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A two-week boat ride to Japan . . .

In 1950 I traveled from San Francisco to Japan in 14 days, and back to San Francisco in another 14 days, with a considerable amount of time spent in Japan and South Korea between the trip to the Orient and the return to the United States, somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 months. Fifteen of those months were spent in bad neighborhoods—they were spent at Taegu in the south and Kimpo in the north, two of our US airfields in South Korea during the Korean War.

I refuse to call it a conflict. It was a war, one in which more than 40,000 members of our armed forces died during four years of fighting—that qualifies it to be called a war, not a conflict.

I traveled by bus from my mother’s home in Midland, Texas to Alpine, Texas, then by train to Los Angeles and up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. The month was April, and the trip up to San Francisco—a distance of almost 400 miles—with the blue Pacific Ocean on the left and the green mountain slopes on the right was memorable. In San Francisco I boarded a ferry and was taken to Camp Stoneman. I was quartered for a week or so before boarding another ferry to the Port of San Francisco where I boarded an army troop ship bound for Japan.

Camp Stoneman, located in the city of Pittsburgh some forty miles from San Francisco, was a staging facility for military personnel traveling to foreign destinations to the east from the Port of San Francisco. Arrivals from oversea assignments and those departing for such assignments traveled by ferry to and from the Port and Camp Stoneman. Opened in 1942, the camp was shut down in 1954. Click here for images of Camp Stoneman and its brief history.

We departed for Japan on the USS Daniel L. Sultan, a U.S. Army vessel named for an army general, a ship that on this voyage would be loaded with 5,000 troops, 500 dependents and an indefinite number of cats and dogs, pets of the dependent members. When we pulled away from San Francisco, we headed north instead of west to pick up the dependents and their pets in Seattle, Washington.

My brother Larry, an army Warrant Officer, was stationed at the Yakima Training Facility and I obtained permission to debark in Seattle—yes, debarking, that’s what they called it—in order to make a phone call to him. No, I did not have a cell phone—they had not yet been invented. Our conversation was brief, limited to expressions of how are you, how have you been, how is everyone else, where are you going, and good luck.

On my return to the ship I ran afoul of the Officer of the Day, the worthy that stands on deck by the gangplank to greet boarders, to inquire as to their reason for boarding and to ascertain whether contraband is involved in their boarding. I had no problem answering the questions, but I committed a serious breach of military protocol.

As any sailor knows, when one boards or debarks a military vessel, courtesy must be given by saluting the United States flag flown by the vessel. I had been briefed on that courtesy and I saluted accordingly, but I was chastised—chewed out—by the Officer of the Day. It seems that I saluted the prow of the vessel instead of the stern. I had been below decks ever since boarding the ship and had no idea which end was which, so I took a guess—I guessed wrong.

Other than that, the two-week voyage was uneventful. I was seasick for the first two days and spent a lot of time hanging over the rail, and I learned to gauge the wind—one had to watch one’s output closely because one’s output had a bad habit of almost reaching the waves and then riding the wind all the way back up, often to its origin. I learned early to heave and then quickly step back from the railing. Some others weren’t that lucky. There’s an old joke that goes like this: The admiral asks a young sailor if he has a weak stomach, and the sailor says, No, sir, I am throwing it just as far as the others are.

Every GI on the ship had a daily detail. Some worked in the galley, some in the heads, some did laundry and various make-work tasks, but I was one of the very privileged—I was assigned to the poop deck detail. No, not that poop deck, not that flat-roofed cabin that is erected at the stern of old-time ships for storage and to serve as an observation point. The word poop is derived from a French word poupe, meaning stern, the back part of the ship.

No, my detail involved poop, the real McCoy. People with pets were required to exercise them every day on the rearmost part of the top deck, and the poop naturally followed. Every morning the call came over the intercom—first a series of shrill whistles, then came the words, Now hear this, now hear this—sweepers, man your brooms, clean sweep down fore and aft.

I never knew what was swept down at the fore, but I learned over two weeks about sweep down aft. It wasn’t that bad, though. There was always a strong breeze, if for no other reason than the forward motion of the ship. We used high-pressure hoses to wash down the deck, and we used the brooms to loosen poop reluctant to go into the Pacific Ocean.

I was quartered on Deck 4C, four levels below the top deck and three compartments aft of the head, or latrine. My bunk was second from the floor in a tier of four canvas bunks stacked from the floor to the ceiling. I was lucky because the fellow in the bunk above me was slightly built. The unlucky ones were those with a heavyweight sleeping in the bunk above them. In some cases, it was difficult for them to turn over without bumping into the weight hanging above. Bummer!

Speaking of the head—it’s at the extreme front end of the ship, but it would have been far better situated for use had it been located amidships. The bow of a vessel rises and falls with every wave, and one that is urinating must be ready to stop and restart the stream as the bow rises and falls. If not, one will be hitting one’s shoes as the bow rises, and splattering the wall as the bow falls.

If you have traveled on a ship you’ll understand what I mean, and if you have not, just ask any seasoned sailor how the system works. In the event of heavy seas, one would be advised to perform the act in a seated position—not very manly, but much safer and much easier on one’s shoes—and the wall.

We arrived at the Port of Yokohama, Japan two weeks later and docked in a harbor festooned with jellyfish. Just form a vision of Monet’s ponds covered with lily pads, then multiple it by thousands, perhaps millions, and you’ll have a vision of the Yokohama harbor.

A short time later—oops, let me rephrase that. The words short time have a very different meaning in military lingo, so I’ll say that a bit later a dozen or so of us were on a GI bus headed for Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo in Northern Japan. The bus ride, Yokota Air Base, Fussa and Tachikawa merit a separate posting—stay tuned!

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

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Military, Travel, wartime

 

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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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