Frank D. Derosa, Korean War, United States Marine Corp, St.Clairsville, Ohio
“I volunteered when I was 16. I lied about my age and ended up spending my 18th birthday in Korea. I was a poor farm boy working in a coal mining camp when I decided to sign up to make life easier for myself. It didn’t turn out that way, but I wanted to do something for our country and defend the ﬂag.”
The deﬁning moment of Frank’s life came in the late weeks of 1950 when he was part of the Chosin Reservoir Campaign. 20,000 men of the First Marine Division entered the battle as the Chinese began amassing on the border they shared with North Korea, posing a threat to South Korea and the predominantly American forces. At the same time a cold front from Siberia descended down the Korean peninsula into the Chosin Reservoir, plunging the temperature to -36F. Some said that if you stayed still too long you risked freezing to death. Indeed Frank along with 7500 Allied soldiers got frozen feet before it was all over.
“We had Thanksgiving dinner in the mess tent that day. I often joked that it was so cold the turkey was frozen before we could eat it. Shortly after 9 pm that night the Chinese overran our company and the siege started. It was there that the furious battle began, the day after Thanksgiving.” (November 27, 1950)
The Marines were vastly outnumbered by nearly 70,000 Chinese and upwards of 200,000 still crossing from China into North Korea. The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir took place in a narrow valley between the towering peaks of the Tobakson Mountains where Marines fought out of foxholes, aiming up the icy slopes. Surrounded by bodies piled ten high Frank Derosa faced the horror of losing his comrades and the fear of dying in that place. Like the young men surrounding him those nights, they prayed to be able to live. Frank recalls that at one point an air brigade was sent to drop a bomb on the bodies in an attempt to cremate the casualties. Though many considered the Marines lost, the Leathernecks held and blasted their way through Chinese roadblocks. Blessedly through this incredible will power and countless acts of courage, the Marines turned to the Sea of Japan marching 13 days with their wounded strapped to any vehicle possible in hopes of evacuation. The Chosin Few, as the survivors
have come to be called, were airlifted from the beaches by Air Force helicopters to Japan and then to Bethesda, Maryland for treatment. 6,000 Americans were dead, countless wounded and many still missing.
“As a survivor I feel lucky but my thoughts will always be with my comrades who did not make it.” The total combat dead in the Korean War was over 36,000.
Frank Derosa has taken every day as a gift and reminded his children and grandchildren not to take anything for granted. When asked how his day is going he’ll most always say, “…they’re all good, some just better than others.” Semper Fi.
For an excellent history of the Chosin Reservoir battle read ON DESPERATE GROUND by Hampton Sides. Also see the PBS American Experience ﬁlm “The Battle of Chosin”.
Upon seeing the American Experience ﬁlm with his great grandson Mason Marquardt Frank commented that “… it was exactly like that.”