Tag Archives: air base

A morale-uplifting event during the Korean War . . .

Beginning in October of 1950 I spent 15 months in South Korea during the height of the Korean War, first at Taegu Air Base until it was overrun by the Chinese early in 1951—we retook the airbase a few months later—and then at Kimpo Air Base near Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. Taegu and Kimpo were cold and wet, as was all of South Korea, and facilities lacked few of the comforts to which I had been accustomed.

For several months I slept in a sleeping bag in a tent on a canvas cot with no mattress, I performed my ablutions in the outer shell of my steel helmet and at breakfast, lunch and dinner time I fished cans of food from a 55-gallon drum placed over a flame to heat the water and the contents of the cans. I used the same helmet shell for bathing, shaving and hand washing with water from a two-wheeled water tank trailer in the center of our tent city—at least I did that when there was water in the tank. It usually stood empty for a couple of days before being refilled.

Incidentally, the sleeping bag was a gift from a fellow GI who was rotating to the states. I learned the first night I used it that it was swarming with body lice—crabs—and the next morning I sprayed it liberally with DDT and also liberally sprayed myself with DDT. The spraying burned a bit in various locations and crevices—burned me, not the sleeping bag—but it killed the body lice, critters known as crabs in the vernacular. Crabs were a fact of life in Korea. DDT killed them on contact, but as the DDT dissipated the many-legged little devils again proliferated—the battle between body lice and us was an on-going affair, a give-and-take relationship consisting of them biting and us scratching, with never a truce or peace agreement.

The cans of food came from boxes of C-rations. Rather than issuing us personal boxes every day—each box held three meals—our superiors felt that it was more propitious to remove the cans of food, place them in the drum and have us fish for cans at mealtime. There were days when the only thing I could catch in the barrel was canned pork-and-beans, and to this day I cannot look pork-and-beans in the face without feeling nauseous—I can eat ’em, I just don’t look at ‘em!

I didn’t complain then over our accommodations and the lack of normal niceties, and I’m not complaining now. I knew the troops on the front were sleeping in foxholes and many were dying in battles. Trucks loaded with full body bags were frequent sights as they passed by headed for makeshift morgues to the south. I’m simply setting the stage for an event that helped make up for the pork-and-beans, the helmet for a wash basin and the days and nights we spent on the flight line, maintaining aircraft, loading and launching them toward the front and retrieving them on their return—if they returned—some did not.

The morale-uplifting event was a visit to Taegu Air Base in 1951 by a Hollywood troop that performed on a makeshift stage facing a hillside covered with hundreds of homesick GIs. We were entertained by Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell, Jerry Colonna, Errol Flynn and numerous other luminaries and dancers and a real band. For a short few hours we shuffled off the privations of being in a war zone, 12,000 miles away from home, hearth and family.

Errol Flynn was late getting to the show because he walked through tent city and received many invitations from the GIs to stop and have a drink. He was well into his cups when he stumbled onto the stage, and his contributions to the show were minor. Not that we minded, but he sure didn’t project the image I remembered from his swashbuckling movies. Oh, well, it was wartime and we were in a war zone—abuse of alcohol by the GIs was common and late arrivals for duty assignments were numerous among us—we understood and accepted the actor’s fall from grace—his dereliction of duty, so to speak.

I vividly remember a line in Bob Hope’s opening monologue. He said he was told that Korea was a peninsula, a long neck of dirt extending into the ocean. Then he looked out over the crowd and pointed to someone and said Hey, that guy has a long dirty neck, so I guess that makes him a peninsula—in fact, I see a lot of long dirty necks out there. That was about as corny as corny gets, but the hillside erupted with applause and laughter.

In the interests of keeping this posting brief, I’ll promise to post more information about those 15 months I spent defending the United States and democracy in a country still stuck in the 18th century—there were no skyscrapers in the capital city of Seoul, human excrement was still used to fertilize crops, and primitive tools were still used for building and for agriculture. Building scaffolds, for example, consisted of bamboo poles held together by bindings made of hemp—the ropes may have been ripe for smoking purposes, but I don’t know whether anyone tried that. It would have made some of our trials and tribulations a bet easier to endure—not that I would know, mind you, because I have never—oh, forget about it, I don’t want to talk about it any more!

The show was uplifting in many respects. Marilyn Maxwell reminded us of how beautiful a blond-haired white-skinned round-eyed female could be—there was a definite dearth of such in Korea. Bob Hope and Jerry Colonna entertained us with slap-stick comedy, Errol Flynn showed us that Hollywood immortals were human after all and could be bested by that old demon rum, and the band reminded us that live entertainment was far better than the recordings played over the US government radio stations available to us.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!


Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


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A letter to Jessie (1915-1997) . . .

Dear Big Sister,

I hope you like this photo—I have several shots of you from over the years, and this is my favorite—just check out that glorious smile!

I believe this is where you were living just before you and Victor bought a farm near the air base and moved there. I remember it clearly, especially because when I was home on leave having completed Air Force basic training, I climbed a tree in the front yard to inspect a squirrel nest and had to holler for help from Victor, your husband and my brother-in-law—he brought a ladder and helped me down from my lofty perch!

This coming December will mark the thirteenth year since you left us. My family and I have passed the time peacefully—very little fuss or muss. We have health problems, of course, the young ‘uns as well as those of advanced ages. I know there are no health problems where you are, and no calendars or clocks—there would be no need for them.

I can capsule the major changes in my family rather quickly, changes that have come about since you left. Important changes for my girls include Kelley’s marriage in 1998 and the subsequent births of a boy and a girl. The boy is now eight and the girl is 6 years old. They live in a nice Dallas suburb and are doing well.

Debbie lives just one mile from us. She works at one of our local schools and loves her job. Landen, her son, was graduated from high school last year and is continuing his education at the University of Texas at San Antonio—UTSA. Lauren, his older sister, was graduated by UTSA this year. Her degree is in Early Childhood Development—she is great with children and seems happy with her work with a local Child Care center.

Cindy and Michael are a properly married couple as of last October, still living, loving and working in Northern Virginia. As you will probably remember, they had been a committed couple for many years, a total of twenty years prior to their marriage—they finally put it on paper! They seem very happy—no children, but they have two cats on which they shower all the love and rights and benefits that would be accorded children.

I won’t be able to bring you up to date on your family—you are probably more up to date than I am. I can’t tell you much about your sons, Wayne and Lynn, but I believe that Lynn still lives in South Korea and Wayne still lives in Maryland. I know very little about the boys and their families, but I imagine that you are watching over them—I want to believe you are, and because of that it takes very little imagination! I also know very little about your daughters or their families. I haven’t seen them since we were all together at your funeral. I talk to Toni infrequently on the phone, and exchange e-mails with Vickie even more infrequently.

Jessie, I’m writing this letter for the purpose of recording some of our mutual history in response to my daughters’ request to learn more about their aunts and uncles and cousins. As I continue with my writing I realize that it makes me feel I am in some way connected with you—if you would like to respond to this letter in some fashion, please do so—trust me, I’m up for it, and as the television commercial says, I’ll leave the light on for you!

This is the third letter I have written. The first was to Hattie, our sister that lived only one day—you probably won’t remember her. She was our mother’s second child, born in 1917, so you would have been only two years old at the time. Had she lived she perhaps could have shared some of your responsibilities as the eldest of six children. Looking back on those years, I know that it was tough for you, but you willingly shouldered those tasks and thereby took some of the weight off our mother’s shoulders. My letter to Hattie is posted on my Word Press blog and can be found here.

It’s odd, but I rarely heard any of my siblings talk about our father—a bit from Larry, a bit from Lorene and nothing from you. Most of what I know about Willis I learned from our mother, and I never heard anything positive. There must have been something other than the negative things, given the fact that our mother birthed seven children for him.

I wish you had told me about the incident in the garden between our dad and you, his teenage daughter. Mama said that he gave you an order and you did not comply quickly enough, so he beat you with one of the wooden stakes, or poles, used for growing beans to climb on—unmercifully, I believe, was the word mama used.

I also wrote a letter to Larry, our brother. You may have been looking over my shoulder when I wrote it, just as you may be looking over my shoulder as I write this letter to you. You can read the letter to Larry here. I was recently contacted by Larry’s daughter Deanna, and we are now friends on a web site called Facebook, a place on the internet where people can find new friends and chat with old friends—not necessarily old, of course! I have mixed emotions about the process, and am considering opting out of it.

I often wonder about Larry’s first wife, Toni, and their two sons, Troy and Marty. If she is still in this life, Toni would be about 86 years old now—you might want to check around to see if she is there with you—one never knows, right? I’m sure you remember that I lived with Larry and Toni for a couple of years or so in Suitland, Maryland. That was a hectic time in their marriage and I was caught in the middle of it. That was not unusual for me—things were hectic from the time Mama married Papa John until I enlisted in the military at the age of sixteen, a period of some seven years. The military provided the stability I needed. I finished growing up in the military, and as you know I stayed with it and retired after 22 years. I can proudly say that I assisted Uncle Sam in fighting two wars during that period, wars waged in Korea and in Vietnam. We lost both wars, but I will always be proud of my contributions to them.

Hey, big sis, this letter seems to have a mind of its own, and it’s getting far too long for a single posting. Let me close this one out and get back to you later with more details. There is so much to talk about—perhaps we should consider putting the letters in book form when I run out of words—if I ever run out of words, that is!

Lots of love,



Posted by on August 2, 2010 in Family, marriage, Travel, Writing


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