MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. - With a confident familiarity, the man resheathed the KA-BAR he held in his aged hands. He didn't need anyone to explain the knife, its uses or history. Placing the blade on a display table, his hand brushed against his belt buckle which read, Chosin Few Korea.
Korean War veteran Ralph Hoffmann, retired master gunnery sergeant, eats lunch at the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Picnic aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico on August 3, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samuel Ellis)
It was August 3, 2013, and this was at least the tenth time 81-year-old Ralph Hoffmann had traveled to Marine Corps Base Quantico to attend the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Picnic.
“I enjoy the opportunity to intermingle with other Marines,” said the retired master gunnery sergeant. “I also enjoy developing friendships and experiencing the camaraderie found here.”
Camaraderie is something the 30-year, Korean War veteran easily recognizes.
“I was too young to serve in World War II, but I followed it in the papers,” said Hoffmann. “I read of the accomplishments of the Marine Corps. They always overcame and were successful.”
The Marine Corps made an indelible impression on the boy and led him to a decision.
“I wanted to be part of that organization,” said Hoffmann. “I left for Parris Island the day after I graduated high school.”
Jan. 30, 1950, was the day Hoffmann enlisted to begin a career that would train him in almost half a dozen military occupational specialties including infantry unit leader, infantry operations chief, wireman, field radio operator and operational communications chief. It was also that decision that would take him across the globe and position him to fight in one of the most iconic battles of Marine Corps history.
“I boarded a ship to go to Inchon [South Korea] on Sept. 11, 1950,” said Hoffmann. “The Inchon landing stimulated the aggression toward the North Koreans.”
According to the Naval History and Heritage website, The Marine landing on Inchon positioned them to retake the capital and cut the North Korean supply lines. Hoffmann continued to recount some of the other experiences he had in Korea.
“I was a forward observer with a team of Marines responsible for supporting artillery at the Chosin Reservoir,” said Hoffmann. “We would call coordinates and targets by radio or telephone wires. I hadn't even been in the Corps a year when they told us we were surrounded and had to fight our way out.”
Despite the situation, Hoffmann said his leadership maintained a motivating attitude.
“I remember our chain of command telling us, ‘This is no sweat; we are Marines,'” Hoffmann said. “We knew we had a job to do and we were going to do it. I am very proud of serving at the Chosin Reservoir. It was a humbling experience having been up there with the other Marines.”
Summarizing his career, Hoffmann views it as a positive experience.
“I wouldn't change anything,” said Hoffmann. “I am very proud of everything I did and everyone I served with.”
The Mineola, N.Y., native went on to finish a 30-year career where he met his wife, also a Marine, and raised two children. He is heavily involved with a detachment of the Marine Corps League and is always looking for ways to help others.
“He does a lot for our league and is extremely driven to help any veteran cause,” said Dennis Faillo, fellow league member and friend. “He's a Marine's Marine. As long as he's on this earth he will be proud and carry the title Marine.”
By USMC Lance Cpl. Samuel Ellis
Provided through DVIDS
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