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If You Can't Say 'Retreat, Hell,' at Least Retreat Well

Image credit: White House

There are retreats and there are retreats. In December 1950 the U.S. X Corps, literally pursued by the Chinese Army, executed a withdrawal from the Chosin River reservoir to the port of Hungnam, now in North Korea. General Edward Almond needed shipping space for 105,000 troops, 18,422 vehicles, and some 350,000 tons of bulk cargo.

In deciding how to evacuate his forces and still successfully defend his perimeter, Almond considered two alternatives. He could place all divisions on the perimeter and then withdraw portions of each simultaneously, or he could pull out one division at a time and spread his remaining forces to cover the vacated sector on a shorter front. Since some units were more battle worn than others, especially the 1st Marine Division, he elected the latter method.

The evacuation took 12 days, from Dec 12-24, 1950.

A remarkable number of refugees, over 86,000, had been lifted out of Hungnam. Including those evacuated from Wonsan and Songjin, the total number of civilians taken out of northeastern Korea reached 98,100. About the same number had been left behind for lack of shipping space.[1]:174 The evacuation included 14,000 refugees who were transported on one ship, the SS Meredith Victory—the largest evacuation from land by a single ship. This was made possible by a declaration of national emergency by President Truman issued on 16 December 1950 with Presidential Proclamation No. 2914, 3 C.F.R. 99 (1953). Among the civilians evacuated and brought to the South were the future parents of incumbent South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

It was called the miracle at Christmas.

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