William J. Stokley
A Silver Star and Purple Heart
William J. Stokely was born in New Jersey in 1929, growing up hearing stories of marines fighting in the pacific and watching the latest war movies seems to have made an impression on the young man. Because as soon as he turned 16 he had his parents sign a consent form and joined the United States Marines in June 1946 hoping for a life of adventure.
By October the same year , he would find himself sailing to China for that adventure. During his time in the far east as part of the famed “China Marines” he would serve at Peiping, Tangku, Tsingtao, Guam, and Shanghai. He would spend the next 3 years in these postings finally returning home in June 1949. This would prove valuable experience for him because nearly a year later he would be heading back to the far east to fight on the battlefields of Korea.
When he landed in Korea with H Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines he had no idea what awaited him, in the years to come he would fight at nearly every battle the Marine Crops participated in during the war including the Pusan Perimeter, Inchon landings, Battle of Seoul, The Chosin Reservoir, Operation Killer and more. He would be wounded, win the Silver Star and come back for more. A full blooded Marine if I’ve ever heard of one. Following Korea William Stokley would retire to civilian life, but his experiences in the military were never far way.
In 1975 he decided that he wanted a taste of the life again. So at the age of 46 he enlisted in the New Jersey Army National Guard, serving with distinction during the Cold War. Always on the ready for the big fight against the Soviets he would be awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct and more. In 1989 at the age of 60 he finally retired from the Military, this time for good. He had served 20 years in the military fighting and training to fight against Communism.
Operation Beleaguer, China 1946-1949
William Stokley would arrive in Peiping China in October 1946 with F Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. He would take part in Operation Beleaguer. This was a major US Military operation that included nearly 50,000 men of the III Marine Amphibious Corps and took place from 1945 to 1949. The objective of this mission was to protect American citizens and assets due to the fighting and unrest as well as the repatriation of nearly 600,000 Japanese and Korean nationals left over after WW2. The marines were used to guard trains, roads, and many important areas. They also tried unsuccessfully to mediate a peace treaty between the communist and nationalist Chinese forces.
During Williams time stationed in Tangku two skirmishes would take place at an ammo dump near Hsin Ho. Its unclear as to his involvement but it appears to have been fought mostly by men of the first battalion. On the night of October 3rd a small party of communists snuck into the ammo dump to try and steal some munitions for their ongoing war against the nationalists. A lone Marine sentry spotted them and opened fire, Marines were rushed to the scene but were ambushed on the road and had to dismount to engage. During the fight they would kill at least one enemy soldier with one marine being wounded.
The second engagement at Hsin Ho occurred on the night of April 4th, 1947. Approximately 350 Communist troops attacked the ammo dump at 3 points. Once the attacked was reported, Company C of 1/5 Marines was dispatched to protect it. They arrived in two trucks and a jeep, with a 105mm self propelled gun in the lead. As they approached the 150mm hit a landmine and forced the American to dismount and fight. Two waves of Communist troops charged the marines getting close enough to start throwing grenades before they were beaten back. The Communists would blow up the remaining munitions and make off with an unknown amount of supplies in several ox carts. The whole exchange had lasted less than an hour leaving 5 marines dead and 16 wounded. They managed to find the bodies of 6 dead Communists, estimates say up to 30 Communist troops may have been carried away by their allies after they were killed, a tactic that would return on the battlefields of Korea and Vietnam.
William Stokley would go on to serve in Tsingtao, Guam and Shanghai before heading back to the US in 1949. A year later he would find himself sailing to Korea to fight the communists in force this time, putting what he had learned in China to the Ultimate test.
6th Marine Engineers "Mascot" Lu Wong Wo, "SSgt Jingle Bells"
US Marines guarding train cars in China 1946.
Self propelled 105mm in China 1946.
The Korean War, Pusan and Inchon
When war broke out in Korea on June 28th 1950 the United States rushed to get any available forces deployed in order to stem the advance of communist forces. The first Marine unit to deploy was organized and name the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. In August 1950 William Stokley was attached to H Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th marine regiment. He and the rest of the men from the 1st brigade would land at Pusan on the 3rd to help reinforce the shrinking perimeter around the city, the Marines would be deployed to Masan, the westernmost flank of the Pusan Perimeter.
The north Korean forces had completely overwhelmed the south Korean army and its allies. Forcing them back into the port city of Pusan. This would become known as the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter. For nearly a month the allied forces would resist a determined effort on behalf of the North Koreans to break through and push them right off the peninsula.
Finally in September 1950 MacArthur launched Operation Chromite. A surprise naval landing behind enemy lines on the west coast, there was a port city called Inchon that was located at the end of a narrow channel. The landings would be the largest since D-Day, a record still held today. There is an excellent account of the landings in our Biography of George Waselinko titled "7 Days in Hell" in the Korean War section of War Stories.
The 2nd Battle of Seoul
Immediately following the capture of Inchon, The next mission for the Marines was to re-capture the south Korean capital of Seoul. The road from Inchon was a bloody one, KPA forces launched several assaults against the advancing UN troops using Tanks, Mortars Snipers and anything else they could muster. UN forces prevailed though and by the end of the month had managed to advance into the city.
The Marines would find themselves walking into a well defended fortress of a city, minefields covered most of the intersections. The KPA had erected large 8 foot barricades every couple hundred yards, they were made of scrap, sandbags, building supplies and whatever else they could find. The KPA forces had heavy machine guns, anti tank guns and more set up throughout the city in many of these positions, each barricade took nearly and hour to clear.
This once beautiful city would be reduced to ash by the end of the war, changing hands 4 times. There would be bitter house to house fighting not unlike Stalingrad in WW2. Vicious firefights would breakout in the narrow streets and alleys, ambushes lay around every corner and men became separated and lost in the maze of streets. City fighting is always a messy affair and it gets worse the longer you fight it.
Edwin H. Simmons was a Major in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, he likened the experience of his company's advance up the boulevard to "attacking up Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capital in Washington, D.C." He described the street as "once a busy, pleasant avenue lined with sycamores, groceries, wine, and tea shops."
The Frozen Hell of Chosin.
After the liberation of Seoul, the Marines were put back on ships and they sailed to the eastern side of the Korean peninsula landing at Wonsan on October 26th. This was to be the last big push, the marines as part of X Corps were to push north and crush the KPA forces against the Yalu river. This would effectively end the war, little did these men know what was to come as they sat around eating C rations and chatting about being home for Christmas.
On 27 November 1950, the Chinese force surprised the US X Corps at the Chosin reservoir. As it had turned out they would not be home for Christmas, for many of these men they sadly had experienced their last Christmas the year before. What would follow would be a brutal 17-day battle in the freezing weather, it would go down in history as one of the worst battles in US history. Between 27 November and 13 December, 30,000 United Nations troops were encircled and attacked by about 120,000 Chinese troops.
Once it was clear the situation was untenable it was decided to stage a breakout and escape to Hungam. The Marines formed into a convoy with Stokley and the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines as the vanguard of the convoy, with three additional battalions covering the rear. At the same time the marines moved out, the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines would attack towards Fox Company in order to open the road at Toktong Pass. On the morning of December 1st 1950, the 3rd battalion, 7th Marines engaged the PVA 175th Regiment at Hills 1542 and 1419. The Chinese defenders put up stiff resistance and soon the marines found themselves forced to dig in on the frozen slopes between the road and the peaks. The village of Hagaru-ri at this point was still being held by the UN forces, in response PVA High Command scrambled the 79th Division to resume attacks on Yudam-ni, while the 89th Division rushed south towards Kot'o-ri.
The Chinese attacked at night as was their preferred tactic, and the ferocity of the fighting forced the rear covering forces to call in night fighters to suppress the attacks. This fighting lasted well into the morning of 2 December until all the Marines had managed to withdraw from Yudam-ni. During this period William Stokley would become a Marine Corps legend and join the ranks of those awarded the Silver Star. I have included his entire citation for what happened that night as I couldn’t tell it better.
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving as fire team leader of Company H, Third Battalion, 5th Marines, First Marine Division “reinforced”, in action against the enemy aggressor forces south of Yudam-ni, Korea, on 1 December 1950. When the point platoon and its attached tank were subjected to heavy automatic weapons and small arms fire from positions on high ground while proceeding along the battalion’s main supply routes, Private First Class Stokley supervised his team in delivering fire against the enemy emplacements. While other units of the company moved forward during the ensuing action to combat the continued intense hostile barrage which killed three men and wounded nine, he fearlessly climbed onto the heavy tank, voluntarily manned the .59 caliber machine gun and registered accurate fire on the enemy positions approximately 600 yards east of the supply route, thereby furnishing cover for the evacuation of casualties. Staunchly maintaining a vigorous defense, he remained at his post until a severe leg wound forced him to submit to evacuation. His bold initiative, indomitable courage and inspiring devotion to duty were contributing factors in the success of the company in achieving its objective, and reflect great credit upon Private First Class Stokley and the United States Naval Service.”
By now the road had been opened between Yudam-ni and Hagaru-ri, however the convoy still had to fight through the numerous Chinese positions on the hills overlooking the road. On the first night of the retreat, the Chinese struck the convoy in force and inflicted heavy casualties on 3/5 Marines. One of these being Stokley. The entire advance to Hagaru-ri was slowed by near constant roadblocks and Chinese attacks, nevertheless they managed to reach Hagaru-ri by December 3rd.
The UN forces did manage to break out and escape to Hungam where they evacuated by ship. The Marines had been supported by task force faith in the east, who suffered very heavy casualties as they absorbed a large part of the Chinese offensive. This marked the complete withdrawal of all UN forces from North Korea, and for Stokley at least for a while the war was over. The war had changed so much from when he first arrived just a few months prior, the Chinese had added a whole additional layer of complexity and difficulty to this war. A war that is still going on today.
Following a long recovery period from his injury William Stokley would redeploy to Korea and take part in Operation Killer in 1951, this offensive was formulated by General Matthew Ridgway with the goal of annihilating enemy forces south of a line designated the Arizona Line. His last official operation in Korea would be during the 1951 Spring offensive, something that fellow 5th Marine Robert Paxton experienced as well. I recommend checking out his story on the website titled "Machine Guns and Mortars" to find out more. In May 1951 he would travel home, being discharged on June 6th 1952.
US Marines on one of the steep roadways during the evacuation December 1950. There was only one road out and it was a naroow steep affair, the roads became clogged and going was slow due to this and the constant Chinese attacks.
The Chosin Reservoir, December 1950. Chinese soldiers would pour over these ridge lines and mountain tops surrounding the UN Forces during the worst winter in 50 years.
Marines along the road in heavy snow, this weather would lead to more casualties during the battle than the fighting would. The 1st Marine Division reported 7,338 non-battle casualties due to the cold weather, adding up to a total of 17,833 casualties.