Ken Beaton: The forgotten battle, the forgotten war
For 17 days last month, viewers from around the world watched members of their country’s Olympic team compete for their “one moment in time.” They watched athletes and spectators endure the weather conditions that canceled some of the outdoor events. Last month everyone slept in a bed in a bedroom protected from those frigid conditions.
Turn back the hands of times 65 years, 1st Lt. Joseph R. Gutheinz, the executive officer of Company G, 3rd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, USMC 1st Division, knew what a Korean winter wonderland was like 24/7. They had some unprintable expressions to describe winter in Korea! The 5th Marines weren’t watching Olympic athletes. On the other side of the 38th parallel, they were watching troops with a red star on their hat, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army.
Let’s see a show of hands. Who remembers the Nevada Cities Campaign of March 26-30, 1953, where the 5th Marines were outnumbered? That’s right, the 5th Marines’ three outposts of Reno, Vegas and Carson are the reason why the Olympic Games were celebrated a little south of the 38th parallel in 2018.
During those five days and nights, the 5th Marines fought valiantly and suffered 1,000 casualties, killed and wounded. The Chinese People’s Volunteer Army had 4,000 casualties. Joe told his son, Joseph R. Gutheinz Jr., the Chinese troops feared the Marines. The only way the Chinese officers got their troops to attack the 5th Marines was chemical courage. They drugged their troops before attacking the Marines. There was one advantage of the below-freezing temperatures — 4,000 frozen bodies don’t decay, no stench.
Before the Nevada Cities Campaign, the United Nations representatives were negotiating with representatives from the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army and the Korean People’s Army for a truce. The Chinese and North Koreans’ plan was to capture more South Korean real estate before the truce agreement. Their plan failed. Several times the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army ordered its troops to assault United Nations troops without a rifle. Chinese troops without a rifle were told, “Wait until a comrade in front of you is killed and take his rifle.” The United States has a different philosophy regarding its troops.
What kind of Marine was Gutheinz? At 17 he joined the Corps as a private to fight in World War II, was stationed in mainland China before the Communist takeover, a brief time in Washington, D.C., Korea, Vietnam including the Tet Offensive, and “Operation Homecoming” where he helped bring American POWs back from North Vietnam.
When the Nevada Cities Campaign “was winding down an errant American shell landed within a couple feet of my father, his son advised, and another Marine, but failed to explode. He once told me, ‘This was not the way for a Marine to die.’”
Joe Jr. wrote, “When I was an Army Officer, I once asked my dad, reading his citation and the medal he was awarded, why he didn’t get multiple medals or a higher one (which the Army would’ve certainly awarded) and he said, ‘Marines don’t fight for merit badges, they fight for each other, the Corps and the country, and what we take pride in is being a Marine and serving with other Marines.’”
Joe Jr. referred to quotes from his dad’s citation such as: “Regardless of danger while under heavy enemy fire First Lieutenant Gutheinz directed the evacuation of the wounded from combat Outpost 2 on 2 November 1952 and repeated this hazardous mission in the vicinity of Combat Carson on 3 February 1953.”
With respect to the bloodiest battle at the end of that campaign and war, March 26-30, 1953, the citation continued, “Being assigned to the rotation draft on 30 March 1953, he voluntarily remained with his company to assist in relieving another company on Combat Outpost Vegas which was under heavy enemy attack and, staying with the company throughout the night, aided in the organization of the Outpost defense.”
Joe Jr. continued, “When my father got out of the service, he traded his rifle in for a law book and began practicing law. Like my father, I and three of my six sons joined the service, the Army. Two of my sons, both majors in the Army Reserves, are my law partners. In my law office, our hallway walls have my dad’s plaques, medals, the USMC sword (worn at his wedding), and the citation he received for this battle (the Nevada Cities Campaign). We respect all those who served in the Nevada Cities Campaign and those who died for our country.”
“My father died of Parkinson’s disease in 2000. At the inception of the First Gulf War, Jan. 17, 1991, he tried once again to join the Marines to serve and fight. But this time he was rejected for being too old and sick. My father’s love of the Marine Corps lasted to his dying breath. He even married a Marine, what other choice did he have?”
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” When both parents were Marines, that’s a Marine family! SIR, YES SIR!
Thanks, Joe, and your sisters Sue, Jean and Dianne for being proud offspring. You marked the 65th anniversary of the Nevada Cities Campaign for your dad and the 5th Marines, “Semper Fi!”
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.