Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Small World

On an overnight bivouac I was paired with a squad member in a two man pup tent. While laying in the dark before going to sleep you get a chance to talk a little bit about home, where you are from, family, et cetera.

We got to talking about names and I said one of the most unusual was that of the folks who rented me a room at college, Smrha. My tent mate said he had heard that name and also in Lincoln, Nebraska. Come to find out, this man had come to UNL to enter graduate school and rented a room in the same house I had lived in. He subsequently found he could not get the course of study he wanted and decided instead to leave for the University of Oregon.

He had a 1932 Model B Ford but it was late and he was afraid he couldn’t get to Oregon in time for the beginning of the semester so he decided to sell the car and use the money for a plane ticket that would get him there in time.

My memory began to kick in and I realized who this fellow was. Myself, my room mate, and a friend of his were the ones who bought that car from him! We scrounged up $16 and some odd cents each to buy him out for $50. How strange life is. I had seen this fellow in the squad room and in the field but didn’t recognize him. Of course it had been only for a day or so in Lincoln that we saw him and only for long enough to negotiate the car purchase. Here we were, in the same tent thousands of miles from that campus home, remembering something that brought us together several years earlier.

The incident helped me recall our experience with that Model B. It was not in that bad of shape, except an 18 year old car needs constant care (the use of pliers and baling wire). One of the partners in the ownership worked for the Lincoln Star part time while attending law school. He was assigned to cover a murder trial in Wilbur, Nebraska, some 30 or 40 miles from Lincoln and drove the car every day for several weeks to that small Saline County town.

At issue in the trial was not whether the defendant had committed the crime, but whether it was premeditated murder. The man was finally convicted of shooting his wife’s lover in a local bar (the Foxhole Tavern). He came in with a gun, pointed it and misfired. He walked outside, fiddled with the firing pin, came back in and shot again. This time it worked. The jury decided he had time to think about it and therefore ruled it was premeditated.

Our friend got experience in two fields…journalism and criminal law. The car was not faring two well, however, and we got tired of having to repair it so we decided to take it to a weekly car auction and get what we could for it.

We wired up the bumpers good and put air in the tires ( they tended to lose pressure over a couple days ) and took the car to the site of the auction, telling the people in charge to put a minimum bid of $100 on it.

That evening we went to the sale and got more anxious as our car came up to be sold. Bidding was slow but the auctioneer finally got two people going until one bid $75. We looked at each other and I shouted at the auctioneer, “Sell it!”

My tent mate thought the story about his former car was hilarious. He said he got the courses he was looking for at Oregon and earned his master’s degree in history.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Boxer

You don’t get to know anybody very well in a 16-week basic training course and sometimes that is for the best. A member of the squad got a broken jaw one night in the latrine but no one would talk about it. We all figured it was the work of the local boys, who were in the minority and tended to defend each other vigorously.

After basic was over I stayed behind because I had qualified for Officer Candidate School and ran into one of those local boys on the street. I knew him only casually but I passed the time of day and asked how come he had not been shipped out to Korea like most of the rest of the guys in our unit.

He informed me he was assigned to special services and if I was interested I could see him that night. He was on the card at the Box Bowl, the base boxing arena. He was just a bantam weight but I had no doubt he was the one who produced that broken jaw in our squad latrine. I certainly was grateful as squad leader I had not crossed him during our training.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Precision Drill

Each quadrangle on the base at Scofield had a tavern for off duty G.I.s to relax. Three-two beer was the strongest item in the place but enough of it could produce the same result as stronger beer in lesser quantities.

We were not allowed in these facilities as trainees, but when we had finished our basic training the cadre traditionally invited the graduates to the tavern. Our place was called the “Fireman’s Hat.” As it happened, the night of the party, my turn came up to pull CQ (charge of quarters) so I had to stay back at our unit and man the telephone in the company clerk’s office. Unhappy as I was at missing the festivities, it was almost worth it to see the event I am about to describe.

About midnight two of our non-com cadre had nine of our ten squad members (I was missing, of course) in tow and marched them in close order drill across the compound. They were all “in their cups,” as the saying goes, and being very deliberate, as drunks so often become. The corporal in charge gave them crisp orders. “Column right, march…column left, march” et cetera, until he got them to the base of the stairs going up to our second-floor squad room. At this point, I abandoned my post in the first-floor office to see this drama play out.

Amazingly, the corporal gave precise orders getting the troops up the steps, gave them a column left down the hall and a column right into the swinging doors of the latrine. Now comes the tricky part. He maneuvered them along the wall until each one stood directly in front of a urinal.

“Right face! Unbutton pants, move!” There was a slight pause and one soldier just couldn’t hold back any longer.

“Who told you to piss?” the corporal screamed at him.

They all had serious hangovers the next morning and I had one of the funniest drill experiences of my army career. Perhaps those never having experienced military life won’t appreciate the humor but I certainly did.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Waiting for Orders

As I mentioned before, I didn’t get shipped out right away because of my appointment to OCS. When we were given the offer to take the tests, many who could have qualified for officer training did not because accepting meant a longer time in service. One had to agree to serve at least two years after being commissioned. That would extend the normal draft hitch of two years to at least three and many did not want to stay in that long.

I figured as long as I had to stay in I might as well get officer pay and privileges. Besides, I was single and an extra year did not mean that much at my age. In addition, I would get free transportation home and a delay-in-route leave.

As it turned out, the war in Korea ended just after I got there and I got out on early release because the government no longer needed that many second lieutenants. My tenure was a day or two short of the two years, the same as those who chose not to opt for OCS.

Those of us left behind after basic were assigned to a personnel unit (the Army couldn’t let us lay around the barracks, of course). We were given enough work to keep us busy for a while on a night shift but after a day or so we were told not to report for duty any more.

In a typical Army snafu, our original unit was not told our assignment was over. Since it was a night job we had been allowed to sack in the following mornings. We continued to do this but figured we better get lost during working hours (it was a 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift ). We went to the post golf course and got in 18 holes every day and considerable time afterwards at the 19th hole.

Our fun lasted about a week until one of our group went to the mail clerk to see if anything had come for him. That signaled the fact we had not been showing up for mail call and the subsequent investigation found us out. Fortunately our orders to go stateside came the next day and we were off the hook.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Caissons Go Rolling

The trip home was uneventful. It was another shipboard experience but now I was an E-2 after graduation from basic training. There isn’t much difference between E-l and E-2, just one notch above the lowest of the low. My pay went from $87.50 per month to maybe $90. It seemed like longer, but the ocean voyage took only six days and then we spent another four days at Camp Stoneman, California before boarding a train for Omaha. I was allowed a delay-in-route on the way to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma since I had some leave time coming by now, and I got about three weeks at home before reporting for class at OCS.

I reported for duty June 11, 1952 and was assigned to a battery which was on a hill removed from the rest of the camp. There were two units on the hill. One was the class coming in and the other just graduating.

The course is 22 weeks long (just longer than the hurried “90-day wonder” training during World War II) but the elapsed time is 23 weeks because the first seven days are used for orientation. “Hell Week,” it is called.

The name is apropos because that is exactly what it is, a week of Hell. The Redbirds, upperclassmen, use a variety of methods to weed out candidates who may not have the intensity to last the course. An example; one morning about 2 o’clock our cadre (regular Army men assigned to our class) and a number of Redbirds (so named because they are identified with red epaulets on their shoulders) rousted us from our sleep and told us to bring our foot lockers outside.

We hustled around, bleary-eyed, got the lockers outside and arranged them in a perfect line in front of the barracks with our poker-stiff bodies at attention behind them.

One of the cadre looked disdainfully at us and sneeringly said, “I didn’t tell you to bring the contents out, just the foot lockers.”

We were then instructed to dump the contents of the lockers in a common pile at the middle of the parade grounds. It took us until almost sunrise to sort out our own belongings and get back into the barracks in time for reveille.

When we did get back inside, each bunk had a blank resignation form on it. The object of the harassment being, of course, to see how far the candidates could be pushed.

For my part, I kept telling myself, “I’ll give it one more day. I’m not going to let those bastards beat me.” There wasn’t a day I didn’t say that to myself and eventually the 22-week course was over. A class mate of mine from high school was in his 12th week when I arrived at Ft. Sill. He dropped out with less that half the course to complete.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Wipe that Smile Off Your Face

I had one more test before Hell Week was completed. The battery next to our barracks had invited the junior class from West Point Military Academy to a graduation dance. Those who had weekend passes apparently hitched a ride with a plane going to Tinker Air Force Base, which was near by.

Traditionally, the incoming class provides the outgoing battery a CQ so the entire unit can attend the party. Guess who got picked for the duty? Yours truly, of course.

It didn’t appear to be bad duty. All I had to do was man the battery clerk’s office from 8 p.m. to midnight. Since all the class members were at the dance, I did not have to be worried about being hazed. Not!

About 11 p.m. two Redbirds and two other uniformed men came to the office where I was seated. I, of course, stood immediately at attention. “Where are you from, Candidate?” asked one of them.

“Omaha, Nebraska, sir!” I answered.

That was not true. Of course, since I had been drafted from Ord in Valley County, Nebraska but I knew that response would require more explanation than I was prepared to give.

“Where is that in relation to San Francisco?” came the response.

It took a little time and I finally explained the location of Omaha to their satisfaction, but in the process broke a slight smile at something they said. That was a serious mistake.

“Wipe that smile off your face, Candidate. (Pause) Now throw it on the floor and step on it. (Pause) Is it dead?”

I knew if I answered no I would be required to continue stepping on it so I naturally answered, “Yes, Sir.”

“Well then play Taps for it, Candidate!”

After I mimicked an Army bugler badly, they let that issue alone and started on another.

“Do you know who I am?” said one of the men who was not a Redbird.

Other than his miniature captain’s bars, I did not recognize any of his insignia and didn’t have a clue as to his branch of service.

“Well, you surely know what USMA stands for, don’t you, Candidate?” said the one in the unfamiliar uniform.

“Marines, sir?” I asked tentatively.

That really did it. After informing me the gentlemen were from the United States Military Academy, each one of my visitors braced me for another 15 minutes.

By this time, I realized these guys had spent some time at the bar before coming to my duty station, so I wasn’t sure how far they might go. Shortly afterward, however, they stood me at ease and explained who they were and why they had come to Ft. Sill.

Apparently, the cadets and the OCS graduates got into an argument over who could chew an underclassman best, a West Point cadet or a Redbird. I was the sacrificial lamb. There was no resolution to their argument but and I would have given them a tie score. They were equally abusive. From that time forward, whenever I had to submit to a dressing down, I considered it mild compared to that evening when I was handled by the best.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wanted: Spit and Polish

I did fairly well with the academics at OCS but the “spit and polish” aspect found me wanting. I just didn’t have the knack of polishing shoes, lining up the shaving gear, et cetera, and consequently got very few weekend passes. I never got a weekend off except when the battery got a blanket pass. In order for a candidate to qualify for a pass a candidate could have no more than a certain number of gigs (demerits). I never made it under that minimum.

Occasionally the entire base or our unit together might be awarded a weekend but mostly I spent my Saturdays marching up MB 4. That is a point just outside the camp designated as Medicine Bow Mountain. Although it was not a mountain, just a hill, it seemed as high as the Alps with a 50-lb. pack on your back while jogging to catch up with the troops at the front of the pack.

An example of why I failed the gig quota was exemplified during one inspection. The Redbird in charge told me to get a stool and look at the florescent light behind my bunk. It was a short unit and nearly inaccessible as my bunk was in a corner. I dutifully got the stool, climbed up and read the following inscription—in the dust: July 7, 1952. Since it was now late August, it was obvious I hadn’t cleaned the light in several weeks. Another weekend without a pass!

Oh well, weekends were not that great anyway. Lawton, Oklahoma was the only community close to the base and it was strictly an army town. Oklahoma City attracted some of the candidates but liquor stores at that time were state owned and transients such as us would have difficulty obtaining a card to buy booze. Consequently, black market whiskey was the solution for some, but that was dangerous. Not only was it illegal, but the chance of getting seriously sick was a deterrent. An alternative was to go to Wichita Falls, (popularly known as Whiskey Falls), Texas where liquor could be purchased at will. The problem with that was the distance and availability of public transportation. Candidates were not allowed to have cars. Our commanding officer told us the first day, “This is not a mechanized unit. Park your cars for the duration of training.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Command Presence

Since I seldom got a pass my experience in any of the off-base locations was limited. Only one was memorable and I didn’t realize its importance at the time.

On one of the corps weekends we were told there was a dance hall that had a great band playing. It turned out to be country-western style but in Oklahoma that is about all there was available. The featured attraction was a man named Hank Williams. I’m not enough of a western music buff to know if he was that well known in 1952 but he certainly was later.

Passing inspection did not get you through OCS, although it did have some bearing. The academic part was the most important requirement but “command presence” seemed to be of particular importance.

Command presence is the ability to give an order with authority in order to have it obeyed promptly and without question. At OCS the best way to demonstrate the quality was in parade marching, close order drill or in directing calisthenics.

I was blessed with a loud voice and that served me well in the command presence department. Our battery, after several weeks of training in close order drill, had not won the battalion flag for excellence in the weekly post parade. Our battery commander, Captain Brazier (we called him, behind his back, naturally, Captain Fatback, because he looked a lot like Porky Pig) was determined to get that flag.

Our problem, he decided, was that the candidate commander could not be heard all the way to the back of the unit when we were passing the reviewing stand. That resulted in a lack of uniformity when the command, “Eyes Right!” was given as we passed the “brass.”

Up to this time, candidate parade commanders were chosen on the basis of their “spit and polish” ability. Obviously this method had not produced the desired results so Capt. Brazier conducted a contest to determine the loudest voice in the battery and that was an area where I excelled. The good captain winced at my selection, since he was very well aware of my inspection record, but he was desperate.

We practiced hard and that Saturday Charlie Battery (our unit) won the coveted banner and we were allowed to carry it throughout the week. Capt. Brazier quickly replaced me as candidate commander so my successor got the honor of receiving the flag from the commanding general the following Monday. Fellow battery members urged me to step up and receive it since I had been at the helm when we won the banner but I declined. I decided it was not wise to bring attention to myself, given my track record.

On the other side of the coin, a lack of command presence might have destroyed a candidate at one of our morning physical exercise sessions. We took turns each day leading drills, giving us not only the workout value, but training us in voice commands. One of our members dreaded the day he would be picked to lead the drills because he was quite shy and his command presence was utterly lacking.

His nervousness showed as he prepared to give us the command, “Hands on hips, move!”

Instead, it came out, “Hips on shoulders, move!” Let’s hope his other skills in school pulled him through.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An Ouija Bird

As I mentioned before, I handled the academic part of OCS reasonably well, having just recently graduated from college and accustomed to studying and taking exams.

I do remember one difficulty in a field problem when I was singled out for my particular ineptness. In spotting for the field artillery the forward observer (the job for which we were being trained) is in a fixed, known position. He estimates the distance to the target on an azimuth and directs the fire control center on that basis.

The particular problem this day revolved around the fact that the observation point was a moving location, so determining the line became quite difficult. The observer tends to direct the fire around the target instead of over and under, the conventional means of zeroing in.

When my turn to direct fire came up, I made the exact mistake the major in charge had warned us about and he looked at me quite disdainfully and said, “You are an Ouija bird, Candidate! Do you know what an Ouija bird is, Candidate?”

“No sir,” I replied.

“Well,” the major explained, “that is a bird that flies in ever decreasing concentric circles finally flying up its own asshole, thereby confusing the enemy!”

What could I say but, “Yes, sir.”

I have related that story a number of times through the years to illustrate a situation where those involved skirt around the problem and never hone in on it.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I think the reason that I, and I’m sure many more candidates, got through the academic portion of OCS was that we accepted the instructors’ word and simply learned our lessons by rote.

Two types of students in our classes had difficulty with this concept. One was the candidate with high intelligence and perhaps a background in math. He would try to derive all the formulas we used to determine targets, required elevation of the guns, and other technical data. He might spend time on theory and neglect the memorization. The rest of us just accepted the formulas and concentrated on remembering what we were told to do in certain situations.

The other group that had trouble were regular Army types who decided to get their commissions. Corporals and sergeants in the program had difficulty taking orders without question. They had spent their recent careers giving orders, not taking them. On the other hand, the rest of us had just come out of basic training and were accustomed to accepting authority. Again, many of our category of candidates were recent college graduates and used to school work.

With reference to those non-coms in our outfit, they were being paid at the rate of pay they came in with. We were told, in our information sessions to determine if we wanted to apply for OCS, that while we would not wear the stripes, we would be given sergeant’s pay. The reason for this, we were told, was because our personal expenses would be more as candidates than the normal soldier would have.

For example, we had to wear a freshly starched pair of fatigues each day. Aside from doing it yourself in the latrine every day, the alternative was to take them to the post laundry. Very few of us had the knack or the time to starch laundry. The cost for the professionals to do the job was 75 cents per pair and one had to buy extras to always have some available. The cost of starching amounted to about 25 per cent of a private’s base pay.

The logic of the extra money for us was reasonable and we looked forward to the raise. It didn’t happen. Starting with our unit, Class 28, the policy was changed and we retained our lowly pay status until we received our gold bars.

The pay situation illustrates a common Army axiom: Do not rely on any previously set policy to determine your future actions. A corollary: Don’t ever try to out-guess what the Army will do.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pinks and Greens

The days dragged on and with the resolve of lasting one more sunrise, 18 of the 22 weeks passed. At that point, we became Redbirds and turned into the ogres we had so hated for the first period of our training.

It amazed me how the candidates we were in charge of tried the same lame excuses and ruses to pass inspection as we did, hiding extra hangers under the springs on their cot, for instance. The Redbird system took into account that the upper classmen would know all the tricks because they had “been there, done that.”

Those last few weeks gave us hope that we would eventually get our commissions. But it was not without problems, particularly with a few of us who did not seem to want to conform to Capt. Fatback’s expectations.

He gathered us together as graduation approached and, in a fatherly manner, explained about what to expect. Enlisted personnel are supplied with uniforms, housing and food. Officers get higher pay but must pay for their own meals. They get an allotment for housing but single men don’t ever see it. It is taken to pay for your space in the BOQ (bachelor officer quarters). Officers are given $150 to buy uniforms when they are commissioned but after that must pay for their own.

Our dear captain said he was not allowed to direct us to any particular store down town, but XYZ Store (the one we were sure he was getting a kickback from) would be a good place to go. As an afterthought, he said the post quartermaster also had officers’ uniforms but it was quite evident he didn’t think that was a good choice for us.

Several of us checked it out and found the stores down town had uniforms that would nearly eat up our entire $150 allotment and the post quartermaster could provide the same thing for about $80 and we could pocket the extra 70 bucks. These outfits we were required to have were dress uniforms called “Pinks and Greens.” They were so called because the trousers were gabardine and a pink color while the blouse was a very dark green. We were not aware of it at the time, but the occasions to use the dress uniform were few. I still have mine stored away in a basement closet. I probably wore it twice during my Army hitch.

Capt. Brazier wasn’t very happy with our decision to buy quartermaster uniforms but he couldn’t do anything about it, except make us sweat about the fit. He took it upon himself to make sure his officers wore properly fitted uniforms. All of those who spent their money where he suggested passed inspection without much difficulty. Those of us who defied him by buying on the post had to fall out morning after morning to see if he approved of our fit. We had to keep returning to the quartermaster for minor alterations until he finally got tired of the game and let us be.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

“I Guess He’s Normal”

We had one final hurdle to pass before receiving our commission. That was a review board of field grade officers. Each candidate goes in one at a time to answer questions from the board with no prior knowledge of what might be asked.

In my case, following the requisite salute, I was told to sit and a stern looking major said, “Do you smoke?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.


“Socially, sir,” I hesitated.

“Go with girls?”

“When available, yes, sir!” I answered.

The major looked at the other officers around the table and grinned. “I guess he’s normal.”

It was their way of relaxing the candidates, I guess.

The questions they asked were more or less rhetorical and a specific answer was not expected. One was judged on his reasoning process. The only question I remember was one about a swimming pool situation. I was told I was a lifeguard at an army post with only two people in the pool. One was the base commander’s wife and the other was a private.

Both swimmers go under at the same time, apparently in trouble. Which one do you save? There is no right answer, of course, but I made an attempt by saying I would go to the closest one and get to the other as quickly as possible.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Shave Tail

Mother, and some friends who had worked with her at the Quiz in Ord, drove to Ft. Sill for graduation. She pinned my bars on and I went back to Omaha with them for some leave time before heading to my first duty assignment. We didn’t dally around the base, first, because I was greatly relieved to be leaving with a commission, and second because it was a post requirement. Apparently some newly commissioned officers might want to get even with members of the cadre who had given them a bad time. (Remember the sequence in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman)? Requiring the “shave tails” to leave within 24 hours from the time they were commissioned avoided the problem.

“Shave tail” is a term referring to second lieutenants. It comes from the means with which officers were identified in the early days of the American army. Traditionally, officers had epaulets on the shoulders of their shirts on which to pin their insignia of rank. When an enlisted man became an officer he had to improvise, so he would cut material from the tail of his shirt and make epaulets to sew on his shoulders. Thus the term, “shave tail.”

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Camp Atterbury

My first duty assignment as an officer was at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, some 20 to 30 miles south of Indianapolis. It was a training camp for newly drafted soldiers and some National Guard units called up for the Korean conflict.

My duties included teaching some classes, military courtesy and other non-technical information required in basic training. But as the newest officer in the battery, I got all the unwanted duty, such as mess officer.

That wasn’t so bad but older officers didn’t like it because it entailed daily inspections (some times early in the morning) and other boring work. One day, the first cook told me he found evidence of a mouse in the mess hall so I told him I would handle it.

I got out the phone book and found just what I needed, the post exterminator. I called and they said they would take care of it. Three days later a pickup truck with three men backed up to the kitchen. Two got out (I assume the driver felt compelled to stay with his vehicle). One carried a mouse trap and the other a piece of cheese. They deposited their cargo without a word, got back into the pickup and drove away.

My turn as weekend duty officer seemed to come up quite often also, but the new man doesn’t question orders. This duty, again, was not so bad. You just had to be available during your weekend in case of an emergency in the battery area.

On my first duty weekend I stopped in at the enlisted men’s day room on Saturday night to see how things were going (part of my responsibility). They were having a party and invited me to have drink with them.

I said no thanks because I was on duty but it didn’t take much persuasion to have just one. An hour or so later (and a good deal more than one drink) I made it back to my BOQ It was morning before I woke up with a hangover and the realization that had an emergency arose, I may not have been able to handle it. Fortunately the night passed without incident and I avoided a situation that might have called for a court-martial. My relationship with the enlisted men in the battery was quite good after that, however.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

All Present or Accounted For

Another unwanted duty was officer of the day at battalion level. This required getting up before the crack of dawn and standing before the assembled batteries of sleepy-eyed men to report their presence.

This picture is retained in my memory. It is still dark, since the sun is not up yet. At least four batteries making up the battalion of 1,000 men or so are stretched out in front of you. It is at least a block and a half each way for the forming of the troops. The job is simply to call them to attention (without aid of microphone or any other artificial sound equipment) and get their reports.

“Battalll…ion! Atten…hut!” the DO bellows, and after the troops snap to, he requires them to “Report!”

“A Battery all present or accounted for, sir!”

“B Battery all present or accounted for, sir!”

“C Battery all present or accounted for, sir!”

This goes on until all units are heard from.

I had finally realized the emphasis on command presence—a loud voice, in the exercise of that morning. Of course, no unit ever reported anyone missing. That was all handled on the morning report, a written document submitted daily up the chain of command. On it those missing, on leave or sick call, or perhaps actually absent without leave (AWOL) would be so identified. Thus everyone was in fact present, or accounted for.

I suppose getting all the troops out at one time in a uniform fashion served some perverse army purpose but I never found out what it was.

Early in my assignment to Camp Atterbury I went to the first sergeant in my battery to get acquainted. He was a career man and had spent some time as a Texas Ranger before entering service, as well as having pulled duty as a guard at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Those jobs give some indication of his general demeanor.

I admitted to being green as a gourd, which was obvious to him, and would appreciate any help and direction I could get. He said he would help when he could and we became good friends during my stay.

I was filling in for an officer in another battery, who was gone on emergency leave, and happened to be alone when the phone rang. Certain protocol is required when answering the phone and I followed it precisely:

“First Battalion, Battery C, Lt. McCormick speaking, Sir!”

“Are you standing at attention, lieutenant?” a voice on the other end asked authoritatively.

“Yes, Sir!” was my reply.

“Well, you don’t have to stand at attention for a sergeant, lieutenant.” I knew then it was my first sergeant pulling my leg.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

“The MPs Always Bring Me Back”

It seems I was always filling in for someone. One week the commanding officer of my battery, a captain, was on leave and all the other officers were otherwise occupied. It was a Monday and the first sergeant (with a little knowing glint in his eye) said one of the men had been picked up by the Military Police in Indianapolis for drunkenness. It is the duty of the commanding officer (that was me, pro-tem) to administer punishment in such a case.

The outfit I was with was composed mostly of Alabama National Guardsmen who were called up for the Korean emergency. They were nearly finished with their tours of duty and were being sent home in small groups. Since they were short timers, they were not really attentive to duty.

So here I was, a 23 year old lieutenant, having to call on the carpet a “40 something” corporal who could care less about morality. I talked to him a while about the seriousness of his actions and how drink could affect his life, et cetera.

After a bit, I said he would have to take company punishment (I could have had him court-marshaled) and confined him to the barracks for three weekends.

I asked him if he had learned anything from his experience and his reply was quite sanguine. “Yes, sir, Lieutenant. I’ll never buy another round trip ticket into town. The MPs always bring me back!”

Monday, February 12, 2007

Lieutenant Wells Fargo

I got another extra duty that typifies how Army regulations can sometimes be intolerable. Each month the payroll for the entire base came in and it was necessary to put extra guards on duty before the money could be disbursed the next day. There were not enough MPs for this once-a-month chore so on one particular month I was assigned nine men to do the job of guarding the payroll office over night.

The nine men were raw recruits with little experience in weaponry (and an officer in charge with not much more). Adding to the problem was that orders read for the guards to carry submachine guns with one round in the chamber.

The submachine guns were what were commonly referred to as “grease guns.” The Army had developed them as a quick and cheap means of laying down a lot of fire, but sadly, little accuracy. The weapon was so cheap rumor had it the parts were valued at only $l.98. The butt was a wire handle and the barrel looked like a grease gun, thus the nickname. Because of their construction it was quite possible for them to discharge simply by dropping them on the ground. With a round in the chamber, who knows what ill fate might befall my eight-hour guard duty?

There were other problems. I had to draw 900 rounds of ammunition (100 rounds for each man) so I went to the ammo dump with my orders. I was told by a captain the ammo could not be issued except for combat or training.

Since my job fell under neither category, I had no idea how I was going to fulfill my orders. About then I heard a “Psst, Lieutenant,” from around the corner of the building. It was a corporal who had overheard my conversation with the captain and he said he could get me all the ammo I wanted if I would just bring my jeep around the back the next afternoon.

I followed his instructions and he had the ammo ready for me. I issued the weapons and ammo to the nine recruits and prayed for no accidents. The night went without incident and troops turned in their armament at 8 a.m. the next day when the regular MPs took over.

I loaded the ammo into my jeep and went back to the corporal and asked him where he wanted me to put it.

“Don’t bring it in here, Lieutenant. I’ve taken care of all the paper work and that ammo does not exist!”

This was just like a scene out of M*A*S*H* with Corporal O’Reilly scrounging up material and the trouble it sometimes evoked.

I went back to the battery and my captain told me I couldn’t keep the ammo there and not to take it to my B.O.Q. since that would be a court-martial offense.

What to do? At the suggestion of my first sergeant friend, I gathered a bunch of officers, who were issued .45 caliber hand guns, and we took the contraband to the firing range and shot it all up, all 900 rounds. The ammo was nine millimeter but it fit the .45 cal. pistols.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Foot Lockers

My commanding officer was a nice guy and he wanted to do something for the Alabama guardsmen being released. As they were leaving he told them to pack their gear in steel foot lockers they had been issued and take them along home.

That, of course, was against regulation since all issued equipment, except uniforms, had to be turned in. It was no problem as long as the captain remained in command. However, when transferred, all commanding officers must submit to an inventory accounting for all equipment. Our captain had given away nearly a dozen foot lockers when he got orders transferring him to another outfit.

He knew he would have to replace the foot lockers so he went to the quartermaster to see how much it would cost him to avoid a court-martial.

Believe it or not, the base had recently replaced all their foot lockers, exchanging the wooden variety for the new steel ones. Fortunately for the captain, there were a number of old styles still on hand and being sold to all comers for a buck each. Further luck appeared when it was discovered the lot numbers for the two styles stayed identical. So for very little money and lot of luck, he avoided a court-martial. The remaining unit members being discharged had to settle for a hand shake and the Army had to settle for a few wooden foot lockers left in place of the steel variety.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


It seems I got so much extra duty I never got a weekend off but I did make it into “Naptown” (Indianapolis) once in a while. Very few of us had cars but the post had shelters just outside the entrance. If you sat there for a bit local residents, or higher grade officers, with cars would pick you up and take you into town.

One weekend, however, one of the junior officers with a vehicle invited me to go in for a night on the town along with several others.

He had been told about a nightclub on the edge of town called the Chicken Hut and where the so-called “action” was. We drove out there about 9 p.m. When we went to the door, an attendant said they were closed. There were numerous cars in the parking lot and noise could be heard from the lighted interior.

We sat outside to see if anyone came in or out and eventually several rough looking youths came out and were arguing heatedly. Suddenly several of the youths split the group, jumped in a vehicle and took off just as two police patrol cars wheeled in with their sirens blasting.

One cruiser chased the fleeing car and we could hear the “pap, pap” sound of what we figured to be a .38 caliber pistol being fired. Officers from the other patrol car got out and it was then we saw one of the youths on the ground, apparently stabbed.

We milled around the parking lot to see what was going on and one of our group found a pocket knife with what appeared to be blood on it. We turned it over to the police and they took all our names, apparently so we could be contacted later for testimony.

We got involved, I suppose, so we might get some time off duty to testify in an interesting court case. To my knowledge none of us were ever called and I have no idea whether the car pursuit was successful or if anyone was ever charged in the case.

Later we were told the nightclub had been under suspicion for a number of liquor law violations and other criminal activities. That must have been why they were cautious about letting anybody they didn’t know into their place.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Advanced Military Training

In February of 1953 I got another assignment principally because no one else wanted it. It was a week long Air-Ground Specialist School, teaching the loading of airplanes so the weight would be distributed properly. This was not of high interest to most officers, but again, my position gave me no choice in the matter.

As it turned out, the school was supposed to be for field grade officers (captains and above) with secret clearance. Don’t ask me why it required that type of clearance, just put it down to Army red tape.

All of the field grade officers in the battalion who were qualified found reasons not to go. Of the junior officers available most were ROTC graduates and received only confidential clearance (one level below secret). Again, why OCS and Military Academy grads received secret clearance can only be explained as unknown Army reasoning.

At any rate, I was the only choice left so I packed my duffel bag with fatigues, put on my class A uniform and boarded a train for Southern Pines, North Carolina.

I knew the school was not going to be what I had expected when a headquarters staff car met me at the train and took me to a plantation with a huge home transformed into a school.

It turned out the Army, Navy and Air Force ran the school jointly and each service tended to out-do the other in training aids. It was the first time I had every seen black light and that was just one example of advanced training techniques they employed.

Classes lasted usually from 9 a.m. to noon. After a leisurely lunch, a bus would pull up about 2 p.m. and most of the students would be transported to one of the many golf courses in the area, one of which hosted the U.S. Open one year.

A lowly second lieutenant was not invited to share a foursome, even if he had brought along golf clubs or proper attire.

Another reason I avoided the companionship of the other students, beside the difference in rank, was because of one particular captain. To my dismay, I recognized my former OCS battery commanding officer, the dreaded Captain Fatback. It has been rumored he was relieved of his command when authorities discovered his improper dealings with downtown Lawton uniform suppliers. I made it a point to seat myself away from him in class and I don’t know whether he remembered me or not.

I returned to Camp Atterbury retaining very little learned at the school since my job would never require it. It did help my unit fulfill their obligation, however.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Korea and a Few Stops In-Between

The following May I received my orders for Korea but I had 30 days leave coming so I got a delay-in-route and spent a month at home.

Following my leave, I went to Ft. Lewis, Washington where we stayed about a week being processed before beginning our journey to Korea.

Once again, I had to deal with the adage, never try to out-guess the Army. This was late June, summer weather, right? Even Washington in June can be warm and I knew weather in Korea was similar to the Midwest (the 38th parallel runs through Kansas). I left my winter uniforms in Omaha. Since the Northwest can be either chilly or warm, GIs out there are allowed to wear either uniform. Whoever wrote our orders didn’t anticipate where we were going and we were required to board the plane in winter clothing.

Consequently, I had to go to the post commissary and buy a winter uniform to board the plane for our trip to Korea or else face a court-martial for disobeying orders. It was well into the 90s when we arrived in Korea so the winter uniform was excess. When you have limited space in a duffel bag, such excess is discarded.

That was as bad as the overnight bag I won at bingo on the troop ship going to basic training in Hawaii, only to throw it overboard because it wouldn’t fit in the one duffel bag I was allowed.

From Ft. Lewis, which was near Seattle, we were taken to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada for our flight to Japan. Canada’s contribution to the Korean War effort was using their commercial air lines to transport troops.

Our flight route took us over the Aleutian Islands on our way to Camp Drake in Tokyo. Japan. The weather became bad and the pilot apparently was told to land at Cold Bay, Alaska in the Aleutians. This particular air base is situated so the landing strip ends with a huge drop off into the sea. As our plane came out of the clouds the pilot saw he was below the level of the air field, with nothing but a cliff looming in front and the sea boiling below. He quickly banked to the left, nearly dipping one wing into the water, and got high enough to take another approach.

As we came in for a landing, I looked out and saw several emergency vehicles waiting for us on the runway. I was on the opposite side of the plane and couldn’t see the danger we had overcome. The tower control people were not taking any chances and had prepared for a crash landing.

We found out later our pilot, a civilian, was the youngest Canadian ever to receive a license to fly a major air line plane. His youth may have helped him in his quick reaction and perhaps saved us from a watery grave.

The air base was not expecting us, of course, so there were no sleeping accommodations in this far northern outpost. I found a rec room and curled up on a pool table for the night. Before leaving the next day we could see why few airmen wanted this base for duty. Rope lines were strung between buildings so troops could find their way during frequent snow storms. Barracks were unpainted because constant winds simply removed the paint. At least the tour of duty there was short because of the high incidence of depression.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Camp Drake

We came into Tokyo at night and the sight was spectacular for this “wide-eyed Midwesterner” who was experiencing his first flight on a commercial air line. Tokyo at the time was a city of seven or eight million souls and it seemingly stretched out for miles across the Japanese landscape.

We were at Camp Drake for about a week. In looking at my orders when writing this piece, I see we were there over the Fourth of July. When you are headed for the unknown in a war zone, holidays don’t grab much attention.

On July 6 we headed for our destination, which we thought was Korea. A flood in southern Japan, however, prevented us from reaching our port so our orders were changed. We were sent to a specialist’s school at Eta Jima (not Iwo Jima of World War II fame). The school prepared junior officers to become proficient in the art of chemical, biological and radiological warfare. It was not designed to wage war, but rather, prepare us in case the enemy used those methods against us.

I mention again that people in our position, i.e., on our way to war, pay little heed to world events or daily activities. I don’t think it was necessarily because we were afraid, although we were, but more because of the uncertainty. One tends to live for the moment because of that uncertain tomorrow.

With that background I relate the events of the hours preceding our boarding a train for southern Japan and my realization that the next stop could be on a hill serving as a forward observer for an artillery unit in Korea.

The officers’ club at Camp Drake found itself in a surplus financial condition and under Army rules they could not exceed a certain amount in their slush fund. To correct the situation they announced a free-drink day to reduce the surplus.

Despite the temptation to overdo, the permanent officers at Camp Drake knew they had to show up for duty in reasonably good shape. It was not so for transients who were on their way into the unknown. We imbibed more than we should have.

Our train was scheduled to leave at 6 p.m. from Tokyo Station and by the time we poured ourselves into an Army bus to go, we did not reflect what our commissions had described of us, an “officer and a gentleman.” One of our number even stashed a couple full bottles of whiskey from the club before we left so we were well supplied even on our trip downtown.

Once we got to Tokyo Station we were feeling no pain. I have never been in Grand Central Station in New York City but this place had to be three times as big. No one was exactly sure when our train left or where to find the right track, but an urgent mission precluded any searching.

With the quantities of liquid we had consumed, it was quite evident we needed to find the facilities. This was long before the advent of international signs posted for rest rooms and such. We didn’t read Japanese. Finally, one of the guys spotted a large garden area that could possibly obscure our presence. After taking advantage of the bushes, we then proceeded to find our boarding location.

When we arrived at the edge of the garden where we had entered, we found a large corrugated door had been lowered and we were no longer able to get out. Missing a troop shipment is a court-martial offense and, in time of war, punishable by death.

Our panic was extreme and certainly had a sudden sobering (both practically and figuratively) effect. We beat on the door and after a while someone heard us and opened it. We finally found our train and discovered we still had an hour to spare but no one was sorry we hadn’t tarried.

We boarded the famed “Bullet Train” that travels in excess of 100 miles per hour and began our journey to Eta Jima. To say our bodies were not in top notch condition would be an understatement. That much speed on rails added to our discomfort. A further complication was the construction of Japanese urinals (which we continued to find an important part of our several hours journey). These units are not constructed on the wall so one can stand up to them. They are implanted in the floor without any rail-holds alongside and require a squatting position to use. The Japanese (also Koreans) are accustomed to this style of bathroom. They sit hour after hour at their businesses or in conversation in this squatting position. For an American GI rocking side to side at 100 miles an hour with a hangover, it was pure Hell.

Our consternation was not over. When we detrained at Eta Jima, we found the depot was alongside a fishing port. The fishermen found it convenient to spread their nets to dry along the railroad tracks. The fish were left in the sun also. The smell for a healthy person was horrendous, but for those in our condition it was enough to send us over the edge. The locals were naturally accustomed to the smell and thought nothing of it.

The school was interesting enough but it was sufficient only to certify us as battalion CBR officers when we reached our units in Korea.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


We were sent to the port city of Sasebo, Kyushu now that the flood waters had receded and waited there for our boat to Korea. We had to wait about four days so we had some time to relax. One evening we hired a cab to take four of us to a night club high on a hill just outside the city. It was a small Japanese car and although it was hard to fit us all in, we accepted the vehicle, supposing it was all that was available. Our mistake became evident later when the cab driver stopped the taxi half way up the hill and told us that was as far his car could go, not enough power. We reluctantly paid him off and trudged the rest of the way on foot. After that, we either hired a full size car or asked whether the destination was on a hill.

Our trip across the Sea of Japan was on a small boat already loaded with several Air Force officers. We were terribly green, of course, but even so we could not understand why they were so unfriendly to us. We found out the reason later. It seems these officers had served their time in Korea and were going home. When they got their orders they had a choice between flying home or shipping out on this boat. A flight would not be available for several weeks so they opted to take the boat, which was leaving immediately.

Even though the boat took 13 days and the flight just hours, they still would have been home sooner by leaving immediately. Wrong! After they boarded, the ship’s orders were changed and it became a shuttle between Korea and Japan. They had been riding that boat back and forth between Korea and Japan waiting for the Air Force paper work to get them other transportation. Once again, don’t ever try to out-guess the military. When we found out the reason for their anger, we understood.

Four days later we had rounded the southern tip of Korea and dropped anchor at Inchon on the Yellow Sea side of the country. Inchon was not a deep water port so we had to stay several miles out and utilized LSTs (Landing Ship Troops) to go ashore. It was just like the movie I had seen of World War II with landings at Omaha Beach, except there was no gunfire for us. It was just an everyday occurrence for the port of Inchon.

We almost had some gunfire. After we landed it was necessary to lug our duffel bags through the town of Yong Dong Po to the Army replacement post (commonly referred to as a “repo depo”).

As we trudged along, we were accosted by some young Korean kids wanting cigarettes or candy. These youngsters, most of them not over ten or twelve years old, were street wise and had learned all the tricks. One of their ruses used a piece of metal in the rear of a paperback book. While the newly-landed GI was distracted, the urchin would deftly flip the book up and pick pens, pencils, or other items from the pocket of the victim and then run like hell. One soon learned to keep such objects inside the pocket with the flap buttoned to avoid them being stolen.

Enter one of my fellow officers (a graduate of Texas A & M University). He had shunned the .45 caliber sidearm issued by the Army and had his own .38 in a holster, slung true Texas style, and tied down with a leather thong.

These Korean kids saw a challenge and while several of them hassled the young lieutenant from the front, another tried to lift the gun from the rear. Our Texan took umbrage at this and drew on them. It was not without some effort we finally got him to cool down and we made it through town to our barracks.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Public Information

We landed at Inchon July 22, 1953 and I sat around Yong Dong Po until July 29. Each of those seven days saw one or more of our number called out and given orders to report to a particular artillery battalion to serve as a forward observer.

I was in no hurry to go to the front but I was beginning to wonder if the Army had forgotten me. Finally, on the 29th, a major came and instructed me to get in his jeep with my gear. Explanations are seldom given and second lieutenants don’t ask.

The next thing I knew, we were at Eighth Army Headquarters in Seoul, some 20 miles from Inchon. The major took me in to a bird colonel (full colonel) who asked me if I wanted to work in a public information office.

“I’ve never done that type of work, sir.” I replied.

“I didn’t ask you that. Do you want the job!” he said.

“Yes, sir,” was my reply and the next day I went to work in the public information office, Eighth Army Headquarters.

Even though it was office work we were on duty seven days a week, just like troops in the field. Our offices were on the campus of what had been Seoul University and we were housed there also. Later, the headquarters were moved to a larger site at the edge of the city (a metropolis of some 5 million) and near the 121 Evacuation Hospital, a unit mentioned on the latter day television series M*A*S*H*.

About the only thing I remember about our university location was the arrival of “Bedcheck Charlie” almost nightly. Around midnight a light plane from North Korea would slip under radar surveillance and drop a 500-pound bomb on the compound. It seldom hit anything and to my knowledge never hurt anybody. I suppose it was a message from the “gooks,” a derogatory term for the enemy, that they could get at us any time they wanted.

I never saw the colonel again who assigned me to the job except by chance when he was either arriving or leaving work. In addition to the major who had brought me, we had one captain, a couple of first lieutenants, several second lieutenants and a host of enlisted men.

The enlisted men did most of the work. I never did find out what the higher grade officers did exactly. My job was mainly to edit copy coming from the battalions for what the Army called the Home Town News Center. My official title was “Chief of News Branch, Information Section, 8th Army Headquarters.” I didn’t really remember that title (even if I did know it at the time) until I got looking through my army papers and found a commendation from my commanding officer listing it. That commendation, saying I had done an outstanding job, came from the self-same colonel with whom I never had any more contact.

Information about GIs, their promotions, medals, or commendations was written by grunts at the company level, processed at battalion, and then sent to us.

We cleaned it up and sent it to the hometown newspapers designated by the soldier. I assume my file showed I had a journalism degree and that’s why I got the job at army headquarters. Those in the lower units particularly those on the front lines, obviously had more important work to do than writing news copy and it could not have been a high priority.

Despite my understanding of this, I still had the authority to re-write and even reject copy from the units. It was the only time in my Army career when I could tell a major at battalion level what to do. I did that on several occasions when the copy sent was so bad that editing was of little value. In those instances I required a complete re-submission.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

VIPs and SOPs

Once again, the adage that you cannot out guess the Army proved quite true. All through my time up to that point, and at every opportunity, I had asked to get into public information. After all, that was my college major. No, I was told, we need forward observers in Korea. So here I was, finally on duty in Korea, and where do they send me but to a public information office.

Another part of the job was making up scrap books for visiting VIPs (Very Important Persons), from retired generals to U.S. senators and one Secretary of the Army.

The SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) was to shoot pictures of the dignitaries in various locations and provide a scrap book for them to take home. Pictures in a fox hole were popular.

To facilitate this we had a fake one just outside headquarters. We would place the dignitary in the fox hole and give him a steel helmet with the letters VIP (I’m not kidding) on it and snap the photo. No muss, no fuss, and no bother about actually visiting the front.

We seemed to have a lot of visitors since the war was winding down and peace talks had already begun. It was also my understanding, and I have not made an effort to verify it, that some income tax would be forgiven to anyone spending a certain amount of time in a war zone. The law was designed to give soldiers a break for defending their country, but most GIs didn’t earn enough to make any difference. An elected official, however, could save considerable change, not to mention looking good to his constituents, by taking a junket to Korea.

I was assigned a Signal Corps photographer when I needed one. Many times I drew a sergeant named Cordeiro (I’m not sure I ever knew his first name). I soon learned he was considered one of the best in his field. One day Sgt. Cordeiro and I were assigned to cover a trip by retired General James A. Van Fleet. He was with the American-Korean Foundation, Inc., aiding in the reconstruction of South Korea following the war. At a press conference, the day of his departure, I was responsible for taking his scrap book to him.

He looked at it and said, “Did Sgt. Cordeiro take these pictures?”

He apparently had known the sergeant and his work from his time in the Army earlier. Sgt. Cordeiro had waited outside until the conference was over because we had shared a jeep.

When I told Gen. Van Fleet the pictures were indeed taken by Sgt. Cordeiro, he said, “Bring him in here. He’s the best blankity blank photographer in the whole army.”

Although the sergeant was reluctant to go in where all this brass was waiting, I convinced him he should. Gen. Van Fleet complimented him in front of all the correspondents and other assembled big wigs.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Name Dropping

As I mentioned before, covering dignitaries occupied a good deal of our time. It happened to put me in close proximity with many of the news makers of the day.

Here are the ones I can remember: Syngman Rhee, South Korean president; Gen. Mark Clark, Far East Army commanding officer; Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Eighth Army commanding officer; Gen. William F. Dean, highest ranking officer captured by the North Koreans; Robert Stevens, Secretary of the Army; John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State; Henry Cabot Lodge, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Major Sammy Lee, Olympic diver; Jim Lucas, internationally known correspondent and columnist; Marguerite Higgins, not only the first woman correspondent in Korea from the United States, but the first one of either sex; and Gen. Van Fleet.

Many of the dignitaries had legitimate reasons for being in Korea. Most of it had to do with the peace talks going on in Pan Mun Jom (Freedom Village). They came to negotiate with the North Koreans but also to talk with former prisoners being repatriated.

Gen. Dean was an interesting story. He had been a prisoner of war for three years and little was known of his physical or mental condition.

Our intrepid commanding officer, Col. George White, the one we seldom saw, issued an edict that the news conference for Gen. Dean would be conducted under the pool system. That meant the correspondents had to choose a representative, one each from newspapers, magazines, and radio, and they would convey the report to the others.

Because Gen. Dean’s condition was not known, we understood Col. White’s reluctance to allow hordes of newsmen and photographers in the room. Although they may have understood, the correspondents did not like the pool system at all.

Guess who got the duty of telling the correspondents this “good news?” I gathered them together at the air strip where the general was due to arrive and told them what the colonel had directed. The names they called the good colonel are not mentionable here.

Undaunted, the correspondents met Gen. Clark’s plane (which arrived from Japan just before Dean came in) and told him of the colonel’s order.

Clark countermanded Col. White’s order, apparently he had more information about Gen. Dean’s condition, and all who wanted in, got in to the briefing room. As it turned out, Gen. Dean, although very thin, sprinted up the stairs two at a time to the second floor where the conference took place. Syngman Rhee himself was on hand to welcome the returning hero.

Dealing with the correspondents on a day-to-day basis was part of our job. They were an independent lot and had the equivalent rank of major when it came to protocol and seniority, so it was difficult to control their activities.

Phone calls in the press billets were understandably limited but the correspondents paid little attention to rules. A notice was posted next to the phone one day stating that Jim Lucas had talked to Tokyo for 30 minutes in violation of the limit. Scrawled next to his name, Jim put his own notation, “Is that a record?”

Another wag came along and wrote, “No, but it’s close. So try again.” So much for any attempt to control the news media.

Friday, February 02, 2007

“For Small Personage, We Push This Button”

I had a problem one day in dealing with a particular correspondent, Marguerite Higgins. My Korean driver and I were on our way to Kimpo Air Base but a flash flood impeded our route and we stopped at the press billets waiting for the water to recede.

Ms. Higgins came through the building looking to borrow somebody’s jeep and driver so she could get to a tea at the American embassy. No one volunteered. The next time I ventured outside, my jeep was gone, along with the driver. Some time later, “Maggie” came back and didn’t even thank me for the use of my vehicle. She was not only the equivalent of a major, but her husband also happened to be a two-star Air Force general. I made no report of the incident, for obvious reasons.

Secretary of the Army Stevens came to Korea and I was on duty as liaison to meet his plane and facilitate his meeting with the correspondents. This was in September of 1953 and a rumor was floating that because the war was winding down, the Army was planning to give early release to non-career officers.

Confirmation of such a move was vitally interesting to me so as I stood in the crowd listening to the questions, I was overwhelmed with the urge to do the unthinkable, ask a question of my own. My job was to provide the platform for whomever the Army made available, not to become a correspondent myself.

Throwing caution to the wind, I waited for a slight break and said, “Sir, rumors have it there will be early release of some reserve officers. Is that true?” The Secretary hardly glanced my way before turning his head to the next correspondent and nodded for his question. I may have been asking a top secret question or just being ignored. At any rate, I didn’t get a reply. About 30 days later, however, the answer to my question was moot when many of us were offered early release.

I had no such encounters with Dulles or Lodge, but I have copies of pictures taken of them near 8th Army Headquarters.

I was within arm’s length of Pres. Rhee one time during a parade. He was not highly regarded by many of us because of his dictatorial policies and I often thought how light the security was for him. Someone intending harm could easily have infiltrated the many public functions where he appeared.

Pres. Rhee apparently used his influence when it came to ethnic Koreans. Maj. Sammy Lee, an American Army officer, had become famous as an Olympic diver. On his arrival in Korea he was assigned to a unit in Seoul that had the only Olympic size swimming pool in the country, and perhaps the only pool, period. One of my file pictures shows Rhee welcoming Maj. Lee to Korea.

I never got assigned to the peace talks at Pan Mun Jom but somehow my file of pictures includes some taken there. In my haste to leave Korea, I must have grabbed the wrong file.

The stories coming out of Freedom Village opened my eyes to a new world of propaganda, both from the standpoint of the enemy and from that of our own country.

In my naïve mind, captured North Koreans should have been happy to be held prisoner by a democratic country such as the United States. Pictures taken during their repatriation at Pam Mun Jom, however, showed them tearing off their American made clothes and shouting epithets at their captors.

Our prisoners were obviously happy to be coming home but we found out later a number of GIs remained behind by choice. They were referred to as “turncoats.” Many eventually returned home after several years of disillusionment in the Communist North Korea.

A parade was scheduled for some dignitaries, including Dean Rusk or someone of similar rank. I don’t remember which one it was. I was standing on the reviewing stand next to a Korean general who looked to be even younger than me.

He spoke English so I asked him how they were able to get such a large crowd out for their parades when it was quite likely the Korean people had no idea who they were seeing. Throngs of children, all waving American flags, and thousands of adults, lined the streets.

His answer was quite simple. “For small personage, we push this button. If he is more important, we push this button.” His meaning, of course, was that the government told the people what to do and when to do it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

More War Stories

Several officers normally went together and hired a Korean boy to take care of their billet, keeping it clean, taking the laundry out, and other chores.

Our houseboy was about 14 years old and was being privately tutored. He said the Korean schools were so bad most young men felt private tutoring was the only solution. We only found this out when he asked to be paid early one month because his tutor needed money. At this point, I volunteered to help him with his English. After looking at his textbook, I knew why most Koreans speak “pigeon” English. That’s the way their books are written!

Our houseboy was basically honest and a good worker but he constantly asked us to buy him a world-wide radio at the Post Exchange. This was an excellent black market item and could be sold for much more than retail value. We refused to take part in this enterprise and accused him of illegal activity.

“Oh, no. Me no slicky, slicky,” he protested.

We still refused. When I left Korea, I gave him my alarm clock, which I am sure he converted to cash before I got out of the country.

Generals were not an uncommon sight for us since we went to work each morning at a high level headquarters. I was late one day, however, and as I rounded a corner hurrying to go to work, I ran directly into a major general and nearly knocked him down. I hastily excused myself and when the general said he was okay, I scurried on to work.

It reminded me of the old joke about the enlisted man who ducked into a darkened doorway out of the wind to light his cigarette. Finding he was out of matches, the GI reached out when he saw a khaki uniform pass by and asked for a light. He saw the flicker of a gold cigarette lighter and two stars looking at him from the stranger’s shoulder pads.

Flustered, the soldier came to attention, saluted and said, “Sorry, sir, I didn’t recognize your rank.”

“That’s all right, soldier,” said the general. “You just thank God I wasn’t a second lieutenant!”

On the subject of generals, our commanding officer, Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, did hobnob with junior officers on occasion. He was a tennis buff and was always looking for a match. Fortunately, I did not play and did not have the opportunity. Friends of mine who did always had a dilemma. Does one play his best and take a chance of beating the “old man” or gamble he won’t notice if you let him win.

I watched a number of matches and Gen. Taylor seemed to be able to hold his own with the younger men, even though the elastic bandage on his leg indicated he might have pulled a muscle.

Gen. Taylor was reputed to be one of the “chosen officers,” picked early in their career to go places in the service. Such men, almost without exception graduates of West Point, were placed in strategic positions early in their careers so they would be in the right place at the right time.

Later to become chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the superior officer to all branches of service, Taylor was quite obviously given selective assignments. He was in the paratroopers during the second world war and jumped into Germany to save the American army at the Battle of the Bulge. His assignment to Korea advanced his career, of course, and he replaced Mark Clark in the Far East command before continuing up the ladder.