Welcome to the MCL Detachment 1316 Devil Dog/Devil Doc Chronicles, where we feature one of our members each quarter. For the 4th quarter of 2022, we meet one of our Devil Dogs, Marine Carl Ferris.
Carl was born in Trenton, New Jersey, but now resides in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. He joined the military at age 18, after graduating from Flemington High School in Flemington, New Jersey, enlisting in November of 1948. “I chose the Marine Corps because my brother was a Marine.”
After graduating boot camp from Parris Island, South Carolina, PFC Ferris was transferred to the 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California, eight years after it was formed. His military occupational specialty (MOS) was 1372 Engineer, assigned to the 1st Engineer Battalion. “We did anything that needed to be done. Carpentry, bridge building, airfield, building mockups. We had electricians. We had water filtration. The whole nine yards. Anything that had to do with supporting the Division, we did. And we also picked up a rifle now and then. Because as you know, the Marine Corps is basically infantry, and then you specialize.”
By the time the Korean War started in June 1950, Carl had promoted to Corporal (there was no Lance Corporal rank during this period), and was deployed to Inchon, South Korea. “We landed with the 1st Marine Division. I was on leave when my Battalion left, that’s why I went with the Division. Otherwise, I would have already been there because they took my whole unit. We ended up at Inchon instead of Puson, still with 1st Engineer Battalion. I got there September 15th. We took Inchon, then we moved up to Kimpo Airfield and took Seoul. Then we went around to Wonsan, North Korea, and from there, we went up to Hungnam, North Korea, and took that, too.
Carl’s unit advanced to Hagaru-ri, North Korea, engaging in the battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Chosin was part of the Chinese Second Offensive during the Korean War, directed mainly against the 1st Marine Division, with the objective of destroying the Division. However, the Marines were able to fight their way down a narrow mountain pass to reach ships at the coast.
It was here that Carl became one of the “Frozen Chosin” or “Chosin Few,” and where the Tootsie Roll Industries became so important to those Marines. “A radio operator called for ‘Tootsie Rolls,’ which was a code word for mortar shells, but they actually dropped Tootsie Rolls. The person on the other side didn’t have the code word book in front of him, but he knew it was important, so he just said, ‘Send them Tootsie Rolls.’ It worked out for the best because we couldn’t eat anything. Everything was frozen. But we were able to eat those Tootsie Rolls because they would melt in your mouth, and you’d get a little bit of nourishment. We also used them to plug bullet holes in radiators and things like that. It was a great mistake that worked out well.” Whenever the Chosin Few get together for a reunion, made up of all services, Navy, Air Force, Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and the Royal Marine Commandos – survivors of the Chosin Reservoir Campaign – the tables are piled with Tootsie Rolls sent by the company.
By this point, Carl had promoted to Sergeant. “The battle of the Chosin Reservoir, along with Belleau Wood in World War I, and Iwo Jima in World War II is considered one of the Marine Corps historic battles. It would get 45 to 50 below zero, with a wind chill factor about 60 to 70 below zero. When the Chinese moved in, they thought they’d annihilate the 1st Marine Division because we were outnumbered ten to one. General Almond, MacArthur’s right-hand man, sold us down the river. He stuck us up there with no support. We were 79 miles from Hamhung, North Korea, and they wanted us on the Yalu River. We were stretched out 35 miles. Then General Oliver Smith got a hold of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Clifton Cates, and Cates told him to regroup the Division. We reformed and came out. That campaign lasted about fourteen days. My hands and feet suffered frost bite, but I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t lose any body parts. They figured 13,000 suffered some kind of cold related issues, there was only 15,000 of us up there. You couldn’t get out of the cold.”
The Marines moved down to Hungnam, North Korea, repairing a bridge along the way below Koto-ri that the Chinese destroyed. “The Air Force flew in bridge spans so we could repair the bridge because there’s only one way in and one way out of North Korea.” They boarded ships to Masan, South Korea, for R&R before starting back up the peninsula and back into South Korea towards Seoul, Masan, Chinchon, and places in between. Carl eventually rotated back to the United States and was sent to Naval Station Treasure Island in San Francisco before transferring to Norfolk, Virginia, for a year, where he was stationed with Guard Company, Marine Barracks, Norfolk. “That’s when they had Marines on the gates and different places on the base. Usually, your tour of duty is two years and then you get transferred to something else. Most of us that came back were transferred to guard companies because they depleted the 2nd Marine Division to supplement the 1stMarine Division.”
Carl discharged while at Norfolk in October 1952.
After discharging, Carl went home to New Jersey for a short time before moving to North Dakota, working for his father-in-law in construction during his first marriage. “We built a school for crippled children. My father-in-law was a masonry Shriner and involved in commercial construction. I was there until the snow started. I was shingling the roof of a church when it started snowing so hard you could hardly see the nails, and I told him I was going home. I moved back to New Jersey the very next day and got a job at a concrete plant in Ringoes.”
Carl started working as a truck driver in 1957, driving for several companies before getting a job with Yellow Freight and retiring from their company in 1995. He moved around the U.S. for a few years, living in California, Iowa, Illinois, and New Jersey, before finally settling in New Mexico. “I moved to New Mexico because we came through on a troop train and stopped on our way to Pendleton. I liked the area and knew I’d be back here someday. I moved here from California in 1979.” He met his wife, Peggy, when she was a bartending in Albuquerque, and they were married in 1986. His last trucking job was with Merit, a Walmart subsidiary. “I won my division in the 5-axle sleepers at the Trucking State Championship in 2001. My final retirement was sometime in 2002 or 2003.”
During his military career, Carl received three Korean War Presidential Unit Citations, the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Ribbon, the Korean War Ribbon, and the United Nations Ribbon, to name a few.
He believes the Marine Corps changed him in a good way. “It carried on the discipline my mom and dad were teaching me. The Marine Corps makes you more disciplined. When you’re doing something, don’t play around and do things half-way.” For anyone thinking enlisting in the military, Carl says, “Join. It can’t be all bad. I don’t care what it is, you’re still going to get some discipline. And in this day and age, they need it. It’s a good life. You’re not going to make big bucks but there’s a purpose there.” For anyone thinking of discharging, he says, “Enjoy your retirement.” As for civilians, Carl wishes they understood “that one-percent of the population of the U.S. is protecting their asses.”
Carl joined the MCL 1316 detachment in Rio Rancho immediately after its inception in 2008. He’s also a member of the Masons, the New Mexico Shriners, the American Legion, the Chosin Few, the 1st Marine Division Association, and the Korean War Veterans Association.