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"I think it is because we were so young, so far away from home, in such a strange place, under such extreme conditions."
- George Hubbard
Fort Scooba – May 1950
On May 4, 1950, my eighteenth birthday, I joined the National Guard at Scooba, Mississippi. I was so proud of that uniform and those GI boots. I would wear those boots every chance I got. In July, we headed for summer camp and got as far as Meridian, Mississippi, where we met other guard units. We were told that our commanding officer had received a phone call. When he returned, he told us we were going back home to be inducted into the Army in two weeks. We were to go to Fort Benning, Georgia. The camp area had been shut down since World War II and was not prepared for us, so we went on active duty and stayed in Scooba. We lived in the dormitory where we had been living while we were in school…only now we were in the Army. We had to march everywhere we went. We had to clean the windows and commodes, and had to scrub the floor with a hand brush. We had to get a pass to go to town at night. Some of the guys could see their homes from the campus, but still had to get a pass to go home. We called it "Fort Scooba." One time our officers ran out of things for us to do, so they lined us up in formation and told us that we were going to have a class in "concealment and camouflage." They wanted us to go hide in the woods behind the school, and they "damned well better not find us until supper time."
Fort Benning, Georgia – August 1950
After two weeks, we were sent to Fort Benning, Georgia. Immediately upon arrival, we had to cut grass and clean the barracks because they were not ready. We were put in an area called Harmony Church where we trained for one year. I was the lowest rank because I had just joined the Army. "Recruit" it was called. After three months of basic training I made Private. Then we began training to be medics and I watched the bulletin board to find a school to go to. The first school was a driving school. I got a license to drive a jeep, an ambulance and a 6 by 6 truck. Whenever we went on a long march, I drove an ambulance behind the troops to pick up the ones that could not make it.
Jimmy Aust and I signed up for a projectionist school. Finishing that, we showed training films to the troops. Because I had a license to drive, I drove a company jeep about eight miles to the library on the main base, checked out the film, brought it back, showed it, carried it back to the library and checked it back in. It would take half the day just to show one movie.
They sent us to work in the hospital where we cleaned bedpans and did other dirty work. While we were there, the General’s driver got sick and went into the hospital. Because I had an Army driver’s license, they had me driving the staff car for the General. All I had to do was keep his car clean and polished. The General’s car had red tags on the front and rear bumpers. Each tag had two stars on it signifying Major General. These were kept covered when the General was not in his car. When he called, I took the car around to the front of the hospital for him. I held the door open and saluted him when he got in. After he was inside the car, I removed the covers from each tag. Then I drove him wherever he wanted to go.
When our time there was up, we were sent back to our Company (123 Medical Collecting Company) for more training. There was an Arkansas National Guard next to us that was shipping out to Korea that took all our men to help fill up their company. All that was left in our Company was the group that was to train a new company. I had just been in the Army six months myself. Because of this, they made me a PFC (Private First Class – one stripe). Then as soon as possible, they made me a corporal (two stripes). The new recruits thought I was an old veteran because I was training them. I was 18 years old and had been in the Army six months. Most of them were twenty-two years old. We took them through basic training, which was boring and very hot. Again, I watched the bulletin board for schools, and I found another one – Life Guard School. That sounded great ,as I would be splashing around in the pool while the other guys were marching, etc. I signed up and was accepted. It lasted two weeks and was great fun, but now I knew I had to go back to training. However, I was selected to be a lifeguard at the officer’s club. So I spent the summer at the pool. I only was on duty five hours a day and could order a meal from the officer’s club free. I was making corporal’s pay from the Army and the officer’s club paid me $35 a week also, which was a lot in 1951. Some young lieutenants would be horsing around and I would blow my whistle and say, "Stop that!" They didn’t know I was just a corporal. The other lifeguards were officers’ kids (Army brats), and I ran around with them. I went with them to their homes and to places on and off the Army base, and no one ever knew I was in the Army. When summer was over, I had to go back to my Company.
Some of my best friends were being sent overseas (which we knew was Korea). I felt that the guys that went overseas would get the GI Bill, which would pay for them to go to college four years. The GI Bill of Rights provided unemployment and education allowances to veterans. [Later, I received $110 a month and paid for books and tuition out of that.] I was afraid that I would not get the GI Bill. It had not been passed at that time and we didn’t know. So I volunteered to go overseas with my friends (Pop Bryan, Gene Bryan, and Jimmy Aust). We went home on leave; then met again in Meridian to get on a train for Camp Stoneman, California. We loaded on the train and took our seats. The train workers unloaded three military caskets draped in American flags and parked them right outside our window. Pop said that was the three guys we were going to replace.
Traveling to Camp Stoneman, California – July 1951
The train pulled out and I lay back and went to sleep. Later, when I awoke and looked out the window, there was
nothing but water as far as I could see. I thought, "Man, we are going across the ocean on a train!" Someone
explained that we were crossing Lake Pontchartrain close to New Orleans, Louisiana, and we were traveling along a
twenty-six mile bridge.
The Army issued us all kinds of equipment—packs, M-1 rifles, etc. They gave us a lot of shots that were supposed to help protect us while overseas. The worst one of all was called a "shick-test," I think. They gave that shot on the underside of each wrist and it burned like a hot coal of fire stuck to us.
Shipping Out – August 1951
Pop Bryan shipped out first. We were hoping that we could all go together. Then Gene Bryan and Jimmy Aust shipped out and I was left alone—with a million other soldiers. I made friends with "Frenchy" from Louisiana. We went to movies (on the base, they would not let us leave the camp). We were buddies for two days, and then he shipped out. There is one thing you learn while in the Army. That is, to make friends for one day, one week, or maybe for one hour, then it is over and you never see them again!
I finally got orders to ship out. We had a full pack on our back and carried a new M-1 rifle. We went up a gangplank onto the ship. As we boarded the ship, there was a guy checking off the names. He would say our last name, "Hubbard" and I would say "George E." and then get on the ship. This was a nice ship named the "General DI Sultan" pictured left.
Taking a shower in salt water makes your hair feel like someone poured syrup in it. Salt water will not lather, no matter how much soap you use. You feel dirty after taking a shower. Some mornings I would walk out on deck, look around and say, "This looks like the same place we were yesterday." Some wise guy would always say, "There’s land about five miles," and we would ask, "Where?" He would say, "Straight down." We slept in beds about the size of a stretcher, that hung one on top of the other about six or eight high. They were so close together that you could hardly roll over. If you got in on your back, you had to stay that way all night. If you raised a knee up, you would bump the guy above you, and if someone snored he would get bumped really hard.
The bathroom commodes were just toilet seats spaced a couple of feet apart above a long trough. The trough had one end slightly lower than the other with water fed into the high end so that it slowly traveled from the high end to the low end underneath all the toilet seats (12 or 15 in a row). We would catch some unsuspecting guy sitting on the pot reading a book, minding his own "business." Then we would roll up a big wad of toilet paper, squirt a little lighter fluid on it, put it in the trough, light it, and let it float down until it went underneath him. He would jump up and holler, "Yeeoww!"
When the sea was a little rough, using the bathroom became a problem. As the ship would rock to one side, everything in the trough would go to one end and splash up against the wall, then it would rock the other way. The guys would yell, "high tide," and everybody would grab their pants around their knees and duck walk out to the middle of the floor. Everything in the trough would then hit the other side and splash up against the opposite wall. There would be five or six guys squatting in the floor, holding their pants around their knees. When the ship settled down, they would duck walk back and sit down. That is, until someone yelled, "High tide!" again. In rough seas, it was wise not to sit on those end toilets.
Eating meals was fun. We ate out of metal trays and had tables welded to poles that rose from the floor to the ceiling. The tables were about four feet high. We had to stand up to eat because there were no chairs. In rough seas, the ship would rock and we would grab the edge of the table and hold on. The trays would all slide down to one end of the table—Bang! Bang! Bang! We would hold on and wait for the ship to rock the other way, keeping an eye on our own tray. We could grab it when it came back by. Sometimes a guy would get seasick and when your tray went by, he would throw up in it. It would nearly ruin your dinner.
My mother always said, "What is to be, will be." When we left Hawaii, sitting out on deck of the ship, I wondered if I would ever come back or was my life over. If it was, I didn’t have much life, all I had ever done was go to high school. I thought, "I’ll bet God already knows whether I make it back or not. I’ll bet it is already written down somewhere and there is nothing I can do about it. Oh well, what is to be, will be."
We talked about getting some pussy when we got to Japan. An old veteran, who had been there before, said, "You know how Japanese girls’ eyes slant cross-wise? Well, their pussy goes cross-wise, too. We all laughed and said, "Aw shit." But we could not help but wonder and we would find another veteran and ask him. He would swear that it goes cross-wise just like their eyes. We knew these guys were putting us on, but still we wondered. This got to be big thing with us and we could hardly wait to get to Japan to find out. Finally, we got there and got a pass to go to town. The first thing we did was get us a girl. The girl said, "How come GI always lookee-lookee first?"
Haircut in Japan – August 1951
We were probably in Japan about two weeks before getting shipped to Korea. The only thing that I remember about this time was a haircut. They had all Japanese barbers and I was afraid of them. I figured they were still mad at us from World War II. They did not use electric clippers, only scissors, but could make them clip fast like they were electric. I was afraid he was going to cut my ear off. I could not understand a thing he said, but he pulled up his shirt and showed me a scar across his stomach. He said, "GI", so I knew he was wounded by an American bayonet in World War II. Then he said something, I did not know what, but I thought he was finished and was asking if that was OK. So I said, "Yes! Thank you." He hit me behind the neck with a karate chop and I thought, "Oh, God! He is going to kill me!" Then he started to massage my shoulders and neck. It turned out that he had only asked me if I wanted a massage.
Unloading in Korea – September 1951
We were put on a ship to Korea. We landed at Inchon. We walked off the ship with those heavy packs on our backs. I thought we were there to save the poor, mistreated people and they would be so thankful. There were two thousand of them sitting on the hillside watching us unload. They pointed and laughed as they smoked their long stem pipes. There were enough of them to have saved themselves. Later I found out that they had always been under someone’s domination since way back to Genghis Khan. Our coming in there did not mean anything to them. We were just another side-show coming to town.
25th Division Shoulder Patch
The shoulder patch of the 25th Infantry Division is a shield-shaped taro leaf split by a lightning bolt. The taro leaf is native to Hawaii where the division was activated from elements of the old Hawaiian Division on October 1, 1941. It was ordered into combat in Korea July 5, 1950.
A term applied to soldiers because everything they had was Government Issue. They had Government Issue boots, hats, clothes…everything! It was shortened to G.I. and eventually they called soldiers that also.
We were sent to Yong-dong-po where they assigned us as needed. I was sent to the Medical Battalion of the 25th Infantry Division, Ambulance Company. They sent me to the 2nd platoon that was with the 35th Infantry Regiment on the front line. About a month later our platoon of ten ambulances was re-assigned to the 27th Wolfhound Regiment near the town of Kumwha. The Wolfhound Regiment was a good fighting outfit with a lot of pride and good records as far back as during World War II. I spent the rest of my tour with the Wolfhounds and was proud to be with them.
King – September 1951
Every outfit had a big liar in it and every outfit had a scrounger (a guy that could get something nobody else could). But we had both in the same guy. His name was King. He claimed to have a Norwegian-speaking, German wife that lived in Brazil. One time he went hunting with a carbine and came back with two pheasants. He claimed he shot them while they were flying. They were shot through the head. We didn’t believe him, but we didn’t care because they tasted good. I told him that I would do his job for him if he would keep hunting and telling lies.
When we went back in reserve, the Army couldn’t furnish us with squad tents. They said they just weren’t available. King went to Seoul with a load of blankets and junk in his ambulance. A couple of days later he came back with two brand new squad tents, two heaters, three 45 cal. pistols (that only officers were supposed to have), and two grease-guns (a full automatic 45 cal. gun with a short wire stock). Someone later said he was seen in Seoul in a captain’s uniform with an engineer insignia on it.
Showers – October 1951
They had showers set up in a creek with something to heat the water and something to pump water. We turned in our clothes at the shower, keeping only our boots and personal belongings. We took a shower and were given clean clothes – not new, but clean. We only got to do this about once a month, so it was a real treat!
Wash Your hands Before You Eat – October 1951
One time we hauled patients all night. We drove without lights, sometimes six or eight miles, in low gear because we could not see good enough to go faster. I unloaded my patients and went to the chow line for breakfast. I got my mess kit full, took my steel helmet off, turned it upside down and sat on it. I was eating, about half asleep, when I noticed my fingers and hands were covered with dried blood. I remember how Mama used to say, "Wash your hands before you eat." But I went on eating because Mama wasn’t there and I figured I would wash them later.
Chow Lines– November 1951
Each man carried his own mess kit, consisting of two plates, a knife, a fork and a spoon made of metal. We had a cup made of metal that fit around our canteen when not in use We would line up and the cooks would put food in our plates, and coffee in our cups: most of the time we had cooks and chow lines for a noon meal, sometimes for breakfast and sometimes not at all, depending on how busy we were or where we were. Farther down the line were razor blades, gum and candy. The Baby Ruth candy bar was the best. Nestle Chocolate Bars were the worst because they had faded to a gray color. At the end of the line were cigarettes. Lucky Strike and Camels were the best. There were no filters in them except Kools. The Lucky Strike and Camels would be gone quickly, leaving Kools, Picayunnes, Chesterfields, and Philip Morris. I always picked up some and kept them in my ambulance. We would always light a cigarette and hand it to a wounded man on the litter (stretcher). One of us drove while the other was in the back with the wounded.
We would eat anywhere we could: most of the time we took our helmets off, turned them upside down and sat on them. We wore a plastic helmet liner and the steel helmet fit over it. That "steel pot" as we called it, was the most useful thing we had. We put hot water in it to shave and wash our face, hands and feet. Sometimes that was the best we could do for weeks at a time. We also washed our socks and underclothes in it. We even put gasoline in it to clean our ambulance engine. We had to wash our own mess kit and cup. We used a big garbage can with a heater in it to wash in, then another one to rinse in.
Pen Pals – November 1951
We wanted some pen pals to write to, so we made a list of all our names and addresses. Then we mailed them to my hometown paper (of course, we left my name off because I wouldn’t want my folks and girlfriend to know I was asking for pen pals.) Then we sent the list to someone else’s hometown and left his name off and added mine. We got lots of mail! The funny part was that the girls from my hometown were my old schoolmates and I knew them. They would write these other guys. Some sent pictures of the most beautiful girl in school and said that was them. Some sent pictures of the rich people’s houses and said that was where they lived. I laughed at those letters. They didn’t know that their old schoolmate was reading them.
Bed Check Charlie
The chinks had a guy in an airplane that sounded like a piper cub. It would go putt-putt-putt! He would come over at night and throw out hand grenades or sometimes only junk like bottles or cans, just to aggravate us. We called him "Bed-check Charlie." Our anti-aircraft guns up on the side of the hill would blast away at him with their Quad-fifties and when they quit, we would listen and still hear putt-putt-putt. They never did get that guy!
Grady Hopper – November 1951
One night I hauled some wounded men back to a medical unit and as I was unloading, a guy there said, "Hey, I know you. I am Grady Hopper from Scooba." I said, "I am George Hubbard from Scooba." He had just gotten there and was happy to see someone from home. We visited each other the whole time we were over there and told each other the hometown news. We have remained friends all our lives. Grady is now in a veterans nursing home. He was a good man.
Catholic Priest – December 1951
We had a Catholic priest either with us or near by. I don’t know if they were assigned certain areas. I suppose so, but anyway, I never saw any other chaplain, maybe because they were assigned somewhere else. This guy was with us everywhere we went! He would sit in the bunker and drink beer with us. He was out in the cold weather with us. He was up all night with us when we were busy. He was right there when the wounded men wanted him. We liked him a lot. He was like a friend to us all.
Christmas Day – December 1951
They sent me to follow a convoy to the east coast on Christmas Day. The snow was very deep over there, and it was cold. Cox (my assistant driver) and I would swap driving every hour. I would drive for an hour until my feet and hands were frozen and felt like stumps, then I would get in the back of the ambulance where the heater was and thaw out. For Christmas dinner that day, I got some communication wire that was strung all along the road. I took a couple of C-rations and tied them to the exhaust manifold on the engine. When my hour of driving was up, I took the cans off and had a good hot meal.
Chicken Catcher – January 1952
Don McLain from Carbondale, Illinois was a good old boy, but every time we got a beer ration, he would buy all he could from people that didn’t drink. We had a new platoon sergeant just shipped in to us and McLain didn’t like him at all. He was a R.A. (Regular Army) sergeant first class and he was bald-headed with just a ring of hair around his head. We all sat around drinking beer. McLain would hold a beer can right on the top with his thumb and first finger and he would swing it back and forth like a gallon bucket with a handle on it. He would pace back and forth in front of the sergeant saying things like, "Boys, did you ever see a bald-headed chicken catcher? Well, here’s one. He looks just like a bald-headed chicken catcher." He kept that up until the sergeant got mad and jumped up and took a swing at him. Then they locked up and rolled on the floor. Sarg had a grip around McLain’s neck and McLain was choking Sarg. McLain’s face got red and Sarg’s head got red, then blue and it looked like they were going to kill each other. The rest of us didn’t care if they did. One of our little Korean houseboys ran and got one of the officers. He came and broke it up. He also put all of us on report for not stopping it. They made us dig a ditch with picks and shovels in the frozen ground for punishment. Guess who they put in charge of this detail? The bald-headed chicken catcher!
Officer’s Foxhole – January 1952
The Medical units had 190% proof grain alcohol to sterilize instruments in. Sometimes we could get some of this and get a can of grapefruit juice from the cooks and have a party. It doesn’t taste bad and will knock you on your tail, with no hangover the next day. Somebody said it is because it is pure alcohol with no additives—I don’t know. We all got drunk one night and Jose Hidalgo went out to go to take a leak. He tripped and fell head first into a foxhole beside the officer’s tent. He was cussing and trying to get out when a Major in the tent heard him. The Major was drunk too and when he saw Hidalgo in his foxhole he said, "Corporal! Get your tail out of there. That’s an officer’s foxhole." Hidalgo said, "Guess you’ll have to make me a Lieutenant. I can’t get out of this damned thing."
The guys in a company close to us got drunk one night. A southerner and a Yankee began arguing about the Civil War. One of them got mad, pulled out a 45 cal. Pistol, and started shooting. He didn’t hit the guy he was arguing with, but killed some guy from Utah that was asleep. That poor guy didn’t even care about the Civil War.
Commode – January 1952
We sometimes had a slit trench for a commode. When we were in one place for a long time, we would cut a 55-gallon metal drum in half and then cut a hole in the top of it for a commode. We put a pup tent over this, but the snow would blow in and cover the seat. In the winter, when it was so cold, we would go out there and brush the snow off the metal seat and have to sit down on that cold metal. It would make you forget what you came out there for!
Times Were Hard Then – January 1952
Driving through Seoul one time I saw an old Korean man carrying a frozen cat by the tail. It had been run over by something. I stopped and said, "Papa-san, you chop-chop (meaning, you eat)? He grinned and said, "Number one chop-chop" (meaning very good food). We gave him candy bars and cigarettes. Times were hard then.
World War II Leftovers – January 1952
All of our equipment was left over from World War II. Our jeeps, trucks, guns and artillery all were leftovers. The chinks had new Russian-built tanks that were better than ours. Our bazookas would bounce off the Russian tank and their tank would blow the mess out of ours. I was thankful I was not in the tanks.
The enemy had a 3.2 in mortar that was better than ours and they were very good with it. I tried to avoid being in a place where they could get me with that mortar. They would love to catch an ambulance where they could attack him with the mortar. I once watched a jeep coming down a valley. The chinks were dropping mortar right behind him. I could see the driver bent over the steering wheel. He was driving that jeep like his life depended on it—and it did! He got through, but they followed him with mortar until he was out of range.
We had World War II clothes. We had combat boots that were leather and we wore two pair of socks, but that was not enough. Our feet would still freeze. We finally got some new "thermos-boots". They were much better.
We wore long johns, then two or three pair of pants. We also wore two or three shirts and anything else we could get our hands on. Then on top of all that, a World War II field jacket. We finally got some new insulated vests and an insulated parka with a fur-lined hood and some fur-lined gloves. That was the best we had at that time.
Bad Engine – January 1952
The engine on my ambulance was worn out and it used oil so badly that I carried a five-gallon can of oil with me on long trips. Every hour we would stop, check the oil, and add some. I was following a convoy up some mountains once and I noticed that I was always a gear lower than the others. When the one ahead of me shifted down to 2nd gear, I was already in 2nd, shifting to low gear. When he went to low gear, I went to double-low gear, and when he went to double-low gear, I went to double-low and four wheel drive and that was all I had!
We would dig a bunker to park our ambulance in. It would be about three feet deep with the dirt piled around it, so we would drive the front end in this bunker and it would be protected on three sides. We could back out easily.
My buddy, Gilbert Hovey, was a Mexican from South Texas. He drove #15 (the one on the right in the photo) and it had a good tight engine. He would brag about how strong it was. But in the extreme cold, it would not start, because the engine was too tight and the battery could not turn it over to start. That's me on #20. My engine, being so loose, would spin over even in the coldest weather and start. Then I would pull the others off. Hovey was parked head first in his bunker so I had to pull him out backward. We would tie a chain from the back of my ambulance to the back of his and pull him out, then pull him off to start his engine. Sometimes while I was pulling him backward I would take off and sling him round and round. The ground was covered with ice and snow so his ambulance would just slide around and around. He would yell and cuss me in Spanish and everybody would laugh but I wouldn’t let up. I would sling his tail round and round!
R&R – February 1952
Six months in Korea with the 25th Infantry Division earned me 24 points and the right to go on R&R. Rest and relaxation, the Army called it. We could pick a town in Japan to go to for five days, then back to Korea again. I picked Tokyo. We flew to Tokyo, got new uniforms, baths, got de-loused, slept in a real bed and had a breakfast of steak and eggs with all the milk we wanted. That was the most wonderful meal I had ever eaten!!
They gave us a speech on how to act and what to stay away from. They said not to travel alone, always have a partner, and keep up with each other for safety. The guy sitting by me said, "You got a partner?" I said, "No, I don’t know a soul here." He said, "Let’s be partners. My name’s Dirty Doc and I’m from South Carolina." I said, "My name is Hub, and I’m from Mississippi."
We got our money exchanged (360 yen to a US dollar at that time). Riding the bus to town, Doc said, "Hub, here’s what we will do. First, we check into a hotel and get us a room and a girl for five days. Now when we get there, old papa-san will bring two girls in for us to look at. But he will bring in the ugly ones first and we will say no-no and make him keep bringing out more girls until we get some good-looking ones." I said, "OK", but I’m thinking to myself, six months on the line in that frozen Chosen (Korea’s real name) and I ain’t seen a woman.
We found a hotel and paid Papa-san in advance for five days. He went to get the girls and Doc said, "Remember, we are going to look at all of them and pick out the best ones." I said, "Damned right. We are going to look at every one of them." Just then Papa-san came in with two girls. One was skinny as a rail and her hair was sticking out in every direction. The other was a little chubby, had no neck and smiled at us, showing two teeth missing. Doc said, "I want that little darling" and I said, "I want that other sweet thing." Going to the room, she said, "You takee bath now?" I said, "Hell no, I’ve had lots of baths. I want something I ain’t had."
Later, my girl and I went back to a little dining room between our room and Doc’s room. All I had on was a pair of GI drawers and she had on pants and a brassiere. There was no chair so I sat on the floor and leaned back against the wall, spread my legs out and she sat between my legs and leaned back on my chest. We were drinking Japanese beer called Ashai pronounced A=sah-he. We called it Ass-hi because it would make your ass high.
Doc still had not come out of his room. I told my girl, "Ask them what the hell they are doing in there." She said, "Yakity-yack-yack" and the girl in the other room answered back "Yackity-yack-yack" and they both laughed. I said, "What the hell did she say?" She said, "She speaks-a- he driving in her motor pool." I said, "Ask her what is he driving?" Again, "yack-yack-yack," and the answer "Yack-yack-yack" and again they laugh like hell. I ask her what she say? Holding her hands about a foot apart, like measuring a fish, she said, "She speaks-a- he driving big six by six." Then Doc’s girl rattled off some yack yack yack and my girl answered, "yack-yack-yack" and again they laughed like hell. I said, "What was that about?" She said "she speak-a what you driving?" Thinking I was a stud, I said, "What did you say?" She held up one hand with the thumb and first finger about two inches apart and said, "I speak-a- you drive little jeep."
Doc came out of his room and we decided to take a bath. The girls took us to a room with a tile floor and about a 4 by 4 foot, 3 feet deep pool. The girls put a little wooden stool by the pool, said something and left. Doc said, "What did they say?" I said, "Damned if I know, maybe they mean for us to get in the pool." So I dropped my drawers and jumped in. Soon as I hit the water, I yelled like a scalded hog and bounded out like I had springs on my feet. Everybody in the place heard me scream and as I stood there, red as a beet from my waist down, about six girls came in all pointing at me and laughing. Doc was doubled over, laughing, and I was cussing them all. I found out that we were supposed to sit on the little wooden stools by the pool and the girls would dip out the scalding hot water and bathe us all over. I also found out that every now and then some fool GI would jump in that pool and it always tickled the hell out of the Japanese.
After one night, we told Papa-san we wanted some better looking girls. He brought them and they were nice looking, neat and clean. I asked mine if she spoke English and she said, "Yes, I speak very good English." I said, "Let me hear some." She said, "God damned son of a bitchie bastard." I said, "Yeah girl, you speak very good English."
Doc said, "Let’s leave these whores and go to town." My girl said she was not a whore. She was a working girl. Some say they are secretaries. They don’t like for you to leave either. They think you are going to another girl which they call "Butterfly" when you go from one girl to another. That makes them mad and they will pinch you on the titty and twist and they damn near pull a plug out. It hurts like hell.
We would go sightseeing and shopping all day, and go back to the hotel at night. We sent a ton of things home, like vases, pictures, etc.
The favorite drink at that time was Seagram’s V.O. Doc and I each had a fifth grasp around our neck so we could turn it up for a drink. There were some rickshaws with a bicycle in front and a guy would pedal you around town. Once we found two of the old-fashioned kind where a guy had two long poles and he would grab a pole in each hand and run with it. We were sitting on the curb, about a third of the way down in our fifths, and we decided to hire these two guys and race them. So Doc got one and I got one and we lined them up side by side in the street. These rickshaws had a charcoal bucket in the floor for heat in the winter, but it was warm now and they were not needed. Doc and I each took a good drink out of our fifth, crawled up in our rickshaws. On the signal, we hollered, "Hi-hak-ko!", which means something like "take off". They both started off fast, but Doc’s boy-san began to slow down and I had a good, big strong boy-san who was going good. Doc got a handful of those charcoal rocks and was throwing them at his boy-san and yelling, "Hi-yak-ko." I leaned back in my rickshaw and took a drink, laughing and thinking I got this race won. I beat Dirty Doc this time! My boy-san slowed down to a walk, he was about petered out. Then I heard something going flap-flap-flap-flap. I looked out the side and here comes Doc. He had put his boy-san up in the rickshaw, handed him the fifth, grabbed the two long poles and he was coming at full stride. Those GI boots were going flap-flap-flap. He went by me and said, "This race ain’t over yet." His boy-san was sitting in the back, taking a long pull on that fifth, then he got some charcoal rocks and threw them at Doc’s back and said, "Hi-yak-ko!" I jumped out, put my boy-san in the rickshaw, handed him my fifth, and grabbed the two poles and took off. Now the people on the sidewalk were lined up on the curb cheering for these two crazy drunk GI’s pulling rickshaws in a race down Ginza Street (a main street in Toyko). The two boy-sans in the rickshaws were drinking Seagram’s V.O., throwing charcoal rocks at us and hollering, "Hi-yak-ko, boy-san!" I caught up with Doc and just as I was going to pass, he swerved right in front of me and we piled up in one heck of a wreck—and that ended that!
Plane Engine Out – February 1952
They flew up from Seoul to Tokyo in a big four-engine plane. I had not been on a plane before and was not too happy about it. I was sitting where I could see out of the right wing and also could see the pilots in the front. Half way across the ocean to Japan, I noticed the right inside engine had some oil seeping out of it. Nobody else seemed to notice it, and I didn’t want to show that I had never flown, so I sat there and watched. I leaned out in the aisle and looked at the pilots. The one on the left was smoking a cigarette and the one on the right was lying back in his seat with his hat pulled down over his eyes, asleep. By now, the oil was running down the wing and dripping off the back. I was torn between telling the pilot, making a fool of myself, and thinking that if we crashed, I would wish I had told someone. When the oil got to pouring out, I made up my mind that I was going to tell the pilot. Just then he punched the co-pilot and pointed to the engine. The co-pilot flipped a couple of switches and the engine stopped. He lay back and went back to sleep, so I guess it was not too bad. However, fire trucks followed us when we landed.
Walking down the street in Tokyo, the Japanese people would bow and say, "Ohio" or "Ohio Ga-zine-us." That means hello or something like that. They were very polite and when they would bow and say, "Ohio", we would bow and say, "Mississippi" or next time we might say, "Georgia" or "Arkansas." They would always smile and bow again not having any idea what we were saying.
Tokyo Cab Drivers – February 1952
Tokyo cab drivers are funny. They have little cars that look like Volkswagon Beetles, and they run off charcoal or something like that. Anyway, when they crank up, they go full speed, then turn the engine off and coast until it just about stops rolling. Then they turn the key back on and go full speed again.
Return From R&R – February 1952
Going back to Korea after R&R, we were allowed to take two cases of whiskey, so I took two cases of Seagram’s V.O. It was customary to open one or two fifths for our buddies, then sell the others. We would sell to guys in our company, $15 a fifth, and to outsiders, $20 a fifth.
This is where I must tell you about the Turks. Each American division had a United Nations group with them. We (the 25th infantry) had a brigade from Turkey with us. The Turks were all volunteers and they were the meanest, toughest, fighting-est men you have ever seen. Our division had three regiments, and we would keep two on the line and one behind in reserve. We would rotate so that no one stayed on the line all the time. But the Turks would not come off the line. They said they came there to fight and they stayed on the line. Turks love knives. They all carry big, long knives and are expert in the use of them. They have a saying, "Lots of ammunition – no fun; little ammunition – little fun. No ammunition – lots of fun." This is because at that time, they fought only with knives. The chinks (Chinese communists) soon learned that they did not want any close combat with the Turks because the Turks would cut them to pieces. They also hated a coward.
Returning to my platoon from Tokyo, they put me in the back of a canvas-covered 6 by 6 full of Turks. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I was afraid of them and I was not going to do anything to make them mad. I had a pool stick in my duffle bag (the kind that unscrews in the middle and one end fits up in the other half. It had an ivory knob.) They thought it was a knife, so I had to take it all apart and show them what it was. They showed me all their big knives, how sharp they were, and they made signs showing how to cut someone’s head off. I was afraid they were going to find the two cases of whiskey in my duffle bag. I felt sure they would kill me for them. They kept offering me a cigarette. It was a foul-smelling, strong old cigarette in brown paper. It nearly took my breath away. Every time I would finish one, they would offer me another, and I was afraid I would offend them if I refused, so I kept smoking one after the other inside the covered truck, and I could hardly breathe. My stomach was still queasy, and I was still hung over from Tokyo. I finally told them to let me off, that this was my company. I didn’t know where the hell we were, but I had to get off that truck!
When I got back to my outfit, I opened two fifths and everybody got some. We also put some in a pan for our dog. Every time we got a beer ration or some whiskey, we always got our dog drunk. Then we would take old rolled up newspaper and chase him. His front feet would go one direction and his back feet the other.
Sergeant Kirk Got Ambushed – March 1952
One morning very early, our lieutenant opened the door to our ambulance and whispered for us to get up, get our rifle, get under our ambulance and be on the lookout for chinks. There had been a breakthrough, and they were in our area. One of our men had been attacked, but had gotten away. I told Chee-Si, my Korean houseboy, to stay in the ambulance and not come out because some trigger-happy soldier would shoot anything that looked oriental. After an hour of being nervous and jumpy, and not finding anything, we found out it was one of our own that had been ambushed. Cox said, "Aw man, somebody beat that guy up." By then, we had gotten into the spirit, so we all made a charge up the mountain. We were yelling, throwing hand grenades, shooting everything we had, and just having a great time. Then we heard that the company next to us had captured one of the chinks, so we went to see. Cox and I took a look at the poor, dejected little prisoner, and burst out laughing. It was Shelby’s houseboy, "Boy-san." Cox said, "Dang it, Boy-San! You done got your tail captured." Boy-San said, "Stupid GI." I called out, "Hey, Shelby! Come over here and bail Boy-San out. He done got his tail captured." Boy-San said, "I go wash clothes – soldier come – big gun – dumb stupid GI!" That was a big joke. We had a lot of laughs about it. When Shelby and Boy-San walked by going to chow one day, I said, "Hey Shelby, watch thank chink behind you." Boy-san said, "Stupid GI." He didn’t think it was funny.
Shelby In Korea – March 1952
Thomas Shelby was a 19-year old from Summerville; TN. Leon Helzer was a 21-year old from Idaho. They were together in an ambulance and got a call to go to the front and pick up some wounded. When they got there, the wounded had gotten in some land mines. Shelby and Helzer got two out and were bringing out the third. Shelby was in front with the litter behind him and Helzer was in back with the litter in front of him. Shelby stepped on a mine and it blew his heel off. Shrapnel went into the patient on the litter and got Helzer in the front of his legs and in his hands. Shelby went right on to the hospital and then home. I never did see him again. Helzer was treated in a hospital for about a month and returned to us to finish out his time. I don’t know what happened to the guy on the litter. It probably killed him. Shelby and Helzer each received the Bronze Star medal for going in that minefield and bringing those guys out.
I write and talk to Leon now. He wrote a nice story of his memories and his memory of how they were wounded. Shelby doesn’t want to write about it. He still has nightmares about it and dreams that he is wounded and is dying. I found Shelby’s address on the Internet. He came to see me. He was wounded much worse than we thought. He wears a brace on his leg, has little use of his right hand, and has been disabled since being wounded. He is emotional about all this, but the longer we talked, the better he got. I think he could talk to someone who was there with him. Since then, he has visited Wesley Offenbacher in Medford, Oregon, and Leon Helzer in Boise, Idaho. I think that helped him.
At the time I was there, no Korean people were allowed up on the front where we were. The only time we saw
Korean people was when we went back to the towns, ten or twenty miles behind us. Some of my friends, stationed in
Seoul, had Korean girlfriends, but I never did. They smelled too bad. They smelled like garlic and dead fish. They
eat squid, eels, garlic and I don’t know what else.
A child born to a Korean woman that is half American or any race other than Korean is usually thrown out to die. If they are kept, they never can be a citizen, go to school, get married, or anything proper like that. They could only be a slave worker for their entire life. This sounds harsh until you find out that Korea has been controlled by other nations their entire history. The only way they had maintained a Korean race was by throwing out the half-breeds. It was a matter of survival. Because of this "matter of survival", you could find the half-American/half-Korean babies in the street, left to die. There were orphan homes run mostly by American churches for these children. My sister, Dot, was a Methodist missionary and did some work with these homes. There were also orphan homes for Korean children who had no home or maybe their parents had been killed. These were supported by all Army units. Once a month someone in our company would go back to Seoul with money and anything else we could spare for them.
Dot, who was two years older than me, wanted to be a missionary. When I got home from Korea, she went to Korea. She was over there about 15 years, with some breaks when she came home. She met and made friends with a missionary doctor and his wife. They wanted to adopt two of the half-American orphans. They asked Dot to pick out a boy and a girl for them, because Dot worked with the orphans. So she did and they went home and settled in Roanoke, VA. Ten years later, Dot was home on leave and went to visit them. The lady had terminal cancer and knew she had less than a year to live. She asked Dot to raise her children. I guess the husband, Bob, had no choice in the matter, but anyway the lady died. Dot and Bob married, adopted another Korean orphan, and have been very happy. The children are all grown now and Bob is retired. They live in Roanoke, VA.
We were taught to be really careful driving through towns because people sometimes would jump out in front of Army trucks. They believe, if they have had bad luck that a demon was following them. They would jump in front of a truck, thinking they would barely escape and the truck would kill the demon and their luck would improve. Usually they got run over and killed.
Clois Stole a Train
Clois Cheatum was a big rangy country boy from Prince Chapel, which is not far from Dekalb, Mississippi. He was a great high school basketball player. He joined our national guard just before we went into the Army. He was rough and tough, and he didn’t think hell was hot. He was with L.C. and Royce and Buddy Boyd at the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Seoul. He and L.C. got juiced up one day and found theirselves at the train station. Clois said it was a childhood dream of his to be an engineer. He always wanted to drive a train. L.C. said, "Hey, there’s one pulling out now. Let’s take that thing." They jumped on the cab and L.C. just threw the little Koreans off the train. Clois was driving it and pulling the train whistle and they were having a ball. They went all the way to Yong-dong-po, where they ran into a side rail and hit some other rail cars.
Their commanding officer was so mad about this he sent both of them to the front line to fight with the infantry as a rifleman. I don’t know what happened to Clois up there, but it made a Christian out of him. When we got home in 1952, he married his high school girlfriend. He attended EMJC at Scooba, enrolled in all the hardest classes, majored in chemistry, made straight A’s, was voted Mr. EMJC, and was the nicest, most polite guy you could ever meet. Later he got a Master’s Degree and was selected as the president of East Mississippi Junior College.
I went back to Homecoming one time and the tall, nice-looking, dignified President Cheatum gave a speech. One of the students told me how Mr. Cheatum could still "mix it up" on the basketball court with them and said, "I’ll bet he was hell when he was young." I replied, "You don’t know the half of it!"
The Koreans’ commodes were like outhouses, and under the cut out holes, they hung a wooden bucket, called a honey bucket. The "stuff" dropped into the bucket and they took this to put in the rice fields for fertilizer. They waded around in the rice fields with bare feet and legs. It is a wonder they didn’t die. They have done this for centuries, so I guess they are immune to it. In the summer the whole place smelled like one big pile of "stuff." In the cities, a man with a wagon pulled by oxen with a big wooden tank on the wagon came by house to house picking up the "stuff" and dumping it into the wooden tank. Then he went out and dumped it in the rice fields. I once saw a wreck where an Army 6x6 truck hit a honey wagon from behind. It killed the oxen and splashed that "stuff" everywhere. What a mess!
S.I.W. – April – 1952
Our job was to keep an ambulance at the aid station at all times.
Our ambulances were numbered 10 through 20. No. 10 would sit at the aid station until they sent him somewhere.
Then No. 11 would pull in, then No. 12 and so on. My ambulance was No 20. I once had a patient that was an S.I.W.
(meaning self-inflicted wound). He shot himself in the foot to try to get sent home. We had no use for guys that
did that, so we treated them pretty rough.
My ambulance engine was using oil faster than I could put it in. It needed a set of rings, so I talked to the motor pool sergeant about it. He said they couldn’t ring that engine, but he could get me a complete engine if something bad was wrong with mine. It had to be worse than just needing rings. I got the message. So I went behind a hill, drained all the oil out, cranked it up and raced the engine until it started knocking real bad. Then I filled it up with oil and drove back to the motor pool. You could hear me coming a mile away, the way the engine was knocking. I told the sergeant I needed a new engine, and I got one.
Somebody always started the rumor that the war was over and we were all going home. Wesley Offenbacher from Medford, Oregon, came up with it this time. He said, "I guarantee you, this is the straight scoop. It is over, they signed the Peace Treaty." Just then all hell broke loose. Boom! Boom! Boom! We all jumped into foxholes. When it slacked up, Hovey popped up and said, "Well, what the hell was that?" Wes said, "I guess they are celebrating!"
Pockets – May 1952
I don’t remember his real name, or if I ever knew it. [Note: In 1997, Wesley said his name was Howard Becker.] All we ever called him was "Pockets" because he wore Army pants with the big pockets on each side. He carried everything he owned in these pockets. He rattled when he walked because the pockets were full of wrenches, shells, razors, etc. Whenever we would ask him where he was from, he would say Dubuque, Iowa (then he would spell it, D-U-B-U-Q-U-E, and repeat it, Dubuque, Iowa). If you asked him ten times a day, he would say the same thing every time. The lieutenant made Pockets his bodyguard, and Pockets took this job seriously. He would follow the lieutenant everywhere he went with his carbine on his shoulder, cleaned and ready.
Korean House Roofs
At one place we had a Korean house with mud walls and a straw roof. We used the house as a meeting room for playing cards and such. That was fine until it began to warm up in the spring. Then rats and snakes and all kinds of bugs started coming out of the straw roof. We would sit around and shoot rats and snakes. Sometimes it sounded like a war going on.
We Got Shelled! – May 1952
We were located in a valley between two mountain ridges that ran straight for about three miles. At the end of that valley was a mountain that rose up in the center of the valley between the two ridges. That was the mountain that belonged to the chinks and from that mountain they could see straight down our valley for three miles. One night they started shelling us with artillery from their mountain. They were so close we could see the flash from their gun when they fired. Then we could hear the shell coming in. Some old veterans said that anything you hear will go over you, but that you won’t hear the one that gets you. Well, I don’t know about that, but I rooted down in a hole like a ground hog.
Then we got a call, Battalion 3 was getting the heck knocked out of them, and they needed medics and ambulances. This may sound silly now, but at that time (we were 18, 19, 20 years old) it was like a game to us, and we couldn’t wait to get in the middle of it. Wesley Offenbacher and I took the first call. I drove up there where I thought it was and slowed down, looking for Battalion 3. Two shells hit the road right in front of us. Wesley and I bailed out, left the ambulance on the side of the road, engine still running, and jumped into a ditch along side of the road. Another one of our ambulances came by, hauling booty, going somewhere. They got back to the company before we did and told everyone that Wesley and I were dead. They saw us in a ditch and the ambulance had been hit. We had actually stayed there all night working on the group there that was wounded.
When the shelling stopped for a while we got the ambulance, parked it at Battalion 3, and found us a foxhole, just as the shells came in again. They got a direct hit on a 6x6 truck loaded with artillery shells. That thing put on a fireworks display like you would not believe. Parts of that truck were flying over our head making terrible sounds. When the shelling slacked up again, I saw a large foxhole with logs across the top and sandbags on top of them. I made a run for it and slid head first into that hole. I slid up on a black guy, my face right up against his. Now I’m from Mississippi and this was before integration, but this was not any time to worry about segregation or the color of somebody’s face. This was a time to try to save your tail. I said, "Hi, Buddy." The photo at the right is an ambulance that hit a land mine. Sadly, we lost Sgt. Ramos in this.
I heard someone yell, "Medic!" I popped out of the hole and said, "Hey, over here!" He said, "Come get me, Medic, I’m shot!" I yelled, "You come over here, I’m not!" I figured since he was already hit, the odds were, that he wouldn’t get it again. He didn’t argue. He came on and got in the hole with us. A piece of shrapnel had cut him across the forehead and he was bleeding badly. Blood was running down his face, and he thought the top of his head was gone. Wesley cleaned him up, stopped the bleeding with a tight bandage, and gave him a shot of morphine. It wasn’t very bad, but he thought we were world-famous surgeons.
There was a lieutenant out just walking around and I asked, "Who is that idiot?" They said, "He is new here and he is trying to act brave." I said, "There is a difference between being brave and being stupid!" I hauled him in the next morning with shrapnel in his legs and tail. I hit every bump in the road. I didn’t feel sorry for that crazy guy!
We had some 105 Howitzers trying to knock out those guys on the mountain. Also, the air force would drop napalm (composed of napthenic and palmitic acids, a thickened gasoline that sticks to surfaces, which led to the widespread use of flame weapons in World War II) on them during the daytime, but the chinks would roll those guns back in caves in the side of the mountain. They brought up some 155 "Long Toms". They had long barrels that could reach out and get them. Every time there was a flash on that mountain, that Long Tom would zero in on it and start firing. In one night that Long Tom put out the lights on that hill and we had no more trouble out of them.
We learned pretty quickly that our main job was to convince our wounded that they were not hurt badly and not to let them see their wounds. The first dead soldier I saw when I got to Korea had just had his kneecap blown off. The arteries all run behind the knee so he did not bleed to death. He was a pale yellow color, which means he was in shock. He just kept looking at that wound, and went into shock and died. It did look bad, but there was no reason for him to die. After that, we kept the wounds covered with a blanket so they could not be seen, and we would tell them they were okay. I’ve had guys with their leg blown off, but I never let them see it.
All medics carried morphine in their aid bag. It was like a small tube of toothpaste. You would unscrew the cap, remove the needle cover and squeeze the tube to squirt the morphine out. This was before anyone used drugs recreationally. The medics probably do not carry morphine like that today because it would be too readily available for misuse.
Prisoner – June 1952
I read Audie Murphy’s book, "To Hell and Back" and was gung-ho! I figured I would kill hundreds of chinks and be a hero. So I was disappointed to be a medic (who are not supposed to carry guns). But when I got to Korea, I found out that the chinks did not go by the Geneva Convention** and they would shoot the medics first, then start picking off the rest of a patrol. This demoralized the infantry because they knew that if they had a medic, they probably would make it back unless they were killed on the spot. So we carried guns and would use them if we had a chance. We did not wear armbands or have a cross on our helmet because the chinks used them for targets.
This was a meeting of many nations to make some rules of war--primarily, the humane treatment of "prisoners of war" and the treatment of wounded soldiers. It was decided that medical personnel (1) would not carry weapons and would not fight (2) would have a painted red and white cross on their helmets, and wear a red and white cross arm band for identification, (3) would not be shot at, and (4) would work on any wounded soldier they found whether it was their own or the enemy.
I went to the front and picked up a prisoner. He was a young Chinese boy who had seven bullet holes in his chest and stomach. We loaded him, Cox drove, and I was in the back with him. I lit a cigarette and bent over him to put it in his mouth, as we usually did our wounded. I had a carbine strapped over my shoulder. He grabbed my gun and tried to take it. I just shoved the butt of the gun in his face, knocking him back down. I thought, "You little nitwit. I ought to shoot you right between the eyes. Then when I get back home, I will be able to say I killed a chink." But I didn’t, because that seemed like a cowardly way to do it. He was so weak that he couldn’t have hurt me, and I don’t think he knew what he was doing anyway. He was still alive when we got him back to the doctors, but he died there. When I think about it today, I’m glad I didn’t shoot him. I think I would feel badly about it now.
This is the Most Awful Place in the World
There are no good seasons of the year. When I got there in September, it was the end of summer. It was dry and dusty and the wind blew the dust from everywhere. Then came winter and the temperature went to 15 to 20 degrees below zero with snow and ice everywhere. We actually looked forward to it snowing because it had to warm up to snow. Then it would quit snowing and get so cold that everything froze. Many of our wounded men would have bled to death had it not been for the freezing temperatures, which froze the bleeding and helped stop it. It did not coagulate, because coagulated blood would have turned brown. When it froze, it had a pink, icy, frothy color to it. Anyway, a lot of guys owe their lives to the fact that their blood froze. Then came spring and it rained every day. The whole place turned into a stinking mud slop. It rained every day at one o’clock. You could set your watch by it!
Snipers – June 1952
We had some snipers one time. They would hide beside the road and when a vehicle came by, going slowly (mostly at night, because we couldn’t use lights,) they would shoot them. Our ambulances were easy targets because we ran at night or anytime. My ambulance didn’t have doors. I carried a grease gun (a fully automatic 45 caliber, fed with a 15 round magazine under the bottom). I drove with my left hand on the steering wheel and the grease gun lying across my lap with the barrel pointing out the side of the door, and my right hand on the gun with my finger on the trigger. At the least little noise, I squeezed the trigger. I probably killed a thousand rats or rabbits, but I didn’t take any chances. I shot every noise I heard.
One bright, pretty day when things had been quiet for a while, somebody put up a volleyball net and wanted to get up a game. I joined in and we were having a fine time, officers versus enlisted men. This long tall captain jumped up, slapped the ball, and it went over everybody’s head and down the road toward the front. I ran after the ball, and just as I bent over to pick it up, something went bla-oom. I said, "Man, the ball must have busted!" I picked up the ball and was feeling it, when Boom! Boom! Boom! Three shells exploded right close to me. I turned to look at my fellow ball players and they were leaving the country. I took off after them. I don’t know if I set a world record or not, but I passed a captain and a sergeant, and they were flyin’.
I fell down and skinned my hands and arms. I asked for a purple heart, but they wouldn’t give it to me. I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren how I got wounded, but I couldn’t tell them I fell down while playing volleyball.
Ambulance Assignment – July 1952
When we left the United States, I started growing a moustache. I didn’t have much of a beard and it was blond so it was not much to look at, but I kept it until I started home. Then I shaved it off. It was hard to get used to not having it after all that time.
In the winter our breath would freeze and form little balls of ice, which would hang from our moustache. Also, when we used a scarf, our breath would freeze it solid, so we had to turn it around to put the frozen part behind our head and put a warm part over our nose.
I went to Korea as a replacement, meaning I went as an individual to be placed in whatever place they needed me. They sent me to the ambulance company of the 25th Infantry Division. There, I was assigned to ambulance number 20 as an assistant driver to Sergeant Rollie Fry from Birmingham, Alabama. [Later I got an assistant driver named Charlie Cox from Piggot, Arkansas.] Fry had a Korean houseboy called Chee-Si, which means Shorty in Korean. The three of us lived and slept in the ambulance. We kept our clothes and belongings in a space under the bench-like place on each side of the ambulance. During the day we could sit on these benches, and at night we put a stretcher (or litter as the Army called them) on the bench and sleep on it. We also had a rack above each bench that we could swing up, lock in place, and lay a litter there. We could put one on the floor in the center aisle and hang one on straps above that one. We could haul six patients that way. It was quite nice that we had our own room and bed everywhere we went. Each ambulance had a driver (usually the older vet that knew the ropes) and an assistant driver (usually a new man learning the ropes) and most of us had a house boy, which was a young Korean boy that lived with us, washed clothes, cleaned guns, cleaned the ambulance, and did other work we needed for him to do.
Chee-Si – July 1952
Chee-Si idolized Sergeant Fry, and when Sergeant Fry rotated home about a month later Chee-Si was heart broken. The day that Sergeant Fry left, Chee-Si went up in the hills and didn’t come back until dark. He just couldn’t say goodbye. He would meet mail call every day looking for a letter from Sergeant Fry, but it never came. I kinda resented the way he carried on about Sergeant Fry. As time went on, we got to be good friends. He was like a little brother to me (I was only 20 years old). He called me "Hub-bra". That was as close to my name as he could say.
One time Chee-Si was telling me how to get somewhere and he said, "You drive down this road then turn right and there is big sign and you have big eyes – you will see it." They were amazed at our big, wide open eyes.
One time I went to the front and brought back some wounded. One was a chink (Chinese communist). Chee-Si was standing at the aid tent when I got back and jokingly I said, "Chee-Si, I got your brother in here." He said, "Where? Where?" and I pulled out the litter with the chink. He got mad and said, "Aw, you speak-a lie, I no like-a chink" and he kicked me on the shin.
Chee-Si was the best houseboy by far, I thought. In fact, he was so far above the others that other people wanted him. Some officers wanted him badly, but he wouldn’t leave us and they couldn’t make him, because he was a civilian. He would wash clothes in the creek by pounding them on a rock, then fold them up while they were a little damp and when they dried, they looked like they had been pressed. He kept our ambulance clean and was very protective of our equipment. Some of the Korean boys were lazy and dirty and would steal, but Chee-Si was a fine boy. The Army allowed us to have these boys, but we had to pay them out of our paycheck. I think each of us paid Chee-Si about $15 a month. That was $30 a month, and we always gave him other things, so it wound up with about $50 a month which was a fortune to them. Chee-Si would send most all of his money to his family. Compared to the other Korean families, they were pretty well off with what he sent them. Chee-Se said he was fifteen years old, which was fourteen to us. I asked him why and he pointed to his stomach and said, "one year inside mama" so they count themselves as one year old when they are born. His real name was Lee Bong Ku. Lee was the last name and Bong Ku was his given name. They put the last name first. They make sentences that way, also. We say, "I will go to town." They say, "Town I will go to." I told him that was dumb. He said, "English is dumb."
He taught me to write my name in Korean and I tried to teach him English. He would not do or say anything that was wrong. I don’t know where he got his morals; he must have been one of those people born with them. Some cuss words were common everyday language to soldiers and he used them too, thinking it was good English. I got a girl from my hometown to write him so he would get some mail. At mail call, his face would light up when he got a letter, and he would bring it to me. I would read it to him and then we would sit down and write back. He would tell me what to say and I would write it for him. They also swapped pictures.
Finally, it came my time to rotate home. My last night, I gave Chee-Si everything that I couldn’t take with me, plus some extra money. I was to leave the next day at noon. I wondered how I was going to say goodbye to Chee-Si. A handshake didn’t seem enough. I felt like hugging him, but that wouldn’t be very manly and I was afraid we might cry. Early the next morning Chee-Si went up in the woods on the mountain. At noon he wasn’t back and it was time for me to leave. I asked Cox to take care of him. He said he would, and as we drove off in the jeep, I stood up and waved at the mountain. I knew he was watching…he just couldn’t say goodbye.
Somebody over there had an old wind up Victorola and some records. China Night was our favorite, and we adopted it as our theme song. The song was composed by Nobuyuki Takeoka (a Japanese soldier who had been in China) with words by Saijo Yaso. It was sung by Hamako Watanabe. First recorded in 1938, it gained instant popularity, and is still rated highly on the Japanese record circuit. Except among the Japanese population on the west coast, the song is practically unknown in the rest of the country. The English version of China Night is:
China Night had a strange oriental sing-song to it. We called it, "Cause she ain’t got no yo yo" because that is what it sounds like. I found out later that the real name is China Night and this is the music to it. I wonder if other guys over there had this same tune, or if it was just in our local area.
We earned points, depending on where we were. For instance, the front lines earned four points a month. The area behind them earned three points and the ones in the rear areas earned 2 points per month. For 24 points you could go on R&R in Japan for five days. For 36 points, you got to go home.
Replacement Depot – Going Home – August 1952
There were thousands of us in one compound waiting to go home and I didn’t know the first person. I was put in a room on the second floor of a building. The second day I was there, I started down the stairs and stopped about half way down to look over the crowd to see if I could find anyone I knew. I looked for a while, and then they turned into a sea of heads with big eyes all looking at me. I began to panic. I thought, "This is it. I’m going crazy. I made it through the whole crazy war, and now I’m going to crack up on the way home." I could just see my hometown paper with headlines, "Local Boy Cracks Up." My mama would cry, and my sisters would feel badly. My heart was pounding and my mouth was dry. I thought, "This is just not fair, this should not happen to me, besides I don’t believe all those people are looking at me. It’s just my imagination. I’m going to turn around very slowly and go back to my room and stay there until I can get a grip on myself." I stayed there until I made friends with another guy, and then went to chow with him and was okay. Even now, 40 years later, I still don’t like crowds!
On the way home we stopped in Sasebo, Japan, for processing in order to be sent home. Some buddies and I went to town. We were walking down the street and met some sailors going in the opposite direction. I took about two steps past them and I said, "John Palmer!" One of the sailors turned around and said, "George Hubbard!" He and I went to school together and played football together three years earlier at Forest High School. I didn’t know he was in the service and he didn’t know I was either—and we met on the street in Sasebo, Japan. I have not seen him since.
We were herded by the thousands into a camp at Sasebo, Japan. Every day we would read the list on the bulletin board and stand around the office trying desperately to find out when the next ship was going out, and if we were supposed to be on it. No one could find out a thing, not even the officers. A little ten-year old Japanese boy was shining my shoes while we were discussing it. He looked up at me and said, "Tomorrow, one o’clock ship called Captain Black, a two-stacker (meaning two smoke stacks), makee states in fourteen days." The next day I shipped out on the Captain Black. It was a two stacker and we made it to Seattle, Washington, in fourteen days.
Going Home – August 1952
We shipped out of Sasebo, Japan, going home. We did not stop at Hawaii this time. We went straight from Japan to Seattle, Washington. It took fourteen days. When we came in the Seattle Harbor there was a crowd cheering and a band playing. I thought that was really nice. All the thousands of soldiers on the ship tried to crowd to the side to see the band—especially the majorettes and the American girls.
We stayed in Seattle about a week. There was a mist of rain falling the whole time. Finally, we left on a ragged-looking airplane that had the paint peeling off. We stopped somewhere in Montana, then flew on to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. We were there about a week before being discharged. I caught a ride to Forest with a boy from Morton named Stegall.
Old Friends Meet – September 1997
I don’t know how a guy from Mississippi and a guy from Oregon got to be best friends, but we did. I found Wesley Offenbacher’s address on the Internet and called him. He said he had been looking for me. Wesley pulled a trailer from Medford, Oregon and Thomas Shelby pulled a trailer from Moscow, Tennessee, and we camped at Roosevelt State Park in Mississippi for three days. Leon Helzer could not make the trip. He lives in Boise, Idaho.
It was a strange feeling when we met. It was like we had never been apart, yet it had been 46 years. We were instant friends. We were 19 year olds in Korea in 1951 the last time we saw each other. I think it is because we were so young, so far away from home, in such a strange place, under such extreme conditions, that our friendship was branded in our minds and will be a part of us all our lives. I love Wesley like a brother. He said he wanted to see me one more time before he died.
These are Common Korean Words that I Remember: