On this day in 2005, a hero passes away. As a young man, Reginald Myers had long wanted to be a Marine, but his parents weren’t on board—at least not at first.
“My mother cried, and my father cried—cried because I was joining the Marine Corps,” he later chuckled. They thought it too dangerous. Myers nevertheless went on to serve heroically in both World War II and in the Korean War. He finally retired in 1967, holding the rank of Colonel.
Yet Myers is best known for his Medal of Honor action on November 29, 1950, during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. It was cold and snowy, with temperatures plummeting as low as minus 25 degrees.
Despite the tough conditions, Americans needed to retake a key enemy position known as East Hill, near Hagaru-Ri. Then-Major Myers was asked to command the effort.
“I had no Marine rifle company or unit of any type in my area,” he said in a 2001 interview. “So, as I walked toward East Hill, I formed my own combat element from support Marines, such as cooks, truck drivers, maintenance personnel and administrative personnel, recruiting Marines along the way.”
He ended up with a makeshift group of about 250 Army and Marine troops, later explaining that he “just dragged out everybody that I could.”
Myers was leading a group of men who had never fought together before—most weren’t really trained to fight at all! “I didn’t know them—we were like foreigners,” he said. I was their commanding officer, and they didn’t even know my name.”
The small, ragtag group would be going up against an entrenched force of 4,000 Chinese. Myers knew his men had to be terrified.
“As you went up the hill,” he later described, “the bitter cold made every bullet sound like it was going through your eardrums. . . . [A]ll of a sudden, everybody fell on their faces, and we couldn’t get them up. They just lay on the snow and didn’t want to move.”
Myers ran back and forth, pulling men up by their collars, threatening them, doing whatever he could to get them back on their feet. Fortunately, the Chinese thought the American force was much larger than it was, and they pulled back at a critical moment.
The fighting that followed was intense, with Myers constantly exposing himself to enemy fire as he worked to keep his men organized. No matter what he did, though, Myers was steadily losing men.
“We were down to about 70 Marines,” he described. “And all the Army people were gone, carried down on stretchers, that took five people. Four people and one man on the stretcher. And they didn’t come back up. So we just kept losing and losing people all the time. And we ended up with about 50 Marines up there.”
He began to wonder how any of them could make it, given the odds, yet, somehow, he held on for 14 hours until replacement troops finally began arriving.
In the end, his small force of Marines managed to hold off the enemy, leaving 600 of the enemy dead and 500 wounded.
“I was proud of my Marines,” he concluded. “They proved that a Marine, whether a truck driver, a cook, a clerk or whatever, was foremost a fighting combat rifleman.”
He would later receive a Medal of Honor for his brave leadership during those grueling hours, but he didn’t think he’d done anything special. “You’ve got to be kidding! Me? Me? Little old me?” he laughed, as he described his reaction to the honor.
He thought his men deserved recognition, too.
“The Medal means to me that you have to rely on everybody else to do all the things that they understand that they’ve got to do,” he concluded. “The people who were with me deserved all the Medals that I could give them. Freedom is not free.”
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America’s Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan (James Willbanks ed.; 2011)
Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Simmons, Frozen Chosin: U.S Marines at the Changjin Reservoir (Marines in the Korean War Commemorative Series; 2014)
Editors of the Boston Publishing Company, The Medal of Honor: A History of Service Above and Beyond (2014)
Matt Schudel, Col. Reginald Myers Dies (Wash. Post obituaries; Nov. 23, 2005)
Medal of Honor citation (Reginald Myers; Korea)
Medal of Honor oral history (Reginald Myers; Korea)
Medal of Honor to Idaho Man (Spokesman Review; Oct. 30, 1951) (p. 16)
Peter Collier et al., Medal of Honor: Portraits of Honor beyond the Call of Duty (3d ed. 2011)
Reginald R. Myers, Retired Marine Corps Officer, Is Dead at 85 (N.Y. Times; Dec. 5, 2005)