In the years before Anton and I met, our professional careers ran along parallel paths. Upon graduating from film school, we both served as Marine Corps infantry officers and deployed twice to fight in Iraq, leading U.S. Marine and Iraqi forces in combat. In the fall of 2008, we returned to civilian life. Six years had passed since college graduation, and our responsibilities had left us no time to focus on the long-term goal of becoming filmmakers. The economy was horrible and our industry connections were few, but after surviving our experiences at war, neither of us was willing to give up on our dream.
In January 2009, a mutual friend introduced Anton and I. We discovered that we had both fought in the same city in Iraq: Ramadi, one of Iraq’s most violent and heavily contested areas. There was an instant bond and trust in one another. I had written a treatment for Chosin and shared the idea with Anton. We teamed up, and just 30 days later we began shooting. The film had no financial support besides our own personal savings, credit cards, and a few cashed-in retirement accounts, but we were armed with faith in our abilities and a passion for the story.
Earning the title of “Marine” means inheriting the legacy and reputation forged in sacrifice by the Marines who have gone before. The Chosin Reservoir Campaign is taught to every single recruit at boot camp, along with Belleau Wood and Iwo Jima, as one of the seminal battles of the Marine Corps’ proud history. During our research, we discovered that not only had there never been a documentary made about Chosin, but nobody, not even the Marine Corps, had archived first-person accounts of the battle on film. The men who survived Chosin were either gone or in their twilight years, and we realized that this revered piece of our heritage would be lost forever unless we took action.
We reached out to veterans’ organizations across the country, to include the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Marine Corps League, and they all provided us locations to film and places to sleep (along with a few cold beers). The Chosin team spent eight months on the road living out of a van and eating military rations in order to collect the stories from 185 Korean War veterans in 27 cities across the U.S. As fellow combat veterans, we forged a unique connection with the men we interviewed. We were proud to give them a gift 60 years overdue: an environment where they felt comfortable unburdening themselves of the intimately sad, horrific, funny, and triumphant moments from the most defining experience of their lives. Time and time again, these men told us stories that they had never told anyone…not their wives, their children, or their closest friends.
As the men of Chosin fade into history, their stories and the stories of their fallen brothers fade with them. This project ensures that their legacy is preserved for generations to come, never to be forgotten.