Between the end of November and mid-December of 1950, United Nations troops under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, including those of the United States Marines' highly revered …
Between the end of November and mid-December of 1950, United Nations troops under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, including those of the United States Marines' highly revered First Marine Division, fought an oft-overlooked yet extraordinarily decisive battle in a sadly forgotten war.
It was the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and it took place on the Korean Peninsula north of the 38th Parallel after a Communist insurgency threatened to overtake the peninsula.
In his most recent addition to an acclaimed series of literary historical nonfiction, author Hampton Sides is determined to reverse the world's amnesia with a definitive recollection of this 17 dayslong battle, one of the most decorated in American history.
"On Desperate Ground: The Marines at the Reservoir, the Korean War's Greatest Battle," is the compelling story of Chosin Reservoir, and Sides will be here in Taos as part of his 27-city tour to sign copies of the book and participate in an author's discussion. Sides' appearance is Wednesday (Nov. 28), 6-7:30 p.m., at Op.Cit.Books Taos, 124A Bent St., in the John Dunn Shops. Admission is free.
The Reservoir battle is a moment in our military history of stunning bravery in the faces of seemingly insurmountable logistic odds and the capriciousness of Mother Nature. For avid students of history, or for those who would like a deeper understanding of the present world order, this is a must-attend event.
"Hampton Sides gives us a better understanding of the history behind current U. S. relations with Korea and China while offering a series of captivating profiles in human courage -- an absolutely riveting read," said Anthony Doerr, The New York Times' bestselling author.
With temperatures of 30 to 40 degrees below zero, the brutally cold and icy conditions saw soldiers suffer frostbite or death; yet, the upside, if one could imagine, was the weather's ability to immediately cauterize bullet wounds. Weapons malfunctioned as lubricants became so viscous as to be ineffective; critical blood and morphine supplies froze; vehicles could not operate; aircraft could not fly.
In fact, Sides said, veterans who engaged in both the infamous World War II Battle of the Bulge and the Reservoir battle said the Korean effort made the German's Christmastime assault on Belgium look like " a cake-walk."
"On Desperate Ground" is also a cautionary tale, as The Washington Post noted. "It shows the potentially horrifying consequences of giving too much power to an aging and incurious narcissist who cannot acknowledge error," it said in its Oct. 18 review.
The reference to an "aging and incurious narcissist" is directed at Gen. MacArthur, who commanded the Korean initiative from Tokyo while overseeing the Japanese post-World War II occupation, and who dismissed as "Red propaganda" a number of glaring intelligence reports that hundreds of thousands of Chinese forces were moving across the Korean border. A less supercilious approach to the warnings could, and should, have spared American service people the agony of this battle.
Sides said, "MacArthur had blundered badly. He had been outwitted and outflanked by a guerrilla army with no air force, crude logistics and primitive communications, an army with no tanks and precious little artillery. He was responsible for one of the most egregious intelligence failures in American military history."
"As narrative history, the book is a masterpiece of thorough research, deft pacing and arresting detail. As an allegory for America's current leadership predicament, it is nothing less than terrifying," noted Doubleday in its own review of the book.
Sides does not want "On Desperate Ground" to be a political tome, however. Much of the book is dedicated to searingly personal accounts of the "grunts" on the ground.
After a visit to South Korea with a group of aging veterans, Sides delighted in his good fortune to have met 85-year-old Santa Fe resident, Franklin "Jack" Chapman, who was just 17 when he fought in the Reservoir battle. Chapman manned a 75mm recoilless truck-mounted rifle, which marked him a sure target of the Chinese and was shot five times, one bullet remaining embedded in his skull.
Chapman was captured and endured a 19-day trek to a prison camp near Manchuria, where he was held for three years. His survival is a remarkable story in itself.
But, Sides offers, "men like Jack Chapman are gradually exiting our stage. They're unassuming, uncomplaining men who answered the call and fought for a principle, long ago and far from home, in a war that was not 'officially' a war -- a war that curiously became a dormant account in our public memory bank."
"Stalwart and humble old soldiers like Jack Chapman are the reason, on this Veterans Day, we should make the Korean War the Remembered War," continued Sides in his New York Times op-ed piece published, aptly, on Nov. 11, Veteran's Day.
Sides has always been a popular figure in Taos, especially after the release of his book, "Blood and Thunder," chronicling the exploits of Kit Carson and for which he spent months here researching the story of the controversial figure. It remains one of the top bestsellers at Op. Cit.books.
Sides was recognized as 2015's Miller Distinguished Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute and is an advisory board member of both the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference and the Author's Guild. He is also a partner of Atalaya Productions, an independent film company that develops nonfiction and historical stories for the screen and is frequently found on the lecture circuit.
He and his family divide their time between Santa Fe and Colorado Springs, where Sides teaches narrative nonfiction at Colorado College and serves as its journalist-in-residence.
For more information about this event, contact Betty Palmer at (575) 751-1999. Visit hamptonsides.com for more information about the author.
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