This Is Why We Stand: William G. Windrich
The Battle of Chosin Reservoir was one of the fiercest engagements fought during the Korean War. 17 individuals were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the battle. 14 of those heroes were United States Marines. Staff Sergeant William G. Windrich was among those men. Like so many others, he gave his life for our country at the Chosin Reservoir. His story must be remembered.
Before going directly into the story that lead to Windrich’s Medal of Honor, I want to provide some background information about the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
Following Thanksgiving Day in November of 1950, General Douglass MacArthur told the press that the Korean War would be over in two weeks. In his words, the men under his command would be, “Home by Christmas.” Based on the first five months of the war, he had reason to be so confident. Allied forces had flexed their military muscle and steadily pushed their way into North Korea. At this time, the People’s Republic of China entered the war. This sudden entry totally caught America’s military leaders off guard, and their troops on the ground would soon be fighting for their lives because of it.
General Douglas MacArthur commanded all American forces in the Korean War until being relieved of his command by President Harry Truman in April 1951. (Photo: Smithsonian Magazine)
At the Chosin Reservoir, Chinese forces attempted to encircle and destroy all American forces in their way. A two-week battle would follow, involving 12,000 men of the First Marine Division and other Allied forces. The wind and bitter cold from the high mountain's of Korea added another level of difficulty to the already complicated fighting. At times, temperatures would drop to 34 degrees below zero. The First Marine Division helped the Allies break out of the encirclement and complete a successful withdrawal from the area. Chinese forces had recovered territory, but it came at the price of nearly 60,000 casualties. Allied forces sustained around 17,000 casualties during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
"Men of a U.S. Marine mortar squad rest at the side of a snowy road during their withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir." (Photo: kpbs.org)
During the Korean War, Marine Staff Sergeant William Gordon Windrich was an infantry platoon sergeant of Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division. Windrich and his men were part of the overall American effort to break the Chinese encirclement. On December 1, 1950, his company reached Hill 1520. According to arlingtoncemetery.net, “The temperature averaged a minus 40 degrees.” While relocating from position to position, Windrich and the men by his side were subject to constant bombardment from mortar and grenade fire. In the face of this withering fire, Windrich personally led his men in attacking the enemy. He lost seven of his men before reaching the forward position they were assigned to defend. During the fighting, Windrich had been wounded in the head by a bursting grenade. His Medal of Honor Citation writes that while wounded, “He made his way to his company’s position and, organizing a small group of volunteers, returned with them to evacuate the wounded and dying from the frozen hillside.” His citation also notes that he staunchly refused medical attention at the time. Before the enemy launched another major attack, Windrich positioned what was left of his men to protect their left flank. In the attack that followed, Windrich was wounded in the leg. His citation again states, “He bravely fought on with his men, shouting words of encouragement and directing their fire until the attack was repelled.” Despite his significant injuries, Windrich continued to refuse evacuation. While unable to stand, he continued to direct his men in setting up defensive positions. Due to bone-chilling cold temperatures and the loss of blood that he had sustained from his wounds, Windrich fell into unconsciousness and died.
Staff Sergeant William G. Windrich. (Photo: marinemedals.com)
The Battle of Chosin Reservoir could not have ended the way that it did without the sacrifices of men like William Windrich. He was unfazed by the pain from his injuries, the unthinkable cold, and the grave uncertainty of the situation. Windrich did this all for his men, and because he had the courage to do so, he became one of the many heroes that prevented the enemy from destroying the First Marine Division.
Marines watch from a distance as Napalm is dropped by friendly aircraft on enemy forces. (Photo: Business Insider)
Windrich was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on February 8, 1952 in Washington D.C. He is currently buried in Arlington National Cemetery, located in Arlington, Virginia.
The grave of William G. Windrich in Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo: findagrave.com)
Some call the Korean War, “The Forgotten War,” but we must never forget the sacrifices of men like William Windrich in this conflict. Windrich and those who served alongside him will live on forever in the form of our flag. Heroes truly make history.
I would also like to thank Rebecca Mathews for providing me with the inspiration for this story and a photo of a plaque that is inscribed with Windrich’s Medal of Honor Citation. This plaque can be found at The Edward P. Robinson Community Veterans Memorial in Munster, Indiana.
Full Medal of Honor Citation: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a platoon sergeant of Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Yudam-ni, Korea, the night of 1 December 1950. Promptly organizing a squad of men when the enemy launched a sudden, vicious counterattack against the forward elements of his company’s position, rendering it untenable, Staff Sergeant Windrich, armed with a carbine, spearheaded the assault on top of the knoll immediately confronting the overwhelming force and, under shattering hostile automatic weapons, mortar and grenade fire, directed effective fire to hold back the attackers and cover the withdrawal of our troops to commanding ground. With seven of his men struck down during the furious action and he, himself, wounded in the head by a bursting grenade, he made his way to his company’s position and, organizing a small group of volunteers, returned with them to evacuate the wounded and dying from the frozen hillside, staunchly refusing medical attention himself. Immediately redeploying the remainder of his troops, Staff Sergeant Windrich placed them on the left flank of the defensive sector before the enemy again attacked in force. Wounded in the leg during the bitter fight that followed, he bravely fought on with his men, shouting words of encouragement and directing their fire until the attack was repelled. Refusing evacuation although unable to stand, he still continued to direct his platoon in setting up defensive positions until weakened by the bitter cold, excessive loss of blood and severe pain, he lapsed into unconsciousness and died. His valiant leadership, fortitude and courageous fighting spirit against tremendous odds served to inspire others to heroic endeavor in holding the objective and reflect the highest credit upon Staff Sergeant Windrich and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”