The story of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir is an epic tale of valor and endurance rarely equaled in the annals of military history, yet thanks to the 2006 film 300 the average young American could likely tell you more about the Spartans last stand against the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. than they could about the 250 Marines of Fox Company who held off ten thousand Communist Chinese soldiers on a hill in North Korea during the frigid, unrelenting winter of 1950.
Now three Marine combat veterans of the Iraq War are gathering the resources to flip that equation on its head with a full-length 3D animated feature film offshoot of their harrowing, unforgettable award-winning 2010 documentary Chosin. (To learn more about this landmark project and how you can become a part of it, visit the Chosin Kickstarter site between now and Christmas day.)
“We want to hit a broader audience and that younger generation is not one we’ve been able to reach as well with the documentary,” executive producer Anton Sattler explains. “This allows us to cross-pollinate audiences. So you might have people who watch the documentary that would have never watched an animated film, but because they know the story they’ll be interested. Or you’ll have the kids who would never bother to watch a Korean War documentary watch the animated film, get really interested in the characters, be blown away by [the story] they see on screen, and then they want to learn more.”
Think If you build it, they will come to a different end: The story of Chosin is so gripping, so rife with indomitable spirit, the smallest fraction of its greater whole is almost sure to enthrall, terrify, and humble. Consider the following: Seventeen Medals of Honor and seventy Navy Crosses were awarded amongst the 15,000 Marines and soldiers who “trapped and outnumbered ten-to-one fought 78 miles to freedom and saved the lives of 98,000 refugees.”
“For me what makes the story so compelling is it’s just the greatest hits of everything you don’t want to have happen to you or anyone you care about,” co-director/animator Richard C. Meyer says. “It’s the worst thing possible.… If there was any other way to kill people besides a meteor shower, it was happening to these guys at the time. So it’s one of those things where no matter how badass you feel — and we’ve all been to combat — it’s like, ‘Okay, but I didn’t fight a hundred thousand Chinese soldiers while my foot was falling off from frostbite.’”
The short-term goal is, as Meyer puts it, to bring Chosin up to the level of Iwo Jima flag raising: “In ten years when you show a Marine with a bunch of snow on his shoulders, [I want people to say], ‘Oh, I know this. This is Chosin.”
Longer term, director Brian Iglesias hopes the impact will be more foundational, embedding an understanding of the culture, trials and travails of the veterans into the American consciousness. “I have two little boys, and if they join the military and go to war, I’d like it to be a situation where America already understands and appreciates the military,” he says, adding that a lack of understanding today has real consequences down the road. “The kids now, when they grow up, they’re going to decide whether my sons go to war, what kind of benefits they have, how their family is being taken care of…”
And then there is the larger lesson about perseverance against all odds that is worthwhile for Americans of all walks and stripes to ruminate upon.
“There are three battles that are taught to every Marine when they go through boot camp or OCS — Belleau Wood from World War I, Iwo Jima from World War II, and Chosin,” Sattler says. “Those are three of the biggest battles in our history where by all accounts we probably should have lost. We were outnumbered in all three cases, cutoff, in conditions that were just awful in any way you can think of. But we did it. We won. And they teach those battles to Marines because they want to embed in your soul that, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how much your job sucks or what you have to face, you have to succeed because you carry this legacy on your shoulders.”
Iglesias, Meyer, and Sattler are betting a platoon of animated grunts can help hoist that legacy aloft, exalt and carry it forward. It is a tall order, but hardly an impossible one. We are, after all, talking about three dedicated and determined United States Marines.