A total of 227 officers and enlisted men marched from Park Point to the Duluth Depot on Aug. 21, 1950, dodging traffic and creating quite a spectacle for workers and visitors of the bustling Superior Street business district.

The Marine Reserves boarded trains bound for Camp Pendleton in Southern California, and most would not return for more than a year. The men of B Company had been thrust into the bloody Korean War, where 10 would be killed in action and some 80% would be wounded in combat, leading to the awarding of 79 Purple Hearts.

For decades, the survivors have made it a tradition to reunite near the anniversary of their big send-off, rekindling old friendships, remembering those who have been lost and preserving their role in American history.

Members of the B Company Marine Reserves march down Superior Street en route to the Duluth Depot as they prepare to deploy to the Korean War on Aug. 21, 1950. A total of 227 men were in the unit, with 10 killed and approximately 80% wounded. A total of 79 Purple Hearts, four Silver Stars, six Bronze Stars and two Naval Commendations were issued to members of the company.
File / Duluth News Tribune
Members of the B Company Marine Reserves march down Superior Street en route to the Duluth Depot as they prepare to deploy to the Korean War on Aug. 21, 1950. A total of 227 men were in the unit, with 10 killed and approximately 80% wounded. A total of 79 Purple Hearts, four Silver Stars, six Bronze Stars and two Naval Commendations were issued to members of the company. File / Duluth News Tribune

But it's a dwindling group. Today, only about 30 members of the unit are still living across the country, according to Dale Erickson, an Esko native who serves as chairman of the B Company Marines group.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Of those, only six were able to make it to what could be one of their final get-togethers, held Aug. 20 in the Depot's Lake Superior Railroad Museum, mere steps away from where they departed 71 years ago.

Though fewer in number and long removed from the battlefields of East Asia, a strong connection endures for the men of B Company.

"We've kept a bond — a strong bond — going over the years," Erickson said. "It's something that we earned while we were in combat, and that never goes away."

Young men learn 'the business of war'

Many members of B Company were only 18 or 19 years old when they were pressed into active service after the Soviet-controlled North Korea invaded the U.S.-backed South Korea in June 1950.

There were long tensions in the region and clashes along the border of the divided nation, but the invasion prompted a rapid military escalation, with American troops providing a bulk of the personnel.

For the Duluth-based Reserves, that meant preparing to go fight in a foreign land less than two months after the war broke out.

Dale Erickson, 90, of Esko, seen at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth is one of the surviving members of the B Company Marines that served in the Korean War. 
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Dale Erickson, 90, of Esko, seen at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth is one of the surviving members of the B Company Marines that served in the Korean War. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

"It's an experience that causes you to grow up in a hurry," said Erickson, who at 90 remains spry and able to rattle off details of his service.

The soldiers gathered at the Naval Reserve training center in Park Point and made the march to the Depot. After receiving training at Camp Pendleton, the men were all sent out to different units, but Erickson said about 90% ended up serving in Korea.

Erickson, then 19, joined a weapons company, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, and spent a full year in Korea. In June 1951, he suffered a concussion and shrapnel wounds as a result of an artillery strike, spending a few weeks on the hospital ship Repose before returning to combat.

"I was put in with an assault unit with some experienced Marines," Erickson said. "You had to learn to keep up with them, and you had to learn the business of war."

Lloyd Anderson, an Alborn native, was pursued to join the Reserves by some friends in 1948. He recalled going to weekly meetings and putting in a couple weeks of training every summer before the war broke out.

Lloyd Anderson, 91, of St. Paul, a surviving member of B Company Marines, talks about his experiences in the Korean War at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Lloyd Anderson, 91, of St. Paul, a surviving member of B Company Marines, talks about his experiences in the Korean War at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Anderson spent a couple of weeks at Camp Pendleton and, on Oct. 1, 1950, boarded the Nelson M. Walker troop transport ship for a 13-day journey to Japan. He ended up shipping out to a battalion headquarters company in North Korea, where he said he "got the mailman job."

"We did a lot of moving," Anderson said. "We went from Wonsan up to Hungnam by train. We rode on flatcars with explosive ammunition on there, with the steam engine chugging along. We set up in Hungnam and we were there until the fall, and then we started moving north again."

But as the Chinese started to advance, Anderson's company was forced to start retreating south over the brutal winter months in a region where temperatures could plummet to 30 below.

"We went up there by truck, but we went back by walking to Hungnam, and there were a lot of casualties," he said. "A lot of men had frozen feet and were cold, and they took them right over to Japan to take care of them. But I stayed right there in Hungnam and Hamhung for the rest of that summer."

Completing his tour around the start of November 1951, Anderson said he left for Japan and was able to make it home to the Duluth area in time for the holidays.

"It was quite a trip and I made a lot of good friends there," he said. "I wouldn't trade it for a million dollars, but I wouldn't do it again for a million years."

Veterans keep history from fading

Brig. Gen. John Broman, of Duluth, didn't serve with B Company, but he's become a close friend of the surviving members over the years. He was a 12-year-old paperboy when the company was called into active service, and a photograph of their famous Superior Street march was splashed across the front page of the newspaper.

"I'll never forget it, when I saw the picture of the B Company marching down Superior Street, preparing to go off to the Korean War," Broman said. "People who make a commitment have always been an inspiration to me. As soon as I was 18 years old and didn't need my parents signatures' anymore — they wouldn't sign — I went down and joined the Marine Corps Reserve in Park Point."

A patch representing the B Company Marines rests in the pocket of a suitcoat at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
A patch representing the B Company Marines rests in the pocket of a suitcoat at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Broman later joined the Minnesota Air National Guard, eventually became commander of the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth and the 133rd Airlift Wing in St. Paul. He also spent some time in Korea, flying fighters in support of intelligence operations after the 1968 Pueblo Crisis, in which a U.S. Navy Ship was attacked and captured by North Korean forces.

Broman, who delivered a keynote address at the recent reunion, said the Korean conflict was "an extremely vicious, bloody war." Still, it's often referred to as the "Forgotten War," coming on the heels of World War II and before the drawn-out Vietnam War.

"But that's really wrong," Broman said of the moniker. "It's not forgotten by a lot of folks, including me and my family, or anybody in this room, or a lot of people I know. … About 36,000 (American) Marines and Army died in the Korean War. Astonishingly, we think about 600,000 Chinese perished in that vicious war. It is not forgotten by them."

Anderson, now 91 and living in St. Paul, reflected on seeing the devastation firsthand and being able to safely return home.

"I'm glad it turned out for myself the way it turned out," he said. "We had a lot of casualties; a lot of people got killed or hurt. I saw a lot of accidents and shoot-ups, but something was saving me. I don't know what it was."

Last year's 70th anniversary gathering of B Company was canceled due to COVID-19, and this year's included far more family members than veterans. With the youngest members now nonagenarians, the group has worked to ensure their story will be preserved for future generations.

Several members of B Company have taken part in an oral history project for the Depot-housed Veterans Memorial Hall. Erickson even produced a full-length written memoir about 10 years ago. Titled "Killer Eyes," it is available for free online, and he's had copies made to give out at events.

"I'm proud to be able to say I served my country," Erickson said. "It's something you feel good about."

Leroy Hintsa, 90, of Hermantown, a surviving member of the B Company Marines, raises his glass for a toast honoring all of B Company during a dinner at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth. Hintsa is wearing a tie that is designated to be worn by recipients of a Bronze Star. 
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Leroy Hintsa, 90, of Hermantown, a surviving member of the B Company Marines, raises his glass for a toast honoring all of B Company during a dinner at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth. Hintsa is wearing a tie that is designated to be worn by recipients of a Bronze Star. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Greg Hull talks to members of the B Company Marines during a dinner at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Greg Hull talks to members of the B Company Marines during a dinner at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

A photo of B Company Marines marching down Superior Street in Duluth on the way to deployment in the Korean War seen at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
A photo of B Company Marines marching down Superior Street in Duluth on the way to deployment in the Korean War seen at the Depot on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune