When couples are dancing on Big Mamie Saturday night, they won’t be hearing the whistle of incoming shells and the crack of rifle fire. Women in open-toed shoes will not get frost bite. No one will hear the sound of bugles blowing as the Chinese army comes on in waves.

When couples are dancing on Big Mamie Saturday night, they won’t be hearing the whistle of incoming shells and the crack of rifle fire. Women in open-toed shoes will not get frost bite. No one will hear the sound of bugles blowing as the Chinese army comes on in waves.

The men who fought their way out of encirclement at Korea’s Chosin Reservoir heard and felt all these things as they hacked their way down a twisting mountain road in subarctic weather.

On Nov. 27, 1950, the Allied forces in Korea were on the edge of victory. In two months, the North Korean Army had been battered and broken, routed out of South Korea and chased back to the Yalu River, Korea’s border with China.

On Thanksgiving Day, China joined the war and 200,000 Chinese soldiers, attacking in waves to the sound of bugles, drove back the 8th U.S. Army and surrounded 10,000 Marines of the 1st Marine division.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense website, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 9 of that year, the 1st Marines fought their way home, losing 718 men and killing as many as 25,000 Chinese troops. The Marines involved have called themselves “The Chosin Few” ever since.

Saturday night, on the USS Massachusetts, there will be dining and dancing at an event called “As Time Goes By,” in homage to the World War II era associated with the Battleship.

And just before the music starts, two older gentlemen will meet for the first time, both of them far from the ice-slicked, bloody roads of North Korea.

Al Marzilli, born on Bedford Street in Fall River, was on the ground — a Marine caught in a frozen hell. Thomas Hudner, another son of Fall River, was in the air, flying a Navy plane, trying to keep the boys on the ground alive.

“Al Marzilli told me he wouldn’t be alive without the close air support the Navy provided off those carriers,” said Joe Feitelberg, who will be honored Saturday night for his efforts in bringing the USS Massachusetts here 45 years ago.

Marzilli, 81, retired from the Marine Corps 40 years ago as a sergeant. He was a teenager in the 1st Marines in Korea when tens of thousands of Chinese troops launched their attack.

“We were in a valley and the Chinese were coming down in droves,” Marzilli said. “They’d blow a bugle to tell you they were coming and they’d come.

“It was 30 below zero and the Chinese were wearing sneakers,” Marzilli said.

“Only the guys in the front rank had weapons,” he said of the charging Chinese. “One guy would fall and the guy behind him would pick up his gun.

“I was in the artillery,” Marzilli said. “We were firing canister, shells full of BBs. Firing straight ahead. Direct fire.

When asked if Hudner, a Navy pilot and winner of the Medal of Honor, saved his life, Marzilli replied, “Definitely. He was providing air support. We were supplied by air.”

The two will meet near the battleship at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Hudner was a 26-year-old lieutentant junior grade, flying World War II vintage Corsairs, soaring over the heads of men like the teenaged Marzilli.

“We were almost exclusively in the bombing mode,” Hudner said.

Hudner said the planes came in as low as they could, looking to destroy enemy transport and kill troops on the ground.

“We liked that,” he said of coming in low. “We could see what we were doing.

“We were there at a pretty critical time,” Hudner said of the days when the 1st Marines cut their way through a strangling iron collar of Chinese troops. “Those poor boys had been out there 10 to 14 days.

“I don’t know how they made it through,” Hudner said. “We had a warm bunk to go back to.”
When Hudner was told that Al Marzilli believes he saved his life, Hudner thought for a moment.
“It could have been,” Hudner said. “I could have flown right over him.”

E-mail Marc Munroe Dion at mdion@heraldnews.com.