‘I’ve been through hell’: war vet shares stories

Don Chadwick figures he has added years to his life because he talks about his Korean War experiences, no matter how painful those memories might be.

Don Chadwick

Chadwick a survivor of Korean War

Don Chadwick figures he has added years to his life because he talks about his Korean War experiences, no matter how painful those memories might be.

“I’ve been through hell,” Chadwick, 77, of SeaTac, told about three dozen people at a Korean War presentation May 16 at the Kent Senior Center to honor veterans and help keep the memories of the Korean War alive. “But coming to groups like this – and the more you talk about problems in combat – the longer you live.”

More than a dozen veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War attended the presentation at the senior center to hear Chadwick speak on the Korean War.

The Korean War began in 1950 when North Korean troops invaded South Korea. Nearly 37,000 American troops were killed in the three-year war.

Chadwick served in demolitions for the U.S. 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division. He is what is called a “Chosin Few” survivor of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950 in North Korea. That’s when an estimated 30,000 United Nations troops fought nearly 120,000 Chinese troops. The U.S. Marines in the battle eventually were surrounded by Chinese troops and had to withdraw from their plan to advance to the Yalu River on the Chinese border.

“They came at you in hordes,” Chadwick said of the Chinese soldiers in that battle. “We didn’t know where the people were coming from.”

After 17 days of fighting in temperatures as low as 48 degrees below zero, the Marines finished the withdrawal.

During those 17 days, nearly 2,500 United Nations forces were killed, 5,000 wounded and 7,500 suffered from frostbite, according to the Web site, www.koreanwar.com. The Chinese troops had an estimated 25,000 killed, 12,500 wounded and 30,000 frostbite victims.

Chadwick told of how one night he woke up and saw an Chinese soldier standing above him. But Chadwick slept with a .45-caliber pistol across his chest.

“I squeezed off the whole magazine,” Chadwick said. “The .45 was my best friend. And I can’t tell you how many people I wounded with my knife. My theory was it was not going to be me; it was going to be them.”

During one of the many fights, Chadwick became separated from his unit and ended up driving a jeep to find safety. He had his left hand on the steering wheel and his right hand on his pistol. Eventually, Chadwick’s hand froze to the steering wheel, and he crashed the vehicle. Fortunately, fellow soldiers found him.

Chadwick was taken to a hospital in South Korea and then to a hospital in Japan, where they wanted to cut off his legs because of the damage from frostbite.

“I said, ‘No, you’re not,’” Chadwick said. “I was so thankful just to be alive.”

After a transfer to a Maryland naval hospital, Chadwick found a doctor who agreed that amputating the legs would not be necessary.

“I’m still walking,” Chadwick said.

Chadwick, who worked 43 years in the electrical business and along with his wife raised four children, told the audience it’s been a difficult to handle the emotional pain.

“I had a hard time out of the Marine corps to adjust,” Chadwick said. “I have nightmares. But I’m here today to talk about it and to thank all of the veterans who are here today.”

Chadwick told the crowd he had many more stories about the Korean War.

“I cut it down,” he said. “But you’ve got an idea of what the Marines went through.”

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.

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