View Full Version : Orange County "Chosin Few" Chapter holds annual luncheon to remember the fallen

10-21-05, 05:51 AM
Orange County "Chosin Few" Chapter holds annual luncheon to remember the fallen
MCB Camp Pendleton
Story by Cpl. Tom Sloan

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Oct. 20, 2005) -- Frank Torres and Howard Mason are among the few Marines who survived fighting at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War in the early 1950s.

Many of the their fellow brothers-in-arms, however, weren’t as fortunate. Their death made them heroes in the eyes of their comrades.

Korean War veterans Torres and Mason are members of the Colonel William E. Barber Chosin Few Chapter of Orange County, a brotherhood dedicated to paying honoring the men who fought and fell on the “Frozen Chosin” battlefield along with honoring those who survived.

The Chosin Few was established in Boston in 1985 by a small group of Korean War veterans wanting to bring about awareness of the men who fought in the war. The Chosin Few has since grown and today boasts more than 3,000 members strong with 50 chapters nationwide.

“We render honors to those men we call heroes,” said Torres. “They’re the men who died and allowed us to return home.”

“The Chosin Few recognizes the Marines who were involved in the Chosin Campaign,” Mason explained. “Whether on the ground, around or above it.”

Members of the Colonel William E. Barber Chapter routinely get together and perform various functions throughout the state and country. The chapter held its annual Inchon Landing Commemorative Luncheon at Sharkey’s Hotel on Del Mar Beach here Sept. 17.

More than 200 members traveled from northern and southern California and Arizona to take part in the event that began with a barbecue and picnic on the beach the day before.

“The luncheon commemorates (the Marines’) landing on Inchon,” Mason said.

Veterans dined and talked about old times during the two-day event. These types of gatherings that are made possible through the Chosin Few, according to Torres, are important for veterans.

“The camaraderie with our friends and fellow Marines is good,” said Torres, who’s a retired gunnery sergeant. “Sharing our stories helps alleviate the PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) some of us have.”

Torres went more than three decades unable to talk about what he’d been through as a rifleman and squad leader with Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, during the Chosin Campaign.
Scores of then-corporal Torres’ fellow Marines died fighting at the bitter cold Chosin where frostbite was responsible for as many casualties as the enemy Chinese soldiers.

“It took me years before I could share my experiences,” said the resident of Santa Ana. “It was in the Chosin Few that I was able to (open up).”

Mason, a private first class at the time, was a communication Marine with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Shortly into the campaign he was made the runner for his platoon commander after the runner before him was killed in action.

Mason and Torres said they, like most Korean War veterans, vividly remember the harsh, below-freezing temperatures. It was as much a fight to stay warm and fed as it was with the enemy, they said.

“We didn’t have appropriate cold weather clothing like the Marines of today,” explained Mason, who’s retired from the L.A. Fire Department and Lomita resident. “We layered our clothes the best we could to stay warm, but the temperature was below 30 degrees.”

Mason said everything was effect by the cold; them, the enemy, and even their rations to the point of not being edible.

“We couldn’t eat because the food was frozen solid,” he recalled. “We resorted to eating dried biscuits and wafers of cocoa powder.”

“If you were lucky enough to be by a truck,” recalled Torres, “you could put your can of soup up on the hood and let the engine thaw it out. It would be thawed enough to where you could stick a tree branch in the can, dig out the beans or whatever and eat it like a popsicle while you patrolled down the road. On the plus side, though, gunshot wounds would freeze up and heal.”

Torres said their enemy suffered from the cold, too.

“We’d be walking and come up on some Chinese that had frozen to death.”

Torres and Mason are thankful they made it out alive and have the Chosin Few organization, which serves as a humbling reminder of how fortunate they are and the grave price so many of their fellow Marines paid.

Mason has a Greek motto he ends his letters with that he believes sums up what it means to be a Marine and a survivor of the Korean War.

“SAEPE EXERTUS, SEMPER FIDELIS, FRA-TER INFINITUS, United States Marine Corps,” he said proudly, “Which means: ‘Often tested, Always Faithful, Brothers Forever, United States Marine Corps.”