Ralph Gastelum, Korean War Combat Veteran
US Marine Corps
Ralph looked up to him and was inspired to join the Marine Corps Reserve in 1949. When the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, the Marine Corps Reserve was activated.
He arrived in Korea on that fateful day, September 15, 1950, when the 1st Marine Division made the epic Inchon Landing. His introduction to Korea was seeing it from a landing craft as the coast of Inchon was being bombarded from the air and sea. After the Inchon Landing, he made his way to capture Kimpo Airfield and liberated the capital city of Seoul from the North Korean communists.
By November 1950, Marines had advanced into the mountains of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, where they were surrounded by an overwhelming force of ten divisions of Chinese communist forces in 40 below zero freezing temperatures.
At the Chosin Reservoir, Ralph and his buddies were hit with heavy incoming mortar fire and the full force of the Chinese communists. The other Marines scrambled out of their foxholes and up the hill, but Ralph was still in his foxhole. Ralph fired back one round with his carbine, and then it wouldn’t fire. Ralph threw himself down to play dead as the Chinese were approaching. Suddenly, another Marine from uphill lobbed some grenades at the Chinese, which saved Ralph.
The Marines eventually fought their way out and broke out of the Chosin Reservoir in December 1950. Ralph went on to fight in the Spring Offensive Battles of 1951. In June 1951, he left Korea and came back to San Francisco. He continued to serve on guard duty and security at the Marine detachment at Pt. Mugu until he was discharged in 1952.
Visiting South Korea in 2019
Mr. Gastelum and his grandson visited South Korea in 2019 on the Korea Revisit Program for Korean War veterans. He says, “I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned at how beautiful, and prosperous South Korea is today. I looked for old Korea, but I couldn’t recognize it because everything was new and modern. People were so kind and grateful to us, Korean War veterans. They couldn’t do enough for us. Words can’t describe it. It was just beautiful and overwhelming. It makes me proud to know we had a part in helping South Korea become a free and prosperous nation. I am glad I was among the many who served and fought to save South Korea from communism.”
Reflections on Military Service
Mr. Gastelum says, “Being with other brothers in the Marine Corps gave me pride in fighting for our country and gave me a sense of purpose. I grew up in a hurry as a 19-year-old and following in the footsteps of my uncle, who made the ultimate sacrifice serving with the Marine Corps during WW2. I love the Marine Corps because of the camaraderie you feel with the guys and serving a greater purpose. Even after the war, I feel the same way and love the close bond with my brothers. I am proud to be a Marine, and it stays with you forever. My military service has taught me to face and take on any challenge.” “I am proud to have helped save South Korea and its people from communism.”