Korea… yeah — don’t get me started! My Green Beret A-Team went there a few times a year pretty much to suffer, return to the States, and talk about how much we suffered for the rest of the year. Our situational mantra was:
“Well, at least we’re not in Big Army.”
While true, a pallid consolation at best.
We alway parachuted in with all our combat gear and moved overland to link up with buses that drove us to our Forward Operations Base (FOB). I confess there is always a thrill being in a new country for the first time, at least for Green Berets there is. I recall humping cross-country with my team across rice paddies where rural folks were non-stop laboring.
The country-wide aroma was one of burning tires and feces, a phenomenon I soon learned was actually tires and burning feces. I spat out introductory Korean phrases to the local gentry who mostly just looked up but otherwise ignored me.
“They’re ignoring you, Geo — why is that?”
“Because they hate themselves and their lives I guess.”
“What does that phrase mean?”
“Seen any good movies lately?”
“Ah… yeah man — these folks have never seen any good movies. Why ask that?”
“It’s just the phrase from my booklet that stuck in my head.”
We always went out into the field for a good many days though we seldom parachuted into the field, having already parachuted in-country. Most of our missions were tactical and strategic reconnaissance. Not at all glamorous work; it entailed predominantly climbing up into the high grounds, digging a hole deep enough to sit in, erecting camouflage nets over head, and then sitting there for days not moving or talking — just observing through spotting scopes and binoculars.
It wasn’t unusual to watch and intersection for days counting and reporting the types and direction of travel of military vehicles. The figures were radioed back to our FOB usually twice a day. To relive one’s self we simply rolled out of our holes and urinated laying on our sides, a thing not that difficult if you have ever been falling-down drunk (no photo available).
Water was a problem at times, that problem being finding it at all. Just two or three men gathered all empty canteens, looped them onto a stringer line and set out to search. If we were unlucky enough to find it, we had a tremendously heavy load to haul back to our hide site. I always volunteered for the water detail as it afforded an opportunity to get out of my spider hole and get some exercise.
At one point I volunteered to recover a bundle of supplies that was scheduled to be dropped by an MC-130 aircraft late at night about 4.5 miles from our hide site. It was great to be out of the spider hole and walking. There were six of us who moved the ~five miles to the drop zone, sat hidden and waited.
The MC-130 roared overhead spitting out a single mushroom-shaped canopy that we watch float to Earth with our night observations goggles and — splash!
“Well, $hit me” my Senior Medic lamented, “do those things ever land anywhere else in Korea other than right in the middle of a cotton-pickin’ rice paddy??”
“Well, is there anything else in Korea but rice paddies?”
I don’t know why my medic said this but as he stepped into the flooded paddy with water sinking down inside his boot:
“Ahhh… the chilly goodness, Geo!”
It was a ball-buster retrieving the parachute and bundle in the paddy; everything was a muddy mess. The smell was one of feces and feces, as paddies are fertilized heavily with animal dung. We elected to break the bundle down and haul the smaller packages out to the road. The aircraft crew performed in a somewhat amateurish way, dropping the bundle way too high. Had they been at the right altitude they might have landed it on the road.
Waiting for a truck to pick up the package we were startled by an irate local farmer whose field we had just made a mess of.
“Oh hell… this isn’t good — geo, ask him if he has seen any good movies lately.” (chuckles)
There was a mechanism to reimburse locals for damage incurred by American forces, but we didn’t know how it worked and frankly didn’t give a damn. What’s more, we stumbled on a small apple orchard on our way back and yanked loose as many of them as we could carry — enough for the whole team. They were huge and tasted amazing. I unbuttoned my combat blouse and filed it like a sack.
Working in the high ground and mountains, the higher up we were the greater propensity to get ambushed by a sudden squall. At one point my Team Sergeant and Senior Engineer walked over the crest near our hide sight. Almost at once they came running back over the crest and to the hide site:
“Take shelter, boys — a heavy squall is comin’ in!!”
“Holy hell,” I thought, “Just how fast can that thing…”
I was incredulous how fast and powerful it was, though of minor duration. I already had a shelter, but our senior engineer had none, so he dove into my tiny spider hole totally crowding me in an awkward sort of way.
“Sorry, geo… but chivalry has been replace by the desire to stay dry!”
“It’s cool man, did I ever tell you I find you quite attractive?” (chuckles)
The worst night I’m certain I ever spent in Korea was preceded by an absolute death march with very heavy load. We actually cut through two hamlets to shave off distance and save time. That is a taboo thing to do. Barking dogs immediately alerted residents who quickly popped outside despite the wee hour. We shined our assault rifle light on them.
“Geo, do your thing!”
“Uhhh… 최근에 좋은 영화를 본 적이 있습니까?”
They retreated back indoors and doors slammed. We pushed our way pretty high in altitude where our Team Leader just finally put an end to it:
“Guys, we’re done; let’s just rucksack flop it down right here and rack out for a few hours — we’re killing ourselves here!”
I was down and rolled out from my rucksack straps. There was good vegetation around us and above us, but the ground was pretty sold rock. I lay and fell asleep with legs in a crevice and my upper body flat on the rock face. I had a restless sleep of it with a vexing dream about being inundated in a dilapidate dory vessel at sea during a storm.
I was awaken by piercing cold and numb legs. I sat up to find that the crevice had filled with water and my legs were underwater up to my waist.
“Welp… that would certainly account for the cold.”
I pulled myself out of my dory, pulled off boots and trousers, and leaned back wrapped in a poncho liner against backward-leaning tree trunk. Needless to say I was pleased to be up and marching again once the boys woke up.
“Who was doing all that splashing last night?”
“Ah, that was me, Doc… I couldn’t sleep last night so I thought I would practice a few cannonballs in the chilly goodness.”
“You’re a strange guy, Geo.”
“Hey, opportunities exist solely for exploitation, Doc.”
That field mission was thankfully followed by a full day of Rest and Recreation (R&R) for the brothers and I prior to packing and flying out the next day. We piled in some jeeps and headed to Osan Air Force base near capital city Seoul. In a town near the base our Team Sergeant suddenly burst out laughing. We looked around to spy the humor. It was off to our left that we saw a movie theater.
“Let’s drop Geo off here so he cans stand by the exit and practice his Korean phrase!”
By Almighty God and with honor.