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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!

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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On flags, funerals, Shakespeare & sex . . .

I recently spent some time online seeking information for the proper way to dispose of an American flag, for whatever reason—tattered, torn, soiled, etc. At the risk of being called un-American, I will say without reservation that the information given ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime. The most acceptable method of destroying an American flag that is not longer serviceable is by burning, but first its composition must be determined.

Is it cloth? If cloth, it may be burned but under tightly controlled supervision, with close attention paid to local burning restrictions and most important, the flag must be completely consumed by fire, with none of the fragments allowed to float away on prevailing winds.

Is it plastic? If it is made of plastic, burning may well release chemicals that will pollute the air and pose a danger to humans and animals, so clearance must be obtained from our nation’s Environmental Protection Agency—good luck with that!

In lieu of burning, a flag may be buried but it must be buried in a non-degradable container to ensure that it will never again see the light of day nor be exposed to the elements of nature, and the drivel goes on and on—click here to read the do’s and don’ts as promulgated by the United States Flag Code.

A flag is a flag is a flag, etc., or as William Shakespeare might say, “That which we call a flag, regardless of its composition, whether constructed of plastic, silk, nylon, 1200-thread-count Egyptian cotton or a combination of all the above, would have streamed just as gallantly o’er the ramparts we watched as did the original that was flown over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in 1914 in the War of 1912 and is now displayed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.”

Yep, I believe that’s what the bard might say. Any item, regardless of its composition, that features the proper colors and the requisite numbers of “broad stripes and bright stars,” all arranged in the manner of those of the real flag—the one periodically displayed at the Smithsonian—is a representation of that flag and therefore warrants the same attention to usage and storage and final disposition.

Each year without fail, a local realtor places a small American flag on a stick in the front yard of every home in my neighborhood—the flags number in the hundreds at least, and perhaps in the thousands, and I’m reasonably sure that the process is repeated in other neighborhoods all across our nation. The flags are not marked with the country of origin, but I’ll bet a half-barrel of pickled a-holes that they’re made in China. The staff is some sort of white wood, and the material is some kind of fabric, either a natural fabric or synthetic material—who knows which?

Our flag code requires flags to be of certain proportions, regardless of their intended use, whether flying over the White House or sticking in my front lawn. Overall size is a matter of choice, but the star field, the stripe widths, the size of the stars relative to the overall size, etc., are specified by the Code and any lop-sided construction of the flag, regardless of size, is a violation of the US Flag Code, and any disposition other than specified in the Code is a violation.

I haven’t measured the specifics of the flags that proliferate in our neighborhood each year on Flag Day, beautifying or polluting, take your pick. Given the ability and the proclivity of the Chinese to excel in mathematics, I suspect that they are right on the money—so to speak—in the dimensions of the untold tons of flags they ship to the United States each year.

Are you, dear reader, beginning to see what I mean when I say that flag instructions and its procotol range from the ridiculous to the sublime? In our devotion to our flag and our need to protect it, we have given it properties that more properly pertain to living, breathing life forms, whether human or animal. When we die we are subjected to specific methods of disposition—what, when, where and how, and to a lesser extent for the so-called lower order of animals.

The Star Spangled Banner

On September 14, 1814, U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised a huge American flag to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces during the War of 1812. The sight of those “broad stripes and bright stars” inspired Francis Scott Key to write a song that eventually became the national anthem of the United States of America. Key’s words gave new significance to a national symbol and started a tradition through which generations of Americans have invested the flag with their own meanings and memories. Click here for the flag’s history.

If the real flag should ever be subjected to destruction—let’s say, to prevent it from falling into enemy hands should the District of Columbia be overrun, whether by the extreme left or by the extreme right, we should consider a Viking funeral for the flag on the Potomac river–what a riveting spectacle that would be! Click here to read up on Viking funerals—it’s worth the read—hey, those Norse ceremonies involved a lot of people other than the diseased in order to comply with all the requirements that had be met.

Timing of the ceremony would be critical, of course, to ensure that the burning Viking ship would sink before ramming one of the Potomac’s bridges. The current is fairly swift in that area—the ship should probably be anchored before being torched, and the usual sacrifice of a slave girl should be omitted. I’m not aware of any available slave girls, at least none that would be willing to volunteer to accompany the flag on its final voyage. Although that would guarantee throngs of spectators and television saturation—all the bridges on the Potomac would be packed with spectators—such an event could possibly produce political complications. I worked and lived in the DC area for three years, and I’ll admit that one of the girls that entertain nightly on Fourteenth Street in downtown DC might be persuaded, especially one filled with the intoxicating drink mentioned by Ahmad Ibn Fadlan in the tenth century—then again, perhaps not—who knows? The following video will introduce you to 14th St—if you need and want an introduction. If not, just skip over it, but if you do shun it you’ll miss out on a nightly spectacle, the pulchritudinous parade of practicing purveyors of es e ex.

I conducted all the research above with the serious intention to present it, with all seriousness aside, in an effort to educate and entertain those that follow my blog and those that simply stumble onto it. I mean no disrespect to our flag, although I detest the placement of that tacky little flag on a stick that mysteriously appears on my lawn each year on Flag Day. I love Old Glory and I dedicated more than 22 years of military service to it, years in which I proudly assisted our nation in losing two wars, with combat tours in Korea, 1950-1952 and Viet Nam, 1969-1970.

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

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2011 in education, Humor, law enforcement

 

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The Korean War—please remember it . . .

As a retired military person I subscribe to the Air Force Retiree web site at www.retirees.af.mil. I received the following e-mail on Friday, June 25, 2010 at 11:27 AM. I am posting the e-mail in its entirety—the sixtieth anniversary of the Korean War highlights a significant milepost in my life and I wanted to share it with any viewers that may pass this way–if the posting strikes a positive chord in only one viewer it will be justified.

When the Korean War began I was stationed at Yakota Air Force Base in northern Japan and had been there for three months when the North Koreans invaded South Korea. Soon after the war began I was sent to Itazuke Air Force Base on the southern island of Kyushu. I celebrated my eighteenth birthday at Itazuke, then on to South Korea for an additional 15 months before rotation back to the states. I celebrated my nineteenth birthday in Korea at Kimpo Air Force Base near Seoul and arrived back in the states eight months before my twentieth birthday.

I mention all the above dates simply to show that my latter teen years do not reflect the usual rite of passage enjoyed by most young men in the US, and because of that I do not need a reminder of the Korean War—my experiences during those years are indelibly stamped in my phyche, and I will take them with me when I depart this vale of tears.

The Korean War claimed the lives of almost 40,000 of America’s best and brightest, yet the war has been forgotten by many and is unknown to a host of others—I’m posting this item as a gentle reminder—nay, a stern reminder for those that fail to remember, and a strong admonition for those that have never known to learn about the war—it is vital history.

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

Postcript: Viewers will find numerous posts on my blog that deal directly or indirectly with Japan and Korea—I find them well-written and well-worth the time required for reading (nothing strange about that, right?). Below are several on which you might like to pass some of your leisure time—one involves a tattooed lady, another a salute to drive-in theaters, and one concerns the Dixie Division and the Mississippi Army National Guard. Others include my first airplane ride, and a three-day R & R pass that lasted seven days—enjoy!

This is the e-mail, exactly as I received it:

Nation marks Korean War’s 60th anniversary

By Donna Miles

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) — Sixty years ago this week, North Korean troops stormed across the 38th parallel into South Korea, launching a three-year conflict that culminated in an armistice in 1953, but never officially ended.

The North Koreans launched a massive, coordinated air-land invasion in the early-morning hours of June 25, 1950, with more than 230,000 troops, fighter jets, attack bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, tanks and artillery.

The ferocity of the offensive caught the South Korean army by surprise. With fewer than 100,000 troops, no tanks and limited aircraft, they were unprepared to halt the invasion force.

Seoul, the South Korean capital, fell June 28. Then-President Harry S. Truman, concerned after World War II about the spread of communism, recognized the importance of repelling military aggression on the Korean peninsula.

“I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, communist leaders would be emboldened to override nations closer to our own shores,” Truman wrote in his autobiography. “If the communists were permitted to force their way into the Republic of Korea without opposition from the free world, no small nation would have the courage to resist threat and aggression by stronger communist neighbors.”

President Truman ordered U.S. air and naval forces to defend South Korea, and committed ground troops as part of a combined United Nations effort. The 16-member coalition formed under the auspices of the U.S.-led United Nations Command, with President Truman naming Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur as its commander.

The 24th Infantry Division, part of the U.S. occupation forces in Japan under General MacArthur’s command following World War II, deployed the first U.S. troops to Korea. Advanced elements of the 24th Infantry Division rushed to Korea on transport planes to block the enemy advance.

As they awaited follow-on deployments, the 24th Infantry Division troops, known as Task Force Smith, suffered heavy losses and ultimately, defeat during their first significant engagement of the war, the Battle of Osan.

Outgunned and overpowered, the division ultimately lost more than 3,600 dead and wounded and almost 3,000 captured as the North Korean progressed south.

By September, the U.N. Command controlled only about 10 percent of Korea in a small southeastern corner of the country around Pusan.

The Battle of Pusan Perimeter raged from August to September 1950, with the U.S. Air Force and Navy air forces attacking North Korean logistics operations and transportation hubs. Meanwhile, troops from the 7th Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division and other 8th Army supporting units poured into South Korea.

The Inchon Landing, a massive amphibious landing in September 1950, ultimately turned the tide in the fighting by breaking the North Korean army’s supply lines. This prompted China to enter the war on North Korea’s behalf, ending hope, as General MacArthur had predicted, that the war would end soon and the troops would be home for Christmas.

The conflict raged for three more Christmases, with neither side achieving a decisive military victory.

Ultimately, two years of negotiations led to an armistice agreement signed July 27, 1953. Representatives of the North Korean army, the Chinese volunteers and the U.N. Command signed the agreement, but South Korea refused to participate.

The United States lost more than 36,000 servicemembers during the Korean War, with more than 92,000 wounded, more than 8,000 missing in action and more than 7,000 taken prisoner of war.

Since the signing of the armistice, South Korea has emerged as an economic powerhouse, with the world’s 11th-largest economy and a gross domestic product approaching $1 trillion. North Korea, in contrast, remains militarily powerful, but economically isolated.

In its most recent act of provocation, North Korea sank the frigate Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

Related Sites:  Remembering the Korean War

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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A salute to drive-in theaters . . .

I was away from the United States for two years on a mission to the Far East, beginning early in 1950. I left the United States as a teenager of 17 years, and returned as a 19-year old still almost two years short of voting age—back then the minimum age for voting was 21, not 18. I left because I was called on—commanded—to assist the US Army in its occupation of Japan, an occupation by our armed forces still in place five years after Japan’s surrender.

Shortly after arriving in Japan I was given the opportunity to assist our armed forces in the Korean War. I unwisely volunteered and spent fifteen months there at the height of the war, returning to the US early in 1952. On my return I found many changes—life in Mississippi moved much slower than in other sections of the country, perhaps because repercussions of the War Between the States—that’s our U. S. Civil War—still echoed in that area and era, and recovery through reconstruction was slow in coming.

Columbus was slow to accept change and was far behind the times in many ways. The most fascinating change for me was the addition of a drive-in theater, a place where couples, young and not-so-young, could legally park at night, to watch the movie, of course, without fear of those dreaded red lights and sirens operated by local law-enforcement personnel. I was challenged by many changes on my return to the city, but I have vivid memories of successfully adapting, with the assistance of a schoolmate’s sister, to the challenges posed by the drive-in theater—the ins and outs of the process, so to speak.

I quickly mastered actions such as moving the speaker from its post to the car’s interior and keeping my foot off the brake pedal. I learned the latter from the cacophony of horns blowing behind me because the red brake lights were obscuring the screen for others. In later years—much later—I accidentally—honest, it was an accident—drove away with the speaker still in the car. Fearing that I would be prosecuted, I hesitated to report the damage and I kept the speaker—I cleverly wired it to my radio and used it as a backseat sound source. Voila! Stereo!

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

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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MS National Guard, Dixie Division, Korean War . . .

In the early days of 1949 I joined the Mississippi Army National Guard, not for any urge to serve my state or my country, but simply because the Guard promised to pay me ten dollars each month if I would attend training for one 8-hour day each month. I was a tenth-grade high school dropout and was at loose ends, with no parental supervision and nothing to do except shoot pool and scheme on ways of coming into some cash—any amount of cash, with very little regard as to how it could be gained. That ten dollars was a pittance, of course, but with pool games just ten cents a rack, it meant that I could lose a hundred games and pay for the racks—ten dollars traveled a lot farther in those days.

This will be a brief posting, just long enough to cover the three items in the above title. I just covered the MS National Guard part, so on to the Dixie Division and the Korean War. As for the Korean War, I have several postings relating to my unwilling participation in that fracas. Google the war and you’ll find me somewhere in the wealth of information available.

As for the Dixie Division, that organization has a long and illustrious history, with ream after ream of information available online. My connection with it is somewhat nebulous—I was involved with it only on a could have been, and probably would have been basis. The division was activated during the Korean War and segments of it were shipped off to Korea at the height of the war.

Those segments incurred tremendous losses in battle. I vividly remember reading an article in the Pacific Stars and Stripes, an article in which one of our generals in Korea made the following statement concerning the Dixie Division in reference to their casualties:

They arrived in Korea expecting to ride into battle on pneumatic tires.

That sounds rather callous, but it’s true. Had I not joined the Air Force before the war, and had I stayed in the Mississippi Army National Guard, the odds are very high that I would have arrived in Korea as a foot soldier, and you may be assured that my expectations would have included riding into battle on pneumatic tires. That’s how it was in training—we never marched—and that’s how it should have been in battles.

The odds are also very high that had I gone to Korea with the Dixie Division, the name of my mother’s youngest son—mine—would be etched on the wall of the Korean War monument on the Washington mall, just one of more than 40,000 Americans that died in an unnecessary and futile war, a war officially considered a truce but one that I consider a war lost. It could have been won, just as honorably and just as conclusively as World War II was won.

That’s my opinion—what’s yours?

I said this would be a brief posting—remember?

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I joined the U.S. Air Force . . .

The immediate reason I joined the U.S. Air Force rather than the Army was because the U.S. Army recruiting office in my town had reached its quota for March, 1949. The Army recruiting sergeant said his quota was filled for the month, so he offered me a position in the Air Force—yes, Virginia, the armed forces had fixed quotas in those days.

There were openings in the U.S. Navy for March, but that service held no attractions for me. I’m not a strong swimmer, and I also feared that the Navy’s uniform whites with the thirteen trouser buttons might be a bit unwieldy. I know, I know—I can swim far better than I can fly, but I joined the Air Force anyway—I liked the khaki uniforms and the Air Force was immediately available. Added to that was the fact that I needed to get out of town quickly.

The events leading up to my enlistment in the active duty military were numerous and varied. Some of those events were pleasant, but others were harrowing. I was enlisted in the Mississippi National Guard at the time, purely in order to get the $10 per month I was paid for training on one Saturday of each month—big money! I lied about my age in order to join—either the Guard recruiter believed me or really didn’t care whether I was old enough to join. I also lied about my age in order to join the Air Force—click here for a brief autobiographical dissertation that includes my underage enlistment. It’s a long read but I can unblushingly assure you, with no hint of personal bias or prejudice, that the read is worth your time and effort.

Now on to the real reason I joined the U.S. Air Force:

Picture this: A billiard hall on the second floor of a building that also housed a market, located a five-minute walk from the city’s combination high school and junior high school. The pool room was a favorite with young men and boys, particularly at noon during school hours, in the evenings (it closed at six pm), and on Saturdays. The proprietor served no alcoholic beverages and had strict rules for conduct in his establishment. Our local police officers came in occasionally for a free Coke and hot dog, and military recruiters made frequent visits to the pool room to discuss the benefits of military enlistments. Many students, including my mother’s youngest son, spend their lunch hour there every day during school terms—shooting pool, eating hot dogs and drinking cokes.

Special notes: A hot dog with all the trimmings cost a whopping ten cents, and the Mae West-shaped Coke was five cents, with no sales tax involved. Pool games cost ten cents each, paid by the players before the balls were racked by a rack boy. Most games were Eight Ball, played between two players and the loser paid for the rack before the next game began. One only needed to approach a table with two shooters and say, “I’ll play the winner.”

And so it was—the loser paid for the new rack, and the next shooter took on the winner. That process was normally honored, and if any shooter balked at giving up the table, the proprietor was called into action to arbitrate—the loser always lost in the arbitration. At least in theory, a proficient shooter could hold sway over a table for the full hour and never have to pay for a game.

I was a proficient shooter. On many school days I arrived at the poolroom with twenty-five cents, no more and no less. I bought a coke and a hot dog with fifteen cents and pocketed the other dime in the somewhat unlikely chance that I lost a game—it happened, of course, but not very often. If I still had the dime when it was time to return to school, I picked up a second hot dog and coke and finished them off on the way back to school. Ah, those were the days!

My encounter with the Army recruiter took place as I was shooting pool with two friends—the three of us were high-school dropouts, and the recruiter painted such a rosy picture of life in the Army that two of us accepted his invitation to appear at his office the following Monday for testing.

The third person at the pool table was physically unfit for military service—while sound in mind and body in most respects, his back was severely hunched, or humped—I’m unsure of the proper term to use. His deformity was so severe that he resembled a fiddler crab in his forward progress—he wore a sports jacket year-round, regardless of the weather. Before feeling too much pity, one needs to know that he was very much favored by the girls—we were never told what made him so attractive but we had our suspicions, and it sure wasn’t his intellect, his good looks or his conversational charm!

With all necessary apologies to our soldiers, both active duty and veterans, whether discharged or retired, I must state that the U.S. Army’s written test was ridiculously easy for me, but my friend made such a low score that the recruiting sergeant suggested that he not bother asking for a retest—statistics showed that he would never be able to pass the test, no matter how many times he tried. I have long harbored a suspicion that he deliberately failed the exam, but at this late date it is a matter of no importance—at that time he was out and I was in, and that’s all that counted.

Aside from the fact that I was at loose ends, bobbing about on a sea of endless days and nights with no particular feelings or expectations concerning the future, I admit that I was involved in some activities that did not bode well for my future. I passed the written exam and the physical, and I accepted the Army recruiter’s offer of allowing me to enlist in the Air Force rather than waiting for the following month to go into the U.S. Army. Mine was a wise choice, and I have never looked back—well, perhaps a few times during my 15 months in Korea at the height of the Korean War. In my looking back, I am thankful that I did not enlist in the army—had I waited another month I would probably have been in Korea anyway, but fighting on the front lines instead of maintaining aircraft in the rear echelon of troops in country.

I managed to hang on to my sanity through 13 weeks of basic training—click here for some thoughts on that period. Following graduation from basic training, I was treated to a two-week excursion on a U.S. Army troop ship bound for Japan, all expenses paid. I was fine until the third day out, but on that day I was so seasick I seriously considered jumping ship, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, being fully aware of my swimming capabilities and the lack thereof, I turned myself inside out over a 24-hour period and survived my bout with seasickness—a monumental turnaround, especially considering the quality of food served by the Army cooks.

 

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