Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Eve Midnight Mass During the Korean War

An unforgettable Christmas Eve midnight Mass during the Korean War
Stars and Stripes
By Carlos Bongioanni
Published: December 24, 2015
Celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace that night allowed Deptula and other GIs with him to forget, at least for an evening, the death and destruction of war that had already left an indelible mark on their souls.
Amid the horrors and devastation of war, a midnight Mass 65 years ago in a dilapidated church in Kyong-ju, South Korea, would prove to be a miracle of sorts for Army Pfc. Norman Deptula.

It was December 1950, six months into the Korean War. Deptula, then 21, was among the approximately 100,000 United Nations troops who had just been evacuated out of North Korea. He had been among the "Chosin Few" who had escaped intense battles against overwhelming Chinese forces in the Chosin Reservoir campaign.

In a telephone interview Wednesday from his home in Webster, Mass., Deptula, now 86, recalled how frightened he was after an estimated 300,000 Chinese crossed over the Yalu River into North Korea, intent on annihilating the U.N. forces.

“We were outnumbered. The odds were stacked against us,” Deptula said, adding that he didn’t expect to make it out alive.

When the Chinese invasion started that October, Deptula was in Koto-ri, a small village in the Chosin Reservoir area, assigned to the Army Signal Corps’ 581st Signal Radio Relay Company. “I wasn’t in the infantry, but I saw a hell of a lot of tragedies,” he said.

It was a brutally cold winter, making the war that much worse for the combatants, many of whom suffered frostbite and lost limbs.
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At Taegu, South Korea, Norman Deptula, left, stands with two soldiers from the 581st Signal Radio Relay Company after they had been evacuated out of North Korea. COURTESY OF NORMAN DEPTULA
A Christmas Story
By Norman J. Deptula
Published: December 24, 2015

"Home for Christmas" was the rallying cry as United Nations forces, spearheaded by American troops, were well on their way to clearing the entire Korean peninsula of Communist North Korean forces who had invaded South Korea in June, 1950. Then, in late November, in the dead of one of the coldest Korean winters on record, more than 300,000 troops from the Communist People's Republic of China poured across the Yalu River and entered the war bent on the annihilation of U.N. forces and the installation of a Communist dictatorship for all of Korea. Within a few short days all hopes for a joyous Christmas were dashed. General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of all U.N. forces in Korea, said, "We face an entirely new war ..."

Approximately 120,000 Chinese troops battered and besieged U.N. forces around the port city of Hungnam, in northeast Korea. When the U.N. command decided that the Hungnam area could not be held, a mass sea evacuation of troops, equipment and about 98,000 refugees began in mid-December.
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