CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
“I never expected to survive the war. So I was adamant that my death be honorable, be spectacular.”
It was dark. It was cold. Every part of Lt. Kurt Chew-Een Lee was certain he’d never feel warm again. That he’d die on that North Korean mountainside, far away from his family, friends and his home in Sacramento.
Lee’s fingers were stiff, frozen. Each yank of the grenade pin had him sure this would be the one to blow up in his hand. Each squeeze of the trigger was punctuated with bated breath, the bang of the round leaving the chamber the only assurance he’d actually fired. There was pain, he’d been shot, but it was a distant feeling. Any doubts his men had about his ethnicity and where his loyalties lied had been quelled. He was going to fight alongside them until the end.
He was going to die on that mountainside, but his men would survive.
The enemy had them outnumbered, there’d been no time to think.
“Fire on the flash of their weapons!” Lee ordered and then ran out into the open.
Lee opened his eyes. It had been five days, but it felt like an eternity since that night.
“Sir, we lack the facilities to treat you here. You’ve been put in for a transfer. We have a facility in Japan that would better-”
Lee closed his eyes again. This wasn’t right. He came here to fight.
He wasn’t sure how long it’d been, but when he opened his eyes again he was alone. Sitting up was difficult, his arm in a sling, his body protesting movement, but he did it without complaint. His body might think it needed more rest, but his mind knew where he was needed. His men were still out there and the war wasn’t over. He’d missed his chance to fight in WWII, he wouldn’t be taken out so easily here. Korea was his war.
Without another thought he started toward the exit. He wasn’t done fighting yet.
On November 2, 1950, Lt. Kurt Chew-Een Lee’s unit was attacked by Chinese forces in the mountains of Korea. Lee directed his men to fire upon the enemy’s muzzle flashes as he drew fire and attacked their position, shouting in Mandarin Chinese hoping to confuse the enemy. During the conflict Lee was injured and then later shot by a sniper and sent to an army field hospital outside of Hamhung.
Upon learning that he would be transferred to a hospital in Japan for further care, Lee and another wounded Marine took possession of an Army jeep and drove back to his unit. On the way there, the jeep ran out of gas and Lee walked the last 10 miles. Lee was assigned to command the 2nd Rifle Platoon, whom he trained with his arm still in a sling. On December 2, during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Lee led 500 Marines to rescue Fox Company.
Lee was awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star for his bravery and service in the Korean War.