"I'm laughing now, but it was scary as hell when it happened," Joseph Owen said as he recounted his time overseas during the Korean War.
Owen, a Skaneateles resident, joined the United States Marine Corps during World War II when he was 18 years old. After serving in the pacific, he went off to school at Colgate University, received his degree and chose to pull on his boots once again and took his place among other soldiers and Marines as a conflict was brewing on the other side of the world.
"When the Korean War came, it took everybody by surprise," Owen said. "Nobody was ready for war."
At the time, President Harry Truman called up untrained reservists and Owen, a second lieutenant in the Corps, saw many young Marines poorly prepared for fighting. They learned to fight in enemy combat.
"We were a pretty good outfit," Owen said, adding that Gen. Douglas MacArthur ran all the forces in the east toward the west and the Chinese boarder. "Unfortunately, after we knocked out the North Koreans the Chinese came into the war and were waiting for us."
Owen said American forces were outnumbered 10 to one by the Chinese who proceeded to surround the 1st Marine Division.
"Their objective was to annihilate us," he said.
However, the U.S. military had superior weapons and air support, which were planes that would fly over with machine guns and rockets. As a member of a rifle company, Owen and his Marines were charged with taking the "high ground" by climbing the terrain to the ridge and pushing the Chinese back, taking their positions one by one.
"The Chinese had my rifle company surrounded. We started to have wounded immediately. So, we formed a circle to keep them off," Owen said. "They broke through."