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Dale Arthur Patton
"During a firefight, many things occur. You see fear on others' faces, you feel fear, you taste fear, and you can actually smell fear. Courage is the ability to push all that down, get up, and do what you have to or are told to do."
- Dale A. Patton
My name is Dale Arthur Patton and I live in Rowlett, Texas. I was born in Petoskey, Michigan, on February 24, 1950, the son of William Arthur (Jake) and Madge Patton. Both are deceased. My Dad died of a heart attack when I was 5 and my Mom committed suicide when I was 11. My father was a cabinet maker/carpenter, and my mom worked at the local canning factory.
My oldest brother was Clifford Dean Patton. He entered the Army in 1957, got out in 1961, and disappeared. He died in 1992. I lost track of my brother for over 30 years, finally locating him in 1984 in Arizona. My brother Donald Maynard Patton died before I was born. He drowned in 1948.
I was a ward of the State of Michigan from 1962 until 1967. I lived with my grandmother for a while, but the state felt she was too old. She was a wonderful person and when I lived with her I was the happiest I had been in a very long time. I then lived with my uncle and his family, but we did not get along that well, and not knowing how to deal with life's problems, I ran away a lot, living in numerous group and state homes. My summer jobs were mostly working on farms that were state homes or those that employed "state kids." In 1966, I had a summer job working for the Department of Natural Resources, cleaning camp sites along lakes in the Traverse City, Michigan.
I went to grade school and high school in Central Lake, Michigan. I did not graduate. Instead, I left school in 1967 after my junior year to join the Army. I finished my GED in 1968 while in the Army.
I entered the Army in July of 1967 at the age of 17. I enlisted to escape the state system and northern Michigan. I hoped that I would find a direction and my way in life. In addition, as a young child I had listened to my uncles who were all World War II vets. They gathered at my grandma's house and told of their war experiences. I sat very quietly in the corner of the room and hung onto every word. It seemed that their lives had been made better by their experiences. I chose the Army because all of my uncles, except one, had served in the Army infantry. My Uncle Cub served in the Navy and he was killed in the Battle of the Coral Sea. My grandma was a three-star mother, with one gold star.
I remember when I was at the reception station at Ft. Wayne in Detroit. The Marines asked for volunteers. Out of maybe 150 men, four raised their hands. Then they started going down the line saying, "You, you," etc. When they got to me, they said, "You." I said that I had enlisted in the regular army. They moved on. Yes, the Marines had apparently started drafting.
When I enlisted, I had to take several tests. My test scores were very high in all areas and I guess I could have had most any school I wanted, but I wanted infantry. When I told that to the in-processing clerks, they just looked at me and rolled their eyes. One even said, "I guess you want to die for your country."
I was the only one from my area who joined. That was okay because I was kind of a loner and quiet anyhow. I was taken to the Greyhound bus station by an aunt and simply dropped off without much fanfare.
This was actually my second stint in the Army, believe it or not. Two years earlier, I had run away from home and was determined to stay gone. I was able to get a birth certificate and social security card with the name of David Phillip Renard on it. The papers listed my age as 18, but I was actually only 15 years old. I enlisted in the Army in Louisville, Kentucky, and went through basic training at Ft. Knox. After taking a battery of tests, my scores were high enough for me to be sent to a 52-week school at Red Stone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. After basic I decided to go back home. I got back and hid out for awhile, but I was eventually picked up by the Antrim County Sheriff's Office and placed in jail. I related my story to the authorities, who didn't believe me at first. They contacted the MPs in Ft. Wayne Detroit. They came and verified my story. I was given a minority discharge and was once again back in the state system. It was truly an adventure though, and it really made basic training in 1967 a breeze. The drill sergeants were puzzled, actually. It really kept me from getting yelled at a lot. I had learned to keep my mouth shut and pay attention for real.
When I enlisted basic the second time, I was once again sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky. This time I was actually ready for all the yelling and discipline. Basic training was hard, but there were no surprises for me. I had learned that to get by I had to do what I was told, when I was told to do it, and how I was told to do it. I knew to keep my mouth shut and listen and do not ever speak until spoken to. This was not new to me--it was just an extension of life as a ward of the state. It was amusing to watch all the "older" more "mature" guys trying to deal with the changes that Army life was bringing to their life. It was a hoot watching the older tough guys being broken down in many cases.
For my efforts and my knowledge, I was made an Acting Corporal (squad leader). There were four squads in a platoon. I was given an arm band with Corporal stripes on it and put in charge of 11 guys. There I was, 17 years old and dealing with the 11 guys who were all older than me. It was truly a learning experience. If they messed up, I was punished. During this time period, the majority of the DIs were Vietnam veterans and had been trained at the Marine Corps drill instructor school. They were very proficient at swearing and belittling people. They were very physical and slapped or kicked us for any reason. The front leaning rest position was a normal thing...pushups and more pushups.
We ate most of our meals in a chow hall. There, they filled our tray and we had two to three minutes to eat everything and get out. Subsequently, there was no time for anything except eating. One day a fella at the table with me asked me a question in a low voice and I answered. Out of nowhere, three DIs were on us. We had to take our food outside and eat by the kitchen dumpster. After we finished eating, we had to take everything out of the dumpster and scrub the dumpster down. Of course, it did not pass the first inspection. We scrubbed it again and it passed. Then we put all the garbage back in and joined the platoon. Ask me if I ever talked in the mess hall again....
Another memorable time was in my second week of basic, I believe. The DIs said, "Fall Out," and although there were two doors in the barracks, we all had to go out one door. We only had seconds to get outside and in formation. We had 48 guys going for the same door at the same time. Well, one time I slipped and was the last one out. There were usually at least two DIs standing by the door waiting for the last man. I was kicked so hard in the butt that it chipped two back teeth. I was never the last man out again, and neither were any of my guys when I made Acting Corporal because, if they were, I got kicked as well.
Discipline was very important. After all, they were training us for war. There were a few people that resisted (there are always a couple in every group). These few were singled out immediately and if they did not conform, they were sent to a "Motivational Platoon" on the other side of the post. This place was said to be a place of horrors. No one wanted to be sent there. If they did not make it there, they were "recycled"--which meant that they started basic from Day One, no matter what week they were in. Starting the insanity over was not an option in my book.
Sleep deprivation was part of training, I guess. We maybe got three or four hours of sleep a night. It was really tough to stay awake in any classes, but we had better not get caught sleeping--ever. A couple of years later, I found one of my old note pads from Basic. I could see where I had been writing and then just scribbled off the page, indicating that I had nodded off in class. I went to church on Sunday just to catch a nap and a rest from the yelling and screaming.
Graduation finally came and all those that received orders for Infantry School at Ft. Polk, Louisiana (Tiger Land) knew they were going to Vietnam. I was disappointed. I was being sent to Ft. Dix, New Jersey, for infantry training. I wanted Vietnam very badly. I protested and was told I would get my chance. Perhaps the fact that I was only 17 and would not be 18 until February of 1968 may have played a part in it, I don't know. I went home on a short leave. Nothing much happened there. I drank a few beers and got into a couple of fights. Typical leave, I guess.
Advanced Infantry Training
After leave, off to Ft. Dix I went. Infantry School was tough and demanding, but I really kind of enjoyed it. I stayed focused and did the very best I could at everything. I really enjoyed all the different weapons training, and I excelled as I had in Basic with the M-14 rifle. Infantry School was all about learning tactics, teamwork, and weapons. I had to drop the loner thing, and that was tough. Discipline was always present, but it wasn't the focus. Taking care of your buddy was.
AIT was eight weeks long and it was intense. I learned organizational and self-discipline skills that have helped me throughout my life. Time management was very important. During AIT I really started to understand what I would be called upon to do as an infantryman--kill another human. It was talked about in Basic, but it never really sank in. So if I was going to have to do it, I'd better be good at it.
I mean, I had hunted deer and other game animals, but I had really never given much thought to hunting humans. Now it was a reality. I knew it would eventually come to that. I questioned myself: "Could I do it?" Of course, I never said this out lout or confided in a fellow soldier. On the outside we were all killers and couldn't wait to get into combat. Couldn't wait to live infantry or die infantry. I gave the issue a lot of private thought and concluded that when the time came, I could and I would. I did not dwell on the thought much after that.
I graduated from AIT as a PFC and was sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for airborne training. I got into Recon School instead. There, I had more advanced infantry training, this time focusing on map reading, ambush tactics, and small unit tactics. Again, I stayed focused and did as I was told. All the training and discipline was really starting to make sense to me now. In thinking back, once I figured out why, things were easier.
Orders came down that our class was going to be sent to Vietnam with the 101st Airborne. "Well all right," I thought. Let's go see what this combat thing is all about." I was scared, but at the same time I wanted to know. It is hard to explain.
We were put in a holding/transit company waiting to leave. Suddenly, we were told that the majority of us were going to Korea. "What?? Korea? Why?" The only thing I knew about Korea was that war had started there when I was born and that my brother Clifford had spent time there as an MP. I also knew that it got cold in Korea. I was from Michigan and I had had my fill of cold. There was nothing going on in Korea. What a waste of training, I thought. I was upset because I could not wait to get to Vietnam and experience combat as my uncles had done in both World War II and Korea (1950-53). I, of course, had never experienced combat and was anxious to prove myself as a man as the men in the family had. I complained and tried to submit a request for transfer, but you know how those things go. "Shut up and do what you are told." Some of the guys were glad that we were going to Korea instead of "The Nam." I was simply going to volunteer for Vietnam as soon as I got into Korea. I mean, I was on a three-year enlistment and I really wanted to see what Vietnam was all about.
I went home on leave, started seriously dating a girl I knew from high school, drank a few beers, but this time didn't get into any fights. It was a pretty good leave, I guess.
I believe I left for Korea in the last part of November 1967. It was a very long flight--13 or 14 hours on a civilian jet. On the flight over, I mentioned my plan to volunteer for Vietnam. The typical response was, "You're nuts." We stopped in Alaska for a short while and took off in a heck of a snowstorm. Word was that the plane that took off behind us crashed because of the weather. I really don't know if that is true. To be frank, while in the Army newspapers and TV were almost non-existent. Current events really didn't matter much. It was the business at hand that was important.
We landed at Kimpo airbase in Korea. Man, was it cold. We were processed in large hangars. Of the many shots that I got stateside and then got when I arrived in country, one I remember was the gamma globulin shot. It was supposed to be for Hepatitis. It was experimental at the time, which we did not know. We were in this long line and several people had been carried out on stretchers. (What was that about?) I got to the point where I could see the guys getting the shots. One guy looked at me, his eyes rolled back, and down he went. The medics were all laughing. My turn came and it was like having a golf ball injected into my buttocks. I will never forget that. I did not faint, but I did get dizzy.
They called a bunch of names, and mine was included. The guy who called the names said, "You guys are going to the Z," laughed, and walked off. "What the hell was the Z?" I wondered. We found out that it was the DMZ and things were happening there. I didn't care. As soon as I got to my company, I was going to volunteer for Vietnam.
We were sent to ASCOM for more processing. The country smelled, even as cold as it was. (I later discovered that the smell got worse in the summer.) It seemed like everyone was a peasant living way below the poverty level. I did not see any obvious signs of the Korean War, which had ended in 1953, but later I did. The military was everywhere and everything had a military appearance. It seemed like all of the Koreans were either soldiers or thieves or both.
We were at ASCOM for several days. I was assigned to C Company, 3rd Platoon, 3/23 Infantry, 2nd Division. When it came time to load up for our respective units, we were given steel pots, a flak vest, and a rifle with a clip of ammo. Now that was interesting. I guess things really were happening "up there." I arrived at the Charlie Company compound near Munsan-ni in the middle of the night. It was really weird. I asked if we were on the "Z" yet and someone laughed and said no, we were still south of the Imjin River. I found out that my company was on rotation, was now south of the river, and would be so for the next few months.
I was assigned to the third platoon as a rifleman. My Platoon Sergeant was SFC Boggs. He had two stars over his CIB, which meant that he had been a World War II, Korea, and Vietnam infantryman. I was glad that we had his experience. I learned quickly that south of the river was a pain. There was lots of walking, digging, field problems, and just getting ready if the North Koreans decided to come south.
My platoon pulled a lot of night patrols along the Imjin. we were called S.C.O.S.I. Patrols, which stood for Surveillance Counterespionage Operations South of the Imjin. It was a really long word for patrolling our company sector along the river for North Korean infiltrators. The DMZ was not too far north of the river. Every once in a while we found footprints in the mud, but we never ran across any bad guys. We did, however, nearly shoot a couple of civilians that were out after curfew along the river. It was not a good thing to be walking around at night in that part of the country. The whole country had a 12 a.m. curfew.
At times we could see traces in the sky up north, explosions, etc. We were given a lot of intelligence on our "enemy." Apparently these infiltrators were well-trained saboteurs. Intel said they trained for three years before they ventured south. We were south of the river when 31 of them made it through the Zone in what was referred to as the "Blue House Raid" to kill the President of South Korea. We did a lot of sweeps near the Blue Lancer Valley looking for those that were trying to get back. The raid was a failure. All of them were killed, I believe. Some GI barracks were blown up and some GI's were ambushed in their vehicle both north and south of the river. It was indeed apparent that things were happening up north. But I didn't care. My paperwork was in for the real war--Vietnam.
Another duty the unit pulled was manning bunkers on the fence of the DMZ (south fence). I did not do much of this, but it was sitting in a hole or bunker all night long, watching the fence and watching the flares, tracers and explosions in the Zone. There were guys on the fence in the day as well.
My company was sent north in April, I believe. There were no civilians north of the river. There were also no tops on trucks or Jeeps. The Jeeps had a piece of angle iron sticking up in front to catch any wires that might be strung across the roads. The compound up north was similar to the one south. There were tin huts for barracks, but lots more barbed wire and guard towers.
Up to this point I haven't mentioned the weather. Well, it was miserable in the winter (really cold) and miserable in the summer (really hot). When it rained, it rained. This is one thing that my military experience taught me: when I get really cold now it doesn't bother me because I know that I will get warm soon. That was not the case when we were walking patrol. We were cold and we stayed cold for a very long time. The same with the heat and rain. Now I know I will get cool or dry soon. But when I was in Korea, it was a long time before either. I guess what I am saying is the elements have not concerned me since the military.
We were assigned a sector to patrol in the DMZ. It was known as our Area of Operation or AO. Patrols made up of 25 men spent three full days and nights in the Zone. Then we were relieved by another 25 from our company. We operated off of Guard Post Gladys. That was our supply point in the Zone. By day we broke up into 5-man teams and did what we called "Snoop'n and Poop'n"--setting up daytime ambushes and conducting hammer and anvil sweeps (setting up a blocking force while teams swept towards them).
The loudspeakers of the North Koreans blared day and night. At times they were nerve-racking since they went on 24/7. They mentioned actual soldiers by name and the names of their family members. One was in our company. For example, "PFC Harold Ross from Pittsburgh, would you like to be home with your wife Evelyn and son Jimmie on this warm summer night?" It was thought that the information came from prostitutes or perhaps some who had accessed personnel files at ASCOM. Who knew. At times they mentioned a GI's name. For example, "PFC Ross of Charlie Company, we know that you are in the DMZ and afraid. Tonight you die." And then they played a song that we referred to as "the Death March." It was a very depressing organ type song. More likely than not, when that song played, somewhere on the Zone a firefight broke out.
Commander Boucher of the Pueblo was heard many nights on the speakers. He was the captain of the "spy" ship USS Pueblo that was captured by the North Koreans. He and the crew were held captive for quite some time. I think they were released after I left. The voice on the speakers was said to be him, admitting to spying, etc. Your guess is as good as mine if it was really him since the speakers were a North Korean psychological warfare thing. As mentioned earlier, we were also told by the North Koreans that we were all going to die soon. We figured out that when the speakers were really active on certain nights, the North Koreans were on the move and the noise of the speakers was to distract us and cover their movement. As you can see, those damn speakers were irritating at best.
Looking back, it was a surreal place. We were hunting men, but we were not at war. The bad guys could do anything they wanted, but we were restricted--except in the Zone. It was like the Old West. If we found the "Indians," we killed them. In fact, our patrols were called hunter/killer patrols. Our patrols operated off from Guard Posts (GPs). Guard posts were fortified positions that were in the Z and were manned by about 25-30 soldiers. They were the most forward positions in the Zone with the exception of JSA (Panmunjom). We could get extra water, ammo, and reinforcements from GPs if we needed them. In addition, the GP was a place to run to if we needed to do so.
We wore soft hats, camouflage fatigues, and carried as much ammo as we could. Although we all had flak jackets, we only wore them when we were on Barrier Fence or assigned to GP Gladys. They were too cumbersome for our type of work and we had to travel as light as possible. For example, our basic load was two or three canteens of water, three days of C-rations, a basic ammo load of 200 rounds for a rifle, four to six hand grenades, two to three claymore mines, maybe an M-72 LAW, extra ammo for the M-60, etc. We had to be able to move fast if necessary. Under the rules of the armistice, there were not supposed to be any automatic or crew-served weapons in the Zone. Well, the North Koreans certainly didn't play by the rules, and somewhere along the way we started not playing by the rules either.
When we prepared for a night ambush, we dropped all excess gear at GP Gladys, drew extra munitions, and redid our camouflage paint. That's when the adrenalin started coming on. The ambush sites were selected. The teams were broken down and we moved to a false ambush site. Just as darkness fell, we crept into our primary ambush location and took up positions. Noise discipline was of the utmost importance. We settled in, getting our eyes adjusted. Claymores were put out, aimed, and wired. Trip flares were sometimes put in to the rear of the ambush. This was a very critical time. Individual fields of fire were established. The sweat was pouring. Everything was done as quiet as possible. Finally all the preps were done. Then we waited, looked, and listened.
The mosquitoes came in hoards. We put on the Army's bug juice, but they seemed to like it. Besides, the sweat washed it off. Sometimes it seemed like the mosquitoes buzzing around us and biting us were going to drive us crazy. When swatting a mosquito, most people slap it and utter an explicative. In ambush, we just lay there and tried to brush them off quietly. I can remember taking my hand and rubbing the back of my neck and smearing what seemed like hundreds of mosquitoes on my flesh. (I am itching as I think about it.) I prayed for rain, even though I would have to lay in it and get soaked. If it was hard enough, it would keep the mosquitoes at bay for a while. When it rained, it usually rained hard--real hard. It cut down on visibility and what we could hear, but that worked both ways. In the rain, we didn't have to roll far to urinate. Yep, we couldn't get up and take a potty break. We went where we were. In the rain, it was washed away.
Suddenly we would think that we saw something and we strained to try to see. Even though our fellow team members were nearby, we felt alone. Did anyone else see or hear that? If we stared at anything in the dark long enough, it moved, so we had to be careful. We had "Starlite" scopes and they helped, but not all of us had them. So we waited. Maybe rocks would come into or around the perimeter. They were close and they were trying to find us. We threw a grenade back and let them chew on that. Wait, wait, wait. We had to be sure before we triggered a claymore or the whole ambush. Once someone opened up, it was on. Fire discipline was very important.
On one such night we had set our claymores up and put live grenades under them (pins pulled). The North Koreans had been known to actually "steal" a claymore from an ambush. Let me explain. A claymore mine was a hand-detonated mine that had approximately 700 steel balls with about a pound of C-4 behind them. It was curved outward. (Front toward enemy is what it said on the front of the mine. I always thought that was funny.) A blasting cap in a wire was inserted, and the wire ran back to a trigger that the soldier held. If the mine was to be triggered, the soldier had to release the safety and squeeze the trigger, which sent an electrical impulse to the blasting cap. Then BOOM! It killed everything in front of it for about 50-60 meters, as well as everything behind it for about 20 meters. Those who were manning a claymore kept the wire taught so that they could feel any movement on the claymore end. If the North Koreans could take one and we did not feel it, that was something. Anyway, on this night, there was a lot of rock throwing and some movement to our left front, but we could not see anything. The night came and went. In the morning the claymore guy on the left flank went to retrieve his claymore and found that it had been turned toward us. The live grenade was laying off to the side with the spoon wired down. If that guy had fired that claymore, it would have taken out the majority of us, no question. He said that his wire was tight all night. The North Koreans were sneaky little guys.
The Barrier Fence was a very tall fence with concertina wire and large concrete poles that ran along the southernmost border of the DMZ. Reinforced bunkers and foxholes were along the south side of it. They were manned 24 hours a day. Respective units checked (walked) the fence daily for breaches in the wire. The areas close to the fence were raked daily so as to detect footprints. Tall watchtowers backed the aforementioned holes and bunkers. Barrier Road ran behind the bunkers and holes. It was patrolled day and night by gun Jeeps. Usually there was a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that was always on standby near our entry (Center Gate) to the Zone.
At night, searchlight Jeeps, tanks, and tracks (with 4.2 inch mortars) moved in the wooded area south of Barrier Road. The 4.2 mortars were there for fire support and to fire flares if needed. The light Jeeps were there for illumination. If any movement in the Zone was detected, all the illumination sources came into play, including handheld flares from the individual soldiers manning the holes and bunkers. For the most part, Barrier duty was very boring. At times we were able to watch firefights in the various sectors--our red tracers and their green and white, sometimes blue ones. I had to pull Barrier duty only a few times, and for that I am glad. In the daytime in the summer it was really hot and miserable in the static positions along the Barrier. In the daytime the line was manned at 50 percent every other hole and at night it was 100 percent. As I remember, we loaded for Barrier night duty. We arrived, checked ammo, put out our claymores, and made sure our commo (field telephone) worked. We prepared ourselves for a long night.
I recall a couple of incidents. One night it was raining like crazy and the static electricity in the air set off two claymores for the position to my right. That got my heart rate up. Another time I was out in front of my bunker deploying my claymores (triggers in my pocket) when the bunker to my left had an accidental discharge. It appeared that the KATUSA in the bunker had tried to chamber a round in the M-60 machinegun, which cannot be done. When a round goes in the chamber, it goes "Bang." One would think that the KATUSA would know that. Anyway, the round missed the GI who, like me, was out setting up claymores to the front. The GI returned to the bunker, punched the KATUSA, and, if I remember right, tied him up with commo wire and had a relief sent out for him. I also remember that there was one Lieutenant who would sneak around at night and try to catch people sleeping in their positions. It was about three positions to my right one night when he tripped a flare behind a position and was nearly shot for his efforts. Just another night on the Barrier.
GP Gladys was only several hundred meters south of the MDL, looking right into North Korea and at the North Korean troops as they looked at us. The GPs were usually on a hill. OP Maize was in the next sector to our southeast. I think it was manned by 7th ID. (I don't recall which unit.) In fact, I believe it was in August of 1968 that Maize was attacked and machine gunners on Gladys laid down support fire on the north slope leading up to Maize. My element was sent to set up blocking positions should the North Koreans come our direction when they broke contact and headed north. They did not come our direction though.
We were special, I guess. We were the Imjin Scouts. After 20 missions in the DMZ, we were awarded the Imjin Scout Patch. It was actually awarded to anyone who pulled duty in the Zone. The Imjin Scout Patch was not recognized by the DA. It could only be worn in country. The patch was really "special" to those of us that walked the Zone on patrol. It signified that we had been "there."
Ambush on Mortar Hill
On 30 July 1968 at 00:48 hours, I was a member of a 25-man ambush patrol that was operating in the Korean DMZ from a forward guard post (GP Gladys). Captain Kell was our company commander. Our assignment was to intercept, kill, or capture any North Korean Army soldiers that attempted to infiltrate through the DMZ (our sector) to South Korea. We normally broke up into 5-man teams (Rays) and set both daylight and night ambushes on infiltration routes. On this particular night, there were two 5-man teams set up on Mortar Hill.
I was a member of a 5-man team that was operating/set up southeast of the Mortar Hill location. We were just a little ways northeast of the Mayor's House. Two more 5-man teams were set up in routes of escape from my team's ambush location. Shortly after midnight, the teams on Mortar Hill initiated an ambush. We could see tracers and hear the weapons fire and explosions. Within minutes the teams on the hill were requesting reinforcements. It appeared that they already had wounded and the North Koreans were not disengaging, but being reinforced.
My team broke our ambush and contacted the other teams near us by radio. We set up a rendezvous location near Mortar Hill. My patrol was to meet with two other patrols at the crossroads just south of Mortar Hill. I took the point. We had to move about 3/4 of a mile to meet with the other two teams and then proceed to the firefight in progress. The move to the patrol in trouble was quick and without much caution. The teams that were engaged on the hill indicated that the North Koreans were trying to flank them and that the reinforcements were needed ASAP.
We finally arrived to the rear of the teams engaged, and set up security to stop any flanking action. PFC Goff met my element and lead us in. The intensity of the incoming fire increased. It appeared that the North Koreans were being reinforced as well. Large explosions were detonating in the ambush perimeter. I was knocked off of my feet on two occasions and my hearing was blown out in the right ear. At first it was thought that the explosions were North Korean mortar fire. It was later found that the North Koreans were using a large anti-tank grenade that deployed a parachute so that it landed on its nose. Several of these that had not been detonated were found the next day after daylight broke.
We were able to put down a large volume of suppressing fire that countered the incoming fire. It appeared that the North Koreans possibly had wounded/dead of their own because they were not disengaging at all and that was unusual. The decision was made to extract our wounded and dead and move to a more secure perimeter to treat the wounded. Two others and I moved forward of the initial ambush perimeter approximately ten yards in an attempt to push the North Koreans back and allow the extraction of our casualties. This seemed to surprise the North Koreans. We were throwing grenades and laying down heavy automatic fire to our front, left, and right flanks.
It is really hard to judge time during combat. What is minutes sometimes seems like hours. The two other men (PFC Gilliam and PFC Norton) and I felt that we could now move back and make sure the initial ambush site was clear of casualties. In doing so, we had to move and shoot to make sure that the North Koreans would not advance on us. The volume of incoming fire had somewhat decreased and wasn't accurate. As we moved back through the initial ambush site, I saw someone lying in the grass just to the rear of the ambush site. I moved to the person. It was a KIA (SP4 Rymarczuk), a member of the original ambush team on the hill. "Riggs" was a buddy of mine and he was tore up pretty bad. I yelled at Norton and we began to drag Riggs down the south side of the hill. During this, Riggs' pants came down to his knees.
For some unknown reason, I stopped and told Norton to cover me, as it did not seem dignified that Riggs' pants were down. Norton was yelling at me to hurry up. I managed to get his pants up and belt buckled when automatic weapons fire was directed at us from our front. The North Koreans had apparently moved through the initial ambush site and were pursuing us. Norton got behind a tree and I laid down behind Riggs. Some North Koreans that had apparently flanked us opened up on me at close range. I used Riggs' body as a shield and returned fire. Rounds were snapping all around us and I could hear and feel rounds striking Riggs' body. Suddenly as if by magic, Sgt. Royse Sparks from GP Gladys and several other men came from our rear and laid down suppressing fire so that we could get up and move with Riggs. We all managed to get to the relative safety of GP Gladys.
When inspecting the ambush site at first light, numerous blood trails were found traveling in a northerly direction toward the MDL. Apparently we had lost a 5-man patrol that had initially been with Riggs' patrol. That patrol had attempted to flank the North Koreans when the ambush was initially sprung, but had somehow got lost and were not found until mid-day the next day. They had hurt us (we had 1 KIA and two WIA), but I believe we hurt them worse. We policed up all the discarded equipment and moved out of the DMZ to a pick-up point and debriefing. Norton questioned me later as to why I had stopped to pull up Riggs' pants, and in no uncertain terms told me it was nuts. I simply replied that it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Sometime after the incident at Ambush Hill, I received the Army Commendation Medal with V device. The Honorable Stanley R. Reasor, the then Secretary of the Army, was the person who pinned it on me and two other guys. He told us what a great job we did and our country was proud of us. Then he asked if there was anything we needed. Gilliam piped up in his southern drawl, "More cold beer wouldn't hurt, Sir." Yes, he got in deep "Doo Doo" for that, but you know what? Several extra cases of beer did appear in the little EM club. Go figure.
When I found out I was being awarded the ARCOM, I thought the clerk who told me was pulling my leg. A medal? What for? I was just doing my job as were the other guys. I really didn't like being singled out, but it was out of my hands. I was told at the time that my actions and some others' actions warranted the Bronze Star, but because it was the DMZ and not Vietnam, it would not happen. I really felt self conscious. Why me? I was proud, I guess. I was just a kid and these things didn't really sink in right away.
The ambush on Mortar Hill was one of several incidents that my unit and I were involved in during 1968. I had been involved in a couple of minor incidents prior to the Mortar Hill incident, but it was the scope and intensity of this firefight that put everything in perspective. This was the real deal. We were cautious before while on patrol, but after that everybody kept their poo poo rolled up in tight little balls and in the right pockets. That's a nice way of saying, "Keep your shit together" and stay wired tight. On Mortar Hill, I discovered that it (combat) was not what I thought it would be. All the heroic illusions that I had were gone and I realized the naked reality of combat.
I don't know what a hero is, but I did learn about courage in Korea. I learned that "bravery" is just being able to do your job when you are terrified and scared out of your wits. Sometimes a soldier may say, "Enough of this shit. This has got to stop." And he does what he has to do in his mind to make it stop. He reached down and pulled it up and did what had to be done. It is a hard thing to explain. To experience it, in my opinion, is a genuine out-of-body experience of sorts. To look at someone and say, "He is a hero".... I don't think so. Most people that have been labeled heroes will scoff at the word. They know the feeling of what and why they did what they did.
For example, Col. James Stone received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Korean War. He is a member of the KWVA Post 215 that I belong to. I read his citation and spoken with him at length. He said, "Hell, somebody had to do it and I was there." Never truer words. I fully understand. Did I see myself as a hero? Absolutely not. I was there and someone had to do it. So I reached down and pulled up the courage and it just so happened that things worked out. God had other plans for me, I guess. Over the next months, I cut a lot of deals with God. You know...get me out of this one and.... They say "there are no atheists in foxholes." Very true.
During a firefight many things occur. You see fear on others' faces, you feel fear, you taste fear, and you can actually smell fear. Courage is the ability to push all that down, get up, and do what you have to or are told to do. There is such a thing that I call "Tombstone Courage." Most of the people that experience that usually die a hero or, if they make it through by some miracle, they are indeed recognized as having courage. In every soldier I believe there is a certain amount of Tombstone Courage. It is right there at his disposal and at any time he can pull it up and use it.
Activity really picked up in the summer of 1968 in our sector, as well as in the sectors bordering us. We tripped several ambushes. Some nights after we broke up into our teams and set 10-man or 5-man ambushes, we moved into a false ambush, then moved into the primary. The North Koreans were watching us, of course, but they were not sure where exactly we were at, so they had to probe us with rocks. Have you ever heard the term, "pucker factor"? Well, picture this. You are in ambush and something lands on you or nearby you with a thump. Your first thought is "grenade" but you cannot make a sound. You know that they are trying to get you to shoot so they can go around you and move south. You simply ease the pin out of a grenade and lob it off into the darkness in front of your perimeter. You can't really tell where a grenade or rock comes from in the darkness. Sometimes we placed rocks around us while in ambush, just for throwing purposes. As I said, it was a strange place.
This will give you an idea of how strange. I think it was in September of 1968 and we were out in the Zone Snoop'n and Poop'n in the day time. Lieutenant Hooker notified my team that they had stopped a Jeep with two GIs in it on the "Ambush Alley" road. They were headed to take pictures of an old blown-up train from the Korean War. Ambush Alley was a road that had actually been part of the Pusan to Paris railroad back in the day. It was cut down between two large hills that put the high ground on both sides of the "road." See, in Korea there was little or no vegetation south of the river. The Zone was the way it was at the end of the Korean War. Thinking back, it was quite a beautiful place, actually. There were crumbling highway overpasses. One actually crossed over Ambush Alley. There were also several crumbling concrete structures in our AO. One we referred to as "the Mayor's House." It was southwest of GP Gladys near the "Cross Roads." It apparently had been a grand structure at one time, but it was a shell of a building due to the Korean War and time. We stopped by it many times. All of the places I mention were reference points for us when we were moving in our area AO. Yes, we used our maps, but after we had spent as much time as we did in the AO, these places became landmarks (reference points) and were actually marked on the tactical map that we carried.
One never walked down Ambush Alley. We always split and traversed the hills on both sides. We always swept that area when trucks were going to Gladys for re-supply and to take out fresh troops. these small convoys always had to move slowly because two soldiers with mine detectors had to walk in front of the convoy. Our job was to shadow the convoy in the bush on both sides of the road until it reached Gladys. We were never ambushed there, but it was an excellent place for one. I mean excellent. Lieutenant Hooker had warned the two aforementioned GI's that the area was not safe and advised them to turn around. They indicated that they would not be long. About 15 minutes after his radio transmission, we heard a lot of gunfire and explosions. We all moved to the area and found the Jeep and two dead GIs. Their helmets and weapons were gone. We tracked the North Koreans--possibly three of them--to the MDL and stopped.
When we were north of the river working the Zone, there wasn't much time for anything but patrols, sleep, and more patrols. For example, we spent three days and nights on patrol. On the fourth day we walked to Center Gate on the Barrier Fence and our relief patrol passed us on the way. Trucks picked us up and took us back to the compound (I don't remember the name of the compound south of the river). Once in, we turned in all of our ordnance, cleaned our gear and ourselves, and went to sleep. Maybe we got to sleep for a full 24 hours. Then we were up getting ready for another patrol. We usually found some time to throw down some beer along the way. Then it was drawing rations and ordnance, getting briefed, getting our gear ready, and loading on the trucks for the trip to Center Gate to start all over again. When we were north of the river, it was serious business. We had a small club on the north compound. It was a good place for beer and some music, but that was all. While on patrol, we weren't able to do much regarding personal hygiene but brush our teeth with canteen water. To this day, I can still taste the warm, plastic, canteen water. Yep, when we came out of the Zone, we were a scruffy looking bunch.
The “enemy” was commonly referred to as one of the following: UI (Unidentified Individual), Joe Chink, Joe or just the Gooks. As I indicated earlier, the intel was that these guys were highly trained and operated in 3-5 men teams, that had trained for at least three years before they were sent on missions in the south. They carried minimal equipment but all their stuff was task-oriented. When we found bodies, they were usually clad all in black (but they were carrying civilian clothes). We never found any military ID on them, but they always had multiple civilian ID. Their weapons of choice were small sub-machineguns (PPS or PPSH). They wore black multi-pocketed vests in which they carried extra ammo, grenades, etc. They wore black watch caps or floppy hats. They all seemed to be in their 30’s (very hard to tell age). They carried currency (American, Korean, and MPC ( the funny money that was issued to GI’s). The American money they carried was said to be counterfeit. They carried some type of pills we assumed were to keep them awake (some type of amphetamine). There was never anything on them that was an indication of exactly what their mission in the south was. From what we could tell, they were in excellent physical condition.
It was felt that many times these teams came into the Zone for “graduation” exercises and not to simply move through to the south. For example, remember the Jeep ambush I spoke of earlier? The driver and passenger were killed and their weapons (M-14 rifles) and steel helmets were taken. It was believed that this was done to show a superior that the ambush had occurred and that it was successful. The guys were not souvenir hunters. They were highly-trained and disciplined professionals with a purpose. We also believed that, based on the type of mission that a three to five-team might be on, they were escorted by maybe up to ten others. We believe this was what occurred on “Mortar Hill”. The heavy stuff they threw at us was to get us to break contact, but that didn’t happen and that’s why the engagement lasted so long. In addition, they had wounded and dead to get back over the MDL. They always tried to retrieve there bodies and they were usually successful. A body was evidence that was taken by the US/South Korea to JSA. The Brass then said, "See. We killed one of your guys trying to go south. What do you say about that?" And the usual response that was given by the North Koreans was, "We don’t know who that is," and they refused to take the body. Consequently, in essence these guys we were up against didn’t exist. I believe I heard of one that was captured in the south, but mostly they were killed or committed suicide. I know of none who were captured by US forces. Now you might ask, "Did we as soldiers respect our foe?" We knew that they were good. Their tactics seemed to be well thought out. So did we respect them? No. Did we fear them? Yes. But it was a healthy fear. Once we encountered them, the mystique was gone. Then it was just a matter of engaging them again and going for the “gold” (a body). We felt that they were men just like us, but their motivation was at a higher level than ours. It had to be for them to be in the type unit that they were in.
Life on the DMZ
Making friends with a North Korean could not happen. I really never befriended a South Korean, either. I tolerated the houseboy who took care of hooches and laundry, and I tolerated the KATUSAs (Koreans Attached to US Army) that were attached to us. Based on what I had seen and experienced, the Koreans were not to be trusted. Frankly, at times it appeared that they as a people did not want us in their country. I don't see why they would feel that way. Heck, we only prostituted their women, threw our money around, put them to work for us, disrespected their elders and them as a people, etc....
Word was that these KATUSA soldiers were from wealthy Korean families and that money had been paid for them to work with the American Army. The South Korean Army was a tough bunch of hombres and it was a tough life. The KATUSAs had it made in our units. One was killed on one of our patrols by accident. I think his last name was Chai or something. There were various configurations that ambushes were set up in to meet the terrain or expected enemy forces. This particular time we chose to set up a 15-man "table ambush" southwest of GP Gladys. To explain a table ambush, picture a table as you look at it from the side. There were guys across the front (top) facing forward and guys facing out on the sides (legs). This type of ambush covered our flanks and was primarily used on trails or paths. The table ambush could be used with any number of men. Usually ten was the best--five across the front, two on each leg, and one rear center.
The rock throwing probes started about midnight and several grenades went back. Then all was quiet. About 4 a.m. there was a burst of gunfire to my right front (outgoing). I was on the left leg of the table facing north about the third man on the leg. After the shots, all was quiet again. When daylight broke, Chai was found lying in front of the table top of the ambush, really dead. It appeared that he had crawled out of the ambush for an unknown reason (without telling anyone), but was walking upright when he re-entered the perimeter. A fellow from Cleveland, Ohio, killed him. Things to remember: (1) Never leave an ambush perimeter and if you do, let someone know, (2) Never walk upright when you return. Bad things can happen. We could not understand why he had left the perimeter. I mean, we knew the North Koreans had been close by the fact that they were probing our positions, so they were there. Perhaps he had to do No. 2. We looked nearby for any indications of that, but found none. Generally if we had to make the "Pee Pee" while we were in ambush, we just rolled on our side and did it. Many times I laid in my own urine-soaked grass while on patrol. Again, why he left the perimeter was a mystery. We notified GP Gladys that we were bringing in a KIA and they misunderstood and thought it was a North Korean. Some soldiers were actually cheering when they saw us carrying the rolled-up poncho up to the wire, but that all changed when they got a look at what was inside. There was an investigation and the soldier from Cleveland was cleared, but he did feel bad. We heard that the Army made a monetary settlement with the KATUSA's family.
We did have some fun on the DMZ occasionally. We all had what I know today as dark humor. I learned that "if I can laugh at it, I can live with it." There was humor in death, especially if it was no one we knew. I realize that is hard to understand, but it is true and I believe anyone who has experienced combat will agree. Shane Norton from Boston and I were pretty close, although he was a consummate griper. With his accent he was a riot. He was the kind of guy, for example, that would sit in a mud puddle because he was already wet. I guess you had to be there. We were usually teamed up on patrols. If we weren't in the same element he was in a sister element. He took my place as RTO (humping the PRC 25 radio). He was so anti-Army. I am still in touch with him today. Danny Ulrich and I were pretty good friends, I guess. He was from Indiana and he liked beer like I did. We went on some patrols together. Danny was a loose cannon. He was very reckless and fearless. He would try anything once--twice if he liked it. He was a very likeable character. I have not been able to locate him since the Army.
One day in the Zone--I believe it was August of 1968--I was part of a 10-man team and we had set up near the MDL. We had a very cool Sergeant E-5 with us. Sergeant Ellis was a combat veteran from Vietnam and was a great leader in the field. Those of us on his patrol had confidence in his abilities and tactical smarts. The enemy speakers were really on that day. I told Sergeant Ellis that my buddy Danny Urich and I could shut the speakers up for a while. He said that we would be there for a while, adding, "I don't want to know nothing." So Danny and I lightened our load. We were both carrying side arms and M-79 grenade launchers. We set off toward "Speaker Hill", which was just across the MDL. We got in a position in an area that was called "the Twilight Zone." It was an area about 800 meters wide between two units of AOs. If anyone entered that area, they had to let the other unit know and vice versa. It was like a buffer zone. We crept up to within about 300 meters of the speaker buildings and speaker clusters and fired three M-79 rounds apiece, hitting one of the large speakers and a speaker cluster. Our position had just been barely south of the MDL. We left the area really fast, as all hell broke loose on the other side. They were shooting, but they did know where we were exactly. When we returned, nothing was said by anyone in the team. We just got on with the day. But you know, the speakers were quiet for about four hours. We learned that the incident had been brought by the North Koreans to the table at Panmunjom (JA). But that was only rumor. We were asked if we knew anything and, of course, no one did. What can I say. LOL.
Our Company Commander was Captain Kell. He was a two-time combat veteran of Vietnam. He knew his stuff. When we made contact in the Zone and he was near a radio, he always transmitted the following: "This Charlie 6 actual I WANT A BODY." That's what it was all about for him. If we sprang an ambush, we'd better have a body or at least blood trails and North Korean equipment. Captain Kell had an odd side, for lack of better words. For example, when we were south of the river I had to sub for his driver, who went on emergency leave. Captain Kell called me to the orderly room one day and advised me to get my gear and basic load because we were going north of the river. "Yes Sir." And off we went, just he and I in a jeep. I believe we crossed the Imjin River on Liberty Bridge and turned west along the river. During this time the only thing he said was giving me directions. We came to a bluff that overlooked "Crab Island"--a small island in the Imjin River. To put Crab Island into perspective, it was an island of mud and brush that was in the Imjin River. It was actually in front of our Area of Operations when we were on SCOSI south of the river. It was felt that North Koreans who got that far south would sometimes hide out on the island before crossing the Imjin. Apparently footprints had been found on the island at some point, so artillery units routinely fired H&I fire during the night and daytime. If we were on SCOSI patrol we were notified that rounds would be impacting on the island. It was really neat to watch at night. We sat there for a few minutes and he kept looking at his watch. It was in late afternoon. He finally said, "Any minute now." And then boom--artillery rounds started impacting on the island. In my opinion, we were too close, but hey, he was the Captain. Captain Kell lit a cigar. We sat there for what seemed like a long time and all he said was, "That is beautiful. What do you think, Patton?" "Yep, beautiful Sir. Beautiful." It was getting late and being on any road at night north of the river was not a good thing (that was my concern). We had to drive fast and with blackout lights only. The whole thing, to say the least, was strange and scary, but we made it back without incident. I told the captain's regular driver of the incident when he returned. He asked if the Captain lit a cigar and I replied that he had. He said that he drove the Captain there often and that was how he relaxed. Odd, I thought, to watch artillery rounds exploding and find that relaxing.
I think I spent a total of four months and dayz on the Z. Rotation was four months up north, then four months south, and so on until our tour was up (in 13 months). Depending on one's arrival in country, we knew we were going to spend at least four months on the Z. I celebrated my 18th birthday in Korea on an S.C.O.S.I. patrol on the river. It just came and went. I believe I spent Christmas 1967, Thanksgiving 1967, and Thanksgiving 1968 in Korea. I believe I spent the 1967 holidays patrolling the river and the 1967 Thanksgiving I was a perimeter guard, I believe. The holidays just came and went like any other day. I really never gave them much thought. The guys with families did, I guess.
I spent some time in bunkers on GP Gladys and on Barrier Fence duty. All of our bunkers were for the most part well constructed out of sandbags and 4x8 timbers. We had to replace some sandbags occasionally. There were no furnishings save a few ammo crates to set on. They were well-stocked with ammo and grenades and anything else that GI's can think of to give it that homey touch (naked pinups, etc.). Of course, there were the ever-present rats that were the size of small cats. They were big and aggressive. It was open season on them. It depended on who was in charge on the bunker line whether we were allowed to shoot them or had to club them. We baited them with scraps. It was a game at times. You know, bored GI's can, indeed, make a game out of anything.
When it rained in Korea, it rained. But for the most part the drainage was good for the bunkers. We had wooden pallets on the dirt floors. But if we were in an open reinforced foxhole (these were positioned at calculated distances between the bunkers). On GP, everything was below ground level with the exception of the one tall observation tower. We moved from position to position in a seven foot deep trench lined with sandbags. I went to the tower one time with a GP guy. He spent his day looking into the north recording movement he saw and giving the finger to North Koreans that were looking at him. We could see a place called Freedom Village from the tower. It was a propaganda show place built by the North Koreans. There were well-built houses (nobody lived in them that we could see), a dozen or so Russian cars that drove in circles around the place, and nice farm tractors that plowed the same earth over and over. You get the pictures. The GP guys were a special group. They had their own war going on with their counterparts across the MDL.
With regards to food, we had small mess halls in both compounds, and for the most part the food was good. Of course, anything beats cold C-rations, which is what we ate while on patrol. We couldn't build a fire in Indian country. What I really missed was a good cheeseburger with crispy fries. When we had an opportunity to travel to a large camp like Red Cloud or ASCOM, that's what I got. There's nothing like a cheeseburger, fries, and a cold beer. I never acquired a taste for Korean food. Frankly, I wasn't sure what was in it. I ate some Yockomondoo (I'm sure that's not spelled correctly) with home rice one time and it tasted okay (anything with alcohol usually does). However, I learned later that the small pieces of meat mixed with the rice was dog. So there you have it. My grandmother always sent me fruitcakes (I hated them). The only person who would eat them was a KATUSA that was assigned to our platoon. Mail was always a good thing. Mail call was always a special time in the Army, and I guess it always will be. I didn't get a lot of letters, but then again, that is where I was at in life.
USO shows came and went. I believe one was Bob Hope. But we were so far north, it was a long trip down to Camp Red Cloud so I never really got to see him. On our compounds north and south of the river, we had small EM/NCO clubs and some local entertainment would pass through them, but not too much to speak of. I can't really think of anything memorable regarding entertainment. I do remember dime night and quarter night at the clubs when it cost a dime for a beer and a quarter for a shot. That was always near the end of the month when most of us were broke. Now that was entertaining.
Occasionally I got a break from the Z. I was able to take a couple of three-day passes to Seoul where I visited the Etaewon District (international residential area). I basically had a good time and met some interesting people. I got ripped off by a "slicky boy" for my new Pentax Spotmatic 35mm camera. It was a top of the line camera at the time. Live and learn, I guess. I went to sleep with a "business girl" and when I woke up my camera was gone and nobody knew anything, of course. On this same trip to the Etaewon District, I had several nice tailored suits made at a nice tailor shop. I sent them home. After about a year or so, the thread started disintegrating. Again, live and learn. All and all, I guess the time away from the Z was nice. But I felt like "country boy goes to the city." I mean I was from Northern Michigan, so I had a lot of learning to do, even if I did "know it all." And when I was in Seoul, I could wear civvies (civilian clothes). Actually, when it came time to return to the Z, a big part of me was ready to get back to where at least I knew the score and what to expect most of the time. As time went by and I became "educated," my leaves and passes were a lot better.
On one of my passes to ASCOM in Seoul, I was in the transit barracks getting a place to stay for the night before I hit town when I heard a voice that really sounded familiar. I walked around the corner and there was a friend of mine from high school, Marv Waller. Wow! Who would have thought. We did a lot of back slapping. He had just got into the country and was processing in. We hit the town and really had a good time. The last I saw of Marv he was really sick behind the transit barracks and I was headed back north. I never heard from or saw Marv again or since. I don't know what happened to him.
The largest business in Korea was prostitution. There were no civilians north of the river, but prostitutes were plentiful south of the river. For example, we could go to the front gate of our compound south of the river and there usually would be a number of them there. We simply selected one and signed her in with the Gate Guard, usually a Korean MP who more than likely was her pimp. They were not allowed in the hooches (barracks), but we could take them to the EM/NCO club and buy them drinks, etc. If a price was settled on--maybe $3 to $5--then we found a place outside (in the back of a truck, under a truck, in an unoccupied bunker, or wherever), and they plied their trade. When we first arrived in country they warned us about all the diseases we could catch and they showed us films of terrible diseases that people had caught from prostitutes. But, of course, we figured that would never happen to "us." I did not know anyone, myself included, who did not experience gonorrhea or the pesky crabs. Just a fact of life. I mean, crabs were so rampant that I had one special stool that I used in the latrine. I treated it often with crab powder and I was always sprinkling crab powder around my bed. As I said, a fact of life. It had nothing to do with lack of being clean. Some guys came to Korea as virgins. Well, many times these guys met a prostitute and fell in love. It was kind of sad really. Some of these guys actually married them and sent them back to the states. Tough lesson.
I started smoking in the Army and while in Korea, I smoked about two packs a day. (I quit in 1972.) It kind of went with what was going on, you know...stressful situation and wow did a cigarette taste good. Drinking a beer. Smoking a Marlboro. Sitting on a foot locker. It didn't get any better than that. I never really gambled and still don't. I watched a lot of good poker games, though.
I believe there were some drugs on the DMZ when the guys were at the compound, but not "in" the DMZ. Alcohol for the most part was the drug of choice. As I said, I know of no one who was on patrols with me that drank or anything while they were in the Zone. South of the river was a different story. When we were off duty, we let it all hang out, so to speak. Typical GI's a long way from home in a place they didn't want to be.
There was an orphanage in Munsan-ni near our compound south of the river. I used to drive by it all the time. One day a guy by the name of Gilliam and I walked down to it and we met the people. Momma-sans ran it. The conditions were terrible. It saddened me to look at the children. Up until that time I had not really paid much attention to them, other than to watch them fight over candy and rations that were thrown off the trucks by GIs. Again, it was more for the entertainment (watching the fighting) than for helping the kids. To this day I don't know why I walked to the orphanage. Gilliam and I were just hanging out. Once there, I was really taken by the children. The oldest was maybe 14. Some acted afraid. Others were very outgoing and we could tell that some had been on the streets and that some were babies of GIs. Even as young as I was, their plight really impacted me. I felt compelled to do something for them. I asked the Momma-san what they needed more than anything and she said in her broken English that besides parents, they needed clothes. I immediately wrote a letter and enclosed photos to my 8th grade teacher, Mr. Ward Carey in Central Lake, Michigan and explained to him what I had seen. In a matter of weeks, 22 boxes of clothing arrived. He had made it a multi-class project. Gilliam and I got a truck and took the boxes to the orphanage. It was like Christmas. It was truly a heart-warming sight, even to my alleged "cold infantry heart." I took a picture of one of the kids with a Michigan State sweatshirt on and that ran in the local paper. From that point forward I never played the "throw stuff from the truck game", and I scolded those that did. At least I had tried to help. Up until that time, I wasn't sure that what I was doing on the Z was really helping anyone.
There have always been, and I guess there will always be, race problems in the military. I saw a lot of it when I was in the Army. It mostly reared its ugly head when GI's were on pass in the villages. In the field we all got along. We had to. I had a pretty close black friend named Reese Weathers. He was from Kentucky. Reese was wounded on an ambush patrol with me in August of 1968. It was not bad, but it was enough to earn the Purple Heart. Reese was always collecting the packages of matches out of C-rations, yet he did not smoke. One day I asked him what the heck he was doing with all those matches. He said, "My boys in Detroit are running low." That was really funny. Actually, he was giving them to his Yobo (steady girlfriend) in the village. I have talked to Reese several times in the recent past and he always says, "How is my favorite white boy doing?" That's the kind of relationship we had. Race relations in the Army got progressively worse in 1968 to the early 1970s when I left. It was what it was, and that's all. Hell, there were some guys still fighting the Civil War--Southerners don't like Yankees, etc. When alcohol and drugs in that environment mixed, bad things were going to happen.
Regarding the face of fear, I saw it on the ambush that Reese was wounded on. We had sprung the ambush about 2:00-3:00 in the morning. Typical, movement to the front caused claymores to be triggered and we had a mad minute of rifle fire. I saw one shadow through the trees. We got some return fire and some grenades thrown at us. It was a back and forth thing for a while. I believe they were trying to disengage. We called GP Gladys for a blocking force to our north and we had to get Reese out. He had a shrapnel wound on the right side of his head. I believe it was a minor wound, but there was a lot of blood. Suddenly everything got real quiet. It was just before daylight. As daylight broke, I looked around and the new guy to my right was laying there with a terrified look on his face and a live grenade clasped to his right hand. The pin had been pulled and he was holding the spoon down. I whispered, "Hey." (I didn't know his name.) He looked at me and I told him to throw the grenade. He said he couldn't. I crawled over to him and said, "Give it to me." It was like I was speaking a foreign language and he didn't understand it. He had been stricken by the dreaded F word (fear) and was unable to function. I took the grenade out of his hand and threw it. I found out later that he had been holding the grenade pretty much since the firefight had started. I can still see his face today (mouth open, eyes wide). In looking back I realize that he was not an infantryman and he was not in our platoon. He had been on GP Gladys--a signalman repairing our commo lines and radios. Somehow he had convinced the GP commander to let him go out on patrol so that he could see what the DMZ was all about. Well there you go.
It's hard to say what the hardest thing about being in Korea was for me. It was referred to as a "hardship tour." I would have to say the lack of air conditioning, not being able to drive a car, no American girls (round eyes), the lack of freedom to go where I wanted to go, and above all, not being able to sleep for as long as I wanted to sleep. "Donut Dollies" (Red Cross girls) showed up at times and that was always nice, but it was a "look, don't touch" thing. Just seeing them and knowing that the time would come that I would be back to "The World", "The Land of the Big PX", and where real girls would be everywhere, was nice.
My platoon sergeant (SFC Boggs) had a CIB with two stars over it, indicating that he was a combat infantryman in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He asked me if I was going to make the Army my career and I indicated that I wasn't. He replied, "Then you need to get the hell out of the infantry and get into something that you can use when you get out. There isn't much need for a crazy kid with an automatic rifle in civilian life." And in all his wisdom, he was right. My experiences on the Zone pretty much convinced me that I should get out of the infantry the first chance I got.
I knew that I would rotate in December of 1968 and the date was fast approaching. At that time we were south of the river. When we were under 30 days from rotating out, we were "short." All of us had short-timer calendars--usually of a woman--and as the days passed, we colored in the squares on her body. Generally the last few days were specific parts of her anatomy. Short-timers also carried a "short-timer stick." The stick was a short swagger stick of sorts with a .50 caliber brass on the top and a .50 bullet on the tip. The old saying was, "I'm so short that I need a step stool to get into my boots."
The last days in my unit were a flurry of out-processing, turning in equipment, etc. I was really worried because I had not gotten my orders for MP school since I had re-upped. I had long since cancelled my request for transfer to Vietnam, and I really can't remember what infantry unit I was going to when I left Korea. I think I was supposed to be sent back to Ft. Benning, Georgia. Once I was out-processed, the final stage was medical clearance. The Army wanted to make sure that I wasn't taking anything back with me. Visits to the village ceased, etc.
Leaving the unit was bitter sweet. I had endured hardships and combat with these guys. Now it was time to go. A few beers, handshakes, etc., and then I left. It was time to move on. So it was just like when I had arrived. On a truck (deuce and a half) and away I went, bouncing down the road for the last time. Of course, as I was leaving I saw guys arriving. It was like, "See ya. Have fun. I did." I didn't leave Korea by ship. I took the "Red Tail" Northwest Orient jet from Kimpo to Sea Tac (Seattle, Washington). It was about a 14-hour flight. Once I cleared Ft. Lewis, Washington, I started the long journey home.
I arrived at Chicago O'Hare (with about a seven-hour layover). I met up with a guy from the 1st Cavalry coming home from Vietnam. He had a sling and a cast on his left arm and shoulder. He had been recovering from wounds at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He had a bottle of "Wild Turkey" and we shared it. At some point I vaguely remember him helping me to my plane and the stews helping me onboard. I was not much of a hard liquor guy, to say the least. As soon as I hit the seat I was out. They woke me up in Traverse City, Michigan, and told me it was time to deplane. I had a balloon in my lap that had "Welcome back to the world" written on it in felt pencil. I got off the plane and my girlfriend and a couple of her friends were there, but I didn't care. I made a dash for the bathroom. I was really sick (hung over). It was Christmas Eve 1968. Merry Christmas.
It was a typical leave, I guess. Beer, late nights (early mornings), driving fast in cars, and I was really getting serious about my girlfriend. We talked a little about marriage, but she was still in high school. She was a senior, so you know how that is.
About the middle of January 1969 I was still on leave when I received my orders for MP School at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. I was so excited. Finally! I was really relieved. I wasn't looking forward to more time in the Infantry. The part of me that wanted to experience war (combat) had been satisfied, I guess. Now it was on to another adventure and perhaps something I could use later in life.
I arrived in Ft. Gordon at MP School around my 19th birthday (February 24). I believe an MP had to be at least 19 years old. I was the only experienced soldier in the Training Company. All the others had come from Basic Training units and this was to be their Advanced Individual Training for their MOS.
MP School was mentally taxing. There was lots of classroom work. I learned the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)--all the laws that govern the Army, etc. The physical end was a breeze. Because of my rank I was always stuck in charge of details. I caught flak from the Training NCOs because of my Infantry experience and rank.
I graduated from school in the first part of May, I think. The Company Commander would not let me stand in the graduation ceremonies because all I had were OD green T-shirts that I had been issued in Korea. Funny, huh. the ceremonies really didn't matter to me. I just had to wait for them to end so that I could depart. You say, why not just go buy white T-shirts? Because the OD green ones were what was issued to me. He didn't care for me and I didn't care for him. I think it all started when I shot better than him on the pistol range. I had gotten a high score and he fancied himself a good pistol shot. So he said, "Come on, Infantry. Let's you and I have a shoot off." That's what he referred to me as--"Infantry." So we had a shoot off and I got him by a couple of points. He was not happy, especially since this took place in front of the entire company.
Another thing, I guess, that did not really endear me to him was that on the second day I was in the company I was called to his office. He told me that "normally" when troops with rank came to a training company, they removed their rank to better blend with the other trainees. He said it was strictly voluntary. I declined. My rank had come hard and I really didn't like the idea of tearing it off from my sleeves, only to sew it back on when I left school. This was before collar stripes. So as you can see, MP School was indeed interesting.
After training I was sent to the 504th MP in Ft. Eustis, Virginia. I was assigned as a Garrison MP. It was just like a police officer, but I was on an Army base. Army bases are like small cities actually, and all the problems that exist in cities exist on Army bases. MPs had more power and control than a civilian police officer on the base, but off the base we had to work with the local authorities to control GI's on pass in the respective cities.
In August of 1969 I went home to get married. Yep, we thought it was time. We had a plan. Finish my present enlistment, get out, and join the Michigan State Police. Sounded good.... Well, things got off to a rough start right away. On our way back from the rehearsal I was riding a motorcycle and my fiancee was a passenger. I ran a yield sign and hit a car. It was a good thing that my fiancee had those big curlers in her hair. I got a sprained wrist, but her right leg was cut and burned badly. We still got married, but she had to be in a recliner with her foot up in the air. We moved to Williamsburg, Virginia (outside Ft. Eustis, Virginia). We rented a small trailer in a trailer park. My wife was on crutches for a while. It was tough.
I was called to the orderly room one day and I was asked if I wanted to go to "The School of the Americas" in Panama. It was a jungle warfare school that was run by Noriega and was sponsored by the US. "Hell no," I replied. "Why would you ask?" I was told that Infantry was still my primary MOS. What? It seemed that many moons before I had taken the Pro-Pay test for the Infantry MOS. The top ten percent in the Army drew Pro-Pay based on their score. I think the extra pay was $25.00 or something like that. Heck, I had forgotten about it. Well, it seemed that if I drew Pro-Pay in an MOS, that remained my primary MOS. So there was the rub. "Where do I drop Pro-Pay?", I asked. I had had enough of the Infantry. I took care of that quickly.
My wife healed and she began work at IHOP to help make ends meet. I was promoted to Sergeant and was getting quarters allowance, but even with that I think I was bringing home about $600.00 a month or something like that. We led a very simple life and planned for the future as best as we could. We lived out of envelopes. Bills were written on the envelopes with a date the money was put in them and they were paid. We had an envelope for "our" money, but there was never much in there. Times were different then, I guess. We could do a lot for a little. I worked 8-hour shifts and my wife worked mostly days at IHOP. We were able to make the most of our time together.
I received my orders TDY to the Vietnam War in late November of 1969. I was assigned to the 18th BDE in Saigon. I was very upset by the orders, actually. I mean, I had just started a life. Now what? Well, my wife had to move back home with her parents. She wasn't happy. She said, "I am tired of the Army." There was nothing I could do. They were TDY (Temporary Duty) orders, so it wasn't a year rotation thing, but that did not satisfy her. I was not a happy camper either.
I went to Oakland Army Base for processing and left just before Thanksgiving 1969. Somewhere along the way, my wife had gotten pregnant with our daughter. I arrived in RVN and in-processed at Long Binh. Vietnam was another smelly, dangerous place where it did not seem that we were wanted by the natives. At 19, I was a very young Sergeant and was still learning the ropes so to speak. Well, it was time to step up to the plate. I was assigned to Headquarters Company.
Tet 68 was still a fresh memory to the MPs in Saigon and the surrounding areas. The city had become a very dangerous place. Saigon was surreal. At any moment violence could break out. Look at it from this stand point. "Everybody" had a gun or had access to one. GI's came in from the field and really let go. Some referred to it as Dodge City.
When on patrol, I worked the Cholon District. A typical day was: a bombing of a GI bar, disturbances with GI's and the locals or GI/GI, which could result in death or serious injury to someone--and usually did. Trying to keep a lid on was all that was expected of us. It wasn't the jungle, but it was in its own way more dangerous, it seemed at times. Many times we were the target of pent-up anger by GI's. We were authority and therein lay the problem. Authority figures became targets. Example, two officers on Long Binh were cutting through the EM billet area and heard loud music. They took it upon themselves to tell the GI's to turn down their music. Both were shot for their trouble--one died. Things to remember: In a war zone, mind your own business. Of major concern were the "cowboys" as we referred to them. They were local Vietnamese gangsters (shitbirds) that preyed on GI's and the locals. Some may have had Viet Cong ties and frankly, probably did. Who knew for sure. The locals did not trust their local police or the National Police. All were crooked in one way or another. As to the enemy, it could be anyone--GI or Vietnamese. It all depended on the circumstances, if you follow my drift.
I ran a few convoys up north (convoy security). That had its moments. I was afraid every day, some days more than others. I had a life now and really wanted to make it back home--something I had never thought of before. One day while running convoy security, a few mortar rounds started dropping nearby. No vehicles were hit so we just floored it and tried to get out of the "bracket." The driver of the Jeep ran into the back of a truck and my day ended with broken ribs and a punctured lung. I really thought that my ticket had been punched. I couldn't breath--and then I was out. I had been in the RVN just shy of two months. It was a heck of an exit, I guess. I was transported to the hospital, went through treatment and recovery, and was then sent back to Ft. Eustis. My TDY was up. How about that. At last the gods had smiled.
I did not have any political views when I was in Vietnam. Like most soldiers, I wasn't old enough to vote. I did not care about politics or right or wrong of war, no matter what war. Like the song says, "One generation got old, one generation got sold, my generation had no distinction to hold, pick up your pride. Nobody is right if everybody is wrong." I had had enough. Sometimes I felt really old. Somewhere along the way I had lost that youthful outlook on life. I needed to get home. I needed to see to my family. It was very frustrating.
End in Sight
More orders came down and you'll never guess to where. Back to Korea. Was I lucky or what. (I am being facetious.) Christ, hadn't I spent my time in enough shit holes? I asked about being sent to Germany or something--anywhere but Korea. That could happen if I re-upped, the career counselor said. Well, that wasn't going to happen.
I went home on leave to a less than excited wife. The guy that said "absence makes the heart grow fonder" was not a soldier and had never been overseas. It's a nice saying, but it is BS. My marriage was really suffering. We were both very young, and in looking back, probably too young. I left for Korea again in November of 1970, I think. My daughter was just a few months old. It was very hard to leave, but the end was, indeed, in sight as far as the Army was concerned. My wife and I talked at length and I asked her to just hang on. I would be out soon.
I arrived in Korea and was assigned to a Hawk Missile Site (38th Bde) in the hills surrounding Seoul. On my first tour of duty in Korea, I was up north almost all of the time and did not get a chance to get south. This time I was south and I didn't get a chance to go north. Seoul had changed some, I guess. But all of the natives were still on the hustle. The roads were still terrible. Our site was pretty isolated due to its nature and the need for security.
I was a Security Dog Section Chief. I had been a "line duty" MP, responsible for enforcement. Now I was assigned the job of physical security of specific areas. It was nothing like MP patrol in the villages or running convoys. I thought what had I done to deserve this. I had six dogs, six handlers, and six gate guards that were under my supervision. I was responsible for the Site Security (on the mountain) where the missile pods were located. It was a challenge. A funny story. When I arrived at the company and I was told of my assignment, my response was, "I don't know anything about dogs. I am afraid of sentry dogs." The 1st Sergeant laughed and said, "You'll learn." And learn I did. Among the things I learned as I went along was that this was the Army's way of insuring that MPs got and had experience in Enforcement and Physical Security. My MOS was 95B. The 95C's were responsible for confinement (stockades, etc.). I wanted no part of that.
Hawk Sites were much smaller than Nike Missile Sites. My understanding was that the Hawk missiles were in Korea for any air threat from the North. There was actually a ring of batteries around Seoul, of which we were a part. The site itself was very secure and that's where our kennels were. We lived in the lower compound but our tours of duty were on the site. We were responsible for the physical security for the gate to get on the site. The observation towers were inside the wire around the site and the K-9 patrols were on the site and between the double fences. The challenge was making sure that the site was secure at all times. That meant a lot of long hours making sure everybody (handlers, Tower Guys, and gate guards) were doing their job all the time. We were constantly tested by our company commander and guys from the Army Security Agency (ASA). If a lapse in security was found, it was serious. So that meant that we were always on our toes. For example, someone (an officer) demanding entry to the site because he was Colonel So and So. If he didn't have the proper paperwork, no entry was gained. It was that simple. I mean, the Hawk technology was not secret, but the possibility of sabotage was always high on the "what if" list.
When I took over the K-9s, the dogs were in poor condition and the training was lacking. I had to educate myself and fortunately, I had an E-4 that was willing to help. According to the dogs' training records, they were 100% in shape. Well, I found that a lot of "pencil" training had been conducted. In that the training had been written in and not conducted. It took a while, but we finally got the dogs and kennel up to standards. We competed with other K-9 sections at Kimpo Air Base. They were from other sites and the Air Force Security dogs. Actually, our dogs did very well.
I had a good bunch of guys that just needed the proper motivation. The previous Sergeant was a nice guy, but he really didn't care about his job and just did enough to get by. The guys needed to take pride in their work and be rewarded for a job well done. I developed and maintained a good rapport with all the guys. I learned that a tour anywhere was what a soldier made of it. This tour was a challenge and a learning experience. I have found through the years that if I am challenged and learning, I fare better.
My wife quit writing for a long period of time. When I had a chance, I tried to call her, but I could never get hold of her. It's the old story. Nothing I could do about it until I got home, so what to do? I immersed myself in my work and kept writing and calling. Finally the letters started coming again, but they were not the same. It was just something I knew. It's hard to explain.
This tour lasted until I was released from the Army in December of 1971, when I flew back to the States on a "Red Tail." At one point before I got out, I seriously considered re-enlisting again. I had had two hard hardship tours. I had been to Vietnam. I was a Sergeant E-5 with time in grade. I went to the re-enlistment guy just to see. He said there was a $4,000.00 re-enlistment bonus and my choice of duty stations in Europe. Not bad, I thought. But my wife was totally against it. She said, "Get out of the Army and come home to take care of your family." So that's what I "tried" to do. When I got out, I learned through friends that my wife had been unfaithful for quite some time. I confronted her and she basically admitted it. But we still tried to work it out. That did not work. I don't really think you can forgive and forget when it comes to a relationship. So she left, and then I left and started an adventure visiting old Army buddies around the U.S.
I settled in Louisiana in 1972 and began working in the oil field. I made a lot of money and did not save a dime (having that good time). I met another woman, got married, and settled down, starting my law enforcement career in 1977. (SFC Boggs' advice paid off.) I entered the Police Academy and excelled. I was only a couple of points off for the highest point average and received the award as "The Hardest Worker." Remember--I was now an old man at 27. My son was born in 1978.
My career progressed well. With my experience, I was able to get a successful K-9 program started in the Department that is still in operation today. My experience as an MP both stateside and in Vietnam was a great help in learning and understanding the law enforcement role. I served as a patrol officer (Field Training Officer), a tactical officer, a K-9 officer, and motor officer. At retirement (1997) I was a Hit and Run/Fatality Investigator in the Traffic unit. A lot of memorable things happen when you are a police officer--good and bad. It is the nature of the job.
Along the way, though, another marriage failed. My second wife and I divorced in 1984. We got back together and stayed together until our son graduated from high school in 1996. Then we separated for good. I have to admit, this failed marriage was, for the most part, my responsibility. I got wrapped up in my job and...things happen.
I first met my present wife in 1972 at a concert in Baton Rouge. I was foot loose and fancy free, but she was married. We just kept bumping into one another through the years. I was married, she was not, etc., until one day we both were not. Again the gods smiled and said, "Let them be happy." We were and we are.
My daughter and her husband own and run a seniors' home in Cedar, Michigan. They have two children and my daughter has one from a previous marriage. My daughter and I have become very close through the years. I really didn't get to know her until she was about 10. She is a wonderful young woman. My son is married (no children yet, but they have three dogs) and lives in Texas. He is an editor for DNA Productions (Jimmy Neutron, etc.). My youngest stepson is married with three children and is a police officer in Texas. My oldest stepson is a building contractor in Florida. Besides our four grown children, my wife and I have six grandchildren and another on the way. We live on Lake Ray Hubbard in Texas. Life is good.
My experience as an Infantry soldier and Military Policeman, with the exposure I had to tragic and serious incidents/events, was a great asset in civilian law enforcement. It helped me cope and gave me the ability to function by getting past my feelings and emotions to get the job at hand done and move on. I now work as a civilian criminalist for the Plano, Texas Police Department Crime Scene Unit. (It keeps me out of my wife's hair.) Times have really changed. It is a lot different and more difficult to be a police officer now than it was when I started out. It's like everything else--changes are both good and bad. I believe officers are under more scrutiny now than ever, and I think that inhibits some in the performance of their duties. When I started out, the saying was, "I'd rather talk to twelve than be carried by six." We did what we had to do and thought about consequences later. It is way different now for the young officers on the street, as I guess it should be. Part of me feels that officers are too restricted, and for this reason the citizen suffers from the criminal element. Restraint is important, but the rights of the criminals seem to far exceed the rights of those of us who are just trying to make a living and be good citizens. Through the years, I obtained a lot of college credits in the courses and training I took. I received my Master's Degree from the "College of Life" and am now pursuing my Doctorate.
My service and the experiences I had while in the Army changed me in many ways--forever. I grew up in the Army. In a sense, for the most part my character was shaped by the military. This is a double-edged sword. It was not easy to adjust to civilian life. I believe that is why I thrived in the law enforcement field. It is by design a paramilitary organization (chain of command, uniforms, rank structure, etc.). Once again I was in a uniform, armed, and looking for the "bad guys", albeit on a different level. A few people indicated that I had changed when I got out of the Army, but really couldn't say how. "You are different, but I just can't put my finger on it."
Yes, I was different. And years later I found out why. I was suffering from PTSD. I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder in 1998. This explained a lot of things that I thought were just part of getting past the Army and trying to make it. PTSD is a real thing. It is different for each person. I went in the Army with some emotional baggage, and my experiences there did not help. So being the "tough" guy that I thought I was, I just lowered my head and pushed through life the best I could. Get help? For What? There was nothing wrong with me. I needed to just "suck it up" and move forward. Thank God I met and eventually married a wonderful, spiritual woman who encouraged me to go and talk to professionals. They didn't give me answers, but they helped me find them. Life is good now and I am at peace with myself and those around me. I look forward to every day and what it brings.
For years I really never talked to anyone about my time in the Army except to other veterans. In the late 1970s, early 1980s, I tried going to several veteran's meetings. I got real tired of hearing some veterans blame the fact that they beat their wives and drank because they were in Vietnam so I kind of drifted away from any veteran's organizations until 1998. I know now that perhaps their service probably did affect them, but abuse is a learned thing, I believe. If you grow up with it, you do it.
My wife and I moved to Abilene, Texas, and I got a job for Taylor County as a Veterans Benefits Counselor. This really opened my eyes in many ways. I learned to understand the VA system and how it works or sometimes doesn't work. As in any job I have had, I really immersed myself into it. It was a fulfilling job and at the same time sad. The ones I was able to help with successful claims were great. Then there were the ones whose claims were not accepted and their life was a constant struggle just to exist. Granted, there were some who abused the system, but for every one of them there were 50 who really needed and did not get the help. My wife says, "If my tax dollars are going to be wasted, let it be on a veteran." In this position I was able to file my own claims and was, in fact, service-connected on several issues. It is all about documentation--having it or finding it. All in all, the job was very rewarding and meeting all the different veterans was a great experience that I will always remember.
I am being compensated for several physical problems by the VA that I incurred while in the military. Some will never get better. Instead, they will only worsen with time, I am told (hearing, for example). When I first filed my claims and was called for the initial C&P exam, I told them up front, "I don't want your money. I just want to get the problems service-connected." I knew that all service-connected problems are treated at the VA for free. That's all I wanted. So I am at 30% now, with a couple of 0% connected problems. There are a lot of other guys that are a lot worse off. I feel fortunate, actually. Things could have been a lot worse.
Thinking back on my time in the Zone, as far as the world was concerned, there wasn't really anything going on in Korea in the 1960s. Vietnam had center stage, and well it should have. I think it would have been difficult for the American public to digest the fact that soldiers were fighting and dying in a place other than Vietnam. Korea was not on the scale of Vietnam, but combat is combat...period. I was always asked about my Vietnam experience. Never was I asked what Korea was like. When I related my limited experiences in Vietnam, it was like "oh."
Sometimes I might mention a firefight I was involved in on the Zone and I would be asked where that was in Vietnam. I just let it all go. It really didn't seem all that important anyhow. But it has always bothered me that the infantrymen that served on the DMZ in Korea, specifically the Imjin Scouts during the period of 1966-68, were not recognized for their sacrifices. The recognition is happening now, but it is slow in coming. I was not awarded the coveted CIB until February 2006.
I have recently joined the KWVA in an effort to encourage more DMZ veterans to join. I am a member of the Gen. Walton Walker Chapter 215 in Arlington, TX. I feel that the majority of the members of the chapter are receptive to my membership, but these guys have their own bond because of the extreme hardships and extended periods of combat they endured 1950-1953. I think that it is very important that people recognize the sacrifices that GI's made on the DMZ in the mid-1960s. It is also for that reason that I joined the KWVA. I wanted the opportunity to tell the story of the Imjin Scouts not only to the public, but also to the Korean War veterans. They need to understand and accept the other Korea veterans. The Vietnam thing is long established and has actually become a cottage industry of sorts. It is time that the "forgotten forgotten" be recognized.
I vote so that I have the right to "gripe." If you don't vote then shut up. My political views have changed through the years. I actually have some now. There is a part of me that says we (the USA) need to be wherever there is a possibility that our freedom is threatened. These terrorists have changed our lives profoundly. Because of their actions, our freedom as a people is threatened. I grew up fearing the communist hoards and the bomb. I did "duck and cover" in school. I smoked my first cigarette in a relative's bomb shelter. We "knew" that at any moment we could be turned to dust. But yet times were simple. We moved on, dealing with these threats as a country and as a people. The fact that some Third World "turds" or "home-grown" terrorists can make us all afraid really angers me. It is a scary time for kids now. These "few" have changed our lives forever, and many times under the flag of religion. Yes, our freedom is not what it used to be. As I said, we need to be wherever it is necessary to take the fight to whomever.... Think about it. Since our "kids" have been in Iraq taking it to "them", nothing has happened here. Our biggest worry should be how many people from Third World countries are deeply involved in our computer infrastructure. Shut down our computers and the economy is shut down--which shuts us down.
At times it was a bit painful to do this memoir--to think back and dig deep. But for the most part it was enjoyable. Putting things out there made me take another look, and that is good. Time makes things more tolerable. There is lots I did not tell about my service. I just hit some of the high points and some of the low points. Everybody's life is a book, I imagine. So do we really want to put everything in print? I think not.
I will always remember my buddy Riggs. His child was born while he was in Korea and he had never seen her. I first contacted Micki, who lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the mid-1980s at the request of David Benbow, another DMZ veteran. I talked to her at length. She knew little about her father or how he died, only that he died in Korea. I was able to fill in a lot of blanks for her. I recently spoke with her several more times, encouraging her to attend the Tour of Duty reunion in DC in November. I hope she makes it. I would really like to meet her in person.
It is indeed ironic that the year I was born, the Korean War started and 18 years later, I was there walking some of the same ground. History now reveals that the upsurge in hostilities in Korea during the time period 1966-1968 was, in part, to force the South Korean Army to pull their troops out of Vietnam and return to Korea to defend their country, but it did not work due to the actions of the US forces on the DMZ commanded by General Bonesteel.
My wife is the driving force (aren't all wives) encouraging me to come to grips with a lot of my issues regarding my military service. In fact, we will be attending the Tour of Duty Reunion in DC in November that is for all post-armistice Korea vets. There are a number of websites that focus on the DMZ vets, and I think it is great. These sites are not designed to take anything away from the Korean War vets. They just add to the history of the defense of Korea by US forces.
I have no inclination to revisit Korea or Vietnam. My wife thinks it might help with any closure. I don't need any closure frankly. I am sure both countries are better off because of the wars. Enough said. In Korea, my youth died, I guess. I grew up very fast and life (tomorrow) became more important. My mortality really came into perspective. In looking back, one goes through phases. You are young and immortal, then suddenly all changes. I never saw a dead person outside of a funeral home until I entered the Army. Then it happened to someone I knew and...wow! Things changed.
No matter what country or war they were in, many GI's have said, "These people don't care about what we are doing." So does it matter what we were doing or what we did? That is up to the individual who has been there (wherever) and done that (whatever) to decide. I have personally decided that it did matter and it was worth it. It matters more now than it did when I was younger, that's all.
Completing the Circle
In writing my story for the KWE, I spoke about an ambush on Mortar Hill on 30 July 1968, in which a close friend, Michael "Riggs" Rymarczuk, was killed in action. As I said, Riggs had a daughter who had been born while he was in Korea and he had never seen her. He was very proud of the fact that he was a dad, and readily showed us photos of his “baby girl.” To most of us, Riggs was an old married man. I mean, we were all kids compared to Riggs who, I believe, was 24 at the time of his death. We all pitched in what we could for Riggs' widow and gave it to PFC Robert Ross (from Pennsylvania) who was to accompany Riggs' body home to Philadelphia.
In the early 1990’s, with the help of a fellow DMZ vet David Benbow, I was able to contact Riggs' daughter, Micki. We spoke several times through the years. Arrangements were made for us to meet in Washington, DC on November 11, 2006 at the Tour of Duty Reunion (DMZ Vets). My wife Connie accompanied me to DC and at approximately 10:30 a.m., I met Micki and her husband Greg at the Korean War Memorial. What a wonderful and beautiful young woman she is. She has two children ages 14 and 16 (Riggs' grandchildren). It was the high point of the reunion for me, as well as for David Benbow, who knew Riggs and Lloyd King, who was with Riggs when he was killed.
We were able to fill in a lot of blanks for Micki about her dad and what kind of person he was to us. We told her how proud he was of his “baby girl,” who is now 38 years old. We spent the afternoon looking at old photos and talking about her dad and our friend, Riggs.
When it came time for Micki and her husband to go, we presented her with a shadow box containing the cherished items of an infantryman--the coveted Combat Infantryman's Badge (CIB), the 2nd Infantry Division patch, the Imjin Scout (DMZ) patch, and the 23rd Infantry crest. It was a very emotional time of the meeting for all of us. She now had three new “uncles,” as she put it. We said our goodbyes and as I watched her walk away, I thought, “I hope you can see this Riggs. Rest easy, Imjin Scout. The circle is complete."
It is hard to explain the feelings and emotions that rushed over me. We all shed tears that afternoon while sharing memories of a dad, a man, a soldier, and of a place that is forgotten except for those who know and understand.