WILLIAM L. GOBERT
Sergeant | Marine Corps
Weary, weak and barely lucid, the Recon Company Marines maintained their grit during the breakout from the west side of the Chosin reservoir and days-long march to the blown bridge at the Funchilin Pass. They survived on hardly any food except for handfuls of tootsie rolls from an air drop at Koto-Ri. Many men had frozen toes, feet, fingers and hands among other wounds and injuries. The blown bridge was demoralizing and it seemed they were out of options. They were trapped on one jagged side of the vertical drop until engineers installed a treadway bridge to span the chasm. Bill Gobert was in the last fire team on rear guard, still fighting off skirmishers trying to inflict damage on the Marine column.
The previous months in combat since September had been a series of fights and campaigns the Bill recalled only portions of, some blending together and all culminating to the devastating escape from the Chosin. The long days between the end of November and beginning of December was the worst experience during Bill's Korean tour, much of the time filled with survival rather than fighting. He reached a breaking point and openly wept at Koto-ri when 117 were buried in a mass grave. Not as much for the deaths of so many, but for the helplessness he felt for them and those who still lived. Would any of them live through the next day?
After covering the breakout through the Funchilin Pass, the Recon Company reached Sudong-ni with Regimental Combat Team-1 which had been cobbled together from the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, service troops, 2d Battalion, 31st Infantry, and other Army personnel who had escaped entrapment on the east side of the Reservoir. They were the last unit to pass through the town after the 5th and 7th Marines. It was after midnight when they reached the area and were quickly surrounded by Chinese who pounced on the exhausted men. Bill's rifle exploded during the fray, and his surprise quickly turned to grim disgust as he threw it down and scavenged for another weapon. The counterattack was unorganized but effective, fighting through the night until the Chinese retreated near dawn.
After long hours of marching on foot in full combat pack, sleeping bags, blankets and heavy winter clothing, the Marines reached Majon-dong where they boarded Army vehicles for transport to Hamhung. Most fell asleep immediately as they were off their feet, and they rejoiced upon reaching the hospitality of Navy ships anchored at sea. Though many would continue to fight in Korea for a number of months, the Chosin campaign was over.
Bill returned to duty with Recon Company when they went back online in January. His war in Korea was far from over, but the breakout was behind him and 1950 was by far more tumultuous than any month in 1951. Near the end of his tour, Recon Company had the distinction of participating in the first aerial assault by helicopter during Operation Summit in September. When Bill left Korea, he knew he had been part of history during the year he served in combat.