US Marines Saved South Korea President's Parents in Epic Battle

President Moon Jae-in -- a former human rights lawyer -- favors engagement and dialogue with Pyongyang. (KIM HONG-JI/POOL/AFP)
President Moon Jae-in -- a former human rights lawyer -- favors engagement and dialogue with Pyongyang. (KIM HONG-JI/POOL/AFP)

New South Korean President Moon Jae-in will begin a four-day U.S. trip for difficult talks on THAAD deployment and the North Korean threat with an emotional visit Wednesday to the "Frozen Chosin" exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va.

Moon shares a special relationship with the Marine Corps and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, the former Marine commandant.

Dunford's father, then-20-year-old Joseph F. Dunford Sr., fought with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, in the brutal sub-zero 1950 battles against the Chinese around the Chosin Reservoir in what is now North Korea.

Moon's parents were among about 100,000 refugees who were evacuated from the area to the south as the Marines fought their way to the sea at Hongnam in what became known as the "Christmas Cargo" campaign, or the "Miracle of Christmas."

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Moon's visit to the museum "will highlight the special meaning of the Korea-U.S. alliance, while also emphasizing an important part of the alliance in the history of the president's own family," Chung Eui-yong, the head of the South Korean presidential National Security Office, said Monday, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

Vice President Mike Pence, whose father is a Korean War veteran and whose son, Michael J. Pence, is a Marine 1st Lieutenant, was to accompany Moon to Quantico and to meetings with business leaders.

On Thursday, Moon was meeting with House and Senate leaders on plans to confront erratic North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his drive for nuclear Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Moon and his wife, Kim Jung-sook, will later join President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for dinner at the White House.

On Friday, Moon will hold crucial summit talks with Trump at the White House to air their differences on the way forward against North Korea. The two will then hold a joint news conference and Moon later will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., before returning home Saturday.

At the White House Monday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump said, "The North Korean regime is causing tremendous problems and is something that has to be dealt with, and probably dealt with rapidly."

In his brief tenure in office, Moon, a liberal elected last month in a landslide following the impeachment of conservative Park Geun-hye in a bribery scandal, has argued for a radically different approach to the North.

He has also balked at full deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system on a golf course south of Seoul. The technology was developed by Lockheed Martin Corp.

The U.S. has installed two THAAD launchers but South Korea has blocked deployment of the full battery of six launchers pending an environmental study. Moon has also advocated opening talks with Kim Jong-un to avoid another war on the peninsula.

"If the right conditions are met, then I still think it is a good idea," Moon said of talks with the North in an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday.

On THAAD, he said, "Getting the environmental impact assessment does not mean that we will cancel or reverse the decision to deploy."

In the interview, Moon noted that Trump also previously "mentioned that under the right conditions he is willing to engage in dialogue with North Korea. Regarding exactly how, "we do not have a detailed way forward. It must be in close consultation with the United States."

In early May, as Moon campaigned for election, Dunford was at the National Museum of the Marine Corps to dedicate the "Chosin Few Battle Monument" in the museum's new Medal of Honor Theater. (Some of the exhibit can be seen here.)

"It is no exaggeration to say that I am a United States Marine because of the Marines who served at Chosin," Dunford told an audience that included several of the "Chosin Few" veterans, now in their 80s, according to the account of the ceremony from DoD News' Jim Garamone. "In all sincerity, any success I have had as a Marine has been as a result of attempting to follow in their very large footsteps."

Some of those footprints were left by Joseph F. Dunford Sr., who marked his 20th birthday while carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle with the Baker Bandits of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.

On Nov. 27, 1950, "He spent the night in close combat as three regiments of the Chinese 79th Division attempted to annihilate the 5th and 7th Marines," Dunford said.

"He never spoke of the horrors of close combat or the frostbite that he and many Marines suffered on their march to the sea," Dunford said of his father. "I was in the Marine Corps for seven years before we had a serious conversation about his experiences in the Korean War."

The battle came about as the 1st Marine Division, two battalions of the Army's 31st Infantry Regiment and British Royal Marines from 41 (Independent) Commando pursued elements of the North Korean Army.

They were counter-attacked by an estimated force of 120,000 Chinese Communist troops and surrounded at the Chosin Reservoir. (Chosin was the Japanese term for the area adopted by the Americans. In South Korea, the battle is known as the "Changjin Lake Campaign.")

The U.S. force eventually fought its way to the sea at the port of Hongnam. There began what American historians have called "the greatest evacuation movement by sea in US military history." A 193-ship armada took out about 100,000 troops and their equipment and about 100,000 fleeing refugees.

One ship alone, the SS Meredith Victory, evacuated 14,000 refugees and took them to the South Korean port of Pusan.

U.S. forces suffered more than 12,000 casualties, including more than 3,000 killed in action. The nation awarded 17 Medals of Honor, 64 Navy Crosses and 14 Distinguished Service Crosses to Marines and soldiers for heroism in the battle, and the British 41 Commando received the same Presidential Unit Citation as the 1st Marine Division.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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