Thanksgiving of 1950

From the editor:

As Thanksgiving Day loomed in Korea in 1950, American troops were feeling fairly optimistic.  On the 20th of November, General MacArthur and the United Nations forces had advanced everywhere and were nearly to the Chinese border at Hyesanjin, driving back Chinese communists that had attacked three weeks prior.  It was looking like the end of the war could be a reality and the phrase “home for Christmas” was circulating.  Despite the frigid temperatures, hearts were warm and spirits were high.  A film documentary chronicled mountains of turkeys and piping hot dinners with all the trimmings being served to the troops.  But the next day, on November 24th, the war took a drastic turn for the worse when an estimated 320,000 Chinese troops invaded North Korea and swept down on the Eighth Army.  Diminished supplies, confusion, and a bitter cold snap led to the longest retreat of any U.S. military unit in history.

As the temperature dropped to as low at fifty-four degrees below zero, frostbite, frozen rations, and icy terrains were as deadly as the failing equipment.  At times, the rifles, mortars, and machine guns simply froze over completely.

In the end, over 5,300 American veterans suffered frostbite during the Korean War, with many men affected that first Thanksgiving.  As MASH units (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) were established, more lives and limbs were saved.

Two more Thanksgivings would come and go before an armistice was in place.  By then, better winter gear and warmer clothing were issued to the troops.  While it made a slight difference, the memory of the Thanksgiving of 1950 will never be forgotten.


Major Thomas, age 84, served three tours in the Korean War from 1952-1956 as an Engineman Second Class in the Navy.  He was raised in Owensville, Missouri where he returned after his enlistment.  He and Marge are retired and enjoy working with stained glass, antique tractors, puzzles, and writing his memoirs.

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