Imagine you are an inexperienced Marine fighting in brutally cold conditions against North Korean soldiers in 1950. Your company’s beloved leader and sergeant, a World War II veteran, gets shot, is declared dead and taken away to the morgue.
Then imagine going to a reunion of your Marine company 35 years later and finding that sergeant alive.
That’s the story of George Company, told by Westlake native and military historian Patrick K. O’Donnell in “Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War’s Greatest Untold Story – The Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company.”
O’Donnell, a 1988 graduate of St. Edward High School, signed copies of his book last month at Borders Books and Music in Westlake. O’Donnell’s presentation is scheduled to be broadcast Sunday at 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on C-SPAN2′s BookTV.
The name of the sergeant who miraculously appeared alive at the company reunion after being thought dead for decades by his comrades was Rocco Zullo.
“Rocco Zullo was kind of the heart and soul of this company,” O’Donnell said.
Bob Harbula, a George Company veteran who spoke during O’Donnell’s presentation last month, said Zullo was admired by his troops because he didn’t just send his men into the fighting, he went along with them.
Harbula told of the brutal conditions George Company often faced thanks to temperatures that often reached 20 to 30 degrees below zero.
“No food, the weapons were sluggish, some of the grenades wouldn’t explode. We had a chaotic time,” he said.
George Company was unique in that on at least five occasions during the Korean War, they managed to win battles after being attacked or besieged by overwhelming enemy numbers.
Harbula told of one of George Company’s epic stands.
“We couldn’t dig foxholes, so what we did was we got dead Chinese [soldiers'] bodies and stacked them around us to give us some protection against the bullets and the cold,” said Harbula, who now lives in the Pittsburgh area.
By the end of the war, 149 men of George Company had been lost.
“In many cases, these men didn’t have any food,” O’Donnell said. “Their water was effectively the snow on the ground.”
Often the only food was Tootsie Rolls, items veterans from the company have taken to give each other in bittersweet remembrance at reunions.
The George Company Marines were ill-equipped to deal with the elements, O’Donnell said. While most were reservists, they lacked the training and supplies of today’s reservists, he said. The company was assembled relatively quickly when the war erupted in 1950, he noted.
“It’s a story about men who really had no training at all,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell, who learned the story of George Company from veterans, said he hopes the book will give people a better understanding of what veterans of the Korean War endured.
“This is a book about survival as much as it’s about combat,” he said.