Join us to mark the anniversary of the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice Agreement as we welcome US Marine Corps Korean War veteran Bob Harbula to share his gripping firsthand account of fighting in the Inchon Landing, the Battle of Seoul, and the legendary Battle of the Chosen Reservoir in 1950.
In 1950, North Korea launched a surprise attack on South Korea, prompting President Truman to pledge American forces to aid the South. The Marine Corps called for volunteers, and Harbula eagerly left his post at Marine Barracks Washington 8th & I to join the fight. Initially, plans were in place to form a Marine Raider battalion, but they were changed, and a full Marine Division was sent to Korea. Due to previous downsizing, Reservists were called in to fill the gaps.
Assigned to a machine gun squad at Camp Pendleton, California, Harbula and his unit prepared for deployment to Korea. Despite limited training time with actual weapons, they sailed to Japan and continued their training while awaiting equipment. They eventually boarded Landing Ship, Tanks (LSTs) and set sail for Korea, landing at the heavily fortified Inchon. They encountered resistance as they secured the beachhead and advanced toward Seoul, experiencing combat for the first time and witnessing the death of a fellow Marine. Engaging in urban warfare, they fought relentlessly, block by block, and played a significant role in securing the city.
After the successful capture of Seoul, General Douglas MacArthur made a controversial decision, ordering the Marines to leave Seoul and return to Inchon, hoping to intercept the enemy on the eastern coast. This decision led to delays due to heavily mined harbors. When they finally landed at Wonsan, the enemy had already retreated. Harbula’s battalion was then assigned to secure the Wonsan area, enduring harsh winter conditions without their delayed winter gear.
In November, while transporting prisoners and retrieving winter clothes, Harbula’s squad was ambushed by North Koreans. Two Marines were hit, and Harbula took cover as they returned fire, engaging in a skirmish. Throughout his service, Harbula displayed courage and resilience, adapting to urban warfare and fighting under challenging conditions.
As the war seemed to be nearing its end, General MacArthur pushed the US Eighth Army and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces towards the dangerous zone near the Chinese border, unaware of the presence of hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops. Harbula and his comrades of X Corps found themselves surrounded by Chinese forces in the Chigyong area. X Corps commander General Almond, influenced by MacArthur, failed to comprehend the gravity of the situation and ordered further offensives. Harbula’s division became known as Task Force Drysdale, named after the British Colonel leading the combined unit.
The Chinese forces effectively blocked Harbula’s unit from reaching Hagaru-ri, the southern tip of the Chosin Reservoir, resulting in treacherous conditions, lack of supplies, and constant attacks. Despite being outnumbered and lacking armor, Harbula and his comrades fought fiercely, even using rocks when their weapons froze. Eventually, they reached Hagaru-ri with heavy losses, only to face a surprise attack from disguised Chinese soldiers. Only a third of the original force made it to safety, and the Marines endured extreme cold, exhaustion, and constant attacks. Harbula vividly describes a desperate assault on East Hill, where he engaged in hand-to-hand combat after his weapon froze. Despite suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon, he managed to save a wounded comrade before being evacuated.
After recovering, Harbula rejoined his unit, which had been reduced to a mere 67 men from the original 255. They continued to fight in South Korea, enduring harsh conditions and facing close calls with friendly fire. Harbula reflects on the horrors of war and the uncertainty of survival.
The account concludes with Harbula returning home, having been reported as Missing in Action, and his family receiving confirmation of his survival from a fellow Marine who had hitchhiked with Harbula’s brother. Harbula’s experiences in the Chosin Reservoir and the sacrifices made by his comrades were largely unknown to the general public, and he remained silent about them for many years.
Bob Harbula’s account is a vivid and personal perspective on the intense and brutal nature of the Korean War, particularly during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. It underscores the challenges faced by the Marines, their unwavering heroism, and the camaraderie that emerged in the face of overwhelming odds.
Thank you to Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!