November 11, 2004, Traverse City Record Eagle, Traverse City, Michigan Record-Eagle/Doug Tesner
Gene Dixon, a Traverse City resident and U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War, has his memoirs of the Korean War on an educational web site. The site, The Korean War Educator, is an educational resource to teach students about the war.
By TOM CARR Record-Eagle staff writer
TRAVERSE CITY - Gene Dixon served his country in the "forgotten war" more than 50 years ago. Lately, though, he's finding that more people remember it. Dixon, 75, fought in the Korean War in 1950 and '51. He has been interviewed so his memoirs could be posted on the Web site "Korean War Educator." His memoirs are among those of more than 75 veterans listed on the site. Site founder Lynnita Brown said more than 400 veterans have participated in interviews lasting from three to nine hours. Dixon lauded her efforts. "The whole idea is to let them know today there was a war fought in 1950 and we lost a little over 50,000 men doing it," he said.
While the memoir includes chapters on his life both before and after the war, the highlight is his telling of the brutal conditions under which he and fellow soldiers fought. "Combat in Korea was probably about as bad as it gets," he said.
In his year there, temperatures ranged from 115 degrees Fahrenheit to 35 degrees below zero. The higher temperatures were "not good for climbing mountains," he said. In lower temperatures, his memoir states: "I can recall chipping away at a can of frozen franks and beans, one bean at a time. "In the extreme cold, soldiers' weapons did not function well and they had trouble maintaining an adequate water supply.
That was during the worst part of his tour, the Chosin Reservoir campaign, he said. He was one of about 20,000 Marines who had waged a northward campaign into North Korea. Once at the reservoir, though, they found themselves surrounded by more than 200,000 Chinese. That campaign demonstrated for the first time the vast numbers of troops the Chinese had committed to the war, he said.
"The entire First Marine Division was cut off," Dixon said. Seeing they were surrounded and outnumbered, the American troops ended their northward push. They turned around and attacked the southern part of the Chinese line so they could withdraw. They fought for 13 days while trudging 35 miles on a mountain supply road, hearing that the Chinese had orders to kill the entire First Marine Division.
Cargo planes dropped supplies. Those wounded and killed in action were evacuated as well as possible by air, with some of the dead being taken out by truck. At one point, engineers used air-dropped materials to repair a bridge that had been blown up by the Chinese so the U.S. troops could continue their travel.
"On December 10, 1950, I 'celebrated' my 21st birthday by walking out of the Chosin Reservoir alive," Dixon said in the memoir. "I have to believe it was God and good leadership that prevailed. It was a miracle that so many Marines and their equipment survived the ordeal and that they managed to bring so many KIA's (killed in action) out with them."
Some 6,000 American troops were killed, wounded or captured at Chosin. Thousands of others suffered frostbite. Dixon said he still has trouble with his feet in the cold. While the Chinese won the battle, Marine records say they lost 25,000 soldiers.
Brown called Dixon's memoir an "excellent" contribution to the site. "Gene has a good memory of his personal participation," she wrote in an e-mail. "He has done extensive reading and research about what was happening in his company during the war, and he was willing to talk about it."
Dixon has printed and bound a copy of the narrative from the Web site. It totals about 60 printed pages, including the photos he supplied and maps to illustrate battles. After the war, Dixon continued a 20-year military career, during which he received several citations. He came to Traverse City in the 1950s as a Marine recruiter and met his wife Verna here.
He made it to gunnery sergeant and in 1966, was offered a promotion to master sergeant. However, he declined and retired. "Our kids had reached school age," he said. The Korean education site is not the only place to read about Dixon's experiences in Korea on-line. He had already posted it in another form on his own Web site, including music on every page and a slide show of war photos. He was recently approached by an author in Idaho for a chapter in a book titled "Heroes Among Us."
"I said, 'I'm no hero,'" Dixon said. "I feel the heroes are the ones that didn't come back."