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Dr. Stanley Wolf, a Korean War veteran, served as a Naval doctor at the Chosin Reservoir. He provided medical aid to Marines during the end of the invasion while working under heavy fire, earning a Bronze star with a valor device.

Photo by Pfc. Dylan M. Bowyer

Doctor of Chosin Few recounts story

26 Jul 2013 | Pfc. Dylan M. Bowyer

It was the summer of 1950, a 25-year-old Naval doctor had an apartment, a convertible and a sailboat in San Diego.

Dr. Stanley Wolf treated military children at Balboa Naval Medical Center, Calif. He soon got orders. He was going to attach to the Marines and was deploying to North Korea.

“In June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and I got a notice,” Wolf said. “I’m in the Marines. I was like, ‘I’m a lover, not a fighter.’ They sent me up to [Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.] and my training was two weeks of calisthenics.” 

Wolf was spared from the draft during WWII because he was a college student. When he graduated he felt obligated to join the military.

“When I graduated from Georgetown in 1948, James Forest, the then secretary of the Navy, was sending out letters saying ‘you have a moral obligation to serve,’” Wolf said. “I figured they were going to get me, so I joined the Navy. I didn’t want to join the Army and my eyes were bad so I couldn’t join the Air Force.”

Wolf boarded the cargo ship as one of the medical doctors with the 1st Marine Division.

“I went overseas on a ship with 400 Marines and I would say 300 of them never went to boot camp,” Wolf said. “They had no basic training and they learned how to break down their rifles on the ship.

“They came to me and were like ‘Doc, I have had no basic training’ and I said to them I haven’t either.”

Many of the Marines were reservists who had only drilled a few times. The first stop on their journey was Japan.

“We got to Kobe, Japan, and this was after the Inchon invasion started, so the men knew where they were going,” Wolf said. “They had liberty in Kobe, and oh did they get drunk. They had these sewage ditches on either side of the road and the guys would fall in. The [military police] would pick them up and bring them back to the ship. We had a couple of days to sober them up and get them ready.”

Wolf and the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment arrived in North Korea Sept 20, 1950 following the Inchon invasion. He provided medical aid to Marines during the end of the invasion while working under heavy fire, earning a Bronze star with a valor device.

“We got a message that there was a casualty on top of the mountain, we needed stretcher bearers so three corpsmen and I go up there,” Wolf said. “This guy Toome, he was a big man about six-foot-three, heavyset, probably about 250 pounds. We have been ashore a week and he is dead.”

Two weeks earlier Wolf was in his apartment in San Diego now he is digging foxholes on the Korean Peninsula.

 “You realize that this is live ammunition coming at you,” Wolf said. “I grew up in a hurry.”

The 7th Marines were dispatched to the Chosin Reservoir to increase U.S. control of the battle space. The reservoir is a man-made lake, which sits atop the Kaema Plateau making it naturally colder than other places in Korea.

Some of the guys had been bayoneted in their sleeping bags and that word got around. They used their sleeping bags as a blanket over them and were sleeping on the ice.

The Marines would sleep in their boots and it would freeze so when they took off their boots it made their feet raw.

“The pain was so bad they would come in jumping and hopping on one leg,” Wolf said.

Wolf and the other doctor provided a warm safe haven for the Marines.

“In the small tent they were operating from, a pot-bellied stove was the only way of getting it heated,” said Donald Williams, a Marine that served with Wolf. “Of course the ground around there had been frozen except for the area around the stove, it had thawed the ice out from the ground and they were standing in mud.”

The Marines suffered frostbite, from the near 40-degree below zero temperatures, resulting in loss of fingers, toes, and limbs, but they had to keep fighting –the Chinese army entered the conflict.

“They would keep coming and coming, they would try to overwhelm the position,” said Wolf. “We had machine gunners right outside of our aid station. You would hear the enemies’ bugles.

“It was like the Forth of July seeing the lights,” Wolf said. “It was like an eerie beauty, seeing the sky light up.

“In the morning [the Chinese casualties] would be stacked five deep on top of each other.”

Wolf noticed the humanity of the slain frozen corpses from a doctors prospective.

 

“The Chinese troops were the same age as us, and they were in a worse condition than we were,” Wolf said. “We at least had boots.”

Throughout the course of the War approximately 4,268 Marines were killed in action, according to Koreanwarmemorial.sd.gov.

“We got all these causalities,” Wolf said. “We had to make decisions I had to live with all my life.”

Wolf and one other doctor had to make the decision of which of the wounded could be airlifted to Japan and who would die on the frozen plateau.

“They had propeller driven planes that could take 28 casualties out, but we had hundreds,” Wolf said.  “Having with me, we had to make decisions which I have had to live with all my life.

“Here I got a kid with a sucking chest wound and then I have a kid with half of his head blown off. I know if we get [the kid with the chest wound] to Japan he can survive, but I don’t think the other one will make it. If we got snow the planes couldn’t get in and they all would die.”

After the Marines spent 17-days at the Chosin Reservoir they fought their way down the only road back to the coast. With the Chinese at their heels, the Marines joined with what was left of an Army regiment and fought their way back to the Sea of Japan.

The U. S. troops were set to leave on the Naval ships off the coast. When the ships left port they were not only carrying service members, but also approximately 100,000 South Korean refugees.

After Wolf returned from Korea he was stationed in New York City at the Staten Island Naval Medical Hospital. He went to continue practicing pediatric medicine throughout the rest of his career as a civilian pediatrician.

Sixty-three years have past since Wolf treated Marines on the frozen plateau. Now framed medals, memories of his fallen brothers and sleepless nights remind Wolf of the cold days he and the other Chosin Few survived.

“They formed this organization called the Chosin Few, where you got together with people you served with,” Wolf said. “You see people that you thought were gone.

“Many of them were in wheelchairs, because they lost their feet, many of them lost their fingers, but they were still alive. You could talk to the people you were with.

“I said to my sister one time, I would have told my kids about my wartime experiences,” Wolf said. “She said ‘Stan that is not true we asked you plenty of times and you would not talk about it.’ Now I can’t shut up about it because of the Chosin Few.” 


Headquarters Marine Corps