By Staff Sgt. Christopher McCulloughMarch 3, 2014
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Fifty-three years ago, during the winter of 1951, China entered the Korean War in support of the communist north. The Chinese People's Volunteer Army proved to be nearly unstoppable until members of the U.S. Army's 23rd Infantry Regiment "Tomahawks" turned them back during a decisive battle fought Feb. 13-15 at the town of Chipyong-ni, South Korea.
Sixty-three years later, Tomahawks both young and old gathered at the regimental memorial stone beside 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry division, headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Feb. 27 to commemorate the victory and honor their fallen comrades.
The Battle of Chipyong-ni, was a decisive battle that pit the forces of the U.S. and their allies, who were there to defend the people of South Korea from northern hostilities, against the Chinese forces of Mao Zedong and his northern allies.
The war was not going well for the allied forces at that point as the Chinese continued to send wave after wave of fighters against them. It had gotten so bad that plans were even made for a complete withdrawal from the peninsula.
However, Col. Paul Freeman, commander of the 23rd Infantry Regiment "Tomahawks" had his soldiers dig in at the crossroads town of Chipyong-ni in an effort to turn back the tide of the communist forces advancing on the town.
Even though the Chinese People's Volunteer Army sent the entirety of three divisions to encircle and destroy Chipyong-ni, at the end of three days of fighting, the Tomahawks had successfully turned back the Chinese. Victory came at a high price. U.S. forces suffered 52 killed, 310 wounded, and 42 missing while it was estimated that 2,000 Chinese were killed and another 3,000 wounded.
"Standing before you is a modern day representation of ... the thousands of soldiers that fought at Chipyong-ni," said Capt. Benjamin Dalton, a human resource officers with 1-23 Inf. "Their legacy, written over a half-century ago in a snow-covered valley on the other side of the world, still resonates strongly all these years later. Their sacrifice and determination in the face of overwhelming odds set the precedent that continues to motivate and inspire us today."
The memorial ceremony, an annual event for the Tomahawks, is an important time for the 23rd Infantry Regiment. Chuck Main, the regiment's honorary command sergeant major who was there for the ceremony, agreed.
"[The ceremony] was really great," Main said. "I'm overwhelmed by the type of honors bestowed on us by the younger generation though it's what we need. We need the younger generation to understand what we did, why we did it and how we did it. They need to understand their own generation, but not forget ours."
Main was one of three former soldiers present at the ceremony who fought at the battle of Chipyong-ni. The other two included Jim Steinthal, the honorary sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, and Raymond James, who served as a medical staff sergeant with 1-23 Inf. during the battle at Chipyong-ni.
Main and James met for the first time at this year's ceremony. Both were involved in the battle but hadn't met up to this point. However, that did not stop the two of them from bonding almost right away.
"I can talk to him because he knows what I went through and I know what he went through," Main said.
James, who had never attended the annual ceremony before, said it felt good to be around so many fellow Tomahawks again.
"If you ever serve with a unit like the 23rd Infantry, your friends and buddies become your family," James said. "And no matter where you serve after that, you'll always remember that unit; especially if you go to war with them."