When Tom Fox was 18 years old, he spent the Christmas of 1950 in a Japanese hospital recovering from three gunshot wounds and frostbite, injuries he suffered during a march from the Chosin Reservoir in Korea that ended the lives of 1,500 of his comrades.
Fox, now a Payson resident, is one of 2,800 men with the 31st Regimental Combat Team who are finally being recognized for their efforts at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. He recently learned through the Army Chapter Newsletter that his unit has been recommended for the Presidential Unit Citation.
"I'm no hero," he said. "I just was there and I did what I had to. It's for the ones who didn't come back.
"The story is, we finally got the recognition for our contribution over there. We lost 1,500 men. For those people, there's the recognition that they didn't just die in vain."
Fox said he has been fighting for that recognition for a long time, along with other survivors of his team.
His unit had been left off the original citation when it was issued to the First Marine Division in 1952.
Fox said his team invaded North Korea around Wonsan in November 1950.
"This was the push we were making to go to the Yalta River which was to be the end of the war," he said. "We proceeded northward to the Chosin Reservoir. That's when the Chinese intervened.
They hit all the way across North Korea. We weren't alone being hit. At that time, the resistance from North Korea was minimal so U.S. troops were just moving. There were no strong pockets.
Much to our chagrin, we got up there (at the Chosin Reservoir) and found we had nobody behind us. We held on as long as we could. The worst thing was we had no food and no ammunition."
Fox said his team decided to retreat to the Marine position at Hagaru, 15 miles to the south at the north end of the Chosin Reservoir.
"The temperature at the time fell to 40 below zero," he said. "We had snow on that parade and it was almost unbelievable. A big bunch of our casualties were on the march back -- our line broke down. Everybody was going off in different directions."
It took Fox three days to find the Marine unit at Wonsan.
"I took off across the ice and was picked up by a Marine Jeep picking up stragglers. That was Dec. 5 or 6 -- I had wandered around in the hills for two or three days without food."
The only thing Fox had to eat was snow, he said. His heavy clothing was dirty and ragged and he had gunshot wounds to the head, arm and leg. After three days, he found a friendly North Korean farmer who took him in briefly and fed him some boiled potatoes. It wasn't long before he heard that the Chinese were coming and he went "hobbling down the hill."
Once Fox found the Marines, he was taken to a MASH unit and transferred to a Navy hospital in Japan. That's where they took the shrapnel out of his leg.
"Christmas that year was in Tokyo, at Army General Hospital," he said. "I was 18 at the time and it was my second Christmas away from home (in Philadelphia)."
Fox said he didn't think much about it being Christmas at the time. He was able to celebrate a little later when he received the letters he'd gotten from back home.
"I blocked a lot of it out in my head," he said. "But I go to these reunions and people still talk about it. There are some 150 people at the reunions. It's getting sad now -- there are more and more in wheelchairs. It's kind of like that 'Last Man' organization. The only way you can get in is if you were there and they ain't making any more."
Fox said the medal itself is nice. He'll get a piece of paper and a medal -- a blue rectangle.
"But the honor is for those who made the sacrifice," he said, "who are never coming home. In all these years, it wasn't officially recognized until now, even though we know we were there -- we know we contributed.
"I've always thought we should have some sort of recognition for being there. I know that's not much for people who lost someone there, but at least it's better than not being noticed at all."