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Honolulu, Hawaii -
"I am very adaptable and took my service in Korea in stride. And, unlike those in combat, I would not give the experience back. It helped shape my future life in more ways than I will ever appreciate."
- Ron Haworth
I was born on November 20, 1931, in Los Angeles, California. I will soon be 82 years old. My dad was English and my mom was born in San Francisco in 1900. I attended grade school in Hollywood at Cheremoya, and often hiked to the Hollywoodland sign that is now the Hollywood sign. My aunt had a good position at Paramount. She was responsible for the law requiring kids to get schooling while on the set. I worked at Paramount on and off until I was 12 years old. I worked with Baby Leroy, Shirley Temple, W.C. Fields and others. On my wall I have a photo of Bob Hope and me taken around 1938, and a photo of me and Baby Leroy looking from behind bars when we were about three years old. We remained friends for life. Some work was on location. Two I remember because of photos were "Coming Around the Mountain" with Bob Burns and Jerry Colonna filmed at Big Bear in California and "Geronimo" with Preston Foster, Ellen Drew, Andy Devine, and Ralph Morgan, filmed at the Paramount Ranch in San Fernando Valley. The title of this 1939 movie was to become the paratroopers yell when they jumped in World War II.
Dad was a salesman. Why he chose to go to Hawaii, I don't know, but I first came to Hawaii in November 1940, turning nine years old en route on the S.S. Matsonia. My older sister by six years stayed with my aunt and uncle in Hollywood. I then attended third grade (barefooted) at Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Waikiki. This was before and after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, although schools were suspended for a time.
In the days of the famous Waikiki beach boys, the Waikiki Travern stood right on the beach where the Waikiki Police Station is today. It was here many beach boys plied their trade when not playing cards beneath a hau tree. I even shined shoes when the surf was flat for lack of adventure. Only needed one polish... black... the US Navy was in town and "a date which will live in infamy," was their destiny. A sailor off the battleship U.S.S. California often treated me to miniature golf where the International Marketplace is today. He was from Texas and I never saw him again after Pearl Harbor. We lived on Kalakaua Avenue mere barefoot steps from my now Waikiki nostalgic playground, which was never to return after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan. Barbed wire fenced the beach where I once belly-skimmed on the receding waves; machine guns poked from behind sandbags; martial law brought us blackouts; gas masks were issued.
I remember the morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor vividly. I saw a Jap silver fighter drop a bomb at a small freighter inbound that morning, but it missed and I saw the splash. This was directly seaward of where I was standing. On the 70th anniversary of the attack I revisited where I stood that morning almost to the minute, and wrote my thoughts in an e-mail to family and friends. My "baby" daughter kept a copy of what I wrote, entitled, "A Banyan of Youth". It is reprinted in this memoir's Addendum.
My dad had served in the Australian army in World War I, and I had an uncle who served in the Coast Guard during World War II. Hawaii survived World War II, but gone was the Hawaii Calls radio broadcast (it was resumed but never with the pre-war nostalgia once so mesmerizing as it had been with the sound of surf on Waikiki Beach and the lyrics of Sweet Leilani and Aloha' Oe). Boat Day was revived when Lurline and Matsonia again began service, but air travel was to do to them what the war didn't.
No non-military were allowed into Hawaii after the attack, so my family returned to California in convoy with a Navy escort (complete with submarine scare which sent us to our boat stations with life jackets) in late April 1942. After returning to the States following the attack on Pearl Harbor, I went back to Cheremoya before moving to San Diego, where I attended Horace Mann Jr. High and San Diego High. My dad wanted me to attend an English prep school, but I didn't. Instead, I worked in a panel-beating shop and played the horses while living at Mrs. Fisher's boarding house in Putarura, N.I., New Zealand. I was sixteen and fancy free, living a life of Tom Sawyer sans the river and Huckleberry Finn.
After World War II ended, I attended and graduated from University High School (UNIHI), located in West Los Angeles just blocks from Santa Monica. I ran track (100- and 220-yard dash) and was a member of the eight-man mile relay team where we finished third in the all-LA City Track Finals before 44,000 people in the Los Angeles Coliseum. We were beaten by Jefferson and Manual Arts High Schools. It is said that Jefferson that year had the best high school track team in history. That was 1950 and I was eighteen. Until then we were unbeaten.
After graduating from high school in January of 1951, I joined the U.S. Army. Leaving home and joining the Army was no big thing to me. Remember, I was sixteen in New Zealand and never homesick. I once wrote, "Good-bye Ronald. Don't Forget to Write" on those six months, and still think of them as some of the best of my life.
After starting my army life at Fort Ord, California (six weeks), I was shipped to Schofield Barracks for basic training. We were quartered in Quad C and D, which later gained notoriety in the movie From Here To Eternity. The 20th Battalion was the first of eight battalions to take basic training at the Hawaii Infantry Training Center (HITC) for deployment to Korea. All enlistees were sent there to begin training again. Our battalion numbered 1,657 men. When it was terminated in 1953 due to cost, a total of 22,500 men had been processed and trained to go to war. My own enlistment outlasted this period in Schofield Barracks history dating to 1908.
I served in Korea, SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe), and Occupied Germany. I wrote Government Issue, the story of my military career, in 2003. It is reprinted below as the central part of this memoir.
For any who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, there is one undeniable fact which becomes a part of any recruit's creed during early days of service to his/her country. The Military Manual, Chapter One, outlines it well--Never Volunteer! I broke this sacred pledge before even in uniform--I volunteered for the U.S. Army within days (7 February 1951) of graduating from University High School. Uncle Sam was waiting for me in the wings that graduation eve. I found tucked in with my diploma an extra piece of paper--a draft notice! (I should explain here that I was nineteen by six weeks due to six glorious and school-free months in New Zealand. Otherwise I would have graduated in June 1950.)
There existed a bit of Haworth lunacy in my enlistment. My dad thought it might gain me the opportunity to attend school, etc., etc. And, by a weird twist of fate, as it was to turn out, maybe it did. So I trudged off to the army recruiting office and told a bewildered recruit sergeant I wanted to sign up for three years instead of the two as a draftee. I didn't have to offer twice. He knew a good thing when it was dropped in his quota basket. I was to break this pledge twice more before receiving my honorable discharge. But first....
A funny thing happened when I was taking my physical in Los Angeles. In hindsight, in possession now of more wisdom, it might have kept me a civilian with a little acting. Perhaps it is just as well it didn't. Experiences and character building lay ahead which money couldn't buy.
I was part of a parade of young men wearing nothing but BVDs, and we all shared an uncertainty of what this day was to bring. We made our way from cubby hole to cubby hole while this doctor and that cupped, pressed, poked, pricked, squinted and spread that part of us he was responsible for passing or rejecting. Some had better anatomy itineraries than others.
Near the end of this cattle run I got to the blood test cubicle and was greeted by a name tag that read Dr. Bleed. Much to my delight, Dr. Spread was already a faceless and receding cold glove. He was a safer distance behind me, as was Dr. Cup with the long fingernails and one word vocabulary, "Cough." Way back in what is almost the dark ages, medieval medicine practiced "bleeding." This was believed a cure for anything from insanity to constipation. I was soon to wonder if my Dr. Bleed didn't still follow that witchcraft. Almost a fearless soldier, I decided to watch as my blood began to fill what to my eyes magnified to be a pint milk bottle. Hell! I was getting battle-hardened; what was a pint of blood for the good ole USA? When it neared the top I anxiously looked for some type of shut-off valve. None was in evidence. Lucky for me the phone on his desk didn't ring and divide his attention. Finally--Dr. Bleed smiled, nodded, satisfied, I still think, with the color and quantity. Oblivious of my giddiness, and with a smirk of Dracular satisfaction, he sent me on my way. I had survived!
With bent arm and a white face I proceeded a few feet to Dr. Squint and his eye chart. "Cover the left eye and read the third line from the top," he greeted. "What chart?" I asked in a wee voice I didn't recognize. "The chart on the wall." "What wallll....?" And so I swooned and hit the floor. At that moment my military career was in dire jeopardy. I should have been declared 4-F then and there. A little acting...? And to think, I was named after the actor Ronald Colman. But a bucket of water sent me off (with a lowered opinion of my manhood), carrying my medical tan manila envelope, embossed with an eagle with clutching talons, chock full of medical papers stamped, "marginal", "warm", and "1-A". Dr. Cup had even ticked "male". This was one of two choices. Not a difficult read--two it was--and is to this day.
It was then I encountered a red-blooded army sergeant--the final stop before taking the oath before Old Glory that would transform me from wet BVDs to Private Beetle Bailey--RA19396747. He didn't shake my hand or slap me on the back and welcome me to the team in a friendly fashion, but asked, after a too quick glance at my file, "Yeah, wanna go to jump school--be a paratrooper? Airborne All the Way!"
Jesus! First my life's blood and next my life! Didn't he know I got dizzy on the toilet? (Should have been in the file, I later thought.) Never volunteer! Thinking fast, I took a shallow breath so he could count the ribs, almost fainting again with the effort. The sight turned him pale. "Next!" he yelled in the direction of 180 pounds of muscle in dry shorts.
Ward of the State
Join the Army and one automatically loses any identity. Where you were once a homo-sapien, you are now a serial number (please see above). You, for all practical purposes, are a ward of the State and an object of misery. No species is lower on the "kick ass" chain than a private in basic training, not even a mutt on the leash....maybe what the dog leaves behind for the private to pick up...maybe.
My new home was to be Fort Ord outside the small town of Watsonville, California, a coastal farming community of not much interest to a city lad. It was reputed to be the artichoke capital of the world. Sin City it wasn't.
On the troop train northbound I had sat next to what I took to be a full-blooded Indian. This kid had long black hair that many teenage girls could only dream of possessing and preening. I thought of him the next day and wondered if he knew what was to come? In our first formation (a word you come to detest in basic), we were marched off to the barbershop for a free haircut. BUZZZZZ.... In an instant I went from an Ace Comb commercial to exploring bumps and creases I never knew existed. A long comb was no longer a teenage necessity. Later it came as no surprise when I once again saw "Pierre of Paris" mowing lawns in front of the officers' quarters.
A Breed Apart
Drill sergeants are a breed apart from the human race, but without them no recruit could become a soldier. Under their guidance I learned to "brush" the cracks in the wooden barracks floors, make a bed so a quarter would bounce a required height when dropped from a specific height, salute an officer (never a noncommissioned officer), and fall out at 3 a.m. (an army expression for "get your asses down on the street") repeatedly until the Man with all the chevrons was satisfied no feet touched the stairs. We also learned quickly to tear down a .30 caliber M-1 rifle and reassemble it blindfolded, fire it on the range. ("If you can see a man you can kill him with the M-1," we were proudly told again and again), and never to call it a gun. The punishment for that slip of the tongue I will spare you. It was a weapon.
Police Call was an every morning event in our barracks area. With the command, "I don't wanna see anything but assholes and elbows," we picked up any bit of lint found. I could still fieldstrip a cigarette by spilling the tobacco on the ground and pocketing the paper. Since, I have never found a use for this skill.
Mess sergeants were to have an equal piece of my hide. All through basic training I majored in Pots & Pans 101, with a minor in Spud Peeling--no doubt my just reward for not applying myself in high school classrooms. There is an expression that goes, "An army travels on its stomach", and I can vouch to this. My elbows still show the rigors of hot water and harsh army soap.
When not on KP the chow halls in my life hold a mixed remembrance. Breakfast, after a grueling stint of calisthenics under the angry eye of a drill sergeant, or latrine duty, with impersonal gaping porcelain bowls of a dozen commodes, was a brief reprieve before the next of the day's adventures. But it was essential.
A particular delight to me was a marvel of American ingenuity which many mornings simmered and steamed in large caldrons by the gallons along the chow line. American as baseball and hot dogs, creamed chipped beef on toast was not only filling, but stuck to the ribs till lunch. I never passed it up in favor of tepid powdered eggs and shriveled bacon--not even Wheaties. Anticipation always built as it was ladled to spread over a carpet of toast and fill my tray. "Hit me again," I would plead. A gourmet's delight, it has been a part of the American Army since maybe even prior to World War I. And it was likely then some soldier with a sour imagination christened it, "SOS"--not as in the famous dot-dash-dot distress call, but a whimsical, "Shit On a Shingle". I still crave it to this day.
Sunday night dinner was the meal always skipped if I had a few half dollars rattling in the fatigue pockets. There's a coin to date me. Even cooks get time off, and that menu never varied--cold cuts and other unappetizing objects were the fare. Baloney! Greasy hamburgers at the PX were the only answer. In today's Navy they go by the name, "sliders". Get the idea?
It was after six weeks of this routine that the Army in all of its wisdom siphoned all the enlistees from Fort Ord and sent us to Schofield Barracks on Oahu to commence basic once again--from the get go! We must have been the envy of the draftees who were to remain. We were leaving the wet March fog, sand dunes, and artichokes for warm trades, Kolekole Pass and pineapple. Watsonville exchanged for Waikiki--a con man's dream. One might argue it was here that my enlisting began to bear fruit. (No pun intended.) It also introduced me to my first of six troop ships.
Never Get Volunteered!
Here I will touch on the transport General Black very briefly, more to make a point on my subsequent troop ship behavior than to share cruising the Pacific. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge into a large, glassy ground swell off the port quarter. All night the good General Black pitched and rolled with her cargo of human dejection. Stacked six high on canvas laced to metal bars, many endured their first night at sea. Within arm's reach were miles of asbestos wrapped pipes! Maybe only a steel plate separated the lower stretchers from bilge water. Me--I slept with a clear conscience. Others did not.
Climbing down from aloft (I was five up), I greeted the morning on deck before finding my way below to the gang head (latrine), carrying toothbrush and towel. The sight that greeted me was of the vilest. Every wash basin, urinal and toilet was filled with vomit. The polished steel mirrors and deck were splattered. It was a scene and smell from HELL!
Obviously I wasn't going to get teeth brushed this morning. It was also obvious to me this gross mess wasn't going to be cleaned up by officers, noncoms, or even ship's crew. But "detailees" would soon be shanghaied from the midst of us. My guardian angel whispered seductively, "Hide, Ron. Hide." Quickly, back on deck I found a hatch cover and ventilator for refuge. Unseen, I reread Military Manual, Chapter 2--Never Get Volunteered! It proved to be time well spent. And in all the thousands of sea miles I logged from then to discharge I never once got caught in a "detail." Motto: Get on deck at dawn and stay on deck. The poker players down below were easy prey.
We ate meals in the "Mess". This is an army/navy word that takes some explaining on troop ships. Three times daily (no midnight buffet) we lined up on the "promenade" deck and slowly snaked our way down below to mess, but not to dine. I still vividly remember on one of my sea voyages standing for minutes in a slow line outside a porthole, beyond which officers at linen clad tables set with china, a breast of roast turkey was being passed between silver bars and gold oak leaf clusters, a white-jacketed steward stood obediently by. I still harbor this image because in our mess we STOOD face to face at long benches wide enough for two metal trays. One soon learned to hold his tray in place with the finger of one hand while shoveling with the other. Otherwise, as the ship pitched and rolled, trays would slide forward and aft and you could be forking your buddy's meal. What I did for my country!
Schofield Barracks proved to be an improvement from Fort Ord. The barracks were concrete--no wooden floors with cracks, and the toilet stalls had doors. There were three very large quads and we were billeted in Quad D. I don't think C quad was in use at the time. C quad was the very place that scenes from, "Here to Eternity" were yet to be filmed. I believe today it is a national landmark, but whether that be due to me or the movie, I cannot say.
Basic life quickly returned to normal at the Hawaii Infantry Training Center (HITC). We marched and double-timed, threw hand grenades, removed our gas masks while in the "gas" room to stumble outside crying and, some, retching. We quickly learned to keep heads down by crawling in mud beneath barbed wire and live fire. KP rosters were again posted and I served my time as "Private Pots". Obviously, we were being trained toward one objective--to serve in the infantry as foot soldiers. And the closest "in play" I knew of was Korea.
Kolekole Pass became a predictable hell. Double-timing to top and back, me carrying half my body weight with pack, nine-pound weapon at port arms. But it was the steel helmet I most loathed. I never did get it in cadence with my body rhythm. (On such a day one poor recruit fell out and rolled down an incline. He later died.)
We'd chant ditties all the while. Most I have long forgotten, but part of one went:
And so it went. Misery loves company.
It was upon returning from such a memorable bit of companionship and we were standing at ease that the company commander asked us all a simple question. "Would any of you men like to go to truck driving school? All that is needed is a driver's license." It was at this point in my life that I took the high road and in an instant when a glimmer of intelligence surfaced. I volunteered for the second time, as did eight or ten others. I gave the man what today is known as a "high five." I was no longer to be "out of luck". Kolekole, the infantry, were to become but a memory.
My recollection of truck driving draws mostly a blank. I can still see the huge mud hole we had to master when mired in above axles by winching ourselves free. And for sure it took no mechanical aptitude. This would have sent me in a quick about face to the infantry and Kolekole. Flunk chemistry and you get an F. Flunk this and I could get a CIB (Combat Infantry Badge).
Deployed to Japan
Sometime in July the recruits of HITC finally were to deploy to Japan and then Korea. All the months of training were to be put to the test in some yet unknown place in a country some couldn't locate on a globe. Others wouldn't return. All those that did survive would be changed in some way by the experience.
My parents were on the pier that bright Hawaiian day when I sailed aboard my second troop ship. I wonder what they were thinking? I must have been the more at ease, but why should I have worried? President Harry Truman called Korea a police action and Averell Harriman, "a sour little war". Sour it was. Fifty-four thousand Americans died worldwide (nearly thirty-four thousand of them died within Korean borders) in what history has indexed under, "The Forgotten War". Author James Brady, once a Marine lieutenant combat platoon leader in Korea, titled a book from experience--"The Coldest War".
Camp Drake, in or near Tokyo, was our destination upon disembarkation in Occupied Japan. It was here we were to be assigned to scores of different units throughout Korea as replacements for those men rotating stateside. Thousands jammed the chow lines, took temporary barrack assignments, drank beer and threw dice, wrote letters home, and maybe even pulled KP. No passes were granted.
If I could point to a single event which underscored my eighteen weeks of training and the perilous position I was now in, it would be issuance of dog tags. These were stamped on a machine which might have seen better days in an amusement park. The operator read our form, moved some dials, and then pulled a handle. What appeared on two metal wafers was name, serial number, blood type, and religion. At nineteen I was still a fence-sitting agnostic, so the latter read "none".
Rehearsals were over. The curtain was about to go up. I was finally to be assigned to a division in Korea. More than a thousand of us jammed a huge auditorium where we were addressed, shown a film, and then isolated by name to step forward to one of a dozen tables. The film was a World War II-vintage black and white that warned of the dangers of VD. As to be expected, several wisecracks were yelled during the presentation. The health of the penis was of great concern to the Army. How ironic, when soon a few might get shot off.
I was assigned to the 3rd Quartermaster, 3rd Infantry Division, to become a part of a division which distinguished itself in World War II fighting from Casablanca to Berchtesgaden, and in which Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II, had served. (Brady was to credit the 3rd Division with serving the most admirably of US Army units. High praise from a US Marine.)
Not Rear Echelon
My third troop ship was a short August hop on the Sea of Japan to Pusan on the southern tip of the peninsula from where we were put on a train for a long and uncomfortable journey northward. Somehow, this, too, is lost to my memory. I did reach the 3rd Quartermaster field position that was situated next to a river in terrain not unlike parts of dry Southern California. Prior to my arrival I had always thought all Quartermaster units as a rear echelon bunch inventorying mess kits and blankets, or dabbling in the black market, if so inclined. Not true.
The compound consisted of several tents, mostly for sleeping, but also the all-necessary chow tent, showers, supply, and a smaller headquarters tent. Two small latrine tents with no sides were further away--one was officer territory. Think back to M*A*S*H episodes and you have the picture. Forget the nurses! But the joy of my new home didn't hit until I was walked to my truck. Its last driver was homeward bound--now it was mine, complete with bullet hole near the driver side fender. The fact that it was the oldest in the company didn't matter a whit. No. 16 was obviously a GMC deuce-and-a-half that had a history that went back to World War II. I wished it could have spun me a tale--maybe explained the bullet hole.
Falling into the rut of a new routine came quickly. I drove, sometimes day and night, and over bad dirt roads, never seeing a paved road. The truck had doors and a cab roof of canvas, both detachable for climate changes. My weapon was a .30 caliber carbine rifle which I tucked into a scabbard by my side, much like on a horse. The standard clip was 15 rounds, but I taped another to the bottom to double the load. Somewhere in my wanderings I also "midnight" requisitioned an army .45 pistol. I mention this only because I am gleeful to also inform you I never had use for them.
The Infantry, not only the 3rd, but also the 1st Cavalry (we were the horses) was our responsibility. There was a steady movement of men to and from the front lines in relief rotations. Mostly these moves were at night and we drove in convoy under total blackout conditions. No headlights and taillights were painted over, but for a sliver. It was this red line that we followed over mountain roads. My guess is sixteen men could sit on the hinged seats and nearly double that if every inch of the bed was utilized. We also hauled gas to the front line tanks. A deuce and a half holds 18 fifty-five gallon drums (a bit of trivia), and at destination was often hand-pumped directly into the tanks. Other loads included ammo and C-rations, or just about anything an army on the move needs to function.
Surprisingly, our living conditions were quite good. The tents were large and slept about sixteen men on army cots and in mountain sleeping bags with maybe six feet between us. The floors were covered in sand brought up from the river and raked each day by a Korean tent boy. All tent boys, it turned out, went by the name Kim.
Winter brought slight discomfort when the diesel fuel froze in the rubber hoses that fed the two potbelly stoves. It was then that the sleeping bags were worth their weight in SOS, and we'd wake up to a tent roof sagging with frost or snow. But the poor bastards on the lines in bunkers would not have complained.
The final miracle was no KP. It was all done by Korean civilians. Who would have thunkit--servants! The chow was damn good, too. At evening meal a card table was set up outside with items for the taking--toothpaste, razor blades, gum, and cigarettes. I was a smoker in those days, and Lucky Strike was my brand.
For rotation purposes Korea was made up of four zones with a point system from one to four for each month of service. Depending where you were determined to a great degree how long you would be there. My unit was a four (combat), so I had nine months ahead me as it took thirty-six points to rotate. One other small benefit in a four zone was no postage. I simply wrote "free" where the stamp would have been and off it went, courtesy of the APO and Uncle Sam.
Winter was upon us in force when we learned we were to pull up tent stakes and head above the 38th Parallel and into North Korea. And it was just about this time that I decided to ask for a raise. There was a small bulletin board at HQ tent where promotions were posted monthly. My name had not appeared along with some of my peers, so I took it upon myself to ask the company clerk for an audience with our company commander so I could bridge this oversight. I was about to violate military procedure and perhaps trespass where none had before dared to go. My approach was simple and direct: "Sir, why haven't I made PFC?", I put after saluting. His immediate response is lost to history. Next posting I had my stripe and my raise.
With the winter snow, so went the summer dust. A change of uniform was necessary, but the GMCs still rolled with little pit time. The war went on, only the hardship for the foot soldiers was now possible frostbite and not heat prostration. No matter the season, our shower tent was one of the most appreciated respites the GI had to look forward to whenever possible. And it was this single feature which determined we always set up next to a river. Pumped to the tent and heated, hot showers were also worth their weight in SOS.
Truckloads of troops would enter at one end, strip, and toss dirty fatigues, underwear, and socks--in fact, every stitch except for winter caps, into piles before soaping in luxury. Finished, they collected their boots and clean clothes. We truck drivers lived there and never needed to go for days and weeks without a shower. I should have written Chapter Three of the Military Manual--When to Volunteer.
On my twentieth birthday, the 3rd Division was ordered to replace the 1st Cavalry on the front lines. This was of particular personal interest and has explained a long remembered Thanksgiving in 1951. To move two divisions by truck is no small feat, especially if mostly at night. A major operation, it must have taken many days. I can attest to this because it would have been during this time that I had three Thanksgiving dinners in different field kitchens in a period of about three days. "The right place at the right time" was never more poignant.
Into about my sixth month, my name came up for a week in Japan known as Rest and Relaxation (R&R). But when I got to Korea it was already more commonly referred to as Intercourse and Intoxication (I&I). GIs were always quick to correct any misconception. They were, themselves, an abbreviation of "Government Issue." With a sense of humor at their fate, all discomfort became a GI aberration. A soldier didn't suffer with diarrhea (SOS never the cause), but had the "GIs."
Here I draw mostly another blank (and this is not a cop-out). Flying to Japan on a cargo plane lying on bales of who-knows-what before being fed after landing, I do remember. The latter because I had what must have been a sixteen ounce T-bone and fries and two quarts of fresh milk. Then we were issued Class A uniforms complete with rank, division patch, appropriate campaign ribbons and bussed to our quarters at the R&R hotel off base. I don't even know what I did or how I got back. And, I was not a heavy drinker. I guess I had fun.
The common practice was to take back the allowed single bottle of Bourbon, which brought $60. I sold mine for almost a month's pay. We did get a small beer ration at odd times. It arrived frozen in winter and we developed a skill of placing a can on the stove to defrost, but never so long as to take off the chill.
Asleep at the Wheel
Before I rotated (and was deloused) in April 1952, I had one experience that might have been of serious consequence. We had been moving several battalions to the front over a period of three days and nights and I was getting by on a minimum of sleep grabbed in the cab during odd lulls. It was while returning empty from the final deployment that I nodded off at the wheel long enough to slide off the mountain road down an embankment. Immediately shocked awake, I braked. But the truck's momentum took over and then began to roll onto its side before reaching the bottom. I was flung across the other seat and out the open door to land on my back. Somehow the truck's body settled around me, but not on me. I wasn't scratched. Luckily my truck was empty or there would have been casualties. No. 16 was hauled up by a huge army tow truck; I explained the mishap to the CO; and GMC and PFC were soon back on the road.
Mundane Army Life
After rotation I had a 30-day leave due me. Because my home address was now Hawaii and not California, my fourth troop ship was Korea to Japan. From there I flew on a transport (with seats) via Midway and a meal to Hickam AFB. Due to the time difference, we arrived almost to the minute we left. And I had escaped a long sea voyage to California.
Army life after basic and Korea became mundane. My first choice for reassignment was Fort MacArthur in San Padre, and it came down with orders. Here I was scant miles from my old high school in West LA and friends I had left only fifteen months before. Sweaters and skirts, filled with girls that bounced and walked like girls, once again filled my imagination. Inspections again became the norm and I was in the motor pool more bored than happy.
After several months of this tame existence I was transferred to the Military Police on post. Why me, I still can't figure. These new duties saw me on a beat in San Pedro driving a staff car identified as MP in big white letters. It went with my armband and helmet. My office was in the post guard house where another duty was to call roll call some mornings to a gang like in the movie, "Dirty Dozen". I still weighed less than 155 pounds despite the intake of SOS, and I kept my distance.
When rotated out of a Korean combat zone, the GI was guaranteed one year stateside before he could again be sent overseas. I had about three months left when I was given the opportunity to be reassigned to France and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). Ike was now President, and I was needed to fill the void. I volunteered. And because France was not an occupied country (but should have been), the Army gave me a passport, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and troop ship number five beckoned.
Duty in France
SHAPE headquarters was at Versailles and spit and polish magnified by ten power, but my orders read Detachment 1, and that was forty miles away in Fontainebleau, where army life was more pleasant. A smallish village, it boasted one of Napoleon's chateaus, complete with gold bath fixtures and a glass case containing his (he might have had more than one) famous hat. I still have black and whites of me around there in civvies and uniform. One hotel in the village served the best steak, French fries, and sliced tomato sprinkled with chopped onion. Toss in two beers and I'd be the first to admit the duty was first rate. But it wasn't to last, and my first run-in with an officer was about to ruffle the waters.
I had taken to a hobby at some point of developing my own photos and even had a small darkroom set up under the CO's office. This was to prove the beginning of my downfall. I ruined a roll of film the CO had entrusted to me with a bad acid/bath mixture. To make matters worse, they were nude photos of his girlfriend in very suggestive positions. I then followed this snafu by driving through the gate by his office window with my tailgate, unbeknownst to me, hanging off the rear of the truck. The truck rattled like hell anyway due to the cobblestone street. I was pressing him to the breaking point and he grounded me--stripped me of my GMC, and gave me a broom to double-clutch.
It was during my day as "Pfc. Broom" that the third and final disaster sent me off to Germany to join the 1st Infantry Division which had landed at Normandy on D-Day. The Det. 1 compound had an unexpected visit by some French high-ranking brass--led by General De Gaulle! It seemed French generals like to inspect troops (sure can't fight worth a damn), even if in working fatigues. I was grabbed with others for a quick "lineup". Worst luck, I stood in the front row (sans my broom) as he swaggered before this ragtag group at attention. Stopping before me, he asked in accented English, "What's your job here, Soldier?" "I'm a sweeper, Sir.", I blurted, thinking short term rather than long. Jesus! The CO nearly had apoplexy! And De Gaulle, not trusting his translation into French, didn't know whether to shit or go blind! The only reason I got to Bamberg, Germany with my stripe is that I still had the ruined, but recognizable, pictures. My personnel file jacket probably had a note that said I should never be allowed within eyesight of a high-ranking officer of any army.
Bamberg was in the US Zone of occupied Germany a tad north of Nuremberg, where the War Trials had taken place. We spent most of the time on maneuvers, but unlike Korea, we had a Cold War confronting us and the nearest threat was not far to the east in Czechoslovakia.
What was most noticeable to me were the little things like place names and people. The Danube and Rhine Rivers replaced the Yesong and Han. Hard to pronounce Korean village names, mostly resembling untidy haystacks, were now German with names recognizable because of World War II destruction by Allied bombers. Kids in short leather pants, yet unborn when their country was a rubble heap, asked for candy whenever we stopped in a village, whereas, in Korea, Papa-San with wispy white chin hairs and his walking stick had preceded Mama-San by ten yards with A-frame on her back loaded with the pitiful family possessions. They followed the Pied Piper of battle along dirt roads, south and then north, with the misfortunes of a different war, always quickly obscured in summer by a GMC's dust.
My trucks (No. 13 and 40) were newer, bigger, and armed with a .50 caliber machine gun. The tanks still needed to be refueled and the ammo hauled. The field kitchens still produced SOS, and whether at basic, Korea, at sea, or in Germany, SOS was certainly the forerunner of McDonalds. It always looked and tasted the same--DELICIOUS.
Incidentally, I only went into Bamberg once, even though I was stationed almost walking distance away. About five years ago we did a 16-day Uniworld four rivers trip and Bamberg was one of the day stops. I found it to be very quaint, even charming, and it was my favorite stop. It had no military significance and, therefore, was untouched by the bombing. Famous for 'smoked' beer', I had a pint and smoke flavor it was.
And on the other side of the Atlantic the Dodgers and Yankees were pitted again in a World Series. (The Yankees won in six games.) My time was growing short. Finally, it was Bremerhaven and the troop ship General Patch. I felt a veteran wearing the Big Red One on my left sleeve and Audie Murphy's old patch on the right. I had five ribbons, one with a bronze service star, but not a CIB.
It was a special moment to sail past the Statue of Liberty on a bleak December day and slip past the skyline of New York. A brief stay at Kilmer and I was off to Camp Stoneman in the Bay Area, where I was discharged 22 December 1953 and waved out the gate. Two years, ten months, and sixteen days I was in uniform, and did they season me for a life ahead? Absolutely. I certainly don't begrudge them. But if I had a single bitch it would be that SOS never made it into a C-ration can.
I was twenty-one by a month and my future military obligations were written in bold type on my separation papers: EXEMPT FROM INDUCTION EXCEPT AFTER A DECLARATION OF WAR OR NATIONAL EMERGENCY. A weekend warrior I would never be.
Government Issue is not, and could not have been, the memoirs of a young soldier's fear or heroism in battle. Those epic conflicts and torments were written in The Red Badge of Courage, laying bare the agonized mind and actions of a young Union Army soldier in the Civil War. Rather (in composition identified as "Basic and Beyond"), it is simply a personal observation of my experiences as playing the hand I was dealt. In the whole, no different from millions of GIs who went before me and millions who have since served their country and do to this hour. The incidents related are true and accurate as can be within a fifty-year memory span margin of error. It was meant as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to those who give up a few years, whether voluntary or not, so that we may remain free to dissent if we so choose.
Distilled blood and tears and sacrifice have preserved and kept America the greatest nation the world has ever known. But there are those who would have it otherwise. They wish to bring America down to their level. Even as I write, the 3rd Infantry Division is poised to go into Baghdad. Joe and Jane are volunteers and certainly better trained, their equipment more awesome, and their resolve no less steeled than the young who have answered the call to serve in two World Wars and Korea in the mighty 3rd Infantry Division, nicknamed "Rock of the Marne", earned from a pivotal World War I battle in France. Some will bleed and the red badge of courage which beats within GI Joe will yet again prove America's finest and renewable natural resource. I wish them safe passage and a speedy victory.
Memories of Schofield
Today I visited the 25th Infantry Division Museum at Schofield Barracks. This division is permanently based there and was one of the first US divisions sent into Korea after the North Koreans invaded South Korea. My visit, however, was on a far more personal nature than learning about a unit in which I didn't serve. It is here that the short history of the Hawaii Infantry Training Center is stored and catalogued. I found I was correct in always believing that I was in the initial group to train at Schofield. In fact, I was a member of the 22nd Company, 20th Battalion, and my company commander was Capt. Arthur Rutherford. It is to him that I owe a hand on a steering wheel and not a finger on a trigger.
We started training 6 April 1951 and finished 14 July, so my memory has served me well. (Some unusual dates of my army days later had more meaning. Mainly: I enlisted 7 February (wife Dee's birthday), was discharged 22 December (one day before son Rex's birthday), and started HITC 6 April (two days after daughter Tracy's birthday), not to slight my three Thanksgiving meals on and around my 20th birthday.
Each of the eight battalions to train at Schofield have a group photo and roster of names. While the picture quality was not sufficient to find my face without a spyglass, I was listed in alphabetical order. By counting names I can see our battalion was about 1400 strong, certainly enough to fill a troop ship and for me to get "lost" when details were formed. This is probably why I never made "recruit of the week."
Many random photos of training exercises I don't recall having partaken in--like scaling walls and swinging from ropes over obstacles. Perhaps I was already scaling walls and swinging from ropes over obstacles. Perhaps I was already caressing a GMC. If so, thank you, Captain Rutherford. There is not a mention of this truck driving school, so I shall go unheralded in HITC lore, but I shall always be a hero to those I briefly took off their feet and gifted with C-rations.
I made two donations this morning--$1 and a photo of me with two other recruits (not a Rambo in the bunch) standing in the middle of Quad D. And finally, I have pinpointed Yonchon on the Imjim River, where we were headquartered north of the 38th and in North Korea (it is here the "untidy" haystack photo was taken), and also north of the Kansas Line, a fall-back fortification I hauled logs to with Korean laborers. (Yonchon was in North Korea when I was there, and just below what was known as the "Iron Triangle". It is now in South Korea.) Once in Switzerland, while on a train between Interlaken and Grindelwald I mentioned Yonchon and my service to a Korean tourist. He embarrassed me by standing, and with a bow, profusely thanked me for his country. Maybe he had poor vision and I did look like Rambo.
So, my children, Gen. Douglas MacArthur once said, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." Wrong! They hang around to bore you with the written word.
I had no trouble adjusting to civilian life after leaving the Army. I had no stress in the Army to overcome. It was just an adventure paid for by Uncle Sam--room and board, travel, foreign countries that included cities like Paris, French girls.... Okay, perhaps I'm being a bit glib here, but I was right out of high school and fancy free with no responsibilities. And as I have written, I accepted them when they did arrive, maybe because of the Army.
I enrolled in Long Beach City College on the GI Bill while working at Douglas Aircraft swing and graveyard shifts on the DC7 and DC8. These hours allowed me to go to school three-fourths and full-time. It was here my interest in writing bloomed. I only wish that I had had this interest in Korea. While in Korea I took no notes or photos. I was stupid. Today I would be the second coming of Ernie Pyle, but youth truly is wasted on the young.
I never thought of running track with my full schedule, even though Mel Patton might still have been track coach. Patton attended UNIHI about six years before me and was unofficially clocked at the 1948 London Olympics in the 100 meters at 9.3 seconds. This earned him the title, "World's Fastest Human".
While attending Long Beach City College , I took courses in business and creative writing, and while far from an "A" student, I did get an "A" in both. I wrote several articles on paipo and body surfing that were published in surfing magazines in the 1960s. Additionally, I wrote the Surf Spray column in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin from 1966 to 1973. My writing was usually accepted by magazines no matter the subject. I also wrote fiction for men's pulp before zeroing in on surfing.
After graduation from college in January 1961, my family and I moved to Pacific Beach where I began a correspondence course with Famous Writers School. One of the founders was Rod Sterling (TV series Twilight Zone) and it was here that I sold my first pulp fiction, Desire In The Dew. Finding that check in P.O. Box 1745, La Jolla, was a thrill and I was hooked. Later I wrote pulp under the pseudonym P. B. Penthouse. My love was fiction. If I have a favorite fiction it is Makaha Magic Trunks which appeared in Surfer Magazine.
In 1962 I came to Hawaii with wife and daughter, $360, and a crumpled pack of cigarettes. The rest is history--and all without government assistance, thank you very much. In fact, they did nothing but get in the way. I will always smile (not at the time) at the reaction of the Honolulu Federal employee when I reported to Federal Building to continue drawing unemployment and was told because I had been in a plane and unavailable for work I didn't qualify for that week's payment. I don't think there were any direct flights between Long Beach and Honolulu. I do remember only United and Pan Am served HNL from California, but I did buy the tickets in Long Beach and that sparked the United representative's question: "One-way!" I guess back then Hawaii was only a tourist destination. The die was cast for better or worse. Yes, eight hours from Long Beach to Honolulu ushered me into a life where I never again drew a dime from the government in unemployment, welfare, or food stamps, but I lost a week's benefits! Your government at work! A sight to behold!
Like riding a bike, I had taught myself how to surf at a young age. (My love of the water stays with me even today.) I first body surfed at Old Mission Beach in San Diego, also Windansea and La Jolla Cove with the right swell, and Waiheke Island near Auckland. I was thirteen. My first Churchills were blue synthetic hard (World War II vintage) rubber. In 1949 and 1950, I body surfed at State Beach, Santa Monica.
Somehow I acquired a board with a split near the nose and was befriended by one or more carefree beach boys. It became "mine" but never left the beach. I learned to surf here. On big days I surfed the backwash off the Traven foundation. I had always had a fear of the ocean lapping around my feet on the beach until I learned to swim in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. As corny as it might sound, the moment my feet left the bottom I remember turning seaward and breast stroking toward the surf. The Pied Piper beckoned.
For me the perfect wave was Point Panic. It was usually not crowded and the waves were meant for a single surfer, something about how they formed and feathered into the channel. A summer break of perfection. When I did a Surf Spray on Dave Rochlen in 1966, he mentioned his favorite south shore break was Incinerators and described the wave. Now it overlays my memory of Point Panic. If you have never seen this break, it is off a breakwater/landfill and not at all hospitable for entering or exiting the water. I seem to recall there was an incinerator (perhaps long smokeless) in the area. Point Panic was a most unique wave. I know I surfed it with my right arm hanging over the back of the curl. (If you think of an envelope and where you insert a letter opener, this is the perfect body surfing position at Point Panic. The envelope flap is the wave.) I was always high, never on the bottom, and of all the waves I surfed, none left me with more realization that I was a part of a brief creation of nature.
I wrote twenty non-fiction and fiction articles on paipo and surfing that were published in surfing magazines in the 1960s. Additionally, I also wrote my weekly Surf Spray column in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin from 1966 to 1973. I had realized there was no local representation for the sport in the surfing Mecca of the world, so I sold the idea to Jim Hackleman, Star-Bulletin sports editor and filled the need. (Jim just recently died at age 86.) This was to bring me notoriety and lead to escorting Dr. Harry Huffaker in his successful Hawaii history-making channel swims and my front page coverage of his deeds. Harry is now in both the Hawaii and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. This notoriety was not overlooked by the president of the Outrigger Canoe Club and I was offered, and accepted, the position of OCC public relations, which I held for five years. My high school English teachers would have shook their heads in disbelief. I am particularly proud of being presented with a Golden Duke trophy, presented to me by Duke Kahanamoku for "outstanding contribution to surfing" Duke was a gold medalist in Olympic swimming and is considered the "daddy" of modern day surfing. His exploits in huge Waikiki surf are fable.
Hardware Trends Hawaii
In 1971, Chuck Fitzgerald and I started Hardware Trends Hawaii, Inc. This was a construction supply company furnishing door locks and other door hardware. It left no time for freelance writing. The nut needed to be cracked every month to pay bills and feed my family. The company is now operated by my son, and has expanded into hollow metal doors and frames. The largest job I did was Hawaiian Village Tapa Tower with over 1,000 rooms.
The Korean War was called a United Nations "police action" in the beginning. It now carries the nickname, "The Forgotten War." I have read why that term is used, but at the moment it has escaped me. It isn't forgotten by those who were there. I wrote Government Issue because I thought my children should have an idea of my life in those days. And, I enjoy writing. That is why it is tongue-in-cheek. There is not enough humor in this world.
I truly never gave it a thought as to whether Korea was a country worth fighting for and losing American lives, but the United States sending troops to Korea in the first place might have been the only UN action I would agree was justified. I think we might have hampered Russian influence in the region. As a PFC, an opinion on the serious mistakes that the UN or USA might have made during the Korean War is above my pay grade. But I have read that intelligence was ignored or not passed up the chain of command, and we should have been better prepared. Our forces in Japan were soft and untrained for the most part, and the armed services were being cut to the bone.
My time in Korea was mundane. As I mentioned in Government Issue, I played the hand dealt me to the best of my ability. I served. I have had no contact with anyone I met in Korea, and don't remember a single name or face. But it was an experience that money can't buy. It shaped me for what was yet to come and I am glad it happened.
I was nineteen then, and going back sixty-two years it is not sharp as if it just happened last week. I remember general landscape, hot and dusty driving conditions in summer, cold and snow in winter, and guard duty in a bunker at the entrance to the compound. I remember once making the mistake of pulling at a belt protruding from the ground on a hill and pulling up part of a stomach. I once wandered into one of our tents to find a kid my age on the table with a blue/black hole between his eyes. Made me think.
We were in harm's way by the nature of the beast and certainly when on the road with cargo and troops. I recall blackout driving on mountain roads. Bed Check Charlie (an enemy plane) flew over most nights, but I didn't stay on the front lines in a bunker. I once delivered fuel to a tank and was cautioned to keep my head down as the enemy was on the hill across the valley. I could see the hill and movement.
I'm sure guys were killed that I went through basic with, but I have no knowledge of this as I never saw them again after Camp Drake. Don't forget, we were assigned all over Korea to many outfits, and none went with me to 3rd Quartermaster. It was different for those who deployed as a unit and served together for the duration. I returned with neither scared body nor scared mind.
I mentioned showers in Government Issue, and they were a blessing. Watch M*A*S*H and you will see our quartermaster camp, but less tents and no wisecracks or nurses. There were no road bombs then. We had no real contact with the natives. Their homes in our area were "untidy haystacks". In the ruins--or near ruins of one I remember that there was a hole in the floor where they heated the place in winter and cooked. In the rear many were still standing, whereas I was working on the Kansas Line with troops. I learned a few odd "native" words and later discovered that they were Japanese words, not Korean. This was due to the long occupation of Korea by Japan.
I never saw a USO show while I was in Korea and the only contact I ever had with the Red Cross was on a pier in New York upon returning from Germany for discharge. I got a doughnut and some coffee from them. In Korea I got letters from my parents and once received a package of cookies from my high school girlfriend, Marion Adams. "Leisure time" in Korea did not offer a corner pub or dance hall. We were in the middle of nowhere and beyond, and there were no weekend passes.
My company received a citation for the time period before I got to Korea. The 3rd Infantry Division was involved in the evacuation of Wonsan, North Korea before my time. Had I not gone to New Zealand and missed six months of school, and had all events not occurred as they later did, I would have been in Korea in late 1950 soon after the Inchon invasion and the Pusan breakout. I would not have gone to Schofield and would not have been a truck driver. I would have been a rifleman. That is FATE. I am very adaptable and took my service in Korea in stride. And, unlike those in combat, I would not give the experience back. It helped shape my future life in more ways than I will ever appreciate.
World War II had to be fought and won for humanity. Korea was a skirmish in comparison. I never felt the "less respect" aspect that some Korean War veterans feel, but can understand it. Some guys went from both World War II and the Korean War to Vietnam. Now that is service. Whether in a war or not is an accident of birth. I was too young for World War II, but ripe for Korea. My sons haven't "a war" to their name, and that is a blessing. My dad was World War I. In 1096 you had the Crusades. Mankind has not gained an ounce of common sense since he slithered from the mud, and, in my opinion, never will.
REMEMBERING PEARL HARBOR
A Banyan of Youth - written December 7, 2011
OBSERVATIONS FROM NATIONAL
MEMORIAL CEMETERY OF THE PACIFIC