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"It was a day-long ride and little was said, even though we stopped to eat our C-rations. The dirt roadway was well maintained, but we saw no traffic. It was an awesome scene. All was totally destroyed. Nothing could be distinguished other than soil, rocks, and small pieces of tree trunks. It was as if a giant machine had scarified the entire terrain. The major said it was from artillery. It was nerve-racking."
- Howard Ellis
When the Rooster Crows
by Howard Ellis
Looking back on my life, now that it is about over, I would have done best in the military. That was how I started out. My forming years were just before and during World War II, and I thought about storming ashore on a Pacific Island beach under heavy enemy fire so much that something of that nature was what I expected as my fate. I didn’t grasp the overall idea of the military.
My Uncle Bonner, Papa’s youngest brother, was in World War I. He was the only person I was ever knowingly nearby when death came. This was around 1944, at his home where I often visited. Mostly I was selling "Grit" weekly newspapers on Saturdays. He was in bed sick for a week or so. He was in like a coma. Maybe it was something he overate. Sometimes we ate cold vegetables for supper that "didn’t agree". They may have gotten toxic somehow after long and repeated cooking and cooling. This is only my thought. I do not know if he had a physician looking after him. He had always kidded me a lot, calling me "snake doctor". When I went into his room after he got sick, he so called me. His daughter, my first cousin, Maggie, was amazed that he even recognized me.
The night he died, he had been moved from the back room, where I had seen him, to the front room. His family, my parents, and at least his brother from across the road were there along with others, all of whom I do not recall. My Uncle Newt, the next older brother, was at the foot of the bed. When there was a stir of emotion by the bedside, he said in a trembling voice, "He’s going. We have to hold his feet." He reached under the covers and did this. I was asked by a distant cousin to go tell another relative. I checked with Papa before I left.
I then and still prefer to think that Uncle Bonner had been an infantry combat soldier. My sister Mildred countered recently that she thought he had been an aid man. Perhaps so, and as I learned in the Korean War, he might have been both. As is often said, he didn’t talk much about the war. He was in France during the fighting. When the Germans acted up again, I heard him say out in our churchyard that he had seen our boys coming back into the trenches with pieces of cloth down by the hilt of their bayonets.
When I was a few years old, Uncle Bonner give me two little Army books that he had brought back. Mother put them away not wanting me to "study about war". I sometimes begged her to get them down for me, which she would for a short time. I believe that they were about the uniforms and duties of the different ranks. I took a hankering to a plain pink dress shirt that officers wore. I never got to wear one.
Other than a neighbor who had skin characteristics different than ours, I learned of no others in our farming community of Level Land who had served in that war. I didn’t know of any other blood relatives older than Uncle Bonner who had been in any wars or even in the services. I did not feel any military tradition. Sometime after a "Bonus Army" marched in Washington, D.C. in 1932, which I only found out about much later, Uncle Bonner got some money for his service. He bought the first binder I ever saw. This was a machine that took the place of hand labor to harvest grain. It had wooden horizontal blades that folded the stalks into the teeth of the cutter. It bundled, tied, and dropped the sheaves off to be picked up and stacked manually. It was built to do all these things in response to the turning of the wheels over the ground as mules pulled it. It replaced a lot of labor. I am not sure of the over-all benefit it gave the economy of our place.
Uncle Bonner hired out to harvest others' fields. Papa was an expert to cut the first round along the edges of the fields so that the mules would have a place to go without trampling the crop. He did this by swinging a cradle. This was a long blade maybe five feet long, with a wooden framework upon which the stalks fell as they were cut. After each swing, Papa’s right hand would gather these to carefully place them on the ground. Either he or another gathered these "hands" to bind into a bundle. It came to be about ten inches in diameter and was put up in shocks to dry before being hauled to the barn to await the thresher. At about 30 years of age, I came across one of these cradles. I tried swinging it and found it very difficult.
Mr. Will Newell owned the threshing machine. He was our next door neighbor and the father of the other veteran mentioned above. Papa told me the story of the Newels having trouble getting money due this veteran for his service. I did not know him. Perhaps he had passed on before I was big enough to remember. A man came by where Papa was working in his field and asked about this neighbor. Papa identified this man as a federal agent. Papa said that he had a radio on in his car and left it on. He knew about these, but this was the first one that he had heard. Papa was not impressed with either the man or the radio and only had the best of things to say about the veteran and nothing else. This made me proud.
When the newspapers reported that Mussolini had invaded Ethiopia, Mr. Newell and I celebrated how well Haile Selassie was holding off the invasion by sitting together on a gully bank and sharing a watermelon from our patch. I have only now looked up the historical details and found that the invasion took place on October 3, 1935. This puts me in a bit of a bind, as this would have been pushing it a little late for watermelon picking. I was seven years old and starting the second grade. I was not reading well yet, but I made on to Mr. Newell, at his enticement, that I knew all about that conflict. He enjoyed this part, as he was kidding me. He was excited about it because it was between people of two different skin characteristics. I was on his side.
I didn’t address him by either title or name. I thought of him as "Will" because this was what Papa called him. When he passed away a few years later, Papa and I were the only ones of our color to see him in his casket at his home and to attend his funeral at Springfield Church. We sat on the end of the front row throughout the service.
Near this time I was in the cotton field with Papa and my only brother, Emmett, who was thirteen when I was born. It was in the short rows abutting a water drainage ditch. Arbored over this depression was our prized scuppernong vine from the corner of Mother’s flower garden. Cotton was being picked and it was the only time that it was easy to talk. I was surprised to hear about some military campaign going on at a place strange to me, the Dardanelles. They were waxing eloquently about prospects that might ensue there. Papa mentioned the weather. Emmett said that something called the cavalry would be used. Not having seen any movies yet and only relating to the place where our pastor said that Jesus had died, I wondered what it meant and asked. Emmett may have told me, but indicated that I need not join the conversation. I haven’t gotten around to researching the history of what this might have been about. It seems like a pick up or a continuation from the previous war.
We got a daily newspaper, The Anderson Independent, delivered by our Rural Free Delivery mailman, Mr. Luke, but I only looked at the "funnies". I associated RFD with FDR, our president who was trying to help us with such things then. He had said when he came to that office that the number one problem of our nation was the poverty in the rural South. President Carter was my favorite president and ex-president. It now looks like he should have said when he took office that our number one problem was terrorism.
Papa and Emmett must have read the paper well because neither had been far from our community to learn things. Papa had never attended school because there was none when he was of that age. His parents did a great job to teach him, however they had learned. It must have been the Sunday church meetings that encouraged this pursuit of current events and history.
In more recent times I came across other proof that my folks kept up well with their reading. I had heard that a great grandfather had been named Chris Ellis. At the later time I found that it was Christopher Columbus Ellis and that he had been born 100 years before me. This time I was able to satisfy myself as to how his name came about. I learned that Washington Irving was "one of us" and at that time was on his trip to Spain. It was he who got together for the glory of his hosts the enduring tale of the discoverer of the new world and had it published the year that great grandfather was born.
Papa told me that he himself had wanted to serve in the Army when he was 18, the year the Spanish-American War broke out. Since he was the oldest of the large family, his mother didn’t want him to go and he abided. When his youngest brother, my Uncle Bonner, was inducted for World War I, he first went to Camp Croft near Spartanburg, in our state of South Carolina. I was amazed when Papa told me that he went to visit him there before he shipped out overseas to France. Papa didn’t have and could not have borrowed any means of making the fifty or so mile trip. I believe that he went with others who had soldiers there also. Most likely it was in their car. They must have taken food and camping things along. Papa told me that they just hung around for several days, not seeing their soldiers much. An officer asked them to leave. Later in my military time I experienced little to allow me to relate to visits of families to camps.
An uncle, Ithema Brooks, had married my mother’s youngest sister, Aunt Alpha. Uncle "I" enlisted for the Pancho Villa trouble. General "Black Jack" Pershing headed up our fieldwork there. Being all along keen about military leaders, I carried in my mind an image of the man being so tough that he brought discipline in his troops as if using a blackjack such as police had. A few years ago I chanced to read that General John Joseph Pershing (1860-1948) had come by this nickname by having led a black regiment long prior to leading the American Expeditionary Forces to Europe in World War I. I liked this image better until I further read that he issued a document warning French military leaders against treating black American troops as equals. I was glad to see it also recorded that the French people disregarded his advice.
Uncle "I" talked to me several times about my signing up and seeing the world. His idea was to go and observe everything and to see how other folks did things. He indicated that it would be the best education to get. Contrary to what Horace Greeley said and the stories of European immigrants to America, Uncle "I" felt one should always come home afterwards. When he did, he built a nice home, using ideas he had gotten in his travels. He had a fall from the top of this house, which Papa said caused him to not be able to father children. He had learned to bake in the service and quickly came up with a freshly baked cake each time we visited. I believe that he might have been in the Navy, but I don’t remember any salty talk from him. Perhaps he was not aboard ships much.
Closer to our house than that of the Newells and in a different direction was a house used for sharecroppers. It was on land owned by another neighbor, Mr. Mark (Wilson). A family living there for some of my young years was the Jamesons. Unlike with the Newells, we called the elder Jamesons Uncle George and Aunt Eva. Their first-born was a son who they named Male. A later son was named Camale. Male enlisted in the Army sometime in the early 1930s or maybe before. He spent time in Hawaii. Aunt Eva told my mother that Male had been so ashamed at how members of his unit became friendly with local girls. Looks like they may have been like the French earlier. Aunt Eva said that because of this, Hawaii was a horrible place and she hoped that neither my brother nor I would ever be sent there.
I was interested to hear people talk of their background. None in my family encouraged me in this. "Never mind the past or others, look to your own future", they sometimes said. When I finally came across things written about "our people" such a long time later, it said that one of our characteristics was to never talk about the last place we had been. I didn’t even know we were such a distinct group. I cherished reading about us, the Scotch-Irish. Visiting Scotland, our guide said that no one is known as Scotch, that this name is only for their whiskey.
Returning from school one afternoon, I was surprised that Will Newell’s widow, Mary, was sitting in our fireplace room talking to Mother who was sewing. Staying in the backroom, I tried to hear all she was saying. She mentioned that she had Native American blood. I had never dreamed of such a thing. I wish that I had followed up on this. Mary also told a touching love story about meeting Will and how they came to marry and raise a large family. It was like she had never indulged in talking to anyone before like this. I felt uncomfortable that Mother was not interested in what Mary was saying and was after getting her to leave. When she did, I approached Mother to ask questions. She expressed displeasure at me for the way I wanted to know about such things.
Another afternoon after school, I was with Papa cutting firewood along the road to the Newells. Their son, Liddell, who had built his home halfway between our place and his parent’s, came walking by. Shortly after, he came back and told Papa that something was hung up in one of our pine trees. Papa went with him to investigate, but he told me to stay back. I wondered why. When they came back, they had a small bright orange parachute, a lot of string, and a small box. Papa gave it to me. He explained that he had thought that Liddell had said, "a pair of shoes and stockings". He was thinking about something that I had not yet learned.
Later, I went down with this stuff, on my own, to talk to Liddell’s mother about what it might be. The next day at school, I poured over our set of encyclopedias for the answer to what it was. It was a weather balloon with a device called a radiosonde that sent data back to the releasing station. These volumes were not to be checked out to take home. I pleaded with the teacher, Mrs. Clark, to just let me have it overnight to show this article to my friend. She relented and arriving home that day, I hurried unannounced to the Newells. She and I studied the article, its pictures, and the things that had gotten caught in our tree. They were identical. We were satisfied that we understood it. Fifty years later it was a thrill to get a job releasing these same units from Atlanta. Without a doubt, the earlier one had come from there as the winds prevailed from that direction.
There were batteries in the unit. When Mary examined them, she told me that they had a soft end and therefore would not likely explode and were safe to handle. Another thing that she told me that time was recalled in Korea during that war. She had warned me about taking care to look at objects I might find before picking them up. These were things that appeared in contrast to the natural background. In my Army training, this safety caution was verified.
Just after I got to Korea in January 1953, I was the point on a training exercise for several days. When I was thinking that our commander must be about ready to quit, I looked down and saw objects there on the ground just like Mary had described. It was nothing to worry about because I recognized the small bits of colored candy wrappers that were refuse from soldiers who had taken a final break there at this previously used training area. Gung ho runners came forward angrily telling me to keep moving. I stood my ground and our commander did call an end to the program and held us there for a critique. More candy bars were broken out. I hope we policed the area better than those there before us.
I learned from Liddell why we heard him going out in his car at night and shortly returning. His mother had aged and got so lonesome that she stole away to rush along the road, dressed in black, almost two miles to talk to her husband in his grave. Who better did she have to talk to than Will, who loved her so much?
The first born in our family was my sister Sara, born 20 years before me. There were four other sisters and my brother living as I grew up. A brother and a sister born just before me had died in infancy. Papa was 48 and Mother was 43 when I was born. There was no way that I could have seen then what this configuration might have meant in my personal development.
I didn’t feel so strong and was embarrassed at my skinniness. Due to some special programs that were available, my boyhood was not as improvised as I might seem to be making it. A lady from Due West was a public service nurse. She came to Level Land School when I was perhaps nine years old. This lady determined that I had some sort of intestinal worms and gave me medicine to rid me of them.
That summer I was unexpectedly able through the 4-H club to go to a summer camp at the Citadel at Charleston, SC. My two weeks there, bunking in the first room to the right as one entered the tower building, is remembered by the large amount of food the local waiters gave me. They seemed to enjoy doing it. I thought they took a shine to me. Before, I had eaten few, if any, hot suppers except a few in the wintertime when there was a fire in the fireplace back home. Here at the Citadel, I ate much hot grits and cool milk. There was fish too, but they were not so familiar for me to eat. When I went back to school that fall, I felt stronger than ever before and proudly thought that I had fleshed out some.
The Home Guard
The day in June 1944, when I became 16, I joined the Home Guard in Abbeville, our county seat. I lied about my age since I needed to be a year older. My brother, brother-in-laws, and most of the men their age were off in the services. I drove cars that my brother and a brother-in-law left behind. I pretty well kept to myself with our Monday night drills and occasional weekend training exercises. Those people in our infantry company of an age too advanced to likely be called up helped me learn better. I was able to give rides to several from their farms to our armory. I worked at the cotton mill at Abbeville on the graveyard shift during this summer.
Our company commander was Captain Robert Stone Galloway II, from the village of Due West that was closer to our farm than the armory at Abbeville. I noticed that he paid some attention to me during the riot drills, correcting me about my body form and stance. He was an athletics coach at Erskine College. The other officer was Lieutenant Graves. He worked for Mr. Galloway in a printing works. The little-used jail was underneath their building and Mr. Graves was the town’s policeman.
Thinking about it only recently, the riot drills were important. I heard of troubles with organized labor coming south a few years earlier. At Honea Path, a town just over the line in Anderson County, a group of local men had been deputized when word came that the northern organizers were on their way to their cotton mill from one in North Carolina. Mr. Mabry, a schoolteacher I had at Level Land who told this story, said that at this encounter, one of the deputies shot and killed his own brother, who was aligned with the union. Mr. Mabry said that the dying man was just watched as he raked the ground with his legs. There was no one holding his feet.
The arms we had were World War I rifles. I learned to clean them and to do a pretty fair manual of arms. Lieutenant Graves sometimes wore that pink shirt that I envied. Robert Stone Galloway III was my classmate at Due West High School. There were only nine of us in the class. He worked some in his father’s print shop and came to school one Monday saying that he had overheard his dad and Mr. Graves talking that they were going to promote me to Corporal. We were the same age and Bob spilled the beans on me. That afternoon, I turned in my uniform. We were paid for the meetings, but I don’t remember how much. I had a serial number, but I do not remember it.
The year after the Home Guard, out of high school and approaching 17, I wanted to learn to fly in the service. The class that had graduated the year before had three who were the same age as me, but who had been allowed to start school the year before I did. The makeup of the two classes was so different that the useless thought of how it would have been had I started with them does show how things might work out. Mother had wanted to start me then, but Papa didn’t. At the time, I didn’t know what the fuss was about. These three who were from Level Land had joined the Merchant Marine. This could be done at their age then of 16.
After a year, they came home looking experienced and matured. It was talked around that they had made plenty of money. One was said to have returned with a tin fishing tackle box full of paper money. Without much thought and no advice, I decided that the Merchant Marine was for me. None in our family had any nautical experience. Only Emmett had learned to swim. I have never learned, have nearly drowned three times, and am afraid of water. Mother was getting panicky about it, saying I was sure to stump my toe and fall overboard.
Another thing from that trip to Charleston was that I saw the ocean for my first time. I became so frightened to see it from the big bridge there. It came back to mind when later considering the Merchant Marine. In my getting around to making my move then, I heard that they had a four-year academy at King’s Point, New York. I got information on this and Mother was a little less bothered. I applied and was supposedly accepted. I wasn’t all that keen on losing out on flight training and being out of military action for so long. Now, tentatively bent on this other venture, I tried to picture myself as a sea captain taking care of my crew instead of dying on an invasion beach.
I got this to feel comfortable, but on the brochure I had from the academy, I did not like the front cover. It showed a cadet or midshipman in a nice uniform dancing with a pretty girl. I had never "dated" and had no fancy to learn to dance. It just didn’t seem to fit my thoughts at that time. I talked it over with an older casual acquaintance I chanced to see on the streets of the Abbeville Square. Showing him the picture, he said that I should not be worried by it, that by the time such came around, I should be able to just do it in stride. I wasn’t convinced.
I worked that summer in a new shirt factory at Donalds, a village just beyond Due West. This was some dozen miles to our northeast. If this distance is imagined sweeping around clockwise past Abbeville, Iva, where our mail came in, Anderson, and Honea Path, the area swept out was free from railroads. All the places mentioned had rails. I felt left out. When the weather conditions were just right, sometimes in the winter at night I thrilled to hear the whistle of the interurban electric going by Donalds on the run between Spartanburg and Columbia, our state capitol.
Half-heartedly, I thought of getting orders and instructions to leave for New York that fall. Instead, a notice came that I could not be accepted because of my lack of a course in physics. It had not been offered in our small school. There were no choices. You just took whatever was offered. Two of the teachers, women, were good. The other two, a man and a woman, were a disgrace. The latter two ran the school and it was to them I went to complain. They were this summer in an office getting paid to work on school courses. I felt they were letting the national interest down at this time of war by not having physics. High school back then and there ended with the eleventh grade.
The professor was shocked that I would show up and talk this way. He said that I should write the Merchant Marine telling them that I would take a physics course in summer school at college. Erskine College in Due West did not offer it that summer, but Presbyterian College in Laurens, 35 miles away, did. He encouraged me to go there. It wasn’t something I could do. I needed to work on the job I had and did not have the money to go away from home to take this course. Had Erskine offered it, I might have tried to do it.
Erskine had trained pre-flight students for the Army several years before, and I had been inspired by them and also the veterans who had begun to return home. Nothing else came along that summer of 1945. At my mother’s unusual and just-by-chance effort, I did enroll at Erskine that fall. I took physics taught by a shell-shocked veteran of World War I, Professor Bonner. I liked him and the subject. His wife was that beautiful lady who as a nurse had probably saved my life.
These classes were small. The student body for the four-year program was less than 100. I didn’t catch on at the time, but a hundred years earlier the founders were straight out of Scotland and were of the group of our ancestors, who I learned about much later. I didn’t even notice that their first president, whose stature dominated the front campus by the street, was Moffatt Grier. Papa, born in 1880, was named Moffatt Grier Ellis.
I felt of this village of perhaps only 500 as being snooty with respects to those of us who were "country" even though Level Land, the rural community of our farm, was only seven miles away. I had already felt this in high school. My brother and my sisters who had preceded me there reinforced this feeling. My parents didn’t seem to share this thought. Again, I missed out on a good experience by not boarding there for my freshman year in college. I came from my home each day, being referred to as a day student. This was very different. Peers in my community and at the place where I worked that summer and at another place I worked the next summer made fun of me for "getting up in the world".
Taking this as fun, I myself wasn’t as serious as I now wish I had been. However, I did have a thing happen to sort of turn me around. Vaguely aware that students were addressed as Mister or Miss, I didn’t think that I would be called Mister. When the dignified and stately lady, Miss Dessie Dean Pitts, who taught English composition, addressed me this way, I felt an instant sensation. If I could ever manage it, I would like to contribute to her memorial scholarship fund.
Due to the small size of classes and the war, there was little opportunity for sports. I wasn’t inclined enough to override my feeling that sports were just for town boys. Thinking baseball was more country, I asked and Coach Alexander took me on for practice. I didn’t know how to play. I became a joke. It didn’t bother me and I tried to put on an energetic show. I may have had natural ability. The night we returned from our first game, one with Clemson in which I didn’t expect to and didn’t play, I came down with the measles. When I returned to school and took my uniform to the coach, he didn’t protest. I still recall the feel of bruised palms and the smell of green clover, but have not kindled any further interest in that or any sport. I read the war story of an American soldier on the lines in Germany who had gotten off on the wrong side and was seeking re-entry. Thinking he might be a spy, he was only allowed in when he answered correctly the question of who had won the World Series the year before. I would not have known.
During the spring of that school year, I heard of a Navy flight program. I wasn’t keen about the Navy due to my brother and several others from our church community being in the Air Force and also the cadets who had been at Erskine fitting what I saw as more my "type". Also I had heard that one had to be especially smart to get into these special Navy programs. The Air Force had it that a large number of applicants should be enrolled and when more became known of the candidates, the undesirable were "washed out". I feared this as something that would be difficult to deal with.
Most of the cadets who were sent to Erskine could not believe the place was so quiet. Some tried to get some excitement going. The Greyhound bus stopped at the only drug store in town. The father of my high school classmate ran it. I was once there for the last stop of the day by the bus. It was after dark. I observed a group of cadets being led and entertained by one of their own. They were laying for the bus driver to give him a hard time and see how far he could be pushed. The driver, splendidly arrayed in a classic uniform of that day, may have been wise to them. The cadet repeated complicated questions about service, fares, and schedules. I thought it unkind. The driver kept his cool and climbed back on his bus and drove away.
In June 1946 after I applied, the Navy arranged for me to go by bus to Atlanta to take tests for their flight program. I was there several days with a group in the main hotel at the corner of Peachtree and Ellis Street. The rooms were not only bare, but damaged as well. Some in our group did further vandalism. Those keen on becoming pilots had personalities that inclined them to do things like this and like the cadet at Erskine had done.
Papa’s cousin, a successful businessman in Due West, had a son who had graduated from Erskine the year before and had just finished pilot training at the same Air Force base in Florida where Emmett was stationed. This relative went there to see his son get his wings and commission and treated Papa to go along and see Emmett. There he was visiting another base some forty years after he had visited his brother during World War I. He didn’t have much to say about the trip, but he did tell me about when they were on their way back. The pilot son was driving and they stopped for a meal. The recent graduate was not nice to a waitress. The father waited until the son had stormed out the door and sought to apologize to the lady, saying that his son had been in such intense training that he was on edge.
That hotel in Atlanta mentioned above was making money off the Navy before this section was to be refurbished. Well, now, maybe they donated it for the national effort, I don’t know. I do believe the South only recovered from the useless destruction the North had wrought upon us during that war and their terrible mistake of the "reconstruction’, by the economic opportunities brought about by World War II. Luckily, our solid politics of the Democratic Party had not only reclaimed our dignity, but had made our senators and congressmen powerful seniors. Our good weather and oceans helped too. Those of the different skin color did suffer, but it was clearly the northern Republican Party that failed to clear up the mess they had started and caused. I still await apologies such as have been tendered others.
To my surprise, in Atlanta, on June 11, 1946, after the tests, I was inducted into the U.S. Navy Reserve (V5) as an apprentice seaman with the service number 7462836. In records recently retrieved from archives, the tests that I took were in three parts and my grades were 70, 82, and 50. My flight aptitude rating was C. There were four levels the selection officer had to choose from and I was given the lowest, which was "acceptable". If this information was available to me at the time, it is not remembered. My height was 6’2" and my weight was 153 pounds.
Placed on inactive duty, I was to prepare to enter any college of my choice with the joint approval of that institution and the Navy for the following school year. The Navy was to pay all my school expenses and a living allowance of $53.00 a month. Before leaving Atlanta, I attended a movie. I do not recall what it was about, but I worried that my sisters would see such a strange change in me due to my emoting so over it. By the time the bus got to Abbeville, I was back to myself.
Had I been more attuned to a Navy career, the rest of that summer could have been better spent in some training. Navy "boot camp", which I never did receive, would have been good for me. I didn’t think to inquire, and instead got a job at the textile printing plant at Ware Shoals, South Carolina, on the evening shift. Emmett had returned from service and went back to work there. Dale Ashley, husband of my sister Julia, worked there as well. I remained living at home on the farm.
I again choose Erskine. The Navy approved this. It would have been better had I tried to "go away" to a larger place. One that had a Navy ROTC program, such as had the University of South Carolina, may have been good. I believe that I sought advice about what to do, but did not receive any. I continued to live at home. There was one other student in this program at Erskine. I see from records recently obtained that he was Robert David Neese. I met him, but we were never together. He boarded on the campus. If any Navy people visited, I did not see them.
Records show that I passed without good grades. It was a difficult time for me as I stuck to myself, did not study, and was too dopey in class due to not having had good sleep at night. It was not required by Papa that I help him on the farm. Probably to avoid studying, I did try. The English Literature professor, Dr. Long, was one of the members of the Due West community who Emmett made fun of as being off in another world and of uselessness. Just before sunset on a day that I was carrying to the cotton house a basket of cotton that Papa had picked, this professor and his wife drove slowly along our dirt road as enjoying the pathetic pastoral scene that was foreign to them. They saw me and seemed interested and friendly. I doubt that he recognized me as having been in his class that morning. This was probably the only time I did this task and it must have been because I begged to do it and that Papa was just too tired to refuse.
Records supplied the Navy from these schools are different from what I recall. In high school there were four 45-minute classes each day for four years, which would have counted as 16 units. While they reported only one extra unit, I don’t remember having three of the courses with the name given. Three labs were listed which must have actually been vacant periods, as we had no labs. The principal and his lady assistant shortchanged us greatly. The other two ladies were always there for the allotted time.
I was surprised to get my high school grades from the Navy archives. Four years of English gave three C+s and one C-. Two years of Latin gave a D and a D+. Three years of history gave one C+ and two C-s. Three years of algebra and geometry gave two B-s and one C+. Three years of general science gave an A-, a B-, and a C. An odd course gave a C+. For that first year at Erskine, it was six semester hours each of Bible @ a C, English @ a C, math @ a C, physics @ a B, and Spanish @ a D-. For the Navy year at Erskine (1946-47), it was six hours each for English literature at a C and a D and American history at two Cs. There was a three-hour credit for analytical geometry at a C. Another math course listed as differential equations was somehow a mistake since I had no knowledge of calculus that must be mastered before this subject can be taken. Whatever it was gave me a B. At eight hours each, there was general advanced physics at two Cs, and general inorganic chemistry also at two Cs.
Idle over the Christmas holidays, I become listless and a bit wild for the last part of that school year. A number of veterans enrolled at Erskine, and a temporary barracks was built up on the road above the athletic field. I arranged to get a room there. There was rent to pay, but no food was included. It was a pity that I kept so alone. I never ate at the one outside eating place there. I returned home often.
A veteran from Honea Path was also a day student. His brother, Luther Lewis Ashley, had graduated before World War II and had become an Air Force pilot and flew bombers out of Guam. When he returned, he set up an airport. It appeared on the charts as "Ashley". Expecting private aviation to boom, he started out with four planes and established a flight school. It was possible for veterans to use their GI bill of rights for education to take flying courses there. Those not inclined toward college had this opportunity and a number signed up.
I talked to Lewis and began paying for and taking lessons. I hung out there at the expense of my schoolwork. Sometimes I rode with students. I had thought about flying so much, I was fearless and had no trouble to solo. The Navy did not know of this experience that I had. I savored it, but don’t believe it helped me in my Navy program. Lewis was the first adult outside my family and community who took an interest in me.
Papa had insisted all along that, for my own good, I needed to get off somewhere on a job. Our community was short on any kind of transportation and our service men often had to catch a ride or hitchhike when going to and coming back from the service. I had seen tears on cheeks when they unofficially rode our school bus to Due West. Emmett referred to hitchhiking as "by air" with a jerk of his thumb. In those early years when I walked to the Level Land School, there was a place in the dirt road between a quarter and a half mile from home where I could look back and see it. More than once I shed tears knowing that I would be leaving someday.
Occupants of the house next to ours went through changes due to the war. New sharecroppers were a people seeking this life instead of at factories. One such family was the Herrings. They were a large group. They had a son in the Air Force. He came home on furlough. He was unusually handsome. He did not flaunt it and was also nice and soft-spoken. Being this way, I couldn’t see him ever working with his family on the farm, and while he was home, he didn’t.
It became obvious that his stay was longer than it was supposed to be. Early one morning there was a stir at their place and he was seen leaving in the splendor of his uniform. He walked to the crossroads that was the center of Level Land and tried to catch a ride in any direction that would lead to transportation. Mother had told me that I should not hang out there, as other mothers might have told their sons about Times Square. Just as it was getting dark that evening, I saw the soldier slowly walking back. He wasn’t seen for a while and I don’t know what became of him.
School was out on May 26, 1947, and on the 28th orders were received to take a train from Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, first class fare with upper Pullman @ $5 per diem with three meals en route @ $1.25 to arrive at Ottumwa, Iowa, on June 4. Our mail came by rail to Iva, a place I never saw. It was on a rail line going north, but not one that the Navy would choose for my trip. Another one at Calhoun Falls was the proper one. Abbeville, on this same line, was closer to Level Land, and it was arranged for me to catch the train there. Mother had gotten my sister Frances and her husband, Earle Simmons, who had returned from his two war years in Germany, to drive from their new home in Greenwood to get me to the train. Mother was beside herself and could hardly crack the backroom door for our goodbye. All we could manage was a touching of our cheeks. I believe that it still stands as my most emotional moment. Earl tried to macho me out of it on the drive down to Abbeville. He told me to write to my girlfriend, not my mother. I didn’t have a girlfriend.
Civil War References
Not having any experience with trains, I was thrilled with this huge, black, steaming, and noisy monster. I could hardly believe that I was going to be a part of it. A few years back I read a shocking account that I had not known of before. During our War of Secession, a youngster from the county had enlisted and was catching a train in Abbeville to report for duty just as I had done on my day. His mother was there to see him off. Right before her eyes, the young enlistee somehow got excited and got crushed under the wheels of the train and was killed. Less than a hundred years had passed between the two events. Even if Mother had not heard of it, the effect of it may have come around.
A story of that deadly war that was in my family from my parent’s grandparents was unclear and I have found no verification of it. Two Yankee riders trailing two other horses were somehow known to have left Anderson and were coming down the Level Land road. I cannot imagine how this information might have been communicated. My people buried what they had and hid, but the interlopers galloped right on past. From my much later readings, I figure they were Sherman’s drummers more likely from Georgia than when they came through our state. The community must not have been seen as prosperous. Sherman was probably in a hurry at the latter time or else that evil man would have sent troops to burn Abbeville, as it was known as the place where the Confederacy started. It also ended there. People have about stopped looking for the South’s treasury that some thought might be buried there. The best belief on this is that none was left.
Mother told another story that is not likely to be affirmed either. It was about someone in Papa’s family who would have been an ageing widower at the end of that war. This was a theme she worried about possibly happening in generations downstream. A woman carpetbagger came down from up north and chanced to find this ancestor of mine. Mother told the story really well. I might have asked her to tell over again. This northern woman convinced the old man that she had come down to help and that she was going to take care of him. He had a fondness for custard pie and she was good at making them. One day she got him to agree to go for a ride in his only vehicle, a buggy drawn by his only horse. She got him to take along all his valuables. He was later found dead by the side of a road with only a partially eaten pie that was found to have a generous filling of strychnine.
From the record, this war was from 1861 to 1865 and 620,000 died. This was more than the US lost in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, both World War I and II and the Korean War all added together. It figures to 420 a day. Those of the different skin color accounted for 38,000 of those who died. On July 1, 1862, forces of the US and our seceded Southern States fighting for Southern Liberty met at Antietam, Maryland. Within three hours, 9,000 were dead. When the day was over 23,000 were killed, wounded, and missing. This was 30% of the forces meeting there that day. For comparison, in World War II, at Pearl Harbor 2,340 military people and 48 civilians died and on D-Day 6,000 American service men died in the first 12 hours.
Separate from the war, in 1863, 1,200 Blacks died in one day in New York City in an anti-draft riot. In 1871, at the same place, Irish Catholics attacked parading Orangemen. Twenty-nine policemen and soldiers were killed, as were 104 of the assailants. In the concepts of enemies, hates and loyalties, Blacks have every reason to be the people who should have killed as many whites as possible. Whites feared that these people would finally get enough and rise up against them. This never became a reality. If whites hate Blacks, this must be the reason. I didn’t understand it until much later but we the people of that place still suffered from the devastation put down upon us during my great-grandparents’ time in punishment for our daring to try go our own way and the resulting and long lasting "reconstruction" "they" brought upon us. With the apologies that the United States has rendered others, I await one to "us". History of this time and place to which I am connected is still an important factor in the way I think and act.
In 1934 I was six and went with Papa, Sara, Kathryn and her husband, James to visit Papa’s sister at Rock Springs, Georgia. We traveled in at model A ford, owned and driven by James. Leaving early, we saw the memorial carved on Stone Mountain, the panoramic battle scene in Atlanta and arrived at our destination well before dark. We made better time than seems likely today. While there we visited the battlefields at Missionary Ridge, Chickamauga, and on our way back, Kennesaw Mountain. Papa was well-versed in the history of these places. We picked up fragments of ammunition still at these places.
Navy Boot Camp
Getting back to the time of my train ride to the Navy, I was seated in a coach, sure that I was indeed off and running and should look around to see the people with whom I was sharing this adventure, when a boisterous group got on. I heard it said that they were from Charleston. I was puzzled because I didn’t think that a rail line connected from there. I learned that they were from Charleston, West Virginia, and realized that we were moving right along.
It was like I had been cast as a young country bumpkin and that I was free to play it out. As it became dark the coach was filled and I got so enraptured with looking at people that I lost track of time and continuity of what I should be focused upon. I believe that I stared at an unusual lady until she confronted me about it. I was thinking that she might be an Indian Princess like the one I had heard about in a song that went something like this:
This woman on the train loudly said that she was going to have the conductor throw me off. This was a bit much for me. It helped that none of the other passengers seemed to react to it. Nonetheless, I was relieved when the conductor passed through the coach without saying anything to me. Years later, I thought she was most likely from Eastern Europe and not a Native American.
Like trying to reconstruct a dream, I am uncertain about how many nights I spent on this trip. It seems that it was early morning in Chicago when I disembarked the train with an older man to whom I had told my story. Out on the street, I looked up at a tall building with the name "Marshall Field". I sat at a lunch counter with the man, but had no idea if I should order. He suggested an egg salad sandwich on white bread. It was good and became my favorite for some time under such situations. I am not sure if he or I paid for it. I was stubborn in telling my mother before I left that the Navy was paying for everything and I may not have had any money on me.
I remember sleeping in the upper berth and awaking as the train rocked and slowed. When it was light enough to see out the window, there was water as far as I could see. It turned out to be a major flood. The day passed again and it became night before we arrived at Ottumwa. I didn’t see any Navy people and didn’t think to look for any. Other people getting off there were hurrying away. I asked one of them about a hotel. He hesitated and pointed ahead.
It was of wood structure and maybe three stories high with wide staircases. I went to the desk. The slender man behind the counter didn’t seem to pay me any attention. He said that all rooms were filled and nothing else. I only carried a small, fake canvas hand satchel that was dull blue in color with brown trimmings. It was not new. I saw a men’s room and used it, coming back to sit on a large wooden bench between the front door and the desk. I didn’t worry, thinking daybreak would finally come. After a while the man at the counter rapped on it, getting my attention, and pointed to the first landing of the stairs as they made a right turn above the lobby. Another man was there, setting up a cot. He looked friendly and I happily went up. He fixed it up with sheets and a blanket. Nothing was said; I slipped my bag underneath, and crawled in for a good night’s sleep.
I awoke in the dim light of dawn with a man dressed for work peering into my face. He seemed kind, chuckled, and went on down the stairs. I got up and walked the short distance to the train station thinking of some way to get in touch with the Navy. Mother had addressed a post card for me to mail her as soon as I arrived. Seeing a mailbox there, I dropped it in. I had argued with her that it didn’t need the one-cent stamp as service people had free mail. I didn’t think that this was only true when mailed from a military facility. I didn’t have an address to which she could write me or know that I was safe with the Navy.
An unhappy enlisted man came for me in a pick up truck. He scolded me for not seeing him the night before and called me something that meant he thought I was dumb. There was no further talk on the ride to the base. The records show that I had a special check-in on June 5, 1947 at USNPFS, NAS, Ottumwa, Iowa. A blond midshipman went with me to my assigned barracks. They were the two-story ones and had abbreviated partitions between groups of cots. He was fascinated with me. It took me a while to understand that neither of us had seen the likes of each other. He kept talking to me. He wanted to know what was in such a little bag. We were the only two in the building. We were on the upper floor and it was mid afternoon. He laughed at my underwear but quickly offered to lend me some of his. He called it by a name that I had not heard.
Soon others came and he gathered them around me saying, "Say something, Carolina". This continued for sometime and after our evening meal, he had me come with him to a gathering at the rear of the top floor. I didn’t catch on to what it was all about and thought that he meant for me to keep saying things. Something more serious was taking place. Afterwards he told me that had I not acted so silly, he could have gotten me picked as a student officer. This was a shock. These people surely had been exposed to Navy tradition. I didn’t know that a group formed up for the purpose of such elections. Since I had become so easily known, he thought I would be a shoo-in. I don’t remember any voting taking place.
I had disappointed my new friend. I did not discern him in our group after that. As darkness fell, we walked as a group up a hill to a theater and saw a movie. It was "The Yearling". I remember it more than most movies. In particular the part when the youngster countered that his playmate was just different stuck with me. I was happy. It seemed so good at last to be part of a group where I wasn’t sorted in a bin of those people thought by the others as being alike. I was and continued as the resident Southerner.
Things were busy. Marines administered our school. We were issued khaki uniforms. In one of our lines formed in
order of the first letter of our last names, I met Daniel Canny from Chicago. We became friends. The flood was
still a problem in the town. Our swimming pool was kept unused in case its water was needed. Danny and I were sent
there one night to watch it. I was also sent to town with others to do guard duty. I was issued only a knife and
belt. I was dropped at the locked gates of a factory that looked a lot like the Abbeville Mills entrance. No one
was around and I didn’t see any flood waters. There was no traffic and everything was quiet.
On June 13, I was appointed a Midshipman. My height was 6’2" and my weight 151 pounds. Classes were finally started. They were interesting. Thinking I had fulfilled my commitment to Mother by mailing her card, I did not bother to write. I was thrilled to be there and home didn’t enter my busy mind. I was called before our Marine commander and found that Mother had contacted the Red Cross about me and their local representative had located me. I was ordered to sit down right then and write a letter home. I felt bad. When we regained contact, Mother wrote that my card was delayed and a postage due notice was received for it. The newspapers had covered the flood where I was and poor Mother had suffered. Many years later on a visit, Mother introduced me to her mailman. He said that he had delivered enough mail from me to cover her house.
One of the first classes was swimming. I was scared and confided to Canny that I could not swim. He told me "Don’t worry, Carolina, I’ll take care of you." The entire class bunched together on the edge of a high platform over the deep end of our pool. Canny and I were in front. There was a cargo net draped down to the water. We were to all jump in on the one command and then climb up. The next thing that I was aware of was that I was lying on the bottom of the pool on my back. My eyes were closed. I thought that Mother had been right. I gave up and opened my eyes. I could see all those legs sticking down and thrashing around. I popped to the surface and gained the net. Canny was not seen. I was overjoyed to make it. At the same time, embarrassed, it was not mentioned to anyone. When I became more experienced in other pools, I found it impossible to repeat lying on the bottom.
When the swimming coach outlined the things we needed to do in order to pass, I was distressed and consulted with Canny again. At the next class, I was grateful to see him approach and talk to the instructor, who then came to where I was clinging to the side at the shallow end. He told in a voice which all could hear that some like me needed help in the beginning and he would equip me with a safety float. His assistant put the orange thing on me while I was in the water. It fit in the small of my back tightly with a belt around my waist in front. The coach in a kind way told me to swim the length of the pool to the deep end. I made it and he complimented me and told me that I could now climb out. I fearlessly did and quickly fell backwards into the pool. There was laughter. I saw that the device could not float. It was filled with something heavy.
It was told that each Thursday evening there would be competitive sports within our battalion. I was put on the swimming team. This was not to my liking. I thought I would have enjoyed a sport with a ball. Many in the class were trained and good athletes, who I admired. I wasn’t so depressed about it as I thought that with training I too could do these things. I never became good at any. I did learn the swimming strokes, but never enjoyed the water. I don’t believe that I could have passed the final tests, but do not remember what happened.
World War II Veteran
On June 27, we were told that our training would be stopped and our activity would be moved to Pensacola, Florida. We had some duty in getting closed down and ready to move. On June 30, we were flown down in R4Ds (C-47s) with each of us doing the navigation. I liked this subject, but for the first time I had a worry as I made gross careless mistakes in that exercise. The Naval Air Station at Pensacola was beautiful. Our school was at a place called "Main Side". My new home was in the downstairs corner room across from the Chapel. All buildings in this area were of permanent two-story construction, and very nice. Each room had two double deck bunks. Mine was the lower on the left as entering. Canny was not in the room.
Part of our physical training was on trampolines. I had not seen or heard of this apparatus before. I didn’t master it as I would have liked. The instructor pointed out that we had better get good at using our bodies because most of the Navy’s aircraft were difficult to get into and out. There was an infamous and feared Navy activity called the "step test". This required stepping up on a bench and back down to a loud bleeper that changed tempo. It was a real trial. More fell out before me than after.
We were paired by weight and height to box three one-minute rounds. We wore facemasks and overweight gloves. Canny was my corner man. I had palled some with my nice opponent. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but Canny worked me up to it. I didn’t realize that I had gotten our instructions down pretty well. Right away, I landed a right to the middle of his mask. He was dazed. I felt badly. Canny’s face was red with excitement as he shouted, "Undercut, Carolina, undercut". I didn’t, and didn’t throw any more punches to Canny’s distain. My opponent was competitive and easily won the last two rounds, but didn’t land any good blows. To my horror, when he took off his mask, there was a streak of blood in the white of his right eye. I wanted him checked out, but he claimed he was all right. I don’t know if he did see someone about it or if it gave him any trouble, but the last time I saw him, the streak was still there.
We had liberty each Saturday evening and rode a bus in to Pensacola, getting off at the door to the bar at the San Carlos hotel. I had turned nineteen. On Sundays we dressed and attended services at the chapel. The Chaplain once gave an inspirational message on the theme of not being haunted by who you might have been. I was surprised to see Canny wearing the insignia of a student officer.
Just before noon one Saturday, just outside my room window I saw my brother Emmett, his wife, and their two young children getting out of their parked car. Not having thought any of my family would ever visit, I became flustered. I waited until the PA system called me to the commander. I went right away, saw Emmett seated stately there in a chair, ignored him, and reported to the officer, who motioned to my brother. I went to him but was uncomfortable. I gave some excuse and didn’t go out to see his family and they left. Earlier, when Emmett had returned from the service and I was at home but taking classes at Erskine, he came to visit weekly. Once he expressed anger to me for not coming out to be with him at these times. I didn’t say anything, but pretended to be studying, although I never got around to doing it much.
In September a hurricane came to NAS, Pensacola. We were kept inside the building that day without duties. An incident happened that, like the one above, I forever afterwards was bothered by not being satisfied with how I handled such a small thing. Midshipman Hall from Seattle had the lower berth in the other bunk. I don’t remember the other two. I was up for breakfast. Our dining room was in our building. I never wanted to miss a meal. I had made up my bunk, but when I came back another student was lying in it talking to Hall. I was taken aback and gave all the indications I could that it was my bunk. I thought he understood, but he didn’t move. Throughout the day I returned many times and he was still there. I allowed myself to be dreadful. It wasn’t until it turned dark that he left. I complained to Hall, who answered that he guessed that the guy had just been lonesome.
There was some duty to clean up after the hurricane. Talk was that three classes had piled up and were about at the same stage in training. Our class was 47-D. At a morning muster out on the street in front of our building, it was announced that names would be called and those should fall out into another formation. I was stunned that mine was one of them. Canny was in the group that marched off to class that day. I never saw him again. I heard that the lower one-third of our class as well as the other two classes would be boarded. I made a pitiful defense of myself. Some thought that I went in too early because of my last name and that later ones might have stayed if they had desired. I was now with a group of washouts. Most said that they were glad to get out. I hid my hurt.
We worked with enlisted people to clear trees downed by the hurricane. On September 24, 1947, I was discharged. I was given the bronze lapel pin signifying that I was a World War II veteran. It was called the ruptured duck. The official end of the war had been on March 3, 1946. There was a rule that being enlisted before the end of 1946 qualified for all the benefits. I had been enlisted on June 11 of that year.
We had had a lot of interruptions, the war was over, but there was none but myself to blame. The records that I recently obtained said that I had failed ground training and that the failure had been in gunnery, survival exams, and failing averages in daily work in navigation, engines, and aerology. I do not recall knowing this at the time. The gunnery, I remember nothing about and so don’t believe I had been exposed to it. The survival exam was not given to me. It was on a Saturday and we were to go on launches when our name was called and be taken to Santa Rosa Island for the day without furnished food. I was hungry right after breakfast, but my name was never called along with others. We heard that there had been some trouble with the launches and that we should wait for another day for that exam, but it never came.
I fell in with three or four others and took a train with them up through Alabama. This was not quite the way home, but I thought I had fun as the slow train stopped at several small towns to pick up pulpwood logs. We were carefree to run after the train as it left these places. I parted from them in northern Alabama and caught a bus to South Carolina. I was alone again after the mostly happy summer, and I was unsure.
Just before dawn, the bus stopped and the driver opened the door. I saw that we were in the country with no buildings around. A woman spoke to the driver in an accent which I had not heard for a while. I knew I was near home. I slid down in my seat as in shame, even though it was too dark to see me and none on the bus knew me.
The first evening home, I didn’t adjust. I had been issued clothing, most of which I had not worn. Records show it was valued at $121.20. I brought it all home in a great white sea bag. Getting an old car back into operation, I thought that what I could do to ease the pain was to put on my dress uniform, which I had never worn, and drive off to Anderson. I did not know this town and I chose there because no one would know me. It felt like the kind of adventure to set me straight. Mother saw me when it was almost dark, and called Papa, which was not something she did in such cases, taking care of it herself. Papa came into the outside room where I was, asked, and I told him what I was up to. He just softly said that he would rather that I didn’t. Giving up my plan without disappointment, I took off that nice outfit and never had any of it on again.
Talking with Papa while picking cotton on later days, he didn’t seem interested in any of my tales such as my having seen the Marshall Field Building. I was not paying attention at the time I was discharged, but I now believe I was enlisted in the USNR (V6). An odd record, which came with the rest, shows that I was terminated on November 1, 1951 due to my enlistment in the US Army. This I had done a year earlier. I should have kept the clothing in good shape, as I might have been recalled to active duty. It never crossed my mind and I gave it away. I had no further contact with the Navy.
I got my education benefits and enrolled at Erskine for my third year as a day student, staying at home again. I had enough to finish through the fourth year. I had really made out. Before school started, I went to see Lewis Ashley at Honea Path. He wasn’t surprised that I had not made it. When he heard that I was set to go to Erskine, he demanded that I go take it back and sign up for his Commercial Pilot Course. This I did. The registrar rightly scolded me, but gave in. I was back at "Ashley"
My parents lost track of what I was doing, but they were concerned. I went to work again on the graveyard shift at the Abbeville Mills. I quickly used up my benefits. I completed the course and passed the ground school commercial exam, but only got my private license, needing to take the commercial flight test. Later I took extensive tests and qualified as a ground school instructor for all five subjects for commercial pilots. Such instructors were in high demand, but I never gave it a try.
Lewis had helped form an Infantry Company of the National Guard at nearby Ware Shoals. He made me a sergeant in it. This wasn’t the right thing to do, but we faked it with the help of the older veterans who had joined up for the extra cash. I was embarrassed, but Lewis had fun with it. Papa saw a short advertisement in the Anderson newspaper that the US Weather Bureau was offering tests for future openings. He told me only once that I better get up there and apply. I had a five-point advantage due to my veteran status.
I received an offer at the lowest grade as an observer at Florence, SC. I was still hurting from a well-meaning navy washout that told me not to worry since I could get a Civil Service job and just sit there until retirement. I turned this offer down without telling Papa. Later I got an offer for a job two grades higher in the Hurricane Warning Center in Miami, Florida. I took it to get to an aviation center. When I told Lewis, he quickly told me that he could transfer me in grade to an Infantry Company there in Miami. This scared me, but he urged it, saying that we could meet at Fort Jackson, South Carolina for summer camp. Before I made twenty that month, I was in a first rate company as the fourth platoon sergeant at the armory on NW 7th Avenue there in Miami. The lack of combat readiness and other faults of both units allow me to relate to the Iraq crisis following the sorry irresponsible decisions made by Republican Bush and his administration.
There were two other platoon sergeants that were decorated combat veterans of World War II. They were named French and Hines. To my wonder, they made friends with me. Perhaps they saw my charade and were amused by it. Both were kind and friendly. They invited me into their families and lives. French was married and Hines had a pretty girlfriend, who I felt he must be possessive of, but who he insisted that I date. We spent a pleasant morning at a beautiful un-crowded white sand beach, Crandon Park, near her home. I was awkward and became more so when after I had taken her home, I found my wallet missing. Returning, her mother became excited that I might think her daughter had stolen it, but we found it still folded in her swimming towel where we hid it when we went into the water. I saw her around town often after that, but we only greeted each other. I don’t know if she ever married Hines or what happened to her.
I was unable to get off work during the hurricane season to go to summer camp at Fort Jackson. Lewis sent me a note by our first sergeant. We did fire our M-1s at a weekend range. Hines was careful to instruct me, as I had not fired a military weapon before.
One of the officers was a basketball enthusiast and had a team from our company that he coached. He was delighted to see me and over my excuses put me on the team as center. When we practiced at our armory, local civilians came to watch. I was cheered as I came on the court. I could only fake a lot of hustle, as I had no idea of the rules or how to play. Coach just didn’t seem to grasp what was wrong and never worked with me. I felt no urge to learn on my own. We played a National Guard team down at Homestead. I rode both ways with the coach in his personal car. The score was something like 4-56 in their favor after the first half and ended as 8–99. I badly blistered the soles of my feet. He grumbled all the way back that night that he just could not understand what had happened.
He was the same officer who, as our pay master one drill night, stated that he bet none of us could properly report to receive our check from him. We were inside the armory and had our rifles at shoulder arms. I brought my rifle down to order arms and gave the salute across my middle with my left arm and hand to the tip of my rifle. He was impressed that I had it correct. In events one year apart, two officers had such different opinions on this, my strange salute.
The oldest man in the company was in my platoon. He was short and dark. After drill one evening, I was told to get a crew to clean the latrine. I picked this man who quickly showed his hurt and anger. Sometime later, we had a dinner party at the Biscayne Bay Center. This man got me to sit at the table by him, his wife, and several others. Fear of him vanished after he had reminded me of what I had done. His name was Vick and he was old enough for me to be his son. They didn’t have children and over time, it seemed that he was thinking of me as his son. He was always kind to me.
His darkness was from being years in the sun as the lifeguard at the Surf Side public beach. Earlier, before the habits of the rich had changed, he had spent summers at the resort at Asheville, North Carolina as lifeguard and winters at this place. He had been repeatedly honored at each place for lives he had saved. He wouldn’t tell the total and never boasted. Maybe there were so many that he didn’t know. I went there most of my days off and when I worked the night shift. He swam each and every day at least two hours far out beyond the sand bar in, as he called it, the Gulf Stream. I could just see his right arm going over to begin another stroke as he swam back and forth. Sometimes dolphins were with him.
We often ate lunch at the drug store counter in the village. He was always the same and never gave up on trying to teach me to swim in the ocean. I did not learn, but since then, whenever I try, I think of him. I raked the seaweed each morning whenever I was there and dug a deep hole to bury it in the sand. On a much later visit to Miami Beach I saw that this is no longer done. It is left in a row on the beach.
There was a large rowboat there that he liked to use for his rescues. I helped him keep it clean and he drilled me in its use. I liked it. One day I took a local girl who frequented the beach for a row. I got too far out and had a difficult time against the drift to get back. My palms were bloody. The next day Vick brought soft material and tape for the oar handles.
There were the two sergeants, Vick, and several other casual friends from the Guard who I saw, but except for drill nights, we did not mix together. One, younger than I, said that he had been in a Guard unit in New York City. While there, he was ordered to go to the dock and drive a big Army truck back. Not having had any chance to drive any vehicle, it was a struggle but he made it. These things happen.
Enlistment in the Army
The Korean War came in mid-1950. French, Hines, and myself agreed to go there right away and stay together. Thinking that our company might be activated, we delayed. Toward the end of that year, Hines said that we should go. He said that we would go to Fort Jackson, qualify on the rifle range, and be in Korea in no time. They had reserve status, but I had to enlist. They thought I could catch up with them. Thinking that I would, I cannot remember the last I saw of them.
A Sergeant Gore at the Recruiting Main Station, which was across the street north of the main Post Office in Miami, enlisted me. While I was seated, filling out forms, someone came to stand in front of me. When I looked up, I started to tremble. It was Richard Conte, (1910-1975) a movie star. He could have used a shave, was dressed in a dark outfit, and looked just like he had when he had frightened me in a movie I had seen. In a kind soft voice, he asked me why I was scared. Maybe he bemoaned the thought that such as I would be used to fight our country’s battles. A picture of him and me appeared in the Miami Herald the next week.
My boss at work was Grady Norton, a legend as a hurricane forecaster who got his start as a sergeant in the Army Signal Corps many years earlier. Like Papa, he called me "Boy". As his goodbye to me, he told me that he wanted to learn that I led the parade into Moscow.
The records that were sent show that I had a medical examination in Miami on January 24, 1951. This has to be a mistake, as it must have been a month or so earlier. I was A-OK except for hammertoes on both feet, but not the big toes. This was the first I heard of this and looked down to check my feet. Maybe I had them scrunched up out of fear then. My weight is shown as 176 pounds, which was too heavy to have been correct.
I thought that I had orders keeping my Guard rank and to follow my two friends. As an after thought, I arranged to visit my parents for a month in Abbeville, South Carolina. Just like Emmett had done some years earlier, I went to Mildred’s home overnight and next day she took me to the gate at Ft. Jackson. This was on a Monday, January 29, 1951. Her husband, Linwood, was at that time on his way home from a Navy tour. I had been so shocked that he had been called back up.
President Truman had earlier ordered that the armed forces be integrated by race. The morning that I reported appeared to be the first time this order was being carried out at this army camp. It was chaotic and I was roughly treated. I don’t know if I was inducted properly. I was sent for basic training as a Private. This was with Co. A, 13th Infantry according to the records recently received. Having been issued clothing, I had changed, and approached the steps of my assigned barracks. A small-built new inductee said to me, "Blacks, Upstairs." Actually, he used different words. He was of my skin color. I went upstairs without hesitation.
That night as I prepared myself and my area for sleep, my bunk mate looked at me as I had noted others had and said to me in a soft friendly manner, "White Boy, what are you doing up here?" They had a lot of fun that night and I had no discomfort. When I awoke in the morning, I quickly got up and dressed. My friend loudly said, "Look. He is going to do well in this man’s army." That day we were all assigned bunks differently. The soldier who had appointed himself usher that first day kept a wary eye on me for the remainder of the time we were together. He was particularly interested in my sister Mildred who came when our training cycle finished. She had done so because the man renting her neighbor’s home was our mess sergeant and kept her informed of me, saying my KP crew was the best he had. I always wanted the job called "outside man".
Throughout the rest of my Army time, I heard few words used for skin color by soldiers. We went to great extremes to describe someone, when in some cases it would have been much easier to use some simple word. This was never remarked about. I have never thought what might have been the cause of this wonderful thing.
A record from Fort Jackson shows that I went on sick call on February 12, 1951 with a chest cold and a check up on February 15. There is a stamp on this report that no record was found in enlisted personnel information section of the P.I. Branch. I don’t know if this has any significance.
Our bunking assignments were made according to the first letter of our last names. I was downstairs and in a lower bunk and Elam from Alabama was in the upper bunk. We were so much alike that we were teased that we only went to the latrine when we both had to go. We did become good friends. When he first saw my service number with the RA prefix, he right away told me that I better get that mistake fixed. He was unable to see how anyone could sign up. We were in the first platoon. I was the right guide and he was the first squad leader in our formation. Elam and I were popular. In bivouac, some of the platoon called out to the others to come see our feet protruding from the opposite ends of our shared pup tent.
We had a good platoon sergeant as cadre who lived in his room by the front door of our barracks. I could not believe how much effort most put into their training. Probably most of us were country people from that region. It was too bad that we could not have stayed together. During the time of the last few years while viewing the Internet entries made by veterans, I was thrilled immensely by one, which recalled his main joy in getting into the service had been to be with country boys who seemed to know about everything and he had learned so much from them. I never expected to see such an expression. It reminded of my youth and hearing: "White Boy, you don’t know anything and we have to show you everything."
Not planning on getting any passes while in basic training, I was shocked one Saturday noon when told we could have a weekend pass. I took off to town and caught a bus to Abbeville to see my parents. When I returned Sunday afternoon, Elam was lying in his bunk and I right away realized that I had made a horrible mistake by not checking with him before I left. He could have easily gone with me. My folks would have loved this sort of thing. It would have made everyone happy. This was very sad, and neither of us could get over it. I hope it has not haunted him as much as it has me. Elam hoped to go to cook and baker school. When I last saw him at the end of our training, he had gotten his wish. We never saw each other after basic.
I had an allotment made out to my parents. I received at least once my minimum amount on payday. A civilian insurance salesman came to give us his pitch. Our company commander insisted that it was a good deal and that we all should sign up. I did and had it taken out of my pay, but later cancelled as it seemed too much for me to pay and that it probably benefited our officer in a way that was not right.
Our field first sergeant was named Burnett. He told us that he was part Cherokee Indian. He sided up to Elam and I several times and once he called us the "black knights, standing tall." We responded to him well. He told me that in bayonet use that it is difficult to pull it out of a body once you thrust it in. He warned me to always be ready to make a great effort to get it out quickly. This made sense to me. He had been in Europe during that war. He was healthy looking with ruddy red complexion. He taught me to run like he said Indians did. I think he was right and I used it well a number of times. It was done with floating-like long strides. I was laughed at about it when I later told a civilian athlete. I still think it's good.
Taking aptitude tests, I remained late in the day as most of the others left as new segments were started. Only when the Forrest Gump movie came out years later did I wonder about my IQ. I never saw that movie. Checking with a veteran familiar with military records at that time, we found that my discharge papers list my AGCT score as 129.
On that day when our cycle finished, we stood in formation to fall out in groups as our assignments were called. When finished, I remained standing. After receiving a dressing down by that sergeant, he searched his list and did not find my name. I was dumbstruck. I don’t know what happened. I only remember talking to an enlisted man behind a desk some time afterwards. We mentioned my job in meteorology and about a new unit being formed at Fort Bliss, Texas, called the ballistic missile center. It remains a mystery to me how I believed that I was going there. I remember being on a troop train. I did not know anyone nor did I make friends. We briefly stopped at Spartanburg and I thought it so close that I should call Mother from a pay telephone outside the depot. I did and she could not seem to get it straight and was sad, cautioning me to watch out.
I am unable to reconstruct much else of that trip or our arrival. I was put into basic training again with recruits. They were from regions unfamiliar to me. They were good guys but just different. All must have been inductees. There was about the same mix of the different skin colors, but I was treated in a way unlike my experience back at Fort Jackson. I felt that we all wanted those of the other color to go ahead on and show their rights and leadership. No one complained. I felt sorry for some of our cadre of that color. I knew that they were smart, had a lot on their minds, but had not felt right about expressing whatever was bothering them. There was no trouble but it was an effort, was unpleasant, and I withdrew into myself even more. I made no friends.
On paydays, my name was not there. No one offered to help and I sought none. I wrote my parents regularly, but did not mention my plight, nor did I ask them for money. I got a few dollars from fellow trainees who knew I might not repay them. I didn’t know if I could either and as it turned out, I didn’t. Emmett lived with his family in San Antonio. I should have at least asked him. I am sure that he would have known what to tell me to do. I do not remember, nor have I been able to learn the length of either of these basic training courses. If the one at Fort Bliss was artillery, I don’t believe it varied much from infantry at Fort Jackson.
At the end of this cycle, I was not surprised that my name was not on the assignment list, nor did I panic. That sergeant, our field first, who I recall with respect, told me that I might be able to get into leader’s course. I went and completed this as shown on my discharge. It states that I was there from June to August of that year, 1951. It was a small class and did not have any mix of skin colors. There were a number of National Guard soldiers from the nearby units who were only taking the course. They had their cars with them. On a holiday, I went along on a trip to Carlsbad Caverns.
Much of our time was spent giving practice classes. We became close-knit. We suffered at the possibility that some might not make it through the course, helping and supporting each other. I remember just one instructor. He was young and more an educator than a soldier. One of us was of Japanese ancestry and was well liked, probably because we wanted to show him that we had no bad feelings about his people or their country. However in a well-meant friendly joke, one of us called him by that three-letter word. He responded with vigor. We didn’t know about this. He explained his reaction and apologized.
Finishing the course, without further orders, I was sent to a replacement depot, which I could not tolerate. There were undesirables there awaiting whatever. Looking back much later, it seemed that it would have been so easy for me to get help from several places and people. One of the Guard people who had finished the class was named Parris. He saw me a day later as he was driving home in his car. He understood and offered to help with money and clean clothes. He gave me a clipboard and told me that carrying it about in a soldier-like posture could help me get into places. He must have assumed that I would find my way to the main headquarters and personnel or some such rational place.
I thought of going out into the desert. I am thankful that I didn’t. Some years back I read that during that time the head of the Weather Bureau airport station just across that stretch of desert at Biggs Field was from Due West. I did not know him but I am sure that he would have helped me. He had started work at the kite station there at Due West in the 1920s and 30s.
I cannot recall how many of these days there were. I did not find my way back to the unit that I had basic training in. I have no memory or record of that unit’s name. That place had the two-story barracks like the ones back at Fort Jackson. The place that I went had only five-man tarpaper shacks. I went up the battery street seeking assignment in each of the orderly rooms facing the street. The first sergeants would have nothing to do with me. At the next to the last battery up that hill, the first sergeant was abusive. A voice boomed from the back telling me to come around the left to the back door to the supply room. The sergeant shook his head in disgust.
The voice came from the battery commander, Captain Krantz. He had a stick with a 30 cal. tip. He told me to take off my shirt. He looked me over as if it was a slave auction. He asked if I could give the standard PT each morning. He said that he would take me in on trial. He told me to get into his big green Buick to go to the replacement depot with him. I had been given statements of charges for property I had signed out for. Others had destroyed these. The captain said that he had a score to settle with the lieutenant there. That place was a series of connected buildings alongside the desert with the airport on the other side. I was more shocked when the captain told me to drive his car slowly to pick him up at the far end. I heard noises as he passed through. When he got in his car, he said that all was straightened out.
His was battery C, 4th AAA Tng Bn, from the records. That first sergeant was still hostile and told me to go buy the captain a case of beer. I remember crawling through a hole in the fence to Dyers street, but I cannot remember how I got the beer that I brought back. I was bunked in the first cadre shack across the battery street. Two double bunks were each to the sides of the only door. I took the single one to the rear on the other side of the oil-burning heater in the center of the shack. Heat wasn’t needed then.
Without coaching or manuals, I gave not only the morning PT, but also classes in the 50 cal. machine gun and the half-track that had four of those guns mounted on a swivel in its bed. These were left over from World War II where they were used as anti-aircraft. They were being used in Korea against enemy troops. There were two sergeants who had returned from fighting there and told that they were known as "bloody buckets" for their vulnerability to grenades tossed in and to ricocheting small arms fire. I thought it odd that they did not teach these classes instead of me. Somehow it worked out to the satisfaction of everyone. They were always there. I also gave bayonet drills and defense against knives and bayonets. These and the PT were difficult for me. There were other classes given by others but no one complained about what or how I taught.
Of the cadre, there was Corporal Cook, a tall handsome man of the different color. He was one of the great men to whom I ever came close. They said that he had been the first in the navy to make gunner’s mate. When I told him my story, he too said that he had come to Fort Bliss to become part of the ballistic missile center, but had ended this way. There was another thing that we shared and this was that neither of us received any pay on the due day. His was for a different reason. On that first such day, I saw a beautiful lady seated just inside our orderly room door. She looked to me like Pearl Bailey. She was Cook’s wife, estranged or not, there to pick up his signed check. Neither Cook nor I ever mentioned it, but I was sad.
Cook did not share our shack. Neither of us ever took a pass to go off base. We neither talked much nor spent time together. I think now that I was not enough aware, as I should have been, of how all knowing he was and how well he was looking after me. One afternoon I was giving the class about the parry of a bayonet thrust. It was on a flat area above another down below where the halftracks were parked. Both surfaces were bare with lots of small pebbles. Between the two elevations was a fairly steep embankment of perhaps four feet. Vaguely aware that I was the sole cadre there, but not worried by that, I was running into trouble with the class. I could feel it and tried to jive up my presentation. Probably the top trainee in this class was a neat, regular looking one of the different color. He raised his hand and when I motioned to him, he stood and in a polite way asked if he might rush me with his rifle and unsheathed bayonet fixed. This was a shock, but I answered quickly that this could not be done. I tried to show no fear, but do not know how I was seen. Before anything else could take place, Cook bounded up from behind the embankment where he had hid himself to listen. He worked them over, physically with some, so that fear of him reigned and all settled down.
The several officers who went out with us each day were good and supportive. The field first was Sergeant Muncie and he took time with me to recall the system used in World War II, England, and Europe by the anti-aircraft units, particularly their incoming aircraft observing network and how it worked. I could relate to it and found it interesting. I was impressed with his pride in recounting it. He was older than I thought an active soldier should be, but there he was.
A Lt. Colonel came to my machine gun class one day. I imagined that he had come up through the ranks and perhaps down and up again. He was a stocky, ruddy-faced one. After I finished and the class dismissed, he took a shiny 50 cal. round from his pocket and started rattling off every possible characteristic of it. He went through the entire nomenclature of the gun, its mount, and the half-track. It was impressive. He didn’t scold me and I appreciated learning that there were people who had mastered this process. I wasn’t hurt so much because I felt that it was not I who had set myself up to do this sort of thing. I thought these youngsters going soon to Korea were getting poor training.
There was never any meeting between me and either the first sergeant or the captain. There was a good feeling about the support I received from the other cadre. One of the sergeants who had returned from Korea was also a World War II combat veteran. I listened to his war stories. He had some gruesome ones to tell. One day he yelled my name and told me not to stand sideways because then he could not see me. He told me to wait until I got to Korea to stand sideways and then they would never hit me. His and the humor of others helped.
On a Friday afternoon, an army film was shown. Perhaps its name was "Shades of Grey" and it concerned undesirable individual behavior short of insanity. I thought it good that this matter was not so black and white after all. I had no thirst for beer and other such things. Without money, I didn’t want to start. That evening, Cook had taken up a collection and had a tub of ice and beer outside the theater building. He urged me to take part. When there was a mad rush for the tub, he again got physical and better manners soon prevailed. He handed me the first beer. I was ashamed.
On Sundays, I left after breakfast to go to religious services in a small chapel. No one came up to greet me as expected, which pleased me. I went with the small group to Bible study and took my turn to read. It was good and most of all I marveled at a young lady in the group. It was like going back to a real world. I thought she was older than I and perhaps an officer’s wife. I never got into checking ladies’ fingers for rings. She was freshly attired in a simple but colorful dress. She didn’t show any indication that I was there.
I found a stadium where polo was played. On these afternoons, after going back to my mess hall for lunch, I went there. Not wanting to soil or wrinkle my uniform, I stood at the bottom and to the right of the stands. I knew nothing of this sport or about horses. I didn’t talk to anyone, but I picked up some about the game. One team came from across the river from Juarez. The other was either from the base or from El Paso. There was a handsome blond lady riding with the Mexican team. When they took their breaks, she gave me the reins of her three ponies without words to me. Looking at their big excited eyes, I wondered what opinion they were forming of me. I didn’t want their slobber on my clothes.
It seemed obvious to Cook that I needed something to get going more happily. He had mentioned several times that he wanted to get me to a cathouse in Juarez. One evening he sent me on my way with money and a pass. He had taken up another collection. I did not want to partake, but I didn’t want him to know this. I went alone. In the early part of the evening, I sat in different bars, drank beer, and listened to the mariachi groups playing. I wondered how this woman thing worked, as I thought maybe I should try to get it over with. I didn’t see any obvious clues and I didn’t have anyone talk to me. Not keeping up with the time, it must have been just before midnight, when feeling drunk, I walked into yet another bar, the one closest to the bridge.
Sitting up to the circular bar, suddenly several girls appeared and excitement was felt. One came right to me and bit me on my cheek. The bartender rang up his register and gave her something and I was lead rapidly upstairs by the girl. An elderly woman gave me a hand-on examination and said something to the girl in Spanish. I did not catch the meaning of it. On the edge of a stark looking bed, we sat. I did not get prepared and told her that I needed to go to the bathroom. She said that this could not be done and supplied some container from under the bed. She seemed happy and was not harsh. At that moment, there were screams and soldiers ran downstairs. It seemed like it was a raid. Only one army officer was out on the street and pointed us to the bridge and said that it was curfew. Trucks of the three-quarter ton size were at the other end of the bridge and we were told to climb in.
I was sick with worry over being charged and maybe spending time in the brig. I could only think of Mother. I didn’t know where we were being taken or who was taking us. No one in the darkness of the canvas covered back talked. Finally someone parted the flap in front and told us to call out our units. I didn’t catch on but when I looked, the area was familiar and I jumped out and went to my shack. To my gladness, nothing was ever mentioned of this. Cook seemed satisfied.
Even though I was cadre, I had only my rank of Pvt-1 or "buck" private, the same as the recruits. I demanded that I be addressed by this my rank. They were called trainees. Before I could think about it, I had the unlikely reputation of being a tough. I went ahead and tried to play the role. I was told that there would be a forced night march, once during the training cycle and that I would lead it. This was not quite correct because all I did was a lot of yelling and prancing around. Fear of me built up before this event.
After being told by one that another was in bad shape over it, I went to see him. He was indeed worked up. I told him that he could be excused. He was offended by this and told me emphatically that he would make it. The night of this exercise, after we were marching for a while, there was seen railroad tracks along to our left. At that time a train went by in the same direction we were going. After it sped past, our trail crossed over the tracks. There were no warning markings. I was shook up over what might have happened and I called a halt to rest. In the headlights of vehicles following us was seen a soldier still going full speed ahead. The ambulance went off to get him. He was the one who I had excused. I didn’t see him again and don’t know what happened to him.
After training ended one afternoon and we were milling about the battery street, going to the latrine for showers and washing clothes, an unranked soldier who I had not seen before came up to me. I had my rank and last name above my fatigue shirt pocket. He said that he was from another battery and having heard of me, had come over to see if we could fight. He wasn’t scary but he looked like he could hit a quick lick. He seemed relieved and left when I simply said no.
Another such afternoon was hot and, stripped to my waist, I lay on my stomach on my bunk. PFC Strickner was the only other in our shack. He was in his bunk on the top left. There was a commotion with the screen door opening and someone with an upheld mess kit knife was jumping for me around the stove. I believe that I rolled over with my left side breaking most of the force in his arm. Without valor, I bounded for the door, slamming it behind me. I yelled "corporal of the guard". These were posted for training purposes and probably no one else ever thought to use them. Trainee Schuler was near by walking his post. Sergeant Muncie was still in the orderly room and ran over. Strickner had covered the trainee with a blanket.
I had struggled through the last class of that day which was on knife disarming. This trainee had been in that class. We had practiced defense against a downward thrust of a knife. He was unusually small of stature, but was difficult to hold down. With my hands on him, along with the others, his muscles and body felt as hard as iron. He stunk of beer that had been made available at the PX after hours. I was all right, but the tip of the blade probably ended in my navel. There was just a bit of blood. There had been since birth a mole inside. Mother had tried to pick it out when I was a small kid. I had been ashamed to be seen wearing swim trunks. Otherwise, it had not been a problem and I had not thought to have it checked by a doctor. I had been concerned about it in the hot weather. I had heard about my going to be a flag bearer in some up coming holiday parade. I feared the staff holder might irritate it.
Discussing with Cook, we decided that I should go on sick call the next morning just for the record. We thought that I would be laughed at and sent back to duty. I was strangely relieved to be sent to the hospital. I may have felt near the end of my rope, at least subconsciously. When I didn’t return, Cook checked and that evening he walked up the hill to bring me my toothbrush and razor. I didn’t know what to tell him was going to happen to me. While I had not recalled talking with any medical people about the knife incident, I assumed that it had been reported. I was embarrassed about it. After some ten years of requesting my medical records, I recently received a detailed set. These had been requested because a VA nurse told me that she might be able to help me more if she had them. They made no mention of anything other than a pathetic sounding description of a 23-year old private with a mole in his navel about which he had no complaints, but which they would surgically remove.
The records show that I went to a skin clinic on October 9, 1951 and was sent to William Beaumont Army Hospital. I cannot reconcile the dates, as my admission is dated October 12. I am sure that I did not return to my battery. I recall going before a full colonel who seemed angry at the way he saw me acting. He scared me. I had never seen the "bird" insignia so close up before. I had no idea what was to happen. I thought a mistake had been made when blood was reserved for me.
On the morning I was taken by gurney down the cement ways through a campus of large trees and lawn, I thought it funny and wanted to push the guys on it. In a white room there were three by my body and another back of my head who talked to me. I thought that was nice of him. He wore glasses and I, sometime later, saw the reflection in them of my bloody stomach area. This was the first time for me to understand that this was bigger stuff than I thought. In the detailed record of October 18 there was a peak in several things they kept track of and a note that there was slight nausea and vomiting. It must have been when I saw that view. There was a clock on the wall and I thought that I could tell how long it took, but I forgot to look later. I thought it a long time but the records give the length of the procedure as about one hour.
Arriving in the recovery room, I was placed head against the wall as were a number of others. In the middle of the room there was like a mobile artwork, splayed out there in space. There were unrecognizable sounds coming from it. It was a distraction, which turned out to be a young soldier badly injured in an auto mishap the past Saturday night. The sounds were his teasing the nurses each time they came within his view.
Someone was rolled in over to my right. I saw he was a handsome man. He looked over to me, extended a handshake, and asked, "How are you, Son?" He asked God’s blessings on me. Shortly after that a nurse came to check on me, saying that I could not leave until I could wiggle my toes. Without haste, she went over to that man. Then I detected a stir of excitement in her and she hurriedly wheeled him out. I think he might have died. Later I was put back in my ward.
It was lunchtime. I got up, but I couldn’t move well. I felt that they had bound me up too tightly. Making it to the stairs, I found that it worked better to sort of slide down the rail. The next several meals were gotten that way. I was happy when people laughed at me. I enjoyed eating there. No pain was felt.
The next morning, I heard a lady say that she wanted all hands outside on the covers. As she came in I saw her as surely the most beautiful one ever. This was the only time I saw her or any other nurses while in this ward. She called my rank and name. My bed was next to the last in the corner farthest from the door. As she walked across, there was cheering and laughter. I was flustered. She was Lieutenant Lawler’s sweetheart and a nurse working there. He was one of our battery officers and had her check on me.
Either later that morning or the next, a male nurse came and mentioned that I was supposed to have taken my meals in bed, but I had not been found at these times. He was there to remove the bandage and stitches. When I saw my midsection uncovered, I became a little sick again. I watched him pull out each stitch after he had cleaned the area. It looked like it might pop open with ease. Sergeant Muncie came to visit and when I told him that they had taken out my bellybutton, he said, "Don’t worry, Son. It will come back out." He said that this was what had happened to his brother-in-law.
There was an evening when Sergeant Muncie came again overnight to take some tests himself. He, several others, and I were passing time after dark sitting and talking outside on a rock wall that was around a great tree there. I told my story. All listened without much response. One, a corporal, also overnight for tests, said that he worked in personnel. The next morning, he came to me. I did not recognize him. It was a Friday. He had already checked and found that Captain Krantz had never reported me. He told me that officer’s candidate school was absolutely the only way that he could get me out. I had to go with him right then.
When I asked, he said that I could not check with the hospital people. I had on the wine-colored robe and sat in the back seat of the Jeep. He had a driver. I held myself up with my arms and hands, as it hurt to sit. We passed my battery and I saw Cook giving my class but I could not wave and he didn’t see us. Two officers, who I believe were visiting from a Guard unit, interviewed me. The four of us laughed. I signed some papers. The corporal sent me back to the hospital telling me that the next morning, Saturday, I should walk off to my battery without checking out of the hospital. Orders would be there with a check to cover my travel to Fort Benning, Georgia. He also said that Captain Krantz was out of town on leave and the first sergeant didn’t work on Saturdays. It pains me that I did not retain the corporal’s name to thank him as I realized how much he had done for me.
My orders were titled, "To Be Sergeant", and by the records recently retrieved, was to be effective November 2, 1951. Upon admission to the hospital, they reported to my battery that I would be there about seven days. It figures that I was there 20 days, but this seems too long. My orders gave me 21 days of convalescent leave.
I was less than an hour back at my area and was eager to leave for town. As I was standing in my shack, the trainee who had come at me appeared in our door. He had come to apologize. I was terrified.
Cook went with me to catch the army bus. Walking along side as the bus pulled away, he was saying, "Always Yes, Sir and No, Sir and little else". It was the last contact with him, much to my regret now.
Getting to town, I cashed my check and had stripes put on my Ike jacket, although this rank was only for pay purposes. At lunch I sat with a soldier who I had met at the hospital. He said that he was glad to see me with "shacking rockers". He told me that going around the corner to a booth, I could put my name in and where I wanted to go and save money. Soldiers stationed here who lived at places close enough to go to on wee end passes would be coming by about this time.
As I walked out, I saw the beautiful sight of Lieutenant Lawler and his bride walking out of a church there. He wore dress whites and she a great white gown. It was so good to see them. I doubt that they were able to recognize me in their excitement.
I was soon on my way to San Antonio. I sat in the middle of the back seat with two others and there were two in front. The driver told me that I was not a sergeant. I didn’t respond much and remained quiet, as did the others. He drove fast and we were there late that night. I walked right into a hotel where he stopped to let me out and I got a room. The next morning, I was amazed that the Alamo was outside my window. I went there and learned that Jim Bowie from Abbeville had been one of the men who gave their lives there. I wondered if the knife had been named for him. It was clear to me to enjoy my freedom awhile before calling my brother Emmett. I loafed along the riverfront with pleasure. I visited him four times later and never saw that area again.
About dusk, I went to the bus station, bought a ticket to New Orleans, and then called Emmett. He came right out and saw that I had made sergeant. I did not tell him about the hospital or not getting paid. I let it appear that I had just arrived from El Paso. He saw me off. I sat by a tall, raw, bony man who didn’t talk much and who got off at a country place. He sounded in earnest when he invited me to get off and ride fences with him. Only then did I picture that was what cowboys did in those days. Later, I wished that I had taken him up on his offer.
I had written my parents but they appeared unprepared to see me. I did not visit anyone outside the family. I had left a car there, which I would take with me to Fort Benning. No one knew what I was up to and didn’t inquire. I didn’t know either. I did show Mother my incision and she was glad. I have no record of my date of arrival at 5th OC Company, 1st OC Regt., Fort Benning. It must have been near the first of December 1951.
My stripes were ripped off right away and I did lots of pushups. I showered late at night because my stomach was still red and easily seen. There were no comments about it. I didn’t see any of the other skin color. Christmas soon came and we were given leave. I spent my second consecutive Christmas with my parents. I did very little during this visit and was more depressed than I should have been. Even though the combat boots I had been issued had the rough or the inside of the leather on the outside, I spent lots of time shining them. I had bought a big shoe brush at the PX, which I still have, and it's in good shape yet.
Back in training, I received back pay of an unremembered amount. The clerk mentioned that my records had gone to an outfit in Germany. It could have been to a meteorological outfit that the Army had. I wonder if there had been a search out for me. I feel a possible cause could have been that I didn’t want this assignment and that I feared the struggle I might have with women there and ignored it subconsciously. Maybe the sergeant back at Fort Jackson had not seen my name when he rechecked or I did not get the word before I left on the troop train for Fort Bliss. It remains a mystery that would be good to have solved.
A letter was received down through channels addressed to "Pvt. Ellis" and either to US Army or also to Fort Bliss, Texas. It was from a mother who was convinced that I had given her trainee son improper treatment. They were from Tennessee and named Swain. He was the one who kept reporting to me that others were worried about our soon-to-come forced night march. He was more nervous than I had thought and had gotten his mother upset over what he had told her about me. My attempt at an answer did not suit the clerk and luckily he wrote it with references to the army first aid manual. I signed it and heard no more of the matter.
There is a record of dental work done at Harmony Church Dental Clinic, Fort Benning, on April 1, 1952 and a physical done on April 10. There had been perhaps 200 of us and our platoon, the 4th, had a full barracks. The one-story buildings had partially separated cubicles with two double bunks each. Candidates started leaving right away, then slowing but continuing to the end. Soon there were only three in our cubicle. John Melton, from Texas, slept above me. He was straight-laced and determined to make it. He didn’t talk much but one night before we were asleep, he leaned over and wanted verification from me that all of us had the same size when excited no matter what we showed in the shower.
He and I had cars parked in the lot, but neither of us knew of the other and told no one. One evening he was not around until late. He told that he had been in to Columbus to see a movie. Mitzi Gayner had been the dancing sensation in it and he raved about her beautiful legs. He wrote me months after we parted to say that he and his school sweetheart had married and that he was glad that he had waited. I lost track of him after that.
The other was slow with his personal care and bragged lots. I made his bunk a few times with Melton’s disapproval. One evening he had received some warning that he might be going and went out to telephone his uncle who he said was a general in the Air Force and could pull strings to keep him in. It didn’t work and he left.
Acting ranks in the platoon were rotated to give us practice. Some rotated for a day into company positions. I did not. Some showed unexpected and perhaps uncalled for showmanship at these times. Candidate Ralph Drake, in another platoon, played a strong company commander at his turn. I complimented him on it. Later when we were stationed at Fort Jackson, he invited me to his home for dinner. I was really impressed with he and his wife and the warm feeling I felt there that night remains in my memory. We didn’t come in contact again. Years later there was an inspirational article in Readers Digest about a hero in the Vietnam War reported by a colonel of his name.
We were cleaning up on a Saturday. We needed glass cleaner and there was none to be had. I thought I could go in my car to the first place I found to get it and return quickly. This was the only time I moved my car from the lot for such a purpose. I was surprised that there was a highway with a median strip with no stores in sight. I saw a car parked on this grass headed toward the base. There was a lady and a little girl standing there looking at a flat tire. I stopped to help. She refused, saying that her husband was on duty. If I could notify him, he could do it. I didn’t think that I could find his place and they reluctantly got into my car to go there. They went into an orderly room across the road from our place and quickly came back out. Her husband, an officer, was in the field with a unit and could not be reached. She didn’t know what to do but I expressed willingness to help. We returned to her car. She had fresh and frozen food that we took back to her cottage. I insisted we get her car going. The tire in her trunk was flat also. I thought the one on the car better, took it off and we went to town to get it fixed. I was in over my head because she might not have had money to pay for it. She was a pretty redhead and with an accent that made me believe she was from Australia.
She asked about what I did and believed I must be part of the group running by her bedroom each morning shouting cadence and awaking her. When she told me that I should come for dinner when her husband was home, I became flustered and claimed that I could not. That is how I saw it but she was offended. I could not satisfy her with my attempts to explain and may have finally said I didn’t want to and she was further hurt.
When I finally got back to my barracks, of all times, my friend from Miami, French, had visited. There is no guess as to how he had found me. The candidate with whom I had been cleaning, Kline, had talked to him and French had left me a note. He had gotten a battlefield commission in Korea and wanted me to get him his uniform from our PX, since he didn’t have time to wait for it to open on Monday. He had also been slightly wounded. Hines had been hit early on and shipped home but had recovered and was back in Korea. I didn’t know how to handle such a purchase and wrote an excuse. Regrettably, this was the last word I had from either.
The lady’s husband was an instructor in booby traps and we had not had that class. On the day when we did, we sat in covered bleachers. I chose to sit at the end of the top bench. I told the candidate who sat next to me that I would be the first one to be called on to answer a question. I was, and being ready, my helmet liner went against the roof since I jumped up so fast. There was laughter and he didn’t say anything more to me.
There was a tactical officer assigned to each platoon. They could harass any candidates but the one assigned kept the records. Ours was 2nd Lt. Richard Dawson, a graduate of West Point the spring before. He was "cute" with a quiet sneer and didn’t yell. He didn’t look to me like he could. I was called from the barracks to meet him "on the double" one evening. With his unpleasant countenance, he said that there was something wrong with me because I had few demerits. He gave me some then. He told me that all I ever said was "Yes, Sir and No, Sir" and nothing else. I had to say more for him to rate me, he said. I had left the barracks in such a rush that my fly was open and he noticed it, giving me more demerits. I did an about face, zipped up, and returned to face him. This felt instinctive the thing to do.
There was another rating system called "buddy" reports. First, it was to write how we rated each of our squad members on a number of things including the strong one of how willing you would be to follow him into combat. We were never shown any of these. We thought we could be rated on how we wrote and how we reported on others in comparison to how others did. Later, the report was for the platoon and near the end, it was for the entire company.
We graduated on May 22, 1952. There were 105 of us and each was given his rank in the class. I was 100. I was stunned and hurt but never mentioned it until now. We were discharged as sergeants. In a separate place later we were commissioned second lieutenants. Tradition was that we pay a dollar for each salute as we came out of the building. I was feeling so sour that I withstood the bad faces I got from the enlisted men such as the mess people and did not give any dollars.
Several of us from the class signed up to take paratrooper training. I remember Tuttle and Price. We were in this school from May 23 to June 24, 1952 according to my discharge. The training exercises demanded a lot from us. We bunked together upstairs in a barracks building with other officers. We didn’t mix with them. The classes were together with enlisted men. Still there was none of the other skin color.
We first went through lots of body work, mostly push-ups. We learned to fall from a standing position in a prescribed manner. There were a certain number of body spots upon which to distribute a proper fall. Perhaps it was seven, but I have forgotten. There was the fear of being called unexpectedly to fall left or right as we were walking along. This was good, but I did not master it to my satisfaction. Apparently it was adequate, as I had no trouble later. This stood us in good shape not only for the jumps, but later in life when we chanced to fall.
Next was about a week of what was called suspended agony. I was anxious about it like the trainees had been of the forced night march, but it didn’t prove to be so bad. It was for steering a chute with the leaders. These were two web belts attached to the riser lines that went to their points on the lower edge of the canopy. We were in the harness and lifted so that our feet could not touch the tables we had stood on. Practicing movements on command was the exercise. I never quite understood the technique. Time spent there seemed the main test.
Next was the 34-foot tower. There was a mock up of the area before the open exit door of an aircraft at this height. Jumping out, I saw nothing that would save me from hitting the ground. The leaders from our harness connected to a cable that had a pulley wheel that ran along a slopping cable. This caused us to be caught with a jerk just before we might have otherwise hit the ground. We rode the cable to an embankment where we stopped when our feet hit.
Because we each had to perform a number of things during the exercise, it was good training. Again, I forget how many. There were random signals for us to do other things like pull the cord to release the chest chute. All of these had to be done correctly three times in a row. The harness had a round metal device about five inches in diameter, called the quick release. It had to be hit pretty hard with the heel of our fist to get out of the harness. Running back up to the tower we didn’t know where we stood until told to repeat or not. It was hot and I had to do it so many times that I was weakening a bit and the skin of my chest was raw and hurting from the metal device. I worried that I would not make it, but I finally did.
Next it was the 220 foot towers from which we made a free fall with a small pre-opened chute onto freshly plowed ground. Not every member of the class experienced this, but I did. Each tower had four arms that extended out from the top a distance of a little more than the diameter of the opened chute. Wind direction determined which of the arms should be used. The lower periphery of the open silk chute was attached to a round holder and its apex fitted above. The other students rapidly did this, as the one to fall got into the harness.
The trip up was made with a noisy wench powered by an electric motor. The way for releasing the chute and the student was for the operator to make a sudden, fast, upward jerk of the wench. When the holding ring fell hard against a stop, the release was made. This was tricky and the operation was not smooth, sometimes didn’t work the first time, and other times released before it should on the way up, or at the top without warning.
While I was fearful of an early release, my trip up was good. I was amazed at the increasing distance that could be seen the further up I went. I could see over into Alabama and I wishfully looked in the other direction for South Carolina. We had been warned about the danger of falling against the tower. They had told gross tales of what the "cold steel" could do and had done to bodies. Sudden wind changes as well as the jumper making a mistake in steering his chute could make this disaster likely. When the wind changed, the arm in use was called "dirty". "This arm is getting dirty" was often heard.
It was deceptively quiet up there except when a booming voice amplified and put out by a speaker near our ears came from an instructor on the ground. He did a great job of teasing and scaring us. Most likely any delay was due to his judgment of the wind, but I wanted to get it over. Sometimes he whispered and other times he shouted loudly and fast. It was about looking out for the cold steel and warning that I was going to be let go. After a small jerk or so and having it not happen, finally falling free felt good and peaceful until the voice gave more loud warnings and excited instruction about steering. Landing softly, I was rushed by the others to get the chute and harness ready for the next jumper. Some twenty years later, I was pleasantly surprised to pass by these towers on a public highway when I drove in that area. I felt proud. My wife Lena and I were on our way to visit Plains.
All along we were told about the dangers of jumping and what to do in case something unusual happened. The main chutes opened by being attached to a cable running overhead length ways of the aircraft. A small pilot chute first came out of the backpack to help deploy the large one. The blast from the propellers was desired. It didn’t always happen depending on body motion upon exit. There was almost always an opening shock felt when the canopy fully opened and caught the air. This varied with body position at that instant. If we were swinging just right when it came it was no problem. When our body was in a position and attitude just the opposite as that needed, it was dangerous and could be severe. We were told measures to take. I wasn’t convinced that much more could be done and didn’t try any of the tricks I heard. The main protection was to strap up tightly and to control our body in the prescribed mode. Frankly, I think that the unmentionable effect of one’s mental attitude as well as luck had something to do with this.
There was another danger that could occur at the opening shock. The shroud lines were folded in the pack and sometimes they came to lie on or near parts of the jumper’s unprotected body. At the opening shock they snapped taunt and could cut into our flesh. Having them on our bare neck wasn’t good. Also these cords could drag over us as they quickly extended. An injury of this type was called riser burns and could be a minor irritation or a bad burn. Again, I believe that it helped to be aware of these possible dangers and do the best we could using our training and not letting fear take over, remembering the poor trainee who feared the forced night march so much and my own early thoughts of storming the beach in an invasion.
There were unexpected, and at first difficult to understand, things that we were told. The reserve chest chute was not easy to get deployed or to think when to use it. With unnecessary use, it could tangle with an open main chute, so it wasn’t something we wanted to pad our chances with. Immediately after the main chute was felt open, we were taught to look up, spread the leaders with both arms, and check our canopy.
There are some that don’t open at all. These are called streamers and are a fearful sight to see whether it was ours or that of our buddy. The risers twisted and intertwined without enough of the bottom edges of the canopy exposed to catch the air. This was when the chest chute ripcord must be pulled. This required a physical effort. When not in required use otherwise, our hands were positioned on the sides of this pack in front and with our elbows tucked into our sides. After pulling the ripcord, we were told to pull the chute out with our hands and shake it out to get it to open.
Probably due to weak places in the silk of the main chute that are not detected at packing, holes could occur there at the opening. The rule we were given was that if when checking the canopy after it opens there was a hole big enough for our helmet to go through, the reserve must be pulled. A hole this size could open up and further tears could cause the loss of holding power. This was especially bad if it happened close to the ground or too late to get the reserve deployed. On the other hand, there was danger in the reserve getting tangled in the remnants of the main. While the helmet was used here only as a visual gage, helmets coming loose also posed a serious danger if they hit jumpers already on the ground.
In descending, which is a quiet and pleasant feeling, our canopy could spill its air, start to fall down over us, and at the same time we felt that we were standing on something soft that was billowing up to us. This is when we were caught inside the slipstream of a jumper below us and got captured on top of the chute. What had to be done then was to take high steps and fall off the lower one while at the same time trying to shake our canopy to catch air.
This is not the final answer because nature had it that we were immediately below our buddy, stealing his air. The thing happened again with reversed jumpers. The advice was for the two to grab each other and hold on, riding two chutes down. This fact was brought out when later I had a job watching cloud droplets in a laboratory. The couplets of same size droplets were in pronounced evidence. These droplets would not come together, but continued to act like little dumbbells without any connection visible, switching back and forth at little ripples in the air stream. If another droplet coalesced with either of the two, their invisible coupling was immediately lost.
The day came for our first flight and jump. It was not expected for the harness to be so tight. Also, I had not realized what the ditty bag was like that we had hooked on our side. It was to put the chute inside and bring back. We had trained that after landing we were to hit the quick release and run for the apex of the canopy. When the wind was strong on the ground, this was a challenge. This bag was of unmilitary-looking paisley design cloth with wooden handles. I wondered if these could break on impact and stab us.
Going through the large hangar, there were blown up pictures on the walls of gross mishaps caused by loose harness. We walked with difficulty due to the tightness. Seated in the twin boon aircraft with large opposing open doors with our backs against the sides, we faced others seated likewise on the opposite side. It was not a frivolous event. As we were moving out for a takeoff position, I saw tears running down the cheeks of one across from me. If I remember the commands, they were: Get Ready, Stand Up and Hook Up, Check Equipment, Shuffle, Stand in the Door, and Jump. The equipment to be checked was that of the one in front of us and the shuffle was for stability in walking toward the door in an aircraft that might be tossing about.
For me, there was no hesitation to go out. Right away I felt proud of my body form and that the opening was good. But when I looked up, spreading the leaders I saw not one, but several, holes in the canopy. At least two of them were large enough to require using the reserve. I thought of Mother and gave no thought to pulling the chest pack. I rode down without looking up again. There was an unreal peacefulness that I had not expected. I might have thought that I had left my body already. Contact with the ground felt like it could not have been better executed. I was proud as I hit the quick release and ran for the silk. This is the first time I have told this.
In our small group of new officer students, one seemed to be in good personal control. I was not in on it that his first jump had been a streamer and he had to fuss with his reserve. When he was no longer with us, they said that his next two jumps were the same and that he chose to leave the program. Our jumps were all with full field gear, including an M-1 rifle. They were from only around 1000 feet elevation above ground. One was at night and one for officers when we had to choose the time to jump in order to hit the drop zone.
I believe that the total jumps for me was eight. All were good landings. On the last one, I took a little impact on my right heel and also my canteen was bent. Maybe I was feeling too sure of myself, but I was okay and didn’t mention any pain. I drove away on leave proudly wearing my jump badge. Leaving an eating place out in the country that evening, I treated the cute waitresses with a limp as I went to my car. I appreciated their concerned looks. I went to Miami for a few days. Vick liked seeing my uniform and my bars. I parked my car by his beach. I ate lunch at our usual place thinking it the time when he would be there, but he had not left his post yet.
After visiting with my parents, I reported to Fort Jackson on an unremembered date. On my first day, a major from Abbeville connected with me. He said that he knew my family through my brother-in-law, sister Kathryn’s husband, James Hagan. I saw him only this one day. It was kind of him and useful to me. It was unexpected and there is no guess how he picked me out. He invited me to go with him in his chauffeured Army sedan. My experience had me bowing for him to enter first. Then he taught me that the lowest rank always quickly enters first. We went to inspect a vehicle repair shop. The sergeant reported and led us around, answering the major’s questions.
When we got into the car and were leaving, I ventured that I thought the sergeant was good. The major said that he was not because he had dirty fingernails. Even though his work caused this, it wasn’t an excuse. I was already aware to keep mine clean, but this really caused me extra effort. I have a neighbor who fought in the 442nd Infantry Battalion in Italy and France during World War II. He began as the youngest and smallest in his company. He was used as the point in their actions. This was not good and he told me that he made sure that he kept himself and his fingernails clean, hoping that the mess sergeant might notice. He did, and when one of his mess crew was sent back for some reason, my neighbor was called to take his place and remained there.
The 8th Recon Company, 8th Infantry Division operated as a basic training unit. I was assigned to them to teach defensive tactics. Records show that I went for dental care five times between September 17 and December 19, 1952. It was now approaching two years since I signed up expecting to go to Korea and I had not gotten there yet. It made no sense to me to be teaching trainees who would go to Korea. There were officers experienced in Korea who were just waiting for discharge or reassignment who came with the trainees to our classes. We should have exchanged duties. Most of our group had been to Korea and some also were from World War II.
Regretfully, I didn’t think seriously about teaching classes and thought that I would soon be shipped out to Korea. I envisioned just floating around during this time. I was told to go along with a lieutenant who taught a nighttime exercise in combat outposts. He was short and cute. He seemed proper and friendly. He had seen combat in both Europe and Korea. This officer told me to meet him at a certain time at our mess hall. I looked around in the open area then and did not see him. He got my attention from above in a lounge type area where drinks were served from a bar. Seated alone at a small table, he had a large number of cocktails spaced neatly before him. He told me that was what he usually had before conducting his exercise. They said that he had trouble with marriage and women, and that he was not recovering well from a recent sadness along those lines.
As usual, I went along with it, hardly wondering how it would work out. I rode out in a second car with a sergeant driving. It was some distance. There was much said during the trip. After arriving and seeing this sergeant and his helpers setting things up and the trucks with the trainees driving up, I asked where the lieutenant was. The sergeant said something like, "Asleep, I guess." He further indicated that I had better get with it as he didn’t want to stay all night. As the trainees were being seated on benches, I climbed up on the elevated podium and started off. I told war stories that I had heard. The sergeant was in back of me. He told me to hurry up since we were going to attack the hill out in back. They did, firing blanks, and with charges going off.
I never mentioned anything about this and I never saw or heard of this officer again. I continued giving this exercise. I went with other officers when they gave other classes. No one coached me. One of the officers who came with the trainees had been in Korea and complimented me by saying that it was just like what was going on in Korea at that time. Another officer from our group came one night. I wondered why. He thought I was doing well. I was amazed at what these two said. I shudder to think what I might have told these trainees even knowing that they probably could have cared less.
With a group of fresh 2nd Lieutenants out in the field one day when break time came, one who I knew little about invited me to sit with him in his personal car. He related to me how the rest of the group troubled him. This was unexpected and I had to imagine some. I hope that I got it about right. Either the others had hurt him by what they had said or he felt uncomfortable with his lack of experience. I keenly felt how little I knew of anything I might be called upon to do. His hope seemed to be that I might not be so much like the others due to some observation he had made. I thought that he might belong to a bin as a mother’s boy for lack of coming up with another description. I didn’t see anything wrong with this. I loved my parents. I was glad that I was handling this sort of thing. I tried to agree with what he was about. We didn’t meet again, but I suppose he might have turned out as good an officer as any.
With such a lax situation, I had lots of leisure time. The few times I went into our building, other instructors were there and were working to develop better classes. I was ashamed of myself. I listened to the majors telling war stories. One was about a thing called InterFeCom transfers. This was started as an incentive for soldiers to perform better. At given times, commanders could pick the ones to be rewarded with such a transfer. It might be another unit in Korea with a buddy or some other reason, but it became understood that the transfer would be to units in Japan. It made lots of sense to use this instead as a way to get rid of undesirables. These units to which they were going to in Japan became made up of these people. When they were sent back as a unit to Korea, it was disastrous. One group there in Japan was untouchable in their enclave. The major said that MPs stowed away in a bread truck, which was scheduled early each morning, and subdued them.
I became friendly with a lieutenant in our group who was married. He was a year or so older than me and had been commissioned in Korea after combat there. He had served in the Navy in Japan after the end of the World War II conflict there. His name was Trainum, and he invited me into his home several times. There were hints that his wife wanted me to come more and to match me with her girlfriend who lived in Atlanta. One early Saturday morning, he and I went to a lake to shoot ducks. We sat in our car by the lake waiting for it to get lighter. When we got out of the car, a deer jumped up from a little over a yard from the front of our parked vehicle. Later we saw large flocks of ducks, but they were too far away to shoot.
Another lieutenant recently commissioned from Ft. Benning was in the group, but in the offensive section. He and I lived in the Bachelor Officers Quarters. His name was Jim Ferguson and we became friends. He had been with the CID in Korea. We went out in the evenings some. This became a bad habit for me. I had little tolerance for alcohol. It was even worse in that I seemed to be acting intoxicated before I had anything to drink, as if impatient to get into the silliness. Then when I had, I quickly became quite drunk. Jim and I visited my sister Mildred’s family and home for dinner. Once he went with me to my parents' home on a Sunday. Visiting Army buddies were a special thing with my family and other people around. Jim enjoyed it. We ate supper before driving back to camp. He had grown up mostly in Miami and knew a friend I had met at Hines’s home.
There were other officers who were returning from Korea and had stories I was eager to hear. A jaunty major was there once who claimed he had been the fire chief of Pusan. He was so full of life that I loaned him my car for the evening when he asked. Next morning, I noticed that it had been well used. Lt. Harvey had a pretty girlfriend that got him to get me to date her friend together with them. I went along with it, but didn’t get up much excitement about her.
A mystery never cleared up was that I had a "girlfriend" that drove around the post often. I not only didn’t get to meet her, but also never got to see her or to learn about her. I don’t know how she connected with me so well that everyone except me knew about it. Probably if one like me could get lost, as I had done the year before, other strange things were possible.
At one of my classes, I noted a lieutenant about like me, standing around taking notes on a clipboard. I knew he was monitoring my performance, but it was of no concern to me. He came up and spoke to me, but I quickly forgot. Later I was called before the major in command of our group. As I was at the bottom of the short steps going up to the door of his office, another lieutenant came out through the door. He saluted me and gave congratulations. We knew each other, but not very well. He thought that I had just been promoted. I wondered if I had shined my bars too much, but after the visit to the major I could guess how he might have thought that way. When I got inside, the major handed me a sheath of papers. Something he said made me self conscious about what I saw on the report about my performance. Then I recalled the officer that I had seen by my class. I signed it as instructed and handed it back to the major, who demanded loudly that I read it carefully. Embarrassed reading it, I took time before returning it again. It had the highest grades possible. I forget if he brought out another copy or told me there were none.
At any rate, he tore it all up and dropped it in the trash can while saying that both he and I knew that no one could be that good. Then he told me that when I got to Korea--which would be soon--I should remember that when the shooting started I should not jump up and yell, "Follow me". Instead, I should get behind a rock or something. He warned that if he ever heard that I told anyone what he had just told me, he would not only deny it, but also charge me with lying. The story about my report got out, probably from the lieutenant that had preceded me in the major’s office. It was said that the author of that report was the brother of my "girlfriend".
Still another lieutenant who I do not remember well got me to go with him to visit a girl in her apartment in town. This young lady had a boyfriend who was an officer in Korea. I did not grasp anything about why we were there. She was attractive and while expressing concern about her man in combat, didn’t indicate any puzzlement or discomfort about us. We finally took our leave without anything further coming of it. Thinking about it several times, it didn’t make sense as a proper thing to do. It just matched my feelings of a recent great war, our conflict, and servicemen and their girlfriends and wives.
Late in the year, my parents came to spend a few days with Mildred. I took Papa to the site of my evening class. While I was showing him where I stood facing the class, he was not as interested in this as he was in the things that were lying about on the ground. He wanted to know who picked up the spent cartridges. I didn’t know if people came illegally or with permission. Papa asked if he could take one of the 30 caliber metal boxes. While not eager to do so, I put one in the car, as he wanted it to keep valuables fireproof. The last time that I saw him, he still had the olive drab box. I understand that such a thing would not likely serve the purpose he thought it could. He was impressed with the waste he saw that day.
On our way back, I took Papa by the place where I lived. An officer of higher rank and I shared a bath and sitting area, but with each having separate bedrooms. He was of the other skin color and had seen combat in Korea. He was nice and I liked him. Later, when I learned more of these things, I wondered if he had been called up with a Guard unit in California. He told me that when they started north from Pusan, the only map they had was one they came across in a textbook in a schoolhouse they passed.
With Papa seated in our common area, I heard him come into his room and excitedly said that my dad was with me. The officer rushed over with his hand extended. He was so outgoing. Papa just sat there with a cold look on his face. My roommate handled this really well. I felt badly about it, but he made me feel that I need not and quickly dismissed my later apology. I didn’t say anything to Papa about it, but he brought it up once and told me that he wished that he had not done that. He was really sorry. I knew that he was and I told him that it was all right.
On a Sunday, I went alone to the training area. There was another place nearby with large open bleachers. Noticing a military person there, I was curious and went closer. He was standing alone in front of the bleachers as if practicing a speech. He was of the different skin color and wore a star as his rank. It was difficult to know that such a person was at this camp. I had an urge to run up and report to him, but since he did not appear to see me, I did not. I still wonder who he was and what happened to him.
Returning from town on another Sunday afternoon, I recognized a soldier walking along inside the base as one of the different skin color with whom I had shared basic training here almost two years earlier. My car license gave away that I was an officer, but I was wearing a T-shirt. Glad to see and know him, I stopped and insisted that he get in and that I take him wherever he was headed. He saw who I was right away and I was glad. Then he shocked me by demanding that I stop the car. He didn’t want to ride with me. He said that he knew about me and told me if I wanted to do what was right that I should go see Elam. He pointed out a mess hall, which was Elam’s. He left me saying that I should go there then. I didn’t get to learn about their Korean experience, but was glad that they returned. I could not bear to look up Elam and I never saw him. I feel badly about it.
Then the Saturday came when Lt. Trainum’s wife had arranged for her friend to come. There was a military ball that evening. I was to go with the Trainums as the escort of their visitor. I had never considered purchasing a formal uniform. At first sight of my "date", I saw that I was going to have trouble. She was a stunning beauty. I remember nothing further of her or the evening, because I became drunk. I only recall an early trip to the men’s room when officers and sergeants rushed me wanting to know where I had found such a lady. They also scolded me for getting drunk so fast. My casual advisor on such matters back on the square at Abbeville years earlier had not predicted my behavior well.
Having had no control or desire over that evening’s plans, I had earlier insisted to my sister Sara that we visit our parents on that Sunday. She was against the idea, but our folks had been told to expect us. The plan was that I meet Sara early that morning at her apartment. It was almost noon when I awoke and I was still drunk. Sara had been sitting on her stair steps for hours. She could see what my problem was and was disappointed in me. She didn’t think we should go, but we did. She was further hurt when Mother appeared to her as only interested in seeing me. Sara had a bad Sunday that was my fault. I was not only sorry about the way I had treated her, but I was disturbed that I could not handle such a simple situation as the night before.
At the November Presidential election time, I watched on a TV at the Officer’s Club when Eisenhower gave his statement to go to Korea to check it out before he took office. I had admired him along with other military heroes. Disappointed at the political alliance he chose to go with, I became more upset. Still innocent about such political things, I could not get comfortable with him. My simple reason was that if he thought he could do anything about the waste of young lives, why had he not been working at it for the past two years? I thought we were all in it together. I didn’t know how it was. This sort of thing is one of others that make me feel I should have made a career of the military.
Orders to FeCom, which was assumed to be Korea, came in December 1952 with yet another leave for Christmas that I spent with my parents. Afterward, I left in my car to drive to Emmett’s home in San Antonio. I went by Fort Benning. Maybe I was concerned about maps because of what my roommate had said. I ended up at a place that I had not seen or heard about when I had been there earlier. There were great looking permanent buildings in a campus-like setting.
I found two officers who related to me. They suggested that I sign up for a correspondence course from the Infantry School. That must have been their duty. I did not have clearly in my mind what I had come for and didn’t see anyone else. They did tell me that field manuals were in demand and that they didn’t have many on hand. I was keen to have some, but didn’t know which ones I would turn out needing. I may have wanted to know how they could be obtained.
Like a free soul and a man of the world that I wasn’t, I looked for adventure at the old bar in Pensacola overnight and another night in New Orleans. These nights were spent alone and without encounters. Arriving at San Antonio late one evening, I stopped and telephoned Emmett to get directions to his place. Staying for several days, I probably outlasted my welcome. He had career concerns. He had used his GI educational bill of rights to attend Chiropractor College there and had graduated. He had remained in the Air Force Reserve and had been recalled to duty at one of the bases there. He scolded me for expecting him to sell my car there. I never heard what happened to that car.
It was in our family and people to have anyone leaving on a trip of any length to go with food prepared for them. I had always fought against this custom. I had hurt Mother’s feelings over this a number of times. I was unable to dissuade Emmett’s wife Dorothy, and I entered the train with an unusually large flat box of chicken that she had fried for me. Then, as now, I do not favor chicken to eat. On the farm, the only time we ate this food was when company came. They were our pastor who came on an allotted time schedule after Sunday preaching, relatives from away like Papa’s brother who lived in California, his sister from Georgia, Mother’s widowed sister-in-law from St. Louis, my siblings who were all older and out of the house, and a few others.
The way I felt was that if we didn’t raise enough to eat this more often, what was the big deal to have it with these people? I knew that I was way off the mark, but chose to be hardheaded about it. The thing that I did not want to accept was the ranking of the pieces. There was an art form to the process of cutting the chicken’s body up before preparing and frying. Was there agreement on which was the best piece or were there games played? Rather than seeing who got what and being envious, I was put out by the whole thing. I never saw inside a poultry factory, but I became acquainted with a man who worked in one of the places. I was convinced that there was nothing good there.
After I questioned her, Mother told me late in her life that her greatest dread was not to have enough to feed people coming, especially a large group and on short notice. It was with unjust shame that I thought of getting rid of this large, smelly box as I got on the train. I was a bit taken aback by what I saw as unexpected elegance on this train. I sat in a compartment with facing seats. It was roomy and comfortable. Another Army officer of the same rank who was going to Ft. Ord, as I was, sat with me. Across sat a young girl going to college in Oakland and a nice older lady with pleasant sophistication going to Los Angeles. This train ride was something more young people should have experienced and it had something of the same effect on me as had the English composition professor back at Erskine.
The conversation was easy and the view out the windows was interesting. As the sun was almost down, the lady said that it was about time to eat. I had not done anything about my box and I could not think of a way to handle it. She solved the problem by saying that a big reason for her suggestion was that she had known from my entrance what was in it and was hungry for it. I was glad to open up. It was arranged attractively. She, perhaps partly joking, showed her dainty sandwiches and offered to trade with me. I was reminded of that egg salad on white bread that I had loved in Chicago on that earlier train ride. I was able to eat all hers with delight and the three of them ate mine.
There was a different configuration of seats on the ride up to San Francisco. Our lady leader had gotten off. The coed, the other guy, and I stayed together and joined several more girls. I learned that my fellow Army mate was from a place in Texas other than San Antonio. He was one of several that I only came to know as "Tex". It was soon clear to me that he was typical of officers coming on duty then. He was married and exceedingly happy to get into, or back to the life of having as many sex partners as possible. I surmised that he came from a reserve activity. He didn’t mention this or his wife. He was a pleasant friend to have and he didn’t flaunt his women around me.
We came to be in Oakland that night, reporting to camp the next morning. We were at a street the likes of which I had never imagined. Later I wondered if it could have been the two-name location which became famous. It was house after house of young girls. We went there with the girls we had met on the train. Tex left with one and I stayed a while with the one who had been in the first train compartment. I could not figure it out. The young ladies seemed nice. I didn’t determine if they were college students or not. Guys came along the street to visit. They all seemed so happy and well behaved.
Tex and I met up again that evening and went with people to a large bar overlooking a lake. Each day we could get a pass to go into town after noon. He didn’t take girls along, but he told of his exploits of the evening before. We had a fine dinner at probably the nicest fish house at the wharf in San Francisco one afternoon. It was good. We splurged.
Another evening near the time we expected to be near our last, we walked the streets of the great city with people who seemed to know, probably from recent experience, what we were about. One neat man gave me his card. It was for a camera shop. I could not accept why I should take his card. He told me that it would be good, for I might want to order things from him. It turned out that he had that right--but about others, not me.
We had our dinner that evening at a popular restaurant down near the end of Powell Street, below the old Manx Hotel and where it looks like now McDonald’s has taken over. It was nice there and we proceeded to have fun. I got only a little drunk. An older waitress and I were exchanging conversation. All at once, we knew that the place was closing. She announced that she was taking me home with her. It felt right and good to go with her. She was like a sister or someone I had known properly. Tex was with us. She too lived in Oakland. We rode on a commuter train under the Oakland Bay Bridge. This means of transportation was not there when I looked years later.
The three of us went up to her apartment. Years afterwards, I identified this place. Tex soon excused himself and she became a little huffy about what he might have meant to imply by this. I don’t believe that she offered me anything to drink or eat. When I started to remove my Ike jacket for comfort, she protested and I kept it on. She, like others, seemed to have no trouble to figure me out more completely than I myself could. Her conversation repeated her thought that I would soon change and never be the same again. I childishly said that this would not happen and promised to look her up upon my return so that she could see for herself. She quickly replied, "Don’t you dare. I never want to see you again."
I wasn’t trying to get her drift and it was not uncomfortable. She mentioned that her husband had been a sergeant in the Civil War in Spain. I knew little of this conflict but he seemed to have been on the communist side. I took it that she had probably had a complicated life and had suffered. This being her home, she, hearing a noise, warned me that it was her roommate coming home. It was a lady that she said was deaf and that I should not try to meet. We watched her go to a sort of high dresser and take off jewelry and place it carefully. Her back was always to us and we were in dim light, but close by. I saw her no more.
My hostess continued to talk to me in the same vein without the kidding as she had done at her work place. Then she told me what my situation would be in the next day or so. I did not know anything. She said that I would be leaving by plane from Travis. It would either be by military aircraft with rough seats, boxed food, and no girls or stewards, or it would be by Flying Tiger Airlines with plush furnishings, scrumptious food, and many beautiful stewardesses. She could not foretell which I would get. Then she said that she would write a letter and seal it in an envelope with a name on the outside. She said that as soon as I saw a Flying Tiger uniform on a lady to give it to her. She sat in front of me and wrote slowly but continuously before sealing it and handing it to me. I left without a touch of any kind as she rebuffed my attempts to at least shake her hand. I easily got a cab out on the street and the driver seemed to already know to take me to camp where we arrived without conversation as light appeared in the east.
The next day, I was not given a pass but was sent to a dental clinic. I thought that this would be a snap as I had kept up my dental work back at Fort Jackson. It was a shock when they pulled three teeth. I saw several other officers in Korea who showed vacant tooth places when they were yelling commands. That night I saw that I would be leaving the next morning by military aircraft. I saw Tex and gave him the letter, explaining it to him. We didn’t know then which aircraft he would get. The lady had not told me what to do with it in case I failed to get that airline, and this made a weak case for making anything big of it. Maybe I should have opened it and if it looked suspicious to have turned it in. At that time my thoughts about it were a good time to be had with the girls and I felt that he could handle it better than I.
Up, off, and away next morning, the plane was not crowded. I did not speak with anyone. No one sat near me. Our stop at Hickam Field did not reveal much of Hawaii. I thought we would be getting off to eat but didn’t. I could see close by inside a chain link fence what I believe was a family with young children. I think the parents were running the place that may have been fixing the box meals. The kids playing there didn’t show much of the color I expected. They didn’t have any interest in our plane or us. I was glad that I did not have the chance to try to play with them.
After dark, the stop at Wake Island was longer and we were off to stroll around but not to eat. In the small lobby, there sat Xavier Cugat assuming most of the main lounge seating facing the entrance with at least five Chihuahuas crawling over him. He looked at us, but didn’t communicate. I spotted a Weather Bureau office and went inside, telling them that I too worked for the agency. There were some four or five people there who seemed busy and not too interested in my barging in. Less than ten years later, I worked with and became friends with Bill Cobb who told about working at Wake and seeing Cugat passing through. He boasted that he took Abbe Lane for a Jeep ride about the island.
All the way to Tokyo I did not talk or become acquainted with any of the other soldiers. We went on an Army bus to a place called Camp Drake. It was a kind of permanent establishment with the exclusive campus like US Army looked. On the bus ride the streets and roadways were broad, but not being used much. There were not a lot of people to see. Seated alone with my duffle bag up near the front on the left side, I experienced an unexpected and unexplainable sexual feeling.
There had been only a few older working women seen and not too close. Some of the maybes could have been: stories I had heard from people like Trainum and others about Japan over the past seven years, the several romantic movies on this theme that I had seen, the new smells, and the idea that I liked these people before knowing any. Other than the Leaders Course classmate, I cannot recall seeing Asian people before. It could have been a deeper almost animalistic reversion that soldiers may always experience when entering a foreign country and seeing civilians.
We were issued new clothes and equipment, said to be for combat. My carbine was packed in cosmolene. Our duffle bag and personal items were to be left there. It was night when we got to our bunking area. It was crowded and frantic. The talk was about getting into town. At first, it seemed the thing to do and I exchanged cash for yen. Somewhere along the line, all money was exchanged for Military Pay Certificates (MPCs).
I shall never know if all the loudly proclaimed intentions were fulfilled that night. In one of his many books, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote about being sent to Japan shortly after their surrender to give advice to economists there. I read it much later and he said that he first wanted to know what industries had been restarted. I hope it was due to bad translations, but the top economist was said to have indicated the same places my fellow arrivals were headed for that night.
I was tired and didn’t really want this time in town. I tried to clean my carbine. It was sad. I was alone. I guess if I had made friends, I would have not stayed back. I walked outside and found an Officer’ Club at which I ate dinner. Before entering, I felt that the area outside must surely be a staging area for a movie set. The soldiers milling about there were irregular with many different types of uniforms. There were a noticeable number of non-US individual troopers. There were weapons including knives in evidence. It was obviously show time for some. One US master sergeant wielded a long, willowy, wooden rod with a sharp pointed metal hammer on its end.
The next day, seated in a large auditorium, a warrant officer was the only speaker. His message was clear. We were not to surrender to the enemy under any condition. At the same time, the little wallet-sized cards proclaiming the agreements of the Geneva Convention were passed out. Mine proved difficult to maintain in reasonable condition. The building was quickly vacated and a mess hall was found for lunch. There I met Richard Price who had been in the same platoon at OCS and jump school. He was the first such person I had seen and I was excited. We were not best friends, but had been in a group that went for some outings off base in my car. He was from Clinton, Iowa and had played on the football team at Northwestern the year they had played in the Rose Bowl. It had probably been 1949. He had a degree of sophistication not understood by me. I had been surprised that he had a large part in a roast production while we were at Fort Benning. I thought that he was good. On a grand parade day, he did the adjutant’s walk. This was the only time I saw this. As we were standing there with our filled food trays, he told me that he had married his high school sweetheart. He had gone bird hunting and had held in his hand a small live bird. When he had tried to crush it, he could not.
Expecting that we would sit together to eat, this kind of talk bothered me and I moved off to another table. We never met again. Another class member who I did not know so well was seen a few months later. He told me that Price had died the first night in combat, along with others of our class. I asked him how he knew and he said that his mother was keeping track. I wondered why she and I were not in contact.
Late that afternoon I was with a group formed up just in front of the main building, awaiting a bus to take us to Yokohama to board a ship to Pusan. A bus came and in the group getting off was "Tex". He quickly told me that he had met them, had a grand time, and was to see them again that evening. I had not spent any of the yen I had and like the letter, I gave it all to him so that he could save time. That was our last contact.
Arrival in Korea
It was after dark that evening when we boarded a transport vessel. Again, I didn’t form any personal contacts on the voyage and cannot remember things other than looking over the side from a protected area of the deck seeing our bow wave go by. I believe that it was 24 hours later that we disembarked in a strange, dark place said to be our destination. It was all so unreal. We were crudely stripped of everything we had been issued and given another. This included my new carbine for an old one. I would still like to find out what this was all about.
Soon we were on a rickety uncrowded train. The coaches had wood about them and places looked like small arm rounds had hit them. There were several times we stopped and other times when the lights went out. There was no contact with whoever was running the thing, so we had no explanation about anything. When morning came, we stopped at a village. This was the first and one of the few times I saw this scene of the reddish curved roof tile and aged buildings. Looking out the windows, only a mass of small children was seen rushing the coaches. Soon there were exclamations of lost wristwatches. They were experts--appearing to be offering paperback books for sale, but actually using the covers to swiftly unload pens clipped to shirt pockets.
Some were carrying infants. Some were maimed. The oldest was no more than seven years old. No adults were outside. Leaders were evident. They looked like natural bullies. There were serious scuffles among these kids, which made me uncomfortable. There were more boys, but there were girls as well. Probably there were more than 200 kids in all. I had nothing to have them take from me. I don’t know the name of the place. Inside was a place crowded with goods for sale. It was obviously a black market, but I bought a pocket warmer and the lighter fluid to fuel it. I paid the silent, unanimated Korean lady with MPC. Some of the kids opened their jackets to reveal displays of goods for bargaining over.
Late that night, we were at the end of the line in Chunchon. I remember a confusion of Jeeps with their dimmed lights, and many bloused trousered legs going about in the light of a few flashlights. I was amazed to get bedded down for the night. In the morning, I was called into a newly constructed multi-room building that was painted a light green. This was in stark contrast to the night before. A military assignment person who I don’t think was a commissioned officer only said that he had never heard a shot fired in anger as he directed me to a Jeep outside.
Underway, we were in the open Jeep with a nervous major who was up front with the driver. I sat in the seat on the right rear. A young enlisted soldier who was returning to his outfit from someplace chose to sit up on the left side. It was a day-long ride and little was said, even though we stopped to eat our C-rations. The dirt roadway was well maintained, but we saw no traffic. It was an awesome scene. All was totally destroyed. Nothing could be distinguished other than soil, rocks, and small pieces of tree trunks. It was as if a giant machine had scarified the entire terrain. The major said it was from artillery. It was nerve-racking.
I was taken to a temporary building and told to await my company commander and his officers there. It was a Saturday. The line company officers of the battalion were coming there for a party. I was told that they had just come down into relief from Heartbreak Ridge. They arrived as a rowdy bunch. I was given a good looking over and an older captain with a star above his CIB told me that I was no straight-legger. He wasn’t either, and was Clark, my new company commander. His was Company A. It was the 160th Regiment of the 40th Division.
Captain Clark, with some ado, found a jelly glass that was used for drinking from, inspected it. He then poured it three quarters full of whiskey and gave it to me. I may have felt that I was the blunt of their evening, but I also gave no thought to what that much drink would do to me. I remember one of his platoon leaders, who I came to detest and shall call Lt. X, being in back of me. I understood that he was acting for the others to see what was holding me up. The next thing I remember was being carried on the back of another platoon leader. He was Lieutenant Brown from Orangeburg, South Carolina, and of the different color.
I woke up on a cot inside a tent on that Sunday morning. I could not find any clothes to put on. Lieutenant Brown told me that he would see what he could find. He gave me an old pair of fatigues. I was glad to have them and never thought about what may have happened to my own. Recalling nothing else from that day, the next morning we were formed up. I was in front of the first platoon. It didn’t bother me that much when I clearly noted that the captain was wearing my field jacket and the rest of my issue. I put it out of mind and nothing was ever said about it. Gradually other clothes came in from outside the company.
A few days later inspecting the platoon, I saw that the next to the last man in the fourth squad did not have his helmet on. All had theirs covered with burlap, but he had covered only his light helmet liner. Without thinking, I slapped it off his head and it went clanking about with him breaking rank to retrieve it. His squad leader came to me after the platoon was dismissed and told me that this soldier was a twin of another that had been killed in action just before they came off Heartbreak. I answered with a silly question of why he had not been sent home. It was my duty to see that he was taken care of, and I have many times since been ashamed of myself for not doing anything.
Our Regimental commander was a Colonel whose name I wish I knew. He was from Calhoun Falls, South Carolina. He was a handsome West Pointer. A movie director could not have found a better representative of his role. Someone from the mess came to the outside of our tent one morning by Captain Clark to alert him that the Colonel was there. Without getting up, he told me to get up there and report to him. This was when my quick dressing paid off like my friend had announced that first morning back at Fort Jackson.
We moved about quite a bit and I did not relate to the places in any way to help my memory. The first place was in a river valley between two mountain ranges running north and south. I never saw a river, but it must have been there. We were on the east side. This area was not devastated as that of the day of that first Jeep ride. It may have been the Chorwon Reservoir area. As far as I could make out, there were no other units in sight.
Our First Sergeant was a much-respected gentleman of the different color. It became his time to rotate home. We formed up one morning and with a nice ceremony, saw him off. After he was out of sight, the mood was of having to think about it before getting back on track. I had not experienced him as much as had the others, but I felt it too. It was a joyful wonder to see him returning. He had forgotten his M-1 and left quickly again.
Gazing at the mountainside across the narrow valley, I noticed large concrete piers at regular intervals. I realized that they were remains of high voltage transmission lines. No wires were visible. Whether true or not, there was a story of a nearby finding of two skeletons lined up with closed zippers of US Army sleeping bags. I was sent with three other officers from our battalion on what promised to be a sort of lark to visit a ROK artillery observation post. Upon arriving, we were not greeted and saw that most were lounging about as if they had been there a while. The only activity was an officer who was busy with sighting over a rotary map such as I had seen in forest fire lookout towers. None of the other troops were concerned with the officer. He was perspiring and had the most vicious look in his eyes. He was shouting commands over a radio.
I happened to look at one of our officers who I did not know well, and he appeared about to throw up. Going outside, it became known that he was expecting to rotate home any day and this was just too close to what he had luckily shortly before left. Just over the back side of this hill top on our way back, there appeared a large building with a red cross on it. We didn’t go by it, but I was puzzled over such a permanent-looking structure near our tent area. I also thought of nurses.
After I had sat with our colonel at breakfast that one morning, I decided that an officer should get up and about some before reveille. On one such time, our mess sergeant was both surprised and, I thought, glad to see me. He was alone there and quickly offered me coffee, which I declined. He was busy cracking fresh eggs into a big bowl. I was fascinated with how quickly he was doing it with both hands and each with two eggs. I have since wished that I had asked him to let me try it. It would have been a good thing to show off to people.
I was surprised to find the KATUSAs. This acronym stands for Koreans Attached to the US Army. I haven’t looked up the history of its coming into being. Each squad had three or four of them. This swelled the size of our companies. Only their squad members paid attention to them as they lived together. I didn’t learn how they were picked or who they were. They had ranks up to master sergeants. I was never told what we were supposed to do with them. I wonder if anyone knew other than the obvious thing of learning about each other. I don’t know what future opportunities they might have had. I thought there was a lot of room for mysterious things to happen, but it remained a squad affair as far as I could see.
They had been in combat on their recent stay on Heartbreak. While I was there, no new ones came in and none went out. Soldiers told me that when they first arrived, they were thin and healthy. They had trouble eating our chow. Some took to the jelly that came in the glasses like the one Captain Clark poured my drink into that first night. Those who ate too much became sick for a while, and a few ballooned up in weight. There were the tall ones named Lee who seemed to be of a higher class, and short ones who may have played dumb, but were smart. I never noted any strife between them or of the ranking ones holding power over the others.
I liked being around them. At a place that was called Engineers or Smoke Valley, there was a smooth, flat area serving as our company street. Somehow a real football appeared one afternoon when we were free. This time was called care and cleaning. The Koreans became so thrilled with my throwing that football that I continued until I had such a severe pain in my right shoulder that I could not eat that evening. I tried, but could not. I proudly say that this was one of the few meals I missed in the Army. I was satisfied with all meals and didn’t pay attention to those who complained of the food.
This was a place where we were near the front. Artillery was loud and its flashing could be seen as well as the sound of small arms fire rising in volume and peaking all during the nights. We expected to go on the hill anytime. We saw our jets going over in the mornings. The Navy always flew two together. Due to my experience at Ashleys, I knew that there was a field nearby for the small observation planes. They used the same approach pattern that I had learned and it passed over our area. They seemed to be shooting landings in the early evenings.
Another aircraft came over on some evenings from the north. I had heard and read about this "Bedcheck Charlie", but I couldn’t believe it when it happened. A blackout alarm got us all out and into ditches. I was thrilled to hear the wind whistling in the wires of what must have been a biplane. Also, the sputtering of the engine put me in suspense. They did quite a bit of gliding. I didn’t understand why, but it did add a scare factor. I never heard any explosions they dropped, but I heard a story of a mortar round they dropped having hit the regimental supply command post, killing our supply officer. I wondered if he had been replaced, as our clothing re-supply was not good.
These nights were perhaps more exciting to me than they should have been. I wondered why there was no effort made to take out this craft. One night an opinion came from me that I thought single shots from a 50 caliber would be best to use. I mention this because I was shocked at the quick response from those around me. Apparently no one wanted these guys harmed. This was a lesson I learned. Recently I have craved having more information about this program from people who must surely still be around in North Korea and know. There must have been those like Luther Ashley fooling around with these kind of airplanes during the 1940s or earlier. Maybe some of the pilots were women. I hope someone wrote or will write about them.
While I had the 1st platoon, we went on an operation. It was only for training. No ammunition was issued but flak jackets were. This seemed a good idea to get used to them. Mine was the lead off platoon for the event that I think was of regimental size, but I am not sure. Maybe the other two battalions were in reserve and we had been rotated as the lead. We stepped off the line of departure with me following a soldier who was the point. When the platoon cleared an open area and came to a fairly narrow pathway, I gave the hand signal to form a column of ducks behind me. Just afterwards there appeared ahead of us a chump of growth with the path parting to go around it on either side. I have not yet decided if I should have formed a single file and took one or the other of the paths. I did not know how the two might have gone on the other side.
It was natural for the two columns to split and each take a side. As the platoon was about half past the chump, the loudest noise I had heard at that time erupted from inside that chump. I turned and looked. Inside was a halftrack like the ones back at Fort Bliss. Its quad 50s had fired a burst. I don’t know if it was part of our exercise or if they were interdicting an enemy area, and I didn’t bother to check it out. The emplacement appeared to have been there at least a full season.
I saw none of my men. The sergeant walked up and we sat down. He reached in the pocket of his field jacket and came up with an orange. While we shared it, he told me that since the men had jumped in two different directions and the squads were split, it would take a while for the squad leaders to get all back together.
For a reason I do not remember thinking out, it felt good to be out in front. The way I must have seen it, I was eager to stay out of contact with higher command. I was going to look out for myself and mine. Whatever those behind me did was none of my worry. Some in my group were concerned about losing sight of the others. All day we plodded on as I followed the good map that I had been given. Late in the afternoon, we came to a large terrain feature. It was a sudden drop as from a cliff of about 150 feet. The area looked like our own west and as having been formed by erosion of sudden nature. There was a stream at the bottom with water tumbled boulders. On the other side was a feature as high as the level at which we had arrived. The erosion had cut off this sharp-sided, lonesome hill. It had a number on the map.
This was a situation calling for a pause. I feared that Captain Clark would be calling. I established my CP, but left only the radio operator and a runner, a small guy of the different color. I left and began my own reconnaissance of the area. Too soon for me, the call came. Captain Clark sounded different over the air and I chose to believe that he was drinking. Later I realized that he was not. He gave me a brutal chewing out over who I had left in the CP, using the racial terms heard so little then. He said that he wanted me in the CP at all times and instructed me to occupy the top of that isolated structure across the river before dark. I dare to say that I ignored him and continued to look around and listen to what I could hear. Two combat-experienced sergeants were planning to pile up boulders across the stream so that the platoon could cross. They didn’t check with me and I wondered what movie or story they might have seen or read to make them serious about this. As far as climbing the monolith, I felt that it should not be tried, but I didn’t pass on this opinion to anyone or report it
Lieutenant Brown came up in his Jeep. He had the recoilless rifles. I guess that he understood that I didn’t know what to do and that it wasn’t his to wonder about. He drove off to emplace his weapons. I must have been running on instinct. Probably I acted on my fear of having to put up with the captain either in person or over our communication system. I formed up the platoon and started out on a wide circle out to the right and back around to the left.
After dark, it turned cold. The men began to grumble. I made no attempt to respond to it and they turned up the talk very viciously about me. The platoon sergeant was busy, as he should have been to make sure we left none behind. The two other sergeants, mentioned earlier, were not heard saying anything. Another sergeant was the worse speaker. Keeping quiet but watching that they kept up, I easily sensed that there was a stranger in our midst.
I knew that it was easy to smell and this did not reveal any real problem. I found him and kept my eye on him. There was enough light to glimpse the tracks insignia on his collar. It wasn’t Captain Clark, but I wondered who from the battalion staff was making trouble for me. He drifted around in back of me and came up on my other side. I was happily shocked to see a cross on his other collar. Years above me in age, he came close and said, "Well, what are you going to do now?" I didn’t answer and he soon faded away and I never hear more of him.
We came around and down a road that ended in back or the south side of a ridge. I called a break and we soon found that it was so cold that this was now our most pressing challenge. We had not come with winter gear. I tried stacking arms and running in place. I would allow no fires. No one came up with suggestions, but the talk against me stopped. I even tried all piling up together and rotating people. I fully expected to get frostbitten feet and have to answer for it. As soon as there was enough light, we unstacked, formed up, and were half way up the road that we had come down earlier in the night. It was a quite orderly platoon. Like in a movie with a good ending, there came our mess truck with a hot breakfast and there was yet another good day ahead of us. Nobody could beat those mess sergeants in my opinion.
We moved on that day and there was a place where I looked back and saw the units following us. Early that afternoon was when I first saw those colored things on the ground that were mentioned earlier. The colonel and the other officers came up. Captain Clark gave me dirty looks, but didn’t approach me. As the colonel gave the critique, I recognized little of the things he said and wondered where all this had happened. My name was frequently mentioned and each time I felt smaller and all the others, especially the captain, gloated over it. Then, like the surprise of seeing our mess sergeant that morning, the colonel ended his talk by saying, "If you wonder why Lieutenant Ellis was mentioned so much, the answer is easy. He was the only one who did anything. The rest of you just followed." That was the last I saw of the colonel.
I remember an event that records show took place on February 10, 1953. The command of the 8th Army, made up of 16 Divisions, changed from Lt. Gen. Van Fleet to Lt. Gen. Maxwell Taylor. Van Fleet and Eisenhower were West Point classmates and President Truman left it up to the newly-elected Ike to decide about Van Fleet, who said that he would retire but if ever there was a push for complete victory over communism that he would like to again be in charge. Van Fleet lived to be 101.
General Taylor was another hero who struck me as being of the movie star type. Once while standing before my seated platoon in an isolated area all by ourselves, I saw a group of four or five come and stand on the edge of a cliff about ¾ the length of a football field away from us. I became excited upon clearly recognizing General Taylor. Like some of my other salutes, I popped to attention, saluted, and may have reported. He returned the salute with gusto and the group was off.
On this February day that the command changed, there was the largest mass formation I had ever seen. I wondered if it really was wise to do as I thought we were so close to the shooting, but I didn’t express this opinion. My platoon ended up in front to the far right facing the grandstand. We were at attention quite a bit. The cutest black puppy came waddling from further to the right. It made for me, smelled about my boots, then went on behind out of my sight. I was stung with emotion. I became more so when a while later it returned to my boots, lay down across one, and went to sleep. When the event was over, the pup followed me. He knew, as did everyone in the platoon, that he was the lieutenant’s dog, but my radio operator kept him in his tent. Named "Taegu", he grew fast. When we went by Jeep, he sat in the back.
One Saturday with some snow still on the ground, Taegu and I went for a walk out from our area and up on a hill overlooking a broad valley. Mother had sent a letter and while she had not referred to them, I found some melon seeds in the envelope. I praised her in my mind for being so knowing. I always wanted to get some seed in the ground when spring came. I never mentioned it to her since I was sure I was correct. Lately, I have wondered that the seed may have come because Mother had run out of envelopes. She used to save seed in an envelope, and perhaps had not fully taken all the seed out before sending a letter to me in it. At any rate, both Taegu and I fertilized a spot and I planted the seed.
Strange those days of my memory tend to have more than one event of interest. On this day there was a great explosion about four miles away. It continued for over an hour, putting on quite a show. It must have been a major ammunition dump. There were all the shots that I knew anything about. There was arching across the sky and making noise that must have been heard far away. Taegu and I got tired of watching it. It had been out in front of our tent area. When we got back there, nothing was said about it. I never heard more of it.
Always expecting to go on the line, an order came to quickly occupy a vacant place in the line off in another place and await relief by a ROK unit. When we got there, no one was in sight and it didn’t look like anyone had been there for a season. There was rank spring growth of vegetation. After a long wait, Captain Clark gave the order to leave. Maybe I was feeling my oats pretty well then, for I recalled this operation from school and told the captain that I wasn’t leaving until relief got there. As he left, he said something like, "Suit yourself, but don’t push your luck."
I was standing there at the end of the road. The others were in the Jeep. The stillness was broken by Taegu jumping down from his perch in back and disappearing fast. That was the last we saw of that wonderful creature. Then the bushes shook and out come an elderly Korean man with a bunch of kids. It was much like a Boy Scout group on an outing. They had fresh green uniforms that looked like they were made at a different place than ours because the dye overwhelmed the material. He had on the tall hat with the holes in it, but under his arms there were extensive maps with Plexiglas covers. His pocket flourished with the multicolored grease pencils. I was sure he had gone to the same school as I. Luckily, I recalled the captain’s caution and as the leader was talking and drawing with the mob nearby, I realized that our Jeep could be lost. I jumped in and off we drove.
I was given the additional duty to act as a prosecuting attorney under the military code of justice. We had been exposed to it in school, but I wasn’t inclined toward that sort of thing and had learned little and now knew nothing of it. I was riding it out and luckily had only one time that I was directed to go to see a charged soldier to do whatever I was supposed to do, which I didn’t know. He turned out to be a neat, mature young man. I didn’t know what his case was and had to fake it. He was cocked to have his say, I think, but by the way I was acting he seemed stumped. Shortly thereafter, this duty was rotated to Lt. X. He panicked and demanded that I teach him how to do it. To my own surprise, I was able to get off by telling him that nobody helped me and so he could work it out himself.
Early one evening when I came into our tent, I picked up right away that Lieutenant Brown was agitatedly gathering his stuff. I inquired of him, but got no answer. As he left, Captain Clark told me that if I went out that tent flap then he would see to it that I never got a promotion. I went outside, caught Brownie, and he told me that he only had a few days before he expected to get rotated home and Clark was sending him to a company on the line. We both stood there and cried. He walked off into the darkness.
One mid morning, my platoon sergeant came to tell me that he was down on his luck. It was because he was losing his lieutenant just when he had him trained. This was how I learned that I was being transferred to Dog Company. When I walked over there, the first sergeant told me that the company was down in an area having small tanks demonstrated to them. I left my stuff there and walked to the area as he suggested.
I reported to the company commander, Capt. William C. Holter. The tracks had made a muddy mess. It was the first I had seen such fast movements. Mid-day mess was served. I had not brought my kit. The captain told someone to get me a pan. I was served and it was a hash thing. I didn’t have a fork or spoon and was too embarrassed to ask for one, since it was like borrowing someone’s. I managed with my fingers. Lt. X was there. I saw him go up to whisper in the captain’s ear. This didn’t look military. It was directed to me and the captain shouted out to get me something to eat with.
Captain Holter was much like my Uncle Bonner. Inside our tent on the front pole he had a small picture of himself when he had received his commission in France during the war. He said that there was a school set up for them at that time. I was struck by his having this and on display. He spent much of his spare time sighting an unloaded 45 cal. pistol and squeezing off the trigger. I saw that this was training to be steady when firing the weapon. I was given the 81mm mortar platoon.
I had no experience with this weapon. This was when I could have used a field manual. I asked the sergeant and he said that he had never seen one. I think that I might have been embarrassed to ask any higher up. The two section leaders were recently in combat using these weapons. These two were good solid men that I was lucky and proud to have. I tried to make friends with them, but they were shocked and resisted. From this, I left the running of the platoon up to them and didn’t bother. The sergeant left and wasn’t replaced until later. Before I knew it, the two others were rotated home. The only ranked man remaining was Corporal O’Connor.
When I found out that he was going home soon, I got him to start giving classes at every chance. There were several left with firing experience and they appeared eager. We got into observing and adjusting fire. With O’Connor’s help, I was able to recall this from school and that I had liked it. We made a little range model to work with. It was O’Connor’s idea and I wondered where he got the little cotton bits that he had for putting down simulated rounds striking. I wondered if maybe his mother had sent them to him, as he seemed the type.
There was a kind of vector board used for the range and sighting. I related to it well as something like this had been learned at Ashley. I was grateful to O’Connor and took over these lessons just as he left. There was a new sight for placement on the tubes while putting out the aiming stakes that was supposed to be ever so good, but none knew anything about it and I didn’t get into it or the handling of charges. This role felt a lot better than strutting around yelling, as I had done in the rifle platoon.
It was during these classes without any ranked men above Pfc. that I began to notice the KATUSAs more. The only bridge over the language barrier was a made up kind of pidgin. I became fascinated with it and soon thought that I was pretty good at it. Not much can be said now about it because it was never known how it was spelled. I have always been a poor speller and cared less.
There were key words that could be pronounced a little differently to give more meaning. There was the number system that was used in just about every expression. No. 1 was good and No. 10 was bad. Just today I read that one of the first group of Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii in 1866 said that upon leaving Tokyo their English vocabulary consisted of "good" and "no good". Quite a few of the words came from or were Japanese. Most of us thought a few cuss words fitted in helped. Something that sounded like, "catche chogee" went a long ways. Used together it meant "carry the load". Separately, each worked out wonderfully useful and both groups were good at innovating and getting a new use going.
I noticed that some of the Koreans, particularly one, got excited about the classes. Their eyes like caught fire and they explained the whole thing using pidgin. We had really good exchanges and it was a boon for the entire platoon. I was proud. At rest breaks, they usually clustered together. I was often curious. Once I saw that several had little mirrors and were giving their faces a good looking over and maintenance. Another time, there was excitement among them and I dared to go over. One had a Polaroid instant camera and was taking pictures. It was the first one I had seen. What an unusual place for this to happen. I wondered how they had gotten it and remembered the man on the street in San Francisco who gave me his card.
Captain Holter rotated home and West Pointer Lt. Edwin T. Nance from Tennessee came to command the company. I don’t recall much of his first days with us. I was relaxed with him and unbelievable as it was, he came to call me Boysan. I never gave it any other thought but to freely accept it. It was like I knew why he picked that name so quickly and easily, but was unable to explain it in words. It was like Papa and Mr. Norton always calling me "Boy". I didn’t use it myself and all others instinctively knew not to use it either. Once a lieutenant caught himself about to try it, but stopped and we both knew that it was not the thing to do. I never got kidded about it. Nance used it throughout the time we were together.
I heard about R & R in Japan. I planned to refuse it when it came my time. I was never in on how such things were administered. I didn’t think it was anywhere near my time when Nance told me that it was. I told him that I didn’t want to go. It surprised me that he not only didn’t ask me why, but angrily told me that I would go. He mentioned something about a direct order. I wondered if he was acting like Cook back at Fort Bliss.
I don’t know where we were in back of the line, but the morning we left we were in a truck convoy for some time. At a rest call which had another name, a soldier came by with a helmet with money in it saying that Sgt. Whoever had lost his wallet. As far as I could tell, each of us put in a dollar. Perhaps no one cared who the sergeant was. Now that I think about it, none of us had our helmets. If it was an ongoing scam with the drivers, I doubt if it would have mattered to any of us.
Later we boarded a train that was crowded. I didn’t see any other officers. I sat by a window looking out. We passed villages and once I saw a young, typical American soldier walking in one. I was of the thought that I was glad that there were no civilians ever in the areas where I had been. What I really meant were women. Shame on me for feeling sorrow for the youth seen, as he may have worked it all out very well and was happy with whatever duty he had there.
A soldier walked through the coach and on into the next. He had two beer cans in his hands and when he saw me, he offered one, which I refused. Soon he came back and forcefully gave me one, saying that he was sorry that it was not cold. Wondering why he wanted to give it to me made me decide not to try to re-give it to someone else. I drank it and it tasted good enough. There were too many of us for me to recognize that boy again. Soon we were at Kimpo and walking up the ramp into the belly of the transport plane and shortly were in Tokyo.
Following the crowd, I was at an Army facility, turning in my uniform for a fresh one and I assumed getting into some place set up for us, when I felt a sharp finger on my shoulder. Turning around, I saw another officer wearing our division shoulder patch. He said that I was in the wrong line and to come with him. I did and we were soon downtown in a taxi. We stopped at a small hotel at the end of an alley. It was like a dream place. It could not have been better. My new friend was Lieutenant Santiago, who I learned was a doctor in New Orleans in civilian life.
The doctor took a room in front upstairs. It was a two-story place with only a few rooms and a restaurant/bar downstairs. I got a smaller room in back. Each had a bath. There was a larger bath area down across from the front desk. The slender Japanese man at the counter was westernized in dress and speech. He smoked a pipe like often seen in American movies back then. I talked to him because I was interested, and was surprised he was friendly to a proper but not silly degree. In a matter of fact way, he answered my query that he had been on a patrol boat in the Philippines during the war. At the time, I took it for granted that he had been our enemy then. Now I wonder but doubt that he could possibly have been on our side.
I didn’t learn much about my new Army mate. I enjoyed the cleanliness, the quiet, and the clothing laid out. I wasn’t anxious about anything. He called and we met in the open public area just outside my room with an outside hallway going around to his room. He didn’t explain, but soon a lady came with two young girls who looked just like they were expected to look. They giggled and I probably thought, "Oh". The doctor bore into the lady fiercely with complaints. I was embarrassed for the girls. The three of them left. He stayed in the agitated state and did not hint to me what he was all about.
Later the lady brought two other girls who looked some older or at least classier. Again, there was a torrent of dissatisfaction from the doctor. There could have been another round, but I think not. We returned to our rooms. I guessed that he was experienced in this sort of thing and might have been there before. I napped but he called again and told me to come over to his room. I was astonished to see a lovely lady under the bed covers. A cute little blond girl about three years old was there also. They were friendly to me and the lady looked ever so much like Yvonne De Carlo, a movie actress of that time and before. He sat in a chair by her and held a plastic bottle with a tube going under the covers and they were talking freely about female hygiene. I wanted naturally to be nice to the little girl.
I believe that I asked the questions and the mother told her story. It began with whatever and whenever there was a particular chaos in India years earlier that caused non-Indians to leave if they could. It was the last ship available and not so sea worthy. The group of young girls like her cemented long-term relationships. She referred to them as "from the boat". She married a young American fighter pilot and the little one was his daughter. He was lost in the war. Here it gets a little sticky, as I didn’t do the arithmetic then, as I need to do now. But this must have happened in the early days of the Korean conflict.
He was from Ohio, I think. She and her daughter went there and lived with his parents for a while. I was relieved at how the little girl and her mother were so loved by her grandparents. I got excited as to why such beautiful people came back to Japan and inquired. Her answer was that while she liked it there and his parents were good to her, she felt that she wanted to come back. I repeated wanting to know why. She said that she found work there, which was good, but she felt uncomfortable there to explain to curious ones and she mentioned her large lips as being noticed too often. Her in-laws could see her desire and supported her and still remained in touch. I was strangely angry with those who caused her to feel as she had.
As the afternoon was drawing to a close, they talked of an outing that evening. The lady said that she wondered if she could find "someone from the boat" for me. She called and one came. At first sight, this new girl seemed disappointed with me. I probably thought that this was good. Older, fatter, and dressed in black, she was no beauty. The little girl stayed with a babysitter friend and the four of us went to a theater. Perhaps it was close enough for us to walk, as I don’t remember a cab. In the open area out front there was a large group waiting for the doors to open.
There were many servicemen with girls. I saw one of those older soldiers who I had seen before and had felt sorry for, as he looked so out of place. He sided up to me and told me that I should be careful because he had just read in the "Stars and Stripes" that the Japanese people were voicing their displeasure at seeing us out in public holding hands and such with their young ladies. He looked anxious and the girl whose hand he clenched so tightly looked like our first models that afternoon and seemed terrified.
We had good seats and it was a live performance copying the Rockette chorus line back in New York with shapely Japanese girls who danced well. Typical of me, I did not dare talk about it, but I was satisfied with what I was seeing as I thought it fit the time and people. Shame on me if I am wrong, but I saw the dancers covered with tight blue-colored material except for the three areas.
Back at the inn, the girl who had spoken little to me clearly gave me the impression that she wasn’t to act like she assumed I expected of her. After a clumsy attempt on my part, I saw she wasn’t staying with me because of my inexperience. There was a back door around to the right to outside. She left. This had an effect that I was much to Santiago’s delight and disbelief. Early on each of the mornings he came to bang on my door and yell for me to get up. I didn’t come out and he claimed that he could not understand how it was that I could not get enough.
After she came back each morning, we came out. The first morning turned badly for me. He was eager to go to the stuff he had left in storage and to go to the commissary. I had no interest in either. He and his lady left. Mine pitched a tantrum. I understood it, but was not about to give in. She gave me a bad time right through. We ate together and went out in the evenings. At one meal in the inn, an enlisted man looked and said, "Hey, Lieutenant. Where did you find one like that?" but worded differently. Another sat each meal with his girl looking unhappy. Word came that he was married and did not want to indulge and insisted on sleeping on the floor and she in the bed. True or made up, it was how it was viewed then.
Evenings were spent at a large club on a main broad boulevard. It was the Latin Club for dancing, eating, and drinking. I did not enjoy it any and she particularly made me miserable. We talked some alone in the room and in taxies. She showed me a silver insignia of a full colonel that she kept in her small evening bag. She said that she saw him each Thursday night. One evening as we were waiting out in front of the Club for a cab to go home, she spoke to a short American dressed in a business suit and told me that he was the one of the insignia in her bag. He glanced me over without sentiment. I asked her if she had parents and she said that she did. In answer to my further question, she said that she telephoned them sometimes to let them know she was well but nothing else. I wanted to know how she kept from getting pregnant. Maybe she thought that if I was that dumb, I would believe what her answer was. When she suspected, she went to a place and ate a certain kind of fish.
I had heard that these girls were valuable to keep contact with in case something from the black market was needed. This was again like the card from the San Francisco man. A thing called a banana clip for carbines was one of the items hard to get otherwise. Some taped two together to get 32 shots off in a short time. This one told me that she wanted no further contact, which was fine with me.
The doctor and his lady were seldom with us after the first evening and I don’t know what they did. He checked on me often. One day she said to me that I was the same size as her late husband and that she still had some civilian clothes of his and she might bring them in. The next day she did and I fitted very well into a light colored linen suit with white shirt and tie. I wore the slippers from the hotel. She wanted very badly to go to see the royal building. I don’t recall its name but it looked like the one I have since seen in magazines with the moat around it and a castle like aspect that seems off limits now. I was thrilled to walk across the bridge with her and her little girl with "my" girl walking steps behind in her usual black, as if looking after the child. The doctor did not want to come along.
Three times Japanese traffic police stopped "my" girl in our taxi. She was abrupt with them. Once she argued forcefully with a driver. He seemed hostile toward her. I tried to learn a few words from her. They were like right and left, up and down, and such. Hoping to entertain her, I showed her my scarred stomach. She said something like "bellybutton upso". The doctor must have taken care of all our bills at the hotel or prompted me to do so and knew where and when to leave to go back to Korea. Before sunrise on that morning, I didn’t see "his", but "mine" came. She and I shook hands and I gave her all the money I had left.
In 1986, Bevin Alexander published a book, "Korea, The First War We Lost". I found out about it, as he was a member of my class year at Erskine. I did not know him. I contacted him to compliment him on his effort. He kindly replied and seems to still work on some military matters. His mention of these R&R trips was proper and admired by me. I think that he got it just right. It's on pages 396 to 398 of the book I have.
During the fairly recent time when I began seriously to think on these things, I was shocked to recall that "my" girl was Chinese. I clearly remember her telling me forcefully several times that she was, but I didn’t allow it to mean anything to me then. One night at the Club, she had said that most of the oriental people there were Chinese. She indicated that I should be able to tell.
I saw Lieutenant Santiago once again. For several months, I had the duty to pay our company. Going back to a place called division rear to pay a serviceman attached there, I walked into the orderly room and the expression on a lieutenant’s face caused me to quickly look in back of myself. Then he wanted verification that I was the one who had been on R&R with Lieutenant Santiago. Surprised that he was there, the doctor come out. I declined his invitation to eat there that night. I wanted to go "home".
The man I went there to pay is not remembered by name. He was the only one I had to search for. When I could not find him the second month that his name was on the roll, I grumbled around our tent about him. One of the other officers laughed at me and could not believe that I didn’t know this man as he was a famous baseball player and that surely he was back at division rear. The afternoon that we arrived at the place, their roadway made a grand curve before coming into their compound. Part way we saw a soldier running fast toward us. We stopped and he came around to my side and told me to look at his teeth. He said that he could not get any help. When Lieutenant Santiago came out, I hit him about this young soldier. This may have helped to steer him away from ribbing me. Anyway he got upset and said that this soldier was a troublemaking fake.
He had the payee meet me down a walkway. He was a nice looking young man. I remember him as tall, blue-eyed, and blond. He wore an unmarked khaki uniform that looked neater and of higher quality than any I had seen. He didn’t look happy to see me, didn’t salute, and was reluctant to take the money and sign his name, saying that I need not have bothered. I was almost 25 then and he was about the same. I declined to say anything more to him and left. I did not retain his name even from shortly thereafter. This was one of the first things that came up in the later years when I tried to recollect this time. I have tried all the resources I can find without success. I felt close several times, but was let down that I was not able to turn up who he might have been.
This place was under the command of a chaplain. As a major, he was of the highest rank and he had assumed it with fervor. I saw him from a distance by a flagpole where he was holding a pre evening meal ceremony. He sure looked like he was General MacArthur. There were lots of football-sized rocks painted white and lined up along borders. Their tents had wooden floors and walls halfway up. I have been unable to find Dr. Santiago since then.
During the months that I paid the troops, it was back to Chunchon by Jeep to pick up the payroll and then back again to settle the account. One of these times, Lt. X had this duty from "A" company. He had twin soldiers who looked like goons and were said to be wrestlers back home. They were with him most of the time, and were very possessive about their role. I saw them standing in front of a flimsy cardboard shack there in Chunchon. They gave me the look that I was not to come close to their space. I was, however, able to clearly determine that their lieutenant was just behind the cardboard having at a woman and they were urging him to hurry up.
Another time there I saw a person the likes of which I had never imagined. The roads were unpaved and he was leaving town on what seemed to be a main road. He was very large, but at the distance I could not really see how large. His head was monstrously large for his body. Blood showed on his face and about. Mostly young boys were stoning him. He didn’t seem to be able to move fast and occasionally looked back at his tormentors. I had not expected to see this sort of thing and strove to find out about it. Someone told me that he was known as a Mongolian giant. They roamed the land as singles and were seen as bringing bad luck. I have not yet learned more of these people.
Our battalion commander was a lieutenant colonel whose name I have long tried to recall. He was a West Point grad and thus he and Lt. Nance had that connection. He was on the older side. During the cold months, wearing the thermal boots issued then and with the nice fur cap with the earflaps up but untied on top and hanging down half way, it was easy to at least think of him as Col. Mickey Mouse. He was also short. Somehow I thought that he had a theatrical sense of humor and may have known how he looked. I liked him, but chose to be a little frightened.
Maybe Lieutenant Nance gave me the reputation for squawking. I didn’t think that I did. I wanted to fire my mortars. The colonel had something set up before I knew about it. There were two 55-gallon drums set down range close together. Bleachers were set up and one round was given to each of the two sections. I was very excited. The tubes were in two different places. Before I got to the first firing, I saw a direct hit on a drum. I turned and ran like Sergeant Barnett had taught me. Before I reached the other section, I saw the other drum hit. I didn’t see the colonel after that for a while. He went off someplace. An officer who had been in the stands with him told me that the colonel had jumped up and shouted something like, "Send a runner to Lieutenant Ellis. It is important that he know that this was a fluke. Mortars are for area targets, not point targets." I never got any runner.
During the entire time I was in Korea, I was not issued any ammunition. One day I was on the road and not in convoy. I saw a firing range. I had my driver turn around and we went into this place. I asked the officer-in-charge if he could give me a few rounds to fire in my carbine. He looked at it and shook his head but took it and put in one round and fired it at a paper target out front. "Just as I thought," he said, "it's key holing". I saw that the penetration of the paper looked like that. A weapon in this condition would tear a body apart horribly. I had an illegal weapon. I hoped that the one who had burned out the barrel had lived. It must have been difficult to keep from firing too long a burst. I wondered who had that new one that I had tried to clean back at Camp Drake.
I sensed something going on with Lieutenant Nance and the other company officers about me. I took it upon myself to see it through without asking and without wanting to know. I had been through these mysteries before. It was surprising that none of them gave any hints. They went over my khaki uniform carefully and that of others so that I had the best to wear. None of them had the blue infantry scarf, but they got one from another company. Late on a Saturday afternoon they dressed me up, double-checking all including my hair, shave, and shoes. It was in an area of former rice fields. Walking on the high boundary were the five of us. Lieutenant Nance said, "Boysan, you walk in the middle and for God’s sake, don’t fall."
Just about dark, we came to a clearing. It was like a meadow. I am sure that the grass had not been mowed, but it appeared so. There was a nice forest around it. In its center was an Army trailer. I think that the only one I had ever seen like it might have been in the movies. I knew that it was a command trailer. Off in back, I saw a generator running softly in the edge of the trees with a cable running to the unit. Approaching the front, Lieutenant Nance told me to go up the steps first and knock on the door. I did and the colonel came to the door. Bright lights showed inside. He looked all slicked back with a friendly countenance. I don’t think I had seen him before with his headgear off. I was flabbergasted, but not nearly as much as I was seconds later when a beautiful girl stepped from behind a curtain.
As far as I can tell, I went backwards all the way down to the ground. Lieutenant Nance promptly mounted the door and addressed the colonel. I believe that we soon returned to our tent. I do not remember and do not believe anyone ever teased me or said anything about this incidence. There was just a slight air of disappointment in me felt from the group. I returned all the borrowed clothing items. I have never come up with any good guesses as to what this was about. I sure would like to know now. Back then, I didn’t care and I didn’t feel funny the next time I saw the colonel either.
The young lady had dark hair and eyes. She had no hint of the east and was like "the girl next door". I can say that she certainly could have been of the colonel’s family. She could have been a famous person or entertainer visiting there. Probably he introduced her, but I do not know. I recall that she wore a dress not so chic but had the flair of a home style colored print. I now realize that there is at least one other possibility, but I did not entertain it then and prefer not to now.
Besides the Koreans mentioned before, there were few civilians around. Maybe they had no official status. One older man cut our hair. He wasn’t there all the time and when he returned from wherever he went there was an odor that I learned was garlic. We paid him for each cut. Then there were young boys who came. We had only two. Both were called Kim and both were about the same age as the troops. They were very different from each other.
One was Lieutenant Nance’s "houseboy" and acted out that role as expected. All respected him. He was happy most of the time. If he wasn’t, we kept at him to find out his distress, which was never bad or often. He sang or whistled a pretty tune while he worked. I asked him what it was and he answered that it was "China Night" a Japanese song. It was indicated that he favored that nation and their culture. He only worked for Lieutenant Nance, who I am sure paid him. None of the others ever thought of asking him to do something for us.
The other Kim somehow didn’t look or act the type. I will call him Kim Sup, as I am pretty sure this was part of his name and I have regrettably forgotten the third part. He looked fearful that no one would engage him. Lieutenant Nance suggested that I should. There was no way that I was ever going to have anyone like a "houseboy". He gradually took up with me sort of like Taegu had done. I paid him, but made it clear that he was not to do any of my personal care and cleaning. I could have said, but was never required to, that he was my helper with things Korean and as a friend to talk with. He went with me on the pay runs except the one time we went to the rear. The Korean soldiers got a bundle of paper notes, which they laughed at. Kim Sup did this for me and his fingers flew when he was counting it out
They did not always go with us on operations unless we were moving, which we did often. I like maps and it remains another mystery as to how it was that I never familiarized myself with where we were. I was glad that it was close enough to the hostile lines that no civilians were seen. I had a driver and never looked at the big picture.
Once we crossed a pleasant stream with large smooth rocks. It was a nice place to wash our clothes, which I proceeded to join the others in doing. The master sergeant of the Koreans attached became upset like I had never seen before. He didn’t want me washing my clothes. Probably he asked others to do it and I resisted. Before I knew it, there he and I were out there in the middle of the stream fighting over my clothes. He became satisfied, but I was embarrassed and didn’t understand it.
The story that Kim Sup told to me about his early days was different from what I still hear about Korea in these times. He had been attuned to the Japanese. Like me with my friends back in South Carolina, this was what he was born into. The Japanese owned this country then and the way Kim Sup told it, this was good in that they had modernized things. He did well in school and felt that he could go to Japan to further his education. He had looked forward to this, but it didn’t happen. As to the post-World War II Korea, Kim Sup said that it was still good. Everything in the houses and kitchens was electric. This clarified why I had seen items lying about like pieces of refrigerators, stoves, and other electrical looking things that I knew wasn’t from our army, as untidy as we were.
Hydroelectric plants in the north generated this electricity. One morning as Kim Sup’s family got up, their power was out. They had heard talk of political hostility within the newly separated Korea. This absence of power devastated life in the south. It took a while to adapt. It was so cruel and sad, and it was cold. Charcoal use was begun, but it was in short supply. The forests were cleaned out for burning in homes. Then trees were cut. I have not checked any timeline on this but according to him, it must have gone on for some time. Their woods became denuded. Even at this time, I had heard of the crisis the Koreans felt about their trees. Syngmun Rhee was said to be charging the Americans a high price for timber used or destroyed. He had "Goon" squads enforcing this, they said.
Kim Sup showed me a well-preserved white paper with the neatly written name and address of a US captain who he had served. This man had returned to his home in Alabama. He had promised Kim Sup that he would send for him to come live on his chicken farm. Kim had high respect for this man and had been disappointed that he had not heard from him. If he wanted me to write to him, he didn’t ask and I didn’t pick up on it. There is no more that I know of this. It made me sad, and unbelievably, I started to think about him coming with me. Not many years afterward, I saw this as ridiculous since I didn’t have a future laid out for myself.
We kept talking about it and one day Lieutenant Nance condoned my going into Seoul to see what I could find out about such a thing. This was without advice and was one of my high-sounding ideas that I wasn’t thinking clearly about. My driver was named Keweat, or something like that. He was excellent in every way. I didn’t get to know him as he seldom spoke. I never bothered him or pushed to be friends. I suppose he was actually more in control than I. What opinion he might have formed of me, I don’t know.
He, Kim Sup, and I were soon in the city. There were still trees along the wide unused avenues there. My carbine was slung over my shoulder, as I was accustomed to being required to have it. I didn’t see any damage. I saw a lone young Caucasian girl crossing the broad street and giving me a look. She wasn’t that close, but I felt my body react to the sight. We went to the large hotel there and off to one side was a barbershop. I got a haircut. I guess the other two didn’t. The barber, who I took to be Korean, was gregarious. He loudly boasted of cutting General MacArthur’s hair whenever he came to town and what they discussed, including advice he gave the general. It didn’t sound right to me, but I thought it okay. There seemed to be no presence of authority or army in the city.
Kim Sup knew of a Methodist mission there and suggested it as a place to go. It was easily found. It was enclosed in masonry wall with a gate across the driveway from the street. It was open, but inside was a US Army control point, to my surprise. The MP waved us in without question, comment, or interest. Inside it was like another world and again I thought I was on a movie set. There was an unbelievable array of farm animals of the smaller size. There were several women going about that looked to me like they were in the dress and period somewhere in earlier Europe. I thought of Hungary. My experience was limited to looking at National Geographic issues.
Kim Sup and I got out of the Jeep and tried to engage all we saw. It was strange to me. They didn’t appear surprised or interested. It was like maybe they didn’t understand English. We went inside a building and it was like a large farm kitchen. No locals were seen. Maybe I should have deferred to Kim Sup as to what to do. The whole scene dismayed me. When a slimmer lady dressed slightly different appeared and who I thought indicated that we should leave, we did.
Next we found the US information agency. Their offices were upstairs in a not particularly prominent building. Kim Sup and I entered where a gentleman was busy at his desk. He was dressed in a dark business suit with lighter colored threads forming a pattern. He could have been Richard Conte’s brother, I thought. He didn’t seem concerned with our arrival even though the room was small. We waited to be acknowledged standing only a few inches from his desk. He was busy with a stack of letter size glossy black and white pictures of beautiful Korean young ladies in what I assumed was their native dress. He didn’t allude to anything other than asking if we were from Taegu. Angered by a perceived reference to soft duty, I told him "No, north of Chunchon". I stated my business, but left when no reply seemed forthcoming.
We stopped at a loading platform, which displayed the sign of a freight forwarding company. There was a lone person working there who must have been an American civilian. As he continued working, I told what we were about. He appeared unmoved by the idea, but said that he didn’t know. He gave me the address of the Bear Steamship Company saying that they could tell what was needed and that Kim Sup would most likely have to sail with them. It was getting late and I suppose that I was beginning to feel sort of on a silly mission and we started back, arriving after dark. Only the platoon sergeant asked and nothing was ever said again about that idea.
Machine Gun Platoon
The machine gun platoon was lead by Lieutenant Swartz. He was from Florida. I interviewed new replacements in our tent in his presence. I tried to tell them that it was up to them to be motivated to go for slots rather than dreading the passage of time for their tour. When I had finished, I asked Lieutenant Swartz how he thought I had done. He was not a career soldier but was a good officer who had earned his CIB. He told me, "Well, it wasn’t the way I would do it." I guess that I didn’t feel the authority to handle the assignments.
I slept in the back cot on the left side when entering from the front flap. That was the side by the beginning of the enlisted tents. The outdoor latrines and "p" tubes were there in back. There were plenty of sounds from the hostilities up on the line at night. It was only a little uneasy drifting in and out of sleep to hear a sudden intensification, but mostly I slept.
One night I really wanted to get to sleep, but right outside within a foot or so, two soldiers were having a lively and long conversation in Spanish. There were no pauses for laughter or contemplation. It bothered me and I felt badly that it did. Thinking that I could stand it no longer, I raised the canvas and shouted in a long and loud voice that they were denying me sleep that I needed. They were only quiet a few seconds and then came on as before and continued. Probably they were reunited friends or family after a long and painful separation. I wished that I had thought of a better way to handle it.
Vaguely aware that my driver Keweat slept in the back cot on the right side of that tent, I was only marginally thoughtful when I heard someone come for him by the side of that tent early one morning. I was still awake when I saw someone with a flashlight come into our tent from the front. He told me that I needed to be out on the road as quickly as possible with all my gear. I didn’t ask questions or hesitate. If any others in the tent were awake, they didn’t let it be known as I left. A three quarter-ton truck came and I was invited into the canvas covered back by someone I could not see or recognize. After a while I realized by their voices that the several others were officers from our battalion. Sitting at the rear of the right bench, I finally settled for a stretch on my back by the tailgate. We traveled far over what I was sure was up and then down a mountain range. Noticing that it became smoother and warmer, I parted the back flap and sat there taking in the scene.
It wasn’t like any other place I had seen in Korea. There was no sign of our conflict or its damage. There were trees and the smell of salt water. The first house was on the right side. It was close to the type that was back in Level Land. It was small, had unpainted wood, and had a porch. I do not think that I wondered if perhaps it was a dream, but I might well have. Seated on the floor of the porch was a Korean man between not young and not old. There were no chairs or items in the area, and he was sitting in a kind of yoga position, unclothed from the waist up. He put on his shirt. That view has never left my mind for some reason and I wonder if it was because I was struck with the fact that there was more than one way to put on a shirt. I thought of trying it several times, but didn’t. At the time, I was most struck with my observation that he did not acknowledge in any way our presence, even though we passed within a few yards of him.
There were only a few other buildings before we came to a stop. Our driver swung to the right and there was the view of the open sea with a single ship some distance out. It was obviously at anchor since it didn't come any closer. If I ever saw the proverbial Korean morning, this was it. Lazy and not concerned with what our plight was, I looked, listened and sniffed. The other officers, none of whom I knew well, were up and about. There was a concrete small boat mooring with a small launch. There was an open area that was smoothed so as to make an ideal mustering place. One of the officers told me to board the launch without further instructions. I did, and before I expected we were under way with me as the sole passenger. We came alongside the ship and there was that cargo net just like the one at the Ottumwa pool years before.
It wasn’t easy, but I was proud that I was able to climb up with my duffle. The launch had quickly returned to shore. Not only was I not piped aboard, but no one saw me as far as I could determine. I wasn’t about to ask or seek help. It was more like it was too early in the morning than a ghost ship. Slowly drifting around, I passed a barbershop. A person was there who looked like a barber and the door was open. I broke my rule and asked if I could get a haircut. Right away I wished that I had not asked, for I got no answer. He did convey clearly without words that he intended to ask me what the heck I thought he was there for. It was the only haircut I remember that was silent. I don’t remember about payment and leaving.
I found spacious showers where I indulged myself without even thinking of looking for anyone to ask. I could not believe I had it so good, but I had no idea what was to come of it. I ate a nice lunch and evening meal alone at a table. It bothered me only a little that I wondered what if anything I was supposed to be doing. Just at sunset I watched the sun setting over Korea. I saw a landing craft speeding toward us. There was a gangway lowered as it came alongside. Stepping aft to where the gunwales were lower, I saw a strange white flash from inside the craft. At the same time, I felt a sensation in my head and in my body.
I thought "phenomena". This had something to do with the light and the sunset and I would figure it out later, but I soon had the answer. They were from my platoon and company. When I had first looked below to the craft as it bumped the ship, I saw an indistinguishable dark mass. When I moved into the light and they saw my face, everyone must have popped a smile. Probably they had fear of the unknown, as would be natural, and that they all were looking up and recognized me all at once. If they did not care so much for me, it must have been a relief. Skin color made no matter as they all had field dress, packs, and burlap covered helmets. This remains one of my most cherished moments, although I dared not share it with anyone until now.
I don’t know what port this was on the east coast or how soon we disembarked on Koje-do or whether we went to Pusan first. Recently, on the Internet, an Order of Battle had it that this date was May 27, 1953. I was never told what to do or given any information about why we were there. All the officers seemed to be noncommittal and unexcited about the situation. I still thought my concern should be for the platoon. They didn’t seem to be that available to me anymore. There were no formations or inspections. There were some permanent building and some semi-permanent ones, but we lived in tents some distance away from the men who were in a large open building.
The first day of whatever operation we were there to perform began. I went up to where the troops were. I watched in wonder at what they were doing. They seemed to have been given the word and were about the task someone had set up for them. No one seemed to be in charge, but they were going about getting aboard our three-quarter ton trucks with confidence. While I observed and tried to figure out what was happening, a telephone (EE-8) rang in the front of the building. No one was there to answer it, so I did. It was Lieutenant Nance and he simply said, "Boysan, come home." I accepted without question.
At our tent, he was the only one there. Expectation that an explanation would be forthcoming from him did not materialize. To this day, I wonder if officers like us were not to participate in prison activity unless told to. I never asked or complained. Again, Lieutenant Nance seemed to be up to some concern for me that I was neither aware of nor understood. He told me to take my Jeep and Kim Sup and the driver would take me around the island next day.
I was unaware that the island was as large as it was. It took the whole day. Kim said how disappointed he was that we had come to Koje-do instead of Cheju-do. From this I thought that the island we were on was small and unexciting. I believe that the prison compound where we were was on the northeast corner of the island. In back of us to the northwest was a mountain. I noticed a group of people climbing across the face of this feature. While not clearly discernable, there was clothing or cloth of white with some pieces of bright color. It was said by someone that it was a burial party headed for the top. They were seen getting higher several days before I was distracted and saw no more of the group.
I had heard stories of a cardboard city on the lower reaches of this mountain that was frequented by our soldiers, but I had no first-hand involvement of it or knew of any caution given the men. Perhaps I thought the stories inflated, as there were so many sad tales of this and other places and activity with the Korean women. Heading westerly on the left side of a small stream on the main road, we soon saw a large army tent on the other side of the stream. Access by Jeep was not seen, but a footbridge was there. We dismounted and crossed it. All kinds of hardware and goods were displayed. I guessed that it could be called a black market and was amazed that there were items available there that were not so easy to get through army channels. Two older Korean women tended the place, but they were not friendly. No purchases were made. Before we left, a road was seen crossing the stream up ahead.
Going in on this road, I was shocked to arrive in the middle of small wood houses which were well constructed. Each was alike with only a few feet between them. It was very clean and well kept with a dirt surface of white soil that looked like it had been swept. There were probably eight houses facing each other across the open area where we parked. All doors and windows were closed. No activity or people presence was there. It was so eerie that I could not believe it. There were dogs there, and all of them were about the same size. Their color was reddish brown. I felt sure that we should leave this place because these dogs were ignoring us. They walked around slowly and gave none of the actions I expected. I looked around at Kim Sup and was shocked at the appearance of his face. It was red and his eyes were wild.
I quickly turned around in the direction he was looking and there in the doorway of one of the middle houses stood a woman. The short look I had of her was that she was lavishly dressed in what I assumed to be local ceremonial attire. Her face and hair were spectacularly doctored up. She greeted us. Kim Sup for his first and only time yelled an angry order to me. It was something like that I should never speak to a painted lady. We left right away. The dogs did not change their attitude. Kim Sup remained agitated for some time longer, but we never mentioned this experience.
The rest of the trip was uneventful and few things or people were seen. At one place there was a sole plowman with a water buffalo out in a field. He was not close to the road, but I wanted to greet him. He was not pleased and shook his fist vehemently at us. Returning to our area late in the day, none asked and no reports were made. I felt unsure, a bit pampered, but with no hints about it from others.
On a Sunday morning, stepping out the back of our tent without shirt or headgear, a soldier in an unmarked uniform accosted me. He said that he was a reporter with "The Stars and Stripes" and asked if he could interview me. When I agreed, he took out a small pad and pen. His first question was about my rank. When I answered, he looked shocked and left abruptly. I guessed that the paper was for enlisted men only. It made sense to me.
One of the few orders coming down was to shine our bayonet blades. A day was spent doing this. A few days later, the only unit activity we did while there was with our bared bayonets at the ready, lined up between two prison compounds where the entire area was already enclosed in strong fences as prisoners were transferred. We had received no details. I was there with my platoon outside their line. Tension was felt, but things went all right until, at a tight corner in the fence, one prisoner turned right instead of going with the others. I am grateful to Sergeant Mendez who turning his threatening bayonet away and with his other hand motioned this person to correct his direction. I thought that within groups like these, there was likelihood that some could be easily confused. It was good that nothing worse happened.
Without any structure of duties, the other officers and I just seemed to do our own thing with no meetings for discussions. The men had regular shifts for guard duty. Some were posted to walk as usual, but most spent their shift riding on the roads by the compounds. I guessed that it was the standard show of force ploy. Lieutenant Swartz and I found an officer's club one evening and had a few drinks. We never returned as it appeared to be set up by some medical people who we didn’t see as our type. A small deer-like animal passed in our headlights that night.
I, on my own, rode some with the groups, trying to appear unexpectedly as I thought I should. At the far northern end was the compound for women, about which there was a plethora of stories. I rode past several times. Once I saw a bright red-haired Marine propped by a doorway talking to a tall lady. I believe that military police units did such work. One morning I was going by the closest compound in my Jeep and saw a large group of prisoners in unusually close ranks moving across their exercise area. As they moved on, a body was seen left behind on the ground. The way his form was with his legs splayed out in a most unnatural manner, I was pretty certain that he would not recover. I didn’t even mention it to my driver. I quickly dismissed any thought of reporting it to anyone.
I became aware that one of the attached Koreans was missing. When I talked to that squad leader, he said that that one goes and comes and indicated that he wasn’t worried about it. Just after that, I saw this Korean in their barracks area. I foolishly attempted to physically grab him. He easily jerked away and was gone. Another time at night when I took it upon myself to check the guards, I saw him again, but could not catch him. For attached people like this, I didn’t know if there was such a thing as being AWOL or how to go about reporting it. I let it ride without asking anyone, but I wondered if he was up to some mischief that was not good for us.
There were work crews of prisoners about. Around their periphery were guards from some of our infantry units and their number was small compared with the prisoners. I don’t know if their weapons were loaded. I suspected not. I heard that an unarmed soldier in the group of guards could approach them to show them what and how to do the tasks. There was the ever-present story about a soldier like this being grabbed and held hostage. Once such a group came upon me by surprise. They were trying to replace outside light bulbs on a building. They were chattering away and as was my nature, I caught on and took the bulbs from them and screwed them in. They were too short to do it. They had a good laugh and I was applauded with hearty handclaps. Later, an officer who either saw it or was told about it scolded me.
The Korean who had insisted on washing my clothes, approached me one day with a request. It was in our pidgin, but I made out that they wanted my permission to meet as a group. He convinced me that it was a cultural thing where they just got together and told stories. It was as if it was something that they missed being able to do. It was also realized that he felt me a soft touch. I thought of engaging Kim Sup, but I didn’t know the relationship he and the attached ones had and didn’t want to endanger either. I agreed and later, maybe not that same day, I saw them all seated in a large tent. There was a speaker and I was impressed with their attention and orderliness. I thought I would like to observe first hand. As I got close, the speaker saw me and instantaneously all eyes turned to me and he ceased to talk. The one who had asked me rose up and it became apparent that I was not to observe. I left and told no one of it and the Koreans seemed happy.
I heard that the prisoners were active in their protests. All kinds of weapons had been found. Their possession of red paint was a mystery. Infantry attacked some of their buildings at night. The grounds were probed and buried things were found. The worst of the stories was about a South Korean unit known as the scavenger squad who did bodies instead of the ground. I did once see an area which had been hit. I was fascinated with the little wooden things that they used under their necks while sleeping. I saw that these had been busted apart and had small articles concealed there. I thought that some of the men were elderly and indeed later heard that they were political prisoners and not necessarily soldiers.
On a night when I was checking the guard, I found a soldier asleep. He was not only not walking or standing, he was sprawled out flat by a tree trunk. It was with difficulty that I awakened him. Then he was belligerent and cursed me. I could sort of see his point, but believed that this was a different game we were playing. I am unable to recall just how I followed up on it, but I found myself in a court martial session. The soldier was found guilty and was fined pay. His name was Epstein. I did not see him again. While my feelings about it are mixed, mostly I regret it happening.
My 25th birthday was on June 21, 1953. A meeting of officers of the battalion was called that evening. When I arrived there with Lieutenant Nance and the other officers of Dog company, I saw Clark who had made major now and was with the battalion staff. I had not seen him since I had left his company. Due to this and his promotion, I was glad to see him. I wanted to speak and congratulate him. He was pitching horseshoes with someone. He recognized me with only an unpleasant look. Then the battalion commander who I have described above came up to me and asked if I knew why we were gathered there that evening. Feeling silly, I said that it was my birthday. Slightly stumped, he said something like that was even better and announced that he was promoting me to first lieutenant.
I had thought little about this ever happening and didn’t expect it. The colonel showed the need to justify his action. I became embarrassed. Like the regimental commander before, he said that I was the only one to do anything. It got worse when he offered to show the others how I had laid out mortar aiming stakes so as to cover the main road up the hill from the prisons. To this day I cannot recall if I had actually done this. I do not remember doing it, but I could have still just been in the Fort Benning mode and done it. If there was 81mm mortar ammunition on the island, I didn’t know of it. I was only marginally aware of a political situation that Sigmund Rhee was threatening to open those prisons. I would have disliked remembering the slaughter that could have been caused by our mortars if this had happened.
Shamefully, I again passed out from drink and know nothing of what happened later that evening. I awoke in my cot the next morning. It was a Sunday. Only Lieutenant Nance was there, and he was watching me. I felt very bad and hung over. He said that he had been watching me sleep and rejoiced gladly that I had had my day and that I had acted so to make him laugh so much. He further said that I had come home very sick and that I had made a mess all over. He had his houseboy Kim come and clean me up. I had not seen Kim. Lieutenant Nance said that my boots had been the worse. I looked at them neatly arranged by my cot and knew that Kim had done a good job. The thing that troubled me the most and still does slightly, was that Lieutenant Nance told me that the colonel had brought me home. Our talking outside the tent had really entertained Lieutenant Nance, who said that it was classic. That evening was the last time I saw that colonel.
The next evening or so it rained and I saw our new battalion commander standing up in his Jeep and showing himself along the streets. I was slow to catch on to the possible danger of that night. Within a day or so we had left the island and were on our way north from Pusan. It still rained and the roads were muddy. I do not remember seeing any vehicles in Korea other than those of the army. Off on another road was my first and only one. It was a 1936 blue Ford sedan. It was just like one that my brother-in-law Earl left home when he went away to war, except his was a coupe. I right away remembered that a classmate back at Benning, Wilson, who had already served in Korea, had told that Sigmund Rhee had a blue 1936 Ford. This one was struggling with the mud.
We arrived at our destination at night and settled down in an encampment that had been prepared by some of our group who had gotten there as an advance party. When I was looking for the "p" tube early next morning, I heard the sound of rushing water, but I did not investigate. What do they use for these tubes in the new army? When it was light, I heard our first sergeant expounding unusually loudly in the area. He was Sergeant Butler, a slim, pleasant, young looking soldier who came from New Jersey. He had been in the army for a while and had served in Germany. We were proud of him.
Now he was warning all to stay away from a raging river which was very close. It had steep banks and a flat place on each side that I would call its flood plain. The contained stream was roaring past. I suppose that some saw it inviting a plunge into for a swim. Sergeant Butler claimed that he had already heard from other outfits that a large number of men had been lost in the swift current. He gave a number, but I suspected that he blew it up for emphasis. I never knew the facts. At the time I thought that the water came from massive thunderstorms in the mountains to the north. Due to something I read much later, it may have been that we blew some dams or levees.
The most important thing of this day, July 27, 1953, was that the cease-fire had been signed. This may have caused Sergeant Butler to act up, as there were mixed feelings about it. For me, it meant that I would not get the CIB that I yearned for. It didn’t feel like a victory, and there was sadness about the useless loss of lives. I would have been angry, as I became later upon realizing that this loss of life had gone largely unheralded by home. I was not as surprised as I now think I should have been over overt talk of getting the war started again. Lieutenant Nance was absent. He was on a trip which he didn’t talk about, but one that I believe was to receive a Silver Star medal.
Later Lieutenant Nance went on R&R. I don’t think he had been before, but I don’t know. He was on his second tour in Korea. It surprised me that he went to Hong Kong instead of Japan. I wondered if this was some sort of West Point thing. Also, I guessed it might have been connected with what was then called French Indo-China, as there was much talk heard among the officers about getting a conflict going there. I was Dog-five but it was no big deal for me while he was gone.
One morning after he returned, Lieutenant Nance told me to read a handwritten letter he handed me. When I realized it was from our colonel who had left us at Koje-do after June 21, I became embarrassed and didn’t want to read it well. When I gave it back, it was like when he had told me earlier to go on R & R. He firmly told me to read it carefully. When I did, it was not evident to me why I should have read it. It was perhaps two pages of writing paper. What I got from it was that the colonel had been in the "salient", a new word for me. I could have asked Nance what it meant, but I waited until I got back to a dictionary and looked it up. It became a popular word that I often used after that. Recently I found on the Net reference to an action called the "Kumsong River Salient" that took place July 13-20, 1953. Surely this was what the colonel survived. I saw it recorded that the last communist offensive was when CCF launched a six-division attack partly directed at the US IX corps (3rd, 40th, and 45th Infantry Divisions).
Sergeant Butler and I played cards and such. Normally this would not have taken place, but there was little going on and we were just spending time. He told me about experiences on his assignment in Germany and about the women he had met there. He said that he had gotten turned off to them when one who he was visiting for sex was reading the magazine and eating the candy he had brought for her doing the act. This reminded me of such stories I had heard before and thinking about it later made me wonder if my resulting thoughts about this had caused me to refuse to hear of my assignment to Germany earlier. Another day I was in the company of several others like me when an older married officer gave us advice to refrain from such activity until we were married and to always take a shower beforehand. None of us said anything, but I think we listened. I thought of the letter I had received from Milton about this same issue. I heard Major Clark say on that last time I saw him that he was writing his wife to meet him at a hotel in town when he got home, or she could forget the whole thing.
The battalion officers had changed and the new commander was a major whose name I cannot remember. I am pretty sure that he was a southerner. The complexion of his face indicated he was most susceptible to skin damage by the sun. While I was acting in charge of Dog Company, he came up with what sounded to me as an unlikely plan and it seemed that he was doing it on his own. Clark had earlier bragged about changing the MLR on his own and also of getting fighting cocks out in front. This plan as I remember it being stated was that we were going to practice a secret move as if to plug a gap we had learned about. The major shocked me and others, I guess, when he said that it would only be attempted if I would lead. This suited me and he told me to not let anyone stop us.
We left early one morning with all unit markings greased out and our patches removed. I felt great. I guess that my driver Kewait had the directions, because I don’t remember ever being concerned with such things, as he was so good at it. He must have gotten the word from his motor pool sergeant who I only saw once. I was impressed by him to never mess with his motor pool, and I didn’t. We looked pitiful when I looked back.
We soon came to a fork in the road. It was not a crossroad like Level Land. In the triangle formed there, three Korean civilians were dismantling a simple structure of long poles. There was yardage of material the color of infantry blue. Well-trampled ground made me surmise that this had been a circus-like show of acrobatic skills. Having had a swing from a great oak tree back when I was a kid was recalled. I had back then dreamed and attempted to fly through the air to another perch.
This sight didn’t set well with me. I didn’t know civilians were so close. My thinking that they had their nerve to be so happy while we were still so concerned for their safety came from my upbringing of being in a "poor do" and acting accordingly. I may not have realized then that my attitude differed from the more prevalent one of admiration for their upbeat nature. Later I could use this observation to relate to the fast upturn of the economy of South Korea. I still wonder where all the Korean people were when I was there.
Then we met some UK units and exchanged hand greetings. I felt a sudden surge of anger. Again, I was running on instinct. The UK troops looked so happy and debonair with their sleeves rolled up and cocky headgear. I found comfort in blaming Eisenhower. I can see why General Van Fleet probably had chosen to retire when he did.
As we came to better roads and more traffic, I continued raging within. Before I could think about it, we came upon a scene I didn’t expect and had never before seen. On our left was a long convoy of bright new two and a half ton troop carriers loaded with Korean soldiers very smartly uniformed and armed. It was picture perfect. A road guard came out to stop us. Thinking what the major had told me, I told Kewait quickly to keep going, which he did. Then there was a rather large MP shack. Kewait stopped just beyond it. I never thought to question him, but jumped out and ran back to that control point.
My carbine, of course unloaded, was slung. But as I approached who turned out to be an older full colonel, I brought it down as if it was the proper way to address him. He did not reply to me, but as he was cranking a field phone, I saw tears come from his agitated eyes. I went back to the Jeep and we left, continuing on and arriving at our destination that night. As we both were relieving our bladders, the major only told me something like, "You didn’t have to go that far." I didn’t reply and nothing else was ever mentioned about this strange affair. It was Eisenhower who had poured money and material into South Korea to equip their army. He had failed to inform us and to keep up our re-supply and morale. I still feel justified in my anger.
As usual, at that time I could have cared less. What bothered me was that Sergeant Butler was boldly angry with me without hinting any of what it was about. He was so abusive with me that I just avoided him after that and it was never brought up again. I only thought that he might have seen me as not being strong enough.
Also, at that time another 1st Lt. came to our company and took over the machine gun platoon. I have seen that this could possibly have had something to do with the sergeant. The new lieutenant was Don Pierce. Bill Wright recently directed me to him. Pierce has a large legal firm in Mobile, Alabama. He mentioned that he had attended his OCS class reunion. I had no idea there was such. He remembered me, but not so well, and I have not been able to raise him again.
Lieutenant Nance told me that there was an officer in another company who had something wrong about him. He didn’t know what it was, but told me to go over and see if I could get along with him. If so, I was to bring him over to our recoilless rifle platoon. I found that company also in a valley on its south side. There were a few trees there. Up in the largest tree, there was a soldier sitting there on a limb that was almost horizontal. He had to have climbed the trunk to get there, but he could slide off without fear. Closer, I saw that he was a young officer. Gold threads showed that he was a 2nd Lieutenant. He wore a CIB.
I knew he was my man. We exchanged facial expressions, which in a short time miraculously sufficed and I brought him home with me. I greatly regret that I cannot recall his name. It may have been something like Thomas, and I shall call him that. We talked little, as he wasn’t prone to do so. He was from Iowa. He was ROTC and matched that type. If I ever had a loyal friend it was Lieutenant Thomas. I thought that he must have arrived earlier than I to have been in combat, and it was a wonder why he had not been promoted as was usually done after combat.
Now that the truce was signed, we were moved up to the line. I left the tubes and crews back with the sergeants and settled into constructing our OP. This particular hilltop had apparently not been manned lately, if ever. There was a clear view out front across a sort of plain. Major dust clouds and earth moving activity was taking place about four miles distant and easily seen. I became amazed at how much could be seen through a narrow slit for viewing and really got into the actual construction. I was happy.
One morning from the top of our bunker, I looked down and saw Lieutenant Nance arriving. I could feel myself grinning as if he had been my best friend coming to see me. I heard him ask where I was and then he looked up and saw me. He curtly told me to get my shirt, helmet, and weapon. He said, "Always." Then he said that I had been the only one ordering and complaining about not getting timbers, but he had just toured our entire line and that I had more than anyone. He didn’t stay for lunch. The wind was spilled from my sails for a while.
We were back down in the rear soon. At a pleasant open place one evening at chow, we were just seated with a staff member from battalion when the nearby CP said that there was a telephone call for me. I was never comfortable with this form of communication. The field EE-8s could be so surreptitiously disconnected from the battery power that I had done so several times. A telephone ring when I am scared and it is quiet is not something I wanted to hear.
This was Lieutenant Harvey, my friend from back at Fort Jackson. He was in Korea and had located me. His call was about my not writing to the girl with whom we had double dated. I was embarrassed. I tried to talk softly, but this only caused him to talk louder and repeat. It was great entertainment for the nearby troops. Harvey’s girlfriend had called and visited my sister Mildred there in Columbia, I found out later. I nervously got back to the table and Lieutenant Nance reminded me that I had not returned with my carbine. I promptly went and got it.
I was amused at an expression frequently heard over our telephone system. This was "Working, Victor." Victor was a central and messages could be interrupted and that this was the way to let them know that the line was in use. I rarely used the phone, but when I did I could not help but say this freely, even if it was not needed. It felt good as in clearing your throat or for pausing to reflect. Bob Hope came with his troupe to a nearby place and I was able to attend. One of the best laughs he got was when he was interrupted and then loudly said, "Working, Victor."
I had the OD duty at battalion one quiet Sunday. There was a call for a captain on the staff. I walked out and found him standing outside. Perhaps I should have studied him slowly first ,for when I approached him in a regulation manner, he exploded at me. I had never imagined such a loud, long, and severe dressing down. I was embarrassed for him because there was no apparent reason for it. When he finally wore himself down, he softly asked who he was supposed to call. This incident was never mentioned thereafter. He may have been thinking about some disappointment he was experiencing.
At another place after evening chow, Lieutenant Nance told me that our division had a new commander and that he was there to visit just then and that I should sit with him. This time I asked questions first. Nance said that he was an old football coach from West Point who he must have thought was worthless. His name was "Monk" Myers. There I was sitting alone on a bench at the side of the mess tent talking to this one star general. He was indeed curious. He was personable enough, but he gave me a talk about fighting in the trenches with barbed wire wrapped around the end of a stout pole. It flashed across my mind that he might have had the wrong war. Years later I saw some movie of the Vietnam War and there was a soldier running around with just such a weapon.
We were in a valley against the south side of a hill. It was a nice place. The trail into it was so narrow that no vehicles could use it. One evening when I knew I going to be away the next day, I talked to my sergeant and asked if he could slip out there the next day with the platoon and use their entrenching tools to pull off enough of the bank to allow a Jeep to come through. They did and no fuss was made of it.
The place had been used before and there was a flagpole in a circle outside the tent where we officers slept. Lieutenant Nance flew a Confederate flag. A lieutenant in another company in the battalion had a kind of closed off look about him. I heard that he and Nance were adversaries, but Nance never mentioned him. I woke up one night and checked a noise outside and it was this lieutenant who had come in by Jeep and was taking down that flag. I was going to go out and take him, but Nance was awake and told me, "Nope. Leave him alone."
On the day that Lieutenant Nance got a set of boxing gloves that he had ordered from Sears, I was taken aback, remembering the cameraman of the streets of San Francisco and thinking that I could have ordered shoes badly needed and unattainable, as well as other things. I think that he had also ordered clothes for Kim. I was even more taken aback when he told me that he and I were going to box for the entertainment of the troops. I had no hesitation to refuse. I felt uncomfortable because I knew that the men would like it and that sides would be chosen for them to cheer. We did not box.
Along with talking about getting the fighting going again, I inquired and applied to get into the regular army, whatever that meant. Lieutenant Nance arranged an interview for me with an officer from India. He was a dapper one who I right away admired. Probably it had not yet been decided how we were going to handle things there following this time. Maybe there were rumors that the Indian army would head up some United Nations mission and Nance must have thought I might fit in with them.
I planned to apply for aviation school at Marcus, Texas the first chance I got. I believe that it would have been a good choice. Now I see that a full career would have been a continuing challenge, but I wish that I had tried. Just at this time, Lieutenant Nance came to me with what he said was a problem for him. It had just been called to his attention that Lieutenant Pierce outdated me in rank. I quickly responded that I didn’t see it as anything I would be unhappy with. However, thinking about it recently, I see that I was knocked out over it and had struggled to hide my hurt. The next day an offer to me to get an immediate release came down. I did not respond right away, but after a few minutes I did an about face in my thinking and didn’t look back. Lieutenant Thomas joined me. I don’t know if Lieutenant Pierce was offered this early release or not, but he chose to stay.
Kim Sup appeared sad and painted a picture of despair over not being able to continue to buy his way out of the ROK army. Like I had done with the girl in Japan, I gave him all the money I had, telling him that he could share something with the attached Koreans if he wanted to. Nance gave me the barrel and chamber of a carbine to mail to his kid brother in Tennessee when I got home. I didn’t want to, but he said to just put it in the center of my duffle bag. Thomas and I left next morning without fanfare. That was the last I ever saw of Nance. I mailed the package from Abbeville, but never had a reply.
We stopped by battalion but the officers were still in bed and said goodbye from that position. Our Jeep left us at a staging area and another of those wonderful mess sergeants told us that he would cook us anything we wanted for breakfast. We had it all, and it was the best ever. Thomas and I each had a great bowel movement in a nicer latrine than we had been accustomed to, laughing all the time. We reached Seoul by convoy that night. There didn’t seem much to keep us there and when we heard that we were leaving by boat from Inchon, I suggested we start out walking. We hooked up with an officer in our situation that we called "Tex". We walked the whole night with me cutting up to entertain them.
We arrived there after daybreak and found a proper place to settle down. It was several uneventful days before a ship came in. We watched the long line of fresh troops file off. We were soon aboard and the ship had a quick turn around. Almost all on board were of a single Canadian unit. As we didn’t meet any of their officers, they seemed to be under the command of a colorful sergeant major. We shared berths with a few US Army officers like us.
As if for effect, we cast off at near sunset. I got to the top deck and had a good view of the harbor as we straightened to get underway. Looking down on a Korean boat, I was able to take in its character. I believe it was called a lighter craft that helped with taking cargo ashore from large transports. She was probably 60 feet long. I didn’t determine her power. A middle-aged man was handling a long oar-like pole with which he skillfully steadied and maneuvered the craft. Maybe this was their power also. I became engrossed in her crew.
Choosing to believe they were one family, I began to sort them out. First, the eldest was a woman, probably a widow. She was wrapped around with a light-colored cloth, not so white. She was tending a charcoal fire with pots and pans about her. It was suppertime. There were small kids, the youngest, squatting there, watching her. Perhaps they were five in number. Between these age extremes, I pictured the lady’s older son and his wife as owning the craft and taking care of the business end of their venture. Then they had several sons and daughters with their spouses aboard. One was probably handling the long oar. Completing the family running the craft were some eight or ten young people. I became frozen in the scene and had the unexpected thought and wish that I could by magic unseen and unknown drop down and become a member of that family. My plans and hopes had been so suddenly derailed that I was not getting into the next phase. This looked like such a peaceful situation.
Under way, there was soon a hue and cry among the officers when it was found that we were not going by Japan. They wanted to pick up their stuff that had been checked there before we left for Korea. I had no care about it, as when I was on R & R ,and could easily do without not only it, but Japan as well. Later Papa was surprised to receive a large wooden box by way of Railway Express containing my stuff. Lucky that I had returned home earlier, for the box looked like a coffin. The lumber was so thick and good that Papa was able to make some repairs with it around his place.
There was a warrant officer who looked a bit out of place, probably having been called up from a guard or reserve unit. He did not mix, but often looked like he was checking to see if anyone was curious about him. One of the lieutenants in our cabin told us that he was assigned to see that this officer was delivered. He was under arrest for possible murder. The story was, and I don’t think this lieutenant had it first hand, that this WO had a fellow officer who, as a joke, had written the WO’s wife warning her to be careful when her husband came home because he had caught a serious venereal disease. This joker died some time later from a mortar round that had been rigged beneath his cot. I was glad that I had not been issued rounds.
Lieutenant Thomas and I stayed together and he, on his own, told me his story. He said that there had been a court martial for him. He didn’t say and I didn’t ask what the verdict and penalty was. He said that one day on the combat line, he noticed a piece of our black communication wire moving toward the enemy direction. This was called commo wire, and had many more than its intended use. Papa would have been upset at such waste. It was strung all over the place repeatedly for use with field phones out on nightly patrols. A popular use was for weaving across poles to make bunks for the soldiers. We officers sometimes had folding cots, but they did not go with us when we moved. Cots were nice for me under a tent cover, but not without. The ground was not that bad outside. My friend had followed the wire as it continued to move downhill. He came face to face with an enemy man who was doing the pulling. They were on their haunches together for a while and my friend shared one of his cigarettes before they parted. I was impressed and did not question him about any details. It was never mentioned again.
Somewhere out in a calm place in that ocean, we stopped and drifted for more than a day. There was no electricity or heating. We understood that they were working in the engine room. After all, it had been a quick turnaround. There were other times when the electricity went off. Some in our cabin had transistor radios. They were not picking up anything, but they were turned on often. I had not known of these radios or their use and don’t believe they picked up anything in Korea.
One morning we awoke to loud sounds. It was the radios going full blast. It was just like a surprise Christmas morning with Santa Claus. Even I, who doesn’t go for radios much, was overjoyed. I remember two songs. One went something like, "I don’t want no ricochet romance. I don’t want no ricochet love. If you’re careless with your kisses, find yourself another one." The other was a slower tune that was nice but misunderstood by me. It sounded to me like, " Go Minesie, I’m so sorry to make you cry." I wondered what athletic team or university had this name, thinking it a cheering song. It was sometime later that I realized that it was Japanese words that I cannot spell which meant being sorry.
It was still a day or so before we spotted the west coast. It was night and the first thing that I saw was isolated red neon lights. This shocked me and I felt more sad than glad. Someone said that these lights were from fishing camps. Our forward motion now with the nearby shoreline to relate to seemed fast. It turned out that we were in a strait in Canada.
The next morning saw us dockside at Victoria. Lena and I visited there twice in later years and I had a difficult time to picture our ship there. I had remembered it as being much bigger. The famous Empress Hotel was easily seen all three times. The flashy Canadian Brigade debarked with flair and a propitious welcome. A pretty lady sang grandly. She was a little plump. There were speeches and presentations. The soldiers marched off with stirring band music down the street to the left of the hotel. We turned around shortly and before nightfall docked at Seattle. No one was there to meet us.
Thomas and I had agreed to hang out together for a while. It seemed to make sense. I don’t know what we might have done. Suddenly I had the strong desire to not delay at all to make sure I got my job back. To the surprise of my friend, I arranged to board a plane to Fort Worth where the Weather Bureau personnel office was located. I believe that Korea vanished at least from the surface of my thinking. I withdrew into myself. Planes were exchanged in Los Angeles. This must have been the time their big airport was building. We had to walk a long distance to board the aircraft and over rocky dirt surface that prop blast stirred dust from.
The plane was small and not crowded. I sat alone by a window. There was only one stewardess who I surprisingly gained little enthusiasm about. Seeing her later, she was certainly young and attractive, but it was like such as she was verboten for me then. She came and sat by me for a while. If she conversed, I did not join in much. When we landed at Love Field at Dallas-Fort Worth and entered the terminal, I became overwhelmed with their upbeat structure. They had apparently finished entering their modern age. Then a thing shocked me and was to linger in my mind just as has that hurricane day back at Pensacola earlier. It was a voice over the public address system and it was loud. It was the sexy voice of a girl. Like other triggers I have had, this one really got to me without understanding it either. It just didn’t seem appropriate, certainly not for me. It was too much. I suppose that I subliminally rationalized it as how could they be so ostentatious while so lately in a war. This reasoning continued to plague me for a few more days.
I was miserable and rushed to get my duffle and find transportation to Fort Worth. In my daze, I barely noticed that the stretch-out I was directed to had the crew of the plane already inside. I sat cramped in the front seat with the driver and another. Gratefully, I was by the window and determined to stonewall it. Then I heard her voice. The girl announcer who had gotten me so upset was sitting in the back with the stewardess.
She was a very young and fat thing. Her voice was still loud and clear. She was convinced that she was a celebrity and began regaling all with how she spent her time shopping and going here and there. The thing that is so bad about this memory is that I seriously thought of how I could get out of this vehicle. I rehearsed in my mind how I might ask the driver to stop and let me out. I thought it as easy just to open the door and jump. We were not going so fast, as that freeway was still under construction. I was so far out that I still am disturbed at how I was thinking. I believe that the others noticed my anguish.
When we stopped at a hotel, we all registered there. I did not look back to see where the girl of my distress went. Not sensing well, I was behind the male members of the crew in the hallway of our floor and one of them may have turned and asked if I wanted "her" room number. In a disturbed state, I quickly went outside and at a nearby military store bought my ribbons. They were so readily provided that I was surprised. I suppose now that I had orders, but I don’t remember any.
I then went to a clothing store and got fitted with a gray flannel suit and the shirt, shoes, and other items to complete a civilian suit. When told that it wouldn’t be ready that evening, I said that if not I would not buy. It was done. I don’t know why I was in such a hurry, but I had thought about it. I cleaned up and dressed in my new outfit and went down the street after dark to a movie. It was not crowded and I saw the stewardess seated all alone to my right and a row or so back. I don’t remember the movie. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped to have something at its restaurant. Sitting at the circular counter, I saw her sitting alone facing me. I believe we traded recognition, but I wasn’t about to go further.
Next Duty Station
The next morning, I found the WB office within a block and asked to see the director whose name I remembered as Mr. Davis. He came out and I was annoyed that he told me that someone else would help me. This person reviewing my file said that by law I could have my position back at Miami, but that someone would have to be bumped. I had trouble sorting it out. I still have not rationalized some sticker that caused me not to go back, because I had been happy there. It may have been my nature to crave a new start.
He then asked if I would be interested in an assignment to Swan Island. He said that they always had trouble filling slots there, and before I bought clothes I might like to go there first. I knew of this place from plotting its reports on the weather map. It was a small island in the Caribbean south of western Cuba. I had read the job announcements for there. The American Fruit Company owned it, but the weather station was about the only thing there.
I accepted it out of self-pity. Then he said that I did not have the experience in balloon work necessary and that he would send me to the Atlanta airport to gain this training. Mr. Davis came back out as I was leaving as though he may have had second thoughts. He related how he had a difficult time adjusting after his service in World War II. He cautioned me to watch my language. He even gave an example and told me not to ask for the "f------ butter" at the family table. As I had learned at home, it had always been "thank you for the butter" when wanting that dish. Months later, I saw in our newsletter that he had resigned to become a minister. I should have worn my uniform. They never asked my rank or what I had done or where I had been in the service.
This finished my business and back at the hotel I had a long soak in the bathtub. This was a not what I should have done. I became so itchy that it was hard to take. I telephoned Emmett in San Antonio. I don’t recall how the call was paid. He pleaded with me to come on down to visit and was disappointed when I said that I wouldn’t. He had big ideas that I should get a small plane and search for Uranium out in the west. He was sure that I would like that work and might become rich. In another state of mind it might have appealed to me, but I gave him reasons to go back to my WB work. He was sad.
I left by bus for an overnight in New Orleans. I mostly just stood in my suit on the street outside the hotel, watching the passing crowd. Busing on, but now in uniform, I arrived at Augusta after dark and, strangely, began to get back to myself. There was a young girl saying a tender goodbye to a young soldier. When she came on, she seemed to take notice of me and sat alone in the seat just in front of me. I believe she soon turned around, and I had no qualms to join her for conversation. The bus driver looked at me in his mirror and continued to do so. She was going to her home in Pennsylvania. She was cute and country girl fresh. I felt good for the first time since Inchon.
Arriving at Columbia, she got off with me and we sat together at the counter. It was crowded and it seemed that all eyes were happily on us. I didn’t imagine why this was so. She acted a little like I may have back at my first counter at the train station in Chicago. She said softly that she didn’t want anything. I ordered a piece of lemon cream pie for her. She did not touch it. When she got back on the bus, we made a scene not greatly different from the one when I first saw her in Augusta. Within the block of the bus station there was a two or three-story red brick cheap hotel where I went for the night. Sara was close by, but I didn’t call her. I did not call Mildred or anyone.
When my restless night was over and I found my way to Fort Jackson, I heard an officer unknown to me ranting and raving about a miserable past night he had spent. I found out that he had spent it in the same hotel as I and that he, too, was just arrived back from Korea. He greatly enjoyed and seemed to be comforted by my agreement of a like time and place. I saw the major who was my commander there the year before. We were across a large room and he was going out the door, but he showed that he saw me. He had picked up weight in his posterior. Lieutenant Witherspoon was still there and hastened to ask if I had come back because of a wound.
Looking out the window of an upstairs latrine when I heard my name called, Lieutenant Ferguson was there. He came up quickly and I told him right away that I didn’t get the CIB. He had left an assignment in Germany on the early release also. That evening, he and I went by bus and visited Mildred. She said that she was disappointed that we had on civilian clothes. The next evening, I borrowed Mildred’s car and went to see the girl that Lieutenant Harvey had bothered me about. On the way, I bought a small vanity set from a drug store to give her. Her mother sat in their front room with us. I didn’t stay long. They were probably on to me and when I said that I was going to Atlanta, not much else needed to be said.
That Sunday I went by bus to Abbeville. I telephoned from the station. Papa answered. He didn’t hear so well and wasn’t fond of the telephone. While I was trying to get across to him who I was, he called me Mr. Howe and stated that he didn’t want to attend the church meeting that evening. Mr. Howe was the father of Major Howe, the famed World War II "Major of St. Lo." Papa wasn’t taken aback when I finally got through to him. He said that Mother had gone for a ride with my sister, Kathryn, and her husband. I shouldered my duffle and walked the two miles. Mother and the others passed going in my direction. I waved excitedly, but they didn’t seem to recognize me and went on.
It was a strange, cool reception that I had not expected. My sisters had called that I was back. They may have worried about food for my supper. I never thought of such things. Mother just repeated several times something like, "Well, I just don’t know what its all about." Papa went to bed early without conversation. I told them I was going to Atlanta. The oil-burning heater had not been started yet. There was a fireplace in the small bedroom where I was to sleep. Mother burned some trash that the two of us crowded around sitting in cane bottom chairs tipped forward. Beside the small flames, the room was lit by a small electric bulb in a souvenir spinning wheel that my sister Kathryn had brought back "from the mountains" when she and James married. It was about 15 inches high and a favorite of mine.
Mother talked hesitantly about the family and neighbors. When she said that she "reckoned that she would go to bed," I became so sad that my tears could be seen dropping on the surface of the hearth lightly covered with ash from the fire, leaving little circles. Years later, I saw a similar technique used in the laboratory to calibrate the size of drops. While this sort of thing may seem silly to think about, much less than spending time studying, it was the understanding of such natural things that I wish I could have spent my career doing. For instance, drops falling on a slick surface create little satellite small droplets in concentric rings about the bigger drop. The ashes by Mother’s fireplace and the manganese dust in the laboratory did not do this. The sense I made out of my families’ attitude that saddened me so was that my conflict had not been known well and was little understood. I seemed to sense from all that it puzzled them why I had volunteered and what had come of it. Mother’s "I just don’t know what its all about" pretty well covered it.
That Saturday I bussed to Atlanta, and got a room at the same hotel where the Navy had me earlier. This time it was a decent room. The next morning I bought the paper and with the phone book was able to determine where the airport was located and where I might find a place to stay. On the first ad I responded to, I was told he had just the place. I asked directions and means of getting there and was told to come to his home in College Park. It was a stately older house on a corner, and an elderly man and his wife greeted me. He had a 1939 light green Dodge sedan with a bucking clutch that he drove me to see the place he was offering as an agent. It was at 101 N. Lee Street, a block from Virginia Avenue. It had bus service to the airport only about three miles away. I thought the place--upstairs in a four-unit building--was just right.
Thinking I would be in it that night, I was disappointed when he told me that I would have to wait until the next day for some reason. Asking him to suggest what I should do for a place to stay that night, he quickly said that I could stay with them, of course. He said that a government employee who had just served his country in war deserved such. He further said that his wife would cook a welcome home dinner for me. It really was a complete and wonderful meal beyond my belief. The conversation was nice and no problem. Just afterwards, she told me to please excuse her husband because he must listen to a radio program. There he sat up close to an upright Zenith. The program was the "Lone Ranger," which he delighted in.
I was so overcome with their care and the comfort I felt that I didn’t mind to bed down in a big high one in an inside room which I didn’t usually want. I was to report for work the next day. They had to get up, get me up, feed me a nice breakfast, and get me off. Soon he told me that he had been thinking about it and he decided that a room for me could be built over his garage which was detached from his home and over at the corner of his lot. When I liked the idea, he said that first he would talk it over with his wife and call me at work the next day. He called and it was a no go. I was a little disappointed, but I knew a woman like her had good judgment and could foresee possible problems. I was in that rental place for almost three years and saw them often and ate more than I should have with them.
Their name was Doss and they were in their 80s without children. He was near 90. He told me where to look when I rode into Atlanta to see their name in cement on a large building. He said that he and his brother had built this as a tire-manufacturing place. His brother had developed a synthetic material before the big companies got going with such. They were forced out by one of these companies and lost all they had. They had recovered somewhat with Coca Cola stock. He said that this drink early on really had "coke" in it. The only one he ever drank had made him sick. I recalled that Papa had always referred to such as "dope". He made fun of people who he thought were acting big shot by walking into a store and saying, "Give me a dope".
I went back to Abbeville often on my days off. I was always lost there and spent these days cleaning brush in back of my sister’s house. It was way too late in realizing that I should have been making my own way in Atlanta. They didn’t tell me so, but I believe I was a drain on them. None of them ever checked on me in the brush or seemed to care. Both my parents and the Doss’s were in need of care for their coming years. I believe that my brother-in-law, James, worried more than he should that with his meager income he might be the one to do tasks for my parents. It seems he had convinced my mother that government welfare should be sought. She liked not having to receive any money from her children and aggravated Papa about it.
When I got my back pay two years before, I gave it to Papa to put in the bank. He had never had an account. Neither of them had ever worked at what we called public work, and therefore did not get Social Security. They had gotten an allotment from me for my first year, but I did not think of it after I got commissioned. My pay was higher, but I did not notice that the allotment had been stopped. They wondered what happened, but I didn’t catch on until too late. One day Papa got fed up with bucking Mother and emptied his account, giving it back to me. He thought, and I still believe, that he could have managed on this amount. They lived simply. He was amazed that I bought lettuce at the store. I bought a car that I had been looking at in a used car lot as I passed on the bus. I paid cash and didn’t bother to bargain.
I stayed within myself and did not bring reading material into my place. First I read the entire Bible, which my mother gave me when I first left for Miami. However, I did not remember any of it when I finished. Then I completed all the correspondence courses that the Infantry School had. They scored me perfect. Afterwards, I was surprised to receive a letter asking if I would go back on active duty as a referee on an exercise in Texas involving airborne troops. Friends I had formed at work thought it was a good idea and were surprised at my rank. I never thought to accept, and didn’t. Just like after the Navy, I had not kept my uniforms.
My arrival for duty at the Atlanta airport was like a welcome to a family. Nothing was ever said about training me for the assignment to Swan Island. In time I saw that it was not so easy to get that training, as it was a rank thing. I was lucky to finally get trained for this work. It became obvious that it was up to me to bid for the island job after I had the qualifications. I never again entertained the idea to go to that island, and am glad. At Christmas time, the big boss, Mr. Ballard, came up to our observation tower and told me that he was very sorry, but the rule was that seniority counted for leave at this holiday season and that I would need to work then. I did not mind and appreciated his concern. Then an older, unmarried woman observer who was the most senior, said that there was no way she was going to allow someone who had spent the last Christmas in Korea to work this one. I just could not tell her the truth and spent the fourth consecutive Christmas with my parents.
Soon I received a handwritten letter from Mr. Norton. It really touched me and I felt badly about not contacting him. He said that he was puzzled over my not coming back there, saying that it was my home. He said that if it were my wish, then he would look at it as Miami’s loss and Atlanta’s gain. If Fort Worth had pulled some trick on me he wanted to know so that he could fix it up. I just couldn’t write back and didn’t. That season, he died of a heart attack during a hurricane.
While at Atlanta, my friend from Fort Jackson, Jim Ferguson, found me and came to visit one day. He was enrolled at UGA at Athens, taking journalism. While he did not tell me in words, it was clear that he had made the choice to give in to his tendency toward liking men instead of women. He told me that he would not be seeing me more. The next time I went through Athens, I could find no trace of him and never saw or heard of him again. I remembered that he had complained about intimate contacts with women.
An Atlanta dentist fixed my teeth for the VA. His name was also Norton and knew of my Miami boss. Going to dentists for the next forty years his work was admired by all. Taking an evening college course in English composition at the Atlanta Division of the University of Georgia, I tried to fulfill a writing assignment by relating that evening when I first saw the red neon lights along the Canadian strait. Our professor, a pretty lady who was younger than I, returned my paper with only her written comment that a first person narrative like this was very difficult and should not be attempted.
I used my GI bill of rights and graduated from the University of Georgia in 1957 with a major in physics. The nation was gearing up for the cold war after Sputnik and I went for it. I took all the VA counseling and job testing that I could get. They may have only looked at federal jobs, for they matched me with being a supervisor of five people in the Fish and Wildlife Service. I could and still can relate to that.
I luckily got a transfer to Athens, for I could not graduate from the Atlanta Division. Coming out of a restaurant after having breakfast, I could not believe my eyes to see Trainum getting out of an Army car wearing a master sergeant’s uniform. He ran the Army recruiting station there in the Post Office building. He told me that he had been assigned in Germany with some sort of military housing duty. I saw him several times. He pulled from his wallet a picture of a young blond girl. He was quick to impress me with his great pain in his heart over her.
He also told me that his wife had given birth to a son, but that she had chosen to act estranged although they lived together. He didn’t think that any was his fault. They had gone over the Atlantic on a nice cruise to his assignment and he thought that she would come out of her act, but she did not. I was stunned that he insisted that I go to see her on a day we could decide upon. I didn’t know how I could go, but neither did I know how to get out of it.
Arriving at their nice home, I realized that next door was a distant relative, Mr. Kay, whom Mother had written. They had me over for a nice dinner. Mrs. Trainum looked and acted nice. She told me that her girlfriend was still in Atlanta and available yet. I was uncomfortable. I had no idea at all of why I was there. She would not let their little boy in the house, but he looked in the windows from outside. Any details must have been insignificant, as I do not remember any. I soon took my leave. I never saw either of the ladies again.
In the spring of 1960, the third year of my working at research in Washington, D. C., I chanced to drive into Clinton on a Sunday. It was quiet downtown, but I found a good restaurant, ate, and looked for Price’s name in the telephone book without finding it. Just outside and across the street, I was amazed to see a memorial to servicemen who died in the Korean War. With dread, I carefully read all and lo, his name was not there.
In the book, "About Face", which I read only a few years back, David H. Hackworth, the author, described a Lieutenant Price--an OCS graduate--as being in the company that he commanded that year in Korea. I bought and gave away this book three times, showing his indexed name as my classmate. This and his lack of mention at the memorial in Clinton made me hope that Dick was still around. More recently I purchased my forth copy of this book and found that his Price was named William and not Richard.
On this same work trip out to Montana, I mostly was on a mountain top near Philipsburg, Montana. This place was a ghost town but had several bars, an old hotel, two eating places, and a hardware store. A distant out from the old town on the main highway was a newly-built modern gas service station. I stopped there late of an afternoon to gas up. I signed a credit card. A tall man about my age was there also, and when he looked at me, I spoke to him in my usual overly friendly manner. I thought that I might regret it when I clearly heard him ask the attendant who I was.
Without hesitation, I drove off to meet my Forest Service friends at a bar in town. I had taken a room in the old hotel for that night just for the experience. My friends were going back up to the mountain late that Saturday night. Sitting at the small bar, I noticed that the guy I had seen at the service station was outside looking in. He continued to loiter there, but was gone some and then returned. I became scared. I tried to explain my situation to my friends, but I got none of their attention as they were having fun otherwise. I was not going to stay overnight in this spooky place. Because our mountain place was beyond three locked cattle gates, I decided to make a run for it. There were multiple locks on each gate. Each interlocked so that each user allowed had their lock and key. As I crossed the main highway, I saw headlights behind. Rushing to the first gate to unlock, drive through, and relock, I felt better. Soon I was amazed that the headlights were now on my side of the gate. I was beside myself as the same happened at the other two gates.
My building, which was used only by me, was a grain bin twelve feet in diameter which we had erected the year before. It had a plywood floor, shelving for work space, and our recording instruments. It had two opposing doors. The following car was hot behind me when I arrived at the front door. I dashed inside, turned on a flashlight, stood it up on a shelf, and dove to the ground out the back door. When I looked up he was in the front door, easily seen and said, "Lieutenant Ellis, don’t you remember me?"
He was Sorenson who drove D-23, a deuce and a half for Dog Company. I remembered him, but had not seen him often as he was at the motor pool. I understood how he remembered me better. I was not recovered fully from my fright and did not enjoy the reunion. I probably didn’t make him feel welcome. He soon left and I saw no more of him, which I now regret and would like to try to find him again. He further shocked me with the news that he had received from his soldier friends that Lieutenant Nance had returned from Korea only to die in a massive paratrooper exercise in Texas which had been named "Big Drop". I believe that this was the time and place where I had been asked to referee, but refused. My seven years of wondering what had happened to Lieutenant Nance had come to a sad end.
I never packed a lot of personal stuff, but at the end of that year I discarded what little I had before going to my new assignment in Hawaii. I came across a little blue book from the Infantry School on leadership. I was amazed at how well it was written and how loaded it was with good advice. I didn’t remember having read it before, and I then read it all the next few days.
Soon after settling down in Hilo, I became aware of a familiar sound. A combat outpost exercise was being practiced. I never went to check it out, but it was at a range near the airport. I wondered how many others recognized it. I frequently saw soldiers in Army vehicles on a road little used by others. For months I often got a start upon seeing someone who I thought I knew and waved to accordingly. Soldiers in combat gear tended to look alike, I guess. In time they changed their looks and that of their vehicles as well. I always looked upon them with respect.
Soon we were in the Vietnam strife as we had expected as early as 1953. Mildred’s husband Linwood had been recalled to active duty in the Navy in the early part of the Korean War. I just could not believe it and it may have influenced my choice at that time. He was on his way home as I was reporting in. Now Emmett’s Air Force outfit had been activated for the Vietnam War. At first, doing well with his chiropractor work, he was happy. This changed when he became aware of goon-like tactics used by the American Medical Association to get and/or keep chiropractors out of business.
He loved the military and remained in the reserves. He was on active duty often at the various air bases around San Antonio. Visiting him there once, he took me to see their new airport. He pointed out a motorcycle patrolman directing vehicles. Emmett told me that he was the colonel commanding his reserve unit. He further said that he was galled to get activated and back on duty. He thought that he would do anything to get off that bike and back into his other uniform.
From the early 1940s, Emmett had talked about trying to get into a military group that had a super secret mission to look out for crime within the military. Apparently he did, and had only occasional comments about it and never in detail. He had started out training in the Quartermasters and perhaps he looked out for waste. This he could have picked up from Papa. Emmett had also worked at supply for the Reigel Textile Corporation at Ware Shoals both before he enlisted and for a while after he returned.
Emmett showed up to visit me in his uniform of sergeant major here in Hilo in 1964. He said that he was on his way to Vietnam and told me a strange story about his outfit that had finally gotten activated. That colonel had made a proposal that was accepted to run a worldwide network to pick up damaged helicopters in Vietnam and get them back to a commercial plant in Texas. The network also delivered helicopter parts and sometimes the whole repaired unit back to Vietnam. It was mostly a self-contained operation that utilized military air transportation, which would have flown with empty space otherwise. These flights took routes all over the globe. My brother must have had the duty to keep up with where personnel may have gotten sidelined at some place to await another flight. He mentioned troubles with them like with spouses and sometimes divorces. He said that the damaged helicopters often had to be picked up in the combat areas. They were not provided security and he said that he was going to set up the infantry perimeter defense on this trip. I could tell that he really wanted to gain this experience.
He had another enlisted friend with him who proudly showed me a picture of a taper he had hunted and killed in Central America. From this friend I got a hint that Emmett and Dorothy might be having marital troubles. They had two children, a girl and a boy. A later infant had died while I was in Korea. Emmett and his friend had come into Hilo that morning on a military flight that was pretty much on a daily schedule and left about sunset that same day. That was the last I saw of my brother. He called me at work on the mountain the next day from Hickam and had great fun fussing with me as if I were one of his men to get back over there right away. He slipped in a soft statement that this was in case some officers were listening.
I am not sure if he got to Vietnam or if he was there only a short time when there was an emergency with Dorothy. A growth was found on a routine check near her brain and it appeared that a minor procedure would fix it. She did not bother to notify her husband. The operation went wrong and she was left without speech and with only limited movement. While this was a shock to learn, I somehow thought she would recover. She did not and became such a burden that Emmett decided that he could handle it best if he could manage to remain in the Air Force. He was able to gain duty for several years on Okinawa. He did not call as I expected when he passed through Honolulu, and he chided me when I mentioned it in a letter. He said that it wasn’t easy to handle a wheelchair when transferring planes. He felt that I should visit him in Hara. It may have seemed like we were in the same part of the world, but my plane fare would have not matched our budget at that time and I did not go.
He tried to extend his stay, as care for Dorothy was easier there than back in San Antonio, but he was returned. It became a struggle for him to remain on active duty. It was later discovered that he had a cancer in his brain. He was discharged without treatment. At that time, the build-up around the place called Cape Canaveral was not used for a while. He and his invalid wife bought a home there, as these were favorably priced. He stated that he had done this because it was closer to our family as well as to that of her family, and easy to exchange visits. It did not afford him happiness there due to his illness. We exchanged letters some, but it was sad and I could not make much sense of it. I planned all along to visit him, but I never did.
I believe that the most pleasure he had came about because the VA used old gooney bird aircraft to pick up veterans over the southeast to take them to San Antonio for treatment. Sometimes the flight could not be made in one day. I think that this sort of thing was just up his alley. He died on February 6, 1978 at age 63. Strangely, my brother-law Dale Ashley died on the same day and at the same age. Emmett was buried at the military cemetery at Fort Sam Houston at San Antonio.
For some 25 years I saw few movies either in public or at home. When "Platoon" came out, I saw it three times alone. This was twice at the first sitting and once again when it returned. It became my all-time favorite. In late 2001, I started using a PC. I was attracted to web sites on the Korean War. There was the 50-year anniversary of the ending of that war in 2003. I became very interested in what had happened, as I had mostly kept it out of my mind. I had viewed only a few MASH programs on TV and it occurred to me only much later that they were about the Korean War. I continue to try to find the name of the baseball player mentioned earlier without success. I came to realize that the Battalion Commander who was a great mystery to me looked like the MASH actor Klinger, played by Jamie Farr.
I read of what surely must have been these twins. A medic was hit with hostile fire while tending another man. There was no other medic about and word went over to a nearby unit for help. The one who went found that his twin brother was the one in need of aid. Pvt. Edwin A Rietz died of his wounds on January 3, 1953. Pvt. Edwin Rietz must have been the one in my platoon later in the month. The information I read said that they were from Rock Island County, Illinois. Captain Willard J. Hardy is remembered as being the commander of Company C. The Internet revealed that he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Also in this fifty-year-old information that I probably never knew was that the 40th had been a California National Guard Division called up. They trained in Japan and arrived in Korea to relieve the 24th Division on January 20, 1952. A year later on January 17, 1953, Maj. Gen. Joseph P Cleland was in command. This was near the time I arrived. Recently I talked with Bill Wright on the Net about Lieutenant Nance. He said that he had known him in combat while with another Regiment of the 40th. Bill said that Nance led patrols out in enemy territory and was gone for five or more days. Bill sent me a picture of Nance with other officers.
Late on a Saturday night in June 2004, writing the above about Dick Price, I decided to look for him on the Internet. To my sadness, his death was recorded. I added to comments and someone seeing it telephoned his widow, Shirley. We had some excited exchanges and have kept in touch. I soon found that two others of our class were killed. Tommy Summers died brutally on his first night on the front. Gen. S. L. A. Marshall wrote about his death in "Pork Chop Hill". A movie by that same name was also made. I saw this movie back in Athen, but I remember nothing of it. I only recall it because I saw someone coming out of the theater with me and wondering why she would see such a movie alone. I had vacated my mind so completely of my time in the service that I had no thought that the hero had been my OCS classmate. Tommy’s sister Joan told me that a video of that movie was yet available. Charles Johnson, a third classmate, was also killed. All died in the spring of 1953.
In my search I did find Korean War veterans who gave me some information. Two remembered me. Then I had a great craving to find my OCS classmates. Using the AOL search, I found my bunkmate Jack Melton, who gave me a telephone call. It was of such high emotion that I became really hooked on the idea of finding as many others as possible. Then Dick Dickason, John Swaim, Chester Hastings and Seth Tuttle came forward, and we hope many more will. I do not remember anything about a class book and was very thrilled when John made a copy of his and sent it to me.
So, what are you going to do when the rooster crows early in the morning?