Walking in a winter warrior's land

10 Dec 2001 | Lance Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

"We remember the frost bite and the numbness in our fingers and toes that would stay with us for years. Some were less lucky and there were lost limbs and amputations."

This is just a partial memory from retired Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Simmons.

Simmons spoke to the Marines of 2d Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division during a Professional Military Education class at the Littoral Warfare Training Center conference room in Julian C. Smith Hall here recently.

"Since about the 70s, 2d Marines has had the reputation as the cold weather regiment," said retired Col. C.W. VanHorne, the 2d MarDiv Association executive secretary.

During the Vietnam War, the Marine Corps realized that it hadn't trained for cold weather conditions and, thus, was not up to par.

"The last time the Corps had done any type of cold weather training was during the Korean War," explained VanHorne, "so the Marines started designating each regiment a different geographical area to become accustomed to fighting in. The 2d Marines were chosen for cold weather."

Simmons has spent 53 years of service with the Corps, including 36 years in uniform and 17 years as a civil servant. He began his career in 1942 and he retired in 1996.

As a major during the Korean War, the Purple Heart recipient commanded the Leathernecks of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines at Chosin Reservoir.

"Most Marines knew that the temperature went down to about 25 degrees below zero at night," said Simmons, who currently resides in Alexandria, Va., "but how many Marines had a thermometer in their pack?"

The attire of the Marines at Chosin Reservoir was the green service uniform and an overcoat. The sleeping bag was a Marine's best piece of gear, and he would not have even thought to be separated with it.

"The Marines were still using their World War II pack, a well-designed but complicated piece of gear with a haversack, knapsack, a bedding roll and many straps and buckles. Ordinarily, a Marine in combat carried nothing but his haversack and sleeping bag," according to Simmons.

The retired general spoke to the regiment about what he learned while working in the subzero conditions of Korea. He also spent time at the Marine Corps Exchange here, signing copies of his award-winning novel of a Marine rifle company in Korea, "Dog Company Six."