During the early, uncertain days of the Korean War, World War II veteran and company lieutenant Joe Owen saw firsthand how the hastily assembled mix of some two hundred regulars and raw reservists hardened into a superb Marine rifle company known as Baker-One-Seven.
As comrades fell wounded and dead around them on the frozen slopes above Korea's infamous Chosin Reservoir, Baker-One-Seven's Marines triumphed against the relentless human-wave assaults of Chinese regulars and took part in the breakout that destroyed six to eight divisions of Chinese regulars. COLDER THAN HELL paints a vivid, frightening portrait of one of the most horrific infantry battles ever waged.
The morning of December 8, 1950, found Marine lieutenant Owen, along with the rifle company he led, fighting his way through "blood-splotched snow" with the temperature at 25 degrees below zero--the beginning of another day in North Korea. Owen's dramatic account of that morning begins this close-focus combat memoir. Rifle company Baker-One-Seven, Owen tells us, "functioned at a primal level: they ate, slept, and fought, and they tried to get warm." What Owen presents here is an extraordinarily detailed and realistic account of combat at the level of individual soldiers and small units, covering the role of infantrymen in war, the dangers they are exposed to, the relations that form among them, what keeps them going, their ingenuity and their daring. Only occasionally and in passing does the author put the action of his rifle company into broader perspective, or refer to nonmartial matters such as his wife and two young daughters back in the States. Owen's journal-like account can be repetitive, but it's never monotonous. By offering an extended look at deadly combat taking place on snow-covered mountainous terrain in bone-jarring cold, Owen highlights the hardships and tactics characteristic of the war in Korea. Photos; maps.