[December 25, 2021] At the end of 1950, the Korean War was not going well. China entered the war in October of that year, pushing United Nations southward. By December, refugees from North Korea were streaming toward the south to avoid the North Korean and Chinese armies. Christmas in Korea was looking grim.
On December 22, Captain Leonard LaRue, of Philadelphian, peered through his binoculars from the deck of his merchant cargo vessel, SS Meredith Victory, as it approached the besieged North Korean port of Hungnam. Thousands of shivering refugees lining the harbor were desperate to escape the Communist armies who had surrounded the city and were closing in.1
“It was a scene of ‘Dante’s Inferno. Korean refugees thronged the docks. With them was everything they could wheel, carry, or drag. Beside them, like frightened chicks, were their children” – Captain LaRue, Ship of Miracles, 2000
U.S. Navy gunships fired at the enemy on the city’s outskirts, shuddering the harbor with each salvo. Smoke billowed into the overcast skies as U.S. troops from the 3rd Division fought to save the now encircled Hungnam.
A few days earlier, LaRue had been employed by the Navy to carry supplies during the initial months of the war. Captain LaRue and U.S. Army officers met on board his ship to reveal plans for a Dunkirk-like rescue of the refugees. “We can’t order you to take them,” one of the colonels said, “but we ask if you would volunteer.” The rest is history.
Codenamed Operation Christmas Cargo, and now commonly referred to as the “Christmas Miracle,” the incredible evacuation at Hungnam by transports and merchants ships resulted in the rescue of nearly 200,000 troops and civilian refugees.
The forgotten story of the S.S. Meredith Victory and its crew, the American Army’s role, and the refugees is truly a Christmas miracle. Designed to carry only 12 passengers and 47 crew, the ship took on 14,000-plus refugees to safety and earned herself the name “The Ship of Miracles.”
The Guinness Book of World Records describes it as “the largest evacuation from land by a single ship.”
Merry Christmas to all my readers, commenters and friends. On these days that are sacred to so many, I offer what I hope is an upbeat article to this great and noble land known as the United States of America.
Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).