out of the battle is that of Marine Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith who said, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction.”

The surrounded, outnumbered Marines not only managed to break free of the Chinese, they inflicted heavy casualties as they went.

“Mao said they won the battle but they lost 45,000 men in the fight. The Chinese 9th Army was combat-ineffective,” Bolton stated. “But the 1st Marine Division was still in action.”

Remembering ChosinThe Korean War ended with an armistice on July 27, 1953. Total battle casualties for the war were 33,686. At Chosin, America lost 2,836 men and suffered an additional 13,000 casualties, most due to the severe weather.

Seventeen Medals of Honor were awarded during the war, one to a Navy pilot, two to Army soldiers, and 14 to Marines.

Bolton served two tours in Korea. After the war he remained with the Marines and went on to reach the rank of captain and later served two tours of duty in Vietnam.

He prefers not to talk about his wartime experiences. He does not use this time of year to look back and remember; he said there is too much that he doesn’t want to remember.

Remembering Chosin“There is just something about these Marines,” Sward said. “Something about the way they are willing to put their lives on the line for honor, and country, and loved ones back home. It is something they carry inside themselves, and it is difficult for them to talk about it.”

What Bolton holds on to is the “esprit de corps” — that spirit of enthusiasm and loyalty held in common with Marines. He holds on to the leadership and discipline he learned while serving. And though he doesn’t say it, it is clear he takes great pride in being part of something so much bigger than himself.

“The Marine Corps is the second oldest branch of the service,” Bolton noted. “They were established in 1775 and fought in the American Revolution and in every battle since.”

Pride and a deep sense of honor ring in every word.

Bolton believes in living honorably. He treats every person equally. His wife Carole describes him as trustworthy. “I’d trust him with my life,” she said.

When asked what he is most thankful for these days, Bolton said, “I give a lot of thanks just to be alive and kicking at my age.”

Remembering Chosin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Moving Wall

fb082513MTLife_wall15I first encountered the Moving Wall when it rolled through Salina, Kansas is 2002 or 2003.
A replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the piece had a profound effect on me.

My father was served in Vietnam. He was there for one tour between 1965-66 with the United States Marines.

I always remember thinking of him as one of the lucky ones. One of those who came through mostly unscathed.
No violent scars (no visible ones at least), not sick, not wounded, strong, healthy, vibrantly alive. What could be unlucky in that?

It was only occasionally that the cracks would show.

fb082513MTLife_wall11The first time I saw this was at the Vietnam Memorial in DC. We went there for a family vacation and I remember my father, standing at the Wall, crying.

He cried so infrequently that the memory was instantly significant. Some time later I caught my first glimpse of the famous painting Reflections by Lee Teter. I knew that when my father stood at the Wall he was remembering his own lost friends. I wish now, that I had been smart enough, mature enough, to ask for their names. I’d like to know the names and stories of the brothers in arms my father wept for. But I was a kid. And I can’t ask him now, so those names are lost to me.

fb082513MTLife_wall14Every time I see the Wall, I wish so much that I could add his name. He belongs there — belongs with the ones he served with.

fb082513MTLife_wall13Last week the Moving Wall came to Whitefish, Montana.

Just as before I have loved it, and been moved to tears many times. They played Taps at the opening ceremony, and I didn’t even try to take photos, I just cried.

The opening ceremony was at 10. It was open to the public all day and had many visitors. For the newspaper we were photographed it arriving in Polson, rolling through Kalispell, and the opening ceremony. We also had plans to do a collection of images for the Sunday paper, Montana Life section. Since I live in Whitefish, I was the logical choice for most of this. Pat shot the Wall coming through Kalispell since I was in Polson, but the rest of the images were mine. I could have gone out during the day, but for me the power of the Wall under the big sky of Montana was at it’s most powerful at dusk.

fb082513MTLife_wall03This is the unique power of the Moving Wall — the Memorial in DC is a scar across the land. It is striking and emotionally devastating. For the Moving Wall the setting is always changing.

082513MTLifeWe ran these photos in Sunday’s paper. One last reminder to people that the Moving Wall, would be closing and to go see it while they could. I actually got a very nice call from one of the local organizers who saw the collection and wanted to say thank you for the excellent coverage. It’s always nice to hear someone is pleased.

I did not go to the closing. I said my final goodbye on Saturday. I went back out for one last sunset, only this time, I didn’t go for the newspaper.

I took a candle with me and went to try to capture one photo specifically for my Dad.
One last shot to say, I remember. One image to say, I am missing you.
One last time to cry.

The quote is part of a poem I have loved for years: Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
I fell in love with the poem when I saw Dead Poets Society. It wasn’t until after my parents death that I focused in on this one line: “Tho’ much is taken, much abides.” In the face of profound loss, there are many small wonders; memories, and lessons that shaped your life, that will and do remain.

I will always wish I could add my father’s name to the Wall.
But when I see the Wall from a distance, when all the names are blurred, in my mind, his name is there. And for all of them, I cry and think Welcome Home.

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Eavesdropping and its consequences…

For those of you who know me even a little, you know I hate to be late. I literally can’t stand it. I will go way out of my way and even arrive half an hour or more early rather than being even one minute late. In part this behavior is based on the fact that I think being late is rude. Another part of it is that while the subjects of my photos can keep me waiting indefinitely sometimes, I must not be late because once the moment has passed there is no calling it back. Staged photos are not only abhorrent they are an absolute ethical no-no. And part of it is that being early gives me the opportunity to calm down. To settle into my environment. To look around. Take deep breaths. And start thinking like a photographer. I like having time in advance of an assignment to really get my mind into gear.

Or all of those could be excuses and I am simply OCD when it comes to clocks.

Either way, this being early habit of mine has served me well over the years. I like to sneak in. Find my spot. And the quietly watch before I break out the camera and start making my presence known. One such day, when I was again obsessively early, was last year at the Veterans Day Ceremony in Whitefish. The event was held inside the school gym and I arrived, made my way into the bleachers and sat to watch and wait.

Soon enough the crowd filled in around me and I was joined by a woman who I later learned was named Leslie. She sat right beside me and was telling her neighbor about a project she was helping a friend with. Her friend, Joan, the widow of a man named Alf Binnie, was preparing to send Alf’s guitar to the War Museum in Ottawa. It was impossible for me not to hear this story. As I said they were right beside me. And of course, I am a journalist. And to my ears this sounded like a cool story.
So, I gathered up my courage (it ways takes a bit of courage to make oneself look like a complete idiot) and introduced myself. Here I am. Photographer from the Daily Inter Lake. So sorry to rudely eavesdrop on your story, but really, I couldn’t help myself. Anyway… Would you mind telling me that again and possibly let me do a story on this for the newspaper?

I really love and hate this part of being a journalist. Usually when I do something like this it works wonderfully. People say yes. They would love to have their story told. The are delighted to help me with whatever I need for the photos. And sometimes people even are grateful that someone thinks what they are doing is worth that kind of attention. Some people take my interest as a compliment. But not everybody feels that way. Some people can be quite mean. That doesn’t happen often. I smile a lot and most people are kind, but I never really know what I am going to get when I strike up these conversations. And when they don’t want to tell me their story, or when they are mean, that’s when I really feel like an idiot.
But Leslie was delighted.

Leslie wanted the story told and was happy to help me make that happen.
So, Leslie is helping Joan. They are boxing up papers and bits of historical whatnot to send north. You see, Joan’s late husband, Alf, was a World War II veteran. A man who had been shot down. Survived. And then survived more than four years as a prisoner of war. This story could have easily died with him, but he left behind a tangible piece of his story. A piece that he carried with him from camp to camp all through the war. A guitar. That is what they were sending to Ottawa. Alf Binnie’s guitar. Of course, by this time I am completely hooked on the story and I asked if I could come and take pictures as they pull all this stuff together. And they said yes.
The photos came out really quite well. Considering that Alf couldn’t be part of it, there were plenty of items to document. He didn’t smoke so he saved up his cigarets and traded them with a guard for a guitar. He still had the original receipt. There is a photo of Alf and some of the other prisoners who formed a band and did concerts for their fellow captives. The guards even let them print flyers, and Alf had saved one of those. He still had his log book with the penciled-in entry: March 12, 1941 — Shot down over Holland.
And of course there was the guitar itself. A beautiful old thing made even more precious because of how far it had come. As a prisoner Alf was forced to moved to various prisons through the years. Long marches. Horrific conditions. And still he held onto that guitar.

I didn’t want to write this story, just photograph it. So I spoke to Lynette, one of the editors I work with. Lynette wrote the story. I did the photos. And we published it in our Montana Life section. That could have been the end of this story but I uploaded the photos to the AP many months later I was contacted by a writer doing a piece for Premier Guitar who wanted to use my photos to go with his story.

Today I got to see what they did with my photos. I requested a few copies of the magazine for myself and for Leslie and Joan. They arrived just this morning. There is only one thing I am disappointed in. The story reads: “The story of Binnie’s POW guitar came to light earlier this year in the tiny Daily Inter Lake newspaper in Kalispell, Montana. An editor there became aware of…” It should say, a photographer, not an editor. This was my story. But such is life.

The original guitar receipt dated February 5, 1942.

This is the first time I have had my photos have appeared in a magazine like this. And the magazine used a lot more of the stills I did of the guitar than we were able to use in the Inter Lake. This story came to mean quite a lot to me as I did the photos. Partly because I really enjoyed meeting Leslie and Joan. Partly because I am the daughter of a veteran and love doing stories about the people who serve. And partly because I found this story. I claim it as mine, even though I didn’t write it, and it grew far beyond my “tiny” newspaper. In the end it comes back to listening, to eavesdropping and paying attention to what is going on around me. I always keep a special place in my heart for stories like this one. The stories I find, the stories I tell, they become part of my story. And as it turns out, sometimes, eavesdropping has some wonderful consequences.

To find the hard copy of the story check out the August edition of Premier Guitar. The story is titled: Inseparable and was written by Craig Havighurst and is on page 135. The story is also online at:
http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazine/Issue/2011/Aug/Inseparable_Alf_Binnie_And_His_Archtop.aspx