"I grew up around Great Falls, Montana. My family were ranchers. I left home when I was about 17 myself and two friends joined the Marine Corps; and then the Korean War broke, and they extended me for another year or so.I guess we were the first ones out there, as the First Marine Brigade...at the Pusan Perimeter encounter. I was assigned to Easy Company, Second Battalion. I guess we were the forward elements at the Yalu River and then of course as we turned around and got out of there the fighting was pretty severe.
In the Chosin I was not with a rifle company as much as Colonel Roise who was the C.O. of Second Battalion; he said I had been on the front lines too long already; I was very fortunate so I became his personal radio operator. (He) was a fantastic man, stateside he was a football coach. I suppose my biggest disappointment looking back was the fact that the equipment we had to use, the clothes we had to wear, were World War II and before, which I think was unnecessary. I wore gunny sacks on my feet to keep them from freezing.
Colonel Roise and I went up to a few light machine gun emplacements to check a few things out; and he relieved this light machine gun outfit, told them to tear down and head out. And as were standing there up on the hillside, thousands and1thousands of Chinese coming in the valley. And of course the sniper fire was pretty heavy, but you got use to that, it didn't mean much. And Colonel Roise of course had field glasses and was looking; I was getting pretty antsy...they were cutting us off between the rest of the troops and ourselves, and God I wanted to get out of there, my feet just kept jumping up and down. Roise just seemed calm as a cucumber. Finally I says let's get the hell out of here while we can, he said "don't worry about it." What I didn't know was that there were very few of those Chinese that were armed; most of them were more or less starving to death, doped up, and didn't mean much.
When we reached Hungnam harbor...we were the last ones basically to leave, everything was overloaded. And when we got into the landing craft to head into the ships, again I was very scared because I didn't think we were going to make it, underwater half the time, so I was pretty happy to get aboard ship."
Don Habel lives today in Ravalli County, Montana.
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