Korean War Veteran Remembers Time as One of the ‘Frozen Chosin’

NORTHLAND UNCOVERED: Bob Johnson is a born and raised Duluth veteran

ESKO, Minn. – The Korean War ended 66 years ago, but it’s effects are far from forgotten, especially on Northland veterans.

Bob Johnson is 88 years old. He enlisted when he was just 17.

“I read about Marine exploits and I figured if I grew up and ever war, I want to be in the Marine Corp,” Johnson said.

Summer 1950, war broke out between North and South Korea. When the army infantry wasn’t enough, a Marine brigade was recruited across seas.

“Wherever there was a breakthrough, they sent the Marine brigade to knock them back, which they did a number of times,” Johnson said.

From the Northland, 227 men marched down Superior Street to the depot to join ‘B’ company. Johnson was one of those men.

“I was the first replacement draft to the division. That means we were filling in holes made by casualties,” Johnson said.

Johnson spent two months traveling the hillsides along the Chosin Reservoir with about 50 other men.

“Because of our names, Johnson, Kjellman with a KJ, Janelle with a J, all us Duluthians got… A lot of us got in the same platoon,” he said.

The brigade faced harsh conditions, extreme temperatures.- some nights getting down to thirty below zero.

“We went out up on top of this hill outside of town and spent four hours watch up there. We had a big fire and everything because it was cold,” Johnson said.

And eventually war.

“I had to move in, and I was by myself at that point. There was a stone bridge over the creek, the creek was frozen. It was almost two feet below the bridge or something like that. I was just crossing on the bridge and a machine gun fire burst out at me,” Johnson said.

Johnson was forced to take off on frozen feet, walking miles with frostbitten skin.

By December, he was put on a short leave from North Korea, before traveling back to the states and continuing his 22 year stretch as an active duty member.

“A lot of the people I served with from here and from other places are dead now,” Johnson said.

Of the Northland recruits, ten of them were killed in combat. Many were injured. Johnson is among a group of veterans now known as the Frozen Chosin.

“I haven’t shared my story much… But it’s kind of neat being able to do it,” Johnson said.

The message he hopes his story sends to the next generation of veterans…

“Do what they can in their own lives to stay away from war,” Johnson said.

Of the 227 Northland recruits, many of their names were placed on the memorial wall along the Lakewalk. Those who have yet to put their name on the Korean War memorial still can.

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