The timing of Tuesday’s reunion between Laurens’ Lee Brouillette and Harry Hope – two of the Chosin Few from one of the Korean War’s most infamous and bloodiest battles – was oddly fitting.
On Oct. 19, 1950, Brouillett and Hope along with the rest of their unit received their orders, 73 years ago Thursday.
Hope arrived for an emotional reunion on a private flight from his home near St. Louis late Tuesday morning at the Laurens County Airport. The two men, who served together in the 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Korea that was tasked along with other infantry units to take the Chosin Reservoir, embraced and wept. They are the last two remaining survivors of Chosin from their unit and had not seen one another in more than a decade.
After receiving their orders in mid-October, the Marines and some U.S. Army forces moved into position near the Chosin Reservoir in November. A bloody 17-day battle ensued that left the men referred to afterward as the “Chosin Few” surrounded and outnumbered by Korean and Chinese forces totaling more than 100,000 in temperatures that plummeted to 40-degrees below zero. Both sides took heavy casualties as U.S. forced fought their way away from Chosin to the port of Hungnam.
Some casualties occurred in battle, while others due to the extreme cold. Hope still suffers from injuries caused by frostbite over 70 years later.
“Remember when you fell off the Jeep?” Hope asked his old friend. “You were so cold, you couldn’t get off the ground. We had to pick you up and get you back on the Jeep.”
Brouillette, a Louisiana native for whom the cold was as foreign, nodded with a small smile.
He remembered all of it.
“There was nowhere closer to hell than the Chosin Reservoir,” said U.S. Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ben Barron, who retired after more than 20 years in the Marine Corps on Oct. 1 and served as an honorary guard for Brouillette and Hope Tuesday. Barron, who relocated to Laurens County after his retirement, said he studied at length the Chosin Few and the battle at Chosin Reservoir.
“Not many people had to fight their way in and fight their way out like you did,” he told Brouillette.
Back then, Brouillette, 91, said he couldn’t have picked out Korea on a map.
“We were so young. We didn’t know anything,” he said as he awaited Hope’s arrival.
After a short meeting on the tarmac at the airport, Hope and Brouillette left for the Laurens County Hall of Heroes at the Laurens County Courthouse at Hillcrest Drive.
The reunion was arranged by Brouillette’s son, Joe Brouilliette with help from the Laurens County Veteran’s Affairs Office and the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office.