On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle by Hampton Sides is the history of one of the greatest stories to come out of the Korean War. Sides is an American historian, author, and journalist. He is the author of Americana, Hellhound on His Trail, Ghost Soldiers, Blood and Thunder, and other bestselling works of narrative history and literary non-fiction.
The Korean War is America’s forgotten war, and the heroics that took place in the war are often overlooked. Marines, however, do remember the events from the landing at Inchon to the evacuation at Chosin. Perhaps the Marine Corps most celebrated and most iconic leader Colonel Chesty Puller. Puller and the Marines left no man behind as they fought their way out of being surrounded at Chosin. Puller always saw the positive: “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.” Temperatures were well below zero, and the Marines reported 7,338 non-battle casualties from the weather alone. The navy provided close air support and the air force dropped in supplies. If there was a time to see defeat this was it. There would be no defeat at Chosin. The Marines made an orderly withdrawal under heavy fire and against a force that vastly outnumbered them.
Sides tells the story of the forces involved at Chosin. Using the narrative form, he brings to life Marines and members of the other services and countries who fought the battle, I am not usually a fan of the narrative style in nonfiction writing, but here Sides breathes life into those who were there. Army and Marine Corps archives were used to form much of the narrative. Also used were interviews of over fifty who fought at Chosin and the personal papers of many others. On Desperate Ground puts a human voice on the battle and the war. More than just battle plans and casualty counts this book is about the people who were there.