The Chosin Few stand among the iconic of Marine Corps lore and American military history. This represents 15,000 Marines, along with two Army divisions, who withstood attacks by 380,000 Chinese communist troops in Korea during November and December 1950.
High Point’s retired Gunnery Sgt. Stanley Lee “Stan” Spangle, USMC, was there.
“Things weren’t going the best for me,” he recalled about what led him to the Marines. “Behind with my farm chores, I was even further behind in school, so I quit. With three buddies, I decided to join the Marine Corps. For various reasons, I was the only one of the four who made it to Parris Island.”
After mechanics school and an assignment as a truck driver at Camp Lejeune, Spangle was troop-trained to Camp Pendleton, Calif., then went to San Diego for deployment overseas.
First stop overseas was Kobe, Japan, where the ships would finalize combat loading.
“Our timing wasn’t the best,” he said. “Ships had to leave the docks to ride out Japan’s deadliest typhoon in years.”
The 1st Marine Division made an amphibious invasion of Inchon, Korea, in September 1950.
“I went over on a troopship, but my truck and trailer went over on an LST,” Spangle said. “We were boated over to our trucks before the invasion and told to floor-board the accelerator when we drove our vehicles off the ship.”
Even so, water rose almost neck-high in the truck.
Seoul, the nation’s capital, was quickly re-captured and United Nations forces pushed the North Korean troops northward back across the 38th parallel. Gen. Douglas MacArthur then ordered an offensive into North Korea.
“We moved by ship to Wonson, where we began our mission that would eventually take us to the Chosin Reservoir,” Spangle said.
Elaborating, the 78-mile division-level movement was along a narrow gravel road through rugged mountains with deep gorges — with temperatures typically in the minus 30 degree range.
Hopelessly outnumbered and the two Army divisions badly decimated, MacArthur ordered all U.N. forces back to the coasts for evacuation.
“We never considered that a withdrawal,” Spangle said. “We were surrounded by enemy soldiers and fought as hard getting out as we had getting in.”
Enemy troops complicated the movement by blocking roads and blowing up bridges. Marine Corps aviators responded by parachuting portable bridge sections to troops cut off between mountains.
Per Spangle, “Overcast conditions gave us major re-supply problems from the air. We couldn’t see the mountaintops, the pilots couldn’t see where to drop supplies. One dark and dismal day, the chaplain called us together to pray for clearing. Before daybreak the next morning, I saw a star — our prayers had been answered.”
According to Spangle, who drove a 6x6 truck inbound and outbound to the Chosin Reservoir, “It wasn’t easy, but we brought all our Marines out — with their equipment. The last mile or two, we all sang the Marine Corps hymn — even those who were wounded.”
Medals of honor were presented to 14 frozen Chosin Marines. Korea’s coldest weather in 100 years resulted in almost twice as many Marine Corps casualties than did the enemy.
Most of the remainder of Spangle’s first enlistment was spent in San Francisco.
“After coming back to High Point and joining the Marine Corps Reserves in Greensboro, I decided to go back on active duty as a career Marine,” he said.
He spent much of his 21-year Marine Corps career rotating between Camp Lejeune, Okinawa, and mainland Japan. He made a 13-month tour in Vietnam concurrent with the Tet Offensive.
The Belews Creek Power Station was being built about the same time Spangle finished machinist’s school at Guilford Technical Community College.
“I worked for Duke Power for 14 years and retired again,” he said.
In 1956, Spangle married High Point native, Kay Parker. In addition to being a Marine wife and raising two sons, Kay Spangle was general manager of Young/Spangle Furniture Company. Stan Spangle was president of the company, but insists, “She ran the place — president was code for delivery boy!”
Interestingly, she wrote “Veteran’s Views” columns for the High Point Enterprise. Kay Parker Spangle died in 2011. She is interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
As veterans service officers, the Spangles assisted many local veterans in obtaining VA benefits. They also were charter members of both the Greensboro and High Point Detachments of the Marine Corps League.
A long-time member of Highland United Methodist Church, 87-year-old Stan Spangle says he has cut back on his golf activities with the High Point Seniors Golf Association.
“Right now, I only play at Winding Creek on Mondays and Blair Park on Fridays,” he said. “On Wednesdays, we travel to other courses in the Triad.”