John Bookout

Pictured in 2016, John Bookout served as a Navy hospital corpsman during the Korean War.

Freezing temperatures, frost bite and the Chinese Army.

For 92-year-old veteran John Bookout, these were some of the major concerns he had during the battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War. Bookout, who lives in Temple, served during the end of World War II and the Korean War.

Bookout, who was born and grew up in Texarkana, had not intended to go into the military but was drafted into the Navy in early in 1945.

Despite never having perused medical training before being drafted, Bookout was delegated to being a navy hospital corpsman during the final part of World War II. Bookout said this assignment was not his choice but rather the result of a test saying what he would be best in.

Bookout’s time in World War II was short since he joined in Febuary of 1945 and the war was over in September of that year.

For a few years after his time in the Navy, Bookout went back to Texarkana and worked as a shoe salesman. This profession would be something he would come back to many times over the years in between when he was deployed.

Without knowing about what was going to occur later that year, Bookout, who had both a wife and child at the time, signed up for the Marine reserves in 1950. While he had expected to go to California for maneuvers, instead the maneuvers were canceled and he was off to Korea.

“I have always been a shoe salesman, so I worked for three or four years (after World War II) in Texarkana,” Bookout said. “Then I joined a Marine reserve unit there so I could go back to California on maneuvers. Well they canceled the maneuvers in June of 1950, and that is when the Korean War started.”

During the early portion of the war, Bookout was part of the first Marine invasion into Inchon, where the Marines reversed the course that the war had been taking.

In the later part of 1950, he was moved up into North Korea, with the thought that the war was almost over, and was part of the medical forces there.

After the Chinese entered the war in late November 1950, they started attacking the United Nation’s forces, including the Navy forces that Bookout was a part of. This fight, which started on Nov. 27 and lasted until Dec. 13 of 1950, would later be known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

“Everything was going well in November of 1950 until the Chinese entered the war, 120,000 of them. They have got no shortage of men,” Bookout said.

Bookout said that while he didn’t know it at the time, during the 17th day of the battle the temperature dropped down to -40 degrees.

The cold caused many problems for Bookout and the Marines — from difficulty pitching tents to frostbite. Bookout said that he was one of the only people he knew that didn’t get frostbite, which he credits to strictly following what he had been told by the military.

“I am told that the weather was 40 degrees below zero,” Bookout said. “We had difficulty putting up our hospital tents and the tents that we lived in. We had to take a blow torch and soften the ground to where we could drive stakes in.”

Looking back on the battle, and the events that followed, one of the things Bookout said he remembers most about that time was the retreat and all those that he served with that never made it back. Those that survived the battle at Chosin would later be known as “The Chosin Few.”

After that battle, Bookout was gradually moved back to South Korea and later back to the United States where he worked at the naval hospital in Millington, Tenn.

“We had 15,000 men, and we left a whole lot of them there, from the weather and from the Chinese,” Bookout said. “We did not surrender, we didn’t give up, our commanding officer said we had a strategic withdrawal.” 

After his time in the Navy was up, Bookout left the military to go back into working in retail and selling shoes. Bookout later moved to Temple and worked at the JM Dryer department store.

It was only later in 1976 when Bookout, and his partner LaWanda Sparks, opened a shoe store of their own, which was operated by them for 29 years before they closed in December 2005.

Bookout said that looking back he wishes he would have used what he learned in the Navy more to get a better job, or work for the government. He now has moved back to Temple, after living in Texarkana for five years, to be closer to his family.