On Des­per­ate Ground: The Marines at the Reser­voir, the Korean War’s Great­est Bat­tle

The Week (US) - - 21 - By Hamp­ton Sides

(Dou­ble­day, $30) Hamp­ton Sides’ lat­est book is “not to be missed,” said James Scott in the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier. A “heart-stop­ping” ac­count of a leg­endary Korean War bat­tle, On Des­per­ate Ground “will ap­peal to far more than just mil­i­tary read­ers.” Sides, the best-sell­ing au­thor of Ghost Sol­diers and In the King­dom of Ice, is one of this era’s best non­fic­tion writ­ers, and he’s made the story of the Bat­tle of Chosin Reser­voir new again by weav­ing in the mem­o­ries of four dozen Amer­i­can sur­vivors he in­ter­viewed.

Sides “sets the scene well,” said Mark Yost in The Wall Street Jour­nal. Three months af­ter North Korean troops over­ran South Korea in June 1950, United Na­tions forces landed at In­chon in a sur­prise move that al­lowed the Amer­i­cans and their al­lies

to seize Seoul. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, com­man­der of the ef­fort, pushed for a quick rout of the North Kore­ans. But he dis­missed re­ports that Chi­nese forces had crossed into Korea ready to join the fray, so when he or­dered U.N. troops to rush north through the moun­tains to­ward Py­ongyang, he was send­ing them into not just bru­tal cold but also a trap. At Chosin Reser­voir, the roughly 30,000 U.N. troops—about half of them U.S. Marines—were be­set by 150,000 Chi­nese sol­diers, and Sides “does some of his best work re­count­ing the com­bat.” The ri­val forces both suf­fered heavy ca­su­al­ties over the fol­low­ing two weeks, and while many fight­ers froze to death, oth­ers sur­vived be­cause the sub­zero tem­per­a­tures in­stantly cau­ter­ized their wounds.

In Sides’ hands, “it’s an epic wor­thy of Homer,” said Joseph Dit­zler in The Santa Fe New Mex­i­can. The bat­tle would end with a hard-fought re­treat, one that’s be­come Ma­rine Corps leg­end. Sides right­fully casts Gen. Oliver Smith as the hero, be­cause his fore­sight and re­source­ful­ness saved thou­sands, but there are other he­roes in these pages. Though Sides’ ac­count never loses track of MacArthur and other off­stage play­ers, it’s at heart “a story straight out of an­cient mythol­ogy,” a tale of war­riors re­mem­bered for their fan­tas­tic deeds.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.